Friday, October 29, 2010

776 Return Those Calls

776 Return Those Calls

Notice that people just don't return phone calls these days. Even when it means money in the bank. You order something from a store. They tell you it'll be in, say, Tuesday "and we'll call you." Times can't be as tough as everyone says if merchants are not telling their customers when their orders arrive.

The old joke "have your secretary call my secretary and we'll set up a lunch date" never meant what it said. Plus no one has a secretary anymore -- only an assistant. This was the kind of call everyone involved knew was not going to be made. Jimmy Carter took phone calls on radio or TV and when he didn't have an answer he promised his callers he'd find out and call them back. That's what he did. Today, you call someone, you get voicemail, you leave a message. You don't get called back.

Doctor to patient: "I'll call you next Monday with the results of your tests." Don't hang out waiting for that call.

Friend to friend: "I'll call you next time I'm in town." Don't hang out waiting for that one, either.

Ah, you say... this is the age of electronic mail and text messages. So what about that e-mail you sent the public works department about the pothole in your street? It's now late October. The note went out last February. No reply yet. And the pothole's still there. Maybe they're all dead. Nah. If they were, the mailbox would be full and you'd get an automated note about that. Machinery sometimes DOES return messages even if the accompanying data are meaningless.

No one texts like teenagers. But that's another story. It's a habit they'll break before they're out of puberty. Or at least most of them will. Let's hope. Because the next thing that's bound to happen is the dialect of American English they use will become an actual part of the language. On the other hand, perhaps they can harness that to send secret messages the Iranians won't understand, once we get into THAT war.

C U 2MORO. BBN.

That's "see you tomorrow. Bye by now." It's not exactly "Bomb Tehran," but this lingo will evolve.


Shrapnel:

--Remembering Emma McClain, may she rest. Sunday upcoming would be her 97th birthday. Here's hoping heaven is what she expected -- it's certainly what she deserved.

--You'd think that after almost 60 years of playing guitar, the changing of strings would become less tedious and more routine. It hasn't. Maybe another few years and it won't be such a horrid task.

--Madison Avenue figures you have the attention span of a fruit fly, which is why there are so many 15 second commercials these days. Plus they're a lot cheaper to produce than anything longer. No more 60s, relatively few 30s, a whole slew of 20s and all those 15s leads us to think the next Big Thing will be the five second spot.


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


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

775 Big Bob the Medical Mechanic

775 Big Bob the Medical Mechanic

They don't call him Big Bob for nothing. The man is w i d e. He's a retired military guy, probably an ex-colonel because no one below that rank lets himself get that size. And now he's a Medical Mechanic. Which means he runs what's euphemistically called a "Health System."

We're in a sleek conference room with about $130,000 worth of furniture and maybe another 20 or 30 thousand worth of show-and-tell equipment. This is in the back corner of a medical building, quite some distance away from a waiting room full of patients. Each has been waiting at least half an hour beyond his appointment time. They're pretty near a sign that says "If you are more than 15 minutes late for your appointment, you may be asked to reschedule." No one in the waiting room says "well, if you're more than 15 minutes late, doc, YOU may be asked to reschedule." No one in the waiting room. But in the sleek conference room, that's the topic on the table.

The patient asks Big Bob "You ever hear of Rube Goldberg?" "I don't think so, he replies." Now he has. And he has his own copy of a Goldberg Cartoon about a machine that takes 78 steps to swat a fly. "This, sir," says the patient "is how your system runs. There should be a sign with a motto that says "Never let a patient get in the way of office procedure."

Bob's "system" is expanding, and fast. He says "it's like we're trying to build the airplane while in mid air." He has no illusions. He knows. There's no on site Information Technology department. They have to go elsewhere for that. The phone system spits out "caller i.d." numbers and when you call them back, the machinery tells you "this is not a working number."

"Oh, we fixed that," says Bob. And "it took some doing to computerize all our medical records." Great. Now you can lose individual electronic documents instead of the patient's complete record. What happens when this system crashes? "We call headquarters and they send a guy down to fix it right away." "Headquarters" is 50 miles away.

