Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1207 Why Detroit is Bankrupt

1207 Why Detroit is Bankrupt



Have you heard enough about Detroit and lately?  Good.  Because here’s more.

The destruction of this once-great industrial capital is not the fault of greedy public employees with fat benefits and fat pensions.  It is not the fault of corrupt public officials, though they certainly haven’t helped.  It is not the fault of Japanese or European auto imports.  

It’s the fault of outsourcing.  And it won’t be long before outsourcing spreads its ugly disease elsewhere.

America built itself into a world power with factories, farms and mines.  And now, we’re too good for all that pedestrian stuff.  A smoke stack?  OMG, heaven forbid!

While Detroit still builds cars, who wants them?  And why would you?  They don’t match the quality and longevity of the overseas brands made here or there.

Greedy unions again?  No.  GM collapsed under its own weight and because the marketing people weren’t focus group happy enough. (Hard to believe ANYONE is insufficiently focus group happy, but it happens.)  Ford may get it right occasionally.  Chrysler has been passed around like a joint at a frat party and as the various owners puffed on it, what came off the line was, well, cars built by a corporation on weed.

Cars have a jillion parts.  Where do they come from?

Where was your TV made? The walls of your house? Your TV set? The contents of your bottle of apple juice?  Your Apple phone or Android or Jitterbug?

How about the fuel you use for that car and for your furnace?

Detroit has been infected by outsource disease.  As have Akron, New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and the forests of the Northwest.

Oh, you may say, but we’re the tech capital of the known universe. Not like we once were.  Check out what’s going on in Israel and India and Indonesia.  Indonesia, fer cryin’ out loud!

The professor-in-chief, Obama can’t get anything done except rehearsed lectures.  Fortunately, he has a ready-made excuse... congress.

What’ amazing is congress has not used one of its most important powers, the ability to declare war.  It’s waging an undeclared war on itself and us, while factories sit idle and farms sit idle and coal mines are turned into The Pollution Monster.

Until we fix the factory-farm-mine industrial complex, we’re going to see more Detroits.

If you’re an optimist, what’s happening in Detroit is good news.  Property is dirt cheap.  That’s a buying opportunity.  If the city survives, those values are going to rise sharply eventually.

If the city doesn’t survive, it doesn’t matter where you put your money.  It’s not going to be worth the fancy financial instruments it’s printed on.



Shrapnel:

--Israel is starting a new TV channel to tell its side of things.  Kind of a Jewish Al Jazeera in Hebrew.  No known plans to bring it to America.

--There are so many dog pics on Facebook these days they could call it Facebark.  Next in the string of supererogatory pictures is the restaurant meal. Call it Foodbook.

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, July 29, 2013

1206 Customize or Perish

1206 Customize or Perish

“Customizing” a car used to mean putting in chrome tailpipes and such; maybe darkening the windows and putting fake zebra skin covers on the front seat.

Then, there were the lowriders.   Putting tiny wheels on huge cars and installing little lifters that made the body bounce (as if 20th century springs and shocks weren’t bouncy enough.)

A lot of that stuff has gone to the junkyards and been converted into useful scrap but doesn’t mean the end of car customization.

Today, that can-do American spirit is alive and well in small auto shops in far off places.  But this time, it’s not specially designed grilles and day-glo purple paint jobs.

No, indeed.  These people are retrofitting retro controls.  They’re ripping out those ridiculous and dangerous touch screens and replacing them with (gasp) push buttons and knobs.

Imagine this:  you’re driving along the 101 in California or the Grand Central Parkway in New York, at the speed limit, of course.  You’re listening to your satellite radio, your GPS is on the touch screen and the interior temperature is 90 degrees.

As you round a curve, you feel a compelling need to turn on the air conditioner.  At one time, that meant keeping your eyes on the road, holding the wheel with one hand and reaching for the A/C controls with the other.

In today’s high tech world, there are no A/C controls.  You have to swap out the GPS and/or the satellite radio on the screen and call up the “climate system.”  Yes, cars have climates, just like the earth.  Bet you never thought about that.

