Friday, April 24, 2009

540 Plausible Deniabily

540 Plausible Deniability 

This is your secret weapon if you want to use it.  It protects you against being blamed for something for which you appear to be responsible.

It's been used by everyone from the CIA to your commuter railroad -- with varying degrees of success.

Early on, the spy agency compartmentalized activities so that no single spy knew the entirety of an operation.  Thus, if captured, the agent couldn't tell a hostile power the whole story.  That might end badly for the agent, but not for the agency.  The captive might even be able to convince said hostile power that he really IS a "cultural attache, and not someone seeking secret info from say the nuke program in Fiji.

The late John Gotti, reputed gangster, said he was a salesman of plumbing supplies.  And, yes, there was a plumbing supply business with his name on it.  Does anyone think he ever sold a single sink washer?  Or even knew what a sink washer was?  So in the world of weaponry, this is a plausible deniability that jams or misfires. 

The Long Island Railroad loves to survey its riders.

The surveys have said the same thing for more than a century.  Dirty cars, late trains, overcrowding.  The railroad's answer?  "We have a clean train campaign.  We have a 'watch the gap' campaign.  We're trying.  Really."  Plausible deniability.

Same story with hearings on fare increases.  Everyone with something to say says it. And then they do what they please and try to sugar coat it by pointing to a hearing record the size of a Manhattan telephone book.  "See this," they'll say we listened.  Really."

Professional wrestling:  can the ref really say his back was turned and didn't see one guy hoist a folding chair and bring it down sharply on his opponent's head?

Here's the puzzling part.  The people who use this weapon are, well, people.  When they're on the receiving end, they look at it with the same incredulity that you do.  And then they go back to the office, the shop, the campaign trail or the squared circle and continue using it as usual.

We hear an awful lot these days about taking responsibility for our actions, often a good idea and the right thing to do.  But many who advocate this don't themselves do it. Instead, they haul out plausible deniability.  

Believe them at your peril.



Shrapnel:  

--The Voice of America news website isn't updated nearly often enough.  But it has some of the best writing you can see today.  The AP and Reuters should take an occasional look.

--The Pennsylvania state legislature has defeated a bill that would have barred use of hand held cell phones and texting in cars, something that most civilized states have approved.  One opponent called it a "new tax."  This guy might want to de-criminalize bank robbery for the same reason.

--"Madoff the Movie?"  Yes, someone's putting one together and trying to get Dustin Hoffman to play Bernie.


I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

539 Pollution

539  Pollution

Today, 4/22/09, is Earth Day.  That's when we all go around pretending we're concerned about the effects of civilization on the planet, and some people actually are.

In the pre-internet days, it wasn't as easy to put together lesson plans, have international discussions about greenhouse gases, the ozone layer, the spotted owl, the whales  and organic farming and gardening.  What started out essentially as an extension of the Hippie movement has become an international institution that has worked toward and often succeeded at cleaning up toxic rivers, preserving endangered species and in general increased awareness of the external dangers that face everyone.

But we need an internal Earth Day as badly as the "regular" one.  We need to clean up the mental environment.  Self pollution?  

You can spot a litterbug throwing a gum wrapper on the street.  You can see what an oil spill does to a body of water.  But are you still able to see your own thinking going haywire?  It's not easy.  Can you see the clouding and crowding in your mind -- stuff that you take in and process and which then sends you to taxation tea parties or blinds you to the benefits of union membership or comes before the time you pull the lever and vote for some imbecile or crook or good old boy?

Do you take right wing radio bloviators seriously?

It's easy to reject the notion that sugar-coated Frosted Flakes are "health" food.

It's not so easy to reject the notion that the sugar-coated whims and wishes are healthy thoughts.

We're all depositing gum wrappers in our mental streets.  In this case the litterbugs, the nuclear waste dumpers, the greenhouse gasbags and the exhausters of natural resources are... all of us.

Getting rid of stupid, harmful, absurd, polluted mind activities isn't easy.  First, one has to recognize them for what they are.  Then comes the hard part: actually admitting to ourselves we may be wrong -- or to sugar coat it -- misguided.

