Friday, April 30, 2010

696 The Rockies

696 The Rockies


Elisha "June" Barrett served in the New York State Senate for what seemed an eternity, though on and off. When he died in 1965 a cub reporter for local radio was sent to cover his funeral at a Protestant church in East Islip, New York. A lot of luminaries were there. One of them was Nelson Rockefeller, Governor. After the service, the reporter went across the street to a candy shop/luncheonette and used the pay phone to file his first report . On leaving, he crossed paths with the governor, one of the richest men in America. And Mr. Rockefeller stopped him and asked to borrow a nickel or a dime -- the memory is dim -- to make a call from that same pay phone.

A few steps behind was an aide. And the aide stopped the reporter and said "the Governor never carries cash, how much did he 'borrow?'" as he reached into his pocket. The reporter said "don't even think about re-paying. I want to go to my grave knowing a Rockefeller owes me money." And that's how we left it.

Fast forward a few decades and the reporter now is a writer/producer for NBC News, now working in Rockefeller Centre. He is standing on the sidewalk smoking with some of the other union guys. Pete's there. So's Al. And Mike. And walking up the street from 6th Avenue, here's David Rockefeller. Shabby raincoat. Ancient. But walking with a steady pace to the door which we're polluting with Kools and Camels and Marlboros. And Rocky says "I sure wish I could do that with you, boys." And it sounded like he meant it. The Rockefeller family had long ago abandoned its financial interest in 30 Rock. But, hey. This was David Rockefeller, chairman of the Chase National Bank, heir to the throne of John D. Rock. The reigning patriarch. And here was American Royalty talking to us peasants.

It didn't matter that he wasn't nearly as rich as Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. He was David - freakin' - Rockefeller, in the flesh. Some days, he'd ask about the morning news. Some days, he'd say he had a sleepless night. Some days he'd just wave "hi," and continue up into his office. But the whole thing was he was talking to us about the stuff that mattered to him -- and to us.

"Pete, your kid feeling better?" "Wes, you get that awful car repaired?" The guy had a memory, alright. Names and little stuff.

NBC's ties to the Rockies were practically non-existent. The Royalty had nothing to do with guys like Sarnoff and later Jack Welch and Bob Wright. But here we were, squatters in Rockyland. And the landlord stopped to chat with us by name and by topic. At the time, he was a mere 75-ish. Now at 95-ish, that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.

You think Bill Gates knows your name?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

695 Yazoo City

695 Yazoo City

"Yazoo" is a native American word that means "river of death." Yazoo City, Mississippi is a tiny place near Jackson, and it has given us more good and bad folk than most anything else its size, which is something like 14,000 people, give or take. Haley Barbour the governor of the state is from there. Jerry Clower, the country music star is from there. So is Zig Ziglar, the author of self improvement books. And the jazz singer Della Reese. And former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy.

It's one of those places you couldn't get to or get out of, a real "you can't get there from here" town, no matter where "here" was. And it was one of those places you really shouldn't have gone to and couldn't wait to get out of. Many of the good ones did. And some of the bad ones. Travel is a bit easier now. Amtrak has a train from New York's Penn Station that gets there 29 hours later. Southwest Air can get you there for less money and in under six hours. Well, not exactly "there," but to Jackson, about 50 miles away.

If you're a tornado, you don't have to bother with travel schedules or trains or planes. You just go. And while Southwest is faster from New York LaGuardia, that's not usually the start point for a tornado. More like 100 miles down the road, then twists its way up (or down) Jerry Clower Boulevard, destroying most everything in its path. Including people. This latest one killed something like ten. Many of the rest are homeless or close to it.

This is the kind of place where old south landmarks mix with tumble down wooden houses. If you went through it last month and then again today, you might not notice the difference -- at least not when you got off the main drag.

And tornadoes don't discriminate. Your church may be your sanctuary, but the wind doesn't care. It knocked one church down -- nothing left standing but the communion table, under which one guy was busy praying for his life. Neither the life nor the table were taken up. Gotta figure the prayer was answered. But the walls? That's another story.

