Wednesday, March 30, 2016

1623 The 411 on Phone Books

It was a Friday.  It’s always windy on Fridays.  That’s so the forces of nature can assert their dominance and scatter recyclables far and wide and send you scurrying to pick everyone else’s stuff that’s blown into your yard as everyone else scurries to pick up your stuff from theirs.

Friday is recycling day.  The war lords of collection require you to have your bins curbside by 10 pm Thursday.  Then they come and pick it up. Eighteen hours later. Why do they require early placement?  Because they can.  They are, after all, war lords.

So this particular Friday at around 4 in the afternoon, we spot a piece of uncollected something at the garage door.  Mutter, mutter. Grouse, grouse.

But wait. When we go to pick it up, it’s not loose, flown-in trash.  It’s a phone book.

A phone book!  How quaint.

From Verizon, even.  Not one of those tiny wannabes.

Remember when a phone book had weight and heft?  Mostly in big cities… but also in the boonies, occasionally.  

Early radio disc jockeys of rock ‘n’ roll would pound on them to up the sense of rhythm while the songs played.  Carnival strongmen would rip them in two as people oohed and ahhed about their stupendous feats.  Cops would use them to “interview” criminals while leaving fewer visible bruises and scars than the previously favored pistol whipping and billy clubs.

And -- think of it! -- you could look up a phone number.

Well, today’s phone book is anemic.  And his has more omissions than Bernie Madoff’s tax return or a You Tube sex tape.

And its geography is far wider than its distribution.

It’s a yellow pages and “business directory” all in one.  And eight of them stacked would not equal the size of a Chicago residential phone book.

Attention strong men:  here’s a book for your beginning students to rip in half.  

What’s missing?  It’s easier and faster to tell you what’s there.

Every ambulance chasing lawyer from here to eternity.
Every dentist.
Every real estate agent.
Shopping malls that require six hours on the road per round trip.

But among the missing are most of the area’s restaurants.  And if nothing else, we have places to eat.  There’s a large self- important university down the road.  Not listed.

There are eight or nine supermarkets.  None listed.

There are seven local TV channels. Three of them not listed.  But the one almost no one can receive is there in case there’s a good wind blowing your way for a few minutes one day.

A bunch of funeral parlors, but not all of them.

So who uses phone books?  Old people.  What do old people need?  LARGE TYPE. What they get is tiny.  Saves paper, don-cha know.  Good for the environment.

It’s a whole new world for people who want to look up numbers.

Consumer tip:  don’t pay extra for an unlisted number.  Those free internet sites hide most numbers so that users can pay to look at your “full profile” which includes a phone number you no longer have from 25 years ago, a bad debt someone with your same name has and a list of relatives you never heard of.

You do not need to know whether the guy across town has a criminal record, a court history, tax problems, bankruptcies, relatives in distant places, etc.  Just the phone number, ma’am to paraphrase Sgt. Friday.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

Things that Go Beep in the Night

All your toys play with themselves behind your back. Don’t get all out of shape, now.  It’s not THAT kind of playing.


When you put Barbie or GI Joe away for the night, they just hang out awaiting your return. But this is the 21st century.


Your toys ring and beep and give you that come hither blink.


When you turn in after turning off the TV, it doesn’t just sit there quietly. It displays a little red light.  Kind of a reminder.  Not that most of us need one.


The cable or satellite box is always on and has the LED lights to prove it. So do your computers and your tablets.


The most versatile of these things is your cell phone.  It’s still having long private conversations when you’re not using it.  Smartphones are sneaky but sometimes you catch them in the act.


Say you go to make a call. You “awaken” the screen and find it’s bragging about “updating” your app, “Melting Chocolate Bunnies” or “Angry Birds” or “iTunes.”  Your phone is playing and not with you.


But it’s not just complicated high tech gadgets.  Maybe you set an alarm for tomorrow morning.  The clock keeps running, of course.  But without actually telling you, it is counting down the time to turn on the alarm you set.


You can’t hear it. You can’t see it. But you know it’s sitting there, counting.


The electronic thermostat is measuring the temperature without telling you: “now it’s 74.3 degrees.  I must turn the heat on until it reaches the pre-set 75.”  “Now it’s 75.2 degrees.  I’d better shut down.”  “Okay, I’ve turned myself off but I’m constantly vigilant.”


They talk among themselves.  Some of them rate you as a caretaker.  In fact, just the other day your iPhone and your PC got into a furious argument about which one you preferred.  But as you know, iPhones and Android or Windows systems don’t really get along. So it’s a good thing that your auto-dimmer turned out the lights and promised to keep them out until the phone and the computer apologized to each other… which they did.  But they didn’t really mean it.


