Friday, October 30, 2009

618 & 618a Malice, Love

618 & 618a Malice Vs. Incompetence and Love For Sale

Herein are two entries, one for my readers and listeners in central PA and then one for everyone. A double issue at the usual price: free.

618 Malice Vs. Incompetence

A line in some cheap novel says "never attribute to malice what you can to incompetence." Cheap or no, it's a good thought. Except when you look at prosecutors.

There's Nifong in North Carolina. Sheer malice combined with a rush to judgement -- incompetence.

There's Kathleen Rice in Nassau County, Long Island. There, a young woman says she was gang raped by five guys, one of them a fellow student at Hofstra University. The guys were immediately picked up, perp walked and charges. Then, the "victim" said "oh, wait. I invited them in." So, charges dropped. So far, no malice, no incompetence. But wait, as they say in the late night TV informecials, there's more. DA Rice decides not to prosecute the woman (girl, really, she's 18.) Now, depending on who you ask, this is or isn't incompetence. She had her reasons and described them. The holier-than-thous in her jurisdiction set up a holy howl.

Locally, we have a DA who (a) Never met a college football player he couldn't charge with -- something. (b) Delivers anti-sexting lectures to school kids and college kids and who was saddled with an an ultra-horny ADA who couldn't keep his fingers off the cell phone keypad and maybe even couldn't keep his pants on in the case of some high school girls on his "beginning law team." The only guy in the courthouse who didn't know this was going on was... the DA.

He also (c) refrained from recusing himself from a case in which he had a relationship with a defendant, (d) Fails to recognize the separation of church and state by praying with victims (e) fails to understand the first amendment rights of a college newspaper photographer charged in a disturbance in town -- one erroneously labeled a riot, (e) prosecutes college pranksters who streak at a twice-yearly midnight event that's been held forever, (f) Wants to prosecute a killing in which a possible rape victim is later shot dead and despite her double victimization is labeled "the primary witness," which is a probable third victimization, (g) loses track of the statute of limitations on a case which looks like a slam dunk and has to drop the charges.

A baking dish of incompetence in an oven of malice.

This may not be of interest to you if you're not at Duke University, Penn State or Hofstra. But it's pretty typical of things that go on in an awful lot of prosecutors' offices.


--Those flashing information signs on the highway? One construction company operating on a Pennsylvania road flashed "Go Yankees" on its display and the highway authority made them take it down. That's called World Series Envy or World Series Fear, even though NY lost the first game and probably would have the second if Philadelphia hadn't left Martinez on the mound so long.

--First, the Twinkie defense, now the fat defense. Florida guy accused of murdering his son in law says he's too fat to have done the crime. and made a fast getaway. Next: the smoker's defense: "I don't breathe well enough to have killed him."

--Happy Halloween and birthday, Emma McClain. Although you've been gone some years, we remember you with deep love and respect. Tomorrow is your day, assuming they follow the same calendar in heaven as they do on earth.

618a is below.

The following political ad was neither authorized, paid for (by anyone) nor used by permission. Sue me.
Stacy Parks Miller for Centre County District Attorney

I' m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Love For Sale

They have gutted Craigs List. It is no longer possible to find a rent-a-chick there, mostly.

Districts Attorneys of the kind described above have made it impossible for what the prostitution trade calls "hobbyists" to find pay for play women, which has been illegal in all but small outposts of this country for centuries.

Donald P. O'Malley is sitting in a bar in Moote Pointe, New York, and talking freely. "I used to go onto Craig's and find these women and do my business and it was over and done with. Now, no way."

Don's asked "what all that cost you?" And he says "anything from $100 to maybe $300. So who got hurt?"

He's reminded that this is real money, especially these days.

"Nah," he says, "not really. You invite someone out. You go to dinner. Spend, what, a hundred bucks. You go for a second date and there's a little smooching, then a third and maybe you get lucky and maybe you don't, so you've spent three hundred bucks and maybe things are okay and maybe not, but you've still spent three hundred bucks."

O'Malley figures it's cheaper to find a girl on the internet or in the classifieds, spend the 3- bills or maybe less, and not have to worry about seduction.

No more. The prosecutors have killed that.

His companion says "that's de-humanizing women and turning them into sex objects."

He replies "Yeah? You know what you're doing. They know what they're doing. No biggie."

Consenting adults in a simple act of commerce?

"Yes," he says "but not without an element of surprise and the excitement that comes with breaking a law that never should have been there to begin with."

Maybe he's right.


