Monday, August 30, 2010

750 More Statistical Cheating

750 More Statistical Cheating

How do you quantify the age of an object whose major components were not made in the same year as one another? Suggestions are welcome.

The other day at a stoplight, the next car over looked like a mid-1950s MG from Britain. Asking the guy "what year's that beautiful car?" (And beautiful it is) drew this response: "It's a 1981, 1963 1953." Whut? He went on to explain (it was a long light) that the body was a replica of a 1953 MG made in 1981 and mounted on the body of a 1963 VW Beetle. Wasn't time to ask him what year was on the state registration.

Leaning against the wall in the office is a banjo. The "pot," the round part is labeled "Paramount," one of the group of brands made by the William Lange Company of New York and dated by the serial number as having been made in 1928. The neck, the part where the strings are fingered was made for your correspondent starting in late 1959 and finishing in 1960. What year do you call it?

On the other side of the room is the body of a 1946 Leica Camera, just acquired from a Chicago seller via e-Bay. But the lens is from dad's Leica, manufactured in 1936. What year is the thing? Fortunately, banjos and cameras don't require state registration. Otherwise the banjo would be 19281960 and the camera 19361946. And there isn't room on a state registration for more than a four digit year.

Then, there's the eyeglasses. The frame is from 2008, but the lenses are from 2010. Fortunately, there's no room on the driver's license for a year of manufacture under the requirement "Driver must use corrective lenses."

Maybe these multi-year things should be averaged out. That means the car was built in 1965.66. The banjo was made in 1949. The camera was made in 1941 and the eyeglasses in 2009. All of those statistics are meaningless at best and lies at worst. But they're numbers and numbers don't lie, right? Now, to average the ages of the implanted false teeth with the rest of the body. And then apply for a revised birth certificate, passport and driver's license. Anyone know a good plastic surgeon who takes Medicare?


Shrapnel:

--Lush Rimbaugh may be the smartest peripheral merchandiser since Walt Disney, but a newsman, he's not. This may shock you, but as of this writing there's nothing on Rimbaugh's website about the Glenn Beck rally. And here, Lush said he was all for the free exchange of ideas -- apparently except from rival broadcasters.

--The Oxford Dictionary says the next edition may be internet-only. Not a good idea. The thing may weigh 130 pounds in print. But it has its advantages over a website. You can search a website by query, but you can't scan it as you move through a book, picking up new definitions as you peruse.


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

Friday, August 27, 2010

749 Who Has A Dream?

749 Who Has A Dream?


A reminder of a sweaty and sweltering day 47 years ago: a button. Two inches wide. Got a pin-it-on pin that's rusted. Got a black hand and a white hand shaking hands on it. Got a union label. Some words, too. "March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom." It's not a reprint or a replica or a reasonable facsimile, it's the real thing. It made the trip back from Washington on that Wednesday and was a gift, if memory serves, from an African American man who also was the local Republican Committeeman. The memory of its exact provenance is hazy. But something like that.

That was, in a later era's parlance, "The Mother of All Marches." And the mother of all following sermons, Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Jobs and Freedom. Nifty idea. We're still short of the former and the latest co-opters of the King legend are prattling and braying about a fake lack of the latter.

In a day's time (8/28/10,) the Koch (pronounced coke) Brothers oil and gas money will bring a new hoard to the Lincoln Memorial, rent-a-protesters and all, and led by the mad man Glenn Beck, with Sarah Palin as the lead background singer.

Let's get the most important matters out of the way first: Beck is the loony who thinks he's the latter day MLK, or wants us to think it. Second, he's calling for money that supposedly will go to some shadow outfit that supposedly helps the children of soldiers pay for their education. According to the fine print, that'll be done with what's left after covering the cost of the event. Which means ... what? 59 cents? Ya gotta read the fine print.

This thing is billed as "non-political." Who's he kidding? Its occurrence on the date of the 1963 march is "coincidental." Who's he kidding? This mess is called "Restoring Honor," decorated with such phrases as rededicating ourselves to the values of the country's founders. Doubletalk. George Orwell would be proud that his twists of the language are still in high use. He might not be too pleased with the people using it.

What does all this restoring honor stuff mean? Our original population and our original territory have expanded geometrically since the days of the revolution. So has our technology and our understanding of much of the world around us. And here you have this twerp ranting about how President Obama "hates America," and frothing at the mouth over immigration, taxes, so-called big government and all the rest of today's punch drunk tea partying wackos.

This rally is about two things: drumming up audience for Beck's weirdly hysterical broadcasts and his equally weirdly hysterical political agenda, details of which are unnecessary to relate to regular readers of these posts.

