Monday, December 11, 2017

1880 Electric Tales

1880 Electric Tales

Back in the bad old days New Yorkers would say “I don’t trust air I can’t see.”  One reason for that is little neighborhood electric generating plants scattered here and there in lower Manhattan, spewed who knows what-all into the air.

There aren’t any of those left.  So now there’s a lot of air downtown you can’t trust because you can’t see it. But in their day, they were common and Liam O’Malley was one of the last guys with a job you probably never heard of, Master of a DC Plant.

In the early days of electrification, there weren’t AC and DC, there was just DC, which boy genius and thief Thomas Edison said was the most efficient way to transmit power.

There’s a problem with that. DC -- Direct Current -- doesn’t travel well.  That’s why they don’t use it anymore.  AC -- alternating current DOES travel well and that’s why you’ve never seen the place that sends electricity to your house.  It might be a few miles away. But it could just as easily be in Bulgaria.

What, exactly, does a Master of the Plant do?  It’s pretty simple. When the machinery stops and doesn’t make electricity, he restarts it.  If that doesn’t work, he fixes the machinery.  And if THAT doesn’t work, he sends a telegraphic message to Con Ed which eventually does… something.

Liam is the author of the question “Who put the con in Con Ed?”  He had, he said, plenty of time to think up stuff like that because he had the soul of a poet and most of his time on the job was spent reading the Echo newspaper which carried stories from Ireland and with lifting weights which made him look like a weightlifter.

Back in Liam’s day, you asked him “what do you do for a living?” he’d answer “I make electricity for you.” And he was able to say with some pride that making electricity was a noble and useful occupation and working for Con Ed was a noble position.  

After some help from the deregulation crazies, utility companies can be either a supplier, a transporter or both.

Back then, the job of a utility was making things work. Today, that stuff is a sideline.  Today, the job of a utility is hunting for another utility to buy or to be bought by.  Second on the list is protecting the stock price and overpaying executives who wouldn’t know 110 volts from a banana split. Third: they still generate power because they have yet to figure out how to be an electric company without the fuss, muss and bother of actually making electricity.  But fear not, even now, and even without the help of Tom Edison, they’re getting close to a solution.

Here’s how:  by conducting wars in the stock market and the board room.  Regular readers are aware of my maxim: When the real game is at the conference table, the team on the field can’t win.

The suits are so busy writing their separation agreements, unloading or loading up on stock options and inventing fairy tales about how anti competitive practices benefit the customer (or the school children or the hockey game) that they don’t pay attention to when Joe and Josephine come home, flip up the light switch and nothing happens.

But the day is near when Con Ed, LIPA, Dominion Resources, First Energy, Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy all outsource their production to China and concentrate on what they really like to do: Shuffle paper that appears to increase profits, and cash their bonus checks while reducing the workforce by half… always a sure stock price booster.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, December 08, 2017

1879 This is Your Dog On Drugs

1879 This is Your Dog on Drugs
A veterinarian in Oregon prescribes pot for your pooch.  He is Brian Maas in Bend, a small riverfront city in where the marijuana laws drive Attorney General Sessions nuts.

Two types are available: one for pain, and one for anxiety. Many scientists both in and out of Oregon, (both high and not high,) recommend this treatment.  

The jury is still out on whether it really works and whether there are the usual four million side effects that modern pharmaceuticals remind you of between scenes of smiling people in TV ads.

Now before you get all lathered up, Dr. Maas’ pot has been de-psychotrope-ized.  Not being an expert on such matters, the question that occurs to many people is “what’s left after they defang it?”

Generations of dog people have fed their pets booze.  The poodle down the street prefers Jim Beam to Johnny Walker, but will be happy to drink either. Very happy.  She also seems to prefer Budweiser over Miller, but that’s probably because “Bud” has only one syllable and is therefore easier to bark.

