Friday, May 31, 2013

1181 Crime and Punishment

1181 Crime and Punishment

The crime you commit is committing. Your punishment is your reward.

Usually, when you do something reward-worthy, you can expect a reward.  But not when your reward worthy deed is loyalty.  At least not all the time.

We’re forever hearing about loyalty.  Loyalty to country, loyalty to family, loyalty to neighbors; loyalty to employers.

Loyalty to country is returned by the government coating you and itself with fast drying cement.

Loyalty to family?  Most of us have decent ones if not somewhat dysfunctional, but then you get the kids who kill their parents or their siblings or each other or themselves.

Loyalty to neighbors: acknowledged by the guy breaking your riding mower and even then not returning it.

Loyalty to employers?  Expect a pink slip any day now.

But this is nothing new and this is not the worst of it.  The worst of it is a class of companies that “reward” loyalty by finding new ways to break the bank.  Your bank.

Let’s start with banks.  Have you seen interest rates lately?  They’re near nothing.  Okay, not great. But at least your money is safe.  More or less.  But when it comes to credit cards, the rate is … what... the best deals around are in the eight percent range.  The worst are almost 30%.  Even if you’ve had the credit card since JP Morgan personally ran the bank.  Loyalty for longevity?  Nah.

The thieves who issue “payday loans” where interest can be 200% a year -- that isn’t a typo -- are looking for ways to continue bleeding you now that their short term lending practice faces actual regulation.

Meantime the commercial banks have figured out ways to make payday loans at slightly lower but still disastrous interest rates that fly under the regulation radar.

This used to be called usury and you went to jail for it.  Now it’s “best practice.”  Makes going to Benny the Shark look like a good alternative.

Banks are not alone.  How about insurance companies.  We all know the goal of every insurance company is to never pay a claim. When forced to, they go down fighting.  Okay.  We understand that. But take note:  every auto insurance company is fighting for your new business with bargain rates.  Customer loyalty?  Doesn’t count.  Your rates go up most years even without your filing a claim.

Telephone companies:  You’re with your cell carrier for a decade and you’re locked into a contract.  You upgrade, and the costs go up.  You swap your land line for a home-based over the air service, sign your life away and then realize that your bill is slightly lower but you can’t call overseas anymore or your calls to toll free numbers aren’t toll free anymore -- they count against your allotments of minutes.

Auto dealers: You’ve been buying your new Plymouths from Jollie Chollie on Bruckner Boulevard for 30 years and now that they don’t make them anymore, Chollie has a “great deal” for “long time customers” on one of those aluminum foil two-seaters … just as soon as Fritz over in the Boblingen factory figures out how to keep the passenger side door attached during a crash.

Loyalty.  It’s a good thing.  But it’s becoming a crime.

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

© WJR 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

1180 Congressional Rorschach Test

1180 Congressional Rorschach Test


We now know that congressional districts are drawn to insure lifetime jobs for the office holder.  There’s not much we can do about that. But we also can have a little fun while we’re guaranteeing work, health care, pensions, perks and a full time salary for part time hours to our federal representatives, whose day jobs are running for reelection starting immediately after taking the oath of office.


Hence, we look at some maps and try to tell ourselves what picture we’re seeing.  Let’s start with New York’s Third CD. What’s that look like to you?  Maybe a harlequin with its mouth open?  For the record, there’s little in common between people who live in the north and those at the south pole of this thing -- whatever it is.


Then, there’s this carefully and artfully crafted district that looks like a running sheep.  It’s Connecticut’s Third CD.


Moving right along, New Jersey’s Third CD looks like an arrow heading for the Garden State Parkway and on trajectory to miss.


Here’s one from Missouri and it looks like the harlequin has turned around from the New York version.  It’s -- guess what -- the Third CD which also resembles Bart Simpson’s profile.


And not to ignore the west coast, have a look at Oregon’s Third CD which looks like a fish diving southeast or the imprint of a serious skin rash.


How they figure out this stuff is beyond the reach of the normal mind.


It’s even worse on the state level.  The legislative districts in most states look like Jackson Pollock’s interpretation of blood spatter at a mass shooting.


We’re told the human mind strains to find stability and regularity.  And what does that say about the people who draw these maps and pass them into law?


Can you imagine the conversations that take place around the map table?  “Assemblyman Glotz (R-Dade County,) can we please move the east boundary slightly to the left?  There’s an apartment house at the end of that street and it’s just filled with Democrats.  Maybe just eliminate that one building from the new district?”


And what use can we make of these pictures?  Not much.  But if you put your own district in a search engine and if you see something in its shape, you need a real Rorschach test or some decent meds.