--Lou Dobbs' house was shot up with his wife at home. Not nice. The shooter should have confronted Dobbs without subderfuge. But that's no longer the way we do stuff and beside, prosecutors are too busy hunting hookers to bother.

--Bennett Cerf is rotating in his grave. His company, the usually laudatory Random House has decided not to publish a memoir by crooked NBA ref Tim Donaghy, who got jail time in a score fixing scandal. Cerf would have put the book out and let the chips fall where they may.

--Why would you buy a Kindle or similar device? What's wrong with holding a book in your hands? The latest price break is no incentive for real readers.

I' m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

617 Chinese Vaudeville

617 Chinese Vaudeville

(America's Brain, PA.) -- You think vaudeville's dead? Think again. It's still here. But now, they do it in Chinese. At least at America's Brain University which has an active Chinese culture club and tentacles out to the rest of the local Chinese community. Whistlers and Jugglers, comedians and dancers to rival Burns & Allen, the Marx Brothers, Olsen and Johnson and on and on. If you speak or at least understand the language.

Here we are, illegally parked at a building named for Paul Robeson, who had nothing to do with this school and never even visited it to the best of anyone's knowledge. There's a loosely packed house of people ranging in age from newborn to mid 90s. They are here to see the latest in 5,000 year old Asian entertainment.

Here we are at the invitation of the Kindly Young Doc (see Wessay #615 :The Flu Shot.) She along with a bunch of other women from the dance club is to dance a Tibetan dance. She is the second to last act. Before her, there are the Asian versions of Ferrante and Teicher. a tai chi demonstration of endless duration, a scene from an opera depicting the demise of the Demon Bird, half a dozen different gaggles of pre-teen girls doing acrobatics and dance routines. Oh, and Mister Yong.

Mister Yong is a renegade from the Big Apple Circus and you can tell from the moment he steps onto the stage that this is the token professional. He wisecracks in Mandarin and English. He juggles swords and spins plates. He balances empty wine bottles on chopsticks. Ed Sullivan would have killed to book this guy. No one wants him to leave the stage. Mr. Yong has connected with a roomful of strangers by flinging things that look like propellers and act like boomerangs over our heads. And by making a room full of serious faced strangers smile and laugh.

He's followed by a guy who plays some ancient musical instrument similar to a flute, but it's a tune Americans can hum.

Then the Demon Bird opera guys, three of them, flashing swords which appear to be real and other things you'd only be able to identify as broomsticks-of-death.

The act is so long that no one seems to know when it's over -- or when to applaud.

The Tibetan dance is late in the program. The kid dancers and their parents are restless. The scarf-waving, dancing doc and her cohorts take the stage. They wave scarves. They do little two-step kinds of, well, two-steps, looking like Chinese dolls, which, in fact, they are.

The dancing little girls at the start and Mr. Yong in the middle have stolen the show from everyone else. But no matter. After the Tibetan scarf dancer, comes the shrieking glass breaker of a soprano singing about her love for the motherland.

Unsurprisingly, she's a chub. And the show was over after the fat lady sang.


--Go Yankees! Go Yankees! Go Yankees!

--Skin medicine costs $254. Insurance knocks that down to $70 and there's a $45 dollars-off coupon. So even before pricing it, that coupon told you it was going to cost as much as dinner for one at Alain Ducasse.

--Today, Wednesday, 10/28/09 is the 80th anniversary of the worst of the four days of stock market crashes just before the start of the Great Depression. Not a lot of people reading or hearing this are old enough to remember. But wait, you could be in for a treat.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

616 No Purchase Necessary

616 No Purchase Necessary

The fast food joints want you to play board games on line or by cell phone texting (normal text message rates apply.) But you don't have to buy anything to play. Of course, if you don't buy anything, chances are you don't know about the game -- or, if you do -- how to play it.

Monopoly, Scrabble and on and on.

And if you don't buy something, you don't get to learn how to play without buying something. As a public service, here's how it works:

1. Log on to the company's No Purchase Necessary website. (Not always easy to find, but you can call the toll-free customer service number and they will let you know.)

2. Register for the contest.

3. Take a "brief" survey on why you didn't buy anything.

4. Fill out your name, address, e-mail, phone number and the store number of the branch in which you chose not to buy. (This is usually listed in small type somewhere inside the store. It may require an inquiry of the manager in some cases.)

5. At this point, the company will find a way to crash your computer and lose all the data. You can either start all over again or go back and buy a burger or sandwich or magazine subscription or whatever it is that this particular merchant sells.

