Friday, November 30, 2018

2025 Amazin' Dot Com

One day last week, a strange package arrived at the doorstep.  It’s that time of year when mail and TV and online orders can appear at odd times.

Usually, the post office driver or the UPS or FedEx and in some cases the rare DHL deliverer leaves the package, rings the doorbell and dashes off to the next stop.

This time, it arrived by drone.  A little thing that looked like a Rhumba vacuum cleaner with moon lander feet dropped the package and flew off, empty-footed.

In the package containing lipstick, nail polish, a paint brush, an aluminum paint tray, a package of liners, a set of extra long banjo strings a shipping list and a receipt from MasterCard.

We didn’t order any of this stuff.  But we’d talked about ordering it.  Just the two of us. In a room where Cortana, Siri, Alexa, “Hey Google,” and the AFLAC Duck could not have overheard us.  Alone. Sitting on a park bench with no shady characters hanging around.

“It’s from Amazon, right?” She said.  No… it’s from Amazin’.com. Whatever that is.

Immediately the Wessays (™) research department sprang into action.  What is “”

Well, there it was. The Amazin’ website.  The online retailer that reads your mind, knows your MasterCard number (including expiration date and the reverse side security code) and can judge your degree of sincerity about wanting stuff.

Free Shipping! Free Returns! Order with NO clicks.

Wow.  Automation. Artificial Intelligence. It’s… um… Amazin’.

Does Bezos know about this technology?  Does the Board of Elections?  How about CVS? The process servers?

Is it even legal?  (We might get an answer if Legal Zoom has adopted the technology.)

We like the free returns part.  We’re really not ready for the paintbrush, tray and liners.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2024 The Dental Gym

A reader recently asked for advice on how to fight his fear of dentists.  The answer is to visit the dentist more often. But that can get tiring. And expensive. So here’s advice from someone who made it over the finish line in the race against fear and impatience.

It’s called the Dental Gym.  You go there to “work out” as you would to a health club.

Two rooms.  One is a waiting room.  You sit around, read outdated magazines, fidget and let the fear build. You hear the sounds of drills. They are sound effects. You hear the sounds of people making the kind of loud sounds you can make only with your mouth wide open. They also are on an MP3 player attached to a speaker system.

A fake hygienist eventually wanders out and beckons you into her chair.  She is not really a hygienist. She just plays one at the dental gym.

You sit down.  You open your mouth. She peers in, a concerned look on her face.  She’s taken the “hmmm” course at dental assistant school (see Wessay #2023 for the medical version.)

She takes a sterile probe from a sealed envelope, and a flashlight and looks but doesn’t touch.  “I’ll have to get Dr. Brown in to look at this.”  She calls Dr. Brown by pressing a button on a keypad attached to the wall, then sits in silence.

You wait. And wait. And wait, all the time getting antsier.  Finally, “Dr.” Brown arrives.  He’s wearing a smock and one of those cyclops headbands.

He puts on a pair of exam gloves and a mask.  And asks you to open wide, please.

“Dr.” Brown is not a real dentist. He just looks like one.  He peers into your mouth. “Hmmm. (They teach Hmmm at Dental School, too. That’s the only course he took before deciding dentistry was not for him.)  He shakes his head sorrowfully… at least as sorrowfully as one can look wearing a cyclops headband with magnifying lenses and a mask.

The fake dentist asks the fake hygienist “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”  She says, sorrowfully, “no.” Then he asks her to get some extra tools.  She returns to the exam room with a toolbox similar to one you find at the car repair shop. She puts it down behind the chair where you can’t see it. It lands heavily.

He rummages through it, making toolbox noises… takes out a battery operated drill and tests it a few times.  “Where’s my number three drill bit?” he asks.

“Oh,” says the not-hygienist I think the Snap-On tools guy is outside sharpening it.”

“Dr.” Brown says you’ll have to return. Please go to the desk and make an appointment.  He takes off the gloves, the mask and the cyclops headband and walks dejectedly out of the room.

You make the appointment and there’s no charge because you’ve pre-paid for half a dozen training sessions of which this is the first.

By the time you’re finished with Session Six, six weeks from now, you will have lost your fear.

You’ll go to your real dentist and take your exam like a pro!

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, November 26, 2018

2023 Don't Pre-Exist

Health care and the insurance that pretends to cover it remain a big issue.  And the biggest sub-issue is the treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Everyone’s for treating pre-existing conditions until you seek treatment. Everyone’s for covering pre-existing conditions until legislation requiring it comes to a vote in a legislative body.

Everyone’s for treating pre-existing conditions except yours.

