Wednesday, March 30, 2011

841 Safe Haven

841 Safe Haven

It happens all the time. You’re holding a piece of paper on which is written something you know you’re going to need at some point, but probably not soon.

Maybe it’s the serial number and model number from your new GE water heater (Wessay™ 837.) Or it can be the combination for the lock on your suitcase. Or the phone numbers to call for a gas leak or a power outage or what they now call “roadside assistance.” Maybe something you’ll need at tax time. The deed. The rental agreement. Or the endless “product key” from Microsoft. Anything, really.

Have to put this in a safe place and you do.

True or false: squirrels spend all autumn burying acorns, and then in winter forget where they buried them. Opinion is divided.

But not when it comes to Us the Bipeds.

We put that important future paperwork in a safe place and then promptly forget where. How many times have you said to yourself “I know ‘it’s’ in this drawer, somewhere?” It’s in the freezer. It’s under a couch cushion. It’s under a rug. It’s in the cabinet with grandma’s good china.

We never use an obvious place, because it’ll be in the way and “we’ll never need this stuff.” But when we DO need this stuff, we don’t remember where we put it.

Maybe we should have “emergency drills” once a month, like fire drills in grade school. Starting with the first day after the first month we put the paper or papers in a “safe place” we ring a bell, then go to the “safe place,” inspect the document or documents and replace them in their spot. This way, we’ll have a working familiarity so when the lights go out, we’ll know where the phone number is.

Or maybe what we need to do is put everything in a safe place, then put a treasure map to the safe place in another safe place. Now, where’s that map, again?

--Shrapnel (ex-NBC edition):

--New rumors abound that Katie Couric is not going to stay at CBS when her lucrative contract expires in June. The top guy wants to keep her, the top news guy seems not to, but may offer her a daytime show and a permanent spot on “60 Minutes.” Please recall that this space long ago predicted her next job would be host of the 3 am Lee Press-On Nails infomercial, which likely will reunite her with long time friend and ally Jeff Zucker.

----Congratulations to Jim Farley, the brains behind WTOP, Washington, which was America's top billing radio station of 2010, $57 million dollars. Jim started his career as a copy boy and worked his way up. And the geniuses at Bonneville may be wondering why they’re selling that group of stations.


Note to readers: Thanks to Carole Mol for suggesting the safe place idea and helping amplify it.

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

Monday, March 28, 2011

840 Size Matters

840 Size Matters

But not the way it used to.

Another piece of evidence that the world is turning either backward or upside down. Check out the unit price markings on almost anything in the supermarket. You assume that a bigger box or jar of something costs less per ounce or pound than the same product in a smaller container, right?

Wrong.

At least some of the time.

One recent tangle in the mayonnaise aisle: Small size, 13.3 cents an ounce. Large size, 13.5 cents an ounce. Not much of a difference. But still, backward.

Ask about this and they look at you like “what are you talking about?” or “why do you care?” Or better yet, “Huh?”

You can find the same kind of pricing on chicken broth, laundry detergent, tooth paste, peanut butter, and sometimes dairy products.

Good thing they don’t do this at the gas station. Fill up your F-150 at $4.00 a gallon; fill up your Prius at $4.60-per. (An F-150 is a top selling Ford truck and a Prius is a hybrid Toyota.)

Using this same principle, expect the insurance company that gives you a discount if you buy more than one kind of policy, will start charging you more. Too much paperwork, doncha know.

So what’s behind this behind-the-scenes change? Is it a retail plot to get you to spend more on stuff? Does it cost more to ship ten pounds of 16 ounce jars than it does to ship ten pounds of eight ounce jars?

Maybe a better question is: Are we seeing a leading indicator of things to come? Probably.

And just wait for the so-called “clubs” catch on -- and they’re already starting to shift. Walk into one of those pay-to-belong places and try to buy a six pack of beer or toilet paper. Can’t do that. You can, however by a case of beer or a case of toilet paper. Great if you drink a lot of beer or... um... use a lot of toilet paper. But when you check the unit price, you’ll find that a lot of the time you’re paying as much or more at the bulk warehouse pay-in-order-to-pay store than you would at the local supermarket. You have seen the future.

Meantime, compare those unit prices. They’re going to Hellmann’s in a handcart.

