Friday, July 30, 2010

737 Clearing Your Name

737 Clearing Your Name

Earlier, this space talked about the idiotic defense of the definitely not idiotic Representative Charles Rangel and the idiotic defense of the definitely and idiotically crooked government of Bell, California. Conceptually, they were the same defense. And it's always like that. "I can't wait to get to court to defend and clear my good name" is a phrase from every politician and every other crook who gets caught. And we in the news business fall for it every time. Or at least allow the statement to stand without challenge most of the time.

Here are a few examples: "I'm innocent." -- Al Capone. "I am merely a plumbing supply salesman." -- John Gotti. "Follow me around. I don't care... If anyone wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'll be very bored." -- Gary Hart. "I want to tell my story..." -- Kenneth Lay. "I have a wide stance." --Former Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho.) "...I'm proud of the life I've lived so far... I have no regrets." Political candidate Carly Fiorina (R-California) on the near destruction of two iconic American corporations while she headed them.

Happens all the time. How refreshing would it be to hear some honcho say "Yeah, I screwed up. If I have to do time, so be it." Not every use of this concept is a defense against possible jail time. Sometimes it's just a page from the book of "a good offense." But it's an insult to the intelligence of the people addressed. Rangel didn't say outright that he "welcomed his day" on trial, but it was implicit in everything he did say. The leadership of Bell most certainly did say it in various forms. So did Capone, Gotti, Hart, Lay, Craig and Fiorina. Surely you have examples from your own geographic area.

This raises an important question: what do these worms think of us? Oh, you can defend any one of them you choose. Capone and Gotti: prosecutors had little evidence until the last in a series of trials. Lay and Fiorina: they were trying save their company. Craig and Hart: Who cares who they're in bed with, it's none of our business. But they must think we're idiots. Do they really believe we're going to believe them?

Maybe the most direct and brazen was from Richard Nixon: "Your President is not a crook."


Shrapnel:

--The Wall Street Journal says Goldman has banned "objectionable" words in e-mails. We had that at Bloomberg years ago and when we typed a banned word and tried to send the mail, the machine would immediately send up a screen that said "xxxx is inappropriate for business communications," and you couldn't send the email until you corrected your "error." Which is how the words "da*n" and "sh*t" got into common electronic usage there.

--Amish farmers have staged their annual invasion, trucking in cartons of fresh vegetables for sale. All come in motor vehicles. What happened to the horses and buggies, and the ban on modernity?

--And speaking of bans: The FAA has banned low flights over Chelsea Clinton's upcoming wedding. So, the tabloids will have to find other means to snap. In the meantime, no one much knows what Marc Mezvinsky looks like and aerial pictures wouldn't do much to change that.

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




Wednesday, July 28, 2010

736 Bell Wringers

736 Bell Wringers

In Los Angeles County, on the banks of the Los Angeles River, there lies the "city" of Bell, population about 40-thousand. If you're not a Californian, chances are you never heard of it. Until now.

State Attorney Jerry Brown, campaigning (again) for governor, and the Los Angeles Times newspaper came upon some curious spending in Bell.

Here is some of what they found:

This City Administrator gets paid $737,000 and change a year. The Assistant City Manager makes more than $300,000. The Chief of Police is paid more than $450,000. Four of the five City Council members were paid $100,000 a year. The fifth makes eight grand.

So the Administrator gets almost twice the pay of the President of the United States and the Police chief gets $150,000 more than the Police Chief of the city of Los Angeles.

The City of Bell wasn't always a city. It became one five years ago in a community vote in which 400 people turned out.

So now most of these crooked politicians have taught us all some lessons: (1) keep an eye on the people you elect. (2) Their city is more crooked than your city. (3) Vote on election day. And most of these crooked politicians either resigned or announced they wouldn't seek re-election when their terms expire. And they have voted to cut their pay by 90%. A little late, but the right move. People in Bell are struggling like the rest of us and they have to foot a bill like two million dollars for their "leaders."

