Wednesday, June 29, 2011

880 A Dangerous Post

880 A Dangerous Post

If this is an original idea, it’s dangerous because it might be a “how to” handbook for a post-modern crook.  But it’s hard to imagine it’s original.

Go back in time a few decades, and head for a crowded mercantile street in practically any town or city.  Izzy Immigrant has scraped together a few bucks and decided to fulfill the American Dream.  Izzy opens a store, maybe a tailor shop or a grocery or a candy store or a bakery, clothier, hat shop, whatever.

Business is good.  The neighborhood quickly learns Izzy bakes a nice rye or sews a good cuff.  One morning, he comes to work and his front window is smashed.  Someone’s thrown a brick through it, or taken a pick ax to it.  

This kind of thing hurts.  And angers.  And is expensive to fix.

But this is America, land of opportunity, and a solution presents itself.  The solution comes in the form of a hood who walks in and says “I see you’ve got a problem, Iz.  For a few bucks a week me and the boys can guarantee it won’t happen again.”

Izzy says “hey, thanks, but it’s probably just neighborhood kids.  So, no thanks.”  Exit neighborhood hood.  But two days later, there’s another broken window and a small fire.

When the ‘hood-hood comes back that morning, Izzy has come to understand what’s going on, and pays up.

This is called the protection racket.  And while it’s not dead, it’s not the ocean tide of money it once was.  So what’s a “protector” to do?

Oh, maybe there’s a more up to date version, one that doesn’t even require the services of hoods in the hood.  Might be just a geek-genius dropout who never has to show his face and instead of a store, he hits a website.

Modern day Izzy isn’t “Izzy,” he’s, say, Jeff, and Jeff sells his wares on the internet.  He has a website and runs the thing out of his bedroom.

One day, someone knocks Jeff’s site off the internet with either a hack or a “denial of service” data flood.  Jeff gets back up and running in, maybe, a day or two and finds an e-mail in his “contact us” page.

“Hey, Jeffie I see you had a problem with your site for a few days.  You never can tell about these hackers.  Tell ya what, I can arrange to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Jeff writes back:  “Thanks, but this looks like some of my classmates playing a joke.  Appreciate the offer, but I’ve improved security and think things’ll be fine, so no thanks.”

A day later, Jeff’s customers click on his website and find themselves automatically re-directed to “Kiddie Porno-Rama.”

Jeff goes to his “contact us” e-mail and finds a note that says “If you change your mind about our security, we accept Pay Pal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, electronic transfers and negotiable securities.”

Jeff has come to understand the situation.

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

Monday, June 27, 2011

879 Congratulations

879 Congratulations


Comes this pitch from Chase.  Seems like they’re in the mail box every day.  Chase, Citi, Bank of America, the top three walking dead of the big bank world.  Every day, some new credit card, better than the old ones.

Congratulations, you’re pre-approved.  Just fill out the form or call this handy dandy toll free number and you’re on your way.

But this one really looked good.  Zero percent on balance transfers for a year. A previous year’s zero-balance year has expired and while the loan hasn’t been reduced significantly, the interest rate is back up there in the stratosphere.

So let’s call Chase and see what they will allow as a credit line, maybe move the debt over.  “Oh, we can’t tell you that until you apply, and are approved.”  

The credit reporting bureaus consider a line of credit a loan.  The logic makes sense.  At any time you want you can get a cash advance that maxes out your card.  So they assume a worst case scenario and that you will -- or at least might.   If your Wells Fargo line of credit is 50-grand, the reporting bureaus assume that’s what you might use.

So when they pitch you for a credit card, they’re pitching you for a loan.  Here’s where the banks are worse than the loan sharks.

You go to the shark on the corner and you say, “hey, I need 50 grand.”  The shark says “sure,” gives you the 50 and you’re paying the Vig for the rest of your life.  But at least you know how much you owe.

Go to DeadBank and they want you take out a loan for a figure they won’t give you.  Why?  Because they’re so conVEEENyent.  If your point is to borrow to cover another debt and you don’t know whether the new card will actually do that, you’re just making your credit score worse.