Shrapnel:


--All of a sudden, everyone’s all in a twist about bullying, the age old wrong- of- passage for elementary school age kids.  We’re all told how to fight back or what to say or do or not do.  But no one seems to have identified the real problem which is not what other kids think of your kid, but what your kid thinks of him or her self.


--That’s about schoolyard and neighborhood bullies -- cyber attacks are another story.  That kind can be dodged the same way as traditional bullies.  But it requires sharp tongued fingers.


--Looks like we’re going to be treated to yet another trial of the century.  This time it’s George Zimmerman, the Florida toy cop wannabe who killed Trayvon Martin.  Since Martin was black and Zimmerman isn’t, this one is going to be more contentious than Arias, and the defendant isn’t nearly as photogenic, which is a relief after Jodi and earlier Casey.


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

© WJR 2013

Monday, May 27, 2013

1179 Safety at the Movies

1179 Safety at the Movies

Been to a movie lately?  No?  True of lots of us in the age of pay-per-view, Netflix and those little booths in the supermarkets where you can rent new or nearly new films for a buck just don’t go out like we once did.

But if you have gone, you know that every theater in America has hired the same types who populate airport security.

In fact, it’s well known that the Department of Homeland Security, being ever so respected at the country’s airports has kind of farmed out some of its people and equipment for use at the Bijou.  (Are there really theaters called “The Bijou?”  If so, it’s kind of like naming your dog “Fido” or “Rover.”)

The alleged purpose of all those airport screenings and pat-downs and body cavity searches and x-rays is to keep the sky safe.

At the movies it’s so you don’t try to smuggle in a gun or -- even worse -- your own popcorn.

Hard to believe at today’s prices that the theaters can’t make a buck on admissions.  But there’s tradition.  Like restaurants that lose money on food and make it up on booze, movie houses lose money on admissions and make it up on popcorn and bonbons.

Actually there aren’t any movie houses anymore.  They’re more like movie gated communities.  A dozen mini-theaters where you watch something on a screen that’s smaller than your home TV.  Intimate.

Twelve bucks is a lot to pay for a vat of mediocre popcorn.  So is $5.00 for a Coke or Pepsi or $7.00 for a small carton of bonbons.

“Okay, sir, you’ve passed, please go on in.   But your companion, Ms., has chewing gum in her purse.  You’re going to have to leave that here or throw it away.”

The Transportation Security Administration’s latest report shows that nationwide, it has collected 482 tons of unused chewing gum and lifesavers, 110,000 cans or bottles of soft drinks, 47,000 cans or bottles of beer, 3,000 pounds of microwave popcorn, 14 battery operated microwave ovens and zero terrorists.

This haul would have cost the country’s movie showing industry tens of millions of dollars in profits.  And that excludes the locations that donate their take to food banks and issue concession coupons for five percent discounts on Mason Mints during your next visit.

Shrapnel:

--Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert never stooped so low as to review concession stands.  But had they, the results probably would please no one.  Two thumbs down.

--Does anyone actually eat popcorn while watching pay per view?  Probably there are some people.  But no one’s eating Mason Mints or Dots and Snickers Bars or drinking Mountain Dew Kickstart.

--What is the Netflix equivalent of the movie concession stand?  How about microwave chicken pot pie?  Fits the bill perfectly:  small, expensive, tasteless, salty and difficult to eat without slobbering.

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

© WJR 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

1178 Pleading the 5th

1178 Pleading the 5th


When you plead the 5th Amendment, everyone else assumes you’re guilty of something.


It’s the crutch of crooked government officials, underworld figures, polluters, violators of the labor laws and the occasional bank president or financial guy.


All of the above generally are guilty of something.


But technically that’s what it’s about --  not having to testify against yourself in a court case.


The question today is are there other uses for this handy piece of the Constitution, and if so, how can we use them.


Cop pulls you over and says “you been drinking?”  If you answer... any answer, and there’s booze on your breath, the cop will smell it and you’re toast.


So you reach for the 3x5 card you carry that says “on the advice of counsel I decline to answer under the 5th amendment.”  You have the right to remain silent even if you weren’t Mirandized.


Probably that’s not going to make the cop too happy, and instead of giving you one of those bogus tests on a badly calibrated breathalyzer, or making you repeat the alphabet backwards from M to C, he’ll just cuff you and take away your keys.


He’s wrong to do that.  But at three in the morning on a deserted highway in the middle of nowhere, this guy has more power over you than gravity.


Okay, so that’s a scratch.


Before you were pulled over, you were sitting at the bar and the bartender asks “what’s yours?” and you plead the 5th, you’re going to get a Long Island Iced Tea made from everything on the top shelf.