An unrepentant Mayor, Oscar Hernandez defended his fellow travelers in the paper thus:

"Unlike the skewed view of the facts, the Los Angeles Times presented to advance the paper's own agenda, a look at the big picture of city compensation shows that salaries of the City Manager and other top city staff have been in line with similar positions over the period of their tenure..."

The "paper's own agenda?" Like what: shining a light on the dark facts? Getting some money back for the beleaguered citizenry?

Bell is a blue collar town. Pretty in a Mexicalifornia kind of way. It needs a police chief. Probably needs a city manager. Maybe doesn't need an assistant administrator. But this band of thieves has wrung the money out of city government. Which is why this post is called "Bell Wringers."


Shrapnel:

--What does this say about the state of American marriage? The greeting card says "to my wife on our anniversary." The envelope says "extra postage required."

--Why don't they make vegetable yogurt? A little celery or some carrots on the bottom would be a nice change from the gooey syrup that passes for fruit. And it might even taste good.

--"Kosher salt" is bad for your health. It lacks iodine, which you need. So now you can get high blood pressure and a bad thyroid all in one convenient package. (Isn't ALL salt kosher?)


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


Monday, July 26, 2010

735 Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues

735 Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues

"Some gotta win, some gotta lose.
"Good time Charlie's got the blues."
--Pop singer Danny O'Keefe

This is the third pass in this space at U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel, 80, who probably would get re-elected in his 15th Congressional District of New York, Harlem, until he's 110 years old. But maybe this is the time to call it a day. You know from reading it here that his constituents practically strew rose petals on the ground where he walks, or drives that mammoth and expensive Cadillac. You know that until recently he was chairman of the tax-writing House Ways Committee. One of New York's top political figures, and, if the charges are right, one of the most crooked.

Undeclared income, favors to and from this guy and that, rent controlled space he apparently shouldn't have been entitled to, a house in the Dominican Republic which he rented out, then allegedly failed to report the income.

Almost anywhere else, stuff like this would have the people up in arms. Not with Charlie. He brings home the bacon -- gets the idea that you have to produce for the district and does so. Not that there aren't people up in arms, just not the people who you might expect. Rivals like Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the late (and crooked) Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. are boiling mad and salivating about a possible November win. The Democratic leadership of the House is in a significant snit. And the right wing is having a field day.

Not the people of the district. They're still collecting rose petals in case Charlie strolls their part of the 'hood.

They going to lock this guy up? Unlikely. Is he going to run for re-election? The jury in THAT case is out. Some say he will, some say he'll quit, maybe by the time you read this.

He's raised all the usual cliches about clearing his name and fighting the good fight and all that. You'd expect that from a guy like this. So the question is, does this old war horse have it in him to overcome this with the people who don't count but are making the fuss? Maybe. Is it worth the effort to "clear" his name? Probably. But even if cleared, the stink sticks.

Charles B. Rangel is a good Congressman. And a good human being. And smart. And a war hero. And a snazzy dresser. He's strong and vigorous, has all his marbles, and apparently is in good health. But he is 80 and he has served his districts for 40 years. And maybe, just maybe, that's long enough. There are worse violators of the ethics rules in Congress. There are representatives whose stands have endangered lives and income. There are those who've done Charliesque things and who haven't yet been brought and may never be brought to political death row. But...

Some gotta win, some gotta lose.

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

Friday, July 23, 2010

734 Deal Breaker

734 Deal Breaker

Time to explore cars. After all, the current guy is getting a little long in the tooth. It's also about 15,000 miles before the timing chain expires, which means about $700 in repairs or the risk of getting (a) stranded on the road somewhere and (b) wrecking a perfectly good engine if the part snaps, which it likely will.

So, the home work is done. Consumer Reports, Edmunds, researching trade in values, deciding. At the dealer, the experience is totally pleasant and easy going. They sure are less aggressive about this than they used to be. Listened carefully to needs, came up with a recommendation close what's being sought, came up with a price that involved no pressure from the "sales manager" or "the closer" or anyone else, and very little haggling.