There's a way around this, of course. You can buy something and return it, giving you a proof of purchase. (see shrapnel below.) But this doesn't work in every case. For example, have you ever tried to get a cash refund at a fast food joint? They'll replace what you don't like with something you do like -- but generally, money-back is not an option.

This is second in complexity only to figuring out the unemployment rate accurately (it's never been done) and filing a state income tax report on internet purchases where local taxes weren't collected.

Then, we get to the "void where prohibited by law" part for both cash customers and those of us who believe "no purchase necessary."

Many of these contests are forbidden in Guam and Puerto Rico. But does anyone know where else? Meridian, Mississippi? Clover Garden, Kentucky? And, come to think of it, why are they illegal anywhere? Is it gambling? Maybe. But not nearly as risky as LEGAL gambling in Vegas, Atlantic City or on Wall Street.


--How to save money: Buy something in a distant location. A week later, decide you don't like it and return it, which means two round trips or a total of 180 miles and about four hours traveling. Plus gasoline for this "money saver" is $2.70 a gallon.

--Who will be Bernie Kerik's cell mate? Some hope for Bernie Madoff. Others prefer Vito Corleone.

--Righties are worried that salary reductions will force the "best and the brightest" in banking to look for more remunerative work overseas, leaving a void at their former companies. They did a great job stateside, no? Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

615 The Flu Shot

615 The Flu Shot
The first flu shot in more than 30 years. Doctor Caso said back then that one cannot catch the flu from the flu shot, then looked at his patient's records and saw the previous year's shot and the two weeks of flu that followed it starting two days later. "Hmmm," said the Kindly ole doc, "Maybe you shouldn't get one." No flu any year since.

Doc was fond of that "hmmmm" thing. He was the calmest man on the planet. You could come in there with your foot detached and in a bag of ice and he'd say "hmmm, that doesn't look too good, let's see if we can't put you back together," which he would. Then there was "hmmmm, your blood pressure's a little high..." which might have meant "a little high" or off the charts. But the calmest man on the planet wouldn't bat an eye. That is, until he was asked about his own probable but closeted hypertension, to which he'd answer "oh, I never take MY pressure!"

So here it is 2009 and there's a full blown panic about H1N1 "Swine" flu. There are live virus inhalers, inert virus injections and the usual dead virus shots for the "seasonal" flu. What to do. Dr. Caso is pushing 80 and retired years ago. He'd take a call and a question for advice, but that would be an imposition.

So, let's just get the shot and get it over with. Beside, there's pressure from the New Doc. She wants her patients vaccinated. The New Doc maybe half Dr. Caso's age, the age of your correspondent's children. She is maybe 4'11" and can't weigh more than, say, 90 pounds. Easy to ignore? Think again. She is pleasant and cheerful. She is knowledgeable and at minimum, borderline brilliant. She is stubborn.

And she is accompanied by a nurse who has a hypodermic in her hand. She doesn't wait for a response, she just jabs.

You want to know why China has survived for 5,000 years of bad dynasties and war lords and provincial fighting and invasions and corruption and communist rule and the infusion of American Capitalism? It's because of people like New Doc, large and small who know what they want -- or don't want -- and are determined to win. This was only a tiny example. A great nation survived this way.



--Realty mavens are forecasting a new housing downturn, which should come as a surprise. The market's been glutted with first-time buyers taking advantage of a big tax break that goes away soon. Cash for Clunkers led the way in mini bubbles and housing almost has to follow.

--Why isn't Kerik rubbing off on Giuliani? The ex police and corrections commissioner is heading for jail, but the ex mayor who appointed him and got him within an inch of being Homeland Security Director is Teflon on this one. At least for now.

--Arianna Huffington on the Leno show: You want to call attention to the plight of the 1.5 million homeless children in America? Put 'em in a huge balloon so they get some media attention and hand wringing a la balloon boy, and maybe also get some of them roofs.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

614 Whenever Day

614 Whenever Day

First, today, an apology. Sorry about this, but we belatedly discovered that the stuff covered in #610 "Join The Club" also was covered in December of 2005. . (Posts weren't numbered in those days.) With a limitless supply of subjects at hand, this oversight was inexcusable. Perhaps this apology would do better on TV, with the apologizer standing amid family and saying things like "...but we have to move forward..." Another day, perhaps.

And now, it's time to renew the handicapped parking tag, the one that hangs on the mirror and lets you park in more convenient spots than anyone else, which is a boon for those of us who have trouble walking.

The temporary permit is good for six months. The current one expires at the end of next month. It was even more exclusive than everyone else's because it lasted for only five months. Why, you may ask? Because the application went in too early and the Department of Transportation responded too quickly. So much for foot-dragging government bureaucracies. You can never find a good gummer-upper of the works when you need one.