While we’re at it, let’s remember your car alarm.  It’s not as high tech as your self cleaning oven or your tankless water heater.  But it too has feelings.


Nothing feels more rejected and ignored than a car alarm.  It goes off in the middle of the night, no one pays any attention.  Psychologists say this can lead to breakdowns and short circuits.


They recommend you drive your car to an isolated spot and set it off every now and then. Make it feel useful.  Let it know you appreciate it.


Now back to the household stuff.  
What would happen if everything with lights and beepers blinked and beeped at the same time?
Armageddon? Intruder? Spam from India or Kenya with an offer of erectile dysfunction meds or someone who wants to give you a ton of money if only you’ll turn over your bank account number.
Remember, these beeps and lights have a function. Or to put it in question form, why use a three dollar night light when you can use 50-grand worth of electronic equipment to make sure you don’t walk into a doorframe when nature calls at three in the morning?

Shrapnel... IRA/Tax Time Edition:
--At tax time we find out that IRA withdrawals are like payday loans.  Take some money out and buy something.  Then you have to take out more to pay for the IRS for taxes. Next year it’ll get worse.


--In civilized states, there are laws against the gangland-style payday lenders.  When you take out your first, you’ll usually have to take out a second to pay for it and then a third to pay for the second. They won’t send around leg breakers if you don’t pay, they’ll just siphon it out of any assets you have and that are worth anything.


--They don’t tell us about this when they substitute defined contribution retirement arrangements for defined benefit plans.  Think they don’t know?  SURE they know.  But they also know how to make you temporarily pleased… until you’re 59 ½ or older.


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

© WJR 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

1621 It Pays to Advertise

1621 It Pays to Advertise

Yes, advertising can pay. But there is so much in so many places that you’d better be good at it if you want to get noticed… like a new Schwinn in a landfill.

Here’s some fast fast fast relief for your advertising headaches.   

Let’s start with things you should include to gain attention.  In no particular order and depending on what and to whom you’re trying to sell, these include:


-An Asian kid, preferably a teen or pre teen girl.
-A baby, preferably of unidentifiable gender.
-A dog. Maybe more than one.
-A profoundly crinkly-faced old person.
-A profoundly rolly-polly person.
-Kids happily playing a team sport.
-A disabled person doing something most people with that disability don’t do.
-Picturesque outdoor scenery.

And most important (except for the dog):


Technology.  

Emphasize technology even if there’s nothing all that technological that applies. Emphasize your technology.  If possible, your leading edge or exclusive technology.  There is no product or service that can’t benefit from this association.

Sponges aren’t just sponges. They have absorbing technology.  Shaving cream isn’t just soap, it has hydrating technology (it’s wet.)  If those items are not pedestrian enough for you, try this: Hammers have “new impact technology,” maybe even “new advanced impact technology.”

Any of these can sell anything.  But there are some ads that have additional requirements.

If for a car… something speedy that performs in ways yours never will. Be sure to flash “professional driver, closed course” on screen slow enough to be seen but fast enough to forget.  Remember, you’re selling speed or convenience or prestige or style, not a bunch of metal and plastic for use in someone’s daily drudgery.
If for a fast food joint, something more suitable to an expensive dept. store, fancy restaurant or boutique. McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC and Denny’s are soooo yesterday.  Eating at Chick-fil-a can be soooo romantic. Show elegant looking people in expensive casual clothing admiring each other over a Coke or a Pepsi and a couple of dry, silicon-like chicken sandwiches dressed up in fake juiciness.

If for a pharmaceutical company: try to make sure that your “actual patients” don’t die of side effects before the ad runs. Someone keep an eye on Arnold Palmer. Also make sure your actors are smiling and active while the off screen narrator reads the required list of those death dealing side effects.

For lawyers:  “No fee unless you win” isn’t the same as “no cost unless you win.” Figure out which you mean. And if you hire an announcer don’t have him or her say “non-attorney spokesperson.” Nobody cares.

Further, can you imagine the narrator of an ad featuring a minivan full of kids (including at least one Asian girl and a baby of unidentifiable gender) muttering under her breath “non-parental spokesperson?”

Note to small business owners who insist on doing their own ads: Don’t. You look and sound stupid. Especially auto dealers, restaurants, insurance sellers and shady lawyers. Find good professionals and hire them. You are not Bernadette Castro. The last guy to do his own spots was Chef Boyardee and no one could understand him.

Words to avoid: Succulent, savory, convenient, friendly, knowledgeable, pop (unless you’re selling soda to Canadians,) sack.