Oh sure, they try to sell you "body protection" no one has needed on a car made in the last decade. And oh sure, they try to sell you glass engraving. But, again, not as aggressively as in former years.

But then, this...

Customer: "I want you to take your name and logo off the trunk lid."

Salesman: "Oh, sir, we can't do that. It's on all our cars."

Customer: "But once it's sold, it's no longer one of 'our' cars, it's mine."

S: "Why do you want to do that, anyway?"

C: "Because I don't want to be a rolling billboard for your dealership, or anyone's for that matter."

S: "I'm sorry, sir. We just can't do that."

C: "Okay, I'll compromise. How's this? You leave your name and logo on the trunk lid and I charge you a penny a mile for the ad, payable quarterly for as long as I own the car? Put that in the contract and we'll complete the sale right now."

S: "I'll have to check with the boss and he's out of town right now and he forgot his cell phone."

C: "See ya later."

A deal breaker. Now, it's off to Old Navy or Gap to see about negotiating a walking billboard deal for t-shirts.



Shrapnel:

--Sitting in a restaurant the other night and the Muzak was playing stuff from the 1970s, much of which was terrible, un-melodious and was whined and screamed rather than sung. It was like finding dinosaur bones. Music has evolved (or is it devolved) since then. Music of the 2000s is the obvious descendant and is even less melodious, if that's possible, and the noises the "vocalists" make sound like the soundtrack from "Primal Scream Therapy."

--Beach story followup (Wessay #733.) The folks at an outfit called Kayloma Candles in West Virginia informs that it makes scents of the beach. Yeah, but do they spit saltwater at you?

--How do you get a transcript from a New York City high school that has closed? Easy, you call the still active phone number and leave a message, and they don't call you back. Just as it was when they had an actual building, teachers, students administrators and office people whose job was to ignore phone messages.


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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

733 A Perfect Day At the Beach

733 A Perfect Day At The Beach

Temperatures in the 90s. Again. Bright sunshine. A perfect day for the beach. Okay, let's get ready. First, bathing suits. (Check.) Then sunblock (Check.) Blanket. (Check) Umbrella (Check.) Small pail for making sand castles. (Check.) Small shovel to pack the sand down in the pail. (Check) Cash for the concession stand. (Check.) Full gas tank. (Check.)

Okay, here we go! Everyone into the car!

Oh. Wait. There IS no beach here. Or anywhere near here. No wonder we can't smell the salt air or the aroma of low tide. Knew there was something missing, just couldn't figure out what it was. There are a few lakes and even a swimming pool or two. And a dam. And a few streams. But that's just not the same. There's no salt. There's no sound of the waves. There are no waves at all let alone noisy ones. Nothing to mitigate the sound of blaring radios and whining children. No ocean air to mix into the aroma of a chintzy hotdog made of who knows what. Also no bikini babes, sculpted lifeguards or jellyfish. No gulls.

Well, it's not all bad. After all, no one bothered to put on the sunblock, which means no one has to scrape the oily greasy slimy stuff off the sink, the car seat, the steering wheel, the door handles, the garage door. No chance of contracting sunburn or worse. And you can get a mystery meat hotdog nearly anywhere.

With modern chemistry, you'd think they could duplicate the delicious smells of the beach in a spray can for home use. Whoever's first with that will be the darling of the beach land expatriates. Combine that with a white noise machine that pumps out the sound of crashing waves. Turn the air conditioner off and let the house heat up. And there you have the perfection of the shore without the bother. Or the sunburn. Or the radios. Or the whining children.

Now THERE's a perfect day at the beach.



Shrapnel:

--A Canadian relative blames his country's medical system for his having to wait three hours to see his skin cancer guy. C'mon down to New York, and see how long the wait is. And that's from a doc who doesn't take Medicare or any other insurance.

--Everyone has been yelping about the price of corn because so much is going into ethanol these days. So how do the local markets manage to sell it eight ears for two bucks? And it's good corn, too, not something the cattle or horses rejected.