The 1963 rally was a cry for unity. And that unity, partially achieved, is being torn at from two dis-unifying polls. The Beck crowd is one. The other is the expanding anti-white culture among some urban Blacks. The Beck poll knows what it's doing and why. The other side may just be ignorant. Or not.

So here comes a "leader" whom we'd have locked away in Bellevue if we knew of him a decade ago, and the right wing's poster babe, the Typhoid Mary of politics.

Here's hoping that just before the event they'll have a nice breakfast together -- preferably one centered on those just-recalled salmonella eggs. It ain't as good as Typhoid. But it'll do.

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

748 The Elevator Music Shark

748 The Elevator Music Shark

It's like a pool shark, only you can play sitting down. The most famous of these, Rudolph Wanderone, was known as Minnesota Fats, even though he was born in New York and didn't take on the pseudonym until the early 60s from the Jackie Gleason character in the movie "The Hustler."

A pool shark plays lousy on purpose and sizes up his opponent. If the foe is so-so, the shark then plays his real game, taking the other player for every possible penny. An elevator music shark knows all the song titles, often on the first note, and certainly with in the first 12 bars. If you're one of those, you can win a fortune from people who like music but aren't as close to this genre as you are.

Of course, it's tough to find what we used to call "semi-classical" or "beautiful" or "easy listening" music these days. Tough, but not impossible. The cable TV has a channel that plays it. So do the satellite TV services. Sirius/XM has a channel. And you can get all kinds of CDs and MP3s by mail.

But once you find the music, you're in the chips, even if you haven't heard the stuff in years. We former Beautiful Music disc jockeys will find this is like riding a bicycle. It's easy to recognize maybe 80% of the songs. Those titles are buried in your head. They'll come out on first listening. The ones you don't recognize by name will still be familiar. And once you glance at the screen for the title, you'll never forget them again.

So you turn on cable channel 13,238 and let the music play. Your guests have to listen, after all, it's your house. You intentionally mis-guess three or four out of the first seven selections. Then they put their money down and you clean up.

Just don't widen your game to include artists. No one can tell the difference between the Living Strings and the 101 Strings. And after all this time, it's easy enough to confuse James Last with Percy Faith and Ronnie Aldrich with Ferrante and Teicher.


Shrapnel:

--Please welcome a new link to the "blog list" on the right side of the page, Jessica Moore's NY Resident Tourist. Jessica is a former anchor and writer for Bloomberg Radio, a writer of fiction and non fiction alike, with a sense of irony, a sense of the ridiculous and the sharp eye of a seasoned observer and reporter. She'll be telling us about the secret places and things to do that only someone with this combination can find and describe.

--The cable rates went up... again. Now it costs over $100 a month to get 500 channels of crap of which we may watch maybe 400. Comcast is putting our pennies in the jar to save up for the purchase of NBC, one of the greatest pending disasters in the history of television.

--When you're used to digging in the Long Island sand, digging in the Pennsylvania clay is a whole new world. It takes an illegal quantity of dynamite to start a hole big enough to plant one little bush. And hours of post explosion digging, not to mention morning after back and shoulder pain.


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

Monday, August 23, 2010

747 The Bigger the Story

747 The Bigger the Story the Shorter and Faster You Write it

This old saw comes back into focus with the completion of a one thousand word item about the future of independent pharmacies in the rural northeast. It took five weeks, dozens of phone calls a fair amount of re-writing and it's still not accepted for publication. You can sum it up quickly: It's a tough racket, especially when these little shops are surrounded by Wal-Mart and Target and CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, a bunch of supermarkets and a convenience-crazed public. Business is off and getting offer all the time. Survival is doubtful. There it is in 40 words. All you need to know. But not good enough, of course. Gotta do set-ups, explanations, get quotes. Make phone calls galore to all the main characters.

Then submitted it to the editor who will have questions. As pointed out in an earlier post, there always are questions, sometimes real requests for information but often just to show you who's in charge, which, if you've done this for more than a day or so, you already know. This is why little features like this and long convoluted political stories are as complex and sometimes byzantine as they are. When you get to do a big story, it's much easier.

How long do you think it took John Herbers of the New York Times to write this lead in August of 1974?

"Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, announced tonight that he had given up his long and arduous fight to remain in office and would resign, effective at noon tomorrow."

Half an hour? Ten minutes? Guessing something in that range. Anyone misunderstand that collection of 33 words?

But it's not only huge national stories that can be told in ways that are both brief and fairly complete.

