Wednesday, September 30, 2009

605 Of COURSE They Have Nukes

605 Of COURSE They Have Nukes

Mo's from Tehran, originally. That's what he calls himself, Mo. You gotta think it's probably not short for Moses and probably IS short for Mohammad. But Mo's what he wants to be called. Left Iran in the early 1980s.

We're sitting on the porch with some Turkish coffee's he's brought ("You gotta get a grinder. This stuff is much better when you grind it fresh.") "This stuff" is thick as syrup and tastes like it was brewed in 1937 (it's always 1937 in Istanbul) even though we brewed it in the kitchen maybe ten minutes ago.

So, says Mo, they buried a nuke plant in a mountain and didn't bother mentioning it until we ("we" to Mo is the United States) discover it and tell the Associated Press. And they think we're going to buy the "peaceful purposes" bunk? "If it's peaceful, why you have to bury it?" "If it's peaceful, why not publicize both the thing and its specific purposes."

Mo thinks Iran's going to use one of those new missiles it has to lob a "conventional" warhead into either Israel or Iraq, just to show they can. "And when that happens, the Israelis are going to nuke the nuke plant and here comes World War III."

Mo is reminded that everyone thinks the Israelis have nuclear weapons but no one knows for sure. "Of COURSE they have nukes," he says. "And WE know for sure and so does everyone within range." Hard to argue with that, even though no one's ever spotted a test.

That's a pretty grim scene, but Mo's convinced that it could happen easily and soon. "Obama is the new Roosevelt," says Mo, and like FDR, "he needs a war to get us out of the depression. And it can't just be Afghanistan. That's not big enough or important enough."

Cynical? Negative? Sure. Accurate? Who knows. It certainly would solve some problems. And create tons (or megatons) more.

We return to the coffee which is even worse served cool than served hot.

Shrapnel:

--Furnace filters are the mirror opposite of computer batteries. The 30 day filter, which costs one dollar lasts for six weeks and the 90 day filter, which costs ten bucks, lasts a month. With computer batteries, the two hour version lasts 20 minutes and the more expensive five hour version lasts two hours.

--After tussling for three months with a home shopping channel about a return, they decided on a change of strategy. "Instead of waiting another month for a pre paid return label, we've given you a full refund. Now throw the damn thing out." Way to go, and thanks to the channel which will remain unidentified, but it's one of the majors.

--I've semi retired from guitar playing after more than 50 years. The instruments call to me, but what I do with them has become unsatisfying and boring. Would rather spend the hour watching Springer or playing computer solitaire.


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

Monday, September 28, 2009

604 How to Be a Jewish Waiter

604 How To Be a Jewish Waiter (With apologies to Dan Greenberg, author of "How to be a Jewish Mother.")

Jewish waiters are like Jewish mothers, in a way. They may be a little cranky, but they have your best interest at heart. Really. No, no, really! Talking here about guys in real Jewish restaurants, of course, not just people of the faith who happen to wait tables in, say, Denny's or The Bull & Bear at the Waldorf.

For anyone making the transition from a "normal" or "regular" restaurant to one of those Carnegie Deli wannabes, start with the vocabulary. While you were called a "server" (how servile that sounds!) at TGI Friday's or Chili's, you're now a waiter. That may not sound like much of a change and may be even a little old fashioned. But it's conceptually different.

A "server" is someone anticipating a career that doesn't have anything to do with serving. Server is a new age, politically correct way to identify restaurant floor help and at the same time, neutralize gender. A waiter is a pro. This is what he (or she) does, not something he aspires to do away with.

So here are some vocabulary tricks to help ease the transition from Applebee's to Katz'.

At The Regular Restaurant, you asked newly seated customers if you could "start them off" with something to drink. Now, you say "you guys wanna Dr. Brown's or coffee or a beer or somethin'?"

A New York or Yiddish accent helps, but is not (usually) a requirement.

At The Regular, if a customer asked for a recommendation, you suggested whatever dish wasn't moving well that night. Now you say "Do I look like Julia Child? You got the menu, pick something."