Phrases to avoid:  “You’ll be glad you did.” “See our ad in Golf Digest.” And since restrictions apply to almost everything, make that one small and/or quiet if you must use it at all.

Most important of all: make sure your product or service will stick in memory.  Think about how many ads you remember because they’re funny or cute but have forgotten what they were advertising.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my (but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

1620 Public Editor Number Five

Not public enemy, public editor.  


The New York Times has a peculiarly personal relationship with its readers.  Surely you know people who refer to it as “my” Times.  You don’t get that with a lot of other papers.


Many readers are invested in their local papers, even in the internet age.  But when was the last time you heard someone refer to “my Atlanta Constitution” or “my Denver Post?”


People have been writing scathing, scalding or sympathetic letters to the NYT for more than a century.  And to handle the inquiries and critiques, the Times created a new position, the public editor.


There have been five of them over the years, starting at the time they had to overcome the Jayson Blair fake news/fake interviews/fake datelines problem in 2003.


They don’t last long.  And the current and highest profile one, Margaret Sullivan is about to leave. She’ll become a media columnist for the Washington Post.  And she’ll do it months before the expiration of her contract.


Sullivan has almost 40 years experience in print, though she looks younger than her resume would lead you to believe. She was the boss at a paper in Buffalo, NY before joining the Times in 2012.


And she says the move is voluntary, that she had “always thought of (public editor) as a job...” with a shelf life and an expiration date.


Imagine the pressure as she deals with readers who think they run the world and writers and editors who actually do.


The business of news is based on throwing journalists in a slow cutting wood chipper.   Whittle ‘em down and scatter the chips. Editors are no exception. It’s painless until it turns into heart disease or migraines. And when the job amounts to soothing the public and while at the same time soothing the hierarchy, or explaining one subset to the other, the public editor is caught in the middle between groups that think they know it all but disagree.


So what the Times and other large papers have done is create a target.  And, yes, after a target is hit a few thousand times a year, it gets ragged.


Sullivan shows no sign of raggedness. She’s easy and interesting to read, has and uses access to the people of the “my Times” crowd who don’t and is no shy little wallflower.


So maybe she fears Early Onset Ragged Target Syndrome or maybe she just got a better deal from the Washpost.


She’s a tough act to follow. And whoever follows her as public editor number six knows that.


Shrapnel:
--This week marks the 25th anniversary of four year old Connor Clapton’s fall to his death from a high floor window in New York. This was an accident some say was completely avoidable. Those same people resent father Eric Clapton’s cashing in on it with the release of “Tears in Heaven,” a terrible song repurposed from a movie Clapton was scoring.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to our public editor: wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

1619 Hot and Cold Running Poison

1619 Hot and Cold Running Poison

Congressional hearings are usually little more than speechmaking ops.  And the gab fest over Flint, Michigan’s poisoned water was no exception.

Governor Rick Snyder testified.  So did Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy.  Since both had been informed about the lead in Flint’s water long before the rest of us, you’d think they’d have acted sooner and stronger.

Nope.

So Flint’s children are filled with lead and can expect to lead lives of mental instability and incapacity. Just what they need, and just what we need more of.

Snyder says he wasn’t fully informed.  We are led to believe he’d have donned his Dudley Do Right outfit and ridden off to save the day.  McCarthy says she wished she had gone farther.

The misuse of “farther” instead of “further” notwithstanding, this is the bureaucracy equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”  She wished she’d gone farther?  Like maybe to Uzbekistan or some other country without an extradition treaty.

When the water coming out of every faucet in Flint (a) stinks, (b) has the wrong color and (c) tastes sour, you may not know what’s wrong without testing. But you know something’s is.

(Note to water chemists: Yes, lead itself has no taste or smell.  But something in that water does.)

So, here come the conspiracy theories.

  1. The extent of the danger was underplayed to save money in a city already in death throes.
  2. The city’s population is “only” black, and this is “our” big chance at population control.  Population remote control, even.

Number (1) is at least partly true. Think of the political appointees they would have had to fire to save an equal amount of money.

Number (2) is impossible to prove but not impossible to imagine.

This slow death festival has only fueled the fires of the anti-EPA crowd, which needs little goading to find fault.

The governor had said the issue is local.  Meaning “I’m too busy to deal with anything that doesn’t affect each and every person in Michigan.” How egalitarian.

Flint water works workers knew there would be problems and they warned anyone who would listen about them before the city stopped buying water from Detroit to save a buck.  No one listened.
Mothers of young children have called attention to the problem for almost two years.  No one listened.

Snyder was elected in 2011.  He promised to run Michigan “like a business.”  And that’s exactly what he’s doing. Which business?  Takata. Enron. Money Mutual.  AIG. Ashley Madison. Lumber Liquidators? Riddell Helmets?