And all this brings up a whole ‘nuther point.  Since you have to give them all kinds of intimate information on the application (Name, address, bank account numbers, Social Security number, gross income, etc.,) what, exactly, does “pre approved” mean?

Some possibilities:

- We went through the phone book.  You’re there. If your credit is good enough for Verizon, it might be good enough for us.

- We went through the inmate population list.  You’re there.  We’ll always know where to find you.

- A birth certificate but no death certificate has been issued in your name.

-  You have at least one of the following:  a driver’s license, auto registration, hunting, fishing license, gun carry permit, library card, Costco Membership Card, AARP card, voter registration card, draft card, Blockbuster card, Rotary Club card.

- Your credit score is above 100.

-  We found your picture on a milk carton.

- You are the president of JP Morgan Chase.  Or the United States.

- You pitched a perfect game in a World Series.

-  Our computer assembles names and addresses from the 26 letters of the alphabet and the digits 0-9 and yours came up.

Shrapnel (pre approval edition):

--The pre-approval card trick could catch on in other industries.  In fact, you have to wonder why it hasn’t.  Wake up and smell the dollars!

--You’re pre-approved for expedited service at Kennedy Airport.  Just fill out the application and bring it with you at flight time.  No interest, and as a signing bonus, you don’t have to take your shoes off at the TSA check-in and we won’t ogle your nakedness going through the MRI pat-down machine.

--You are pre-approved for funeral services at the house of worship of your choice.  Fill out this application and have the mortician throw it into the coffin.  (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Temple Emanu-El and Yankee Stadium depend on availability -- some exclusions apply.)

Amplification and followup to Wessay™ # 865, “Car Bunk(le) which decried the state of automotive journalism today and saluted the late Jerry Flint of Forbes and the late Tom McCahill of Mechinix Illustrated. After posting, I was made aware of the work of Dan Neil, of the Wall Street Journal and previously of the LA and NY Times.  Neil is as funny as McCahill, as flinty as Flint and as factual as my colleague Doron Levin.  I recommend his work without reservation.

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, June 24, 2011

878 Two Old Firecrackers

878  Old Firecrackers

Two firecrackers of a certain age passed away recently and within a few months of each other.  That certain age was 102.  And the firecrackers were Antoinette Scarpaci and Charlotte Bloomberg.

They didn’t know one another other, probably never heard of each other, though they were kindred spirits in many ways.

But this isn’t really about these two women, as such.  Both were upstanding, active, described variously as “forces of nature,” “feisty,” “blunt-spoken.”  Both came from the no-nonsense school of speaking one’s mind.  And both had children now of an age that would have, in these two women's younger days, be considered “old” --  though not today.

What happens, then, when a parent, usually a mother, climbs into her 80s, 90s and beyond?  What happens is we establish dual relationships.

Our parents are always our parents.  But as we age into our late 60s and 70s, we have a secondary regard for them.  We are always their children, sometimes their “babies.”  But they’re adults and we’re adults and we relate on both levels.

The kinds of discussions we can have with an elderly parent are not the kinds of discussions we could have had all those years ago.  They were raising us.  We were being raised.  Now, ostensibly, we’re all grownups.

Mrs. Scarpaci’s children exceeded their mother’s outer world accomplishments.  One is a respected historian.

Mrs. Bloomberg’s children did likewise and Mike Bloomberg’s story is well known with no recounting necessary here.

Antoinette and Charlotte were still both “mom.” And as “mom,” they had authority.  But each was also someone their kids would readily admit, they’d have been attracted to even if there were no shared genes and blood.  The mother and child relationships become hybrids. “Adult to adult.”

When they go, they are once again “mom.”  Their children are rarely surprised when a parent over the age of 100 dies.  After all, no one lives forever and after 100, death usually signals its approach.  So they’re not surprised.  But they ARE shocked.

And no matter how good the relationship was and on how many levels it lived, there’s always something unsaid left.

So if any of this applies to you, maybe you should speak up now, while you have the chance.

