Monday, November 30, 2009

631 Dubai-Bye

631 Dubai-bye

There are almost seven thousand stories about Rachel and Tiger on line as this is written (see Shrapnel below.) There are fewer than half that number about Dubai World and its troubles. So we know where our priorities are, of course.

The phrase "Dubai Bubble" is starting to catch on, largely because that was exactly what it was. And now it's either burst or leaking depending on which account you prefer.

Incomplete skyscrapers, unfinished shopping areas, unfinished housing developments, unfinished roads... and the list goes on.

The quick story is very similar to every other financial story of the time: no money. No one was watching the bank accounts, and no one expected the boom to end -- ever. Now Dubai World is for all purposes, broke. No worries. The national bank of the United Arab Emirates has guaranteed its debt, which is about 60 or 80 billion dollars in US dollars. No worries. A mere bag of shells compared to some broke businesses here, and nowhere near the amount the American government has poured into the domestic economy, starting with Bush and continuing with Obama.

That 60 or 80 billion? Is it real or is it Memorex? Is this in actual dollars or is it something bigger that can be hidden in the backwaters and footnotes of a financial statement?

The Dubai World website, modestly named "The World," can show you pictures of beautiful buildings and concrete spreading faster than any known pandemic. Nothing's for sale. Yet.

How did it happen? Maybe a lot of people suddenly decided they didn't want to play golf in 130 degree sun?

The debt problems seem isolated in one corner of one company. But Dubai World is a government controlled outfit. And that can mean dominoes falling.

Not many remember that Dubai Inc. needed a bailout earlier this year, going off to Abu Dhabi earlier this year, like a neighbor asking to borrow a cup of sugar. The Sheik in charge of "World" had been telling people not to worry, assuring them for nearly a year that everything was just ducky, thank you. He went as far as telling critics to "shut up." But he hasn't been saying much in the last week or two.

There were reverberations throughout world markets in the aftermath of "World's" announcement saying it needed a payment holiday of at least six months. Try that with your Visa card, your auto loan or your mortgage.


Shrapnel:

--Former colleague Rachel Uchitel has become the second most famous Alaskan on the planet after a tabloid named her as the reason Tiger Woods and his wife were fighting just before his car accident, an accusation everyone involved so far denies. No one could blame Woods or any other awake straight guy for seeking her, um, company. But please know Rachel is a smart, hard working, funny, compassionate and warm hearted human being -- and that should count for something in the court of public opinion.


Weekly Book Look:

Ayn Rand and the World She Created by Anne C. Heller.


Anne Heller suffers from Gay Talise Syndrome. Talise wrote books about The Mob, the New York Times and sex. All three turn exciting and interesting subjects into mind numbing baloney. Heller does the same with Rand, one of the most influential novelists and one of the oddest characters of the 20th Century.

Fascination turns to stultifying by the time you get to the second page.

Rand was a Russian Jewish babushka, a troll who lived in a world of her own and manufactured trolls by the millions in the 1950s and 1960s.

(Note: there are two important definitions for "babushka." One is a headscarf. The other is a elderly woman, often a crone.)

But talk about influential! Millions of books sold, and all of them in print to this day, although her magnum opus was first published in 1957 and her other novels or novellas or plays way earlier. She is generally credited, and rightly so, with being the Grandmother and Goddess of the current arch conservative onslaught.

Yet, there's nothing much new in this book, at least not for people who knew her or followed her advice or peeked beneath the surface of the public Rand in her prime.

She was a bitch on wheels. She was brilliant. She was perceptive. She was screwed up. She threw temper tantrums. She treated many of her closest friends as enemies and drove many of them away either by turning against them or formally "excommunicating" them. She had a long running affair with her much younger Mentee-in-Chief, Nathaniel Branden. She treated her husband, Frank O'Connor, like crap and drove him to drink -- and to an early death.

We knew all this. But now we know it in dreary, colorless terms.

The Legend lives on. She's still widely read. Her "institute" founded by another sycophant, Leonard Peikoff, remains active and continues spreading The Word.

Part of that proselytizing is done by the right wing talk show crowd, which carefully avoids mentioning her atheism to their religious listeners and viewers.

As for Ms. Heller, her "About the Author" segment says she was managing editor of the Antioch Review. Most of us who graduated from Antioch are considered raging liberals today, some correctly. If she's part of the "some," it doesn't get in the way of her assessments.

The publisher, it turns out, is Gay Talese's wife, Nan A. Talese. Which explains a lot.

Richards Readometer Rating: 2 if you're a Rand fan or foe, otherwise 3.
===
Readometer Key:

1 - Buy it.

2 - Wait for the paperback.

3 - Take it out of the Library.

2. Flip through it at the book store.

1. Forget it.

Next week: Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman.