Okay, so that’s a scratch.


How about when “Honey Doll” thinks you’ve been slipping around with someone and you say “Honey Doll,” I’m pleading the 5th.  How’s that going to go over?  Yeah, thought so.
 
Another scratch.  And it’ll probably be somewhere on some exposed part of your body, at that.


Well, let’s try another.  The bill collector calls and is looking for you by name.  He asks you if you’re that person and you plead the 5th.  There’s an off chance that that’ll work.


Progress!


When the chirpy waitress at the diner asks you how you’re doing, and you plead the 5th, chances are she will think you’re nuts.  And that will likely affect the kind of service you get for the rest of your visit.


Maybe greater use of the 5th isn’t such a hot idea after all.



Shrapnel:


--The Arias case... we get a vacation for a month or so since the jury couldn’t decide whether to sentence her to life or to death.  The murder conviction stands, but a new jury must be convened to decide what’s next.  But there’s no vacation for the family of the victim.


--The Boy Scouts of America has voted to admit openly gay boys to its ranks but not to its leadership.  Other wise-crackers will say it brings new meaning to the phrase “boy scout.”  But they’re wrong.



I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
(But don’t ask too many questions or I’ll plead the 5th.)
© WJR 2013



Wednesday, May 22, 2013

1177 Anecdote City


1177 Anecdote City

There are some data worthy of ignoring.  Yes... even now when everything is measured and crunched and massaged and selectively ignored or selectively abhorred.

We all know not to fully trust figures on unemployment, likely voters’ choices of candidates, auto miles per gallon, the crime rate, the inflation rate, TV ratings and the stars awarded to restaurants, movies and hotels.

Wrap something in math and the math-phobic public assumes it’s true.

You knew that, right?

So what’s a trustworthy guide to a major purchase or a likely outcome or your chances of encountering bed bugs when you travel?  Why just ask your neighbors!

But wait.  Suppose your neighbor doesn’t have a car or a washing machine, doesn’t vote and brings his own sleeping bag to the Waldorf?

Why, you know that, too.  You consult a website with reviews.  The two majors these days are Angie’s List and Yelp.

Oh, the reliability!

These sites let you rate pretty much anything.

And often, you can tell when a review is worth reading.  “Martin Feinberg has been my dentist for 30 years and I swear by him.”  The guy may be down to two teeth.

“I spent the night at the Shady Grove Motel and when I awoke, I had no bug bites.”

“I went to Madam Lazonga’s Massage Parlor and all I got was a massage.”

“I just bought a Kenmore Elite washing machine.  It’s going to look great in my front yard alongside the 1973 Plymouth and the 1948 International Harvester truck already on blocks there.”

Negative reviews are almost always more instructive than positive ones.  “My Stauer watch broke after 18 months, and they replaced it ‘as a courtesy.’  The replacement broke in three weeks.”

“I had to return my Sham-Wows because they were a sham and wow, wouldn’t absorb the motor oil on my kitchen floor.”  A little literary charm there, but how’d that motor oil get in your kitchen?

The ones you can trust start with phrases like “Joe the plumber made my sink leak worse.”

You can’t trust the ones that start “I just felt a great sigh of relief when Mister Driveway finished sealing mine.  It just sparkles!” driveways are not supposed to sparkle.

So in a world of Big Data, we still rely on strangers to tell us how to pick a guy to clean the leaves out of a drainpipe.

The problem with trying to turn anecdotes into math?  No standards.


Shrapnel:  

--This space long has said that if your job description includes having someone apply makeup to your face, you are an actor and goes especially for TV news types.  In fact, one of the lost Stanislavski chapters teaches how to cry on command.  Especially good for reporters in Oklahoma and Maricopa County AZ these days.

--Speaking of TV, did you notice that as soon as departing NBC News pres Steve Capus had the stuff in his office packed, his successors at Con-Cast cancelled that Brian Williams Friday night magazine show?  Brian’s still has his day job, Nightly News.  But what about the hirelings like Harry Smith, Ted Koppel and Chelsea Clinton, who were “contributors,” which means... what?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

1176 Trains and Boats and Planes... Oh, and Buses


1176 Trains and Boats and Planes... Oh, and Buses

Someone offers you a free cruise, no strings attached, what do you say?  How about “I want strings and I want them attached to shore, otherwise, no thanks.”

Someone offers you a free round trip flight from Podunk International Airport to, say, London, what do you answer?  How about “only if I don’t have to walk ten miles and wait five hours for the four plane changes and if I can FedEx my luggage to the hotel ahead of time.”