No matter.  On some cars nowadays you can keep both hands on the wheel and speak to your car.  You can say “turn on the air conditioner.”  The car will then reply with a confirming message  “Did you say take me to the airport?”  “No.”  “Did you say “where can I buy shampoo and conditioner?”  “No.”  “Please repeat your command.”  “Turn on the air conditioner.”  “Sorry, not found.”

So much for concentration on driving.

If you don’t have that talking system, you have to push something on the screen to get rid of what’s there and bring up a menu of stuff, then press the appropriate spot to get the controls you want.  Half the time, the thing doesn’t respond, so you press it again.  Well, not pressing, really.  More like when you might finger jab someone during an argument.

So much for concentrating on driving, unless, of course, you already have hit the guardrail and caused a 47 car pileup.

So, then, what about customization?  This time it’s not chrome pipes, leaping lowriders or purple paint.  This time it’s rip out the stupid touch screen and install controls for the radio, heater and air conditioner.  Make them big enough to work by feel. Destroy the GPS, it’s no good, anyway.  This kind of customizing not fancy. It’s not showy.  But it could save lives -- maybe yours.



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, July 26, 2013

1205 The Perfect Candidate

1205 The Perfect Candidate

Mayor Weiner.

Kind of slips off the tongue easily, right?

The Perfect Candidate.  

If he wins (shudder) he will have saved us the time it usually takes after inauguration day to discover why we shouldn’t have voted for him. That’s pretty well known now.

More on that in a moment, but first let’s look at some of the earlier men who have served and their claims to fame and infamy:

Jimmy Walker had some legal problems and a cozy relationship with prohibition-era speakeasies.  He resigned a year before his term was up.

His successor, John O’Brien finished Walker’s final year in office by doing nothing without checking first with the Tammany Hall leadership.

Fiorello LaGuardia is the patron saint of New York City politics, but if truth be told, he didn’t have many friends left when he left City Hall.

Bill O’Dwyer managed to slip out of office and into an ambassadorship before he was indicted for anything.

Vincent Impellitteri raised the subway fare from a dime to 15 cents and taught us all to love tokens.

Robert Wagner was a tool of the Democratic machine for most of his career but then had the nerve to run as a “reformer.”

John Lindsay cleared the way for mayors to look like Ken Dolls and coined the unfortunate phrase “Fun City,” which is almost as obnoxious as the earlier “Big Apple.”  (You can be sure anyone who uses that phrase is not a native of the city.)

Abe Beame, accountant, couldn’t get a handle on the balance sheet.

Ed Koch ran into that third term curse, though it was his henchpersons who caused or landed in trouble. (Regular readers know I was friends with Koch for many years and rarely criticized him -- and then only to his face, not his back.)

David Dinkins was the mayor of tennis matches and wardrobe.

Rudolph Giuliani killed the squeegee industry and left office a hero after 9/11 … just before which he couldn’t have gotten elected dogcatcher.

Mike Bloomberg accomplished much but history will remember him for banning both Big Gulps and saloon smoking... and for the brilliant on the job training he got in a big snowstorm.

Now comes the aptly named Anthony Weiner of the photogenic private parts who sends sexts to women he doesn’t know and was all but forced out of congress because of it.

The Anthony “Tony Dicks” Weiner scrapbook is swelling like... um... well, it’s getting thicker by the day.

They guy’s a schlemiel.  Whatever good he ever did or can do in the future has or will have an asterisk in the record books.

How can you take this guy seriously?  His on-line antics show him as irresponsible, immature and the picture of bad judgment.  That he reminds us of a young Woody Allen without glasses and not intentionally funny doesn’t help either. These aren’t terrible crimes.  In fact, they’re not crimes at all. But what would it say of us if he won the nomination and the election?

The rest of the candidates in both major parties are no great shakes either.  While Bloomberg is a hard act to follow, he’s not an impossible act to follow.

Fiorello and Ed:  where are you when we need you?  Probably grave spinning.