Shrapnel:

--Nutcase former UN Ambassador and possible Presidential candidate John Bolton says the US should kill Gaddafi. Good thinking, John. Any decent hit men on your payroll these days, or did you want to do this job yourself?

--American officials report some of Japan’s radiation has reached Nevada. They insist that there’s no health threat... at least not yet... everything is dandy and safe. Yeah, right.

--Everyone’s on LinkedIn.com. Think anyone looking to employ anyone looks there for prospective employees? If the answer’s yes, it’s suprising.


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

Friday, March 25, 2011

839 Rethinking Jacko

839 Rethinking Jacko

Michael Jackson, famed dead megastar with a father who beat him as a child and maybe

☛Molested children.
☛Tried to make himself look like a white woman, possibly Elizabeth Taylor, may she rest.
☛Became addicted to prescription drugs.
☛Turned his estate into a petting zoo.
☛Turned his life into a parody of life.
☛Burned through money as if all he had to do was print it, though some thought he could.

And just before he died, as he was preparing the longest tour of his career and almost anyone else’s, he made an unintentional movie, “This is It.”

An unintentional movie? Yes. They shot footage, about a gazillion hours worth of rehearsals and revisions and music and talk and dance instruction -- footage that was not to see the light of public day but has, put there by Jackson’s handlers or bloodsuckers or whatever the people surrounding him were called. It ended up at just under two hours in final form.

The film’s been out about two years, but only recently has been released for TV showing. It’s a game changer. It makes you forget

☛Drugs.
☛Elizabeth Taylor.
☛Little boys in his bed.
☛Neverland.
☛Life parodied.
☛Squandered riches.

It makes you remember Martha Graham. Or more accurately, a Martha Graham who could take as well as give direction and had a sense of humility.

Even assuming that the “unintentional” film was one in which all were playing to the camera, the thing is stunning.

Dance that combines grace, athleticism, musicality; that tells stories and surrounds you with special effects that would make Spielberg jealous... smoke, lights, shooting stars, animations of butterflies and who knows what-all else.

But the real eye opener here was watching the interplay between Jackson and others in the troop. For a megastar this guy knew the moves, the music, the lighting and a whole lot more and shared it in a way that by Hollywood standards was downright polite.

He coached instrumentalists. He coached dancers, singers, lighting and audio people all with the grace of his own dance moves.

Two other people in this film deserve special recognition. First is Danny Ortega, the director of the film, and apparently of the routines that were to be made into the actual live show.

Ortega teaches a lesson to anyone interested in filmography just by holding conversations with Jackson. You see this guy on the street, you think you’re seeing a farmer or a miner. You’re really seeing unassuming directorial brilliance.

College film majors would learn more in ten minutes of watching this guy than they will in four years of high priced courses at NYU.

The second by-name mention: Jasmine Alveran, then seven years old and who plays “Earth Girl” in the song “Earth Song.” A heart tugging cutie who’s been in film and commercials since age three. That’s way too young, but it happens. Maybe a life of stardom won’t screw her up ten years from now.

But back to Jack-o. Martha Graham, eat your heart out.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

838 One Ringy Dingy

838 One Ringy-Dingy

In a much earlier incarnation and under another name and in another medium, this space predicted that the breakup of the Bell System would be temporary and useless.

The idea was that after all the dust settled, the “baby bells” would devour each others’ lunch and then, each other.

It’s wonderful to be able to say “I told you so.” Hence: I told you so.

First it was New York Tel, then Bell Atlantic, then Verizon as the little babies ate one another. Southern Bell, Southwestern Bell. Pacific Bell. Lucent. And now, the latest, which is not exactly a Bell-on-Bell, but close enough:

AT&T, which really isn’t the original AT&T, plans to buy T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom. Forty Billion dollars. Deregulation increases competition. Right?

Our original theory was this: telephone rates will fall because other means of communication and more modern pricing systems will force the original ATT to reduce rates and improve service.

By now, we know what deregulation has done to air travel. Makes you want to ride one of those buses with the unlicensed drivers and the zip-off EZ-open tops. Makes you long for the New York Central Railroad.

Back to telephones: T-Mobil is no big deal. But it does have 33 million subscribers. ATT will have something like 130 million wireless customers after the acquisition. And that’ll make them bigger than Verizon. Big whoop.

Grow or die, right? Wrong.