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


Friday, November 27, 2009

630 The WRFM Christmas Festival

630 The WRFM Christmas Festival

It's early December and WRFM has started filtering Christmas songs into the rotation. This'll all come to a climax on Christmas eve when we begin the annual Christmas Festival of Music, 36 hours of continuous holiday stuff ranging from the very heaviest of symphonic hymns to the lightest of pop and country crossover songs.

It was heavily promoted, widely heard and, because it was New York and we so-called "personalities" were easily accessible on the telephone and subject to complaint.

One afternoon, the phone rings and it's Morris the Fireman, a regular caller and a big fan. Mo, the Jewish Fireman. Gravel voiced, bedridden, bad heart and out on permanent disability. So Mo says "Why you aren't playing Hanukkah songs, too? You got something against Jews?"

In New York? Don't be ridiculous.

I tell Mo "Hey, I'm as Jewish as you are and if you give me a list of Hanukkah songs, I'll play 'em."

Silence.

There aren't any that mean anything.

I give Mo my usual rap about the holiday: "Mo, you and I both know that Hanukkah is a minor holiday and that it gets big play around here because a bunch of whiny kids want presents like their Christian friends get in December, and we parents comply. This is one of the Big Two Christian observances and the songs are mostly wonderful."

This shuts him up, which wasn't easy to do.

Back to the festival. At that time, the late 1970s, Channel Eleven television was still showing its Yule Log video and playing similar music in the background. You'd watch the long burning at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor. It was a short loop repeated over and over. They got a lot of viewers.

But according to our mail and phone calls, our music was better. So there were an awful lot of people watching the long with the CH 11 sound turned down and the radio tuned to "Stereo-105," us.

Their really was no comparison. WRFM's lone stockholder, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had an incomparable treasure trove of Christmas music. There was so much there that we could have gone the whole 36 hours without repeating any one particular version of any song. But, of course, we didn't.

By the time the thing ended, those of us on shift left with what can only be described as a Christmas music hangover. Enough, already.

Thing is, by the time next October of November rolled around, most of us were eager for the return of the Festival.

How I wish I had stolen some of those tapes when the station changed format in 1985.

Shrapnel:

--There was a crow invasion here Thanksgiving morning. Thousands of them swooping in, perching in the trees, pecking on the back and side lawns. Then, they vanished, every last one of them, probably the holiday worm feast wasn't as feastful they expected.

--How did November get so short? It seems like only yesterday, it was October. Time flies when you're (not) having fun?

--Decide now what diet you're going on come New Year's Day. It'll save you time in the long run. Not that any of us will stick to it for more than a week.



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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

629 Are You Reagan Enough?

629 Are You Reagan Enough?

From the folks who brought you loyalty oaths, here comes the "Purity Test."

Taking (yet another) page out of the playbook used by dictators from Julius Caesar to Hitler, Stalin and Mao, the Republican Party is considering a "checklist" for candidates and wannabes. The Republican National Committee wants to make sure its candidates are Reagan enough.

It's planning to assure itself that the people with endorsements are sufficiently anti-abortion, anti-bailouts and anti-Obama.

In fairness, this is not the work of the party's hapless chairman, Michael Steel, who has been (a) fabulously lousy at getting people elected and (b) is trying to keep this listing ship balanced. It is the work of ten guys who want to make it Party Law at the annual meeting in January. The Gang of Ten.

You can imagine the midnight storm troopers wearing Brooks Bros. suits and Ronnie masks coming around to the homes of candidates. The pounding on the door. "Alright, Rudy, assume the position!" One says "he's clean. Siddown, Rudy, we have some questions for you.

"You still a closet baby killer, or is all this anti abortion talk the New Rudy?"

They don't need to question people like Dede Scozzafava. They could just march her out into the woods and fire away.

Put the names of the "traitors" on Facebook. Burn the "traitors" in effigy. Hold "Tea Parties" at which they're marched blindfolded through the crowds.

Better yet, stone em!

Nixon wouldn't pass, today. Certainly not Javits or Nelson Rockefeller. What would they say about Eisenhower? Or Lincoln, that dirty closet socialist!

And when there's one "Purity Test" out there, what's to stop additions?

Get ready for the midnight raids and the Reagan masks.

Oh, wait. Didn't Reagan once head a UNION?

Maybe forget the masks. After all, the King of Purity wasn't always pure, himself.


Shrapnel:

--Former colleague and early morning phone buddy Charles Sabine, who for twenty something years covered Iraq and other sewers-of-fire for NBC News, has left the beat to tell the story of his life -- and probable death. Sabine recently learned he has the gene for Huntington's Disease and has started campaigning for more research and fundraising, though he has yet to present symptoms. A cure won't likely come in time for him, but typically, he's thinking longer term than his own remaining years.