Shrapnel:

--A Time Magazine article reports that barbershops could be good places to have your blood pressure checked. That's in a piece about how African American men have way higher incidence of hypertension, largely because it goes undiagnosed. It's a pretty good idea for all of us, but some medical privacy BS probably will gum up the works, ask Bob.

--Iran is starting to fuel its latest nuclear reactor and this is causing worry in the west, as it probably should. But before you get all shook up, recall how efficiently that happens here in the US (Think Shoreham and Indian Point.) They'll run into the same screwups as we do and this "fueling" which should take days, is likely to take months or maybe forever.

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





Monday, October 25, 2010

Your Rebate Is In the Mail

774 Your Rebate is In the Mail.

How do these guys get away with these rebate scams? Easy. We the customers help 'em most of the time. How many times have you bothered to do the ton of paperwork needed to get $5.00 from Gillette or Izod or Hamilton Beach or Betty Crocker? The companies count on not having to give you the five bucks. If they really wanted you to have it, they'd simply have deducted it from the selling price.

With more expensive items, you get bigger rebates. Still, not everyone who can, does. The 'Droid of a few postings ago comes with $100 back. Now we're talking big bucks. Why wouldn't you go through the hoop jumping and back flips required for that? Some people don't.

To the credit of the makers of expensive electronics, they've made it ever so slightly easier by issuing Visa or MasterCard prepaid debit cards instead of checks. Once the rebate money is gone, you can toss the card.

And to the credit of the makers of expensive electronics, they've made the paperwork part a little easier by pre filling some of it out for you. There's one thing that hasn't changed. You have to send the original bar code in with the application. They must be short of bar codes and they have to re use them. Times are tough. Of course, bar codes can't be peeled from the boxes. That might cause a rash of bar code thefts, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?!

Once you cut the bar code panel out of the box, you get to see a little note that says "hey, buyer, have fun with your rebate money, but now that you've wrecked the box, you can not return what came in it."

There is no way to send all this stuff to the processing center electronically. Gotta use the US mail. It takes three stamps to get the paperwork (even the prefilled paperwork) to wherever it goes. Oh, and they tell you to make copies of everything in case they screw up and you have to do it all over again.

And how's this for weasel-ness: "You'll receive your rebate two weeks after we receive your request. But it may take up to six weeks." That's a real quote.

Try telling this to the phone company: "You'll receive your payment within two weeks of the bill's due date. But it may take up to six weeks."

By the third week, you'll be put into collection. By the fifth, you'll be in debtors' prison.


Shrapnel:

--So CNN kept asking the editor of Wiki Leaks about a dirty tricks campaign against him when he wanted to talk about the 400-thousand pages of Iraq war documents his outfit just released and said he'd walk out of the interview if her line of questioning didn't change, which it didn't, so he did. As he should have. If Ted Turner were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave.

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


Friday, October 22, 2010

773 The Vig Today

773 The Vig Today

How do you know we're in economic trouble? Two ways, and they have nothing to do with official figures. Check your television set. It knows. First all those ads for reducing credit card debt. Second all those ads for payday loans, the single most unethical business since the mob figured out that "the vig," vigorish was much better than plain old interest.

"The banks are putting us out of business," says reputed mobster Glick, a grand nephew, he says, of the late Myer Lansky, "the underworld's accountant," by all accounts. "We're pretty much 'taillights," he says. "We can't compete with the big banks. Anyone can get credit. And the banks use scare tactics to collect... far worse than the gentlemen we used to send to remind people who were behind in their payments."

"They used to 'trow us in jail for charging that kind of money. Now, they give bailouts."

Well, credit cards have been "reformed." Now, instead of just squeezing you, they tell you first how long they're going to squeeze you and for how much and when. That's on your statement. Anyone read that stuff?

And with "official" interest rates -- the prime, the mortgages, etc., all low, why is it that credit card rates haven't followed, and are moving in the other direction? (That would be up.)

"It's our policy," says one MasterCard issuer. Oh. That explains it.

Then there are the TV ads, almost as numerous as the ones for accident lawyers. "Avoid Bankruptcy!" "Let Us Help You Into Bankruptcy While Still Keeping Your Car and Home (quietly: "in many cases.") "Call Us. We'll Save You Big Bucks With The IRS And Visa!"

