Friday, February 27, 2015

1452 Run For Your Lives, It's Inflation!

First it was Wal-mart. Then came TJMaxx. Who will be next?

These retailers are going to raise wages. Nine dollars an hour for TJ’s and its Marshall’s and Home Goods brand stores.

Great news, right?  Maybe.

First, let’s do the math.  $9.00 an hour x 40 hours = $360. Times 52 weeks (assuming a two week paid vacation) = $18,720 before taxes.  Sounds decent, right? Well, not really. But better than now.

Now, let’s look at the poverty line:

If you’re single, it’s $11,670 according to federal figures for 2014, the latest available. For a couple, it’s $15,730.  Family of three: $19,790.  Getting iffy here.  And for a family of four: 23,850.

You still there after all that math?  Good. Here’s more.  Assuming a two income household, the gross would be $37,440.  No food stamps for you!

OK, so you have to buy your own groceries if two of you under one roof are making $9 an hour each.  Bought groceries lately?  It’s going to take a big chunk of that $18 an hour.

But wait, there’s still more: we’ve made two really iffy assumptions:
  1. Two weeks paid vacation.
  2. Full time 40 hour status.

Who gets hired full time these days?  How many workers at either of the two companies are full and how many are part time?  The figure changes from day to day.  Sometimes from hour to hour. But if you’re out of work now, chances are your next job won’t be full time.  Not right away, at any rate.

And even among full time hourly workers... there’s a management workaround. They’ll put some broom pusher in charge of another broom pusher or one stock worker over another and -- presto! -- he’s management.

No overtime for you!

Inflation hawks who have been dead wrong for the last ten years are already squawking that this is going to raise the price of … everything.  And they’re already lining up,  billy clubs in hand, to tell us how bad a move raising wages is.

Three percent here, two there, one and a half percent somewhere else?  Why it’ll be the ruin of us, the absolute ruin.

Combine all this generosity with raising minimum wages in many states, and we’ve got Jimmy Carter style inflation crawling out from under the rocks, they say. Substitute “Gerald Ford style” if you liked Carter.

And then, get your head examined.

Shrapnel (Centenarian Edition):

--We note with sadness the passing of Yutaka Katayama, long time head of American operations for Datsun/Nissan.  He was the “father of the ‘Z’,” the working man’s sports car. And while neither a company founder nor an engineer, he was credited with the company’s initial success here. Yutaka Katayama was 105.

--Then there was another guy you never heard of, Irving Kahn, one of America’s first professional investors and the oldest one still going to the office at least few days a week.  He passed away yesterday at the age of 109. Longevity is a hallmark of that family. His three siblings also lived past 100.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

1451 How to End Bribery

Pity your congressional representative.  He or she will be forced to work 132 days this year, up 20 from 2014.  Why that’s almost 19 weeks.  Which leaves 33 weeks in which there is no session.

And for this, each will receive $174,000.  That’s a mere $9157.89 a week.  How can anyone get by on just nine grand a week?

Well, they are allowed to get jobs that supplement their meager income.  But considering all the good they do us, they should be entitled to more.

To keep things even, let’s get them a menu, so that we all know what we will have to contribute when we hire them as part timers.

Let’s start with the easy stuff.  Private bills. Say you want to honor your Uncle Henry with an Uncle Henry Day to mark his service to our country during the infamous secret war between the US and Surinam.  Today, the service is free, but you have to beg for it.

Put a price tag on “Uncle Henry” days to make things… um … transparent.  No more hoops to jump through… no more petitions.  Just fill at a form and send a check.  Probably a couple of thousand will do for something like that.

When you want something more lasting, the price will rise.  But knowing that prepares you.  Example: you want federal funds to build a footbridge over the Commack, NY water sump.  You figure out the cost of the bridge, build in a ten or 12 percent cost and corruption overrun and send a 20% “commission” for the legislation.

Of course a decently oiled congress member would do some smart marketing.  Something along the lines of Red Lobster-fest or the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Maybe a “Today’s Special” like the Diner down the block or the soup of the day at Denny’s.

Someone, please call Vista Print or Diner-menus-r-us to see about getting those things printed and Go Daddy to help with the website.

And someone could make a name for himself by publicly evaluating each member of congress.  Kind of like a food critic.  Award stars or chef hats and little dollar signs to indicate costs -- like Yelp.

Let’s put it all out in the open. Make honest men and women of these grafters, thieves and scoundrels.