Let's see... application on hand? Check. Signed by the orthopedist? Check. Signed by the cripple? Check. Notarized? Check. Driver's license number accurately filled in? Check. Previous hang-tag number filled in? Check.

Now, when do we send this thing off. Late this month? There's a risk here -- another five-monther might come back. How about the first day or so of next month? What if they're slower now than they were in the past. Will they delay action until after the present tag expires?

A wise course of action would be to call them and ask. That, of course, is similar to calling the IRS with a tax question. The trick with THEM is to call three times and ask the same question. If two out of the three answers are the same, chances are it's right. If three of the answers are the same, it's almost certainly right. If none of the answers agree, ask H&R Block instead.

But there's no H&R Block for motor vehicle questions.

Flip a coin? Heads for now, tails for next month? Two out of three flips of the coin? Three out of five?

Or just take a chance and mail it whenever. Every month should have an extra day called "whenever." Would solve all kinds of problems. Including this one.


--Another day, another "improvement" from Google Documents. They have added two steps to the already laborious process of inserting the ® and © characters. Can't wait to see what's next!

--Battle of the Bands: The Census Bureau and the National Academy of Science report two different US poverty levels, 13.2 percent from the former and 15.8 percent from the latter. Either way, that's about 45 million of us, give or take, which is about 45 million too many.

--If you look at figures for those over 65, the situation is worse. The figure rises to about 19 percent. But don't worry, we'll all be gone soon's those death panels form up.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

613 Power Up

613 Power Up

It's Saturday night in October and we've just had a pretty good snow storm, and mighty early. A fall snowfall. It came well announced, stayed as long as expected, and left on schedule. It also knocked power out across the area. Ten thousand or so out of a population of 140-thousand without electricity as winds tear down tree limbs and tree limbs snap power lines.

So the phone rings sometime before we get home for the night and it's the regional emergency preparedness office, recorded, of course, and informing us that if we don't have electricity it might be another day or so until we do, and if the individual line to the house has become detached, it would be still longer.

But don't worry, chimes the robot, there's a shelter at the such and such elementary school where you can keep warm, sleep on a cot and maybe get a meal.

Very forward thinking and good government at its good-est. Except that if you have no electricity, how do you get the message, since your answering machine doesn't work without power? In fact, most phones today don't work without power either. So the majority of the people who received the message don't need it. A message in a bottle, thrown into a dry sea?

If you have phone service (even if the phone itself doesn't work,) and you are one of the laggards who still uses dialup and you have a battery operated computer -- or if you have a "smart phone" or a Blackberry, you can get to the emergency folks' website. Which has no information similar to that on the phone message.

If you have a cell phone, and have texting capability, you might get the message that way, assuming the Emergencerians have your cell phone number, which they probably don't.

Instead of these high tech inefficiencies, maybe they should have contracted with a town crier or a roving minstrel to go door-to-door and tell the tale. Or at least leave notes on the door.


--Five dollar meals everywhere. Subway Sandwiches, KFC, Little Casar's, Long John Silver's. Now comes Arby's with one that costs $5.01 and can anyone explain that penny?

--NASA says, belatedly, that when it bombed the moon it got back useful data, even though none of us earthlings could see the highly touted plume of moon junk the hit was supposed to generate. A $75 million mission to find whether there's water up there, which we still don't know. If there is, though, you can bet someone's going to put it in plastic bottles and sell it.

--Three people you probably never heard of: Beth Humphrey, Terrence McKay and Keith Bardwell, all of Louisiana. Humphrey is a white woman, McKay is a black man and they want to marry, but Bardwell, a justice of the peace, refused them a marriage license, saying he's not a racist and has no regrets. He will.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

612 If It Ain't Broke

612 If It Ain't Broke

What ever happened to if "it ain't broke, don't fix it"? New Improved this and All New that. It's everywhere. Again. You thought we got over that stuff in the 1960s or 70s? Think again.

These posts and scripts are written on Google Documents, a fine way to draft, correct and then post. Plus the stuff is already backed up, assuming Google doesn't crash -- which it has been known to do, although only short term.

But the Google folks can't stop adding bells and whistles to their already fine service. So where a day ago you could just cruise and then file an item, it now takes additional steps. And the steps they SHOULD take (like adding macros,) they don't. New and Improved, alright.

Microsoft made some changes to Word for 2007, including a whole new extension on titles. Instead of *.doc, they're now *.docx. The systems are compatible only if you jump through the appropriate number of hoops.