Shrapnel (older persons edition):

--You don’t have to live more than 100 years and you don’t have to be a mother to develop these hybrid relationships.  It often depends on the individuals.  And it doesn’t happen suddenly.

--Mother in law Minna Louis who passed away half a decade ago was in her late 90s.  But looking back, it seems that dual relationship started developing when she was a mere 50-something.

--”Younger” Uncle Kung, a mere 82 is another example.  Guy refuses to accept “this seat reserved for Older People” benches on the subway and helps younger acquired relatives with bad knees across the street.  “Older” Uncle Kung, mid 90s, don’t get around much anymore.


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, June 22, 2011

877 Condo Life

877 Condo Life

One of the great pleasures of life on exiting Moote Pointe, NY for Mount Tantamount PA was leaving behind a garage full of things like shovels, rakes, post hole diggers and a couple of pretty decent, rarely used and perfectly working lawn mowers.

Moving into a condo means never having to mow or shovel again.  Even rarely.  But it doesn’t mean never having to do stupid scut work again.

“Memo
“ From: Sgt. Schultz Real Estate Management, Inc.
“To: All residents of Cutsie Condos.
“Subject: Exterminator
“On Wednesday, June 1, 2011, Stompem Exterminators will be on site to spray the exteriors of all homes, to protect them against insects and rodents.  Please be sure to remove all items from your decks and porches.
“The insecticide will not harm your children or pets.
“In case of rain, the work will begin the following day.”

So everyone dutifully cleaned up the deck furniture and put it and the plants, grills and the bird feeders inside the house.  Well, it rained on the first and the second, and part of every day until the 13th when Stompem Exterminators finally finished the job and everyone put everything back out.

On the 15th, comes another mailing:

“Memo
“From: Sgt. Schultz Real Estate Management, Inc.
“To:  All residents of Cutsie Condos.
“Subject: Power washing.
“On Friday, June 17, 2011 The Famous Flugelhorn Bros. will be on site to power wash all decks.  Please be sure to remove all items from your decks and porches.
“In case of rain, the work will begin the following day.”

So everyone took the deck stuff inside.  Again.  Outdoor furniture, plants and bird feeders.  Cleaned.  Again.

And, of course, it rained on the 17th and part of the 18th, a Saturday.

The Famous Flugelhorn Bros.  are two beefy guys -- nice, fellas, who take care of mowing what passes for grass around here.   And bright and early Saturday, there they were, both of the Flugelhorns .  Only, where was the power wash machine?  Nowhere in sight.  Instead, they were on their riding mowers, mowing the pseudo grass and the sand immediately beneath it.

“Hey Floog,” says a Cutsie Condos homeowner, “What about the power wash?”

“Oh,” says Floog, “the pump broke down.  We’re waiting for a part.  Not exactly sure when it’ll arrive, but as soon as it does, we’ll be out here washing.”

If we put the deck stuff back outside, the part will arrive and the pump will get fixed that day.  If we leave it inside, the part will arrive and the pump will get fixed in August.

Oh, and last time they power washed we all had to pay an assessment.  This time, there’s no mention of that.  Which means come January, the Cutsie Condo fee will rise.  Again.

Shrapnel:

--You gotta love the five hour computer “glitch” that kept the Friendly Skies free of United Airlines and its new subsidiary, Continental the other day.  This so-called merger has made it possible for a single cup of coffee spilled on a single computer in an obscure location to ground not one but two major airlines.  The post-“glitch” headline talked about the airlines “recovering,” but what about the customers’ recovering?

--What are they thinking department.  Poland Spring (Nestle) is now making available bottled water with fluoride added.  What’s the point?

--Little known factoid:  Poland Spring also makes Gin.  “No, officer, I haven’t been drinking, I just brushed my teeth with Poland Spring water.”  Oh, look, this isn’t Poland Spring WATER.

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, June 20, 2011

876 The Five Families

876 The Five Families

The five families of organized crime?  Pikers.  Here are the REAL five families:  Google, Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and Oracle.   They’ve divided up the home and business computer and internet worlds in a way no gangland gang ever could, and it’s all legal.

