Monday, January 31, 2011

816 Chickens Come Home to Roost

816 Chickens Come Home to Roost.

Nassau is the richest county in New York. Or the second richest, depending on whose figures you use. It also is in such bad shape that the state has taken over the running of its finances.

Its present form of government was instituted in 1938, and since that time, only two Democrats have served in the office of County Executive, for a total of 15 out of 73 years.

From ‘38 on, legislative functions at the county level were served part time by leaders of the county’s internal municipalities, also almost Republicans. The “Board of Supervisors” as it was called, fought tooth hammer and nail to retain its composition. But ultimately, the courts ruled that six members weren’t enough -- or constitutional and it was replaced by a 19 member legislature.

Not much changed except expenses grew. Nineteen guys with staff and offices and political campaigns and telephones and stationery, computers and fax machines.

Nassau has more Commissioners and assistant and deputy commissioners and other political appointees than a normal human being can count. All with staff and offices and telephones and stationery, computers, fax machines and heaven knows what duties, if any.

It has an antiquated labor system with extraordinarily generous contracts. Starting salary for a new cop is a little over 34-thousand dollars. But in eight years that can grow to more than 108-thousand, excluding overtime and promotions. In neighboring New York City, a starting cop earns a bit more, but eight years later, the money tops out at 78-thousand. Cop retirements come early in many cases, and the payouts are enough to live on.

Town-based sanitation workers are in about the same boat as the county police. So are many other town and county workers, everyone from prison guards to road crews.

And how do you get the (non police) jobs? First by passing a civil service exam, of minimum challenge. And then, by “knowing” “someone.”

This system has been in place for a century. It’s self perpetuating and now it’s shown as self defeating.

The present county executive is, naturally, a Republican. But by this time, party affiliation doesn’t matter. The county has been politics- battered since it gained independence from Queens in 1898.

Going on 113 years of patronage, wild spending, borrowing and the resulting high taxes, waste, corruption, trickery.

The influence of the hoards of city residents, then largely Democrats who turned Republican after World War II, worsened rather than bettered the situation.

So now, the state has the reigns of the horse -- for the second time in recent history. And it had best do something and fast, lest the richest county becomes the least populous. And THEN where does the money come from?

Shrapnel:

--Nassau County is a complex tangle of overlapping jurisdictions. It has three towns, two “cities” 64 villages and at least that many hamlets, plus dozens of districts: Congressional, State Assembly, State Senate, County legislative, school, library, election districts, fire districts, police departments or precincts. It’s a head-spinner.

--For all but a handful of the last 113 years, the true ruling body has been and remains the Nassau County Republican Committee, which has dominated government at all levels through a network of patronage and pressure. One of its past chairmen was jailed for demanding kickbacks for the party from its municipal workers. Another was involved in questionable land dealings.

--Nassau has the most expensive group of governments in the United States. It has the highest combined tax rates in the country. And its residents pay more in electric and public transportation costs in the state, and in some instances, the country.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© 2011 WJR

Friday, January 28, 2011

815 Fair and Balanced

815 Fair and Balanced

That’s Fox News’ Orwellian motto, but that’s not what this is about, mostly. This is about the State of the Union Address and two speeches that came after it.

The President is required to report to Congress once a year. He can do that any way he wishes. Smoke signals, a coffee klatch, a memo, an e-mail. Most presidents chose the speech. It’s called “The State of the Union Address.” It’s delivered to a joint session (not a joint meeting,) of Congress. Others attend as well: Friends, family, Supreme Court Justices if they’re not in a snit, that sort.

The speech is supposed to tell Congress (and the rest of the American People) what the President thinks is the condition of the country and to outline his legislative program. It’s basically a campaign speech.

In recent decades, the television networks have given a member of the opposition party a chance to respond. So when the President is a Democrat, as now, a Republican gets to rebut. But the rebuttal has to be prepared before the address is given, so it’s become another campaign speech.

Even so, the President is speaking as President, fulfilling a constitutional obligation. The opponent is speaking as politician.

This year, we had the pleasure of two opposing speeches, one from the hapless Paul Ryan (Republican Party-WI.) Boilerplate sloganeering delivered in a Charlie-Rose-Like semi trance. The other from Michele Bachman (Tea Party Party-MN.)

Anyone can comment on the content of a Presidential address. And almost everyone does (so you won’t find that here even though the see-saw his tipped to the right.) And Bachman certainly has the same right to speak out as everyone else. But TWO rebuttals? To a constitutionally-mandated Presidential address?