The docs who use this form of treatment say it’s less debilitating than the usual dog and cat tranquilizers. And there’s no argument here about relieving the pain of a suffering animal or the anxiety of a dog or cat that refuses to get into carrier or car because it means a trip to the vet’s and probably an injection of some kind.

Note: the dogs don’t smoke.  The pot is put in oils or other stuff they eat or lick.  If the dogs DID smoke, you can bet that the Surgeon General would be all over the canine bong and joint crowd.  There’d be warning labels on the packages.  The animal’s health insurance cost would skyrocket and you’d likely see public service announcements featuring Nancy Reagan with her oh-so-sound advice, “Just say Woof.”

The feds are getting in the way of clinical testing.  And where are all the states’ rights advocates? Probably out cooking their meth while Rover’s arthritis is getting worse and South Dogpatch won’t allow a treadmill run to determine whether the dog is arthritic enough to be considered for pot.

Any kid from middle school age on up knows how to and where to buy a joint and how much he should pay. But a mature dog or cat with the aches and pains that sometimes come with age is shut out.

Next thing you know, the ATF will be raiding Dr. Flickenheimer’s Kennel and seizing the brownies for evidence.

Meantime, pets are suffering needlessly.

SHRAPNEL (Animal farm edition):
--An overweight squirrel in Maplewood NJ has been caught in the act of stealing chocolates, lip balm and tissues a homeowner traditionally leaves outside for delivery people at holiday time. Breaking into a bag for candy and throat lozenges is one thing.  But lip balm?

--Alas, poor Alice Hoyle of Bath, England. Someone stole her cow.  Well, not exactly a cow.  An inflatable cow she uses as a lawn decoration to promote a charity that helps real cows.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

1878 It's Morning at CVS

1878 It’s Morning at CVS

Here’s a tip on how to shop at CVS. Bring along a friend or a slip a neighborhood kid a couple of bucks to stand on the checkout line before you even start shopping. By the time you gather your stuff, that friend or kid will be near the front and you can check out quickly and leave.

Or make it a day trip.  Maybe bring along a deck of cards.

And now, the store that’s famous for long lines and understaffed registers wants to work its magic on Aetna Insurance by buying it for 69 billion dollars.

Like they don’t have enough debt!

In other words now that they and their contemporaries, Walgreens, Wal-mart, Rite Aid, etc., have killed off the neighborhood pharmacy, they’re ready to take down something bigger.  The CEO wants his company to become “the front door to health care.”

Let’s look at some of this company’s history.  They were a regional New England chain. Then along came Ward Melville of the Melville Shoe Company and bought them.  Melville made Thom McAn and several other brands.  Not too much later, CVS became the tail that wagged the dog and now they are the dog.

So cruise the aisles.  Everything you need is right there. CVS generic for everything that ails you and always lower than the price-jacked name brands.

You will also be able to pick up their health insurance starter kits on the same shelf as the CVS brand over the counter drug you’re there for.

Stomach remedies? Stomach insurance.

Headache remedies? Headache insurance.

Hemorrhoids? Butt insurance.

Allergies? Allergy insurance.

If you need actual medicine, the pharmacy will be happy to sell you the appropriate insurance to go with it.

After taking the wrecking ball to the CareMark mail order pharmacy, CVS learned a few things about telephone customer service.

The customer service department will be reduced to two operators, Martha and Henry. When you ask for help on the phone, you get Martha. She puts you on hold, lets you stew to canned funeral music and then hangs up.

When you call back you get Martha again. You ask for her supervisor. She connects you with Henry. He puts you on hold, lets you stew to canned funeral music and then hangs up. Or...

When you ask for help on the phone, you get Henry. He hangs up after about 30 seconds on hold.
When you call back you get Henry again. You ask for his supervisor. He connects you with Martha. She apologizes, puts you on hold and they block your number.