So, go hug a trout, this earth day.  But please keep this in mind as well.

We have to start picking up our own mental messes.

Shrapnel

--The President wants us all to volunteer for "national service."  Peace Corps, anyone?  Or is this the stalking horse for a national draft.

--The Somali pirate has been declared an adult.  Fine.  Now, let's send a message to Somalia.  That pirate "Business Model" is a non-starter.

--Woe to us NY Islander fans.  On the other hand, there is an upside to the dismal record.  Failing to win a Stanley Cup for all these years gives us a league-wide perspective, forign to those with a "real" team in the running, and perspective is everything.

--American Idol losers are comp;aiing the disc jockeys are not playing their songs on the radio. They're missing a point:  The songs aren't worth hearing in many cases.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

538 Clinging to the Old Ways

538 Clinging To The Old Ways 21st Century Style

Ronald Reagan was king of this.  He wanted to take us back to a time that never was.  But there's a little of that in all of us. "The old ways were better," the "good old days," all that.  Makes you long for the days of the pioneers or the Civil War or World War II.  

There is an exception.  No one wants to go back to the "good old days" of the "great" depression.  This one's good enough, thank you.

Some of the Amish and their sartorial soul-mates, the Hasidim of Crown Heights do their best to live in the 1600s.  (Interesting that both groups started within decades of each other and only about 700 miles apart.)  The more conservative among us would like to be stuck in the 19th century.  Most of us are fine with the 21st.

But technology has allowed some to hold on to the 20th.

Which brings us to clinging to the old ways, 21st Century style.

It has to do with telephones and area codes.  

Yes, we may have to pay 21st century prices, but we can keep our 20th century cell phone area codes even if we no longer live in them.

The 516 cell phone lives and works in the 814 area code.

There are all kinds of excuses.  "...never had time to change numbers..."  "everyone has this number and they don't forward the calls..."  Or maybe it's Long Island snobbery.  We can't keep our out of state license plates or drivers' licenses.  We can't keep mail forwarding for more than a short time.  We can't get a real "down home" bagel or slice of pizza or hard roll or Pastrami on rye, but we can cling to 516 or 917 914, 201 and if you're really early to the mobile phone world, the coveted 212.  But it's none of that.  It's clinging to the old ways.

There's no such thing as a cross town bus or a subway.  There's no ocean.  The tallest building is, what, five stories?  But we have our area codes.



Shrapnel:

--This is almost as meaningless as the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards and the Emmys.  Exxon Mobil has raced ahead of Wal-Mart to the top of the list of the Fortune 500. When you get that high on the mountain, no one can breathe -- plus, the top of the heap ain't what it used to be.

--Is it just me?  Or is light beer getting even more watery than when they started making it?  Oh, well, at least the bottles and cans are recyclable. 

--And while on the topic of nutrition, this breakthrough.  Mainstream bakers of packaged bread have apparently figured out the deep, dark secret previously known only to the manufactures of Levy's Real Jewish Rye Bread.  They've copied the ability to take the bread out of the hot oven already stale.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

537 Party Like It's 1773

537 Party Like It's 1773

(STATE COLLEGE, PA) -- Wags call this place America's Brain.  It's a college town dominated by a so-called major university.  It also was the home of one of those tea party protests the other day.

The blind led the blind in front of a post office, where little kids waved signs that said "Give Me Liberty, Not Debt."  They waved their placards.  They "protested 'big government' and they played on an historical reference that had nothing to do with their stated aims.

The demonstrators were anti "big" government and "pro liberty."

Brilliant.

What they really were was anti tax and pro whim.

They stood in front of the post office, with three cop cars parked along the street.  They waved signs and they chanted and bellowed.  They tried to evoke the Boston Tea Party.  The original tea partiers would have puked.

The original tea partiers wanted freedom from taxes imposed by the British who were at the time rulers of the US.

These guys want "smaller government" and an end to all taxation.  They are a parody of those Bostonians.

They are part of what's been called a "grass roots" effort to repeal or reduce taxes.  The originals were trying to tell the king of England that "if you want to tax us, you have to let us elect the taxers."