You can live your life without ever directly encountering a crime cartel, though you may unwittingly be paying a “mob tax” in some form.  But you cannot avoid today’s five families.  They have a lock on every computer thing you do, and you can’t live without at least some of them.

The silent coup.  No one had to break legs, no one had to sell drugs, no one had to import or make rotgut during prohibition.  No one ran numbers, hookers, concrete trucks, garbage trucks, gambling parlors, chop shops.  No one even needed to own a suit.

Look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the Google guys.  Think any of them owns a tie?

Ah, Gates, the richest man.  Two simple acts put him on top of the money heap and at one time made him boss of all bosses, which he no longer is.

One: envision a desktop computer on every desk in America.  Two, buy low, sell high. MSDOS was a steal when Gates and Paul Allen bought it and then sold it to IBM.  Except they didn’t actually SELL it.  They leased it out.  The money kept rolling in, and now, with Windows, it’s still leased and the money is still rolling in.

The five families have made it all but impossible to live without them.  And it’s all legal.

If any one of them shut you out, you’d run screaming into the nut hatch.

What would happen if Google decided to start charging big bucks to users?   You’d pay, is what you’d do.  Without them, chances are your mail, your blog, your calendar would implode.  Oh, sure, you could go to Yahoo! But how long before Yahoo! caught on and started doing the same.

Pay your bills on line.  Manage your bank account, get your news.  Send flowers, buy books and shoes.  Just think of what a “mob tax” would mean if they charged one.

Why, you’d turn to a Mac, right?  Only you’d find Mac would have levied that tax as well.

We have to assume that the Families are just honest businessmen and women making a living.  That’s now.

Google has sworn a kind of Hippocratic oath about doing no harm.  Great.  What about when the kids who run it die or retire? What about the next generation?

There’s so much power in the hands of these companies, they can do pretty much as they please.   Including shutting you down at will.  And it’s all legal.

Shrapnel (Tech Edition):

--The Blackberry people, RIM, are worried and their profits shrinking.  With all the competition they face, they could be the new Palm, a wonderful technology in their day.  But it may be “the end of the day,” to overuse that cliche.

--Speaking of outdated, don’t get rid of that typewriter just yet.  Unabomber Kaczynski’s  just got sold at auction for a couple of hundred grand.  So there may yet be gold in them-thar antiques.   


--The new Samsung Galaxy Tablet it getting rave reviews, mainly for its speed and thinness.  It’s still not thin enough.  We need something that we can roll up and gently tap the dog on the snout when all the newspapers finally go broke.  



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, June 17, 2011

875 No Problem

875 No Problem

This started as a discussion with a friend.  Then it became a “status” line on both Facebook and Twitter, where it drew favorable comments galore.

The original “Tweet:”  When did "No problem" become a substitute for "you're welcome?" I'm tempted to say "glad to hear. What WOULD be a problem?"

The friend insisted that language evolves and he’s right.  But sometimes, evolution gets us three-legged frogs and two headed babies.  And this is one of those.

The most common use of this frog comes in restaurants, where it’s not only a substitute for “you’re welcome” but an acknowledgement of your breakfast order.

“How would you like your eggs, sir?”

“Scrambled, please.”

“No problem.”

Good thing, that.  Glad to know the Executive Chef at the grill doesn’t have a problem with and knows how to either (a) scramble an egg or (b) ladle the pre-mixed eggs from the vat in which they’re packed onto the Executive Hot Plate.

“What kind of toast would you like with that?  We have white, rye, sourdough and wheat.”

“White, please.”

“No problem.”

Good thing the bread wrappers are clearly marked.

But “no problem” isn’t the only catch phrase they teach in Famous Waiters’ Table School.  Another comes when you appear to have finished your meal but aren’t yet ready to leave your seat.

The waiter will generally point to the empty dishes and say “May I get those out of your way?”

The temptation is to say either

1.  “No problem!” or
2.  “Yes, thank you.  We’re about to put up a ping pong net and play a quick 21-pointer before we leave.”