And who do we have to thank for these kinds of complications? One of the patron saints of corporate America, Alfred Sloan. Sloan headed General Motors back in the day and he came to realize that if you change the look of your product -- whatever it is -- people will trade "up" for something newer. In those days, cars and trucks only changed to reflect technical improvement. Since Sloan, they have become a fashion statement.

Right now, that's not working too well for his company, which has become OUR company.

Yes, planned obsolescence keeps the wheels of industry turning, people working, people getting paid, and all that. But sometimes an improvement is not an improvement. Like with Google Docs or Word 2007.

We sheep go along with it, anyway, sometimes because we have no alternative. Example: You have Word Perfect or WordStar or one of the oce-popular computer writing programs and you want to send a document to someone else? Mr. or Ms. Else won't be able to read it properly without a translation program he or she might or might not have. Or they might not be able to open what you've written at all. So everyone now has Word, but not everyone has Word 2007.

Word's earlier versions worked just fine. So did Google Docs. And so did the 1952 Pontiac.


--The Social Security folks strike again. Earlier, they said no cost of living increase for us old folkies. Now, for whatever reason, they've confirmed it, "making it official," to harness a too oft used news cliche.

--Speaking of news, Bloomberg News is buying Business Week Magazine from McGraw Hill for next to nothing. Which, these days is about what it's worth. By the time those magazines see print, the news in them is old and you've already read it on the internet.

--And speaking of buying stuff, there's this: The investor group that wants to buy that Missouri NFL team has decided in can do better without having Rush Limbaugh on board. So could we all.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

611 Seeing Purple

611 Seeing Purple

Purple is the new black. This fall, everything's coming up purple. We have acquired purple clothing, purple bath towels, purple plums, a purple handbag, purple shoes. Purple.

There are variations, of course. There's plumb and there's lavender and there's everything in between.

Purple is the new black.

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be cause for concern. But there was that First Apartment. The First Apartment was in attic of a private house in Baldwin, New York. The owners of the house were Walter and Eileen Shrubinsky, first time homeowners trying to cover their mortgage by renting the upstairs. When we called attention to the intense purple bedroom and the intense purple living room, Walter said "well, we just bought the house and my wife loves purple."

The temptation was to say "well, let HER live surrounded by it, not us." But who knew you could say that to a potential landlord. We took the apartment, $110 dollars a month.

Being overwhelmed by purple is not the same as being overwhelmed by, say, blue or white or tan. It's a whole different animal. Imagine yourself being drunk out of your mind and surrounded by iridescent purple. It's not a sobering thought. Imagine yourself awakening in an attic bedroom surrounded by purple walls and a purple ceiling. It's not a sobering thought. Imagine yourself seeking comfort from purple in an electric blue bathroom so small you could bathe, use the toilet and the sink without moving among them, and feeling actual relief.

It has taken 47 years of purple-phobia to overcome, well, purple phobia. But here we are in 2009 and purple is the new black. And now, there's purple everywhere you look.

There was a dinner at the house the other night and the plastic-coated dinner plates and the plastic forks, knives and spoons were... purple.

It's enough to bring one flashbacks.

But purple is the new black. Get with the program. Be modern. Be up on the latest.

The good news is that fad colors don't remain in fashion forever.


--The Chicago Cubs in bankruptcy? Say it ain't so, Joe. Nah, just a temporary trick to make sure the Tribune Co's endless parade of creditors doesn't try to muscle some bucks out of the team's new owners when they take over.

--Actually, "Joe" was Shoeless Joe Jackson, caught up in a World Series fix scandal in 1919. Some kid shouted that famous line at Jackson as he left the court house. Jackson didn't respond (and didn't use steroids or HGH, or for that matter a big league bat for much longer.)

--The only other MLB teams to have committed bankruptcy were the Orioles in the 1990s, before it became fashionable, and the Seattle Pilots in the 1960s when it was even less fashionable to have one's troubles thrashed out in court. The Orioles remain the Orioles, have decided you have to spend money on scouting to make money on tickets, and still live in Baltimore. The Pilots have become the Milwaukee Brewers.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

610 Join the Club

610 Join The Club

You may not be in the Moose lodge, but you're probably a member of something. Everything's couched in membership terms nowadays. "Member" is the new "consumer."

We've always been intrigued by the latter term. You consume food. You consume fuel. You consume water. But how do you consume an insurance policy? Take your fire insurance papers and burn them (and be fined for a public fire) and you have "consumed" that.