What are these guys selling? Most of them are selling "debt consolidation loans." They mean "we'll pay off your cards, you pay us with one 'affordable' payment a month." Here comes Glick, again. Ever wonder about the rates these consolidators charge?

Things are going to get worse. Everyone in the bailout is suing everyone else. None of those suits will go the distance -- they'll all be "settled." That's still going to cost billions. And who will pay for that? The FDIC will kick in a chunk. So will the banks. So will the investors in those flim-flam debt swaps and evictions. But in the end, the money they lose will return to the till in the form of... still more credit card interest increases. So you have met the "final payer," it he is you. They won't kneecap you if you don't pay, they'll just take your house.




Shrapnel:

--Often the years fly, though the days may drag. But this year it seems the calendar is on speed. August and September raced past and October is doing the same.

--This is apple cider time. And what have they done to "improve" it? Larded it with fermentation retardant.

--Antioch College, now in new hands, is looking for students. That's a recent change, after a multi year shut down of the Yellow Springs, Ohio campus. And they want to make sure that you know they're not the same thing as Antioch University, even though they're in the same town.

(For the two year old Wessay™ on this situation, please see Antioch Posting, which was not received well on campus.)

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



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

772 Lead Me Not Into Penn Station

772 Lead Me Not Into Penn Station

The old dog turned 100 this week. And although the present building isn't the original, there are many things shared by the two and which probably also will be shared by the third, if ever it's built, on the grounds of what is now the Jim Farley Post Office.

Memories of the glorious heyday of railroading? Nah. They weren't nearly as glorious as those who remember them remember them.

What the Penn Stations of yesterday and today share are memories of dirt, cold, heat, delays, arrogance, long lines, cancelled trains, confusion, high priced tourist trap shops, strikes, signal problems, switch problems, inadequate rest rooms, sleeping homeless men and women, busted cars, financial misfeasance, financial malfeasance, lies, ever rising ticket prices, ever diminishing service and just plain idiocy.

First about the "glorious" old terminal. Yes, it had those nifty eagles out front on the 7th Avenue side. Smaller replicas remain in about the same spots. And it had that enormous Quonset-shaped glass roof, a metal skeleton with hundreds and hundreds of small windows that wouldn't let the sunlight in because no one had washed them between 1910 and 1963 when they mercifully tore the place down. Rail history buffs will disagree. The pictures today look great. The real thing was a dump.

In '63 they put up another one. Madison Square Garden on the top, Pennsylvania Station one floor below ground, shared with NJTransit, and the Long Island Railroad, owned on and off by the PRR one floor down from there. Atop the Garden, an office tower. Gotta give 'em this: that was much more efficient use of the space in jam-packed Manhattan.

But not much inside changed, other than appearance. Nor has it since opening, even with the advent of computerized electronic switching, shared responsibility between Amtrak and the LIRR. The trains remain late and dirty. The station itself looks okay, but don't look too closely. They've got all that expensive decor. Murals, engravings. Plaques. Slightly improved restrooms and waiting rooms. BUT THEY STILL CAN'T RUN A #$@*(^*(*%^ TRAIN ON TIME. And they still can't give you realistic information. And they still can't stop finger pointing when looking for the cause of problems that delay you.

Amtrak is a better tenant than was the PRR, though why it switched most of what's left of its interstate lines from Grand Central is a total mystery. The LIRR is better as a state-run commuter line than it was in private hands. But Penn Station still is Penn Station. Stand clear of the closing doors, please. The 6:35 express to Seaford will be leaving in just a few moments. (Announcement made at 7:15.)

Happy Centennial, Penn Station. May all our dreams and wishes about you come true.


Shrapnel:

--Like to play practical jokes on your machinery? Here's one for your GPS. Get on a road that goes in four different directions without a name change and confuses the little gizmo.

--From the fear-of-finding-half-a-worm-after-biting-into-the-apple-department: ever worry that one day you're going to start the car and back out of the garage before opening the door? Hasn't happened here yet, but let's start looking at installation prices, nonetheless.