Now, for your researching and dancing pleasure, here’s the complete compensation list.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

1450 Drive, You Nuts

If road rage had a birthplace, it probably was in Tel Aviv or Rome or Boston. These cities used to be the homes of the world’s worst drivers and some of the world’s hottest tempers. But no more.

New York, you say? No way. New York gets a lot of bum raps and bad driving shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, anyone who can get across 125th street from river to river in under an hour should get a medal.
(Notwithstanding, the old joke has some validity: “Should we walk, or do we have time to take the bus?”)

You may see someone take a left turn from the right lane from time to time (usually a taxi,) but for the most part, people who drive in Manhattan know what they’re doing. Same is true for those who use the highways in and around the place. Things may move slowly, but they DO move on weekdays. But try the same roads on a weekend and you know where they got the term “Sunday driver.”

So where are the world’s worst drivers today? The suburbs. Ignored stop signs, failure to signal. Speeding. If they had enough cops and street cameras to catch these guys, they could pay the local debt.

Maybe the national debt.

They’re not generally rude, at least not on purpose. They’re just unconscious. And not just behind the wheel, either (but that’s a topic for another day.)

Blame some of this on the auto industry. Today’s cars – even the worst of them, maneuver so well, one gets the feeling that they drive themselves and that impression is partly right.

There are so many safety features – crumple zones, seat belts, air bags, that a driver can get an ill-conceived feeling of invulnerability. So, the natural tendency might be to drive carelessly. After all, you have “On-Star,” or a cell phone and all that tricky safety stuff built in.

But you can’t blame Detroit, Tokyo or Wolfsburg for that. It’s still the Nut Behind The Wheel.

We talk on those cell phones. We have satellite radio, and sometimes an actual in-person conversation to distract us.

Is the current generation of drivers less well coordinated than in the past? Probably not. This same bunch goes to the gym three times a week, plays weekend softball, bowls, plays tennis and goes hunting without Cheney-like complications.

But there is one thing that has improved: the notion that women are worse than men.
Old story: a woman sticks her hand out the driver’s side window. Is she signaling or drying her nails?
No more. That’s because (a) today’s nail polish dries almost instantly, (b) both men and women have their nails polished and (c) No one uses hand signals.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™
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© WJR 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

1449 The Year of the Ruminant Horned Animal

Happy New Year! In China and among members of the Chinese diaspora it is the Year of the Sheep.  Or the Year of the Goat. Or maybe the Year of the Ram. Or even the Year of the Gazelle.

Here is the Chinese word for Sheep: 羊. In transliteration it is “yang.” The “a” has a little accent mark above it.  It’s in most Chinese dictionaries.  Well, in most modern Chinese dictionaries.

Except, generally you don’t find 羊 on its own. It comes with a prefix. One modifier turns it into “mountain goat,” the other turns it into “cotton sheep.”

Okay, no big deal, right?  Horned animal with a particular kind of hoof.

Except once you leave China for somewhere they use the same year-naming system, you run into a problem. In other Far Eastern countries -- Vietnam, Korea, Japan, for examples -- they have separate words for sheep and goat.

It’s a small point, so don’t let it get in the way of your celebration.

But a bigger point is the way English speaking Chinese natives and Chinese semi- speaking American natives communicate.

Each side has noun deficiency.  Each knows what stuff is, what stuff does and how stuff works. But we don’t know what to call things.

In this, the Chinese first language-ers have an advantage.  They put words together to form a new expression.  Thus, a razor becomes a “shaving knife.” A light switch can become “lever to make light go on.”

Asian speakers have an advantage over English.  They have five thousand years of relatively insular history to develop language, simplify grammar and explain things.

On the other hand, American English has so many moving parts, so many changes in direction and so many rules of grammar it’s more than enough to understand each other without having to figure out a completely dissimilar bunch of 80 gazillion pictograms each of which is spoken in a minimum of four different tones (Mandarin) to six or more (Cantonese.) Say a syllable in the wrong tone can get you into trouble because the tone changes the meaning of the word.

All this can make family or communal living tough.  But don’t let it get your goat.  Or your sheep.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015 (or the year of the Sheep, Goat, Gazelle or Great Horned Owl.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

1448 A Warehouse for the Not Yet Dead

Many nursing homes are hell holes.  Be grateful if you die before you need one.

Filth, stink, abuse, careless inattention, secret records, avaricious owners, sky high prices, lousy meals.

The government rates these places. You want a reason -- or another reason -- to mistrust or even hate the government, tour some of these so- called homes… and limit your tours to those with five star ratings… the top level.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid keep watch. Here’s how: No one audits the care quality figures.  Inspections -- if they happen at all -- happen so rarely, they become meaningless.