Most of us don't consume cars. We buy them. Or lease them. We're customers. But unless you drive off a cliff, you car cannot ordinarily be "consumed."

Well, now it's "member." You're a "cardmember" at Visa or MasterCard or American Express. You're a "member" of the "smart shopper's 'club'" at your supermarket. You're a "member" at Sam's Club or Costco or the unfortunately named BJ's Wholesale Club.

Member? You pay a fee for the right to shop in such places and they purport to give you stupendously low prices on (usually) huge quantities of meat or sheets or fruit or laundry detergent, most of it too big to handle and too big to store.

But "membership" has its benefits. For example, the "shopping clubs" don't give you bags. Bags are a huge inconvenience. They get into the landfills and stay there for centuries without decomposing. They stick to the bottom of the car if you hover over one while the catalytic converter is hot, and once the now-gooey bag hardens, it's your car bottom's companion for life.

People without cars are barred by their very baglessness from "membership," because how do you schlep a ton of Tide and bananas and computer paper home on the bus or subway if they don't bag stuff? Blatant, brazen discrimination!

You may be a member of a service club or a political party, a union or an action committee. But a member of a store? A member of a credit card "provider?"

It's touchy-feely nonsense designed to make you feel you are part of an in crowd. And, in fact, you may be. The in crowd of those who pay 25% interest on a cash advance, a rate that used to land people in jail for usury. Some club.

Then, there's the "belong" part. Do you "belong" to a union, a house of worship, a committee, a tea party? The only reasonable reply is "No, I don't belong to any of those. But I AM a member."


--How is it they can't make a decent broom anymore? They have all kinds of new styles and sizes and special purpose cleaning tools. But they can't come up with a broom where the head stays on the handle without daily tightening?

--Have you seen the "incognito window" feature on browsers from Firefox and Google? Handy if you don't want someone else in the house know where you've been surfing. Like porn sites and those of liberal political causes.

--Noted with interest: New York's governor has asked the state universities to cut spending in mid-year, but exempted community colleges. Shows he knows where the real education is taking place.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

609 Whither ABC Radio?

609 Whither ABC Radio?

(With apologies to readers for the long windedness of this post and for writing it in the first person, two general no nos on this blog. But eventually it will find its way into a book of radio recollections which will require both.)

When the NBC Radio Network moved from New York to the Washington DC area in 1989, I was the very last guy to leave the ninth floor newsroom at Broadway and 53rd St. I was the one who literally turned out the lights and then went to work for UniStar Radio.

The UniStar gig didn't last long. In 1990, they, too decided to move to the Washington DC area and again, I was the very last guy to leave the fifth floor newsroom. I was the one who literally turned out the lights, and then went to work (for the second time) at ABC Radio.

I had lots of friends and colleagues there but my welcome was tinged with tangential trepidation. After all, after NBC and UniStar, I might be the Typhoid Mary of network radio.

But there were differences in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of those operations. NBC Radio had been purchased by the searingly incompetent Westwood One company which did all it could to alienate advertisers, affiliates news sources and employees, and which paid its news executives bonuses for cost cutting, which meant for every fired employee, someone earned commission.

UniStar had been RKO Radio which was forced to sell its stations and network. Something about questionable on-air contests. Dick Clark Productions owned the thing and ran it well. But not well enough to keep it "home" in New York.

At the time, the people at ABC had nothing much to worry about. When Capital Cities Broadcasting took it over from the original owners, sure they cut people and cut costs. But by today's standards ABC was a luxury shop after that takeover. Eventually, Capital Cities sold out to Disney which, tried to make ABC stand for America's Biggest Cartoon, but met resistance from cooler and harder heads in the news division.

Just recently, Disney went and sold its owned radio stations to the Citadel company which bit off more than it could chew, and looked like a prime candidate for bankruptcy -- a small time sunfish that thought it was a shark.

But while Citadel didn't buy the ABC Network, only the stations, the stations depend heavily on having the debt paid, and apparently that's not happening as it should.

ABC isn't going to turn out the lights (I'm not there to man the switch, after all,) but they have just slashed the staff in New York and in Washington. Cost cutting in advance of further trouble at and with Citadel? Smart business sense? Who knows.

What we do know is that dozens of veteran writers, producers, editors and reporter/anchors are off the payroll, with little opportunity to find similar work at similar wages. And many of them are ... um ... persons of a mature age who will be lucky to land ANY work.