At The Regular, if a customer asks you how the roast chicken is, you'd enthusiastically endorse it. Now you say "Nyeh. Stay away from the chicken, it's tough and dry. You want bird? Try the turkey, but have it without the stuffing. I don't trust it."

At The Regular, when someone finished a course, you'd say "let me get that plate out of your way..." (It's tough to figure out just how the plate which held the food one just finished is "in the way." In the way of WHAT? The ping pong game you want to start in that spot? The spreadsheet you're designing on the table cloth?) Now you say "you finished with that?"

Master the "who cares" shrug. Try it in front of the mirror. No words necessary. When you practice, though, say to the mirror "who cares?"
Or "I should care?" But keep your mouth shut and your gestures obvious when dealing with the customers.

It's easy, once you get the hang of it.

Oh, one more thing: don't smile. Ever.

Shrapnel:

--The latest G-20 meeting has come and gone, ending in the usual "joint communique," which says absolutely nothing and could have been written six months in advance. Nothing ever gets done at these meetings because the real work is done by staff, not by the world leaders. Also: If they want to avoid those messy and largely meaningless demonstrations, they'll do the next one by video conference.

--Great news! Economists from the Federal Reserve and from the private sector tell us the recession is over. So how come we all still feel so poor?

--A part time census worker deep in rural Kentucky has been found lynched, hanging naked from a tree, his hands and feet duct taped and the word "Fed" scrawled in Magic Marker on his chest. Cops have narrowed the list of local suspects to those who are capable of both knowing the word "fed" and writing it. It's a short list.

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

603 Re-Reading

603 Re-reading

Mr. Spin, which is not his name, can from memory recite the lines -- all the lines -- in "Casablanca" before Bogart and the others says them. Another friend, Panacali, which IS his name can recite all the lines in the movies "The Godfather," and "Godfather II" before the actors say them.
These two men are so into those films that they know every syllable, every nuance, every wave of the hand with absolute accuracy and authenticity and can replicate them both on command and/or often without provocation. And everyone who hears them thinks they're beautiful students of the cinematic arts, which they are.

Let's say you know all the lines from "The Long Gray Line" or "The Horse Soldiers" or "Creature From the Black Lagoon." People will think you're a little strange, maybe. Or they'll just assume you're a movie nut who has seen your favorite film enough times to know the dialog by heart.

But if you admit to reading a book more than once, you become a laughing stock. Read a book a second time? Or a third? You must be out of your mind. Not talking here about books you need for your job, like the auto parts catalog, or books you need for religious practice or classics like Shakespeare or even your checkbook. Just normal books, regular stuff.

One such is on the nightstand now. "The Wreck of the Penn Central," by a couple of Philadelphia newspapermen, Joseph Daughten and Peter Binzen, first published in 1971 and re-released in 1999 with the addition of two important features (1) inferior typography on inferior paper and (2) a bunch of mildly fuzzy black and white pictures that add nothing to the tale.

It is a brief history of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads, followed by an intensely detailed study of the acquisition of the later by the former, followed by the worst single corporate disaster in the history of American commerce. It is a book that belongs in the curriculum of every business school, on the book shelf of every regulatory agency and in the personal library of any business man or woman with the slightest inclination to look before they leap into any project resembling, say, Enron, World Com, Lehman Bros. Citigroup, Goldman, Merrill or General Motors.

It shows culture clashes, rivalries between and among subsidiaries, it shows how a huge ungainly and unwilling "merger" partner and a predatory acquirer can screw up a company, then a region and then an entire critical industry. It shows how politicians, well meaning and otherwise, can compound the felony and that we don't learn from our mistakes.



Shrapnel:

--What went wrong here? Went to a medical appointment the other day, was seen on time and well examined, then quickly checked out. That's not the way it's s'posed to be and these guys better get with the program if they want to stay in business.

--An 18 year old college freshman does a header off a building and lands on concrete 15 feet below. Authorities suspect drugs or alcohol may have played a role in his death. Ya think?