Five grand a month is a pretty common figure for storing granny.  And she can kiss her assets goodbye … her life savings, her retirement income her house and her independence too.

Lies, and more lies: “Our staffing levels exceed recommendations…” “Our nutritionists all are graduates of culinary or other accredited schools.” “Our rehab ‘specialists’ love their patients.” “Medical attention is available 24/7/365.”  (The on-call doc will be from India, but don’t expect someone you can understand as well as Sanjay Gupta.) “Our floors, walls and common areas are sparkling clean, kept so by a large staff of full time housekeeping professionals.” “Hablamos Ingles.”

When they say they offer religious services of all major faiths, they mean Presbyterian, Baptist and Lutheran,” not “Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist.”

“Diverse population” means Jamal Johnson, 97, known as “JJ” and who is a favorite with the ladies because they all have the same hallucinations at the same time. And there’s Concetta Maria Yadira Valtina Diaz-Lopez who hasn’t said a word since 1983.  Two minorities out of a population of…  well, we don’t know how many because no one has counted and no one but the bookkeeper has access to accounts receivable.

People burn to death (Jacksonville area) or freeze to death (Brooklyn) or fall to death (Hamden CT) or are ignored to death (Minneapolis.)

If you want to die in a warehouse there are plenty of places to rent where you can be ignored, burned or frozen for much less than the cost of a month at Shady Acres.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

1447 Stopped: The Presses

We’ve been paying a lot of attention lately to the amateurism that has infected TV news.  Now it’s time to look at newspaper circulation. It’s been in a death spiral for the last 15 or 20 years.

Papers blame competition from the internet and cable news channels. And they’re partly right.
But there are two other reasons – reasons they never get around to mentioning.
1. People can’t or don’t want to read.
2. Most papers are awful.

USA Today revolutionized newspapers when it first came out in the 1980s. It was pretty, it had color pictures and the stories were short enough to engage the then-beginning MTV generation which wants everything fast. It used charts to summarize stories it thought might be too complex for the D average reader. And it influenced every other paper in America, if not the world.
Former CBS News President Fred W. Friendly called it a TV show you can wrap fish in. Accurate then, accurate now.

But the graphics revolution was on, and even the New York Times – as staid as they get -- has color pictures in its pages, and a Sunday magazine that suddenly no longer looks like it was designed before World War I.

But pretty as they are, many papers don’t have much in them. They are incomplete. They are badly written. They are badly edited. They have no soul.

Part of the reason is they’ve learned from broadcasters, particularly radio. Radio stations are a commodity nowadays. Like pork bellies and oil. They’re homogenized, and their owners, no longer needing to serve their communities, can concentrate on the bottom line at the expense of the listener and the advertiser.

Newspapers, especially the big chains are falling into the same trap, which is no surprise. What IS surprising is that they hadn’t done it decades ago.

Newspapers, after all, are unregulated. There’s no FCC looking over their shoulders. There’s no license to renew. There are few, if any, restrictions on how many papers an owner can have in one city.

Knight-Ridder died because the diluted family gene pool running it failed to acknowledge the ink in its veins and instead listened to stockholders and investment bankers.

The New York Times is under fire from stockholders who don’t like that there are two classes of stock, one of which can’t vote. Like, who put guns to their heads and told them to buy Times stock in the first place.

The current generation of family controllers there also is paying less and less attention to the ink in their veins.

For a long time, the Miami Herald was so busy fighting Castro and putting out regional editions about bake sales and salsa parties that it’s lost its journalistic compass.

The Washington Post after Kate Graham was nothing but a local paper with some friends in high places and too many subsidiaries. New owner Jeff Bezos looks like he’s making the right moves.

The world has changed. Now, Rupert Murdoch is the only guy making a buck. And you don’t hear HIM complaining about cable channels and internet companies. Instead of yowling and playing the victim, he went out and started competing broadcasters.
That’s a long way from when his New York Post had to scrape together the day’s coins to buy newsprint.

As for the declining inability or unwillingness to read: don’t brutalize the kids. You’ll bruise their self esteem. There’ll always be some geek around who can read the menu to them.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

1446 Bad Week for News

Bob Simon was one of those guys about whom the label “legendary” landed and stuck.  After covering wars on three continents, he died ingloriously on the battlefield of a New York City road.

David Carr was one of those reporters who covered guys like Simon.  His own war zone was a background in which the words “drug” and “booze” still emerged frequently, but whose insight and prose and investigative skills kept the rest of us more or less honest.