The difference between 1989-90 and now is this: There far far fewer places to try to get reemployed. Only CBS among the majors and they're not doing all that well. There's also Fox and CNN, both of which have a toe or two in radio. There's no RPI or UPI Audio. APRadio no longer has an all-news service for radio stations, though they do offer newscasts and news cuts.

I was fortunate in knowing the right people and having the right skills to make a good solid and long lasting transition into network TV. But not everyone can do that, unfortunately. Radio and Television are two very different creatures.

A day or so after the ax fell, you could tune in the hourly newscast and it sounded pretty much the same as it always did. Kind of like when a corpse belches or sits up in a coffin.

So to Gary Nunn and Joan Bernstein Harris and Nancy Singer and scads of others I could name, and other scads of people with names I don't know, good luck. Your absence will make the ABC radio news product less than it was before. It may be a good business decision for Disney, but it's the robbery of all those good people and to that very large chunk of the America that listened to you and your work and who trust you and who should.


--Ding Dong, the witch is dead. The Rockefeller drug laws which imprisoned many of the wrong people for the wrong reasons and for the wrong length of time are off the books. This should have been done years ago, and its doing at this point means Gov. Paterson is not entirely incompetent.

--While on the subject of states: Yesterday was the 100th day that the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was without a budget. Let's celebrate by leaving.

--Keith Olbermann spent his entire TV hour Wednesday night editorializing for universal health care. It was a spectacle unprecedented in TV commentary, both fascinating and boring, both right and eye glazing, both right and personal, both right and universal. We need to hear more of this, only shorter.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

608 Trifocals

608 Trifocals

Yes, trifocals. It wasn't enough to have two lenses for each eye, now three. So if people who wear glasses are still called "four eyes," what do you call someone with trifocals? Hint, the answer isn't "eight eyes." The answer is "confused."

When the bifocals became necessary, eons ago, everyone said things like "watch out going up and down stairs" or "be careful stepping off the curb." But surprisingly none of that was necessary. Except for one circumstance, night driving. Oh, the driving vision itself was fine. But there was some difficulty looking down and seeing six speedometers.
Now, trifocals. The way they do that, those clever optical geniuses, is by making the reading part of the glass smaller (much smaller!) and
adding a teeny third lens to each glass, right above. This makes it impossible to read anything on paper without sticking one's chin in the air. Without that, you're looking through the "middle" lensette and can't see a thing, or through the top part of the lens which makes everything within three feet blurry.

The main reason for all of this is the computer. Apparently, it needs its own focal length. It'll take some getting used to. In the m eantime, Rube Goldberg to the rescue.

Step one: install a wireless signal device on the computer. Step two: acquire a remote wireless keyboard. Step three: acquire a small table, say something just big enough to hold a wireless keyboard. Step four: place the table six feet from the computer. Step five: put the wireless keyboard on the table six feet from the computer. Step six: operate the computer from across the room.

This allows distance typing and the use of the upper part of each lens, the one that's for, well, distance. It's a little awkward, but we humans are pretty adaptable. Of course, the room now is useless for any other function, but in time, steps four through six can be reversed.

In the meantime, anyone know a good proof reader?


--Nothing new under the sun, not even chat rooms and Internet message boards. If you don't believe it, check out the Talmud. One scrap of Biblical text and then two dozen guys pile on with commentary and commentary on the commentary and commentary on the commentary on the commentary and by the time you finish reading it you realize the thread was hijacked a thousand years ago.

--The local DA ambushes the talk show with a surprise phone call on the air (see Wessay 549 5/22/09) and tries to defend some of his indefensibles. He calls at 4:45 PM and says he's not in his office. To which a less polite talk show host would say "leaving early?"

--The ambush didn't work. The guy made no points. But fair is fair and the guy's been bashed so regularly and so frequently on the program that the only fair thing was to let him on and hope that he self-bashes, which he did.

Correction: A Shrapnel item posted 10/5/09 originally identified a hotel peeping tom as an FBI agent. He is not.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009

607 Credit Swap and the Kitchen Set

607 Credit Swap and the Kitchen Set

Schlomo Tzedaka, the last Bronx Jew is sitting in his kitchen with the proverbial sugar cube in his cheek and the glass of tea on the table before him. The chrome legs on the Formica top table have further deteriorated. And none of the vinyl seat chairs is now without scar. "I'm going to get a new kitchen set," he tells a visitor. "As soon as I can get a credit swap for it." A credit default swap for a kitchen set? "Well, these things aren't cheap, you know. Maybe $400 or even five."