It’s time to bail out Flint.  And find the money to care for its victims.

Today’s Quote:
“Not a day or night goes by that this tragedy doesn’t weigh on my mind.” -- Governor Rick Snyder (R-MI) testifying before congress about the Flint water crisis.

Shrapnel:
--Headline: “Judge seals requests to unseal plea terms of a Trump associate’s underworld activities.” Then the judge unsealed the sealed requests to unseal the sealed plea agreement. But the trained seals in the various prosecuting offices have yet to do anything, so the judge says he’ll decide the issue himself.

Grapeshot:
-If you understand the above, please explain it to me.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

1618 Bill and Frank are Whirling

Not only Bill and Frank, though.  Bill and Frank and Ed and Walter, and Arthur and Jack and George and Gracie and many others.

Dramatis Personae:

Bill is William S. Paley founder of CBS.
Frank is Frank Stanton its long time president.
Ed is Edward R. Murrow, the grandfather and godfather of broadcast news and still one of the best if not the best of its practitioners.
Walter is Cronkite.
Arthur is Godfrey.
George Burns and Gracie Allen.

Why?

Because the present “managers” at CBS want to either sell or “spin off” the radio division.

“Spin off” is corporate-speak for forming a new company with the assets and liabilities of a division or subsidiary, usually by awarding shares to present stockholders who are then told “OK, we’re through with this, you figure out what to do with it.”

Radio as an industry is a pack of dogs, right now.  But of the dogs, CBS is the best in show and among the few successful.  

But, say its detractors, it’s not growing sufficiently and is therefore a drain on corporate resources.

NBC made a similar mistake in 1987 when it sold its radio network to a bunch of carnival hucksters from California and its owned stations to the highest bidders.

But there’s a difference. CBS is a radio company that has television stations.  NBC from 1947 on was a television company that thought of radio as you think of your pot belly. It’s there. It’s yours. Now let’s figure out how to get rid of it.

ABC made the same mistake more recently.  And while it didn’t sell its radio network, it sold its stations which now are shadows of their former shadows.  (CBS has not said whether it would sell its radio network, which at the moment is the only one worth listening to… and then not always.)

Part of the turmoil at CBS has nothing to do with radio or even the company.  It is a spinoff from Viacom. And Viacom’s chairman, Sumner Redstone is about 800 years old and when he dies -- probably sooner than later -- there will be a cage match among his heirs and executives and that will affect everything associated with the company. And its most prominent spinoff.

So, maybe CBS needs to slim down a bit to show whoever wins the cage match by losing the least blood that it’s viable.

The current CBS top guy, Les Moonves, 66, is generally well thought of in the industry. Let’s hope there’s more to this than his sticking his thumb in the eye of the long-dead Paley who forced everyone at CBS except himself to retire at age 65.

Shrapnel:

--The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade finally took down the sign “No Irish Gays Need Apply”completely down.  They stuck their toes in the water experimentally last year admitting one group.  And the devil didn’t come to claim the real housewives of Woodside and Maspeth as his own, so this year, they let everyone in.

Today’s Quote:
“I don’t want the b.s. And I don’t want the pay cut.” -- former New York Mayor Ed Koch asked during a conversation with your correspondent at a greasy spoon on Lexington Av. in 2005 if he would consider running for President.

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

© WJR 2016

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

1617 Kill the Messenger

OK, gang, if you didn’t know this previously, last night’s primary elections should have wised you up. You think politicians are running this country’s government? You think you have free-will voting? Well, bro, you’re wrong.

It’s the media. Not the “liberal” media.  Not the “drive by media,” not the “right wing media.”  It’s just the plain old evil, all seeing all powerful media.

All those modifying labels?  Just media-created subsets to hide the fact that we’re all out here taking our marching orders from someone who controls our every thought, our every feeling and our every action and therefore, yours.

After all, look how some of these terms came to be:

Liberal Media, the creation of the Chicago Tribune.
Driveby Media, the creation of Rush Limbaugh.
The plain old evil all seeing, all powerful media, the creation of everyone who feels left out or that there’s too much coverage of whatever it is they think shouldn’t be covered so much.

Heh heh heh!  We have you right where we want you, suckers.  We control your thoughts, your actions, your desires and most of all, your time.

Let’s blame Ted Turner for the creation of the worst of the Evil Media, the 24 hour news cycle. His was the first national TV news channel.

If it weren’t for CNN, Fox, and occasionally MSNBC, we’d all be better off.  That we can turn them off or disbelieve what we see and hear doesn’t figure into it.