What a pleasure the other day when a waiter, obviously a fellow New Yorker, substituted the un-evolved “I’m gonna take those away now, awright?”  Almost kissed him for that, but other diners might have gotten the wrong idea.

Another of those Famous Waiter phrases happens when you and your party walk into the place and you and those with you are the only ones at the front desk beside the host:

“How many today, sir?”

There are three of us standing there.  The temptation is to look over one’s shoulder, return attention to the host, assume a puzzled expression and say “15.”

Now THAT might be a problem.


Shrapnel (fast food restaurant edition):

--Denny’s is promoting itself these days as “America’s Diner.”  It is obvious the genius behind that phrase never has eaten in a REAL diner.  Denny’s is Denny’s and that’s fine... but a diner it ain’t.

--A groundswell has recently arisen for the execution of Ronald McDonald, because he appeals to kids who already eat too much of their high-calorie, high-fat, fiber-less food.  Poor Ronald will become impoverished and probably have to move in with his cousin Joe Camel.  Parents have no say in what their meatball shaped kids eat, or what?!

--Subway used to name its sandwiches for, well, subways.  But there’s only one-such left on the menu, the “Italian BMT.”  Anyone else remember that BMT once stood for “Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit” before the city took over the subways and combined them?

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, June 15, 2011

874 Casey and the Tele-Maggots

874 Casey and the Tele-Maggots

If Casey Anthony were from uptown, five feet tall, 240 pounds and black, her murder trial would have lasted two days and by now, she would be doing life at the Bedford Hills Women’s Prison with her story long gone from the front page of the New York Post if it got there in the first place.

But her trial in Florida is weeks old week now and nowhere near the part where the judge asks “how do you find” and the jury foreman says “guilty of Murder One in the death of her toddler daughter Caylee.”

Casey, 25, of the State of Florida, is a a hot babe, usually a free pass to all kinds of things that most of us normal people don’t have access to.   This is not going to be one of these.

The Anthony trial is the OJ trial, 2011 version.  But the verdict will be “guilty,” and for the same reason OJ’s wasn’t.

The trial is televised.  The jury eventually has to go home and live in its neighborhood, with people who “know” what “really happened.”  

Opposite verdicts for the same reason.  Think about it.  You’re an African American and on the OJ jury.  Everyone “knows” he did it.  You go back into the hood and you voted guilty, you’re a pariah.

That’s California, Los Angeles South Central.  This is Orlando, home of Disney World, and the bottom of the holster that’s attached to the Bible Belt.  Vote “not guilty” in this one, and you’re a pariah, too.

And everyone will know what the jurors did.  Votes in murder cases have to be unanimous.  The trial’s on TV.  And the judge, although a step above Lance Ito of OJ fame, is still a putz.  Belvin Perry (Belvin, not Melvin, word mavens.)  The Hon. Mr. Perry seems a little more in control of his courtroom than did the Hon. Mr. Ito.  But he’s still comes off like a bumbler.  And while he’s more subtle about it, he’s still playing to the cameras.  Like everyone else.

We need a new term for the people who watch this stuff.  Moths to a flame won’t do because some moths are graceful and beautiful and flames are inanimate.   So, how about Tele-maggots.

As they watched and fantasized about OJ, so, now, do they watch and fantasize about Casey.  Both accused need bags over their heads.  Keep people on an even keel.  (If the bag doesn’t fit, you must acquit?”) This is not a way to bring justice to a case.

To some, this post will seem to be arguing for a “not guilty” verdict in the Anthony case.  Not so.  At this point, she sure looks guilty.  But it IS an argument to keep cameras out of the courtroom, an unpopular view among those of us in the news community.

There’s that even keel, again.

Shrapnel (Mormon edition):

--The “Book of Mormon” was Broadway’s Tony Winner this year and it’s crap. But showbiz can get away with it, because “who cares about THOSE people?”  Imagine what would happen if they tried something similar and called it “The Torah” or “The Koran.”  

--There are lots of reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney, but none is because of his religion.  He’s boring, plastic and mostly wrong on the issues.  If Mitt were an Evangelical, people would be falling all over themselves to elect him President.



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