The crew here was one of hundreds of alleged "grass rootsers."  Are you kidding?  

They were prodded and funded by right wing extremists, the kind the Department of Homeland Security warns us about.

Or they are leaderless "cells" much like Al Qaida or the Communist Party.  

Did the original Bostonians want "smaller government?"  No.  They wanted to not pay a tea tax.

Today's guys haven't read their history.

But there they were, picketing at the post office, as were their fellow robots across the country.

Interesting aside:  this 'burg is home to a huge, sprawling and famous university.  Couldn't spot any college kids at this protest.  Maybe they don't know where the post office is.  Plenty of older folks.  A scattering of elementary school kids.  It looked like a Grandparents' Day picnic, only no food and no ants, and police officers watching, "just in case."

They want an end to taxation?  They want an end to "pork barrel" spending, as long as it doesn't include the biggest pork project of all time, the Iraq war?  And the various projects that bring in federal bucks to their community?

Your correspondent has engaged in plenty of protests and supports the right to do that.

It's how we got rid of poll taxes and segregated water fountains and back-of-the-bus "Negroes."

But there's a difference.  The back of the busers were oppressed because of race.  The Tea Partiers are not.

The grandmother of the conservative revolution, Ayn Rand, would be appalled.  "Hippies of the right" wing, she called them.

Now relax.  Have a cup of tea.  You'll feel better.


I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

536 ?Puede Usted Ahora Oirme?

536 ? Puede Usted Ahora Oirme?

So, soon, you will be able to cell phone the folks back home in Havana.

But, you say, they have no money for the phone or the bill.

No problem.  Under the changes just announced by the Obama administration, you can buy the phone and pay the bill FOR them.

There are other lifted restrictions, too.  Like more visits or longer visits or sending bucks.   But the telephone will turn out to be the most important thing to come of this.

Because if you can phone, you can text.  If you can text, you can surf. You can send pictures.  You can receive pictures.  Information is power.  

A friend, we'll call her Maria, was born in Cuba and left with her siblings and parents years after LBJ freed the slaves.

Maria, of the million dollar eyes, a smile brighter than any smoker deserves, a finely tuned brain and a hard line about Castro and Castro-Lite.  She illuminates some of what's going on down there.  The phrase "morally bankrupt" comes up more than once in the conversation.  Apathy.  Shut-down brains.  It's more than just poverty and oppression, she says.  It's a moral crisis.

Maria would like people with relatives to have the freedom to visit.  But, she says, there are those who just want rub their American experience into the faces of the resident Cubans, "exploit the 15 year old prostitutes" and generally strut and show off.  She doesn't believe the cell phone theory.  She says the population's been down so long, no one cares anymore.

She knows the culture well.  Perhaps she is right.  But maybe she's wrong.

She doesn't expect democracy, but maybe something akin to what happened in China, with some private businesses allowed to operate.

There will be no overt counterrevolution.  But there might be a restoration of the missing backbones.  All it takes is one kid with the will to talk to his age-mates.  All it takes is a few pictures of ordinary Cuban-Americans living ordinary American lives, and of a car built after 1959, or a McDonald's menu or a Wal-Mart.  America is in sad economic shape right now.  But that won't last forever.

And with a little bit of a push, maybe that's the message we can send.

Of course, if cell service in Cuba turns out to be like early cell phone service in this country, they'd best master that most famous of all cell phone questions,  "?puede Usted ahora Oirme?'  

"Can you hear me now?"

Shrapnel:

--Do you think the Navy reads this blog?  Probably not.  But it's liberating that they came up with the same solution for rescuing Capt. Phillips.

--The car insurance mavens probably don't read here, either.  But they, too have come around to right thinking about those micro cars.  If your memory needs refreshing, here's a link to Wessay #331 from 12/07

--How do they make a buck on zero percent financing?  It sure isn't volume.  It's a mystery -- but they must, otherwise they wouldn't offer it.