The first question is “why is any counter-speech necessary?” Broadcasting’s “fairness doctrine” with its implied suggestion of “rebuttal” has long been dead and the right wing is leading the fight to keep it that way.

The second question is “why did party leaders not find a way to stop a faction of its members from speaking until the next day or the day after... what were they afraid of?”

The third question is “why did anyone carry the Bachman speech in the first place?”

The fourth question is “who are you kidding, Michele,” when you say you were merely speaking to a meeting of like minded individuals?

When commentator Chris Matthews later called her a “balloon head,” he was insulting balloons.

Shrapnel:

--Speaking of Rupert Murdoch’s Foxes of Television, a group of rabbis has taken a big ad blasting the Fox News Channel in general and Glenn Beck in particular. And what paper did they use for the ad? Why Rupert Murdoch’s Wall St. Journal.

--Egypt is a finger in the dyke. If they don’t get their act together, previous trouble in the Middle East is going to look like a walk in the park, even though the protests are about internal issues and not international relations. Uncle Hosni needs to get his head out of the sand and do some serious reforming.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

814 Daytime Advertising

814 Daytime Advertising

Lately there’s been a blizzard of lawyer ads on daytime TV. “If you’ve been hurt in an accident...” “If you have mesotheliosa …” “If Social Security won’t give you your disability payments...” “If you took the drug (insert name) and had evil things happen as a result...” There must be an awful lot of potential clients out there watching “Maury,” “Springer” and similar programs.

Most of the ads show actors in suits sitting at desks with a backdrop that looks like a wall full of law books. Some of them show actual lawyers. One guy is a dead ringer for Snidley Whiplash, moustache and all. Appropriate. A favorite is tax lawyer Roni Deutsch, who sounds like fingers on a blackboard and doesn’t know what to do with her hands on camera.

All these ads have at least one thing in common besides the slimy spokes-people: “We don’t charge a fee unless you get paid.” Nice. Their fees are “contingencies.” But don’t go thinking you don’t have to pay if they lose your case. There are attorney expenses. They charge for that, most of them. And if they lose the case, you have to wonder what those expenses look like. Of course they disclose this little catch, maybe even in the “free phone call and free consultation,” but not in the commercial.

Other daytime ads hawk for-profit vocational schools, debt consolidation and lump sum payments for annuities and structured settlements.

The best of these is from an outfit called J.G. Wentworth. Truly wonderful. Obviously they buy your settlement or lend you money. But at what cost?

All of which points to the audience being a bunch of people who can’t or won’t work, don’t have jobs or have dead end jobs or people with money that dribbles in too slowly.

What else to do at that hour if you can’t work but sit around and watch the tube? Povich, Springer, The People’s Court, Judge This or Judge That.

As the afternoon wears on, we get into really nasty stuff: Here’s Montel Williams, pitching what amount to pay day loans. No cash? We’ll lend you up to a grand --plunk it right into your checking account-- if you have at least 800 in monthly income. If you make $9600 a year, you have no business going into this kind of debt at more than ten percent apr in many cases.

Here’s Hulk Hogan pitching Rent-a-Center. Rent to buy prices are generally way higher than for the same item at a regular store. If you want something for a short time, maybe it’s worth your while to rent. Otherwise, you’ll be paying more than the item costs at Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart or any similar place.

How about recording your pet programs and watching them on tape or DVR later, when you can skip through the commercials?


Shrapnel:

--What’s in that Taco Bell meat taco? Reports say the “meat” is some combination of chemicals that is only 36 percent beef, and that 40 percent is the FDA minimum. In defending a class action suit in Alabama, the fast food chain denies its ads are misleading.

--They’ve rejuggled the lineup since separating from Olbermann at MSNBC, so we’ve finally gotten to see the “Ed Show” after hearing it on radio where it was mostly a promotion for the television version. On radio, he sounds like a blowhard with an occasional good idea. On television, he LOOKS and sounds like a blowhard with an occasional good idea. And speaking of their lineup: Lawrence O’Donnell puts some of us to sleep even those of us who generally agree with him.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Comments to wesrichards@gmail.com please.
© WJR 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

813 Memo From Philadelphia

813 Memo From Philadelphia

Comcast welcomes its new Com-castic and valuable employees at NBC. Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers.

1. Are you changing NBC’s name to the Comcast Broadcasting System?
Answer: No. We feel there could be some confusion between us and CBS if we do.

