Monday, September 30, 2013

1233 Playing the Averages

1233 Playing the Averages

This is about the above average American who wants to be below average.

Seems like the law of averages only applies to the next guy or the next school or the next town or city.

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.42 per gallon in the most recent nationwide survey available.  But not in Fresno, CA.  The Fresno Bee reports the local average was $3.95. In New York City it was in the mid 3.50s.  Only in New Jersey, where gasoline taxes are relatively low did the price fall below three dollars.  But not everywhere in New Jersey.  The average price there is about the national average.

What’s your town’s price?  Bet it’s above average.  Makes you wonder what places have average or below average prices.

According to a recent survey, the average commutation to work is about 25 minutes.  They don’t say, but that’s probably car commutes, not mass transit or walking or bicycles, all of which would make the general average even longer (as in should we walk or do we have time to take the bus?)

Who spends 25 minutes on the road?  Almost no one.  Averages, indeed.  Even in good weather and daylight there’s your commute… YOUR commute is longer than average.

Check out the average cost of food for a family of four.  Check out the average number of weeks people receive unemployment comp and compare it to yours.  Or food stamps or Medicaid or miles per gallon or internet speed or anything else you can think of.

There are mathematical explanations for all this, of course.  But the math describes an artificial model.  Somehow, no one is “average.”
Either that or it’s just bad feng shui.  The line you’re on in the supermarket becomes the slowest.  The traffic light takes ten minutes to go from red to green and then allows only three of the 55 cars waiting to cross or turn.  

Makes you want to find the people who aren’t above average in every inconvenience or disruption, mythical creatures.  Creatures you want to rub for luck or kill.

The dirty little secret is this: no one is average. No one hits the median.  Average is a mathematically “provable” myth.

Shrapnel:

--The online health insurance markets open for business, tomorrow, Tuesday.  Expect website overloads and disruptions because everyone and his mother is going to try to get to the site.  By next week at this time, things will calm down, allowing you access and to new confusion.

--Be wary of statements like “most of you” will pay less for insurance.  Remember, gas prices are never lower than average on your block.  So what makes you think you’re going to get a break this time?

--Please note that whatever happens with the government shutdown, the debt ceiling, or the Affordable Care act, members of Congress will still have their insurance.  A “Cadillac” plan, they call it.  More like a Bentley, really.

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, September 27, 2013

1232 Czar Tom the First

1232 Czar Tom the First


Los Angeles has a new film czar.  Bet you didn’t know they had an old one.  It’s hard to tell.  And it’s hard to tell over what the new czar is going to rule.  But there are hints.


A former newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, reports the fellow is Tom Sherak.  Household name at your place?  Probably not.  Okay, here’s some background.


According to the paper, he was the head of 20th Century Fox once.  And he is a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a kind of country club whose only known function is awarding Oscars.  


And he was the head of the Will Rogers charity.  Those are the good folks who panhandle you for contributions before the main feature runs at “a select theater near you,” and to which you’ve never given a nickel. And never Will.


(Aside:  Someone’s going to get a fortune in free advertising by naming a movie house chain Select Theaters.)


And he is a graduate, says the paper, of New York City Community College.  Trouble with that is there’s no New York Community College.  They may mean Manhattan Community College or maybe City University of New York.  No matter.  His chief job is salesman with crown and sceptre, and that requires no degree, though one wouldn't hurt.

His formal title is Senior Film Adviser to the mayor.


(Are there some junior film advisers kicking around?)


His main job is to keep the film industry where most of it is… Los Angeles.


Even films set in New York are filmed in LA, except for the exteriors. Sometimes they film in Toronto which is kind a generic big city and where wages are lower.


Like the auto industry, once clustered around Detroit but now spread all over the place, the film industry is getting itchy about staying put.  The cost of living in southern California is enormous, and beside some nice recent renovations, many parts of LA and ALL parts of Hollywood have become a glittering slum including the Kodak Theater, now known as the Nokia Theater and probably soon to be known as the Microsoft Theater.


So maybe Czar Tom should be the Minister of Anti-Travel.  After all, when someone wants to find the back lot at Paramount or Warner’s no one in California wants to give them driving directions East Acne, Idaho.



Shrapnel:


--Old habits die hard though sometimes just fade away.  Take OJ Simpson, acquitted of murder but found responsible in civil court, then convicted of breaking into a hotel room to “retrieve (his) sports memorabilia.”  Now, he’s in jail but not letting that stop him from a life of crime: pilfering cookies from the cafeteria… cookies he’s not supposed to eat because he has diabetes.


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, September 25, 2013

1231 After China, What?

1231 After China, What?

If you’re old enough to remember the label “Made in Occupied Japan,” you’ve already seen this happen.  Here in the US, that title translated instantly into the words “cheap junk.”