--A quote from a Gen-U-Ine Kentucky Colonel about his place of employment on New York's Long Island, a small business situated on the grounds of a Thoroughbred racing stable: "This is the only country music radio station in America with real horsesh*t in the front yard." And he thought he'd escaped all that by moving north!

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

732 Watch This!

732 Watch This!

Try replacing the dead battery in your watch. This is a dare. In some cases, literally cases, it can't be done by mortal man or woman.

Granted, these batteries last for what seems like forever. But when the thing finally dies, problems (not issues!) abound and solutions (not liquid!) are scarce.

In earlier times, (uh, oh, another pun!) all you did was unscrew the back of the watch, take out the battery, buy a replacement, install it in one easy motion, close the thing up and set it. No longer true. Now, you need special tools, little flexible claw-like things that are supposed to hook into tiny indentations in the back of the watch. Nah. So, okay, you take it back to the store, which tells you one of two things: (1) we no longer sell that brand and can't change batteries in brands we don't sell. Or (2) -- even worse -- we don't sell or install replacement batteries. The second happened at Macy's the other day.

Okay, so off to a jewelry store which will charge you umpteen bucks for a battery worth umpteen cents. But their version of option (1) is usually "We don't replace batteries in brands we never sold." If you know the jeweler, you may be able to bribe or sweet talk him or her into trying. But, of course, since you've worn the watch off and on for five years, the screw-off or pry-off back is likely gummed up and won't budge. Their version of option (2) is "we'll send it back to the factory for you. That'll set you back more than the price of a new watch, which probably is what the manufacturers intended in the first place.

Two obvious solutions: don't buy anything but a wind up watch (they still make 'em, they're just hard to find except in the Cartier/Rolex/Omega/Heuer price range. Or buy a solar powered watch. The batteries last longer and supposedly never need changing. There are drawbacks here, too. Like you have to remember to take the watch off before you put on your tanning lotion or sunscreen. The watch won't tan, and the sunscreen will block recharging.

A third: Don't wear a watch. That'll show 'em at Timex and Fossil and Skagen that you're wise to their tricks.


Shrapnel:

--Driving from Queens into Nassau on the LIE at night is like driving into a black hole because the overhead lamps don't continue over the line. This money saver is catching on elsewhere. Like major highways in major states that twist and turn and freeze and can send you sliding down the mountain, even if you have your brights on.

--The latest "it's good for you it's bad for you" study on coffee? It's good for you, and maybe helps you resist dementia. Okay, but not all of us.

--It's been mighty hot in much of the country this summer. Most of the lawns have burned up. Brown is the new green.

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

731 Out of Context

731 Out of Context

Sometimes this can be embarrassing. You run into someone you know and you don't remember why you know them.

Happened just the other day. Sitting in a saloon awaiting a friend -- we're meeting for dinner -- and up bounces this woman with a big smile and a hearty hello. This is not a pickup bar, it's just off a golf course patronized mainly by greyheads. So she's invited to take a seat and declines saying she's on her way out but wanted to stop by and say hi. Turns out she was the pharmacist, until then unseen from the waist down and without a white coat. Embarrassing.

Then there's the guy who waves as you drive by in the parking lot. Uh oh. Who's that? "Was he waving at me, or at someone beyond me I couldn't see? And if it was me, how do I know him?"

Walt the exterminator is friendly guy and we talk alot. But when we met in the pasta aisle the other day, he couldn't quite place me.

This isn't senior moment stuff. It can happen with anyone of any age. If you're in middle school and meet your fifth grade teacher on the street, will he or she recognize you? Chances are yes, but maybe not by name.

Context. How we rely on context. Especially with people we know, but not "that" well or don't see that often or whom we've never previously seen out of context, like the druggist. It doesn't happen with people with really really distinguishing physical characteristics. Someone who is exceptionally tall, or exceptionally short or wears an eye patch or is missing a limb will stick with you. Unless he's seated, or the eye patch is missing or the limb has been replaced.