2. Is it true you’re going to make WCAU the flagship station?
Answer: That idea is under consideration. We also are thinking of renaming Channel 10 here in Philadelphia WNBC and Channel 4 in New York WCAU.

3. Will there be any changes in the news division?
Answer: We are considering reducing NBC Nightly News with Brian Wilson to 15 minutes so we can get more commercials for incontinence treatment, Lunesta and Zimbalta in. And we are considering eliminating newscasts on the Today Show and letting Matt Laurel just read the headlines.

4. What ABOUT the Today Show?
Answer: The Today show will expand by two hours a day to become a 24 hour cable service, probably on the circuits now occupied by MSNBC. Our main service will continue to carry the first ten hours of the show each day.

5. Any more changes in the News Division?
Answer: Yes, we’re expanding. We plan to open a bureau in Anchorage. We’re going to call it the Real America Bureau. In order to keep costs down, we will likely relocate the Washington Bureau to Baltimore. And we’ll put a “Best of ‘Meet the Press’” on one of the cable channels.

6. NBC recently acquired The Weather Channel. Any changes coming there?
Answer: Yes. We’re eliminating Last Hour Lunch for all employees except in TWC. But we’re continuing our highly regarded “Cloudburst Award” for the most inaccurate forecast of the day. And we continue trying to murder Al Roker by making him appear on six different shows at the same time.

7. You mentioned MSNBC. What about the other cable networks NBC owns?
Answer: that will have to play out over time. We have pledged to leave CNBC untouched. In fact, we went in and said “this is a great shop and we don’t plan to change a thing,” which some people think means the opposite of what it says. Same with USA. At Bravo, we’re going to take away the logo announcer’s telephone effect.

8. What about Jay Leno?
Answer: We think Jay is doing a fine job on the Tonight Show but we’re going to replace the “Tonight Show Band” with the Arch Street Boys Club Marching Band to demonstrate our commitment to community service.

9. And Prime time?
Answer: Our 44 minute produced dramas will be reduced to 38 minutes. See answer #3 for the reason.

10. Any truth to the report you’re ending our long standing relationship with Dick Wolf?
Answer: None. In fact, we’re expanding the Law & Order franchise as a way to increase the number of cable re-runs we can offer.

(To be continued. Eventually. As soon as we figure out how to keep running “To Catch a Predator” 55 times a month, and we figure out how we can move y’all a bit toward the south without paying moving expenses or bringing AFTRA, NABET, WGA, IA and IBEW with you.)



Shrapnel:

--Doc says go get some Aleve for your hand arthritis. Good idea, doc. But no one with arthritis of the hand can open the Aleve “pinch and turn” bottle cap.

--Someone should put out a whiskey called “Responsibly” and start a group of movie houses called “Select Theaters.” Think of the free advertising they’d get. Every booze ad tells you to “drink responsibly,” and most movies are playing at “select theaters.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Send comments to wesrichards@gmail.com excluding those that say I got Brian Williams’ and Matt Lauer’s names wrong.
© 2011 WJR

Friday, January 21, 2011

812 Hu Dunnit

812 Hu Dunnit

“We are not a threat.” -- President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China, speaking to the US Congress.

Hu is someone worth listening to because right now, he holds all of China’s cards at the international table. Beside the presidency, he’s also general chairman of the Communist Party (where the real power is,) chairman of the Military Commission, and is referred to as the Paramount Leader.

So, what’s showing at the Paramount? “Promises, Promises,” starring Hu Jintao and a cast of around one billion.

During his state visit to the US, Hu has charmed President Obama, and now he’s working on members of congress who want a better record on human rights, assurances that the days of China’s romance with North Korea are over and that he’ll suck on a Barbie Doll to prove there’s no lead in the paint and titanium in the jewelry. It’s also been suggested that he try eating some pet food exports to make sure they’ve removed the anti-freeze.

Oddly, only English speakers in China get to hear what their Paramount Leader says here. CCTV has the speeches on television and the internet. But not in Chinese. And the fair and balanced headline on the People’s Daily on line is “Hu’s US Visit Shapes New Political Civility.”

Hu told a meeting of (self appointed) business “leaders” that his country has saved American consumers billions. Yeah. The average Chinese worker earns between 4500 and 8000 USD a year. The median income here is about 35-thousand. So paying for materials, labor and shipping is still cheaper for American business than making stuff here. Way cheaper.

The US secretary of defense visited Beijing recently. Then he said America has to match China weapon for weapon, lest there be a “calamity.” Translation: They’re going to come over here to destroy our cities and deep fry our dogs.