They don't name tornadoes like they do hurricanes. Maybe they should. In the scheme of things, this was no "Katrina" or "Andrew." But it was bad enough. Unlike Katrina, FEMA made it on site pretty quickly. And the rebuilding will spruce the place up. No consolation for the dead, though, or their families.

Shrapnel:

--Filling three tiny root cavities cost almost $500, about a week after a periodontal visit cost more than $200. You think health insurance is bad? Try dental insurance which pays for next to nothing.

--Now what would you pay? Dr. Kevorkian's "death van," a VW bus he used while helping with assisted suicides no longer is up for bid on E-bay, which pulled it off the site, citing a policy against "murderabilia." No worries, Dr. Jack fans, the owner still is trying to sell and has listed it elsewhere.


Shameless plug:

My good friend and former colleague Dianne Thompson-Stanciel has created a new website mostly for women of the age that will land you a right cross to the jaw if you try to talk with them about how young they are. Dianne is a perceptive, take-no-prisoners journalist of high integrity and high intelligence, now bringing her considerable skills to topics that should be handled by perceptive, take-no-prisoners journalists of high integrity and high intelligence.

It's called High Heels and Hot Flashes and if you click on the name, you'll get there.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

694 Circle Jerks

69 Circle Jerks

Every circle has them. Circle Jerks are the guys who live in a closed environment and have no clue about or don't care about what's going on outside the circle. It doesn't matter whether they're making laws, making broadcasts, prosecuting crimes, patrolling a beat, defending the nation, treating illness, running trains or planes or buses, a closed system is a closed system and heaven help you if you try to penetrate it, especially if it's a penetration in behalf of other people.

Nowhere are these guys more numerous, more powerful and more closed than on Wall Street. So watch them circle the wagons and Moody's. What does Moody's do? It rates things. It's one of three major American outfits that give report cards to businesses and municipalities and financial instruments. Those ratings are important. The better the grade, the easier it is to get decent credit at decent rates.

Now that Moody's has been called on the carpet by a government's Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, we might get a little insight into how stupid, incomprehensible, sometimes shady, often unstable securities got top notch ratings. In a school like this, you can't sleep your way to an "A," and even if you do your homework, participate in class and flash great legs at the professor, you still can get a "D" or an "F."

This Commission wants to know whether and possibly how Moody's gave great grades to shabby mortgage backed securities blamed for much of the financial meltdown of these past few years. They asked for the information long months ago and got ... nothing. So now, they have subpoenas. What do they want to know? How did those good grades come about, helping to throw the country into financial chaos. And is there a conflict, because the company both offered opinions -- ratings -- on the paper and may have helped -- consulted -- in the very instruments it rated?

So now you have to ask: IF that happened, did it happen for nefarious reasons or was it just the closed system and the Circle Jerks failing to pay attention to the probable ripple effects of what they were doing? There are stories floating around that the banks cooked the books to make the ratings organizations give them better reports than deserved. There are apparent lies floating around about how Goldman made money on all this after years of denying it.

They guy at the top of Moody's is a fellow named Ray McDaniel. He's been in the chair for about five years but has been longer with the company. Is he Boris Badinoff? Doesn't seem so. Is he presiding over a criminal empire? Doesn't seem so. Does the First Amendment apply to his analysts? Absolutely. Is there a conflict of interest lurking here? Who knows.

If we want to be benevolent, let's blame the company's problems on the Circle Jerks. Or not. As some underworld figure once said "the fish stinks from the head."

But whatever the outcome for Moody's, for McDaniel and for the few other rating organizations, it's the complex and incomprehensible financial instruments themselves that need to be done away with. It's just shuffling Other Peoples' Resources and producing paper profits.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010




Friday, April 23, 2010

693 Earth Day

693 Earth Day


Earth Day's 40th anniversary has come and gone and where are we?

There's global warming.