--Among the latest guys to "welcome" his day in court or reasonable facsimile is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who just can't wait for ethics investigators to hear his side of the "I went hiking.. um.. no, I went to Argentina to get laid" story and to justify his expense vouchers. The only thing missing from his latest statement is the traditional -- almost universal cry, "I'm not a bad person!"

--Another turkey story as we near Thanksgiving: Jerry, the pet turkey of a Massachusetts family has cataracts and needs surgery. So they've put an ad on Craig's List asking for donations and hope that'll cover the full bill, which could run almost three grand.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

628a The Suitcase Dilemma

628a The Suitcase Dilemma

Planning a trip to Asia gets us into the Suitcase Dilemma. A trip that lasts a month or six weeks will require new luggage. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong.

Do you get a really good set that'll take the pounding that a 20-thousand mile round trip will no doubt administer? Or do you buy cheap stuff that you can throw away on returning home? The inclination is to get something "good," that'll stand up. But these days, people are coming to the airports and swiping luggage from the carousel before the passenger gets through customs. Good may be what the insurance people call an "attractive nuisance."

On the other hand, something really inexpensive may fall apart halfway through the journey.

So the best answer is to get no luggage at all, and FedEx your stuff to the first stop, pick up a duffel bag or two there and send the bags back home FedEx before returning. No danger of theft. Scarce little danger of loss. Pricey, but not as pricey as buying good stuff and having the bags lost or stolen.

Sounds like a brilliant plan. But there's a downside. And the downside is the Homeland Security folks. "You're going from New York to Hong Kong or Shanghai or Taipei and you don't have luggage?" It's a legitimate question, but one that will get you shunted off the check-in line and into a small windowless room with a one way mirror, and metal chairs and a table bolted to the floor.

"But officer, we were worried that our stuff would get lost or stolen so we shipped it ahead."

"You have a receipt?"

"Sure, right here."

"This says you shipped two boxes to someone named 'Uncle K.' in Taipei. But it doesn't say what was in them. And who is this 'Uncle K,' anyway?"

Uncle is an upright, accomplished retired official of the Taiwan government. He is old, smart, well spoken, dignified, respected and a pillar of his community (and his mosque.)

"Mosque, you say?" You can see where this is going.

Maybe FedEx ain't such a hot idea.

Oh. How about this variation: ship the stuff by carrier and take two small suitcases filled with nothing in particular, to check in at the airport counter.

All bases covered. Who cares if the suitcases are stolen at the airport -- either here or there. No hassle about having no luggage. If it gets lost or stolen, who cares.

Phone rings. "Hello."

"This is China Air. We have some lost luggage here that apparently belongs to you."

"Oh, okay."

"May I ask why you never reported it missing?"

Re-enter Homeland Security.

All this over a couple of suitcases.

"Umm. We never reported it missing because we didn't realize it was missing?"

That's not going to fly. Maybe we should take a boat. The trip's way longer, but a whole lot less trouble.

Shrapnel:

--Talk about "wiggle room." Guy coming in from Australia tries to get through customs at LAX by strapping 15 lizards to his chest. The charge: transporting lizards without a license -- really.

The Weekly Book Look

Today we resume a regular feature of Bloomberg On The Weekend, the weekly Book Look, which will talk about various volumes, many of which will be available at the "Books For A Buck" bin at your local store, some of which will not. Rather than starting with a specific work, today -- some advice on a particular form of reading: self help and business books.


Here's how to read both categories.

Please remember that anyone publishing any of these has an ax to grind. It doesn't matter whether it's "How to Dream Your Way to a Billion..." or "How to play the Gold Market" or "How to Win the Heart of a Reluctant Lover, there's an ax -- even if there doesn't seem to be.

Most of this advice comes from one of the most prolific of self help writers, Napoleon Hill, author of "Think and Grow Rich" and any number of sequels. Hill suggested that before you buy one of these books, you open it and read the table of contents. This, he says, will show you the direction in which the author is going and the topics he or she covers.

You can learn a lot from "Contents." And you usually can tell from it (or the index) what you'll be finding in the pages and of what use it will be to you.

Most self-help books are a combination of irrelevance and common sense. One of the most famous, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie can be summarized in a few words. In this case, the single most important line between the covers is "bait the hook to suit the fish." You don't need to read "Friends" to get this. All you have to do is think about the idea and act accordingly.

"See You At the Top" by Zig Ziglar is another mainstay in the self help world. If you examine the contents, you'll quickly realize that this is not only about money, but also is about Christianity. Interested? Fine. But not for everyone.

Hill's advice on business and self help books is worth more than anything he has to say in any of his own books.

A lot of what we talk about in this section will be about cheap novels -- stuff to read for fun. But some will be serious.

Next time: "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" by Anne C. Heller.

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



Friday, November 20, 2009

627 The Phone "Glitch"

627 The Phone Glitch

When you dial a toll-free number, here's what happens: you get switched into a call center and then "rolled over" into a local phone number that rings wherever it is you're calling. Well, almost.