"PEDESTRIAN KILLED BY SPEEDING CAR ON MAIN STREET." Then, a few details, like who the victim was, who the driver was, whether there'll be charges against him. And if it's at one of those places where accidents regularly happen, maybe a line about how many people have been killed by cars in that spot. Of course, a singular incident like this one doesn't require a lot of detail.

If a news item is the end piece of a long-running story, it's much easier and faster to put together. We no longer have to explain who Sarah Palin is, for example, so most of the articles about her can be fairly simple and straightforward and fast and easy to write and to read.

You could summarize this whole 500 word thing thus: Big is easier than small.


--Shrapnel:

--We banjo pickers used to stuff rags or towels into the back of the instrument to mute the overtones and quiet the thing a bit to play in a quiet location without waking the neighbors. But modern technology has improved this crude and primative practice. A paper back book works better.


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

Friday, August 20, 2010

746 ApologyZoom.com

746 ApologyZoom.com

Legal Zoom helps you make your own legal documents, often cheaper and faster than a lawyer would. Everyone needs legal documents. But that's not all we need. More and more, now, we need apologies. And some of the ones we hear or see or read are just terrible. Like a self-made will or a self-made incorporation, self made apologies ring false. Legal Zoom was founded by Robert Shapiro of OJ Simpson fame. ApologyZoom has no famous founder. But be assured that your apology will be handsomely crafted by a certified apologist (using your thoughts and concepts.)

Here are just a few who would have done better by using ApologyZoom.com:

-Dr. Laura.
-Gov. Spitzer.
-Gov. Paterson
-Tiger Woods
-Imus
-David Letterman
-Mark Sanford
-Newt Gingrich
-Mel Gibson
-John Lennon
-Carl-Henric Svanberg
-Bill Clinton

Lame explanations from each of the above.

Some could have used ApologyZoom's "Context Package." This is a special service for people who want you to think they were quoted out of context. These are not real apologies in the "I'm Sorry" sense of the phrase. But they are fine battering rams against truth. There's also a De Luxe or Lush Rimbaugh package that includes reasons the fault is "your misinterpretation, not any wrongdoing on my part." This used to be called the "De Luxe Weasel Package." But A-Zoom is paying big bucks to use the name.

In addition, A-Zoom can supply a surrogate wife to "stand by (her) man" as he weeps into the camera. That protects against real wives, not all of whom want to be linked to Tammy Wynette or their husbands. And A-Zoom can supply a paid spokesman of any race for those committing racial slurs.

Imus and Dr. Laura could have used an African American to make a statement in their behalves.

Most of us don't need outside testimony about the "N" word from a black man (although Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell, it's reported, have offered their services.)

Mel Gibson could have been linked with a rent-a-Jew.

All Svanberg needed was someone who spoke American English to vet his speech, getting rid of the "small people" reference.

And John Lennon would have done well with a certified apologist to explain away that line about the Beatles more popular than Jesus, since the more he explained it himself, the bigger the hole he dug for himself.

But a graceful ApologyZoom package would have served all of them well.

Shrapnel:

--If A-Zoom takes off, all kinds of subsidiaries could follow. Insult-Zoom, Offended-Zoom, Doubletalk-Zoom. Oh wait, not necessary -- that's why we have public relations folk.

--The Fortunoff family is trying to get back into business by building a jewelry website and licensing its name to some of its former executives who run outdoor furniture stores. Good luck to them, but it seems a little desperate. The families that own the once great retailer never should have sold out to the bunch of scavengers who ran the thing into the ground.

--A small cell phone company has come up with a brilliant idea. It's a Dog Phone, and it rings at a frequency too high for humans to hear. Now you can connect with your canine without disturbing the rest of the household with one of those obnoxious ring tones.

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






Wednesday, August 18, 2010

745 Umbrella Man in the Kitchen

745 Umbrella Man in the Kitchen


News item: A guy in western Pennsylvania "man" has been charged with using a frying pan to beat up his fiancée. This was a few months after he was found not guilty of charges he deliberately poked one of her eyes out with an umbrella. He's 54. Don't have an age for her, but public records show someone with her name in her town as being 27. Immediately, this arrangement rings alarms. Wazzamatter, guy, raiding the cradle because women your own age are too wrinkled? Or is it that they just know better than to stand for your crap?

Nice the guy hangs out in the kitchen. Not so nice his weapon of choice, a frying pan. Cops say she had to be airlifted to a hospital for treatment of broken ribs and face injuries. For the umbrella incident, he said it was self defense. She picked up and threatened him with a glass table, he said.