I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.® And apologies for the high school Spanish.
©WJR 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

535 Now Where's That Pencil?

535 Now Where's That Pencil!

"Good afternoon and welcome to the Office Supplies Shopping Channel, where you can get all the office supplies you need delivered right to your door.  I'm Sunny Chirpy, your host and this hour's special is this marvelous Penciline genuine wood pencil at a special price.

"You know you can never find a pencil when you need one, so we're making a special offer -- including six in a box at one low price -- $6.99.  Now I have to tell you, the last time we had these on the air, the Number Two sold out almost instantly.  And today we're going to make it even easier for you to own.  Yes, we've broken the price down to two EZ payments of just $3.50.  So, just $3.50 gets these pencils on their way to you.  Not only that, but for this broadcast and this broadcast only, shipping and handling are free -- a saving of more than four dollars.

"Now, just take a look at these pencils!  And we have them in several colors.  There's a regular #2 with a yellow barrel, a red #2 with a red barrel and we also have a limited supply of green, blue and -- new for this season -- pink!  Plus we have a limited number of #4s but only in the red and the regular gray.

"Can you come in a little closer, Mr. Cameraman?  Thanks.  I want to show the viewers the quality construction of this genuine Penciline pencil.  Note the smooth wood finish. These are USA made, by the way.  Perfectly polished and painted wood.   Up here, toward the eraser, there is a first quality and beautifully decorated neck band, made from a special alloy of iron and copper.  That holds this beautifully shaped low-shred eraser, perfectly cylindrical.   But the real beauty of this pencil is down here, it's the point!  What's a pencil without a good point?  

"Now these Penciline graphite "leads" are long lasting and withstand high pressure writing.  But we all know that eventually, every point either wears down or breaks.  So look what those clever people at Penciline have done!  They've built a mini sharpener right into the box!  If you break a point, you just reach into your desk drawer pull out the box, and presto!  You have a convenient sharpener right at your fingertips.

"Two EZ payment of just #350.  And for this hour only, free shipping and handling, a saving of more than four dollars.

"Charge it to your Office Supplies Shopping Channel Visa, and we'll include a coupon for a steep discount on your next order, whether it's computer paper or ink, pens, more pencils, file folders.  All the things you have come to rely on from Office Supplies Shopping Channel.

"I'm Sunny Chirpy, and call the number on your screen right now for this one time only special from Penciline and Office Supplies Shopping Chanel."


Shrapnel:

--As of this writing, the sea piracy of American boats appears to be spreading.  Not a good sign.  But it looks like some of the guys with fishing scows have thought better of plans to confront a US Navy destroyer directly.

--Everything about Madoff is turning out to be a lie -- everything from the amount stolen to the amount of his net worth.  This brings to mind a question.  Is there really a Bernie Madoff or is his very existence a lie and we only imagined him?

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirates On Land and At Sea

534  Pirates On Land and At Sea

The pirates of Somalia are not Captain Cook, or even Captain Hook.  There is nothing romantic or adventurous or swashbuckling about them.  They're just a bunch of thieves trying to extort money from sucker countries.

As of this writing, the pirates of Somalia have lost their try at capturing a US boat.  The crew. following the captain's orders, locked themselves in their cabins.  Later, they burst from said cabins and overpowered the pirates, set the boat free and carried on with the mission.  As of now, the captain of the cargo ship is in the hands of the thieves.  And the US Navy is on hand with a battle ship that could easily blast the thing to Kingdom Come.

The Navy won't do that.  It wants to rescue the captain, a sympathetic character who looks like your next door neighbor and who is purported to be a smart but regular guy.

If you were a pirate and were confronted with a US Navy vessel, what would you do?  You know the answer.  You'd release the hostage, put your arms into the air and hope the US Navy would show you some mercy.  

Not these guys.  They figure they can out fox and out fight.  Not going to happen.  They'll twaddle and twiddle for awhile.  And if the pirates have any sense at all, they'll give up their hostage and hope they won't be sent to the bottom of the sea.