--There was a "find" in a discount store the other day, a couple of sealed-in-plastic Crane's note pads. No one does paper better than these guys and its acquisition means the ancient Parker fountain pen will have to come out of hibernation as the paper deserves nothing less.


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


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is This Brilliant or What?

602 Is This Brilliant, or What?

The telemarketers are all but banned from calling you. But some of them have found a stunningly inventive way of working around the law.
They don't call you, you call them! What? You heard right. They don't call you, you call them. Three NBC-Universal syndicated programs use this ploy.

Here's what happens. At least once during each show, but usually more often, the hosts, Maury, Jerry and Steve will pose an audience "question of the day." The questions range from how you like your eggs cooked to whether teenagers should be allowed to have sex and to drink.

At the end of the question, the host will give you a toll-free number to call so you can "voice your opinion," and will say that those who call with an opinion will be given "a chance" to "take advantage of..." some exclusive offers." Here are the first of them from Maury: To "thank" you for your answer, there are five: (1) Match yourself with college funds. (2) Computer and other tech gear. (3) Credit card debt consolidation. (4) Cheap health insurance. (5) Build it yourself storage. Brilliant! They can't call you. You call them!

Springer: answer the question. Then, the offers. Five offers. (1) credit card debt consolidation. (2) New computer and other tech gear. (3) Build it yourself storage. (4) College Bound Network for college funds and schools. (3) Health insurance. (4) More credit card consolidation. (5) more storage space. You have to assume Wilkow is the same stuff. Not all that "exclusive," apparently.

So someone at NBC Universal obviously thought this thing up. And it won't be long before other NBC programs do the same thing.

You can imagine Vincent D'Onofrio saying "Hi, this is Detective Bobby Goren of the Major Case Squad. Our question of the day is "do you think Police Commissioner Kelly has reduced crime in your neighborhood?" After which a chirpy voice similar to the woman who introduces the Maury, Jerry and Steve questions will offer you college choices, computers, credit card debt consolidation, cheap build it yourself storage and cheap health insurance.

If that's successful, Jay Leno, Brian Williams and Matt Lauer won't be far behind.

The law is clear. So, now, is the path around it.

Shrapnel:

--Pittsburgh must be expecting a revival of the Watts riot. The G-20 opens tomorrow, a gathering of most of the world's money from 19 countries and the European Union. And to "keep order," half the Pennsylvania State Police and a large contingent of National Guardsmen are there to help Pittsburgh's men and women in blue make sure no one gets hurt -- except by them.

--These economic summit meetings never really accomplish anything. The "joint communique" they'll issue at the end of the meeting was written six months ago and most of the work that led to it was, too. Kind of like the Olympics, only smaller and more competitive.


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

Monday, September 21, 2009

601 Do I Hear a Waltz?

601 Do I Hear A Waltz?

It's a complicated musical drama about love and marriage and divorce in Italy, and the title is used here elsewise. It's about waltzing. Or potential waltzing.

Waltzing and, for that matter, all dancing is and always has been a foreign concept and something best unattempted at least around here, more so since a nasty series of damaging events to the left knee five years ago. Hobbling and walking canes become part of one's nature after awhile.

Now, it's time to walk normally again, and free of pain at that.

The sheer relief of not hurting is a result of a contraption the doctors call an "unloader" knee brace. It is fabulously expensive (will Medicare pay for this?) and complicated. It is, in effect, a two-foot-long tube into which one inserts the errant leg, which is then bound by a series of Velcro straps attached in mysterious places and which presses a circular hinge in a spot that straightens a crooked knee.

This particular model is made by a company headquartered in Iceland, where they have time to think up things like this.

In the orthopedic clinic, an anorexically thin woman with a lovely open face applies the thing. Standing and walking suddenly becomes normal. It makes one want to run out and play tennis, even though tennis is in the same category as waltzing.

Even when the thing comes off, the leg is good. The knock-knee isn't knocking in three-quarter time, any more. The single step from the garage to the house no longer is Mt. Everest, or even mole hill Everest. And when the pain dissolves, the bad attitude that goes with it dissolves too.