But you can't see the air over New York City anymore.

There was a fire on an oil rig off New Orleans.

But we're all greener than St. Patrick.

A volcano still is spewing ash and lava over Europe.

But the spotted owl is alive and well.

Two headed frogs are taking over the ponds of Minnesota.

But we're driving Priuses.

Let's take a closer look at that oil rig explosion.

Recently, one of the oil companies was running TV ads about some new kind of platform for off shore drilling. The idea was that one relatively small structure could do the work of many if connected properly to several under water well heads. More oil, fewer sticks in the sky above the ocean. More recently a BP-leased platform off the coast of Louisiana blew up, burned for a couple of days and sank. Eleven men remain missing.

Investigators don't yet know what caused the explosion, or at least that's what they're saying. But they have a pretty good idea because this incident is far from unique. Over 100 people got off the "Deepwater Horizon" (who knew they named these things!) after the blast. Better odds there than in the coal mines. The families have been told to expect bad news about the BP-Eleven who haven't been found. And lawsuits already have started.

And so have the cleanup efforts, not there's much to clean up, yet. Robo-boats, underwater cameras, 95 miles of "booms," those skirt-like gizmos that are supposed to surround spilled oil and keep it in its place.

As of this writing, the spill hasn't started in earnest yet, but it's almost inevitable that it will, and soon.

We're going to be seeing pictures of beaches and birds covered in glop and after that, we'll forget about it until the next time. The platform is 50 miles out in the gulf. Hard to spot, maybe impossible, from land. And oil doesn't travel fast. So we'll have to rely on the Coast Guard and on BP for the earliest information. And in cases like this, each is reliable.

We're going to hear that there are valves on the floor of the ocean. There's something kind of arrogant about plumbing fixtures like that. No one knows how much oil will come burbling up, how well the valves can hold back the push from beneath the floor. But we got valves in the ocean.

Reminder: the Exxon Valdez -- a completely different kind of spill, and far larger than this one will be -- took place more than 20 years ago and the cleanup and the lawsuits are not yet over.

What's surprising about this latest incident is that no right wing wacko has yet publicly blamed it on eco-terrorists. After all, it happened on the Tuesday before the Thursday that was Earth Day.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010









Wednesday, April 21, 2010

692 Again the Magnetic Lawn

692 Again, the Magnetic Lawn

The house in Moote Pointe, NY had a "magnetic" lawn that attracted paper litter. The place was strategically located along a route that connected a McDonald's, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, a Hot Dog House, a deli, two pizza joints, a Wendy's, a hot roast beef sandwich joint, a KFC and two ice cream stores. It was just far enough from any of them so that by the time a walking, eating eater got to the house, they were finished with their food and dumped the wrappers, the bags and the cups on the lawn. A local magazine, long defunct, actually paid a few bucks for an article and some pictures. Immortalized in print by being the epicenter of litterbugs.

At least at the time, that's what seemed to be the case. But now, here in Mount Tantamount, PA., a variation on the same theme, and it feels like a mysterious force has followed us. This time it's not fast food wrappers, cups, straws, bags or leftovers. This time it's bottles and cans and newspapers and empty garbage cans.

They pick up the garbage and the recycling on Fridays. The former about 10 AM and the latter about noon or 1 PM. The house is the bottom point of a slope from the left and a slope from the right. Usually, there's no wind to speak of around here. At least, no wind a veteran of decades of hurricanes and nor'easters would consider wind. Except Fridays. Every Friday, it's windy. EVERY Friday.

So no matter which way the wind blows, gravity sends the beer and soda cans, the water bottles, the newspapers flying down the block to what's become the homeless shelter of unwanted garbage. Right here! Sometimes, it's funny. We know about the birth control pills of a recently re-located neighbor. Her pharmacy paperwork landed at the side door. We know what kind of beer the neighbors drink, what kind of cooking oil they use, what kind of hair dye. We know what magazines they subscribe to, what newspapers they read, what detergent goes into their washing machines. It's all right there, every Friday. Along with the empty garbage cans.