Of course, there's more piracy on land these days than there is at sea.  Scam after scam relieves people of their decreasing 2009 Depression Era wealth.  We don't call it piracy, but that's pretty much what it is.  Piracy, 21st century style.  Instead of "avast, matey, hand over your gold..."  these guys say something like "...if you've been hurt in an accident, call my law firm.  We don't get paid until YOU get paid..."  (except of course for expenses, copying costs, telephone calls, etc.)  

One of the more popular new "hand over your gold" pitches starts off "...are you buckling under from credit card debt?  The card companies have secrets they don't want you to know.  Call us for a free consultation, and we'll get you out of debt for less than you owe..."

And yet another: "...I lost 123 pounds on the Nutrastarve Watcher plan and loved every minute of it.  You can, too."  On the TV screen for the briefest possible time will be flashed "results not typical."  They have to do that.  The credit card and Whiplash Willie law firms should have to do the same.

It was simpler when they just said "Stick 'em up!"

Shrapnel:

--The tax experts send thank you notes these days.  Thanks.  We'll see about a response when the returns are accepted and no audit follows.

--Just about every politician is power hungry.  But not everyone who's power hungry is a politician.  Sometimes, door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen are power hungry, too.

--A good Passover and a Happy Easter to you all.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
WJR 2009©

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

533 Fitted Sheets

533 Fitted Sheets

Fitted sheets are a blessing and a curse.  It's great that once you fit them to your mattress they don't need to be tucked in for as long as you wish.  But getting them to fit the mattress is entirely another matter.

First, you have to figure out which side is which.  Usually, you can tell by looking at the binding.  "This" is the top of the sheet, "that" is the bottom.  Then, you have to fire out  which is the short end of the sheet, and which is the long.  It should be obvious.  But it isn't.  One almost never figures out whether the end you're holding belongs on the width of the mattress and which belongs at the length.

At some point, you figure which end goes where.

Fitted sheets are part of the Great Capitalist Conspiracy.  Sheet manufacturers are laughing at you.  You'll never know which ones.  But you might find out when you find out which conspirators packaged bedsheets in a way that precludes you from knowing which end is which.  The sewing companies are having their jollies at your expense, right now, as you read or hear these words.

Which side is up?  Which side is down?  How do you figure out whether you're working with the short or the long end of the sheet?  You don't know.  Neither does anyone else.

Fitted?  Maybe semi-fitted would be a better description.  They never sit completely right on the mattress.  There's always a dimple or a bump or both at at least one corner.  As soon as you fix it, it appears elsewhere on the same sheet.  Don't believe what you read on the packages that say "fits extra deep mattresses.  They don't.  Especially if you wash 'em before the first use, which we're told we're all supposed to do (though there may be those who don't -- something that should be a crime.)

Once washed, they never fold right.  Especially true of Queen, King and California King sizes.  No, that's not quite right.  They fold just fine if you find three other people, one to hold each corner without getting in each others' way once the first and second folds are made.

Modern technology.





Shrapnel:
--Thanks to the 238 of you who responded to my e-mail, wesrichards@gmail.com on the Irving R. Levine Wessay.  This was the largest feedback we've had since this project began.  And it's evidence that hundreds of people "get" what Irv was all about -- which was teaching all of us about Russia, Rome and Realism.

--Are you getting bored with President Obama's first few months in office.  If so, you're not alone.  There have been an awful lot of cheerleader speeches and not a whole lot to cheer about. 

--The Russians supposedly invented vodka.  So why is this?  The Poles and the French (the French?) do it better than the ex-Sovietskis, which is unbelievable.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009





Monday, April 06, 2009

532 Yes We Have No Bananas

532 Yes We Have No Bananas

Are there more nut cases with weapons around and using them these days, or does it just seem so?  

Binghamton, New York.  Pittsburgh, Honolulu, Carthage, NC, Santa Clara, Oakland,  Rural Alabama.  About 40 people cut down by assassins within 30 days in March and (so far) in April of this year.  

Are they all gun happy meth heads and drunks determined to stamp out their personal demons by shooting up anyonehandy?  Or is it something more?  

Is it the depression that we're still calling a recession, or are they just nuts?  

There's no clear answer.  But there is a connecting thread:  guns kill people.