So here's to the deep-south doc who said "try the unloader," And here's to the rail-thin and ever-so-pleasant girl who fitted it, and here's to the Icelanders who have time enough and ingenuity enough to think up this Rube Goldberg looking contraption.

Now, do I hear a waltz?

Shrapnel:

--It's a good thing today's kids aren't going to end up with any money. If they had it, they'd probably have to write checks. And elementary schools have put "penmanship" on the back burner, if they teach it at all.

--On the other hand, if banks continue to fail at their current rate, NO ONE will be writing checks. As of today, there have been 94 bank failures this year. The good news is that putting the money in your mattress now earns only slightly less than the average return on deposits.

--Governor Paterson of New York has given Mike Bloomberg's campaign for a third term as NYC mayor a big boost. Paterson has endorsed Bloomberg's opponent, William Thompson, the city controller with an office under investigation in a pension corruption case. Meantime, the White House wants Paterson to step down after the current term, which, if he does, could be his greatest contribution to the state.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©5770 WJR



Friday, September 18, 2009

600 The Third Best Kept Secret

600 The Third Best Kept Secret

There are three secret combinations of stuff that form the backbone of modern American life. In order of importance, they are the codes in the nuclear football, the formula for Coca Cola and the method the Old Farmer's Almanac uses to predict the weather.

Only the President and some close aids and Pentagon types know the first.

No one at all knows the second, though parts of it are divided among seven different wizened old chemists in Georgia, picked because they hate each other, don't speak among themselves and therefore will not tell each other the individual parts or steps needed to make coke syrup.

The third best kept secret has escaped from the book's headquarters in Dublin, New Hampshire and while not in general circulation -- at least not yet, has the potential to become widely known for the first time since its creation 218 years ago. You can know this, because the source is unimpeachably authentic, Judson Hale, Sr., chairman and editor-in-chief, who blithely let it go during an interview heard by anyone with a radio this week.

Judd's a fine man, a fine editor and gives a wonderful interview. But somehow he let the cat out of the bag. No, no, not the whole secret. Not even the whole bag. But he did admit he has shared the secret with (gulp!) a meteorologist from the commercial weather forecasting company Accu-Weather. Not only that, but he admits to having done this as far back as 1996.

This may account for an increase in the "accu" part of the company's forecasting. But "so what" you say, one more guy knows the formula, works for the forecasting company and for the Almanac, and who cares?
Ah, yes, but it is the beginning of the end of the secret. Suppose the guy is forgetful and has written it down somewhere and leaves it on his desk some day? Suppose he is captured by a secret ring of weather crazies and they water board it out of him? Or they plant a spy.

The possibilities for the end of the secret are endless. Something more to fear.

Shrapnel:

--The Baucus health care "compromise" is a pile of bat guano. How can a guy who gets all those bucks from the insurance industry create a fair piece of health care legislation? Not possible, so instead they put up a plan that was neither healthy nor caring, as Walter Cronkite said of the system in general.

--Without either a single payer or government option option, the health care bill is a piece of paper with nothing on it. Do we really need legislation that doesn't do anything, but costs a fortune? The answer is "no, not right now, thank you."

--First Ellie Greenwich, now Mary Travers has died at the age of 72. We used to argue about what constituted folk music. She lost, all the way to the bank... r.i.p.



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

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

599 We're All Nuts

599 We're All Nuts

Einstein is said to have said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. There's no sure way of finding out whether he actually said that or whether, as some authorities describe it, it is merely generally attributed to him. No matter. It's a pretty good definition and might qualify as "Einstein's Other Theory," right up there with relativity.

To one extent or another, we all do this, and therefore we are all at some point insane.

It applies both to the simple and the complex. Let's say you get your paycheck every other Friday at 5 p.m. If you're like most people, you've already spent that money, so you rush to the bank, which is open Friday evenings until 7. You get there and the lobby is crowded. People are milling about, all of them waiting to deposit their paychecks, and it takes an eon to get to a teller who by this hour probably is tired, hungry and cranky.