This sounds like a guy who gets tanked up or methed up, gets angry and throws things around. Chances are, she's a whole lot smaller than he is. And there are indications she has a daughter younger than ten, though the Associated Press story doesn't say so directly. Let's hope the kid didn't see all this. If she did, it'll screw her up for a lifetime. She'll spend her teen years and 20s searching for a guy who can handle and umbrella and a frying pan, and it's a good bet she'll find one. Or several. She'll likely turn violent herself, if not physically, then emotionally. She'll think all of that is normal, and for her, it will be.

The fiancée is not likely to leave this idiot. She'll tell you convincingly that she loves him and thinks she can change him. Nah. Almost never happens. And should she have the good sense to get out from under this situation, you can bet he'll find another victim.

The question is how'd the guy get off the hook for poking an eye out with an umbrella? "It was raining out. I just had the umbrella at the ready because I was going out to get 'Charlott' a Subway Foot Long. She provoked me and what could I do? Pass that Jim Beam. will ya?"


Shrapnel:

--Mini fast food review: McD's "Third Pounders." Blech!

--People who do this writing kind of work need editors to keep us honest and for when our BS meters aren't working. Some want to make gratuitous changes. In the words of Mike Clancy, "They're editors. They can't help themselves."

--Remembering Chet Currier, gentle "Aw Shucks" kind of guy with a razor sharp intellect who forgot more about mutual funds than anyone reading (or writing) this will ever know. Chet's gone three years this month, way before his time. But we still ask him questions and sometimes he answers and the answers always make sense.

Chester Currier 1945-2007

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


Monday, August 16, 2010

744 Wrong Hour, Wrong Day

744 Wrong Hour, Wrong Day

Stuff usually goes wrong at the absolutely worst possible moment and or the worst possible day.

If the air conditioner goes blotto, chances are it'll be on the hottest day of the year, although there was one that recently waited for a temporary respite in the current heat wave. The exception that proves the rule.

If you discover your car has a flat, it's likely to be when you're already running late for an urgent appointment or on Christmas eve when you finally get to your holiday shopping. If you use mass transit, the derailment will happen at about the same time.

If there's a mouse in your house, you will first spot him after midnight.

And smoke alarm batteries, says one wag, are intentionally calculated to start beeping at 2 AM, especially if it and the ladder and the replacement battery (you DO have a replacement battery, don't you?) are on different floors. So there you are at 2:05 in the morning, staggering downstairs to get the ladder, dragging it up stairs hoping you won't awaken anyone else. And you get up and remove the alarm from the ceiling and realize it's connected to house current and the battery is only a backup. But you can neither open the battery compartment nor remove the alarm fully without unplugging it. And the plug is a confusing piece of flimsy plastic -- and if that tiny type is instruction on how to work the thing, it's too small for you to read. And when you get the house current disconnected and the alarm down and the battery compartment open and the battery out, the thing still beeps every five seconds for what seems like an eternity.

Flashlight batteries and rechargeables are a little more forgiving. But even if they weren't, they don't cause sleep disruptions even if the fizzle out at happen at bad hours.

Dashboard gauges also are manufactured to mislead you. When the gasoline meter fails, the needle goes up to "full," not down to empty. That had to be done on purpose.

If the light in the garage burns out, it will burn out at night, not in day light.

Gas stoves: if they have electric starters, those things that go click-click-click instead of a pilot light, the flint on the click-click-click gizmo will wear out and not work precisely when you're about to start cooking for your in-laws, who already hate you and already think you're a lousy cook.

A friend has theorized for a long time that all these machines are alien life forms that have come to earth to destroy us. Here is how he put it in an e-mail in February of 2010:

By Ross Mol:

A long time ago, before humans invented loin cloths, an alien form of life we would learn to see as "machines" did a reconnaissance of this planet. What they saw, from their standpoint, was a planet of tenders. So they dropped an amoeba form of their life form (probably a wheel) and we've been tending its evolving offspring ever since.
This has to be clarified with an explanation of differing perceptions of life and philosophy. Humans see life most basically from the perceived fact that they are mortal, that they are bound to an apparent limited time of existing. Therefore, most of their philosophies (and religions) revolve around the basic question "what is the meaning of life". Machines, on the other hand, are essentially immortal as long as their parts are maintained or replaced. Their philosophies revolve around function - around how they run. They like to run, to be operative. To keep running, they need tenders.
Humans think that machines serve them. Machines are glad to have humans maintain that illusion so they keep doing their job of tending. But from their standpoint, a morning commuter who thinks he's using his car to go to work, is actually giving his car a run (dogs seem to have humans trained also). Machines don't care where they run to, they just like to run.
But they do share a trait with humans - they are somewhat greedy and they like attention for attention's sake. They sit around and think up stuff like "I want a new spark plug"and then like a stubborn petulant child crossing its arms and puffing out it's cheek in a pout, refuse to function until they get what they want (from the tenders).
After the middle of the 20th century, machines assumed total control of the world. When the US set up missiles and missile defenses against the USSR and they did likewise against the US, they helped machines set up a single interlocked system. You can't mess with one part of this system without setting off the rest. More recently and primarily (but not entirely) with their computer contingent, they have taken over what Teilhard de Chardin described as the noosphere - a sphere humans thought was an extension of their own thinking.
Machines can be somewhat controlled once one understands their philosophical underpinnings. They are afraid of refusal of maintenance and/or willful destruction. That is the only thing that can put an end to a machine or groups of them.
But here is the problem and one absolutely has to understand this theory, believe it, and have the nerve or will to deal with it to overcome this problem. Machines are totally telepathic. That's why you don't hear them speak. If you threaten a machine, you absolutely, and this cannot be stressed to much, be totally willing, to the core of ones being, to carry out any threat one makes such as "I'm going to drive you off a cliff". Most humans have thoughts like "gee, I paid so much for it". If such a thought is even slightly preset, the machine will just laugh.
An experiment to test the theory was extensively conducted by the author on a very old Mercury automobile. If it wouldn't start, it was told "OK, to begin with you're going to lose one of your chrome strips", and then this was done by reaching under a loose end and tearing it off the car. Further threats were not necessary - it started - it knew the threats were real. Another time it was threatened with removal of the entire housing for the air filter, (from now on you're going to run on filthy city air) and that was done. Again it started and ran that way from then on. One can show no sympathy. That's just one example, but the theory has been verified many times and many machines have been destroyed in the process. This keeps the rest of them in line

Mol is a philosopher, thinker, social critic and humorist currently living in eastern Tennessee.
Used with the author's permission.
--

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

743 More On Cars

743 More On Cars

Memo

To: GM Chairman-designate Daniel Ackerson
From: Wessays™
Subject: Your New Job

Dan, babes, you're the fourth chairman in a year and a half and it's pretty well known that while you're already a GM director you don't have experience running a huge industrial enterprise that manufactures stuff you can't lift. Telecom may teach you some stuff about big companies. But cars are different. So here's the Prime Directive:

DON'T SHIP CRAP

Credit real Car Guy Lee Iacocca with that three word mega-concept. Your predecessor, Ed Whitaker, didn't have any automotive experience beyond driving, either. But he managed to squeek out at least a paper profit for two consecutive quarters, nothing short of a miracle if true (we haven't read the zillion footnotes and exceptions and special charges and one-time this and thats.)

Another real car guy, Bob Lutz, says you have a good team in place but you need to learn to listen to its members, something he seems to think you are disinclined to do. Lutz's retirement is the worst thing to happen to GM since the spontaneously combusting 1978 Cadillac or maybe even the first Corvair which flipped over on command like an obedient cocker spaniel. (Yes, yes, it was corrected before Nader's book about it was published, but it still happened.)

Your government-owned and bankrupt company is making some beautiful vehicles. The Malibu, the Escalade, the 'Vette, the LaCrosse. And no one disputes you guys have re-learned your once forgotten ability to make a drive train that actually works. Well, sort of.

Guy in the parking lot with a new Caddy STS mentioned he was worried about blowing a rod after 50 thousand miles. People shouldn't be worried about that stuff. But the devil is in the details. The windows have to fit the doors and the doors have to fit the body and your cars should not be needing headlights after three months on the road. Or tail lights.

Parking lot guy shouldn't have to think about that stuff after spending 60 grand for wheels, pretty as they are. And he bought the thing, even knowing it might be trouble. THAT, is something on which to capitalize.


Shrapnel:

--Is anyone interested in reading about a method to game the solitaire game in Windows Vista? It's not the wimpy "guaranteed to win" trick you can play in XP, and it doesn't guarantee a win each time. But you'll up your percentage if you use it.

--Some party for Charlie Rangel at the Plaza as he turned 80, and one guest shouted out something about attending a "party for a crook." Former mayor Dinkins answered for the rest of the crowd by giving the heckler the finger. David Dinkins (?) did WHAT(?,) a guy who never broke a sweat in public and was always seen as a guy qualified for the U.S. Ambassadorship to the Court of St. James?

--There's conchee in the the slow cooker, just about ready to eat after an overnight of bubbling away. Hard to figure how all the white stuff that goes into the pot manages to turn brown in a few hours. And the stuff never tastes the same twice, even with the same ingredients in the same amounts every time.


