Wednesday, August 31, 2011

907 Reinventing the Flat Tire

907 Reinventing the Flat Tire

Reinventing the wheel.  It happens every day.  For those who are surrounded by the inventors, it’s a pain in the neck, only lower, to quote the contemporary philosopher and linguist T. Frohman (1905-1997.)

But at least when that happens, you have something that’s round and rolls.  Re-inventing the flat tire will eventually stall whatever’s riding on it.

So, let’s hear it for Jane Parker.  Who?  Jane Parker, a fake person who for decades was the public face of the A&P supermarket chain which also owns Pathmark, Waldbaum’s Food Emporium and more.  It is the modern-day poster child for re-inventing the flat tire.  Besides, it has shown the way to others in its business to do the same.

A&P is trading as a pink sheet stock at about 15 cents a share.  

How did the once mighty chain get that way?  One of the reasons is this:  it failed to give the customers what they sought by crowding national brands off its shelves and replacing them with their own brands, cheaper, but largely inferior, at least in the minds of the shoppers.

The fancy schmancy King’s of New Jersey did the same thing and combined that mistake with something equally stupid:  eliminating large size packages of most everything in favor of microscopic items.  Only selling out to the larger and more stable Kroger’s saved King’s from oblivion.

And then there’s Wegman’s, a small privately owned chain based in Rochester NY and which is heading in the same general direction as both the A&P and Kings.

Wegman’s probably is the best stage decorator on either side of the theater district.  But they’re re-inventing the flat tire created by the A&P and raised to high art by King’s.

When you bring to their attention that house brands don’t sell nearly as well as national brands, don’t have the reputation for the quality of national brands and aren’t all that cheap, they come up with an answer that appears to show they think their customers are idiots.

“We have 80 gazillion items on our shelves and our house brands, generally equal to or superior to the national brands constitute only a small percentage of what we offer for sale.”

Fine.  Until you realize that the 80 gazillion items include 70 gazillion things like magazines, newspapers, cooking utensils, greeting cards unbranded fruits and vegetables and bulk candy by the pound.

Try to find a bottle of Log Cabin Syrup or a can of Dole pineapples or a box of Bob Evans chilled mashed potatoes and you’re out of luck.  Try to find a container of Gain dishwashing liquid or Skippy Peanut Butter in a useful size, you’re out of luck.

Three competitors down the street carry this kind of thing along with an ample supply of their own house brands.  And while it’s pleasant to walk into Wegman’s or Kings or Waldbaum’s stage set grocery stores, they won’t remain solvent if they don’t carry what people really want.

That’s called re-inventing the flat tire.


--Sometimes it’s tough to attract the attention of a sales clerk at Best Buy and similar stores, but there’s a way.  Figure out a way to set off one of the alarms they have on every piece of display merchandise.  Help -- sometimes armed -- will be there in a jiffy.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

906 Out of the Loop

906 Out of the Loop

(NEW ROSES, PA) -- Old habits die hard.  Here it is, a lovely sunny Friday afternoon in a small town shielded by mountains and bad highways, about 270 miles due west of Moote Pointe, NY, which is near New York City, right at dead center of Hurricane Irene’s path.

The gas tank is full.  The refrigerator and freezer are almost empty.  There’s a new bottle of Smirnoff’s on the shelf. Every piece of dirty laundry is washed, dried and folded.

Moote Pointe Marty is in the local New Roses Mega Mart with a shopping cart full of stuff.   Batteries. Duct tape.  A small radio. A few flashlights, a few candles.   A car charger for the cell phone.  Couple of bags of ice. A small barbecue and some charcoal.  A 50 pound bag of cat litter.  Chips, V8 juice, a few cans of Dinty Moore and Chef Boyardee and diced chicken breast and two family-size boxes of Total.

Harvey Checker-Outer looks at this stuff coming toward him at the register.  Always good for a few laughs and a good conversation, this fella, and he asks “Camping this weekend?”

Marty says “Nah, having an address in this ZIP code and a phone in this area code is as close to camping as I get.  This is hurricane prep stuff.”

For the first time in years, Harvey Checker-Outer is speechless.  But only briefly.  “Hurricane?  We don’t get hurricanes here.  Not even Irene.  What are you talking about?”