The condo association puppet masters have decreed that everyone must put their house numbers on both the bodies and lids of their garbage cans and lids so when they blow away, the can be returned. No one has complied. It's that Central Pennsylvania spirit of independence. Or that Central Pennsylvania spirit of lazy cheapness. And so, every Friday after work, the neighborhood gathers to figure out which garbage can is associated with which house. Often, there are homeless cans. They get placed in a central location and eventually, at least so far, get taken in.

But at some point, every one of them ends up at THIS house, in the small valley formed by the inability of the construction companies to make a level road.

Shrapnel:

--It's expensive, but you can buy Mexican-made Coca Cola in this country. The good news: it's made with real sugar, not "high fructose." The bad news: It's made with Mexican water.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

691 Uni Tasking

691 Uni-Tasking

The first multitasker probably was the first mother. Let's not get into the Adam and Eve thing, here. Also, let's not into Oogla, the Cave Woman, first actual mommy in the world according to Darwin.

The first mother had to change diapers, feed the kid, clean the cave, make dinner for Fred Flintstone and sew woolly mammoth skins into clothing all at the same time.

We in the news business and other occupations have learned -- even if indirectly -- from her.

Call the cops for stories. Check the wires. Write the show. Deliver the show. Field questions and requests (or demands) from home or from parents or from siblings or from friends. Or -- perish forbid -- from listeners, viewers, bosses and news sources.

Once retired, the tasks change, but the multi part doesn't.

Read parts of the paper, dust the furniture, clean the garage, write the blog, shop, return what you shopped for, read the novel, do the laundry, cook, wash the dishes. Not exactly the thrill packed life of a correspondent. But still, it's stuff to do. And after a lifetime of multitasking, it's a hard habit to break.

The advisers are all out there: slow down. Smell the roses (achoo!) Take in a museum (borrrring!) Take a long trip (expensive, but we'll do it anyway.) Learn to dust all the furniture in the same time slot every day. Read the novel or write the blog afterward (or even before.) Watch the laundry go round and round in the dryer -- it's more fun and more interesting than the mid-day movie, Oprah or the Fox News in the Hen house (or the chick house.)

So someone should start a school for uni-taskers. Teach those of us who've spent decades of doing a bunch of things at once to do one thing at once. This is not an easy thing. In some cases, it's an impossible thing. The only saving grace: if you get a "D" or even an "F" in Uni-Tasking, who cares at this age?

Shrapnel:

--Let no good deed go unpunished. In 1998, Maryland judge Edwin Collier, now 86 and retired, let a convicted drunk driver go without jail time. Recently, the same same guy, again in the bag, struck Collier's car, injuring him and his wife.

--Conan O'Brian will bring his loser late night show to bargain basement TBS Cable and not to Fox, long thought to be his next destination. The reason is simple: Money. Fox affils are in re-runs after their 10 PM local news, and reruns and second airings are wayyyy more profitable than a national show that eats up time with its own commercials. But who watches TBS?

--When sister Jill lived in Guatemala, it was nearly impossible to reach her by telephone. But times have changed. Eduardo in Guatemala City was really helpful on the other end of the customer service phone line the other day -- like he was right next door. Except he got everything about the order wrong.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

690 Bill? What Bill?

690 Bill? What Bill?

Here's a quote from the local government's tax-is-due notice:

"Failure to receive notice shall not relieve any taxpayer from the payment of any taxes by any taxing district, and such taxpayer shall be charged with his taxes as though he had received notice."

Whut?

Another way of putting that thought: We claim to have sent you a tax bill and maybe we did and maybe we didn't. But if we did and even if it didn't show up in your mailbox, you owe. And if you're delinquent, we'll come get your house.

The other day, a bill came from TJ Maxx. It had a 30 dollar late payment fee and an interest charge. We're never late with a payment. Never! There was no payment because there was no bill. Never got delivered. The folks that handle those bills said "oh, well, you always pay on time and in full, so we have to figure you're telling the truth. We'll waive the late fee-- just this once, but not the interest." Close enough, thank you.