He's asked about his credit card. "That's for suckers," he says. "I'm going out and trading my fixed rate loan for a variable. Rates are so low, I can't lose." You have a loan? "Well, yeah, doesn't everyone? Mine's for $145.00 from one bank and $280 from another. A regular consortium. That's how I got my big screen flet panel TV." (Flet? Every once in awhile the Yiddish comes through. Not often.)

"So, I'm paying it off, but the rate's high and I want lower. I'm going to do a credit swap."

This seems a little complicated for buying a TV and a kitchen set.

"Nah," he says, "I got the best deal I could. But I'm on Social Security and things are tight. So I move money around. I end up paying nothing."

This makes no sense.

"If it's good enough for Wall Street, and if it's good enough for city hall, it's good enough for me."

He's reminded that Wall Street and the city work in billions, and he's talking about $500 give or take.

"Dummy! Is the city ever out of money? Do they ever pay any of it back?"

He has a point.

He's done some kind of figuring that will let him pay off his TV loan with the kitchen set loan and come away with a TV, a kitchen set and -- somehow -- the next month's rent and end up paying next to no real dollars.

"Moving money around, kid. That's the secret. Never spend anything of your own and you'll be fine."

He's reminded that he's neither Wall Street nor the city and eventually, someone's going to want a payment in actual currency.

"I'm an old man. I like TV. I want a prettier kitchen set, one without ripped seats and rusting legs. I'm an old man. Let my heirs worry about it."

But you HAVE no heirs.



--Correction: The shrapnel in this spot originally identified a hotel peeping tom as an FBI agent. He is not.

--The fall colors around here are pretty nice this year. The woods in back of the house are green and red and yellow and brown. and they glow beautifully in the midday sun.

--Waiting for Google Docs to come up with a macro system. Not fully necessary. But after typing the sign-off line below 607 times and having to "insert" the "special characters, ® and © separately, it's getting tiresome or I'm getting even lazier.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

606 A Tale of Two Rogers

606 A Tale of Two Rogers

Herein is the tale of Rogers, Smith and Penske.

Roger Smith, Chairman of General Motors and star of the movie "Roger And Me" developed the concept of the Saturn car at General Motors in the 1980s. And then there's Roger Penske who killed it.

Smith was the object of scorn in the film "Roger & Me" by Michael Moore in 1989. And he was the brains behind the Saturn automobile. Roger Penske is a famous race car driver and the head of a company -- a dealer network -- that sells oodles of cars. Penske wanted to buy the Saturn brand from General Motors and almost did. Smith invented the car and got kicked out.

GM set up a little factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee. It was to make small, economical cars that competed with Toyota and Honda and Nissan and Hyundai and others. It had workers with input into the production and design processes. It was going to be the Great White Hope in the battle with the Japanese Yellow Peril.

Somewhere along the way, Smith was pushed into retirement and GM's division chiefs, those from Pontiac and Chevy and Olds and Buick and Cadillac started crabbing about the resources the new "little" car was absorbing and about the one-price-fits-all policy and the touchy- feely dealers. And Saturn became a maverick brand and a burden on GM traditionalists.

A small problem arose. Penske, a bright guy and car racing champ couldn't find anyone to make the cars. Renault rejected him. And although we don't know for sure, so did everyone else.

So Roger P told GM the deal was off.

So now, the 13-thousand people who built or sold Saturn are gone or soon will be. The car itself was marginal. The buying experience was brilliant. No haggle, no negotiation. Bagels and cream cheese in the dealerships. Applause for the buyers.

There were just two problems: the cars were as good as Toyotas or Hondas or Hyundais. And the internal politics of GM, with semi-autonomous divisions like Chevy and Buick and Cadillac diverted the resources Saturn needed.

Penske is a car genius. The Saturn sales policy was a radical and brilliant idea. But genius or no, and brilliant or no, you can't sell these things if the only people able to make them won't.


--Correction: as soon as I wrote the shrapnel about not wanting to play guitar anymore, the guitars rebelled. They forced themselves on me. And since I am badly outnumbered, I waved the white flag and resumed playing.

--Congrats to the old boss, Mike Bloomberg, who has risen even higher this year on Forbes' list of the 400 richest Americans. He's now number eight with 20 billion. Buddy can you spare a bil?

--Saluting Sully Sullenberger, who is back in the air. This is the US Airways pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River saving all those lives. He's doing safety work and speech making for both himself and the airline these days, but every once in awhile, he says, he needs to remember what it's like to " a line pilot."

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

4744 The Running of the Bull

  Newsday Photo   A bull escaped from a farm in Moriches on New York’s Long Island and has been playing hide and seek ever since.  It’s not ...