Marty:  “Ya never know.  Plus I’ve done this a time or two since about 1954 and you get used to it.  You hear ‘hurricane” and “east coast” on the radio.  You see Al Roker standing in front a big map that goes from Florida to Maine and has all those splotches of reds and yellows on it, you see Mike Bloomberg shutting down the subway,  you go buy this kind of stuff.”

At home, the computer is on.  It’s set to the New York Times animated hurricane tracker map.  You watch Irene amble up the coast.  You switch to the paper’s “neighborhood by neighborhood evacuation orders” map.  You try to get a live picture from the old street in Moote Pointe and you wait it out.  


In olden days, Marty was usually working during storms.  Nature of the job. It’s what news guys do.  But still, old habits die hard.


--Irene didn’t hit New York even close to hard as the predictions said it would.  But weather forecasting is as much an art as a science.  So don’t kill the messenger, just be thankful he/she/it was wrong.

--Of all the stupid words and phrases newspeople applied to this storm was “Irene unleashed her fury.”  First off, you can leash a dog, but not a fury.  Second it isn’t fury in the first place, it’s wind and rain.  And they can’t be “leashed” or unleashed either.

--Curse of the third term:  Bloomberg can’t win for losing.  First his sanitation department screwed up that big snowstorm last year and now, after closing the subways and keeping the buses in the barn, turns out there was no need.  It’s not going to get any better, Mike, because in a third term neither you nor anyone else can do anything right.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

905 Drug Pushers

905 Drug Pushers

Nice to know the Justice Department is out there protecting us against drug pushers.  Hunts ‘em down in their filthy rabbit holes. Corners ‘em.  Punishes ‘em.  Keeps the streets safe by keeping the borders closed to illegal traffickers. cutting off the supply of cocaine and heroin.   Oh, yeah, and Lipitor, Zoloft, Caduet, Topamax and maybe even the highly dangerous Amoxicillin.

Wait a minute.  Aren’t those last few pharmaceuticals for cholesterol, depression, high blood pressure and infections?  Well, yeah -- they are.  But only if you buy them from your corner drug store or health insurance company’s mail order drug plan.  If you buy them from countries of questionable ethics and technical skills, they’re illegal.  Countries like -- um, well -- Canada.

Now, you may not know any of these lowlifes, peddlers of Lyrica and Darvoset to unsuspecting US customers, but Google does.  Yes, Google.  The cutsie internet search engine turned technological and advertising Behemoth.  Google, the new Microsoft, without which you cannot compute.

So, Google sells advertising on its sites and on your e-mail account and some of that advertising is for pharmaceuticals and some of those pharmaceuticals come from drug stores that are just around the corner in Regina, Saskatchewan or Toronto or Montreal, all hotbeds of illegal drug activity and questionable safety practices (just ask the US drug lobby.)

And maybe you need some of these things.  And maybe you notice they’re a bit cheaper up north.  Or maybe a lot cheaper.  Guess what, podner, you just broke the law and so did Google.  And maybe they won’t go after you.  But they did go after Google, which has been fined 500 Million US dollars for its drug pushing crime.

Where did this stupid law come from?  Well, let’s see.  Could it be lobbyists who own Congress?  Nah.  They wouldn’t do such a thing.  They’re Real Americans just as we are.  The Department of Justice?  Of COURSE not.  They don’t make laws.  They only enforce them.

So you no longer have access to Canadian pharmacies via Google and you’ll pay list price for the overpriced drugs you got for much better prices in Manitoba or Newfoundland.

Google, shame on you, you drug pushing, greedy internet titan, cold and mechanical, uncaring and so cutely decorated as to fooling us into believing you wanted to earn a few bucks from clients and save us a few bucks from the leeches who make, sell and promote the stuff we’re prescribed.

So, now, what’s going to be done with that $500,000,000?


--Although we won’t accept their money, today’s blog was made possible in part by a grant from Meow Mix.  It’s healthy, U-S made and available at your local grocery or pet supply shop.  And it’s what you’ll be able to afford now that you’re going to have to pay list price for your Relafen.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
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© WJR 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

904 The Cafeteria

904 The Cafeteria

Herb is sitting on a stool in what once was the balcony of a theater and now is the second floor of an antique shop.  He is inspecting a tin coffee pot that is bigger than his head and wondering how to use it at the boarding house he says he runs on the 135 acre farm he says he owns.