T-Mobil is the only national carrier losing customers. And ATT is offering twice its own value for the buy, according to Bloomberg News.

Consumer Reports Magazine rated ATT the worst mobile carrier. Expanding their network to include T-Mobil isn’t going to make them any better (unless you believe what they tell you about the fourth generation broadband wireless) but it will give them 39 percent of the customer base, to Verizon’s “measly” 31 percent.

Which means 39 percent of America’s cell phone users will get to say “Can you hear me now?” in unison. And unison is a beautiful thing.

Plus, we can all re-live the days of Laugh In where Lilly Tomlin, playing “Ernestine” can make us all chuckle simply by saying “One Ringy Dingy... Two Ringy Dingies.”



Shrapnel:

--Here’s a song no one could do today, “the Belles of Southern Bell” by Del Reeves. Sexist and pre baby bell breakup. But it’s fun.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdrVZ0R1kdg

--Sarah Palin is visiting Israel to court the evangelical vote here in the states. But she misunderstood one of the landmarks she visited. Being from Alaska, she thought she was off to see the Whaling Wall.

--Friday upcoming, March 25, is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, in which 146 workers were killed because the exit doors were chained shut. Tragic as it was, it galvanized organized labor, which has since squandered its power and numbers. Wonder how well the exits work in today’s remaining New York City sweat shops.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

837 Six Sigma

837 Six Sigma

Without getting into the gory details, it’s a statistical way of making manufacturing and management more, well, manageable and even of making what you make better. It’s complicated, difficult to understand and very fashionable, especially among some of the larger companies.

One of those larger companies is General Electric. Six Sigma pioneers. Once major advocates. And what did adopting this rat’s nest of a “system” do? Depends on who’s asked.

Since GE has moved some of its most important products (progress included) off shore, it’s hard to tell. Are GE light bulbs made in the Czech Republic and China any better than those that were made in Schenectady? Again, hard to tell.

All this is in prelude to the water heater in the basement. Two and one half months old. It’s made by the very reputable Rheem folks, right here in the good old US of A. And it’s sold by GE under the GE name.

So the other morning in the kitchen, comes the sound of major water flow. No one else in the house is up. Where’s it coming from? The basement. The brand new Six Sigma-approved General Electric water heater. Water is pouring out of a faceplate that covers an electrical connection. Pouring! Electrical connection. Two inches or so on the basement floor. About to the point where it’s going to start lapping up on a fair number of stored, wooden musical instruments which means death by drowning.

The heater is powered by electricity. But the infernal machine is on plastic legs, so probably wading into the water won’t result in a fatal shock. Obviously, it didn’t. Your correspondent is still writing.

The installer was a next door neighbor, a fine young fellow with a license and expertise in HVAC. He and I went to Home Despot and bought the thing and carried it home on his truck. He installed it. Thing works like magic. Until Flood Morning.

A call next door, and he says “I’ll be right over.” Around here that can mean “any day now.” But this time it’s for real. He’s RIGHT over. Turns off the water. Turns off the electrical connection, heads for Home Despot to buy the failed part. Says call the warranty hot line.

Calling the warranty hot line is like calling the dead. “Please listen, as our menu options have changed.” Twenty minutes later we reach a live operator who says (a) NO! You can’t have your neighbor, the licensed, bonded, smart, educated HVAC guy install a new part and (b) You’re covered under a labor warranty. We will send out a technician, a contractor.”

And she asks for the serial number. Ankle deep in water and she wants a serial number. Stumbling through that was a task. “Too many numbers,” she says. Finally she gets the number right. Then she wants a model number. It’s not WH-23 or anything that simple. It’s 0357DA423M457A625.” Who can see that, especially when standing ankle deep in water with electric current lurking and not much daylight in the basement.

“Thank you, sir. We’ll have a technician contact you within one business day.” What? “Suppose I have my friend, a licensed plumber/HVAC fellow install the part?” “No, sir. You have to have our contractor.” Neighbor returns with a part and installs it, and then helps sweep the water into the drain. The heater works perfectly. The leak is gone. Hours pass. No word from GE.

Finally, GE calls. “We don’t have a contractor in your area. We are FedEx-ing you the part. Please find someone to do the work and send us the bill.”

At this point, the work already is done. The floor is drying. The place is a mess, but we have hot water.