You do this fortnight after fortnight, expecting that "this time" it won't be so crowded and the teller won't be tired or hungry or cranky. But it never changes. You are nuts.

Or, let's say you're a student reluctant to study. You get bad grades. Before the next exam, you again don't study, but "maybe this time I'll get an 'A.'" But of course, you flunk. You are nuts.

Think of the football teams that use the same losing strategy week in and week out, year in and year out and never win. They are nuts.

Suppose you're the President of the United States and you try to advance your legislative agenda by being a good listener and conciliatory and cool of demeanor. And your stuff gets mauled by congress but you keep the same approach? You are nuts.

Repetition is comfortable and familiar. Habits are habits. But when they don't work and you don't change whatever it is you're repeating whether bank visits, studying, football, or legislation, if you don't change your approach, you are nuts.

And who are we to argue with Einstein?
Shrapnel:

--The new Leno show lived up to its overhype. Jay is Jay and the new gig is nothing more than a time-transplanted version of the Tonight Show, which never should have been taken from him. Couldda done without Seinfeld and Kanye West, though.

--The funniest line of the night was "...this is not another one of those annoying promos, this is the actual show." You couldn't swing a dead cat this summer without "annoying" Leno promos in lengths between five seconds and five minutes. NBC spent $10 million on all that, and probably worth every penny.

--Critics mostly liked the show, although USA Today called it a "snooze." Almost 18 million viewers managed to stay awake, a 5.1 rating and a 13 share, though night two was a bit lower -- a normal phenomenon. If that ain't a success, what would be?

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



Monday, September 14, 2009

598 Marching On Washington

598 Marching On Washington

This kind of thing's been going on for a long time. Probably the most famous march on Washington took place on August 28, 1963, a little over 46 years ago, on a sweltering Wednesday. That was Martin Luther King Jr.'s rally for jobs and freedom, as it was billed. There probably were about a quarter of a million people.

In October of 1995, it was Louis Farrakhan's so-called Million Man March, which may have drawn a larger crowd than Dr. King's, though not a million, and transportation had gotten cheaper and easier. The goal of this one was entirely different. It was a hate rally.

Two years later it was the Promise Keepers, similar in tone to Farrakhan's event, but much whiter and nominally Christian instead of nominally Islamic.

Before and after these three, there were rallies and marches in DC, protesting or promoting employment rights, gay rights, women's suffrage, the Vietnam war, Israel, the "Palestinian Territories," you name it.

Joining these ranks now, the Corporate March on Washington. Oh, they didn't call it that, but that's what it was. This wasn't a major, at least population wise. Seventy five thousand, maybe 80-thousand right wing fringees were protesting taxation, public health care and anything and everything having to do with Barack Obama. They called it the Taxpayer March on Washington. But not a lot of shoe leather was spent.

Air conditioned luxury tour buses did most of the moving. That saved a lot of pseudo patriotic energy for song and story, speeches from the usual suspects -- people who want to reduce your life to total drudgery (often by quoting The Drudge Report.)

All this along with signs accusing the President of Nazism, an inspirational appearance from Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina who shouted "Liar liar!" at the President who was addressing a joint session of Congress.

Some of these people are unwitting dupes, sucked into to the vicious nonsense that passes for partisan disagreement these days. Others were in some form paid.

But whether sucked in or bribed or paid, all these protesters are company property.




Shrapnel:

--Even on deadline, you can bowl in the newsroom with little fear of hitting anyone. Doesn't matter whether it's a newspaper, TV or radio. The only guys left write about baseball or football or basketball, and generally not well, although some papers still have a police beat reporter, probably 100 years old and well past his or her prime.

--At least that centurion HAS a prime to be past. That is not going to happen too often from here out. No one to teach newcomers the real world and how news works.

--This leaves the journalism schools with a heavy burden: teaching something they know little about. It's the only extant alternative to on the job training. Some of the J-schools, the more practical ones, are adding courses about burger flipping -- but only at the post-graduate level.