The best way to avoid this in a random conversation is to let the other guy talk until something clicks in your head. But sometimes it's necessary to say: "I'm sorry, I know we know each other, but I can't attach a name..." Embarrassing.


Shrapnel:

--A reader has corrected me on Ralph Houk's age, saying it's more than 90 rather than less. This likely is so, since my correspondent is far more familiar with baseball than I. But when you get near 100, a few years here and there don't mean much, and yes, I know Yogi ain't dead yet.

--They're hunting down illegal immigrants in Utah after someone supplied a list of the undocumented including addresses, phone numbers, maybe social security numbers and expected due dates for those who are pregnant. Here's a shock: most or all of whom have Spanish-sounding names. So take some guesses: where'd this list come from and how'd it get public?

--Heard an interesting suggestion the other day, one that echoes a concept mentioned here years ago: Before a congressional vote, someone should read the bill out loud. If no one laughs, THEN you vote.


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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

730 Old Yankees

730 Old Yankees

Old New York Yankees never really die. But this week, a couple of 'em sort of did. First, the "Voice of God," Bob Sheppard, the Stadium's public address announcer for the last million seasons. Sheppard, often mimicked, never duplicated, didn't announce. He intoned. He was three months away from his 100th birthday and still sort of active. And he was a regular figure around his home town, Baldwin, Long Island.

Three days later, it was George Steinbrenner's turn, less than a couple of week's after his 80th birthday.

Here's the thing about dead Yankees. They just don't go away. Ruth, Mantle, Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Gehrig, on and on. Managers like McCarthy, Stengel, Yogi, Martin. Ralph Houk's still alive, turns 88 next month, but half the world doesn't know it. Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio and others are as alive in the minds and hearts of baseball fans today as they were in their primes. Even the lives of those who weren't yet born when they played. And it's not just in New York. Half of Boston is still angry that Ruth was traded to the Yankees, and that was in 1919!

But Steinbrenner's different. This is the Ohio shipbuilder who bought the team from CBS in '73 and promised to be a hands off owner. Yeah, right. His picture is in the dictionary next to "micro-manager." Not lately, though. He's been sick for a long time, and his sons are running the team. He had plenty of money, brought in the most expensive and often the best players in the sport. Renovated the creaky old stadium when parts of it started falling down on fans, then built an entirely new one.

He was hated and reviled in many circles. A tyrant who came in like a lion and now will be lionized -- and should be. The previous owners made a mess of the Yankees, just as they made a mess of Steinway Piano and Fender Guitars and pretty much everything else they touched except for CBS News. Bill Paley wasn't a baseball man. Steinbrenner turned out to be.

The name of the game is winning. And win they did under his iron rule. In its most recent listing, Forbes Magazine rated the Yankees the fifth most valuable sports franchise in the world. All but number one, Manchester United Soccer, are American. And everything between Manchester and the Yankees are football teams. So the most valuable team in Baseball.

"The Boss," as they called him was volatile, mercurial, decisive and knew who to hire and fire, how to promote and how to overcharge for seats. He understood the sport, the fans, the media and he appreciated the legend his team had become before and during his rule. But he was a businessman first, and pro sports is business. Guy turned a ten million dollar investment into a 1.3 billion dollar monolith.

You may not like his personality or the prices he charged for admission or the prices you're paying for a beer and a hot dog. But the guy knew something.
I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

729 Dental Emergencies

729 Dental Emergencies

They always happen on weekends. Dental emergencies never take place when the dentist is actually in the office and working and has open appointments.

You have a gunshot wound? You can get it treated at 3 AM any day. Likewise a stabbing or a heart attack or a broken arm. But come up with a toothache on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning and there's nothing you can do until Monday.

If your dog or cat gets a torn ear in a fight, there are emergency vets, either on call or actually physically in a clinic nearby. Even in the middle of the night. If your toilet overflows or you're locked out of the house or the car, or if you have a flat tire and no jack, you can call the plumber or the locksmith or the Triple A. Heaven help you if you have a cavity or need a root canal.