We all know what happened next. Your lifelong commitment to Chevy, Ford and Plymouth were traded in for your new lifelong commitment to Toyota, Honda and Nissan.  

Why?

Because Japan had grown away from cheap junk to high quality stuff.  And names like JVC and Sony and Panasonic became badges of solidity.  The Japanese cars worked when the American cars didn’t.  The TV and stereo sets, the walkman, the recording machine, the video camera, the digital camera… were the best we’d ever seen and in many cases better than anything like them that America had ever produced.

They took -- some say stole -- our designs and improved what came out of the factory.

Tokyo subsidized steel and some other commodities.  But for the most part, they were selling good products and fair prices.



Let’s look at the production of musical instruments.  Some big American names started producing their guitars and such in Japan.  Again, good quality, fair price.  Cheaper labor and lower energy costs meant lower prices here (even with “shipping and handling.)

When labor and other costs started to rise, the instrument makers took their business to Korea. And as costs increased, it was off to Viet Nam and Indonesia.

The emergence of China as an industrial power and mass producer of anything you can name came on the backs of the infinitesimal labor costs.  And so what if a bunch of people died in Triangle Shirtwaist-style fires, as they have in other far eastern countries. Plenty of spares even with their strict population control laws.

But look at the labels in your clothing today: Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Pakistan, India.  China while raising wages is sending work overseas.

This is not to put the entire burden on workers.  Those countries have an equal share of pirate investors, shifty accountants and embezzlers, corrupt government inspectors and all the same kinds of thieves and gangsters and greedheads that we do.

The economic boom in China is fraying at the edges.  There are just so many homes you can urban renewal-ize to put up glass office towers.  There are just so many Buicks you can sell to the upper middle crust.

How long before the factories are empty and Beijing has to bail out General Sewing Co.?

We’re running out of poor countries to exploit and we’re going to have to start building stuff on our own.  And it’s going to cost more here because everything here already costs more.

And if you think wages are going to rise proportionately, you’re wrong.  Unless you’re talking about investment bankers, high ranking corporate executives, hedge fund managers and the makers and sellers of mystery financial products.

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, September 23, 2013

1230 Congress is a Troubled Teen

1230 Congress is a Troubled Teen

This particular troubled teen is into cutting.

For those unfamiliar with this practice you can get the full definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, any recent edition.

Look up Self Harm or Deliberate Self Harm.

To save you the trouble, the basic layman’s definition is when kids cut themselves with razors or knives.  It’s kind of like a drug with no purpose but loads of side effects.

Well, not exactly no purpose.  Some  say it relieves pressure or fear or anxiety or other common intense but unwanted emotions.  

The key is “intentional” or “deliberate.”

And that’s what the House of Representatives is doing to itself.  If it had an arm, it would be scarred.  But there’s a difference.

When this crazy teen cuts, it’s the rest of us who bleed.

Defund the Affordable Health Care Act.
Cut the heart out of the food stamp program.
Lie about the debt ceiling and then freeze it.
Sequester.
Shut down the government.
Deny global warming, especially since it has slowed in recent years.
Bomb Syria.
Reduce taxes for billionaires.
Listen to constituents only when it suits you, and scarce little suits you.

Stopping cutting requires willpower. It needs encouragement and support.  The best way to stop this particular version is to send every one of these self cutters into rehab.  That’s much more humane than, say, putting them in straightjackets, though there are times that might be helpful.  And it’s more practical than invading their homes and offices and removing knives, scissors, razors, pens, pencils and other pointed or sharp objects.

Cutters will cut their arms, their legs, their torsos.  But they will not cut their own throats.  So we’ll bleed, we’ll hurt, but we won’t die. At least not right away.

They have to be removed from bad influences like their friends and favorite lobbyists, the House of Representatives, the state capitals, the county seats, the town councils, the village boards, the screens of TV networks, the political clubhouses, the right wing “think” tanks.  They need to be isolated and kept incommunicado.

Maybe the straight jacket and the home invasions aren’t such bad ideas after all.  If they bleed out, so do we.




Shrapnel:

--Merkel stays on as chancellor of Germany.  That means there’ll be no change in the way the EU will handle its phony debt “crisis,” anymore than our congress will end OUR phony debt crisis.  Merkel says she’ll serve the entire term… four years.  She realizes there’s nowhere to go from that spot but down.




--Over this past weekend, the Kenya shopping mall invasion remained unresolved but the islamist invaders have not killed any more hostages that we know of.  There were bombings at funerals in Iraq and Pakistan and the overall death count is in the mid-200s.  Bombing them back ain’t gonna help.