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, July 24, 2013

1204 How to Fix Retail

1204 How to Fix Retail

There’s been an awful lot of news about retailers lately.  Much of it centers around internet competitors eating their breakfast, lunch and dinner and beating them up in the schoolyard.

The big box stores devoured downtown.  Now the virtual mall is devouring the big boxes.  And the remaining small merchants are fighting for every last dollar.

One of the ways they do that is by “excellent customer service.”  Really?  Well, sometimes.

Sometimes not.  Like this anecdote:  customer walks into a store that specializes in kitchenware and small appliances; buys a fancy coffee maker.  The machine is a dog.  But Kitchen Paradise doesn’t want to do a return or exchange because “you used it!”  It’s pristine and spotless.  It has all its packaging.  The receipt is taped to the box in a way to prevent its removal from damaging anything.

That’s excellent customer service.  You return that to Wal-Mart or Target or TJ Maxx or Macy’s or even lowly Sears?  No questions asked.

Now, the big guys are trying to steal Amazon Com’s playbook.  It isn’t working.  Amazon’s secret is volume.  They don’t care all that much about profits.  They’ve bribed their way into your wallet.

But as many of the dour articles about physical stores point out, retailing is show biz.  So the BBs are sprucing up their shelves, their lighting and their displays.

If shopping is like going to the movies for you, and/or you don’t really know what you want, you can make a fun afternoon of it by scooting around Wal-Mart.   

And it can be fun.  Until it’s time to leave.  That’s where the internet shines in ways a physical store does not.  Click, click, click and you’re out the internet store’s electronic door.  

No long lines... or any lines.  

Twenty five registers at MegaStore and four are open.  And two of the four are for people with 20 or fewer items, the “speedy checkout” lines.  Speedy. Yeah, right!

So if you’re a regular, you get to know who can move a line and who can’t.  Older men and women are a good bet.  They’re not chatting with customers and co-workers, they’re checking people out.

You learn to profile trouble customers:  loopy college kids, morbidly obese men and women, people who don’t speak the language.  Love birds. But there are limits when you try to avoid these types.  Plus not everyone like that is like that.

Where you run into trouble even with a line staffed by a good register clerk, you hit a wall when someone paying in cash tries to use a $100 bill or fishes around in pocket or purse for exact change or someone uses a debit card and can’t figure out or can’t remember his or her pin code.  Or someone with a card the computer rejects for good reason or bad.

You can’t anticipate these kinds of things.  But you can anticipate waiting in line (apologies to my fellow New Yorkers for that phrase) longer than you have to wait to finish a transaction ON line.

If the store people want to keep the moviegoers, they’re going to have to keep more registers open in prime time.  Get a reputation for that, and the extra expense will pay for itself.

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, July 22, 2013

1203 Helen Thomas

1203 Helen Thomas


A late in life Mitt Romney/Jesse Jackson moment tarnished a lifetime of achievement.


Helen Thomas died last week just days short of her 93rd birthday.   Pitt bull of a reporter who covered the White House when United Press and then United Press International was still a respectable news wire.


Pioneer woman reporter.  First woman to do this thing, then that thing.  Almost universally regarded by colleagues and competitors and feared by Presidents and kings, and rightfully so.


But when you talk about “pioneering women” reporters, you also have to look back to World War II when Marguerite Higgens of the New York Herald Tribune and Margaret Bourke-White of Life Magazine covered the battlefield.  This takes nothing from Thomas’ rise to head the Washington Bureau and then cover the White House.  But it kind of takes the edge off her reputed first-ness.


She had the grit to stay with UPI from 1943 to 2000, 57 years. That was difficult, as the agency was passed from hand to hand like a  Queens Plaza streetwalker.  When  the Moonies bought it and tied it to the arch conservative propaganda sheet, the Washington Times, she resigned.  She wrote a slew of good columns for a syndicate after that.


But then came that moment when she made an on mic comment, just like Mitt about the 47 percent and Jesse Jackson about “Hymietown.”  What, she was asked, should happen to Israel?  The answer:  “The Jews should get the hell out of ‘Palestine’ and go back to where they belong... Germany or Poland...”