Sometimes, the call goes astray and ends up on the wrong phone.

When it happens occasionally, it's a "glitch." When it happens almost every day, it's something more.

Here's my cell number (don't worry, everyone else has it.) 516 318 0063. Had it for about ten years. In that time, the phone has rung almost daily with calls for: Newsday, the New York Daily News, the New York Times, Empire Blue Cross, Medicare, Medicaid, Merrill Lynch, American Express, a porn website, and in earlier times for Waldbaum's Supermarkets, Nassau County Off Track Betting, Chase Visa, and the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Hotline.

Verizon can't figure it out. They just don't know why it happens. But here's the answer: the call from the customer/ subscriber/ card "member," etc., gets transferred or "rolled over" into this local number instead of the right one.

Beside not knowing how it happens, they don't know how to prevent it.

So every day or so, Mrs. Blavatnik from Levittown calls to tell the Daily News that its new carrier is not putting the paper on her porch and she can't risk walking on the ice to receive it. Or some guy wants an explanation for a health insurance claim that's been rejected or "What's today's special in the vegetable department," or "why are all my stocks losing money?"

Mrs. Blavatnik gets a a polite answer. The rest of them? Not so much.

Verizon tech support: "We can deduct the minutes you use answering those calls."

Customer: "I never reach the limit in my minutes."

Verizon tech support: "then we can't help you, sir.

Customer: "But can you stop the calls?"

Verizon tech support: "No."

At least it's a straight answer.



Shrapnel:

--Mayor For Life Bloomberg and former Mayor For Life Giuliani have crossed swords on the terrorist trial being held in New York Federal Court. The former wants its and the latter thinks doing it is a result of some left wing conspiracy. No worries, boys, the guy's going to fry, but probably not in your lifetimes.

--Would be better to put the guy in hands of the NYPD, whose officers sometimes become a bit... um... distracted. Sometimes when that happens, the prisoner loses his balance and takes a fall. And that often results in serious injury, which would be a terrible thing.

--They finally caught the Turnpike Turkey near Jersey City. She disrupted traffic and nearly caused accidents for more than a week. But the animal control officers finally managed to net her and take her off to a zoo, where she will be saved from being someone's Thanksgiving dinner... maybe.

Coming Unattraction
By popular demand (from maybe six people,) the "Book Look" feature heard during Bloomberg on the Weekend from 2000 to 2006 will return to these pages. You want it, you got it. You don't want it? It'll be easy to skip.


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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

626 It's Never "Nothing"

626 It's Never "Nothing."

"Honey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"No, really. You look annoyed. What's going on?"

"Nothing. Really. It's nothing."

It's never nothing.

In the eons-old jousting between men and women, women have taken to (a) denying what they'd really like to tell you or (b) refraining from punching you out over some slight, real or imagined or (c) admitting you know them well enough to perceive the radiation of "something is wrong" vibes from them.

What's truly scary is when you, the guy, know what is wrong and you can't get the lady to confirm it.

The other day on arising, the look of scorn came over "her" face.

"What's wrong, honey?"

"Nothing."

"No, really you look annoyed. What's going on."

"Nothing. Really, it's nothing."

But it WAS something. It always is.

The t- shirt was too tight.

It took two days, but finally: "You look like a meatball in that yellow t- shirt. You look like a sausage."

AHAH! It WAS something. It always is. In this case, it's a "so what?" moment. But that almost never solves the problem.

You didn't put the cat out. You didn't take the garbage out. You had one-too-many glasses of wine at dinner. You didn't load the dishwasher. You DID load the dishwasher but you still came back with spotted dishes. You didn't wish my mother a happy birthday.

"But your mother's been dead for 30 years."

"No matter. You still should have called. Or maybe the car needs washing. Or the laundry needs washing. Or "You told me not to buy two packages of bath soap at Sam's Club two weeks ago and we'll soon be out of the stuff."

Freud is said to have asked "What do women want?"

The answer is "nothing, dear. It's really nothing."

No it ain't. It's never nothing.


Shrapnel:
--We shouldn't be too hard on Sarah Palin about her book. She's rewriting history. But she's not alone, as election losers and losers in life are always trying to do that and usually getting away with it.

--The White House is ratcheting up its anti-Israeli rhetoric by calling new housing in Jerusalem "dismaying." What's dismaying is the President's boot liking attitude toward the so-called Palestinians, people who didn't really exist when Israel was found, but who have found a voice long since. And they forget that they already have a "homeland," which is called Jordan, which doesn't want them either.

--Go have that Whopper or Big Mac. There's a new study that shows you're no more likely to have heart trouble as a result than did some 3,500 year old mummies who have been discovered lately to have had heart disease. Arteries clog for all kinds of reasons, including stuff they ate more than 3,000 years ago without being asked "you want fries with that?"