A stranger gives Herb the recipe for Cowboy coffee, which is water, and a handful of fresh grounds thrown into a pot and heated over a fire.  You drink it by pouring it into a cup and straining it through your teeth -- which is why real cowboys usually had ugly looking brown teeth.  That and the chaw.

Mrs. Herb is there and she’s not happy with the idea of coffee grounds in her teeth and suggests the cowboys should have strained the stuff through their bandannas.  Not a bad idea in Latte Land.  But cowboys didn’t and don’t live in Latte Land.

Herb doesn’t live in Latte Land, either.  He lives in 1913, in the last month of the administration of President William Howard Taft, which was when the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, the one that makes you pay income tax.  Twenty nine days before Taft’s term expired, but who’s counting.

Herb doesn’t exactly have his facts right. Wessays™ does.  Herb said Taft had pangs of guilt over even a hint of support for the 16th amendment.  No credible historian will confirm that.  But that’s okay, Herb doesn’t need facts to make his point, which in this case is the income tax was the start of the downfall of this country.

What Herb means -- what all the world’s Herbs mean -- is that the income tax is stealing, and stealing from HIM, at that.

Then he moves along to the school tax.  Wants to know why he has to pay since he hasn’t had kids in school for more than 20 years.

Herb thinks of the government as a cafeteria.  You buy this service and that, leave the rest of the stuff in the counter trays and pay for what you take at the register at the end of the line.

Government as cafeteria.  He also mentions that he’s 20-thousand dollars in arrears.  Taxes here are pretty low.  So that’s a lot of years avoiding the register at the end of the cafeteria line.

But, Herb, the government is not a cafeteria.   So guys with no kids in school pay so kids who ARE in school get at least some semblance of an education and the country gets to continue.

Guys without cars get roads. Guys without feet get sidewalks.   Everybody gets an army.  You get cops and you get the means to break from the isolation in which you live -- if you want to.  Which you don’t.

Relax, Herb.  Make a pot of coffee.  Get a bandanna to strain the cup for the Mrs.  She won’t be able to afford regular dental cleanings when they catch up with you and cart you away for sneaking off the property tax check-out line before you got to the register.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

903 Fourteen Ounces of Cure

903 Fourteen Ounces of Cure

Forget the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.  With everything getting odder,  let’s make it a Troy Ounce of prevention.

While “normal ounces” weigh 28.35 grams, “troy ounces” weigh 31.1 grams.  So that gold you just bought at 1800 dollars an ounce plus commissions and fees is really a bargain.  You’re getting an extra 2.75 grams for your money.

Doesn’t sound like a whole lot.  But think of the difference if you were buying coffee or potatoes.  It’s like stealing!

If you hold a troy ounce of gold in one hand, and a regular ounce of sugar in the other, you’re not likely to feel the weight difference.  Of course, you can EAT the sugar and take in about 100 calories.  Eat the gold and the calorie count probably won’t matter all that much.  A few flakes, as in fancy chocolate or a cake decoration will pass through you in no time.  An ounce probably would kill you.

Or you can eat both the commodities and when your teeth rot from the raw sugar, maybe your body will self-fill the cavities with gold, even though your dentist abandoned using it decades ago.

You can eat silver, too.  Enough, and you will turn blue as a smurf.  And you can eat lead.  What’s a little brain damage among friends?

The real question here is why are there two kinds of ounces?  That’s nothing more than another way to confuse and complicate something that could be simple.

What happens when the makers of packaged food catch on to this trick?  State troy ounces for the strange measurements that have overtaken the world of canned goods and they can use more reasonable and workable figures.  Recently a can of beans was labeled 13.204 ounces.  That’s a little over 12 troy ounces.  Twelve is a much better number to work with than 13.204.  It would simplify cooking.

Simple could become the new complicated.

Meantime, we could revise the aphorism to “a troy ounce of prevention is worth 14.58 troy ounces of cure.”

Just make sure the cure is generic, else your health insurance won’t pay for it.


--The alchemists tried to turn lead into gold.  Today’s gold alchemists have turned an ounce into something around $1800 (plus commissions and fees.).  Good if you’re holding, great if you’rer selling.  Not so hot if you look at what the dollars you get for the stuff can buy.