That went viral and a few days later she “retired” from her Hearst column.


It’s hard to call a person of Semitic heritage an anti-Semite.  Thomas was born in Kentucky.  Her parents came from a part of Syria that now is in Lebanon.  Shifting borders are no rarer in the Arab Middle East than they are in, say, Germany, Poland or any other place she evidently considered Jewish Homelands.


So for argument’s sake, let’s just say Ms. Thomas was having a tough day and give her the benefit of the doubt that she had a temporary lapse. And after all, she had promoted herself as a cranky old lady for years... really long before she actually became one.


Except many of her associates said they’d heard plenty more along those lines.


Certainly she had the right to criticize Israel.  But as former Clinton confidante Lanny Davis wrote in the New York Post three years ago, there are ways to express that and there are ways.


So Thomas goes to her eternal rest with an outpouring of kudos from her former colleagues and several Presidents.  And the one large slip of the mind puts an asterisk next to her bio in the Quirky Journalist Hall of Fame.


Once asked (on NPR) the difference between a “probing question” and a “rude question,”  she answered “There are no rude questions.”


Okay, then, here’s one for her:  If you believe what you said, why did you apologize and if you don’t believe what you said, why did you say it?


And another:  If Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon or George HW Bush or George W Bush made an apology as lame as yours was, would you have accepted it at face value and moved on?


You bet you wouldn’t.


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, July 19, 2013

1202 Microsoft Exterminator for Windows 8

1202 Microsoft Exterminator for Windows 8

No, it’s not an app or a game or even a “productivity program.”  It’s a workaround for Windows 8, Mac and Androids’ newborn cousin.

A great big bowl of ugly, this operating system.

But you can beat the system.  Well, mostly beat it.

Eight is the only recognized operating system that’s less attractive than MSDOS.   It makes Windows 7 look like a beauty queen in full makeup and a $1,000 hairdo.

It tries to force you to use Internet Explorer.  It wants you to use and makes it tough for you to not use Word.  It wants you in the Microsoft “cloud.” It almost forces you to use Microsoft Bing as your main search engine.

It almost forces you to use Bing Maps which although better than the iPhone 5 doesn’t have anything near the usefulness of Google Maps or Yahoo Maps or Mapquest.

It looks like a tablet but without the tablet’s ease of use.  And it doesn’t look very businesslike.

The first thing you have to know is that you don’t have to follow orders.

You can download Google Chrome, a good interface and transportable because it synchronizes with all of your machinery:  desktops, laptops, netbooks and smart phones.

While you have to have a Microsoft account of some kind (Outlook or Hotmail will do,) you don’t have to use it.

With your Chrome and Gmail you also get Google Docs and maps and other stuff so you don’t have to use the Microsoft versions which many people dislike.

Ad blocker is a free extension that gets rid of most of the advertising on Chrome and the other Google products. Picasa (also free) is just as good as the Windows “My Pictures.”

Windows 8 seems to not like Gmail.  Sometimes you have to beg or threaten.  But when you insist it comes around.

All this stuff about Google products works equally well with Opera.  The Apple browser is undergoing tests at the Wessays™ secret mountain laboratory.

If you’re a picture person, you probably have Photoshop which is better than anything Micro or Google has to offer.  But you know that.

Now, about non-Microsoft workarounds for everyday programs:

Music?  RealPlayer is free.

Unless you need a word processing program absolutely positively 100% compatible with Word, Openoffice.org will do nicely, and it’s also free.

With games, you’re on your own.  But there have to be workarounds for them too.

Now, can someone please tell me where solitaire is hidden?

Windows 8 users of the world, arise!  You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Shrapnel:

--How about if congress adjourns for the summer and never comes back?  They don’t do anything useful anyway so who’d notice the difference?

--How about if President Obama takes that Martha’s Vineyard vacation and doesn’t come back? He can’t get anything right and stick to it anyway.  So who’d notice the difference?

--How about if the Supreme Court stays on vacation forever?  The justices can’t get anything right.  And that’s something everyone notices... or should.

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

© WJR 2013