Officially, we in the US have a “one China” policy. But who can resist a good weapons sale even if it is to the “other” China, Taiwan. One China indeed.

So goes another meaningless, useless and probably phony show of friendship, hosted by and attended by useless politicians. Bread and Circuses. With sesame oil.

Shrapnel:

--The Bleat Goes On. Season ten of American Idol has hit the air and without Simon Cowell, it’s a total loser instead of just a partial one, punctuated with “singing” that sounds generally like the noises made by sheep or goats. The second best part was seeing Jennifer Lopez, but the real treat was the frequent interruption of the signal from Fox TV.

--The retiring Joe Lieberman is somewhere in the middle of the top ten list of annoying US Senators currently in office, right up there with McConnell, Graham, Grassley, Toomey, Reid, Nelson, Murray, McCain, DeMint and Chambliss. But of all the things he’s misspoken and mis-done over the years, the one that solidified his position on that list is this from August, 2000: “...the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion (n)ot freedom from religion.” Earth to Joe: Yes it does, if not directly then by implication.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Email comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

811 Rotten Apple?

811 Rotten Apple?

The big question on the stock market now is “what happens to Apple (NASD:APPL) next. Same question on the high tech market. With CEO Steve Jobs back out on sick leave, the speculation about both what ails him and what’s in store for the company are on the minds of a lot of people, most of whom have no hard information.

First, we don’t know exactly why Jobs took leave. He’s been out twice before, once for cancer and then for a liver transplant. The touchy-feely company hasn’t given us a “why” and seems to be slower than a Cupertino cappuccino at letting anyone know anything.

But Apple is considered a one man shop though about 50-thousand others work there. Still, Jobs is the guiding light. He co founded the company, got thrown out, came back and turned it into a tech giant.

The iPod, iPhone, iPad and the Mac are all mostly his doing. He is generally regarded as one of the country’s leading CEOs.

The questions people are not yet asking, at least too publicly, are (1) What happens to the company if Jobs dies? (2) “What should I do with my stock?” There is, of course, no answer to either of those questions.

Optimists say the company would continue just as it was, with or without Jobs. Pessimists say the stock is not just overpriced, but WAAAYY overpriced. And its propensity to design and build everything in-house and not allow clones could eventually be its undoing. (Think Sony Betamax, the 1960s AT&T “Picturephone” and Apple’s handheld “Newton” PDA, all colossal techno-flops.)

Announcement of Jobs’ latest medical woes, such as it was, came on Martin Luther King Day when the markets were closed, obviously a guard against instant up and down (mostly downward) lurching. But a day later, when the market was open and Apple announced a rise of 78 percent in its latest quarterly profits, the stock still plunged for most of the day, though it recovered somewhat in the last hour or so of the trading session.

It’s sad to see a rock star CEO with his 56th birthday only about a month away suffer all this illness. But it’s the rock star part, not the relative youth that will trouble his company if he can’t come back.

Shrapnel:

--Where’s John? Sen. McCain, Arizona’s elder statesman, is about the only politician of national stature who has had nothing to say about the Tucson shootings. What’s up with THAT?!

--Starbucks, fighting increasing competition from outfits it considers lesser lights, is introducing a new 31 ounce container for iced drinks, and calling it “venti,” which is 30 in Italian. Will this stop the exodus of customers to McDonald’s, 7-11, and other places that brew a decent cup? Probably not as much as would making the stuff taste like coffee instead of burning tires.

--The tabloids have been reporting this for years, but now it’s actually true. Regis Philbin, 79, is stepping down from his highly rated daytime TV show which has been on the air since the early 1980s. Look for the exit in early autumn.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®

Comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2010

Monday, January 17, 2011

810 Eat Your Greens -- Here's How

810 Eat Your Greens -- Here’s How

A lot of us aren’t fond of green vegetables, even though we know how healthy we’re told they are.

There are certain widespread anti-favorites: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower for example. Maybe asparagus. Many people who dislike these and other veggies have taken to smothering them with stuff. Cheese (both melted and grated,) salt, pepper, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing (never oil and vinegar, only bleu cheese or French or ranch.)

In most cases, this balances out the health factor, making the vegetables either nutrition neutral or even bad for you. Many anti-veggie types make a few exceptions. One is potatoes. But they’re likely to smother them in sour cream or butter or both, or to eat them as home fries or french fries. And, again, that can make them nutritionally neutral.

So, the puzzle is this: how do you get people to eat their veggies? And the answer is in modern food chemistry. The chemists at Big Food can make anything taste like anything.