If TV were limited to the morning, noon and evening news, they’d have to be more selective about what’s covered and in what way.

If papers published a few editions a day, we’d have to give up a bit of our “right to know” something that happens within ten seconds of its happening.

Why, there might even be some perspective.

The wire services have always been around-the-clock. But there was never a thought that people would receive wire service reports in their homes and offices.  Now they do.

The monster has to be fed.  The genie is out of the bottle.  TV and the internet.  The evil media.

(Radio doesn’t count because no one listens to all news all the time. They listen in and out periodically. But you can’t go into a bar or an airport or a bus terminal, a medical office and not see CNN or --even worse -- ESPN or “E! News.”)

It’s easy to cast blame in the direction of reports and reporters for the messes we’re in.  Trump, crime, which lives matter, which political party is the more evil of two evils, whatever.

But no one forces you to watch or believe.

Unfortunately, you’re a volunteer.  Where else can you get meaningful information on candidates, cops and robbers?

Certainly not from the candidates, cops and robbers.

What a feeling of power!  Makes those of us who retired regret it.  So many schmucks and dummies left to elevate into positions of authority.  So many good lives to ruin.  So many more snowstorms and hurricanes and droughts and floods still to scare you with.  So much race baiting yet undone. And think of all those highway pileups, especially those involving loaded school buses!

So many Kardashians. So many football scandals. So many vile thugs and hoodlums to hold before you so you can love or hate.

Is your brain really so easy to rot?  Are you really so susceptible to what comes over the tube or the computer screen?

Then shame on We The Evil Media for taking advantage of and victimizing you.  And shame on us for not profiting more by it.

Shrapnel:
--Formerly hyperactive exercise king Richard Simmons has half-broken a two year exile from public view with telephone interviews on “Today” and “Entertainment Tonight.”  He denied he was captive in his Hollywood mansion or under the black magic spell of his long-time housekeeper. But he sounded like the American with a gun to his head praising his North Korean captors and asking for political asylum.

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

1616 Can I Hear You Now?

Once, a “disc jockey” was someone who played records and talked on the radio, not someone with a turntable and an attitude in a nightclub.

And many, if not most of us cranked the earphone volume pretty high.  The loud music spurred us to the required magnitude of enthusiasm when the mic opened.

As a result, many of us now have at least some hearing loss.

Blame it on age.  Blame it on all those years of high volume headphones.

What now?  Get a hearing exam, the results of which you’ll probably know in advance.  Then get hearing aids, which cost more than you made in a year spinning Stacks of Wax for Jills and Jacks at WJFN in Poquott, New York.

Disc Jockeys aren’t the only ones. Operators of hydraulic hammers and other construction and musical equipment, motorcycle couriers and airport ground crews are also high on the list of the affected.

You go see an audiologist. You get fitted.  You leave the office five grand lighter.

Audiologists, like chiropractors, foot doctors, homeopaths and other variations of faith healers and motivational speakers from pyramid schemes will want to upsell you.

Since the tests are generally covered by your health insurance (remember, you’re now back in the days of slavery because you’re forced to have health insurance,) there isn’t much upselling to do.

The big money is in devices. And mostly they’re not covered.

Congress has been considering allowing the FDA to recommend over the counter low-price hearing aids for ages.  The FDA can’t do that on its own.

But it can clear and has cleared personal sound amplification products, at least some of them.

These are gizmos that look like hearing aids, work more or less like hearing aids and are widely advertised with the required “warning” THIS IS NOT A HEARING AID.

If it quacks like a duck…

It’s true that some people need those audiology tests and of them, some -- probably fewer -- need “real” or prescription hearing aids.

But for most of us, the PSAPs, as they’re called, do just fine.  The best advice around is to avoid the ones that are too cheap.  A little more money and you’ll get a device that’s programmed to emphasize the frequencies of the human voice and reject background noise.

But we’re talking $50 an ear here, not $2500.  And most of the PSAPs come with a 30 day trial period.

Or you could return to those wonderful days of yesteryear and try one of these:


Yes, Martha, I can hear you now.

Shrapnel:
--It’s not true. Mitch McConnell has not written to Al Sharpton asking how to stage better anti-Trump demonstrations.  And what to pay the demonstrators.

--Okay, Daylight Saving Time has arrived.  One reason for having it is so 9-to-5-ers can go home before dark. Are there any 9-to-5-ers left?

Today’s Quote:
“Sometimes, people go to work and they don’t come home.”  -- Governor Andrew “Mr. Sensitive” Cuomo (D-NY) commenting on the deadly crash of a tugboat that hit a barge and sank near the Tappan Zee Bridge.


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

© WJR 2016