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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

742 Automotive Graveyard

742 Automotive Graveyard

Friend and colleague Don Blair of Florida is writing a book about old cars, American brands no longer among us. If it's typical Don, it'll be well researched, easy to understand by car freaks and non-car freaks alike, entertaining and informative. There's a gold mine of dead steel (and sometimes dead plastic) to write about and photograph. Here are but two.

Preston Tucker is well known to readers or listeners of this space. Was he a con man or a visionary or both? Was he victim of the big corporations? Was his stock trading misdeed a setup?" There's no question that Tucker's "Torpedo" was ahead of time and scared Detroit out of its oil pans and Grosse Pointe golf links. And his car was important for what it brought to market or failed to bring to market.

But the most important of the dead brands was the Edsel, Ford's attempt to squeeze a line of cars between its low and upper mid priced lines. The thing was comical and/or ugly, and before wrapping up and calling it quits, Ford lost $250-million on the project, ending in the 1960 model year. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis website, $250-million in 1960 would be about two billion in today's dollar. Ford was not sent reeling by this write off. What happened was this: they built a pretty good car, but a goofy one, and put into what they saw was a niche. Turns out the niche didn't exist. So, Ford took a bath, but barely got wet.

But the kind of loss that would stagger any industrial venture today was little more than a bump in the road for them then. And that's emblematic of what's happened to industry in America.

Don, being the media savvy guy he is surely will see the parallels between cars and broadcasters. When the founder hangs on too long, the successors generally screw things up. Henry Ford (Ford Motor,) Bill Paley (CBS,) Leonard Goldenson (ABC.) And even if the man or woman most closely associated with the enterprise is not the actual founder, it's the same: David Sarnoff (RCA/NBC,) Katherine Graham (Washington Post,) Hedley Donovan (Time/Life,) Alicia Paterson (Newsday.)

Ford survived all the way into the present crisis. What about the others?


Shrapnel:

--Levi Johnston of Palin fame apparently wants to follow his future mother in law or future non-mother in law into politics. "E! Online" reports he is considering a run for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Just what they need: another ambitious and talentless politician, but he has legs as good as Sarah's -- which we know from his magazine photo shoot, and hers.

--Instead of all this hoo-hah about a Muslim center at ground zero, why don't they just build an interfaith center and let everyone have a chunk of it? If proponents of the mosque are serious about their intentions to "strengthen relations with the non-Muslim world" at the Trade Center site, what better way to do it? Still, it's easy enough to understand why there's opposition.

--Batten down the hatches, a certain Jersey Girl is about to take a two-months plus trip to the far east. When this Kearny Kidnik leaves for a long trip, natural and unnatural disasters happen here, and this is nothing new -- it happened even when she was a child. When she left the country in which she was born, its entire economy collapsed.

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

Monday, August 09, 2010

741 The Maze

741 The Maze
The retirement plan was concocted by the union for freelance employees. Kick in a few bucks per check and get a few back when you retire. Good idea. At least on paper. You pick your investments, they invest for you, and later you collect. Minus the $5 per quarter administrative fee, which they don't exactly highlight in the pitch. Once you're no longer with the employer, no one can contribute, so your money sits there and earns or loses according to your investments.

Comes the day you want to roll this thing over into an insured certificate of deposit... that's when you start walking the maze.

Step one: call the fund manager and tell him what you want to do and he sends you a pound of paperwork which you fill out.

Step two: fill out and send in the paperwork.

Step three: they send you a check for what's left of your investments.

Step four: bring the paperwork and the check to the bank and they set up your IRA CD.

Step five: the charming lady from the bank sends you "one more form" to fill out and it's totally incomprehensible.

Step six: You tell the charming bank lady that you don't know the answers to any of her questions and she tells you the bank can't help you with the necessary information and please call your fund manager.

Step seven: The fund manager has surprisingly disappeared and the woman covering his phones says "we can't help you with that, it's a bank form, have the bank fill it out."

Step eight: Tell the fund management phone coverer the bank says it can't do that. She says call the union. You ask "what kind of management is this? You invest the money and now you can't identify the instrument in which it's invested? She says it's "this."

Step nine: you find white out to get rid of the stuff you've said on the form because it's wrong and you write in what's right.

Step ten: the union calls you and tells you you've made an awful mistake: it's not a "this," it's a "that."

Step eleven: you get the white out again and white out your correction and reinstate what you said in the first place.

Step twelve: You bring all this paper to the bank and the charming bank lady says "this may or may not be right. I can't tell you. But if it's wrong, the IRS will not accept the rollover."