The Student Loan Corporation can tell the same story. "Hey, why's the bill double the usual this month?"
"Because you didn't pay last month, sir." "Oh. Well, there was no bill."

Merchants and municipalities alike are trying to get us all to pay our bills on line. You want to risk putting your checking account on the internet for all to steal? Uh, nah.

Some places will send you an e-mail reminder. Like the Town of Hempstead, New York. Even when you don't live there. Even when you haven't lived there in years. Still, wouldn't you rather have it than not have it? With the Postal "Service" in the shape it's in, you're lucky you get anything at all, let alone bills that if left unpaid will turn you into a bad credit risk.

Guess we have to take matters into our own hands. We have to keep track of which bills come in at what time. And if the paperwork doesn't show up, make a phone call, figure out what the charge is and how much of it to pay, and pay it. Should be a waste of time, but it ain't. Not in today's credit report-crazy world.


Shrapnel:

--Like minded readers and listeners aren't going to approve of this. But when trying to figure out who is right about "finance reform" legislation in its present state, it's hard not to think that McConnell has a point when he says the bill builds in bailouts instead of eliminating them. But if it's the banks' self-financed bailout fund, who cares?

--Hey, patriots, have you ever read George Washington's farewell address? Here it is. Take a look and you might learn about American Patriotism, and some of it may surprise you.

--If you've clicked on the above link, you might have noticed the source of the material is Yale. Before you brand the school another hotbed of liberal subversion, take a look at some of the lefties incubated there, foremost of which in modern times is that raving commie, William F. Buckley, Jr.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

689 DWO

689 DWO

"Sir," asks the state trooper, "do you know why I pulled you over?"

"No, officer," replies the motorist.

"Well, please let me see your license, registration and insurance card."

The motorist complies.

"Sir, please step out of the car."

The motorist complies.

"I'm going to have to have you take a simple test, sir."

"A test for what, if I may ask, officer."

"A test of your body mass index."

The trooper performs the test.

Then he says: "I'm going to have to write you up, sir. Sorry."

What's the charge?" asks the motorist.

"DWO, Driving While Obese."

"Oh, but officer, I thought I was below the limit."

"Here's your ticket. Have a nice day."

Far fetched? Probably. But the day will come. You'll see.

Guy'll walk into a McBurger and the counterman will point to a sign that says "we do not serve people who are visibly obese." Works in bars with visible drunks. Why not at the fast food joints? Works at liquor stores, why not at Taco Bell?

If you waddle when you walk, you'll have to prove the the Wal-Mart greeter that either you're not going to buy food or that the food you're going to buy is "not for me. It's for my ailing mom who is 87 years old and at home with a terrible cold." Not sure how you prove such a thing. But get to know your greeters now, so that you can snow them when you roll in and pick up a package of braunschweiger a carton of macaroni salad, a loaf of Wonder Bread, a king size bag of chips and a 12 pack of Bud.

If the airlines are charging more for fatties than for skinnies, can the supermarkets be far behind?

Then there's the sugar tax. Notice that several cities and states are trying to enact a penalty levy on drinks with sugar? Doesn't matter that some of the artificial sweeteners cause brain wave distortion and possibly cancer. At least you'll die thin. Sugar, by the way, has 15 calories per level tablespoon. Not even one point in Weight Watchers.

Next big thing: the cops'll get radar that detects body fat. They won't even have to pull you over. They'll measure it through the car door as you drive past. Speed and fat all in one electro-beam. They'll send you the ticket in the mail.

Shrapnel:--

--If you adopt the lingo of the opposition, you've killed your own position. Example: "pro life." It's not "pro" anything. It's anti abortion and to conceded the term, you've conceded the position.

--Here's a second example: if you call the current hate mongering a "tea party," you've diminished the original. Those participating in these anti-American protests understand neither history nor American law. Don't let them get away with that.