And then there’s Brian Williams.

Three guys gone missing in one of two ways.

Simon’s biography and his prowess have been well covered.  He was one of those correspondents who made CBS the “Tiffany network” at least for news.  And you can read anywhere about his exploits and the stupidity of his death as a passenger in a livery cab. Probably, you have already.

Carr was the media columnist for the New York Times.  He died “in the office” yesterday as the paper so delicately put it.  His work was a must read for those of us who navel gazed about ourselves, or work our colleagues and the trends -- really the tidal wave -- that the news business is dealing with nowadays.

And then there’s the now-suspended Williams, who brought honor and dishonor to NBC and osmotically to the rest of us lesser lights.

As for Williams, it’s time to let the scars heal before we resume the whipping. And let’s consider what the controversy really all about.

The short answer is money.

You have to ask, does NBC’s owner, Comcast, really care about the credibility of the fallen anchorman?  This also has a short answer: yes… money.

Not the estimated yearly ten to 13 million dollars they spend keeping him in good suits and a fancy midtown east apartment.  It’s the hundreds of millions the Nightly News program brings in.

Keep these facts in mind:

--The evening newscasts are on life support.
--The Williams version was the least likely to die until Brian was outed as a teller of tall tales.
--It is number one in a slow race largely because the ABC version is anchored by a kid whose main asset is that he’s a kid and the CBS version is so boring it puts you to sleep before 7 pm.

These once premier newscasts -- replacements for the afternoon and evening newspapers -- have descended into a television hell that tells you nothing you haven’t already heard on radio, read on the internet or don’t care about and shouldn’t unless you’re a big fan of missing puppies.

Think about it.  Huntley-Brinkley, Chancellor, Brokaw, Jennings and Cronkite used to sit you down for half an hour and tell you what you missed while you were busy all day.

But you don’t need them anymore.  You have CNN and Yahoo news.  And the Huffington Post and Drudge.

So the job of anchorman (or woman) now is more ring master than tour guide through the maze that is each day’s news.

People are comparing Williams’ six month unpaid suspension with the slow speed ousting of Dan Rather at CBS.  Not the same thing.  

First, Rather’s supposedly fake story might actually have been real, but he couldn’t prove it.  Second, Rather had his enemies within CBS and within the Washington establishment.  He got canned, but  wasn’t turned overnight into a national laughing stock.

Money.  Williams’ future hangs on what happens to ratings and revenue during his absence.

And the amateurs at Comcast need to learn how to run a newsroom.  So far, the lessons are lost on the company-wide news chief and her ineputy, the president of NBC News.

You can learn a lot about an anchor by looking at what he or she does during the off time.  Lester Holt is said to take refuge behind a Fender bass.  Cronkite took refuge on his sailboat.  Williams took refuge by appearing on Letterman and Saturday Night Live.

Then there’s Brokaw.  Here’s a story from a weekday afternoon in the third floor newsroom at 30 Rock.  

Brokaw has his coat on and is heading for the elevators.

The executive producer at the time, Jeff Gralnick (1939- 2011,) asked him where he was going.  The answer: to some local school where kids were waiting to talk with him.

Gralnick: “I want to send a camera crew along.  We can use that.”

Brokaw: “Nah.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about those kids.”

Heard it with my own ears from a distance of about one foot.

Guess we’re all going to have to turn to Jon Stewart for the news. Oh, wait… he’s calling it quits this year.

Well, there’s always Drudge and the Huff-post.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to it. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

1445 A Flying Lesson From Singapore

Singapore wants to slow the rate of immigration.  And one of the ways it’s doing that is filling what the BBC says is a seven thousand worker shortage in the restaurant business with flying drones instead of people.

You get seated.  The menus are there.  You order from a tablet computer.  Your meal arrives by air.  Drones are a capital investment and a tax deduction.

Employees are neither.

The potential for trouble is astonishing.

How about a mid-air collision between a tray of flounder and a tray of merlot?  Unacceptable!  Everyone knows you need white wine with fish.

But it’s not only mid air collisions between or among drones.

“I was just getting up to go to the men’s room,” said Charles Yu, “when I was clipped by a drone flying extra rice to the next table.”  Yu is 5’8” tall.  The drones are programmed to fly at 6’4”. But if they’re heavily loaded, evidently, they fly lower.  Yu’s injuries were not life threatening.