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

Monday, November 16, 2009

625 Second Looks

625 Second Looks

Lyndon Johnson is widely quoted as saying Gerald Ford is "so dumb he can't walk and chew gum at the same time." What LBJ actually said was "...can't fart and chew gum at the same time." Many of us can so-do, but not always perfectly.

And we are multitasking pioneers. Long before the term came into use, long before anyone thought of a name for it, many of us were... um... walking and chewing gum at the same time. And often, that resulted in poorly chewed gum (or bitten tongues) and/or gawky walking. That is to say when we multi-task, we get each task done, but often below standard.

The most common mistakes come when the multi-tasker is thinking of one thing and at the same time performing some silly mundane chore like sweeping the floor or washing the dishes. For example, one might think up this posting while, say cleaning the sink. This leaves us with a mental outline of a Wessay, and perhaps some spots in said sink.

Since it's almost impossible to concentrate on a task like sink cleaning without the mind wandering, a small suggestion. Once you think the sink is cleaned, leave the room momentarily. Then return and inspect the sink. The second look will generally reveal any remaining spots.

The second look idea comes to us from science. "Did I really turn lead into gold during that experiment, or do I just THINK I did it?" Easy enough to take a second look. If there's really gold on the lab table during the second look, you did. If there's still lead or lead again, you either didn't do it, or you didn't do it right.

Those of us of a certain age do this automatically sometimes. For example, the question "did I brush my teeth tonight?" usually can be verified by returning to the medicine cabinet and checking on whether the toothbrush is wet.

The second look is a handy tool, if we only remember to use it.

In the meantime, here's a piece of Double Mint for ya.


Shrapnel:

--The Palin book is full of lies, according to an Associated Press fact check. She's not rewriting history, though. Only current events, things that people who live in places like Alaska and Phoenix can remember and who don't remember them the way she does.

--Speaking of Phoenix, someone sent a couple of books back to a library there -- slightly overdue... um, well, 50 years overdue. The anonymous crook sent a $1,000 check to cover the fines. Stories like these are becoming almost as common as those about guys who get busted for DWI while in or on wheelchairs, lawn tractors and the rare (but not unique) stolen steamroller.

--All this guitar non-music is getting boring. Someone ought to try stardom with another instrument. The double belled euphonium comes to mind, or maybe the didgeridoo, the manufacture of which would keep Australian termites too busy to chew down houses in the outback.



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

Friday, November 13, 2009

624 Jargon-naught

624 Jargon-naught

We newsies have a jargon all our own, and like all jargon it's sometimes downright silly. But sometimes not.

Everyone's calling the guy who shot up Ft. Hood the "suspect." Legally, of course, he was, until charged. Now he'd rightly be called the accused. Suspect is a legalism because we're not, any of us, supposed to pronounce him guilty before a jury does, which it probably will. But everyone knows "suspect" is a ridiculous term in a case like this. There's no doubt about what he did in front of a gazillion witnesses. And no one suspects anyone else. Okay. Go with the justice system this time and use the legalism.

This is not the right word when they tell of someone who robs a 7-11. If we don't know his name, we STILL call him the suspect. He's not. He's the ROBBER. If they catch the guy and identify him, THEN he's the suspect. Think about it. How many times have you heard the phrase "police are looking for the suspect." That's untrue on two levels. First, if they don't know who he is, then he's not the suspect -- yet. And second, in an effort to make the story seem as immediate as possible, we say "police are looking for..."

Chances are they aren't, at least in a direct sense. More likely, they're filling out paperwork, drinking bad coffee and -- to mix jargons -- eating double chocolate glazed donuts. At some point, they may luck out or skill out and find the robber, whom we all will then dutifully and rightly call the suspect.

Jargon serves a few purposes. It's shorthand. It can speed communication within a closed system -- like a newsroom or an operating room. But it's also a lingo designed to cut the non-believers out of the church service. And every trade has it and uses it.

Doctors, dentists, lawyers, financial advisers, transportation workers, electrical workers, telephone installers. (Do you know what a "goat" is? It's that telephone like thing that installers carry and use to test lines. Why is it a "goat?" The answer is lost in Bell System lore.)

Jargon keeps us civilians from knowing the inner secrets of, say, mail delivery or cement mixing. Keeps the users on a higher perch. And, oh, how we love to be on a higher perch.




Shrapnel:

--Capitalism at its finest. A school in North Carolina wanted to raise money by selling higher grades to students, dollar a point, $20 minimum and maximum. They were stopped before they were started by people who didn't want kids to learn real life lessons -- as in how the world actually works.

--Here's an honest guy. He's a flooring man. And on the back window of his truck, there's this phrase: "We Lay Anything."