Step thirteen: you ask the charming bank lady "when will this appear on my on-line banking website and she says she doesn't know, but if the IRS says it's wrong, the answer is never.

Step fourteen: The account appears on the bank's on line banking website.

Step Fifteen: doesn't the customer even get a chunk of Swiss cheese after navigating the maze successfully?

Step sixteen: No.



Shrapnel:

--Tired of the summertime water parks? Try Gangland Amusements in Moote Pointe, NY, 11566. Admission is free, prices for the "rides" vary. Commit any crime you want from a 7-11 heist to a cataclysmic oil spill, to your very own summer season St. Valentine's Day Massacre (children not admitted without parent or guardian.)

--A Long Island friend just bought what he describes as a "villa" in Florida because prices are low and it's a nice looking place which it is. A "villa" is an upscale house in the country owned by Roman nobility in its original usage. But call it what you will, a nice house in a nice house is a good investment, as long as he's not looking to spend July and August in it.

--An Iranian friend in northern California is trying to sell his "villa" in central Pennsylvania for not much more than he paid for it. But since he now lives 3,000 miles to the west there's not much he can do but rely on the real estate agents. And they're not exactly jumping out of their offices to bring prospective buyers around.

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

740 Sliders

740 Sliders

This is something you need to know, why they call those near-microscopic hamburgers "sliders."

The other day, we received a press release from Columbus, Ohio- based White Castle, a burger chain that owns all of its own stores -- you can't buy a franchise. This is a famous place, or an infamous place, depending on your viewpoint. It was the store where the hamburger bun was invented. And the "slider." The original was square, tiny, had holes punched in it and was made of whatever meat was lying around. Beef, pork, veal, sawdust, whatever. Today, they're 100% beef. Supposedly.

So here we are, veteran of White Castle since the 1940s, standing on line in a local gourmet supermarket which sells "sliders," ready to cook. The checker-outer is "Liz," a lovely woman who usually works the customer service desk.

Customer: "do you know why they call them "sliders?"

Liz: "No, why?"

Customer: "I'll tell you, but first you'll have to promise you won't hate me when I tell you."

Liz: "Sure. I could never hate you."

Customer: "Thank you, It's from White Castle. And it's because they leave your system as fast as you take them in."

Liz wasn't offended. But they guy in the meat department was. And so was the outsourced publicist for White Castle who heard the same story.

Meat Dept Worker: "Yech, what a way to start the day!"

Customer: "Maybe you want to call them something else, then?"

White Castle Publicist: "Are you sure?"

Customer: "Absolutely. Cheaper than Ex-Lax and it tastes better."

White Castle supplies frozen "sliders" to grocery stores. Pop 'em in the micro and a minute or two later, you have... sliders. Sort of. They are dryer than the restaurant version and taste, well, much worse.

Thing is, if you pass one on the highway and decide that that's dinner, make sure you're near a porta potty. Don't worry about losing time. The effect won't take long. And it's cheaper than laxatives. Not as cheap as it used to be, but still cheaper. Better than McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Taco Bell. And oh, so much better than anything you can buy at the drugstore.

Shrapnel:

--How did THIS happen? The Senate confirmed Elena Kagan as justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Couldn't the tea partiers have found SOMETHING to eliminate her? Another abject failure and a call to reason: Bring back Harold Carswell or Clement Haynsworth.

--Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Moonbeam of California refused to defend themselves in the lawsuit about the gay marriage proposition. Does this mean it's still possible for proper Republicans and Democrats to find common ground? Yes, if the talk show yo-yos keep their mouths shut -- which is unlikely.

--Why does hair dye have to stink? You'd think that in the modern world of cosmetic chemistry, they'd come up with something that doesn't give you shortness of breath and maybe lung cancer. Coloring your hair? Wear a mask -- available at any big box or hardware store.

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



Wednesday, August 04, 2010

739 Two Hundred Nine Dollars Off the Cover Price

739 Two Hundred Nine Dollars Off The Cover Price

Got those Harman/Kardon speakers in your lap top? If not, change laptops. Sidney Harman's going to need the money. Here's the thumbnail: Harmon and partner Bernard Karmon started the Hi Fi company of the same names. Harman was in and out of it over time and finally retired in 2008. Sidney Harman is 91 years old and just bought Newsweek Magazine. No, no, not this week's issue, the whole company. Selling price, one dollar (and debts.) The actual buck is roughly $209 dollars off the cover price if you buy a year's worth of issues on the newsstand.