--Here's another: if you agree that someone is a "distributor" of cleaning products or jewelry or nutritional supplements you are helping hide truth. They are sellers or salesmen or saleswomen, and there's nothing wrong with being honest about saying so.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010



Monday, April 12, 2010

688 Again, the Miners

688 Again, the Miners


At about ten o'clock one Friday morning, thousands of feet below ground, there was a spark. The spark set off a huge explosion of methane gas. Three hundred sixty two men and boys were killed. Their deaths left 250 widows and 1,000 fatherless children. It was and is the worst mine disaster in American history. It happened on a cold December day, the sixth day of the month, in Monongah, West Virginia in a mine owned by Consolidated Coal.

This wasn't last week or last month or last year or even last decade. It was in 1907.

And now, here we are, almost 103 years later. And a little more than 180 miles Southwest from Monongah, in Montcoal, 29 guys died of what probably will turn out to be an explosion of methane.

Statistically, this was a drop in the shaft. Three hundred sixty two then, 29 now. So, things have improved, statistically, from the worst. Look at the progress! A mere 29 guys. It could have been worse. A lot worse.

But still... 103 years and what? Ask Benny Willingham. Or Tommy Davis. Or Jason Atkins. No, don't bother. They're not here anymore. Or at least not in any condition to answer unless you can talk to the dead and they talk back. Benny and Tommy and Jason each made about $75,000 a year down in the depths. That's about $1400 a week before taxes. Not a terrible wage. In fact, it seems like a ton of money by today's standards. But Benny and Tommy and Jason aren't around to spend it. Oh, relatives will get some bucks, maybe even health insurance from either the company or the union.

You can't ask those three guys, but you CAN ask Cecil Roberts. Grey. Bearded. Slim. A pleasant southern drawl. He is president of the United Mine Workers Union. He is calm. He is disgusted. He says the coal companies put profits before safety. You can argue that he's paid to say stuff like that. And he is. But he wouldn't be where he is without believing it before he was paid.

Now, to the heart of the issue, the mechanics of safety.

It's unnecessary and ungainly to try to summarize technological advancements since 1907. But think about medical imaging, commercial and military flight, moon landings. Radio, television, the transistor, air conditioning and the computer on which you're reading this.

Mine safety? Ummmm. The body counts are getting lower. You can read the numbers here.

So is it that we can't do the job, or that we just haven't?

Get ready for the congressional hearings. Get ready for a head or two to roll in one of the many agencies overseeing all this. Get ready for the usual political grandstanding. Get ready for the wagons circled by the companies. It's all in the pipeline.

Will any of this do any good? History says "unlikely."

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010


Friday, April 09, 2010

687 Don't Just Stand There. DO Something!

687 Don't Just Think. DO Something!

Coal is cheap. Coal miners' lives also are cheap. They're just human machines, plow horses underground. A few of them are missing from the latest "disaster," the one in West Virginia. It's no disaster. It's just life on earth. The men who died below ground were only farm animals -- plow horses trained to pick rocks out of the wall of a pit that is designed to collapse and kill them.

You get these idiotic news and opinion pieces that say stuff like "our prayers are with the missing men and with their families" in West Virginia. Nonsense. "My thoughts are with them..." Who cares? Your prayers and your thoughts are pretty much worthless. And so are the lives of the men you pray for and whose thoughts your's are with. Means nothing. What DOES mean something is the way we mine coal. Human bodies sent into the bowels of the earth to retrieve stuff that powers our homes and electrical plants and heating systems. Stuff that you use to barbecue on July Fourth or Labor Day. Human bodies that always are at risk.

Keep your thoughts and your prayers and do something about the terrible conditions in mines from West Virginia and Pennsylvania to Utah.

There is no such thing as "mine safety." It's a myth. It's baloney. It always has been. There is no safe human way to extract this stuff from the entrance to Hell. Ask any miner what needs to be done to fix things. He (and these days, or she) will tell you at length.