You walk into the doctor's office or the doc-in-a-box “clinic” because you caught cold.  After a while, a doctor comes in and looks you over and says “Hmmm.”  Doctors are good at saying “hmmm” and med schools teach “hmmm” as a required first semester subject.

She asks you how long you’ve had the cold.  You answer about two or three days.  Doc says “Hmmm, so you’ve had it for a while.”

“Yes, maybe a couple of days.”
Doc: “Well, that makes it a pre-existing condition. I can treat you, but your health insurance won’t cover it.”

Or maybe you took one of those “at home” pregnancy tests and then you visit the doctor.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Furtwangler, pregnancy is a pre-existing condition.”

In fact, so is every other condition.

You don’t go to the emergency room for a leg that isn’t broken, even if it might be someday.  But at least a not-broken-leg is not a pre-existing condition.

So stand your ground.  (Remember, you can stand. The leg’s not broken. Yet.) The E-room staff will love you for taking up space and time, after all… the doctors and nurses and aids have little else to do because … well, they don’t treat pre-existing conditions.  

But they do offer pre-existing magazines while you wait to be rejected.  When the outdated magazines in your doctor’s office get too dog-eared, they get sent to the nearest emergency room. It’s a research trove.  Especially if you’re interested in dead magazines like US News & World Report, Life, Look, Colliers and the early issues of Architectural Digest from the pre-Victorian era.

And to be serious for a moment:  If your real pre-existing condition is about to be treated with an implanted electric spine stimulator, get another opinion.  An AP report issued last night shows that more than 500 people have died from shocks and burns.

--Carlos Ghosn update: he’s still in the clink and when he gets out, he’ll be out of work, at least as chairman of Nissan. Ghosn allegedly understated his earnings in Nissan’s corporate filings. The directors met on Thanksgiving Day and voted him off the board.

--Two developments in the ongoing Sears soap opera: 1. They’ve put up a list of 500 stores still open but that they want to sell. And 2. They’re trying to give monster bonuses to failed executives, something the bankruptcy court probably eliminate without comment.

--Speaking of retailers, thank you, Neiman Marcus, for the fast service and huge elaborate packaging of an online order that could have been sent in a cigarette pack.  But when you send a dozen or more pitches to an e-customer, you’re obnoxious. Even Mega-Mart doesn’t do that many emails in that short a time.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, November 23, 2018

2022 Ghosn, Goin' Gone

So long, Carlos.  We figured you were too good to be true.  Maybe you were. Carlos Ghosn (rhymes with “bone,”) was the head of so many carmakers it was hard to keep track.  And now, he’s just another guy in handcuffs and doing a perp walk.

Of course, he’s presumed innocent.  At least in the US. But it sure looks bad.  Ghosn is charged in Japan for underreporting 40-some million dollars in earnings and income.

Ghosn well known for turning ailing nags in to win, place or show.  Nissan. Renault. Mitsubishi. And the alliance these three have formed and which is profitable.

Ghosn turned the impossible loser Nissan around. No one thought he could do that.  No one except GM and Ford which had tried to recruit him from Michelin Tires.  He created the world’s lowest price zero emissions car which is sold as both the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe.  Each has its own cosmetic peculiarities, but underneath the makeup, it’s basically the same car.

Before cell phones, it was nearly impossible to get hold of the guy.  He was always in the air.  Paris to middle Tennessee to Tokyo. Now, you could pick up a phone and dial his private line and it wouldn’t matter where he was, he’d answer.  Well … not NOW. Now he has the cell but not the phone.

There aren’t a lot of “car guys” left running car companies.  No Alfred Sloan or Bunky Knudsen, Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford, William Durant, Walter Chrysler, Bob Lutz or Sergio Marchionne.

In fact, the most prominent car guy isn’t a “guy” at all. She’s Mary Barra of GM.  And technically, Ghosn is still in the chair at Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi-AutoVaz of Russia.

But probably not for long.  His lawyers say he’s cooperating with authorities.

If he actually is guilty, what would possess a brilliant and respected fellow like Ghosn do something like that?  We’re not talking here about rounding errors or clerical mistakes.  And while we’re talking about a really busy executive, it’s tough to throw the blame on his accountants or his multi-continental CPAs.  He hasn’t done that.  He won’t.

So, now the question is what happens to this troika Ghosn put together?  Nissan and Mitsubishi will replace him, at least temporarily.  Renault is a bit vague when it says it’s reviewing its leadership.  The three manufacturers are so financially enmeshed, they’re like conjoined triplets.  Separating them won’t be easy.

--Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving Day.