Harman has been teaching off and on, for 50 years. First it was black kids in Virginia when a district decided to close its schools rather than desegregate. Then it was at one of the big California colleges. He wrote a book called "Life Begins at 90," and he's taken big risks before. Example: his factory workers set their own hours and left for the day when the job was done. That's not a common labor policy, but it works for HK and its successor Harman International.

So who reads Newsweek? Apparently no one. And the "media experts" and "media analysts" all seem to think that the age of the stand-alone weekly magazine is over. The "book" loses money by the bucket. The analysts say it needs a partnership with another medium to stay vital. It had that. The Washington Post has owned the thing for a long time. The Post has newspapers, websites, broadcast outlets and more. The "synergy" wasn't working. Back to basics.

People buy and read magazines because they have stuff inside that no one else does or perspective that no one else does or great pictures or great writers. Newsweek stopped having most of those things years ago. So along comes billionaire charitist and buys the thing for a buck. Can he turn it around? Yes, if he lives long enough. Semi-rival Forbes Magazine says Harman comes from a long line of longevity. He has to understand one thing: content is what sells magazines. You can have the best writers and photographers on the planet and if the editor is a dolt, the magazine is a dolt.

Bloomberg bought Business Week Magazine not long ago. Paid more than one dollar. But not a whole lot more in the world of billionaires. Since then, BW has again become a power to reckon with in the worlds of publishing and internet. If BW bombed, the new owners could walk away from it and not feel the loss. It it won't, and they won't. You can bet Steve Forbes and whoever is running Fortune this month are watching their behinds closer than they used to.

Chief rival Time Magazine had best do the same. But Harman has to make changes at the top. As did the people who bought the Saturday Evening Post from Curtis Publications. See Wessay #236 for a similar story in a more magazine-friendly era. Maybe there's life in the old Newsweek yet. If there's anyone who can coax it from its coma, it's Sidney Harman. May he live long enough to do it.

Shrapnel: No M. Monroe here to sing it. But happy birthday, Mr. President, happy birthday to you. Illegitimi non carborundom.

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

Monday, August 02, 2010

738 East Harlem To Rhinebeck

738 East Harlem to Rhinebeck

He was a simple businessman, Anthony Salerno, but they called him "Fat Tony" and Fat Tony was the alleged boss of the alleged Genovese Crime Family, which we all know didn't and doesn't exist. All that stuff about the numbers racket and loan sharking and such was a bunch of made up baloney and it all happened because he was a regular at the Palma Boys Social Club up in East Harlem and the cops all thought it was a mob hangout -- or at least, that's what they said.

Fat Tony had a nice apartment in Gramercy Park and a nicer house in Miami Beach and a 100 acre horse farm in Rhinebeck, Duchess County, New York, a quaint little Dutch Settlement that's been around since the 1600s. Tony had a little stroke in 1981 at about the age of 70, and went up to the horse ranch to recover, which he did. A little later that year, another businessman, Frank Tieri died and that's when they started saying "Fat Tony" took over the Genovese Crime Family, which we all know didn't and which doesn't exist. Of course, Tony was only the front man. Since his death in 1992 we have learned that the real boss was Phillip "Benny Squint" Lombardo. Benny Squint did not have a 100 acre horse farm in Rhinebeck.

Fat Tony's house wasn't the only mansion in Rhinebeck. Democratic Party fundraiser Kathleen Hammer and her real estate mogul husband Arthur Seelbinder have one, too. And that's where the Chelsea Clinton-Marc Mezvinsky wedding took place -- at the oh so properly named Astor Court, because it once was owned by John Jacob Astor IV. Beautiful countryside if you don't look to close. Old stone churches, old wooden restaurants on ancient sidewalks.

So, John J. Astor IV, Fat Tony Salerno and others have or had these big, ritzy digs in a tiny upstate village where the train doesn't stop anymore. There are something like 4,000 people in Rhinebeck. About ten percent of them live below the poverty line. If you count the nearby communities of Rhinecliff, Red Hook and Tivoli, you will find a lower percentage of grand estates and a much, much higher percentage of the impoverished.

So let's hope that between the clinking of champagne glasses and the downing of caviar, Bill and Hillary Clinton got a tour of the region, much of which is Tobacco Road, something with which he, at least, is familiar. The wedding was an idiotic extravagance, even if Mommy is the Secretary of State and Daddy is a former US President. But maybe a trip through the region by these luminaries will end with some much-needed aid coming to this desolate and depressed area.

Neither Fat Tony nor JJA IV ever got to see any of that poverty first hand. The former might not much care. The latter might have. The Clintons (and the Mezvinskys) probably would as well if some one let them see it.

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