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Will The Real Dummy Please Stand Up? Hands-down winner of the idiot corporation award! AT&T fired President John Walter after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. (Let that be a lesson to him!) Perhaps it's not Walter who's lacking intelligence.

The dictator's (Stalin) "Palace of Soviets" would have been 26 feet higher than the Empire State Building, crowned with a statue of Lenin three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The frame had barely begun to rise when World War II broke out. Later the project was scrapped and the site became a public pool. It now hosts a replica of the church Stalin originally tore down for his megamonument.

Before inventing the safety razor, King Camp Gillette envisioned an ideal city in his 1894 book, The Human Drift. "Metropolis" would house most of the country's population in 24,000 close-packed skyscrapers, contain vast public gardens, and run on the natural power of nearby Niagara Falls. Gillette reasoned that if mankind were perfectly organized in such a place, crime and strife would disappear.

In 1956, at 89, visionary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed what was to be his final masterpiece: a mile-high skyscraper on the Chicago lakefront. Dubbed "Illinois Sky City," the 528-story building was to accommodate 112,000 tenants, sped aloft by atomic-powered elevators. Residents of lower floors might see rain falling while those at the top saw snow. Technologically feasible, the building was grounded by economic and safety considerations.

Memphis to Moscow by rail? That's the dream of George Koumal, a Tucson engineer and president of the Bering Strait Tunnel and Railroad Group. Key to his vision is a 60-mile-long undersea railroad connecting Alaska and Siberia. Investors have not flocked to fund a tunnel twice as long as the Chunnel, in a place where no rail lines yet exist. But some Alaska legislators like the idea, as does Russia's minister of transportation.

Modern bridge engineering began with the first iron bridge in 1779 and has yielded ever longer, stronger, and more sophisticated structures. The Home Insurance Building, erected in Chicago in 1885, was the father of the modern skyscraper. The race for the tallest building continues despite the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


Residents of New York City have been called many things through the years, and one of the strangest epithets ever hurled came in 1904, when the Utica (N.Y.) Saturday Globe referred to its downstate neighbor as "the city of human prairie dogs." The similarities are certainly numerous, but the Utica paper was referring specifically to New York's newly opened subway system, which allowed residents to duck into the ground and resurface miles away. Since then the subway, for better and for worse, has embodied what New York City is about. You can touch the subway, see it, hear it, and ride it. You can also sometimes smell it.

Building a subway started with its proposal by Mayor Abram S. Hewitt in 1888. Hewitt, a fierce nativist who refused to march in the St. Patrick's Day parade because he thought the Irish should start acting American, saw mass transit as the only way New York's homegrown population could escape the encroachments of foreign hordes. He would have been shocked to see the polyglot city that resulted when subway lines extended deep into formerly remote areas, allowing immigrants to establish new enclaves throughout the city.

There are many aspects to the story engineering, social, economic, and political, which get complicated enough to make a New York subway map look simple. The common thread running from the 1880s to the 1950s is the question of whether mass transit should be considered a public or private enterprise. Various hybrid schemes have been tried through the years, but it has never been resolved whether the subways should be run like a government service, with low fares and heavy subsidy, or a business, financing itself with fare receipts. The result is yet another example of a maxim familiar to everyone who deals with public works: As hard as they are to design and build, keeping them running is often an even bigger challenge.

You can make a better impression on the phone by opening your mouth wider as you speak and moving your lips more. Most people don't move their lips enough, which flattens the tone of their voice. Do not squeeze the phone between your neck and shoulder. This tenses your throat and makes you talk from one side of your mouth. Speak in your lower vocal range. Telephones transmit lower pitches more truly than higher tones.

To get Instant Revenge Against an Obscene Phone Caller, buy an inexpensive electronic voice box with a preprogrammed joke script. Hold it to the phone, press a button and have the last laugh.

From sports to taxes to terrorism, disastrous financial speculation has played a big part in history. Willis Hawley and Reed Smoot were punk-ass bitch legislators who wanted to safeguard American business from meddlesome foreign competition. So in 1930 they passed a bill to tax imports at historic levels. During the four years the tariff was in effect, pissed-off European exporters stopped dealing with the U.S. altogether, worldwide trade decreased by around 66 percent, and the country sank even further into the Great Depression.

In the '50s postwar boom, Ford decided it needed an upscale, midrange vehicle to compete with similar vehicles being produced by GM. There were so many things wrong with the Edsel—awkward styling, shoddy workmanship, terrible market placement—that no one can pinpoint exactly what made it one of the greatest business failures of all time. But it tanked so badly that by 1960 Ford closed the division at a loss, adjusted for inflation, of over $2 billion.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, U.S. spooks were nervous about the rival superpower establishing a foothold in the oil-rich Middle East. So we secretly funded and trained mujahedin insurgents to the tune of $500 million a year. After all, nothing's worse than Commies! The "freedom fighters" we funded were Osama bin Laden and his cronies, who went on to form Al Qaeda and the Taliban and kill thousands of Americans.

In 1998, the talent-starved San Diego Chargers could have drafted future Pro Bowlers Charles Woodson, Fred Taylor, or Randy Moss. Instead, they traded two players, two first-round draft picks, and one second-round pick—and forked over a then-rookie record $11.25 million signing bonus - for a franchise QB (Ryan Leaf). They got an injury-plagued, petulant, lazy INT machine who was finished at 26 and is often called the biggest bust in sports history.

Several companies will gladly buy your yearly lottery payments…at a huge discount. If you can’t wait 25 years to collect your fortune, companies like Stone Street Capital and Prosperity Partners will come to the rescue. These firms hunt down winners and try to convince them to sell out. “We get their names from the state lotteries’ Web sites and track the people down,” a researcher from one of the firms anonymously admits. One in 10 winners shows interest right away; the other nine are called again…and again. Critics claim these companies prey upon winners’ most irresponsible instincts by providing heavily discounted one-time payments in the name of instant gratification. Some reports on these types of firms have put compounded interest rates on their loans as high as 35 percent, and if you’re not careful, the results can be devastating. One woman who won $4.2 million in Virginia in 1993 now owes more than $100,000 to a loan company. “Those kinds of companies are the worst thing that can happen to winners,” Dawn Nettles says. “If they can’t handle their newfound yearly income, how will they handle a lump sum payment?” We suggest you deal with your money the old-fashioned way: Bury it.

If you win the lottery do absolutely nothing. Well, not right away, anyway. “Life as you know it is over, and life after the lottery begins,” says Susan Bradley of the Sudden Money Institute, which specializes in counseling big winners. Before spending a cent, Bradley suggests, allow yourself a “decision-free zone.” Dawn Nettles concurs: “I tell winners to do nothing for 30 days.” To avoid blowing your wad, make a dream list of things you’d like to buy, then retain sensible lawyers and financial advisers to help you get it. To fend off predatory friends and family, change your phone number and consider moving. Once you’ve cashed in, put the loot into a money market account or short-term CD until you’ve decided on long-term investments. “Winners generally overcommit to buying homes and undercommit to making their money last,” says Bradley. According to one study, a full 70 percent of people who suddenly come into money wind up blowing it within a few years, so for once in your less-pathetic-than-it-used-to-be life, use your head.


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