You need a meal at 4 am? Denny's is open and so is McDonald's. If you feel the urge to buy a trampoline or an outboard motor or a mouse trap or a chainsaw at 3 am, there's always Wal-Mart. There are all-night CVS and Duane Reade drug stores. There are all night gas stations. There are all night convenience stores. But there are no all night dentists.

You can skip the meals, usually skip the vets, often skip the flats, often skip the locksmiths. Sometimes, you can even skip or postpone the emergency room. But no one can skip the dentist.

You get a sharp pain in the arm or leg, it's nothing much but a sharp pain the arm or leg. You get a sharp pain in the tooth or the gum -- you pray for death.


Shrapnel:

--Gloversville, NY is named for what most of its industry did there from the mid 1800s on. Those of us who knew of the place thought the leather industry died there decades ago. But according to a traveling craft show merchant who makes leather goods, that ain't the case. Still some tanneries there and -- he says -- some of the best in America.

--Too many of these have appeared here lately. But once again, it's time to say RIP, this time to former colleague Peter Shamin, 54, who passed away earlier this month after a series of long and ill-defined illnesses -- really long. Peter was a funny and disciplined rock jock on WNBC, a fine producer of Dr. Atkins' radio show and an equally fine engineer at WOR, an upstanding human being and one of those guys who you don't really know what he does until one day he can't show up and nothing gets done.

--How to get on the cutting edge of the blogosphere? Mention the recently famous and infamous even without something to say about them. Okay, here they are: LeBron James, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, and just for old time's sake: Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Judy Garland, so as they say at the auto races, searchers, start your engines.

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

Friday, July 09, 2010

728 Long Island Pigeons

728 Long Island Pigeons

(MOUNT TANTAMOUNT PA) -- This is a known fact. There is something both gravitational and anti-gravitational about Long Island, New York, a 110 mile sand bar that sticks into the Atlantic and looks like Pinocchio's nose after a long day of lying. It has a population of over seven million, most of which don't count in this context because technically, they're residents of two boroughs in New York City. The remaining two counties have about three million people, give or take.

And this, too, is a known fact: Long Islanders are everywhere. This first came to light in the mid 1960s when there was an avalanche on a mountain in Japan and the lone survivor was some yutz from Seaford. Further investigation shows that while many people emigrate to the island, at least as many scatter to the winds. So, gravitationala and anti gravitational.

Even here in Mount Tantamount we get 'em. Your correspondent (LI from 1952 to 2006) had a shopping cart collision here with Miranda from Baldwin the other day. No one was injured. The guy who lived across the street until recently was from Bellmore. But it's not just here. You run into us in Washington and California and Texas and Tennessee and Taipei. What is it about the Great Sand Dump that drives so many people away but still provokes them to mention their origins?

We're like pigeons on a park bench. Few mistake us for falcons, eagles or canaries. Or even seagulls.


Book Look:

"Capture," by Robert K. Tanenbaum, Pocket Books 2009

This is the 20-somethingth book in the series about District Attorney Butch Karp, and the most far fetched to date. While the first few were great crime novels, the later additions are getting more phantasmagoric by the page. This one pits Butch and wife Marlene Ciampi against a bunch of international Islamic terrorists, and features all the Standard Tanenbaum characters we've come to know and love or hate. But its premise, daughter Lucy involved in a secret agency, and a sewer-dwelling leader of the homeless and a seemingly invincible Russian woman spymaster-terrorist just don't add up. If you like the Karp family, stick with the first ten or so novels. This one takes a bunch of disparate people and events and ties them into a stew of nonsense, and boring nonsense at that.

Richards Readometer Rating: 5.
===Readometer Key:
1 - Buy it.
2 - Wait for the paperback.
3 - Take it out of the Library.
4. Flip through it at the book store.
5. Forget it.