--That election for Nassau County Executive is starting to look more like the Minnesota senate race every day. The Democrat started out with a slight lead over the Republican and now their positions have reversed. Years ago they extended the term of office from three years to four and this year they might really need that extra time.

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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

623 FiOS And Friends

623 FiOS And Friends

They keep sending ads for FiOS, funny spelling and all. That's Verizon. They have something to sell, they sell it. Hard. Primarily to existing customers.

Crystal clear high def fiber optic pictures. Crystal clear high def fiber optic sound on TV AND on the phone. Lighting speed internet service -- equally crystal clear and high def.

Enticing discounts and low fees for the period of the contract. Amazing stuff. Dazzle you with 500 channels, cheap phone calls and web browsing with microwave speed.

Okay, enough with the brochures, the mailings, the leaflets. Let's see what you can do.

The not-so-fast Verizon DSL connection leads to an equally not-so-fast FiOS website which tells us "Sorry, FiOS is not available in your zip code." Two years of sales pitches, sometimes more than once a week, and two years of "Sorry."

In an era of micro-niche marketing, you'd think they'd send this stuff only to people who can actually buy it. Not these guys. They're pouring money out the door to get you to open it and come in -- and when you do, there's nothing there.

And you wonder why your regular phone, DSL and cell rates are so high? (Hey, fellas, how are you going to blame THIS idiocy on your shrinking unionized workforce? You'll find a way.)

Tony the installer is down the street. He's a fellow member of the Communications Workers of America. "Hey Tony, my CWA brother, when we getting FiOS?" "As soon's they can figure out how to get the fiber optic stuff from the street to your house."

"But they already have wires from the street to the house." "Yeah, but that's copper. It's different from fiber."

That's the ticket.

Is there something special about the conduits around here that make it hard for Verizon to install fiber, but okay to run copper? Tony doesn't know. He says call tech support.

We all know what that means. A telephonic visit to the Philippines or India or somesuch and no answers.

Of course, this brings up another point. What else are people pushing that you can't get? The answer: not much. The Chevy "Volt," maybe or "Real New York (pizza/ bagels/ hard rolls/ cheesecake)" anyplace but New York... Maybe Windows 7. Other than that, not much. Verizon could teach the rest of the marketing world a thing or two.



Shrapnel:

--Why don't they number doctors' prescriptions like they do bank checks? That would make some of those funny 'scrips easier to trace when people steal or trade in them. And why didn't someone think that up ages ago?

--At the doc's office recently, a Hispanic receptionist, accent and all. Felt like home. But at home, it wouldn't have.

--What's the one word you don't want to hear a nurse say when the doc is cutting something off you? That's right, it's "oops." Fortunately there was a prosthesis store right around the corner from the surgeon.


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

Monday, November 09, 2009

622 The Two Way Sewer

622 The Two Way Sewer

It's why we have all those shootings and a lot of other bad stuff. A sewer with two way traffic.

Look at it this way: The solipsists have taken over the world, guys who think everything is in their heads except themselves. The world's imaginary and they think they are the only reality. So, if they go out and off a bunch of soldiers at Ft. Hood or in an office building in Orlando or Oklahoma City or in a high school in Colorado or a college campus in Virginia, what of it? It's only their imagination.

Coming one way down the sewer is this notion. Coming up the other direction is reinforcement. Rugged individual. Founding fathers. My Own True Religion and a personal relationship with an (imaginary) deity. This two way effluvium is a perpetual motion machine that gains strength as it flows.

Reaganism turns to isolation, turns us to a jungle mentality turns us to solipsism. Solipsism turns us to a jungle mentality, turns us to Reaganism.

Health care for the masses? Not on your life. There ARE no masses. Just me. And I got mine.

Torturing prisoners in secret jails? No worries. Neither the prisoners nor the jails are real.

Energy costs? Guys who set the prices don't believe you're really there, so what's the big deal about charging more?

The Ft. Hood shooter? People are making a big deal out of his Muslim-ness. But that's not what this is about. This is about a guy who hears voices in his head and the voices tell him to kill and he does. What does it matter: the "victims" don't exist. Of course, it seems the sewer flows are interrupted now and then -- like when the shooters get shot. But no matter. The bullet and the resulting injury or death are mere figments of one's imagination.

He could have held any other set of beliefs and felt and acted the same way. A solipsist shrink "curing" imaginary illness in imaginary patients isn't a whole lot different than a solipsist Muslim lauding imaginary suicide bombers and killing imaginary co-workers (and that's who the victims were!)

The Orlando shooter? He got fired by his imaginary employer and took revenge.

Do these people know they're doing this? Probably not. An ordinary person having this self evaluation would probably imagine himself a loony bin and check himself in.

Meantime, the sewer with the two way traffic keeps building up more of ... um ... what sewers build up.


Shrapnel:

--A listener wants to know this: why Boehner says his name "Baynor," and not "Bone-er." Still trying to figure out whether she means "Bone-er" as in "error" or bone-er as in lack of erectile dysfunction.