--A Wessays™ salute to one Shahed Hussain, which probably isn't his real name. Hussain was working undercover for the FBI and cracked a case in which several people planted what they thought were real bombs outside some New York synagogues. Shows how stereotypes work against you and cooperation saves lives.


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

Monday, October 18, 2010

771 Visit to a Small Planet

771 Visit to a Small Planet

(PHILIPSBURG PA) -- It's a beautiful fall Saturday in what probably once was a beautiful small town and you wonder how people here make a living. A good number of stores are vacant. There's no traffic to speak of, and there are almost no pedestrians. There's a wedding at one of the several churches, else the "downtown" would be even more deserted. It's not a ghost town. Exactly. Not yet, anyway.

Time has passed this place by, at least from outward appearances. But somehow its people are keeping it on life support. At the start of the 20th Century, when this was coal country, people proudly put up buildings -- there's a red stucco-like exterior wall that's common to this region -- and even more proudly put their names and the year of construction on the front. The year labels are all before 1920, mostly before 1910.

If you didn't know by looking that this place needs a shave and a haircut, you'd know by learning there's a "revitalization" agency. Once there's one of those in a city or town, you can be sure things have deteriorated badly. There are two jewelry stores on the main drag, both closed on the weekends, or at least on weekend afternoons. Who buys jewelry in a place like this? A better question might be who's selling old gold to pay the rent?

We buy a small item in an "antique" store. Two dollars. The clerk -- probably the owner -- is grateful. Any of us would be, too. From the back room, you can hear a conversation about getting state help to pay the heat bill. And the place is only heated the four days a week it's open.

Still, they try. A new cafe and used book store, old but beautifully restored by a woman from Washington, DC. Bustling with four or five customers in a place that could easily handle 50.

On the edge of town there's a relatively new "Peebles" department store, one of a small chain. It's similar to a typical Kohl's but not as cool and half the size. And almost empty. That means there's time to chat with a worker, a tiny young woman with large, eager eyes a large eager smile and a large eager baby in her belly. She is picking up stuff that's way to heavy for someone that late in pregnancy. Down the street is a new supermarket, also fairly modern and about the busiest place we've seen today. It's one of two food stores of size in the region.

The requisite McDonald's is open. Business is slow. The Dairy Queen is open. And empty.

And there are at least two old folks' homes, one of them eight stories tall. Looks like Queens. Like a WAREHOUSE in Queens. Which really is what it is, except the Queens part.

But it's a beautiful day in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, with enough red and yellow and green and brown foliage to rival New England.

And for now, It's a good place for those of us with depression. Lots of company, relative to the population.


Shrapnel:

--Clarification: The booklet excoriated in Wessay #770 was not sent by Medicare, but by the health insurance company, which later followed it up with a "newsletter" style "publication" that said, essentially the same thing. Plenty o' bucks for publicity as they put the finishing touches on their next price increases.

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

770 The Medicare Booklet

770 The Medicare Booklet

The health insurance company has sent along a booklet called "The More Things Change, The More We Stay The Same." Yeah, right. Not EVERYTHING they do stays the same. Last January, the rates went up 34%. The deductibles rose more than 40%, and the pharmacy catalog shrunk bigtime. "The More We Stay The Same?" Well, in a way, yeah. What stayed the same was the gouging. It got deeper, but it remains based on the same and original concept, "get the suckers while they're still warm."

Guess they need the money to print up those pretty brochures. One "chapter" is called "We're Always Right Here, Close at Hand." So let's make a phone call. Three minutes of introductory blahblah on cell phone prime time, and then someone answers the phone, but can't answer the question which was "how much are the rates going to rise NEXT year." "We'll be sending out notices in the next week or so, sir. But I don't have the information now." Hell you don't. You just don't want to say because you don't want your customers calling around to find a better deal. Are you going to call back to answer the question once you admit to having the information? Hold your breath.

As noted in a previous post, we Social Security Moochers aren't going to get a raise in 2011. So our Medicare rates will remain the same.

Moron the booklet: "We got 'Lifestyle Classes!" Really! We got to be of Medicare age by listening to some 12 year old trying to teach us how to how to eat fewer Big Macs? Not. Another chapter: "Exceptional Benefits, Just Like Always." From the "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" school of grammar. "AS" always, schmeckle! Exceptional? Not a bit. All the plans are doing the same thing. Maybe they should call them "Medicare Plots," instead of "Medicare Plans." Better yet, "Medicare? Plotz!"