Shrapnel:

--The drug companies keep telling us to stay away from Canadian pharmacies and pharmaceuticals from India and Canada and Dogbonistan because they may not be safe. But that's better than buying domestic pharmaceuticals (like Tylenol) which, according to the same Big Pharma sources we KNOW are not safe. J&J, which set the standard for doing it right in the early 1980s is setting the standards for doing it wrong today.

--If Nevada elects Sharron Angle to the Senate instead of majority leader Harry Reid, they deserve her. The latest outrageousness is advice to pregnant teen rape victims: "raise the baby, make lemonade out of lemons." Can anyone take these Tea Potty candidates seriously?

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


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

727 Taipei Followup

727 Taipei Followup

It's time for a small show of thanks to the overseas relatives. They want for little to nothing materially, but at this point a gesture of gratitude is appropriate. Time to send something they can't get easily over there, but that's plentiful over here. After considerable thought, the decision was to send a dietary supplement they like. Bottles of this stuff are really really expensive there, relatively cheap here.

Forty bucks for a big supply. GNC and similar chains won't ship internationally. No prob. We'll just buy the stuff and send it. Not big, not heavy. $XXX via UPS. A mere $XX by USPS. And pages and pages of declarations and signatures and customs documents and estimated values and actual weight. Taipei ZIP codes are only three digits. That doesn't work on the American form. Taipei addresses, as regular readers know, are sometimes complicated. This lane, that alley off this street. The post office apparently doesn't recognize Taiwan as a country. Okay, try the Republic of China. No, no, not the People's Republic of China, JUST the Republic of China. No such place. Try "R.O.C." Oh, THAT.

So shipping this stuff is more expensive than buying this stuff.

Clerk: "You didn't fill out the phone number."

Customer: Okay, it's 09 4356-2310."

Clerk: "That doesn't fit in our forms. If this can't be delivered, do you want it sent to the dead letter office or 'return to sender?'"

Aw c'omon. Is this the first package ever sent from the US to Taiwan? Not likely.

So, their ZIP codes are three digits instead of nine, and their phone numbers are eight digits instead of seven and their area codes are two digits instead of three. How DARE they!

Smartalecs use metrics and Celcius, too. Must be part of a commie conspiracy to undermine the "real" scales, ZIP codes, area codes and telephone numbers of us real Americans. Oh. Wait. They fled from the commies. Well, it's obviously a conspiracy of some sort.



Shrapnel:

--Eating champ Takeru Kobayashi was barred from the July 4th Nathan's hot dog contest by (you're not going to believe this) a "contract dispute." A group called Major League Eating (I'm not making this up!) has exclusive rights to represent the contestants and Kobayashi wouldn't sign up. Instead, to the cheers of his fans, he jumped onto the stage joining the "legal" eaters, was arrested and held overnight until a judge sprang him.

--You can't make this stuff up: Jean Stevens, 91, of Wyalusing in north east Pennsylvania gets to keep the dead bodies she's been living with, her late husband and her twin sister. She was ordered to build a mausoleum for them and has agreed.

--How quickly we forget. BP's American Depository Receipts were up sharply early in the week. Does that mean the crisis in the gulf is over, or does Wall Street know something the rest of us don't?

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

Monday, July 05, 2010

726 The Holiday Crank

726 The Holiday Crank

Whose bright idea was this, anyway? This post was put up on Monday, July 5, 2010. It's a holiday. WHAT holiday? Independence Day. Wait a minute. Isn't that supposed to be July fourth? Well, yeah, technically. But it's become yet another of those one-day-fits all celebrations that happens on the nearest Monday. Brilliant. A three day weekend. For... what?

Those among us who dislike holidays or who worked every New Year's eve, New Year's Day, President's Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Maslenitsa, Elvis' birthday, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Columbus Day, Pulaski Day, St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day and so on, would just as soon forget that Monday holiday thing.

Holidays are great for "normal" people. Family fun, celebrations, picnics, orgies, big meals in Norman Rockwell settings. Drinking, carousing, reviving old grievances. Wonderful stuff. On THIS holiday, the shoot off fireworks, get sunburned, barbecue mystery food, and celebrate the birth of America. Great idea. But why, then, do it on a Monday? And does anyone remember with any accuracy what "independence" really means? Or a lack of it?