--A common protection against spammers often requires you to copy a word or two into the computer.  Most of the time, no one can read the word because they use funny type styles that arch or swoop instead of sitting on a straight line, which supposedly you can read but a spam machine can’t.  Guess what... there’s a machine now that can read those words and here comes a whole new way to spam you.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

902 MoreOn News

902 MoreOn News

It’s telling and even shocking, but not surprising.

Some recent issues of both Time and Newsweek were sitting in a waiting room the other day, begging to be read.

Two things became obvious, instantly:  There’s little in them and almost no ads.

Here are the figures of two accidentally perused editions:

Total pages: 62 including covers.  
Total ad pages:14.
Percentage of ad pages: 22.

Total pages: 58 including covers.
Total ad pages: nine.
Percentage of ad pages 16.

Anemic both in content and sponsorship, these mags.

And no surprise, either.  

There’s no reason to buy them.

Talk about dieting!  

Once upon a time, these were fat “books,” with waiting lists for advertisers.

Newsweek has turned into an ad for the Daily Beast Website, which, in turn is an ad for Newsweek.

Time, part of the much larger corporate parent, Time-Warner, is less of a promotional vehicle, slightly fatter than its competitor and with a slightly higher percentage of ads-to-content.

But the bottom line on both of these dinosaurs is:  you can’t make a living this way.

Both of the books maintain -- or appear to maintain -- numerous ad selling offices.  Neither makes its rates easily available to snoops.  But you have to wonder if either of these publications is self-sustaining.

Each has continued to bleed subscribers and newsstand buyers.  But they soldier on, hoping for... what?

US News & World Report, once a competitor, has turned itself into a web-only service with occasional print issues based on a niche it has carved for itself, rankings of colleges and hospitals.  Neither Time nor Newsweek have managed to find “stuff you can’t read anywhere else” holes to fill.

A relatively new competitor “The Week” has figured out an alternative use for a news weekly:  It’s an aggregator, much like Google News and Yahoo! News.  That means minimal staff and little-to-no original stories.  What they’re saying is “Here’s stuff you might want to know about or should know about, culled from stuff our staff reads and lifts.”

A magazine for those who take Wessay #901, "NewsWatchers" seriously.

With general news available 24/7 what’s the point of a traditional news weekly?  Insight? Depth? Glamour? Tradition?  We have all of that we can use, to quote Jim Croce’s take on “genius” in “Working at the Car Wash Blues.”

Soon, it’s going to be relatively easy for Newsweek editor Tina Brown to personally deliver copies to individual subscribers, all four of them and each over the age of 90.


--It’s not just magazines that are drowning.  AOL, new owner of the Huffington Post just announced losses that would kill the rest of us.  And with good reason:  there’s no “there” there.

--HP wants to sell its PC business.  Good move.  Let someone else clean up your mess, including that imbecile iPad imitator you just brought to market and are about to withdraw.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

901 NewsWatchers

901 NewsWatchers

Weight watchers has this system where they assign each food a “point” value and assign you a daily point maximum according to your starting weight.  For those of us trying to get into a food diet, it works pretty well.  For those of us who want to reduce an unhealthy level of news consumption, we can do the same thing.

So give yourself, say, 27 points as a daily starting point, indicating your news intake is pretty heavy and you want cut down.

Please remember that news sources of equal size do not necessarily have equal nutritional value.

Here’s a partial list of the values you can play with:

>Nightly News at 6:30, or the 7-7:30am half hour of the three major network morning shows. -- Eight points.
>Cable News for 30 minutes --  nine points (a little more fattening.)
>Associated Press, Reuters, Voice of America news item: four points per story.
>Websites other than the above: six points per story.
>CBS Radio newscast: three points per five minutes (relatively high nutrition for time spent.)
>Any other network radio newscast: five points for five minutes (same time use, less nutrition.)

Zero point bonus:  Headlines on the website of any newspaper with a circulation of over ten thousand per day, or Google News/Yahoo News opening pages.

Low points bonus: two points for the front page of any newspaper with a circulation up to and including ten thousand per day, Leno or Letterman opening monologue (but not both.)

Use any combination of these sources to reach your daily point goal.

Reduce that goal slightly each month, maybe two points-per until you are down to ten or 11 points a day.

At all stages of development, avoid the news equivalent of junk food:  Talk radio, All News radio (except for traffic or weather information,) Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, Entertainment Tonight, E!-television, the Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Drudge Report, Newsmax and any of the so-called specialty websites or equivalent television programs:  Politico, Marketwatch, ESPN, TMZ, MTV.  