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


Friday, September 11, 2009

597 September Eleventh Revisited Part II

597 September Eleventh Revisited Part II

The stink of this thing took about a week to float its way to the upper east side, and it's the kind of stink that stays with you, both in your nose and in your heart. By Tuesday the 18th, we had pretty much the same picture we have now, eight years later. We didn't have an exact death count, but we knew the round number was 3,000. We didn't know the extent of the maladies that would later strike survivors, but that stink in the air told us SOMETHING was coming, eventually.

The feds and the city did air tests. The Environmental Protection Agency's Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor, Horsewoman, elegant, poised in a Miss Manners sort of way, assured us that everything was clean. The party line.

The subways and the commuter railroads got back to normal on the "day of..." though late, after they'd figured out that they weren't targets. In the hours before that, they stopped. Sometimes in darkened tunnels and without explanation. For hours.

There are shocks to the system -- the personal system -- that take time to sink in. This one sunk in immediately. Something like this could not be happening. Back in the newsroom on 59th, we went about our business. But what WAS our business? Reporting the truth. But what WAS the truth? The TV, our transmissions and all of the rest of them had pictures of the planes hitting the towers and the fires that followed. There we were in our individual private hells and in the collective hells shared by everyone. The towers, the Pentagon, the Pennsylvania field, all there for the viewing, over and over.

Noses to the grindstone. Get out the facts. Find the mayor. Find the Secretary of Defense, find the President, find the Vice President.

The first wasn't easy. There were no facts. The second WAS easy. The Mayor was on site, downtown, where he belonged. The secretary was scratching his head. The President was airborne -- somewhere. The vice president was encamped at his now-famed "undisclosed location," presumably pulling strings in his sinister way, insuring there were no more hijackings that day by grounding every civilian aircraft in America.

One the street, New Yorkers were doing something they always did, but in a new way. We were schmoozing. With total strangers. We were walking... no subways quite yet. We were working our way to Grand Central or to Penn Station or to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, trying to get home. Or hoofing it across the 59th Street Bridge. Or the Brooklyn Bridge. Throngs of us. Talking among ourselves quietly. We were, for the moment, a people unified in horror and brotherhood. We passed the southern entrances to Central Park and smelled horses. The stink wouldn't block that out for a week.

We were one people determined to seek safety and to avenge. And now, here it is, all these years later. And where is that unity? It has been splintered by partisan bickering, by the fighting of two useless wars, an economic near-depression and we are no closer to bringing the villains to justice.

This is shameful and unacceptable.

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

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

596 Septemper Eleventh Part I

596 September Eleventh Revisited Part I


Veterans of the Viet Nam war have a saying: If you weren't there, you don't get it. The same can be said of September eleventh, 2001, the eight anniversary of which is approaching. There were three "grounds zero," not one. The main one was the World Trade Center in New York. There also was the Pentagon and a lonely field in Pennsylvania.

As your distance increases from these points, the impact on you tends to decrease. "It wasn't such a big deal" is heard throughout the land.

The pint size intellectual in the White House didn't get it when it happened and didn't get it for the rest of his presidency and doesn't get it now. And if you weren't there, neither do you, even if you think you do.

Time fuzzies out the day and the days that followed. We look at the events and the circumstances with gauze over the lens. Or not. It's like the day Kennedy was shot. Everyone remembers clearly where they were that day, that hour. And everyone lost someone when the trade center came down. Everyone knew someone who was trapped in that hell. If not that, then a cop or a firefighter who plunged into the wreckage and died or who live on with godawful afflictions acquired in the line of duty and sometimes without compensation.

And now, here we are, eight years later, and the World Trade Center remains a hole in the ground. And the guy behind it all is still on the run or hiding in a cave somewhere. And the insurance companies and the city and the builders and the developers and on and on are still arguing about what should be done ... and when and how.

The mind, gauze on the lens or no, doesn't grasp three thousand deaths in an attack on American soil. The number is overwhelming. But we grasp the death of a loved one or a neighbor or a friend or a guy who worked at the next desk and went to his reward without you because you were running late that morning.