Then there's the infamous "Silver Sneakers" plan which pays for some health club memberships as long as you check in 12 times a month. If you don't, the health club can bill you. But it and "Sneakers" can't stop you from running into the gym, checking in and then leaving without exercising. Probably, this is fraud. Go prove it. Revenge is sweet.

Then, there's the "dental plan." Ask any dentist about how good that is. Cleaning? Yeah. Periodontal? Fuggedaboudit. Implants? Dental MRAs? Nah.

And there's "Manage Your Prescriptions." This is health insurance-ese for (A) use our mail order house, because we get better kickbacks than from the regular drug store" and (B) We don't use generics, but you'd better. C'mon. They're just as good as the real thing. (No they aren't.)

Best of all is advice on "how to navigate the health care system." You gotta be kidding! Half the problem is the idiotic "Medicare Advantage" plan, which charges you co-payments for stuff that regular Medicare doesn't.

There is no information phone number supplied with this "informative" booklet. Any thoughts about why they tell you to "refer to the phone number on your card?" It's because it's too much trouble for most of us to look up, and they know that, so we don't. Except this time.

Shrapnel:

--Please note the return of Jim Kingsland's Blog which had been inactive for some time. Also note the new name, Financial Balderdash. Welcome back, Jim.

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




Wednesday, October 13, 2010

769 Economics Prize

769 Economics Prize


Finally, a Nobel Prize in economics that makes sense. So many of them since the first of them in 1968 have been for chronicling the obvious. This year's winners, two Americans and a Cypriot living in England have figured out why the marketplace is a mess. Basically, their work looks at why buyers and sellers don't find each other all so easily as they once did. And they figured out why unemployment comp is good both for job seekers and places that have jobs.

The winners -- as usual -- are people you've never heard of: Peter Diamond (MIT), Dale Mortensen (Northwestern), and the unfortunately named Christopher Pissarides (London School of Economics.) So, now the rest of us know what these guys knew all along (Nobel Prizes are often awarded decades after the work that's honored.) They looked at home buying and selling, retail, and more. They figured out what resources -- money, time, emotion -- the jobless often spend or waste when job hunting and why corporations pick from a better pool of applicants when receiving unemployment comp and why compensated applicants are more likely to get better jobs than those who aren't.

You want details? Go look 'em up. But you already have the gist.

The FRight Wing probably now will squawk about how the Nobel Prize should be awarded to some guys at places like Bob Jones University or some conservative with an actual brain, like, say, Thomas Sowell. But brainy as they are, they're largely one trick ponies. Here's the trick: The market will fix everything, and it's only interference by the gummint that stands in the way.

For that, they should get the Nobel Prize for Ignorance and Malice. You say there isn't one? Right. But since the awards are given in prominent subjects like peace or chemistry, and other widespread disciplines, why not THIS widespread discipline. The field is huge and deserves formal recognition.

If so many awards are little more than beauty contests, how about an UGLY contest.

Shrapnel:

--Speaking of awards and guys you never heard of, the Wessays™ Trophy goes to Sascha Skucek, who apparently has solved a 40 year old murder that took place in the library of Penn State University. Sascha has a reporter's grit, determination, fearlessness, patience, perseverance and the requisite print journalist's chip on his shoulder when it comes to having doors slammed in his face, mostly figuratively. Unfortunately, the perp is dead.

--Speaking of economics, anyone getting a raise in 2011? Maybe, though not those of us on Social Security. Looks like a second consecutive year of no added money. But the good part is they won't raise our Medicare deductions -- they'll just figure out a way to increase the co-payments for the "Medicare (Dis)Advantage" plans.

--Most e-mail outfits don't count spam messages in your reservoir of e-space. So why not let a few thousand accumulate? Then you can print 'em out and make a dandy, mural-sized collage, while not sacrificing any of your on-line space allotment.