--Why do conservatives cling to talk radio and the liberals rejected it? The right craves marching orders, the left does not. Which is the main reason Air America has never been a hit.

--They sell goose calls in hunting stores in middle America where there are no geese. That's bad for the hunters and good for any stray fowl who does a flyover. Now, why not elephant calls?

We didn't get to be the way we are by being the way we are. I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

621 The Mighty Fitz

621 The Mighty Fitz (1958-1975)

We remember some shipwrecks. The Titanic, the Andrea Doria, the General Slocum, the Lusitania, the Bismarck. Had Gordon Lightfoot not made an unusual song about it, though, we might not remember the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in on the Canadian side of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.

Unlike the sunken battle ships or the sunken luxury liners or the sunken touring boats, the Fitz was a mere ore carrier. There were no deck chairs or orchestras or huge guns. The Mighty Fitz was a bathtub with a propeller. And a shipwreck on a lake? A LAKE?!

Those of us who grew up on the Atlantic maybe too often turn our noses up at the thought of a lake as a formidable body of water. Superior is the largest lake in the world. And it is the third largest by volume with 200 rivers feeding it from several angles. Put it anywhere else, add a little salt and you've got yourself a perfectly fine sea.

And that bathtub with a propeller? Standing on the dock and looking up, you could confuse it with a mountain or a skyscraper. Length? Bigger than anything that floats and that you've been on. Seven hundred twenty nine feet. (The Titanic was 883.5, so only 150 feet or so bigger.)

We know what killed the Titanic, the Andrea Doria, the General Slocum, the Lusitania, the Bismarck. We do not know what killed the Edmund Fitz. A storm with hurricane force winds came suddenly and went? The bathtub overturned and broke up and went down, all so fast there wasn't time for a real distress call?

We can't exactly ask Capt. Ernest McSorley or any of the 28 others on board. But think about this: this vast ship, largest of its class and time, a city size bathtub carrying more than a quarter million tons of taconite, rocks with iron, falls 500 feet down and no one knows why or how.

It took awhile to find the wreck. The US Navy did that with magnets.

They've dived down and gotten the ship's bell. Did that only in 1995. It's in the museum they built.

Fifteen thousand people were on hand for the launch in '58. Twenty nine were on board for the sinking in '75. And they remain on board, preserved in their final moments and probably in good condition at that. The freshwater doesn't destroy its victims as the ocean does and there are no real predators down there.

As far as we know, all the crew remain where they landed. The families don't want them brought up.

That's the way they do it on the lakes. And this is the time of year we remember them.

Shrapnel:

--It was only justice. What better way to inaugurate a new stadium but with a world series win? Go Yankees!

--Mayor-for-life Bloomberg got bored running his company after about twenty years. But he has only 12 years to grow bored with his present job. Which is probably good for both Mike and for New York.

--A teenage girl in Idaho road rage rammed her truck into a car, then slathered the target with salad dressing. She used ranch flavor, which shows absolutely no upbringing. Everyone knows meals of metal taste better when slathered in FRENCH dressing.


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


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

620 Political Sports Bars

620 Political Sports Bars

There are specialty bars for almost everyone. The Hoity Toity set has places like the Bull and Bear. Student bars in college towns. Neighborhood joints in neighborhoods. Newsguys' taverns outside most papers and broadcast companies. Sports freaks have saloons all over the map. So why not political junkies?

Oh, sure, the K street crowd and other Washingtonians have their oases. But actual work gets done there. They are the lobbyists' equivalent of the golf course. But this isn't the subject here. The subject here is saloons that cater to the armchair quarterbacks who have no clout.

Walk into Mickey Mantle's and everyone's an expert, even without Mickey being there. Why can't politicos have a similar place, a place to sit down, have a drink or ten and an argument with other armchair experts.

The bar industry is missing a major segment of the population and in these economic times, no niche should go unfilled.

Welcome to Limbaugh's. Here's where Conservatives can swap lies and analyze and demonize Obama and everyone like him. Here's where conservatives can have a Hillbilly Heroin Delight or, if they're fundamentalistically inclined, a Virgin Mary and spend the night beating up on mis-labeled "socialists."

Or welcome to Dick And Nelson's RINO Lounge where friends of Nixon and Rockefeller can cry in their beer about being muscled out of the Republican Party while sipping their Albany Red Stout or their Casa Pacifica Pina Coladas.

Then, there's Spitzer's on Fifth, a watering hole for ... well, maybe watering hole is a bad choice of phrase.

Or Harry's Bar (no, not THAT Harry's bar, Harry Reid's bar, the one where you can get sand in your sandals and bogus land deals along with your Chorus Line Cocktails and where there's never a cover or minimum.