--Did you watch the Emmy awards last evening?  Do you know what TV people say about them?  “Emmys are like catching cold… eventually everyone gets one.”



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, September 20, 2013

1229 The Pundit Academy

1229 The Pundit Academy

“It was 1948. My father looked at me.  He was quiet for a moment.  Then he said ‘they pay you to TALK?!’”  --Barry Gray in 1990.



The nation’s colleges are missing an important revenue stream.  They should be teaching punditry.

Once was, people who were paid to tell their opinions had backgrounds in whatever they were paid to talk about.  

Reporters graduated into columnists after spending years in the real world.  Experts in this or that would, after long years, sell their expertise to newspapers and radio and television.

These days working as a cop for ten minutes turns you into a law enforcement pundit.  Anyone who has a law degree can be a legal pundit. Holding office for a couple of years turns you into a political analyst.  A buy-it-yourself Dr. of Divinity makes you into a religion expert and having children makes you a parenting authority.

There are no standards.  And as colleges have declared themselves the new standard setters for real journalism (there’s little on the job training these days. Not enough trainers, not enough time,) so can they declare themselves standard setters for opinion, analysis and bloviators.

The model should be similar to a police academy.  A recruit undergoes tests.  Gets a uniform.  Goes out on patrol with an experienced pundit. Takes classes.  Graduates.  

No one offers a Bachelor of Punditry, or a masters or a doctorate.

And the biggest users of pundits, the cable networks, aren’t doing much training, either.

Cash strapped colleges should cash in on this untapped market.  Almost no one goes into journalism to be a journalist.  They want to be either TV stars or commentators, jobs we used to have to earn.

Or maybe some of us who do this kind of work should band together start a trade school, kind of like DeVry or Mrs. Skinners or the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. Yes, that’s it.

Offer an Associate’s degree in caterwauling.  Or maybe just a certificate of completion.  With the right faculty, “our” students would learn things they’d never get from Columbia or the Medill School or any of their lesser imitators.

Let’s start filming the commercials.  Worry about certification later.

We need a name. Hmmmm.  The Socrates Institute?  The Atlantic School of Opinion Leadership?  The California Pacific Punditry Practice Program?

Someone suggested “Harvard” or “Princeton” or “Yale” but we find that those names have already been used.  



Shrapnel:

--A belated happy birthday to the New York Times, age 162. For 109 of those years they endorsed mostly Republican candidates.  Liberal media, indeed.

--Lost in the noise over the DC shootings, the lunatic congress preparing to cut off our nose to spite our faces and pope’s call to reality on social issues was the reversal of Tom Delay’s 2010 conviction on money laundering charges.  Turns out, says the ruling, that the kind of money laundering Delay did isn’t illegal in Texas.  Look for Gov. Perry to add this to his circuit riding pitch to move all business to Texas.



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, September 18, 2013

1228 The Ultimate Software and Reverting to Form


Okay, here we are in the high tech age.  Computers, notebooks, netbooks, tablets, smartphones, game consoles, vacuum cleaners that clean your floors without you.


At some point, these gizmos are going to have warning labels:


“The Surgeon General has determined that game consoles, tablets, smartphones and other computer related devices can be habit forming.  Caution is advised.”


WebMD will list side effects: overgeneration of alpha waves, weight loss, weight gain, cardiac arrest and brain cancer.  Most common side effects: sleep loss, eye strain and social detachment.


All this is in the future.  But there are problems now, and they aren’t being addressed.  In fact, they have no web address.  But they need a dressing down.


There are too many calendars.  So many, in fact, that you need a calendar just to remind you which of your other calendars to check. Google Calendar, Yahoo Calendar, Windows 8 Calendar.  Wall calendar, desk calendar.


If you keep more than one, it gets confusing: Business appointments, personal appointments, birthdays, secret appointments, doctor appointments, dentist appointments, hairdresser appointments, oil change and state inspection appointments.  Dates that bills are due.


If you keep only one calendar, what happens when your hard drive dies or your wireless router dies?

The same is true with to-do lists.  Who needed one of those before the Sharp Wizard and the Palm Pilot rose to equality with food, clothing and shelter or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?


These old fashioned thingies have become passe except for their cult following which is fast aging into the ground.


But the effects haven’t.


Some people still use DayTimers and Day Runners, appointment books and such.  The “Day” books are complicated and over organized.  The simple old fashioned desk calendar or appointment book is too much work -- you have to transfer the birthdays from year to year, for example.


Is there an answer to all this confusion and danger?  Sure.  LSP Software.  LSP stands for “little scraps of paper.”


Yes, they can be lost.  Yes, they can be thrown away in error. And, no, they don’t track birthdays.  So keep your Google calendar for that and the bill-due-dates.  The rest of the stuff works better with LSP.