--The headline in the newspaper said this year’s Bear Harvest was much bigger than last year’s and that raises some questions. Where do they buy bear seeds, and if you plant them in a small pot, will they still grow to full size?

--Of course, maybe bears have a People Harvest. Mama bear goes next door to borrow a cup of sugar from her neighbor, Smokey.  That’s because Papa Bear is tired of the same old Oven Roasted Hunter every year and Baby Bear is at the point where he won’t eat anything without a sweetened glaze.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

11/21/18 Postponed

First, wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.

Second: we're postponed due to technical difficulties  beyond our control.

Third: rural electrification is  not ready for prime time.

Fourth: I'm shorting First Energy.

Monday, November 19, 2018

2021 Black Friday

Thanksgiving week is here.  And that gives those of us in trades that have no holidays a chance to opine about having to work on Thanksgiving Day.

Cops, doctors, nurses, EMS workers telephone operators, news reporters, toll booth attendants, power plant operators, and on and on. You get used to it. In fact, in some cases, you embrace it.  

It seems unfair, though, that retail stores open on Thanksgiving. Unfair to the workers who have to finish “dinner” by 4 PM to get to work at five or six.  For what?  For the shoppers who can’t wait a day to buy the Black Friday specials?

As we head toward Monday morning, a small group of RVs has gathered in the Best Buy and Target parking lots.  We know people are going to celebrate the holiday by tailgating their holiday meal and we know they’ve stowed tents in their buses which they will pitch on Wednesday near the doors to the stores.

All this to get an InstaPot for three dollars off the regular price. (Not to be confused with the MSRP.)

That’s a whole ‘nother story. The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price has nothing to do with the price anyone paid.   

Example:  a Bic Crystal Pen’s MSRP is under a buck. But you can buy a package of a dozen for under two dollars and neither Bic nor mega-mart is losing money on this deal.

Sticker prices in auto showrooms should be labeled “fiction.”  So should “invoice prices,” which purport to show you what the dealer paid for that shiny new 2019 Plymouth Duster. (There is no Plymouth Duster anymore.)  The dealer gets rebates and bonuses from the factory. You never see those.

MSRP is a level of fakery that’s only slightly faker than “Originally $29.95, Black Friday priced at $15.99.  Here’s how that works:

Megamart gets in a shipment of Gold Tootsy Socks and labels them $29.95 for a three pack.  Then, one midnight, the stock clerks put them out for sale.  The store may or may not be open at that moment.

Around six in the morning, another stock clerk comes along and affixes another sticker that says $15.99.  When the store opens Black Friday morning at 6:30, Megamart can’t be faulted.  They originally priced them at 30 bucks.  Who cares if the store wasn’t open?  Now, they’re 16. What a bargain. 

And neither Megamart nor Gold Toots loses money because the wholesale price of the three pack is $7.50 if you buy in six figure quantities.

-When it’s 20 degrees and the restaurant is nearly empty, what possesses the host to seat you at the table nearest the door?

-trump says he doesn’t need to hear the Khashoggi tape because he doesn’t speak Arabian… kind of like Dan Quayle who didn’t visit Latin America because he doesn’t speak Latin.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, November 16, 2018

2020 Feelin' Groovy

No one (except me) calls the Ed Koch Bridge the Ed Koch Bridge. No one calls it by its original name, the Queensborough Bridge.  Everyone calls it what it sort of really is, the 59th Street Bridge, which is somewhat inaccurate because it fills and empties between 59th and 60th on the Manhattan side.

If -- heaven forbid -- they start charging tolls, one can at least hope you can get through the gate with one click on your mobile site.

The new Amazon mini headquarters will be located near the Queens exits in Long Island City which has an industrial area of more than a century’s standing but which is a shadow of its former self.  And because it is Queens the Amazon zone is not getting a universally royal welcome, if you don’t count the billions in tax breaks from the city and state and two strange conditions from Amazon’s Bezos:
1.  You must build me a helipad. And
2.  Mayor Bill and Governor Andy have to remain on speaking terms, which they aren’t always despite similar ideas and membership in the same political party.

Oh, and there was the part about being no more than 45 minute drive from a major airport.  Driving to any of the three major airports in greater New York is 45 minutes away from Long Island City only at 3 o’clock in the morning when there’s no snow and no construction…  conditions that rarely co-exist.

Amazon’s beauty contest winners were Long Island City and Arlington Virginia’s Crystal City which has a history of being cracked and ugly.  We’ll ignore that Crystal City one because who cares?  And the mini one scheduled for Nashville TN because country music goes there to die, as evidenced by Keith Urban winning the CMA Award as Entertainer of the year.