Political junkies need places of their own just like sports nuts. Wide screen, high def TVs where the latest rallies are reported and the scores. Scantily clad college girls serving adult men and women (but mostly men) drinks as they solve the political or international crisis of the moment -- just like at the sports bars.

Places where guys get into stool and bottle fights, not over who was the best World Series shortstop of all time, but who was the greatest tax and spender or the most self reliant of all time.

It's an under-served market and it's about time someone found it and exploited it. Bar specials on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in EVERY month.

Shrapnel:

--Did the big C Conservatives learn anything on loosing NY 23? Yes. They learned they'll have to spin their nonsense faster and harder in the future. And they will.

--Corzine lost and so did Bloomberg. "What?" you say, but Bloomberg won. Technically, yes, but in New York, the third time's not the charm, it's the curse.

--Game six tonight. Whooda thunk there'd be such tension at this point in the series? Everyone.



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

Monday, November 02, 2009

619 Kutz the Miner

619 Kutz The Miner (With Links Below)

Call this town a self-designed depressed area trying unsuccessfully to reclaim its identity as a place that once tried to reclaim its identity as a suburb of some coal mines; too small for a Wal Mart and too big for a general store, and with neither.

The rain makes it grayer than it really is, though every trip here looks gray, even when the sun's out. The center of social life on this Saturday afternoon is divided equally between the bowling alley and McDonald's, which is where we're sitting, three of us, with a couple of coffees, a McDouble, some chicken wraps (grilled, please, not fried) and some fries (fried, please, not flame-broiled.)

Kutz is big and he's sitting a few tables down, making notes in a book and sipping what might be a shake. He's got a stack of pamphlets on the table. He gets up, walks over to our table and announces "I've seen Hell." But his eyes are twinkling, and his gray van Dyke is trimmed perfectly. No wild eyes here. He tells us that he is "Witnessing For My Lord, Jesus Christ," and were we interested in his visit to the underworld, and we were.

Kutz is 75 years old, but looks 60. His skin is smooth. His eyes are bright and kind. His hearing aid is well hidden. "Oy," we think, "here it comes. 'Get Saved!'" Kutz then goes on to say he was working on power lines, high-tension wires, when he got zapped. Eight thousand volts. That's enough to do you in, we know, and it didn't. But on the way to the emergency room, Kutz visited a land of demons and fire.

We've heard stuff like this all our lives, but at least one of us -- the youngest -- is interested, has questions and asks them. Pamphlets on how to be "saved." Instruction. This goes on for maybe 20 minutes, but he tells the tales so well, we all pay attention.

Far more interesting than his conversion and his days as a power line worker, he talks about his first job -- a twenty year gig in the mines. Turns out the power line job was a post-retirement way to earn a living, but this guy is a coal miner, capital C, capital M. Soon, he's sitting with us. We're learning about how bulldozers bull doze underneath the earth. We hear how the elevators take the men up and down. (It was mostly men in his day, but there was one woman, he says.)

And he talks about his United Mine Workers' health insurance, insurance he still carries--free, except for his $140 dollars in dues a year. To look at him, you'd think this big gentle ox of a man didn't need it. But he did and he still has it, and the union, he thanks his "lord, is still paying for it."

All of a sudden, the gray skies don't seem so gray. We hear about the first woman killed in a US coal mine "about ten miles from here, right over that mountain," about the heroic effort to save her. "We took a couple of guys a year out of that mine, dead," he says. Most of it's from lack of common sense. But sometimes the company just didn't pay enough attention to what goes on down there."

So here are Kutz and three total strangers, people who know nothing of either of the underworlds in which Kutz spent so much of his life, listening like kids hearing someone tell us about Snow White or Rigoletto for the first time, eyes wide, ears glued.

Kutz has probably told each of these stores a thousand times and probably tell these stories a thousand times more. At 75, he's not slowing down. Not in his six day workout regimen, not in his vitamin regimen, not in his tales from the mine and not in his "witnessing."

How much time has passed since we all sat down? It seems like moments, but it's been much more. In the course of the afternoon, between lessons in his faith and lessons in closing down a spent mine, Kutz has declined offers of fries, chicken wraps, coffee, Sprite and anything else. The McDonald's manager is giving us the eye. He doesn't need the table, but he doesn't like being a social center either.

We exchange phone numbers and Kutz the miner returns to his notebook, his shake and his stack of pamphlets, now lighter by two.

Later, in the car someone says "you ought to put this guy on your radio program. He's far more interesting than your politicians." And she is right.

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

Links
Coal Mine Songs:
1. Gordon Lightfoot & Terry Whelen "Dark as a Dungeon"

2. Pete Seeger: "Which Side Are You On?"

3. Loretta Lynn: "Coal Miner's Daughter"

Pennsylvania Coal Mine Disasters

1. Quecreek Coal Mine Floods

2. AP Mine Explosion