Prayers and "my thoughts?" Where were they when methane started pouring into the hole and the exhaust system was working in reverse? Breathing methane won't kill you. Unless you light a match. Of course, every mine is a no smoking zone. But what about sparks or the heat from the equipment?

In November of 2009, you were introduced to Kutz the Miner, retired, in this space (Wessay #619.) Remember him? He had plenty to say about mine owners and "mine safety." Difference between Kutz who still is among us and the guys in West Va.: probably dumb luck. Here's a reminder:

"... 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."

He lived to speak wistfully of his days below ground. And maybe his prayers and thoughts are worth a little more than those of the rest of us, at least in this case.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

686 Lionel Kilburg

686 Lionel Kilberg (1930-2008)


"Vote for me.
I'm no good.
But since I asked you first,
I think you should."

--Lionel Kilberg

When Lionel wrote that lyric we all thought it was pretty funny. But he pegged the essence of the politicians of that day -- mid 1950s -- and he's got 'em still. The whole thing is in his little pamphlet/song book "Songs In The Folk Artery," published eons ago. It's not easy to forget a guy like Lionel, though he never made much of a splash as either an artist or commentator. And word of his death after a long illness gets around slowly.

When we first met, Lionel was a grunt at an air freight company at Idlewild Airport in Queens. If you're old enough to remember Idlewild, you're old enough to remember Lionel. He was one of the "old guys," all of 28 back then when we were teens. Twenty eight and already balding. Living in a loft in Alphabet City, where the gas from the stove leaked.

"Lionel," asked a visitor, "how can you live in a place where the stove leaks?"

"Well," he answered, "the rest of the house leaks so badly, you hardly notice the gas before it escapes out the cracks in the walls.

Second street at Avenue A or Avenue B. Better than his previous joint, which was on Attorney Street, which is hardly a street at all.

He was on maybe the third or fourth floor. On the floor below was a Latino church, probably Puerto Rican, probably Pentecostal, given the era. Loud, at any rate. When we slept over on a Saturday night (there was a ton of room,) we didn't need an alarm clock to awaken in time for the Sunday Sing Out at Washington Square Park. The church service below was loud enough to waken even the drunks and stoners who had stayed over. (And believe it or not, Stoner-ism hadn't become the rage yet, so it was mostly winos.)

In his later years, Lionel left the air freight company to become a social worker. Had no illusions about social work, but it was a steady check and no heavy lifting. We lost touch temporarily after that.

His big claim to fame was the invention of an "improved" version of the washtub bass. It was called a "Brownie Bass," named after a dog he'd had. A galvanized steel tub (you can't find them easily these days,) a mop handle with the obligatory red dog-toy fire hydrant on top and special decal lettering. A single string made of WWII surplus parachute cord. (Accept no substitute!)

There was an offer of a business deal some couple of decades ago: "hey, let's manufacture a few of these things and see if we can sell 'em." Lionel wasn't interested. He'd moved on, or so he said. Then the formal request for permission to use the name. And that letter never was answered. Maybe it was written too late. As is this obituary.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

685 Who Needs Real?

685 Who Needs Real?

They've been using artificial snow on the ski slopes of the world since its invention and patenting in about 1950. But there's been a flurry of activity in this little known industry lately. Improvements in the quality of the stuff. New variations. New chemicals, near-nano sized objects that completely disintegrate and don't hurt the environment. All for the good. What would the ski biz be like without snow. And sometimes, old man winter just doesn't comply.

But this is the 21st century, and this is America, land of innovation. So now, we have ... artificial sand. Really. If a ski slope snow making machine goes berserk and starts rumbling down your residential street, spewing tons of the stuff like a regular natural snowstorm, what better to make the roads safe again but with artificial sand.

Like there isn't enough REAL sand? Long Island is 110 miles of nothing BUT sand. Real sand. And there still are sand pits and sand mines operating. They could expand that into other areas of the area as long as they leave the wetlands and pine barrens alone. And if artificial sand isn't enough for the snow clearers, how about artificial salt?