When you check out of the store -- finally --

  1. The computer system is a little slow today. It’ll just take a minute to check you out.
  2. You can check out quicker by scanning your items into our smartphone app available free at iTunes and Google Play.
  3. It will take the register forever to print out your receipt which consists of two inches of data and a mile and a half of coupons for stuff you don’t need and with the shelf life of a fruit fly.
  4. The automatic exit door will have jammed closed. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.  Are you in a hurry?  Uh… is the patient sick?  Oh, 103.2 fever. Well… the door repair people will be here any minute.

Front door to health care?  But no emergency exit?  Sure.  Why would anyone want to leave when everything on earth is at your fingertips right here. Even Ice Cream, paper towels and the biography of Ward Melville. Just scan what you use into your iPhone.

Ross Mol contributed content to this post.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, December 04, 2017

1877 Nightcrawlers

1877 Nightcrawlers

The problem with living nightcrawlers is if you cut them in half, you get two living nightcrawlers.  And they call them nightcrawlers for a reason.

They live and work in darkness.  And so it was that the Senate early Saturday morning passed the tax fraud… uh… the tax bill.  But don’t worry.  It’s not going to be enacted into law immediately. It has to be reconciled with the House version which is equally fraudulent. It’s the same tune but different words.

Several things come to mind.
--Has anyone read this thing?  On its route to a 51-49 passage it shape shifted more times per minute than a presidential speech.

--Who dealt this mess? Probably lobbyists, consultants and congressional employees tasked with putting the actual substance into words on paper, giving the elected officials plausible deniability when some rogue constituent calls them to task. (“Does it really say you can deduct the paint for my yacht?” “I didn’t know that, the bill was written by staff.”)

If it eventually makes its way into law, this measure will grant tax reductions to rich people who won’t notice the difference.  You, of course could live luxuriously on the amount of their cut alone.

Eventually the middle class, already in an econ-corset will see substantial increases.  Senators recognize this, but say future congresses will extend the cuts.


And the bill in its present form would increase the deficit by more than a (t) trillion dollars.  What’s the matter, deficit hawks? Is it okay to vote against something you’ve spent a lifetime lauding?

Working in the wee small hours, the Senate also threw another bucket of sand into the workings of the affordable care act.  That will mean 13 million of you will lose health insurance.

Whose fault is all of this?  Yours. You elected this can of worms.  And not just the senators. It’s the presidents and the representatives and the state reps and governors who turned all voting into a surreal parody of democracy.  Now, candidates pick their voters instead of the other way around.

This space has long advocated adding the Final Exam Amendment to the US constitution. The Final Exam Amendment would require senators and representatives not only to read a bill but to pass a test before being allowed to vote on it.

Fat chance, that.  
--No one read the bill. One reason is laziness. Another is part of it is handwritten protected by illegibility and maybe invisible ink.

--Will the Koch brothers’ cash infusion turn Time Magazine into Breitbart between slick covers? Not likely. But it may not matter because who reads the thing, anyway?

-My review of Henican’s book about trump

-The New York Daily News uses the work of a freelance photographer named Angus Mordant and some of us want to know if he is.

-Barring incident, we’ll look Wednesday at CVS’s plans to buy Aetna.

Today’s Quote:
-“This page is not a democracy.” -- Beth A. Breeze, one time NBC colleague.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, December 01, 2017

1876 Matt, What Happened?

This is the guy I knew and worked with. Young, fresh, already balding. A decent newsman and a decent human being.  This was a gentleman, a class act.

As surely you know by now, Matt Lauer has been fired as host of the Today Show. Sexual misbehavior. Pictured as a tyrant. Where does an 800 pound gorilla sit?  Anywhere he wants to. Until they recognize that like King Kong, we don’t see who’s wearing the gorilla suit.

He was worth $25 million a year to the company. The people loved him. Early on, the staff loved him. Now?
What a mess.

Matt never needed to abuse. Women regularly signaled their availability.  So why pick on employees who performed acts thinking if they didn’t, their jobs -- and maybe their careers would immediately start circling the drain.