We have all these mistaken ideas about what the founders wanted, and all these mistaken ideas about how a country of our original size compares with a country as large as we've become. It's impossible to govern a vast nation like this one the way they governed a country that was 13 colonies with a population smaller than some of today's ZIP codes.

Today, the banks are closed. Municipal offices are closed. Courts are closed. The post office is closed. But not much else. They should give the holiday cultists a day of their own choosing to celebrate whatever it is they celebrate and let the people who want to work work.


Shrapnel:

--Residents of Pennsylvania are not allowed to buy major league fireworks, but every temporary tent and regular fireworks store sells them, along with the big box stores. You have to prove you're not a resident of the state or they won't take your money. Which is why we have so many tourists from NJ and WV and OH on days like this.

--With a high speed computer, the videos on You Tube pause every ten seconds, and the "video accelerator" software isn't much help. On the cheap, old and crummy little Linux computer with 10% of the power and speed, the videos sail through uninterrupted. Anyone want to sell a "Packard Bell" that runs Windows 3.2?

--The great blues man, The Rev. Gary Davis had a banjo for which he paid about 50 bucks and which is now for sale, asking price: $13,000.00. It wasn't much of a banjo and Gary didn't much like it, nor did he play it much when he was alive. And he paid less than 13 grand for his house in Queens.

(Thanks to John Gibson, author of "To Hell With Conservatism" for the concept behind the reference to the founders of America.)

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

Friday, July 02, 2010

725 Issues and Challenges

725 Issues and Challenges

We no longer have problems, we have issues and challenges. Good thing, too, because there are so many "solutions" every problem must by now be solved. The old fashioned among us surely remember when a solution was either a liquid of some kind (cleaning solutions, for example) or the answer to a problem (what is the solution to this equation?) Now, everything's a solution.

So, good. All problems solved. Or re-named. Or euthanized with euphemisms. And issues and challenges? Are these really unsolved problems in jargon's clothing? How often have you heard "he has issues..." or "I have issues with that..." or "we're one step away from bankruptcy, which is quite a challenge"? The first phrase means "he's nuts" or some variation of nuts. The second usually means "I disagree with that." And avoiding bankruptcy is less of a challenge than it is, well, a problem requiring a solution.

Here's a challenge: We're in Taipei and there's a young man sitting on the edge of a public fountain. He's holding a guitar and trying to finger an F major chord. This is the nemesis of all beginning fretted instrument players. F requires positioning that human fingers never were meant to perform. Eventually, with persistence, millions of players have managed. Old timers have worked out some shortcuts, which that fellow was taught during the conversation. Low and behold, he managed the challenge!

Challenge yourself on the finger board or the tennis court or the baseball diamond or in meeting your sales goals or in passing the trigonometry final. Challenging yourself to stay out of bankruptcy is something entirely different.

Here's an issue: Vol XXI No 21 on the cover of a magazine. Another: your child is your issue (his existence, not his behavior.) USMC General Order 21 is an issue.

"My car has an issue with the door handle?" No it doesn't. "I have issues with my neighbor because she leaves spent cigarettes all over the lawn." No you don't, you have a disagreement.

Challenge yourself to call attention to that euphemism when someone aims it at you. And please don't answer the challenge by saying "I have issues with that."


Shrapnel:

--Ed Koch has a saying about congressional hearings: "first they'll torture him, then they'll confirm." That's not an exact quote, but close it looks like what will happen to Elena Kagan, nominated as a justice of the US Supreme Court. Do they come any safer than Ms. Kagan?

--The bank lady says post-dating a check is a crime, so when you do it, the receiver has the right to cash it immediately, regardless of the date. This can lead to nasty surprises. Like overdraft fees.

--So if you pay electronically, you'd best not do so until the money's there in your account. And if you use paper checks, you'd best figure out how far in advance to mail the check so it gets there on the right day. Timing is everything.


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