Bezos is no dummy.  Business conditions in his home base, Seattle, are getting iffy and overtaxing is a competitive sport. So if he needs to move the whole shebang, he’s got the places staked out.

About that beauty contest:  Bezos and Co. had about 200 other cities kissing his ring, his feet and his… um… well, you know.  Places that don’t ordinarily look stupid -- Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia for examples -- look pretty stupid. And cities that were always stupid now will look not only stupid but stupid and embarrassed.

So at some point, Amazon will build it’s “second headquarters” in sight of the Ed Koch Bridge, immortalized by Paul Simon for his inside joke of a song, "Feelin' Groovy" which referred to the grooved surface of the bridge’s original level.

Welcome to Queens, Amazon.  Your subway awaits. Any day now.

--While on the topic of corporate headquarters, there’s Gillette and its decision to remain in Boston despite some pushing from owner Proctor and Gamble’s dreams of Cincinnati.  But Gillette has competition from all sides today and a 12% price cut for blades isn’t enough.  And neither is millennial-izing its once Macho Man ads.

--King C. Gillette was the first major company hotshot to implement one of the most clever customer traps.  For 100 years, they’ve been selling razors for near-nothing.  Then, you’re locked into using their overpriced blades.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

2019 It's All Lies

2019 It’s All Lies

Credit or blame where it’s due. Do you think you could compose a 500-word blog built completely of lies? Let’s try.

Those wildfires in California were caused by the George Soros Arson Squad.  Working under cover of darkness, the conspirators jiggled with the utility wires until they caught fire.  And the squad members were imported from Guatemala, where fire is the devil’s only friend.

Then there was Jamal Khashoggi.  You know he never really existed.  Did you ever read a word he wrote?  Did you ever see him on television?  Did you ever believe that a member of a royal family would actually kill someone just because someone somewhere said he existed, wrote bad things about the Saudi government and was too fat to outrun a bunch of street muggers who have all been caught and jailed or killed?  Impossible. The prince is -- well -- a prince.

And the teaming hordes of rapists and robbers, job stealers and stealth middle eastern terrorists?  Are they still worming their way toward Texas with those child actors pretending to be impoverished children?

And let’s dispose of another piece of fake news, forthwith.  Those kids were separated from their parents by accident and the US is keeping them in tasteful and rest-inducing enclosures.  But any kid who wants out just has to say so.

Jeff Sessions wasn’t fired.  He issued a statement about having fulfilled his mission and resigned to spend more time with his family in Alabama.  You mean you haven’t seen it?  I have a copy right here in this sealed envelope addressed to the White House Communications Office.  I’d cut it open and show it to you, but not until Hillary coughs up some emails. And maybe not even then because opening someone else’s mail without their permission is a crime.

Then there were the midterm elections. As you know there were massive incidents of voter fraud everywhere a Democrat won or nearly won.  Too bad about the nearlies.  They’ll just have to try harder in 2020.

You haven’t seen reports of thousands of Massachusetts residents flooding over the New Hampshire border to vote?

And don’t believe those fake reports of voter-blocking in Georgia. The Republicans won fair and square.  And this should go to court for a resolution.  But all of those judges appointed by Obama and Clinton and Carter and LBJ and FDR worked out a joint strategy to stall justice. They did it on Skype from internet cafes around the country.

Are we there yet?  No. Still a few dozen words left to lie with before reaching 500. Including the standard outro.

This is hard work.  Thanks for the lessons from the reigning champs: donald trump, Sarah Huckabee, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Brett Kavanaugh, Mike Pants.  Also to pioneers: Herodotus, the 1919 White Sox, Lance Armstrong, Rosie Ruiz, Charles Ponzi, the guys who dreamed up table-top cold fusion, Pope Alexander VI, and Richard Nixon.


Pfew. Done.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, November 12, 2018

2018 The Edmund Fitzgerald

(DETROIT) -- It’s been a few years since we’ve written about this. And this is an off year.  The wreck took place on November 10, 1975. That was 43 years ago this past Saturday.  The actual day was a Monday.

At this point, you probably would never have heard about it if you didn’t read here or heard the song by Gordon Lightfoot and the report by Harry  Reasoner (Note the clarity and succinctness of Reasoner’s short item and wonder why that style of story telling has fallen by the wayside.)

Now, 43 years later, there still are no answers. And while there are bell-ringings and memorials galore, the horror of that day looks small.

We have become so inured to mass deaths, that a mere 29 men on a big boat that sank seems minor. It is not minor.

It is undiminished by mass shootings in schools and nightclubs, plane crashes, bus wrecks, train wrecks and even by the regular drownings of people by the dozen in overloaded tour boats in places like the Philippines, or Indonesia or Korea.  It is undiminished by the endless “true crime” stories on TV. 