You want to treat those roads right. Artificial salt could go a long way toward making sure Mr. Macadam doesn't get high blood pressure. He has enough trouble with all those kidney stones and gal stones that lie beneath his upper layer.

So. Artificial snow, artificial sand, artificial salt. Is it cheaper or better or more efficient or more plentiful than the real things? Or are these just marketing tricks?

While we're at it, why limit all this to small, gritty particles. Why can't we also have artificial oxygen. And what about artificial natural gas? That sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? Or at least a paradox. How about artificial water?

Since water soon will be the New Oil, it might pay to get a head start in that direction.


Shrapnel:

--Quote worth note: "It's black soot on top of copper, brass and silver. You wipe the stuff off and it looks good as new" -- Past president Randy Noel of the Louisiana Homebuilders association on what he sees as overreaction to the dangers of tainted Chinese-made drywall in about 3,000 homes which the Consumer Product Safety Commission says have to be completely gutted and refurbished.

--Preparing for a long trip, you get to learn all kinds of things you never knew. Like how valuable geometry is. Especially when you're trying to figure out how many linear inches this or that bag or case is, preparing to prepare carry-ons.

--Thanks to the Associated Press, we all are the proud knowers of two vital and previously undisclosed facts. (1) Tiger Woods has arrived in Augusta to practice for the Masters and (2) He was wearing a lavender shirt and sunglasses. How did we ever live without knowing that!


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010


Friday, April 02, 2010

684 Obama The Pest

684 Obama The Pest

That guy Obama is getting to be a pest. Day in and day out, he or someone representing him sends out emails. They congratulate us for supporting him and they encourage us to keep supporting him and they tell us what his administration is doing and what we can do to help. Probably, there's a way to un-subscribe. But, then, there's something of a thrill to get a bunch of emails from the President of the United States, even if he doesn't write them and probably doesn't read them before they're sent.

Never heard from Bush. Or Clinton. Or the Other Bush. Or Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, or any of the others. Of course, there wasn't too much email around before Reagan, so you can forgive the earlier guys. They didn't pester us. And maybe you never wanted to hear from any of them, anyway. Can't easily avoid it now. At least on Twitter, you don't have to "follow" Sarah Palin or Newt or any of those other wacko "tweeters."

One good thing about all of this: Tweets are closed circuit. They talk to one another. But not to anyone else. You not in with the in-crowd, you miss out. More of us, by thousands, tens of thousands or millions miss out. We aren't missing anything. But the pest Obama is another matter. He doesn't bother with"tweets" or Facebook or "linked in," at least not yet. He just sends emails to everyone.

Well, he IS the President. But let's hope his birdshot approach doesn't catch on. We could soon be receiving unsolicited e-mails from Wal Mart, the Republican National Committee, The American Cancer Society, NAMBLA and the Vatican.

Of course, it's nice to see the words "Barack Obama" in the "from" column. Kind of adds a sense of prestige to our pathetic in boxes. Makes us feel like we ARE something. After all, the President wouldn't be writing to us if we weren't "somebody."

But then there's this: back in the 1950s, your correspondent wrote to President Eisenhower objecting to the phrase "Under God's" insertion into the pledge of allegiance. Someone -- surely not the President -- wrote back explaining the rationale. And that was snail mail and therefore more authentic than today's e-mail. But no more sensible.


Shrapnel:

--When we were civil rights-ers, the other side reacted with gut hatred. The tea partiers are doing the same now as we attempt to alter the status quo, but they're as wrong as the lynch mobs of yesterday and for the same reasons.

--Nonetheless, many of us react to them as they did to the civil rights-ers. How DARE they come in here like this and do these terrible things! Goes to show that human emotion is human emotions... but they're STILL wrong.

--Had a Starbuck's coffee for the first time in ages the other day. It still tastes like burning tires. And it still ain't cheap.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010