Matt, you were weakening over time.  Those interviews with trump and with Hillary Clinton were lame and uninformative.  Everyone has off days. You could have picked a Saturday or Sunday and napped in your living room instead of in a television studio with presidential candidates and millions of viewers.

It’s hard not to get bored when you do the same stuff over and over for 20 years.  When you’re bored, you start phoning it in. You have time and energy; you make trouble for yourself and others.

Lauer’s admission and apology was issued just before air time yesterday morning (but early enough to make a graphic for the Today Show open.)

NBC’s own statement was a weasel job. It said no one in present management heard about any sex thing until last Monday.  Earth to NBC’s current owner, Comcast: “present management” has been present for only a short time.  
Okay, what about non-present management? Former executive producer Jeff Zucker said he never heard any complaints either.  

And Jeff’s the kind of guy who makes it his business to know everything. Every. Thing. Everything from which reporters are stationed where to what words the anchors will say, to what time the office wastebaskets were most recently emptied to how the guy who empties them takes his coffee.

As we’ve pointed out in various other situations, when the real game is in the boardroom, the team on the field can’t win. While all this was going on, GE’s soon to be former CEO, Jeffrey Inept, was busily trying to palm off NBC and found a willing sucker in the guise of an avaricious and ignorant Comcast.  While the two sides were trying to out nickel and dime each other, the team on the field had a field day.

So you can’t completely blame Matt.  But, yes, you can blame him enough to throw him out because what he did was wrong and the climate is right for such firings.

In the shelter of indoor venues, various honors to various accused are being withdrawn.

Matt can only hope that Ohio State University doesn’t withdraw his honorary bachelor’s degree because he’s going to need it for those resumes he’s preparing to send out.

It’s bad enough that he hurt all those women. Now, the costume company is en route to repossess that gorilla suit.

--Hoda Kotb, co host of The Today Show’s frothy fourth hour, reminds us she is a credible co anchor and serious journalist by filling Lauer’s chair for now.  She does this in the simplest and most direct way. By calmly and reassuringly presenting the stories of the morning.

--Is Kotb a candidate for permanent occupant of that chair? A lot depends on what NBC can do about its scatterbrained hiring of Megyn Kelly.  A two- woman morning team would be a first, but would it work?

-Savannah Guthrie is no Katie Couric.

“The star of the show is the show, not the star.” -- me, explaining what Lauer understood when he first started as co-anchor, an uncommon virtue he evidently has forgotten. (I hate it when writers quote themselves.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

309 Best of Wessays: Rollover Minutes

309 Rollover Minutes

We’re taking some midweek time off to celebrate the holiday and the weekend we were forced by a disagreeable management to work. Here’s one of the most requested blasts from the past:

It works for cell phones, why not for life? Some of the major phone companies give you rollover minutes. If you don’t use up your monthly allotment, you get to add what’s left to next month’s, or use at any time within a year.

We each have 1440 minutes a day. But look what we do with them. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, writing blogs, doing radio shows fighting with kids and spouses. This really isn’t USING these minutes. It’s just kind of HAVING them.

We should be able to roll our life minutes over into tomorrow, or any other time during the coming 12 months. If it’s good enough for AT&T or at&t as it now prefers to be known, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Sound unreasonable? Nah. The phone companies – all of them – play fast and loose with the minutes, anyway. As they carefully note in teeeeeny tiiiiiny type in the bottom of your contract, you have to pay for incoming calls as well as outgoing calls and you have to pay for “toll-free” calls because you’re not really paying for calls, you’re paying for air time. So it doesn’t matter whether you call Timbuktu or next door – as soon as you push “send,” or “receive,” you’re on the air and the meter is running.

If your call lasts for 56 minutes and 12 seconds, you’re billed for 57 minutes. That’s called rounding. You’d think they’d round both ways, so a call of 56:29 would be charged at 56 minutes, and a call of 56:31 would be billed as 57.