The story of the “Mighty Fitz” would have long faded entirely were it not for Gordon Lightfoot’s poetic rendering to the tune of an ancient Irish dirge.  That the wreck caught his attention and was transformed into six minutes of a poem set to a chant allows us to remember.

In cases like this, people want to know “why?”  There will be no answer.  Weather forecasters have tried to model the conditions of the storm on Lake Superior that night.  Computer scientists have tried to combine those with communications worries.  And there’s always the notion that commercial pressure forced the Fitz into lake conditions it never should have had to face.

Those of us who grew up on the Atlantic maybe too often turn our noses up at the thought of a lake as a formidable body of water. Superior is the largest lake in the world.  It is the third largest by volume with 200 rivers feeding it from several angles. Put it anywhere else, add a little salt and you've got yourself a perfectly fine sea.

And that bathtub with a propeller?  Standing on the dock and looking up, you could confuse it with a mountain or a skyscraper. Length?  Bigger than most anything that floats and that you've been on. Seven hundred twenty nine feet.  (The Titanic was 883.5, so only 150 feet or so bigger.)

We know what killed the Titanic, the Andrea Doria, The General Slocum, the Lusitania, the Bismarck.  We do not know what killed the Fitz.  A storm with hurricane force winds came suddenly and went?  The bathtub overturned and broke up and went down, all so fast there wasn't time for a real distress call?

So, we remember. At least the deaths were not at the hands of some gun nut or terrorist bomber. Small consolation.

--Florida voters can’t seem to decide about who wins elections, but there was no doubt about passage of a ban on Greyhound racing.  Thousands of dogs will be looking for new homes in the near future.  Thousands will be turned out on the streets.

--In olden times, on Armistice Day, on the air we would go silent for one minute … the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  A commemoration.  Couldn’t find anyone doing that this year, unsurprisingly.

“As girls, we could look at the football team and say that their tight pants showing off everything is asking for it, but we don’t,” -- Women’s track team member at Rowan University. in New Jersey which has prohibited women training in sports bras at the same time and place the football team practices because the girls are “a distraction.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018

Friday, November 09, 2018

2017 The License Plate Theory of Civilization

We are forever hearing about “two Americas.” This group and that.  These places and those.  Here’s another key.

For the most part, civilized states issue both front and back license plates and uncivilized or semi-civilized  ones issue only one.

Is that the cause of problems? No, but it’s a symptom.

Here are the 19 states that have only one plate.  Is yours among them?
--New Mexico
--North Carolina
--South Carolina
--West Virginia 

Thirty-eight percent.

Now let’s get into the details.  For example, you can’t really call Delaware uncivilized.  But they’re so bound up in their motto: “Freedom for Corporations that don’t really do any business here but love our laws and courts” that little things like car tags aren’t all that important.

Notice that most of the states with single plates were in the Confederacy, and at least two others might as well have been.  

Why two plates?  Well, it’s tradition.  Time was every state had two.  Also when someone rear-ends you on the highway, at least you know where they’re from. That can be handy if they take off before the cops arrive.

The joke about prisoners making plates isn’t a joke. In many cases they still do. Prison labor is cheap.  Some states have farmed out tag-making to private businesses, often in states other than their own. 

Does that save money?  Probably.  It also rewards the governor’s brother-in-law who owns the stamping business.

If you look closely at the picture of the 1959 Montana plate, the low end, under the state name, you’ll see “Prison made.”  Does it pay to advertise?

Okay, now let’s go back to that list.  Are there any states on it that beckon you, states you really really truly want to live in?

Have you ever caught yourself saying “gee, if only I could move to Mississippi?”  Probably not unless you’re a frustrated cotton farmer or want to retire to the State Home for White Supremacists, which now posts a sign on the gate “All Welcome. Some exclusions apply.”

Housing prices in Delaware are reasonable and if you have a hankering to become a sand miner, that might be a place for you.  Democrats far outnumber Republicans in voter registration, but the state has the country’s most “business-friendly laws.

--The way now-former Attorney General Sessions was treated this past year makes even some of the hardest hearts sympathetic.  But please remember this was a miserable little gnome whose own state wouldn’t put him on the bench.  And he was a Senator from Alabama, which says it all.

--Sessions’ replacement, Matthew Whitaker is another prize winner but with one characteristic Sessions lacked.  He’s the ultimate toady - ass kisser - loyalist.  So better figure he’s going to put the brakes on Mueller.  With any luck Mueller’s findings are already before grand juries where -- allegedly -- they can’t be scrubbed or stopped.

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