We tell GE “thank you, we’ll do that and send you the bill.” She says “fine, here’s your claim number...” It’s six digits. And she has a desk light by which to read it.

The next morning, the part arrives early enough for the FedEx door bell ringer to wake up the entire house.

Also the next morning, we get an e-mail from GE, touting its repair services and “expert contractors in your neighborhood.”

Thank goodness for expert neighbors who’ve probably never heard of Six Sigma.

--Shrapnel:

--Before Six Sigma, GE stock was selling in the mid to high 60s. Now it’s selling in the high teens to low 20s. There were market forces involved, but probably the Magic Formulas didn’t help.

--Six Sigma was invented by people at Motorola. At the time, they were the largest maker of cell phones. Take a look at the shape they’re in today.

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

Friday, March 18, 2011

836 The Plasticarians

836 The Plasticarians

Say, someone tells you steak is nothing more than the recycling of cows. Even the biggest meat eaters would say that’s nuts, and it is. Cows, after all, are alive. They breathe, they (occasionally) move. They go “mooooo.”

So, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” doesn’t apply to cattle ranches. But what about plastic. Plastic is made from carbon and oil and such. Oil comes from... plankton? Dinosaurs? Aunt Martha?

So when Alexander Parkes made the first plastic in 1855, was he fooling around with what we now call celluloid, or was he creating life in a test tube?

The Plasticarians think the latter. When your grocery bags no longer are useful, do you recycle them like cows? Or do you give them a proper burial, either in a landfill or your back yard.

It may take them millions of years to come back in an equally useful form, but they WILL come back.

Do plastic objects have souls? Ask any practitioner of Voodoo and you’ll get a “yes.” And they’ll tell you the same about logs, little stuffed dolls, statues and drums.

So when you’re finished with the Glad Wrap or the grocery bag or the water bottle and you just casually throw it into a recycle bin somewhere, do you know what happens to it? Maybe it goes to the landfill. But maybe it’ll be cruelly tortured by being melted down and made into something else. There’s no way you can be sure unless you bury it yourself. While burying a human corpse in your backyard is illegal in many places, burying a zip-lock bag is not.

Would you tear a six ounce soda bottle from its one liter mom? Not if you think like a Plasticarian. Are you sure the bottle of liquid detergent and the bottle of liquid fabric softener that sit on your shelf have not fallen in love?

It’s a good thing Guinness and Newcastle Ale don’t come in plastic, else there might be a mini-war between the Irish and the British at the bottle melting factory! These too deserve proper burials. And not in the same place.

Time to organize! Prevent the abuse and torture of plastic. Eliminate the death penalty. Keep families together.

And while you’re doing that, please pass the recycled cow.

Shrapnel:

--Happy returns: Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe return for season ten of Law & Order Criminal Intent. Too bad it’s the last season.

--Unhappy returns: At the end of the month, the New York Times will return to charging for use of its on line edition for most users. Wouldn’t pay for Newsday; will do it for the NYT, which is a buck or so a week cheaper and remains worth reading.

--Mixed returns: The feds were pretty good about this year’s taxes. Getting back about enough to cover the real estate taxes.


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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

835 Cop Killer

835 Cop Killer

This is every cop’s worst nightmare. It is shared by friends, family, his or her fellow officers and the community served. Shot and killed on the job while trying to subdue a madman with a ninja knife.

Even worse when the cop’s brought down by... another cop.

Such is the story of Geoffrey Breitkopf, 40, part of the Nassau County Police Department’s Bureau of Special Operations, an elite squad trained in the art and science of dealing with officers and civilians under fire.

Breitkopf was on the job 12 years. Decorated ten different times. Married. Father of two. Worked in plain clothes. Drove a police issue unmarked, probably one of those battered old Fords that scream “Police.”

He had a rifle. He went to a house on an anonymous street in Massapequa Park, not exactly a high crime area. He was going to try to talk down a guy named Anthony DeGeronimo who was said to be slashing neighborhood tires with that knife.

Backup on the way. One of the backer-uppers was an MTA cop called Glenn Gentile who has spent the last six years patrolling Long Island Railroad Stations in Nassau.

What is it they say about cops? The best join the NYPD or the NCPD or maybe the Suffolk Police. After that, there’s the Postal Police, the various village PDs, the Amtrak cops and finally, the MTA police.