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

Monday, October 11, 2010

768 Android

768 Android

Those of us with iPhone envy but who won't knuckle under and subscribe to AT&T now can obtain something fairly similar, a phone called "Android." The first thing you notice is that the phone "says" its name, lest you forget. But since Android is close to Anne Droid, you'd expect a lady-like self-identification. The phone says "droid" in a voice that is a combination of Wolf Man Jack and Don LaFontaine with laryngitis.

Wolf Man was a great disc jockey and Don was a great announcer. But who wants to hear these guys coming out of your pocket? (There's a one-liner in here something like "is that an announcer in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" But we won't fully go there.)

What's amazing about this so-called telephone is how much stuff it does in a package that weighs less than air. Internet, e-mail, calendar, and endless other stuff. Big screen. Wonderful array of colors. And it actually makes and receives phone calls decently. But the manufacturer makes certain assumptions about its customers, iffy assumptions.

Digression: most high tech stuff comes with Bible-thick instruction books and assumes that (a) you are a dunce and need every little feature described in Biblical detail, (b) you have nothing to do with your day but study this book, and (c) that you understand a large number of undefined terms that while familiar to the designers, builders and tech writers, are complete mysteries to you.

Droid goes to the other extreme. There is NO book. And on the phone itself, the "help" section is buried beneath an avalanche or "apps" with little icons that are close to meaningless. So while most of these gizmos try to lead you step by step into usability in a language spoken by no civilian, this one assumes you're not only tech-savvy but tech excellent (or tech-cellent?)

How do you change a ringtone? Unknown. Is there a solitaire game (standard equipment on every PC)? Unknown. But you can send a text message by talking at the machine. Amazing. You can do an internet search by talking at the machine. Amazing. You can connect to the internet at speeds that rival or exceed those of the average home computer. Amazing. But you still burn large minutes retrieving a voice mail. Amazing (frown.)

Then, there are the keyboards. Yes, keyboards - plural. The on screen version is a bit awkward for people with large thumbs. The slide-out keyboard is... um... a bit awkward for people with large thumbs. But at least the keys are raised so you can feel them as you screw up a message.

Getting used to this thing will take some time. But it's nice to be part of today's cutting edge technology, which, no doubt, will be quickly dulled by tomorrow's cutting edge technology. What'll they think of next? Plenty, probably.

In the meantime, eat your heart out, iPhone!

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

Friday, October 08, 2010

767 Dancing With the Stars

767 Dancing With the Stars

The only way the Democratic Party will hold onto its majorities is by cancelling the election and holding a dance contest instead.

The model should be the TV program "Dancing With the Stars," ABC's worthiest contribution to American Culture.

This is not something that could have happened during the "real" era of the party. C'mon, guys, FDR was a cripple. JFK had horrible back pain. No one can imagine Truman on a modern day dance floor. He might have been better than Tom Dewey, but maybe not good enough. Carter? Only if it was a square dance. Mondale? Oh, please! It wasn't until Clinton that Democrats were able to do such things as are required of ABC's contestants.

Obama? Pelosi? Cuomo? All great candidates once the music starts. Can you imagine the prim Mrs. Palin getting out there and doing the "hully gully" or even the Twist? Nah. Ann Coulter, maybe. But not Sarah. Certainly not some of the other mental and physical fossils the Republicans are running. Boehner? Newt? Their best dancers have been either under at home detention or are living in exile in Argentina. It might be fun to guess about Larry Craig's partner, but we'll never see that.

It's just too bad the Dems lost John Edwards. He was a potential rock 'n' roll winner. Again, there's a partner issue. But...

So, what, you may ask, does the ability to dance have to do with governing? Why EVERYTHING, darling. The whole thing is a damned dance. Legislation, treaties, appointments, cabinets, kitchen cabinets, executive orders, supreme court decisions. It's all dancing. And the Dems dance with greater grace and vigor than the opponents. At least in general.

So let's find a good band or at least a decent DJ. Line up the candidates under a banner, "Wiggle and Win!"

Or maybe we should choose "American Idol," with Michael Savage playing the role of Simon Cowell. The betting is Michelle Obama can belt out a pretty good National Anthem. But where's Margaret Truman when we need her?


Shrapnel:

--Hungarian Red Sludge on the Blue Danube? How poetic. Red Sludge is a byproduct of making Aluminum, something most of the rest of us had learned to properly get rid of a zillion years ago.