Until such time as certified rehab programs exist, special consideration will be given for addicts of any major league professional sport as long as coverage is live and part of a playoff series or long-term traditional rivalry (Yankees/Red Sox, Cubs/Cardinals, Dodgers/Giants, Bulls/Pistons, Ravens/Steelers, Rangers/Devils/Islanders.)

Until such time as certified rehab programs exist, special consideration will be given for addicts of financial news as long as it’s consumed on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average has moved more than four percent in either direction, the price of oil is over $100 a barrel or the price of gold is over $1790.00 an ounce.  You may choose the front page of the Wall St. Journal, or 30 minutes of one of the following:  Bloomberg Television, CNBC, Fox Business News or American Public Media’s “Marketplace.”


--You can do this.  Encourage yourself.  Work at it.

--The Jenny Craig approach can be substituted.  Arrange for home delivery of the top half of the front page of the New York Times, followed home delivery of Brian Williams’ or Scott Pelley’s script each evening.  Scripts are delivered FedEx and packed in dry ice.

--The Dr. Atkins approach also can be substituted.  TiVo the top of the Today Show newscast at 7am, the CBS World News Roundup or the front page of the Christian Science Monitor.  Use only the protein.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

900 Aristotle's Yogurt

900 Aristotle’s Yogurt

You probably haven’t noticed this.  But a few months ago, Aristotle finally got his ticket for the time machine in Athens and landed in the 21st century, on Steinway St. in Astoria, where he’s living in one of those “taxpayer” apartments with the deli downstairs.

He’s watching the tube last night and there are all these ads for Dannon Oikos Traditional Greek Yogurt.  And this afternoon, he walks downstairs to the deli and asks Saphira behind the counter if she has any. And she says “Yeah, we have it for the tourists... but...”

Ari says “If I’m not a tourist, what am I?  I’m 2400 years old and 49-hundred-20 miles from home!”  So he buys the stuff and asks “aren’t most yogurts like eight ounces or so?”  Saphira says “I see you haven’t been here in awhile, they’re all 6 ounces now.”

Ari:  “This one’s 5.3 ounces.”

Saphira shrugs.  Ari sits down, dips a spoon in the yogurt, starts to eat  and spits it back out into the cup.

Ari:  “What the hell’s in this stuff?”  Saphira tells him to read the label.

Cultured Grade A Milk, strawberry, water, fructose, contains less than 1% modified corn starch, natural flavor, carageenan, black carrot juice concentrate, and carmine (for color), sodium citrate, potassium sorbate (to maintain freshness), malic acid.

This doesn’t sound like the authentic Greek yogurt Aristotle’s mom used to make.   The ingredients then were goat’s milk, a starter culture, a little cow’s milk and about two days of waiting.  Ari thows out the cup, returns the spoon and orders a burger, fries and a coke.

“This is a Greek neighborhood... it’s why I came here.  Who buys this stuff?” he asks.

“Tourists,” Saphira answers.  And she adds “You know, I studied you at St. Demitrios and the priests said you were subversive, didn’t appreciate the spirituality of yogurt.”
Aristotle:  “Did you learn that in chemistry class?  This isn’t yogurt. And what the hell is “malic acid?”

Saphira:  It’s C-4 H-5 O-5 and it what makes sour taste.  I DID learn that in chemistry class.”

Aristotle:  What about black carrot whatever?

Saphira:  Since you’re 2400 years old, you may remember that carrots started out black in your neighborhood in Athens and still grow that way over there.  Makes the stuff more “authentic.”

Aristotle: If you’re so smart, why are you working behind a deli counter?

Saphira:  If you’re so smart, why did you come to Astoria?

Aristotle:  Because I wanted to meet Tony Bennett, maybe buy a piano direct from Steinway and have some authentic Greek yogurt.


--Designer yogurt isn’t limited to “authentic Greek.”  There’s regular, low fat, no fat, digestion- aiding, fruit blended, fruit on the bottom, fruit on the top.  But with hundreds of choices, you’re still limited to plain, fruit, chocolate or vanilla.  Someone could make a ton of money with vegetable, nut or meat flavors.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2011

4745 An Ounce of Cure

  Forget the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.  With everything getting odder, let’s make it a Troy Ounce of prevention.   While “n...