Gentile comes from a family of cops. His brother also is with the MTA police. His father was a Nassau detective who retired and then died.

Glenn Gentile pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Geoff Breitkopf and he is a mental wreck now. He never will be the same. He probably will spend the rest of his years on the buy side of a bar or in a padded room.

A lot of people are pretty angry with this shooter. Some will want blood. Some will understand that things like this happen. An “unfortunate accident.” None will be angrier than the shooter himself. You were a shrink, you’d put him on suicide watch immediately.

What can he say to the widow -- to the fatherless children. Gentile is a ruined man no matter what the authorities do to him. No matter what the priests or ministers or friends or neighbors say to him or about him.

One guy on the job for a real police force runs to help. Another from the Keystone Kops pulls the trigger at what he thinks is a menace of a madman carrying a rifle at a standoff. He kills a real cop.

The madman, DeGeronimo, spotted slashing tires, ran into his house and later re-emerged wearing a black leather outfit and brandishing that ninja knife. The cops shot him dead. But the faux cop who shot the real cop? They’d best keep him off the streets. Because if they don’t, he’s likely to meet with an unfortunate accident. A fatal accident.

But the real culprit here is neither DeGeronimo nor Gentile. It’s whoever is in charge of training the MTA police. And whoever sends out a real cop with a rifle and no obvious signs of his being a cop, like a day-glo vest or a jacket with NCPD in big white letters.

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

834 Japan's Chernobyl

834 Japan’s Chernobyl

We live about 100 miles northwest of Middletown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. This location is relatively unimportant in the greater scheme of things. But in late March of 1979, 32 years ago, it took on national significance. Middletown is the home of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. We all know what happened there.

Previously, we lived 60 miles southwest of the Shoreham Nuclear power plant on New York’s Long Island. Shoreham never got fully on line. Probably a good thing, given the bad plumbing and the ineptness of the Long Island Lighting Company and its successor, the Long Island Power Authority.

Now, there’s a huge earthquake in Japan. And pressure in the country’s nuke plants was rising precipitously at recent report. Two or more reported explosions with “low level” nuclear leaks. Once again, it is the low tech, old school stuff and not the new high tech stuff that makes for bad situations.

One of Shoreham’s many problems was lousy pipe connections for the cooling system. One of Three Mile Island’s big problems was pressure valves... things we’ve been mass producing for a century.

In Japan, who knows what’ll happen. But the nuke plants there are teetering on the edge. People within a short distance from them have been ordered out of their homes. And whether they’ll ever be able to return has to do with... plumbing.

The Japanese have more experience with nuclear problems than anyone else. You’d figure this would bring caution to this densely packed country. Apparently not. Nuclear power is generally clean, except when it isn’t.

LILCO hired nuclear physicists to teach reporters why the Shoreham plant could not explode. Most of us went away as skeptics, but had too little knowledge or education to contradict what we’d been told. Later we found out they were right or close to it. Shoreham wouldn’t explode. But it might simply release poisoned gas into the atmosphere if too much went wrong at the same time.

None of these nuke plant accidents has resulted in an explosive catastrophe. Explosions, yes. Atomic catastrophes, no. So far. There’s strong evidence that a nuclear explosion can’t happen. Evidence is not proof.

But please also remember that no hydroelectric plant ever killed anyone who didn’t dive in. And no coal fired or oil fired electric plant ever killed anyone except people who climbed the stacks and inhaled.

Already, the appeals for helping northern Japan are circulating on the internet and in the mail. Good. Help our far east friends, those who lost their homes to tidal waves and earthquakes. Late reports say as many as 10-thousand people may have died and countless thousands of others left injured and/or homeless. These figures will go up and down for awhile until there’s a final count. But they’ll remain staggeringly large.

At least it’s not Chernobyl, Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So far.

Shrapnel:

--Danny Stiles, 87, rest in peace. Danny was the radio guy everyone knew and everyone loved. He played old time music on heaven knows how many stations, keeping the great American Song Book alive in the ears and hearts of New York.

--This leaves only one big name radio nostalgia guy among us, and that’s Joe Fortgang. You know him as Joe Franklin. And while Joe still is on the air, there’s no one letting him play those “old Phonograph Records.”

--The semi-annual rant, 2011 version, part one. It’s daylight SAVING time, not daylight savingS time. Part two arrives at the next clock change.

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