The National Rifle Association, trade group for the gunsels  and their manufacturing suppliers, have been telling us for years that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

Right.  And given a sword or a Garrot, or a baseball bat, people would continue to kill people, even without their AK-47s and Uzis.  But not by remote control.  You can't kill someone at 50 feet with a noose or a carving knife or a Louisville Slugger.  But you can with a 17 round Glock  Model 34 or a Sig Sauer SP 2022 or even better with an R-4 Assault Rifle.

The pen may be mightier than the sword.  But it's not mightier than the Uzi.

These gunmen are advancing a mentality that's more common to the third world than it is here:  Life Is Cheap.

They make fun of your English?  Mow 'em down.

They like to your ex-wife at the nursing home where she works?  Mow 'em down.

They're cops just doing their jobs?  Mow 'em down.

We're getting to be a banana republic -- and we don't even have the banana crop to show for it.

You worried about the battling drug lords on the Mexican border?  You can cancel the Mexican vacation.  But you can't cancel the view of life on the border, right now, and you can't escape it even in your placid suburb.

We might as well be in Guatemala or Romania these days. 

Better get out there and cop one of those "Lady Smith" .38s.  Maybe get the laser site to go with it.

Shrapnel:

--Fellow Yankee fans, an alert.  You will never find a richer view of the new stadium than from Steve Lanzone.  Here's a Link.

--Three giants of classical music ambled by here in Tantamount, PA. the other day.  Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax played together on a local stage.  They are the new Traveling Wilburys, only funnier -- and they do it without a single pair of sunglasses.

--North Korea says it has launched a satellite that's sending back signals to earth, but NORAD says it didn't happen.  But maybe it did.  Wait and see if you get a pitch in Korean and English for subscriptions at a monthly fee from Radio Pyongyang.  

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, April 03, 2009

531 Out of the Frying Pan?

531 Out of the Frying Pan?

The banks have a new present and it may be even better than the bailout.  An important change in the accounting rules, not from the government, but from the Financial Standards Accounting Board, which sometimes is one of those fox guarding the hen house operations and a trade association and a cop.  They have, under pressure from Congress gotten rid of a rule called "mark to market."

Mark to market means you have to figure out the value of your assets and include that on your balance sheet.  And these days, a lot of stuff is worth nothing and that doesn't look so hot on or near the bottom line.

The basic idea behind all this is that there exists an actual market, that people are buying and selling and not under duress.  And these days that's not true.  Or almost not true.  Would you buy a package of bundled mortgages?  

So, with mark gone, how do people value their assets?  Well, that's not exactly "transparent" to use the cliche of the moment.

One way is to estimate cash flow from the investments.  That's still a real figure.  Another way is to guess and then come up with some fancy figure-work to support the guess.

Critics say this is going to make it easier for banks and others to hide losses and make them look better than they are.  Others say it'll let them get the lending action going and that's what's needed now.   And, of course, it'll make it harder for your auditor to argue with you when you set a price.

Mark to market is also known in the trade as fair value accounting.  It's supposed to give you an objective look at a company's condition.  

Is this going to work?  Perhaps.  It'll stop the firestorm of distress sale write downs.  It will free up bucks, if, perhaps, only on paper.

On the other hand, this change is a change in only one of the gazillion moving parts that make up the world of finance.  And exactly how its ripple effect will play out is as well known as the "real" ripple effect when you throw a stone into a pool of standing water.  Round-ish patterns of tiny waves will be emitted from where the stone hits.  But how many, for how long and with what intensity is unknown.


Shrapnel:

--If a crook gets caught, and the charges go away, is he still a crook?  Dunno.  Ask Ted Stevens.

--A couple of judges in Pennsylvania have pleaded guilty to funneling low level juvenile criminals into a privately run jail in return for 2.something million dollars in bribes.  Let's hear it for the crooked judges.  At least they knew how to extract money from someone else, something today's banks have forgotten.

--Remember the good old days when the people we elected were honest?  A favorite was Nixon.  He said "...your President is not a crook."  And everyone believed him.


I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
WJR 2009©