Someone offers you a free ride on a bus?  We’ve dealt with that issue before so no details today.

Someone offers you a free round trip ride from Grand Central to New Haven, what do you answer?  How about “No!”

The part of Metro North that was the scene of the crash?  Scratch it, and beneath the surface it’s still the New Haven Railroad with all that implies.

The thing is being investigated as an accident.  The NTSB took it’s time getting to the site.  They couldn’t catch a train or a plane.  They had to drive.

Probably going to turn out to be an accident.  But if it turns out to be Al Qaeda or the IRA or some local wannabe -- even an angry commuter set out to cause havoc... they picked an easy target.

They’re looking at a piece of broken rail, the chief suspect.  How do you suppose they’ll send that to the lab?  Same way you FedEx your luggage?  Bring it to the UPS Store and let them pack it for you?  Take it to the Post Office?

A yard of rail weighs about 100 pounds.  Can we afford that during the sequester?

Can we expect a result better than “yup, that rail is busted, alright.”

The New Haven (officially The New Haven & Hartford) Railroad started in 1872 and technically died in 1968.  (It is possible the 8:02 from Danbury scheduled to arrive at Grand Central on December 3, 1903 will reach its destination some time before its actual 100th anniversary if all the passengers haven’t died of old age by then.)

But while the name and corporate structure were absorbed into the Penn Central and then the MTA tangle, the New Haven’s problems lived on and live on today.

They walk tracks.  All railroads do.  Sometimes they walk them, carrying a magical gizmo that can detect metal fatigue before you see the cracks.  So if this piece of parcel post was broken before the derailment and not by it, someone is going to have some explaining to do.

Shrapnel:

--The shooting death of a Hofstra University student days before she would have been graduated is a tragedy for her family, the school and the county police.  It’s tough to second guess a cop who broke up a home invasion, killed the home invader and the woman.  It was the last of the eight shots fired that took the life of the hostage.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

1175 Send Out the Clowns


1175 Send Out the Clowns

How many canaries can fit in a cage?  Five hundred if you squeeze hard.

How many clowns can fit in a Honda Fit?  Seventeen if you squeeze hard.

How many clowns can fit in the capitol building?  Five hundred - 75 elected clowns and nearly 55-thousand congressional employees and you don’t have to squeeze at all.

We can’t find a statistic for maintenance workers, cleanup workers, window washers, personal trainers, life coaches, office grunts, makeup artists, audio/video technicians, fire wardens, elevator repair people, non-sworn security guards, mail clerks, moving and storage workers or the press.

But suffice it to say it’s a mighty big staff for a bunch of yokels who do nothing and don’t even do it with style.

But overspending and overstaffing even in a depression isn’t the real issue.  The real issue is coulrophobia, the fear of clowns.

According to the psycho babble bible, the DSM, it mostly affects kids.  But more and more adults are becoming infected, too.  And while most phobias are irrational, this one is not.  At least not when it comes to the house and senate.

If you fear them, it’s with good reason.  But in the language of the peasantry, us, “phobia” has come to mean more than simple irrational fear.  When someone is “homophobic,” it doesn’t mean he’s afraid of gays, it’s now interpreted as hates gays or opposes gays.

And Coulrophobia should get the same kind of diluted meaning.  

These guys have stopped legislating -- not all bad -- and started making noise and doing somersaults and leading little pigs on leashes around the outer rings, while leaving the center ring empty.

Yeah, if you look hard, you’ll find an occasional dedicated and worthy legislator.  But you really have to look.

The IRS “scandal.”  The Benghazi “scandal.”  The first is just fine, the second was a terrible and mishandled event... but, really!

It’s time to consider two things:  a unicameral congress and term limits.  The former would require a change in the constitution which always is iffy and rarely happens overnight.  Opponents will argue that the latter will diminish your choice of clowns.  But with members of congress for the most part like tenured professors with modern-artist-on-drugs shapes. And with the parties in full control of the political process, there rarely is any real choice.

So while the clowns cavort -- and promote coulrophobia, the ringmaster, Obama, stands in the empty center ring announcing that the elephants, tigers and acrobats, high wire walkers, sword swallowers and trapeze artists will be out soon, you know he’s lost control of the show.


Shrapnel:

--Various sources combine to say all four judges are through judging on American Idol.  Randy Jackson confirms it, Nicki Minaj hints at it; others say Mariah Carey and Keith Urban don’t want to return, either -- and who can blame them for fearing they’ll be both deafened by the competitors and bore us and themselves and each other to death?  By the way, another nobody who’ll go nowhere, soul screecher Candice Glover won this year’s competition.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2013