--Latest statistics show sales are up but job creation is down. So what's with the companies that get tax breaks to create jobs? And who among the jobless is doing all that buying?

--If you're reading this in Chna, you may have some problems with the following news item which has been blacked out there.
BEIJING (AP) -- Imprisoned Chinese democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo on Friday won the Nobel Peace Prize - an award that immediately inspired China's political dissidents and drew furious condemnation from the authoritarian government. They can black out the AP, and maybe this. But not your telephones, so let freedom (and our phones) ring!

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

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

766 Al Jazeera and Al Pacifica

766 Al Jazeera and Al Pacifica

WBAI Radio in New York was a gift from the previous owner to the Pacifica Foundation and has a powerful signal that you can hear from Poughkeepsie to Philadelphia from its perch on the Empire State Building on 34th Street. WBAI and the four other Pacifica stations -- in Berkeley, California, Los Angeles, Houston and the District of Columbia brand themselves as the "free speech" alternative. Actually, they are college radio stations without the colleges. It's a group of amateurs with the begging capacity of NPR and the listenership of a ten watter broadcasting to either cattle or fish, depending on location. If you corner these folks, they'll admit they're "liberals."

Now, all five of the stations are carrying parts of the daily Al Jazeera English radio "service." Al J is known for its hatred of Israel, of Jews in general and of America.

Okay, there's room for all voices in this country. And among liberals, there are two major schools, these days, one real and one fake. The "real" one needs no description. It's the people who voted enthusiastically for Barak Obama, who want a single payer health care system, who believe in the power or organizing and of unions. The fake one gets its marching orders from Al Jazeera and Jimmy Carter.

One certainly doesn't have to embrace either Jews or Israel to realize that the whole Jazeera/Carter faction is a dirty and cheap cover for the old Protestant saw that we're all equal and all entitled to whatever whim it is we cherish at the moment. Today's Jimmy-zeera fans are the same as the guys who wanted to give the Nazis equal time, and maybe still do.

This story recently appeared on a New York radio chat board. Many of the posters argue that Zera is relatively unbiased. This is true here in the US but not so much elsewhere. It's a propaganda machine overseas. The only good part is that they don't need to beg for funds like the rest of the broadcasters on Pacifica stations and they don't need to sell time. Not as long as the oil wells work.

Shrapnel:

--Here's to the firefighters of Obion County, TN, who charge an advance fee for services outside Fulton city limits and who watched a house burn to the ground because the home owner didn't pay his 75 bucks. A natural consequence of the tea party mentality. The Guardian of London calls it "Ayn Rand's... dream come true;" the liberal blogs are aghast and even the National Review cautiously calls the incident "bad for libertarians."

--How'd this slip by without notice. Ford is closing the Mercury division as of this coming Sunday, 10/10/10, not that there's much to close or even a reason for any to have been built in the past ten or 15 years or maybe since the founding year, 1939, because they were all Ford clones. And please remember, this is the healthiest of the domestic automakers, the one that didn't get a bailout.


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

Monday, October 04, 2010

765 Don't Buy This!

765

Here's the only form of advertising where they don't tell you who or what they're selling. It's the near anonymous political ad disguised as a "newsletter." The only news you get is how bad the other guy is. They don't even tell you who they're backing just who they don't want you to back. Amazing. Can you see the Generals using this?

Here's a anonymous "Newsletter" from GM: Headline: "Ford Sucks." Or GE: "Be careful when buying Sylvania light bulbs. They're glass, doncha know, and could break. Or General Tire (which in Mexico is known as "General Popo"): "Careful of those Goodyears, folks. They spend to much time fiddling with blimps to make a decent tire."

Stuff like that is not going to happen in the real world. But in the grimy, germ infested world of politics, anything goes. Sometimes it's slimy (as in some of the racist anti-Obama stuff that emerged from under rocks during the 2008 campaign.) But usually it comes from something more civil and unofficially Republican. It reads like actual news. And sometimes, it works.