Example: microwave chocolate cake. Watch it as it heats. It doesn’t bake, it develops. Like a photograph. Read the label. There’s little to nothing on the ingredient list you have heard of or that you can pronounce. But it tastes looks and tastes like chocolate cake.

So why not meat-flavored vegetables?

Asparagus that tastes like bacon. Broccoli that tastes like ribs. It’s not the same as smothering cauliflower in A-1 sauce. It’s internal, not a cover. Thing of how delicious a steaming plate of cilantro would taste if it tasted like braunschweiger. Bok Choy that tastes like chicken.

Probably wouldn’t need to do anything with corn or mushrooms, avocados, celery, onions or spinach. But most greens? Bring on the lamb flavoring. Or the beef.

You mean to say ConAgra can’t grow stuff like this? Of course they can. But if they don’t want to, here’s one way to revitalize the family farm.

The best tasting naked vegetable isn’t a vegetable at all. It’s a fruit: tomatoes. The closest thing to beef you can grow yourself.

Shrapnel:

--Time for our annual Martin Luther King day rant... this year the short version. We miss him, still. But it is an insult to him, to his work and to his memory to try to guess what he would think, say or do now, almost 43 years after his death.

--In response to our question about how to teach curiosity, one reader, a college student, writes in part: “...I hate science and math.” Do you? Or is it the need for rigor and precision that requires you to emerge from your drinking, video games, chat rooms and dream world that you “hate?”

--A British company is offering personalized photo-pillow cases for about $20 each. So now you can sleep on photographs of the kiddies. Or you can be smothered by them while you’re asleep, not just while you and they are awake.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© 2011 WJR
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

Friday, January 14, 2011

809 Linguistic Creationism

809 Linguistic Creationism

We need it, sometimes. Evolution of language doesn’t always work right.

Take Sarah Palin’s “Blood Libel” outburst about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ.) The sheriff in Tucson blames right wing media for creating a climate in which an obviously crazy post-adolescent with a right wing agenda kills a federal judge, a little kid and others, and wounds Giffords and others.

Part of that was Palin’s web page with gun sights used to label congressional districts including Giffords’. (Gun sights she later called “surveyors’ marks or symbols.) Palin told us that accusations against uberconservatives were “blood libel.” They weren’t any kind of libel.

“Blood libel” originated with the allegation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in religious rites. The phrase is mighty, loaded and wrong. It didn’t and doesn’t happen. There’s no blood in Jewish religious rites except for circumcision and then it’s only a drop of the blood of the circumcised. Blood libel is the Jewish equivalent of the “N-word.”

Then along comes a “group” claiming “several hundred” members called “Jews for Sarah.” And one alleged member, pathology professor Nahum Duker, M.D. of Temple University says Palin’s use of the term was merely an example of “language living as it evolves.”

If so, we need linguistic creationism. Blood libel means what it’s always meant; it’s not just a criticism with an underscore and an exclamation point.

Lesser examples: “Carrot on a stick” has become “carrot and a stick,” changing its meaning from the promise of a reward to a choice between reward and punishment.

“Tinker’s dam” has become “tinker’s damn,” changing the meaning of an almost worthless little dab of metal used to mend a hole in a cooking pot to a common though minor curse.

Neither of these two examples is toxic. Blood libel is. No matter how or by whom the meaning is twisted.

Being a prescriptive dictionary fundamentalist ain’t easy these days.

If you want to talk directly to Duker, here’s his work phone: 215-707-2781. His home phone is 215 782 8067. If you’d rather write, here are his emails: Email: nahum.duker@temple.edu, and the modestly put granduke@temple.edu. Doubtful you’ll get through. Nothing else seems to have.


Shrapnel:

--Starting next month, you can get an iPhone that works on the Verizon network, which, unlike AT&T doesn’t drop calls all the time. Apple has come too late to the party and while the competing Android phones don’t do quite as many things, they actually work when making or receiving calls. And they’re getting cheaper all the time.

--What do the department stores Macy’s and Kohl’s have in common? Tough to navigate on-line bill pay sites that practically demand you use Internet Explorer, clunkiest of the browsers. Penney’s site is easy, but then to use it you have to shop at Penney’s, which is tougher than paying.

--We met a nice, chubby border collie age 12, which supposedly is pretty old for that breed. Arthritic hips, delicate stomach and other ailments. But he’s still looking to herd anything that moves... slowly.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2011
Comments to wesrichards@gmail.com