And there are no batteries, no “upgrades,” no new operating systems. Plus you can use it anywhere from up in outer space all the way down to hell without worrying about spying, interference or a stock price.


Many, if not most of us, started with this system (we’re all “software architects just like Bill Gates! Only poorer) and reverting to form wouldn’t hurt.


Shrapnel:


--Here’s hoping the latest choice of Miss America portends a wider future.  They picked a blue state woman who isn’t white over a rootin’ tootin’ Kansan blonde who was the favorite of many a red state yeehaw.  Maybe this is the path to more blue.


--Meantime, the reds are still assuring their membership that if they don’t vote against the Affordable Healthcare Act, don’t limit the debt ceiling and don’t vote to shut down almost everything, they’ll be forced out of office.  The blues are abandoning the president on many issues -- as they should.  And the rest of us are trying to figure out what life will look like when the United States Government is totally paralyzed instead of just from the neck up, as now.


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, September 16, 2013

1227 Please See Attendant

1227 Please See Attendant

A Woody Allen style quandary.  Use the self checkout lane or don’t.  

If you do, you’re playing into the modern idea that human workers no longer are necessary.  If you don’t, you risk catching some dread disease from the live cash register operator.

Today’s checkout people are mainly part time. Part timers don’t get company health insurance and won’t if the likes of Rep. John Bonehead have their way.  So, that guy sneezing and coughing behind the register at MegaMart is likely to infect you. No machine can do that to you.

On the other hand, self-checkouts are not ready for prime time.

They run like television robo-cams.  Automated.  One attendant at a control computer keeping watch on four to six different checkout machines.  If one goes wrong, they shut it down unless the IT guy is in the house and isn’t doing something more important like fixing some manager’s TV set.

There are some tricks to making these things work.  First, be prepared.  Make sure you have a dry cloth with you and wipe down the scanners.  They get dirty very fast and can’t read the bar codes.

Next, make sure you know where the UPC stickers are located on every item you plan to buy.  Some are pretty well hidden, and if you take too long, the machine will kick you out and make you go back to the end of the line.

Third, when the automated voice commands you to “put item in bagging area,” do so immediately.  It knows when you don’t.  How? The shelves under the bags are scales and they track the weight of the bag.  This also is why they can tell you “unidentified item in bagging area.”

If you run into a problem, the robo attendant can help.  Like if you’re buying contraband .. anything with nicotine in it won’t scan until you call over the live person who taps in a secret code when you prove to him or her that you’re of legal age.

If a UPC label is wrinkled, the attendant will type it in manually for you. If there’s no UPC code on an item (why didn’t you look earlier, dummy?) you will have to wait for someone to check the price.  

This kind of defeats the purpose of the electronics… well, half the purpose.  The other purpose keeps on keeping on: electricity costs less per hour than the minimum wage.  Computers don’t call in sick … or get sick … or fail to show up for a shift.  The don’t talk back to management, they don’t hold long conversations with customers they know or with that cute guy in Customer Service.

Most of us have learned to use a DIY gas pump, and it’s unlikely you’ll find any other kind except in New Jersey where you can’t pump yourself (and the prices are lower than in surrounding states.)

Try to get to a pump with the hose on the same side as your filler. Trying to snake the long hoses around the car usually misses by inches.  If you have to turn around, be careful, because other drivers are not watching you.

The newer pumps put you through hoops of their own.  Hence, have your credit card ready before you start working the pump.  If you use a debit card you may be required to put in your ZIP code, which somehow assures all that you are who you say you are.

Follow the directions to the letter, or else.  When you read “pull your card out quickly,” do so. If you let it linger, you will be sorry.

Follow the directions in order.  If it says “choose grade before pumping,” do so.  If it says "remove nozzle before choosing grade,” then remove the nozzle before choosing the grade.

Some of the newer pumps have television screens that treat you to advertising videos.  If you have ADHD, this is a sneaky trick to make you overfill your tank.  The TV distracts you.  Your pump stops.  You top it off without looking and spill a few cents worth onto the ground. Figure half the males have this condition, and at the end of the day, those few cents add up.

If you need a map, you’ll have to buy it.  And it STILL won’t fold back correctly. If you ask the clerk behind the counter “can you tell me how to get to Elm Street?”  You’ll get a blank stare.

If you can’t figure any of this stuff out, please see attendant.

Shrapnel:
--Orange Blossom special was a fancy train and lives on in song, the national anthem of country fiddlers. That name now should hang on the Today Show, which has redone its set so that viewers are oranged to death.  Bad color for a TV set, and they knew that soon after they oranged up studio 3B in the late 1980s.

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

© 2013 WJR