But, no. When the call lasts 1:01, you’re billed for two minutes. So, the idea of a “minute” and the idea of a “call” and the idea of “rounding” all get very flexible. If it’s good for them, why not for us?

Then, there’s when you use your minutes. Many calling plans give you “free” nights and weekends. Great. That was a move to reduce business hour phone traffic, reduce dropped calls and shifting social calling to the evening and overnight hours.

And, of course, that’s what most of us do. At some point, it will no longer be to the telcoms’ advantage to do that and they’ll (a) start charging and (b) try to make you think they’re improving your calling plan. (Notice, they can change the terms whenever it suits them, but if you cancel early, they hit you with a $multi hundred “early cancellation fee.”)

It’s no wonder the cell phone carriers are at the bottom of every customer satisfaction survey conducted by anyone, for anyone and at any time since the dawn of the cell age.

So if they can play with minutes that way, we should, too.

If you’re waiting on the phone for customer “service,” you’re not using your personal, in-life minutes. If you’re waiting in traffic, at the supermarket, for the woman of your dreams to finish “putting her face on….” or the man of your dreams to get back from killing innocent animals, you’re not using your personal, in-life minutes. You should have the right and the ability to roll them over into tomorrow.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, November 27, 2017

1875 Gee, Officer Krumpter

You read that right.  Not officer Krupke from West Side Story.  This is officer Krumpter, chief-in-waiting of the mighty eleven member police department of Lloyd Harbor, New York which is on Long Island.

So what did this guy do?  Well, this isn’t your ordinary retired cop. He is the former commissioner of the 2200 member Nassau County police department.  As such he receives a retirement income of about $138,000 a year. A cop for 25 years.  Rising to commissioner which in some cases could mean he was a pretty good cop.

Sure beats a couple of grand a month in Social Security.

But wait. There’s more.  Newsday reports Krumpter walked away from his job with a payout of more than half a million in unused sick and vacation time.

Are you counting?  Okay, don’t push the “=” button just yet because -- as they say on TV -- There’s still more.

If he lands that job at Lloyd Harbor, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, he will receive an additional $183,000 a year for the two years say he would be allowed to serve.

And it’s all legal.  Even though there’s a New York law that prevents retired municipal employees from what’s called “double dipping.”

This isn’t exactly dipping. It’s double gorging.

Lloyd Harbor had to get special permission from the state.  It did.

Chances are Officer Krumpter is up to the new job.  And chances are whoever was named chief would be paid about the same.  So that’s not at issue.

People once went into civil service jobs because it was stable work.  Hard to get canned. So-so pay, but the tradeoff for stability was worth it.

Postal workers, firefighters, cops, congress members, sanitation workers, paper shufflers of every description all make that choice.  Perfectly legit. Even if in some places and at some eras, it was necessary for said employes to … um … show their party loyalty beyond the pages of a civil service exam by providing envelopes stuffed with cash or buying tickets to political fundraising dinners. And these days, that stability isn’t so stable.

This kind of a payday is better than taking it under the table.  But it seems a little excessive.

--You should know that Wessays™ spares no expense in researching these stories.  In this case, we had to pay for a cyber subscription to the once-almost-great Newsday newspaper.  We’ll see whether that continues when the 99-cents a week deal expires.

--Here’s a media deal that’s hard to understand. The publisher of Family Circle and similar magazines, Meredith corporation, has bought Time Inc. for 3 (b) billion dollars cash $650 million of which comes from the Koch brothers. Since Time Magazine is at the bottom of its influence and Sports Illustrated is something you read in the orthopedist’s office during your endless wait, what is the benefit to the Brothers K?

--“The Brothers K” is how snootier than thou English majors refer to Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov.”  We refer to the Koch brothers as such. Competition is good for the verbal economy.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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