But the air traffic controllers have to watch out for the flashing “電池電量不足” or “Low Battery” sign on each aerowaiter.  Unfortunately, early production models had trouble with this feature, trouble that the manufacturer, the unfortunately named Lo Fin Aviation Company of Canton says has been corrected in later production.

There are other woes.  Tipping in Singapore restaurants is uncommon.  But they often add 10% to the bill instead.  Who gets the money?

Then, there’s the removing of the food and drink from the robots and placing it before the customers. The drones don’t just plop stuff down on the table.  A human must remove things from the hover-craft and know which diner gets which dishes.

It’s easier than it sounds because Singapore restaurants, as in much of Asia place bowls or plates on tables and people take a little from here and a little from there.

But the electronic thingies don’t talk.  So the next generation of order tablets will have to be able to tell customers “no problem,” which is waiter-ese for either “thank you” or “yes.”

And the drones themselves will hover at tableside after a given length of time and say “may I get these out of your way?” And “Anyone save enough room for dessert?”

And if your order is incorrect, will you have to go the baggage claim area to fill out the paperwork?

Maybe they should re-think their immigration policy.


--By now you know NBC suspended Brian Williams without pay for six months because of verbal selfies that were photoshopped.  We’ll take a second look down the road.  Meantime, Lester Holt is a good solid newsman and worth your eyes and your time.

--Manhattan condo for sale. $28 million.  It belonged to Joan Rivers and is decorated like a 19th Century French house of ill repute.

--Would we care about the death of Kayla Mueller of Arizona if she were a swarthy complected and bearded young man from Detroit? Probably not, no matter the goodness of his intentions in or around the self- named fake country of ISIS.  Obama promises to bring her murders to justice, which presupposes there’s an actual justice system there.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, February 09, 2015

1444 One Hand Washes the Other & Needle Drop

Sign in a restaurant men’s room in Bellmore, NY: “Employees must wash hands after use. If no employee is available to wash your hands, please do it yourself.”

Very funny.

But the message is there.  And at every other restaurant everywhere.  Wash your hands.

Now comes a United States senator who says pay no attention to those signs.  You shouldn’t be forced to wash up after going to the bathroom.

He is Thom Tillis (R-NC) and he was speaking at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC.  “Too many regulations,” says the senator. Let businesses opt out.

This guy must be a worm.  Worms live in dirt. He adds that businesses that opt out should advertise that and the “market will take care of it.”

Second things second:  Do not shake hands with Thom Tillis.

Unless you’re wearing gloves.  Wearing gloves during a handshake would send Miss Manners into seizures.  But Dr. Oz might approve as long as the gloves are latex free.

Basic sanitation dictates we wash our hands thoroughly in these circumstances.  And one wonders where are the Great American advocates of “Common Sense” over “book larnin’” on this issue?

Oh, wait. Sen. Tillis is from what Jimmy Breslin calls the “low IQ States.”

Yes, folks, hand washing should be an option, not a requirement.  

And so should covering your face when you sneeze.

Of course, freedom of choice has its limits.  The borderline is where your freedom and my health or wellbeing clash.

All of which brings us to vaccinations.  And as we all know now, they’re worthless and bring about mental disorders.  Or Autism. Or beriberi. Or headache, neuritis and neuralgia. Just take a look at some of the vaccinated people who oppose vaccination.

Let’s get rid of those nasty needles and those needless potions!

That would be good for business.  More measles means more visits to the doc.  Profits!  You know doctors’ offices are almost always vacant. Why there’s hardly a patient alive anymore.  Gotta make people sick!

Polio, smallpox, chicken pox, ebola, victrola, motorola.  All good for business. While we’re at it, rickets and the plague haven’t gotten much air play lately.  Too many people are immune.

So skip those vaccinations, parents.  After all, there’s nothing like a near- death kid to generate the attention you crave.

So, the anti- science crowd gains some new momentum.  Brilliant.  And while it does, a megachurch in Texas is dealing with a measles outbreak.  The daughter of televangelist in residence Kenneth Copeland has told the so-called adults in her flock to have their kids skip the vaccine.  Now, one kid infects the next.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that most of the minor members are home schooled which means they don’t get out much. Except to shopping malls and church.  

Lock ‘em up, those who survive, until they can no longer do any damage.  Or better yet, turn ‘em loose in the tiny hamlet of Newark, Texas, where the Copeland crowd roosts and create a localized epidemic. If conditions are right, it’ll spread to Dallas and Fort Worth where it can cause real damage.

The megachurchgoers can be made to believe it’s punishment for … well … something.  And if Copeland & co. don’t, there’s always Pat Robertson.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

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 ...