We're all used to ads that don't tell us a price. We're all used to ads where they want us to buy something and get something else "free" (just pay the shipping and handling.) We're all used to not getting the whole picture until we put our money down and take our hand off the bills. But this latest wrinkle comes right out of the Three Card Monte School of Life. Find the candidate as the cards are shuffled.

If we're at all interested, of course, we know what they want. So now, they can insult our intelligence while advertising... no one. But this is not as stupid as it sounds. Eventually, it's going to create more turned off, sit-on-your-hands voters who look at this and say "who needs this?" And what we sure don't need in this country is more turned off, sit-on-your-hands voters.

After some detective work, we've found the "newsletter" comes from the state legislature's Republican caucus or some such. But that's in print so fine and so buried, it would challenge Holmes, and likely won't reach the eyes, let alone the brains of the recipients.


Shrapnel:

--Latest from the political rumor mill: Mike Bloomberg to be appointed Treasury Secretary. Impossible, unless they move Treasury to where he already has a house. Or where he wants one.

--Sure hope those tickets for your European vacation are refundable now that the State Department has issued a warning to travelers that's only one notch below "don't go." If you do go, says State, take extra precautions. Just make sure they meet our 22-million security requirements, like for bottle sizes, shoe bombs and that widely known weapon of mass destruction: tooth paste.

--Happy Birthdays this week: Charles A. Richards of Austin TX, a close relative; Jill A. Steers of London, Ontario, a close relative. Also Steve Capus President, of NBC News and Ellis Henican, the hardest working guy in journalism.

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

Friday, October 01, 2010

764 The Cryonic Cat

764 The Cryonic Cat

There's a place in Michigan called Clinton Township, about 30 miles northeast of Detroit, and in it there's a boxy little building in which about 100 people and 70 pets lie dead and frozen awaiting the day their fatal conditions can be fixed and the bodies, presumably brought back to life. It is called the Cryonics Institute and there's one body they haven't listed as in cryostasis, that of the radio industry, or the cryonic cat.

Why a cat? Because a cat has nine lives. And radio has used up at least six of them. Predictions of its death may be premature at the moment. Tabby's death has been much and falsely reported since his birth in the early part of the 20th century. But this latest version rings truer than the previous.

Tabby ain't what he used to be. After all, who listens to him? Mostly old folks who themselves will be Cryo-candidates pretty soon. Or right wing crazies. Or people who think rap, hip hop, modern country and modern rock are kinds of music rather than kinds of noise. Or people who don't know how much better things used to be. Or people who can't figure out how to use an iPod.

Broadcasting in this country is governed by the Communications Act of 1934, parts of which have become superannuated today. So in 1996 when congress was still more or less functional, they revised it. Tabby became a commodity. Numerical ownership restrictions pretty much evaporated and mega-companies formed and bought up pretty much every cat in sight. The 1996 act was supposed to foster competition. Right. How do you call one company that owns 1200 stations with several in each of the top markets and "clusters" of them in every Podunk in America competitive? Is there one guy running all of them sitting at corporate headquarters in a Texas cow town, San Antonio? Is he the Executive Vice President of Homogenization? Moo!

Pass any "local" radio station at night and notice the windows are dark. The lights are out. Who needs air people when a computer will do it all for you. One guy in San Antonio running every radio station in the country? Not yet, but maybe soon. Hiring is down. Creativity is down. No one relies on localism. McDonald's in Patchogue, NY is the same as McDonald's in New York, Chicago, Taipei and London -- with only minor menu variations. Same thing with radio.

So, Tabby, come over here, please. We're going on a little trip to Clinton Township. You'll like it in Michigan. Clean air, friendly mice. Great hunting and fishing. We're about to cool you to the temperature of liquid nitrogen and then wait until we can cure your illness.


Shrapnel:

--Radio was pronounced dead on arrival in the 1920s, again when TV became popular, then with the advent of widespread Internet use, and again with the arrival of widespread satellite radio and again with the widespread popularity of MP3 players. That's six lives and counting. Meantime, someone reserve space in Michigan.

--If you're heading for the cryonics lab after death, here's something to put into to your will. "If within 50 years, they don't bring me back, cut me up into cubes, wrap me in plastic bags and stash me in a convenience store ice-for-sale refrigerator. At least the cubes will be put to actual use."

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