And the mind, gauze on the lens or no, doesn't totally cloud the unity we all felt in the aftermath, a unity that lives in our minds and hearts but eventually evaporated, like the poisoned smoke the Environmental Ministry told us it wasn't.

My friend and then-colleague Don Mathisen went on the air with me the other day and talked about the lessons of the day. Don said he had hoped that the event taught us that the military is needed to protect New York, and that local police and intelligence should be expanded. Don is right, of course. But what would have happened if a flight of Navy F-14s had brought down a civilian airliner? You know the answer to that one don't you?

(More Friday)


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

Monday, September 07, 2009

595 Labor Day, A Second View

595 Labor Day, A Second View

Hold this notion: We didn't get to be the way we are by being the way we are.

As kids, we'd come into Manhattan to watch each year's Labor Day Parade, and it was endless.

Iron workers, steamfitters, building engineers, auto workers broadcast technicians, subway and railroad conductors and engineers and track liners and signal workers... cops, firefighters, restaurant workers, hospital workers, nurses, doctors, postal workers, air traffic controllers.

Also, carpenters, joiners, cement workers, garment workers, teachers, telephone operators and installers and linemen -- or line-people.

And... cabbies, painters, spacklers, paving drivers, hotel door men and women, truck drivers, warehouse workers, supermarket clerks and butchers. Anyone missing? Probably, but you get the picture. The people who run our trains, catch our crooks, teach us and our kids and so on.

They build things, they tear things down.

And many of them are gone now that we have decided that manual labor is something we farm out.

But make no mistake. Without American labor, you wouldn't have your roads or your cars or your bridges or your apartments or you houses or your offices.

Maybe you work in a job requiring a uniform, a suit, that costs a couple of grand or a hairstyle that costs you a couple of hundred a pop.

Nice work if you can get it -- especially these days. But it wasn't always that way. And it won't always BE that way if we don't realize, all of us, that we didn't get to be the way we are by being the way we are. The people who campaigned for and sometimes got hurt for or killed for the dignity of the American worker left us a legacy and a heritage.

And we can ask ourselves two things, here in the early years of the 21st century: what are we doing with that legacy and heritage, and what are we leaving for following generations. Have we fallen into the ugly trap of considering any work less than our own? If you think that's true, get under the sink or toilet and fix that leaky pipe yourself.

Or get together with the other members of your squash team or your soccer team and see if you can turn that energy into building a house or backing an 18 wheeler into a space that doesn't look big enough to walk through.

The Labor Day parade tends to be short and gray and soggy these days, in those years they actually hold them. It is symbol not of the vigor of American labor, but of our attitude toward it. We, America, became the only superpower still standing by recognizing and respecting the men and women who actually put it together.

We didn't get to be the way we are by being the way we are.

(Note: the concepts and some of the words in this posting have appeared in previous works, including the Tiny Tales stories of the late 1980s through the late 1990s and my "Thoughts On" feature for Bloomberg Radio in the early and late middle 2000s.)

Shrapnel:

--Here's an idea for out of work grant writers. Do a study on which people always start their tooth brushing routine with the same tooth and which don't. Then figure out that it doesn't make any difference.

--It's getting to the point that if Obama so much as sneezes there will be an uprising of bashers who will tell you that sneezing is socialism because it spreads germs. The guy could announce world peace and the cure for cancer and they'd still slam him. The news coverage of all this could lead a stranger to believe we've become a nation dominated by haters... and would they be wrong?

--What went wrong? The Jets actually won a football game the other day. But don't worry, it was only pre-season and the team has lots of time to get back to normal.


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

Friday, September 04, 2009

594 Labor Day

594 Labor Day

Murray the carpenter foreman is behind his desk in a construction shack on the roof of a building on the east side. He is smoking a Lucky and eating a meatball hero and not doing much carpenting. Between bites and puffs he reminds us that "Labor Day is an import. Can you beat that? An IMPORT!"

Yes, Labor Day or something a whole lot like it started in Ontario in the 1870s. It sprang from the Canadian labor movement, the unions and was imported to this country something like 140 years ago, give or take. Murray says "...this holiday's for the union guys. Let's not forget that. We used to march on Fifth Avenue every year. The parade took hours, hours!"

He's asked about non-union laborers. The answer is neither air-able nor printable.

Even in the organized labor center of the American universe, there's been a long down slide of union membership. And even without the shrinking numbers, membership ain't what it used to be.

"We gave up a lot of clout," he says. "We gave up the ability to shut a job down in a strike. We strike now, they just fire us and replace us and we take them to court and lose half the time. The judges? Company property in a lot of cases."

"Thing is," he continues, "people just don't know what they're missing. You look at the mess we're in and you see stuff we could have turned around before it turned into economic chaos and Wall Street sweetheart deals."

He's reminded of the excesses of the UAW. "GM, Ford, Chrysler? They all signed off on those contracts and now they build crap and can't sell cars and blame it on the workers and they steal the pensions. "

The Lucky wasn't union made and neither was the sandwich.

"Can't win 'em all," says Murray.


Shrapnel:

--Sen. Kennedy may be gone, but he's left a book, a memoir, behind -- one that accepts the lone gunman theory of his brother John's assassination. Several others have left behind books about Bernie Madoff. The former will sell, the latter already are proving there's no market left for the Ponzi champ.

--It was a close race for awhile, but Pennsylvania has won the race to be the last state with a 2009-10 budget and as of this writing still doesn't have one, more than two months into the fiscal year. Connecticut was the only other state left in the race, but they have an agreement in place. And we used to think Albany was slow!

--Congratulations to Diane Sawyer, who will replace Charles Gibson as anchor of the ABC dinner hour news broadcast in January. With Gibson, ABC was a major competitor for the ratings lead, though it rarely won. There probably are a lot of smiles over at alma mater NBC, which will likely increase the lead it has held since Cronkite left the chair at CBS and Peter Jennings of ABC passed away.


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

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

593 Autumn

593 Autumn

Wasn't much of a summer here in the Northeast. Not that it's over, yet. Officially, there are some weeks to go yet. Unofficially, Labor Day is six days away, and we've come to accept that as the end of the warm weather vacation season.

Warm weather? The only warm weather we got was that few days in mid-August, those same few days the central air conditioning decentralized into a heap of busted parts and pipes and dumped a minor flood on the basement floor. We experienced that brief flash of summer as our forefathers did: sweating profusely.

Hurricanes and potential hurricanes are swirling here and there. Forecasters are playing with dozens if not hundreds of computer models trying to figure out what might be coming next -- and where. And they're trying to figure out what the upcoming fall and winter have in store for us.

The forecasters will hit some targets and miss others. And we can forgive them, because we know weather forecasting is as much an art as a science and as much translating as it is composing.

Here are some hints: It will be colder in October than it was in July. There will be some snow in the months ahead. It will be lovely to look at and a pain to navigate.

TV news will be at the ready when departments of public works prepare for winter precipitation. For the umpteenth year in a row, some guy in coveralls will point to a mountain of sand or salt in front of which sits a truck and tell us how many tons of the stuff they have on hand, how they'll pay for overtime for the workers and so on.

They could have shot this scene in 1960 and just run it every year thereafter, because it's always the same.

Public officials will arise from their card games long enough to warn us about the road hazards.

Other than this, you need little more prediction about what happens between now and next spring.

Shrapnel:

--It is September and the eleventh soon will be upon us, when politicians and other self-interested parties will violate the spirit of those of us in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania who lived through this thing and survived it. To those of you who would politicize this great American tragedy: Go away, Republicans and Democrats alike. We do not need and do not want and cannot stand your idiotic posturing, your cheap attempts to turn this into a cheap political event and your sleazy effort to capitalize on something you cannot understand.

--Guys of my political stripe are supposed to like the Ed Schultz show. But I find him annoying and pointless. Is this the best that moderate lefties can turn out, and if so is it any wonder that liberal talk radio is a flop?

--I am also getting tired of the Olbermann-Madow Television axis. But at least they can be funny. And they get good guests.



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