Monday, April 23, 2018

1935 Lewis Carroll and George Orwell on Campus

The head-spinning babble out of so many school authorities translated for the toiling, translator-challenged masses:

Let’s start here: The School Board wants students to have a voice but did not condone this demonstration.

That should be in quotation marks but then we’d have to name names and the superintendent of that district would probably die of embarrassment if he heard his own words. And we don’t advocate death by embarrassment.

He was speaking about the kids who on the 19th Anniversary of the the Columbine High School mass murders in Colorado high schoolers across the country skipped part of the school day to demonstrate for sane gun regulation.

“We want the students to have a voice.”  (Oh, but let’s not carried away. They’ll miss an important lecture on Bernoulli’s Principle or the number of Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and killed Native Americans (but not by embarrassment.)

“We want the students to express their beliefs and feelings.”  (Yeah, just not on school time and/or school grounds.)

Both Orwell and Carroll would be proud.

This blather is exactly the kind of thing the students protested.  They focused on gun laws.  But behind that is exactly the blivit of double talk that enrages people and undermines this country.

We don’t get it straight from anyone these days.  You listen carefully to these so-called educators praising then punishing the participants and you hear… what? Fear? Lies? Both.

Face it, the demonstrators -- whatever their cause -- are temporarily stopping the machine that education has become.  That breaks the prime directive of high school, “Don’t stop the machine.” Someone may notice and (shudder) maybe even excoriate us administrators.  Someone will send a memo explaining that even people who aren’t in high school know what “excoriate” means and so that can no longer be part of the secret edu-code.  Make up a new word.

So, let’s hope those law breaking high schoolers continue getting out on the soccer field or the front lawn or the public park and keep pounding heads about gun laws.  They’re right and you know it. 

And as they come of age, they’re going to stop another perpetual motion machine:  the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government.  It soon will be their machine. And with any luck, they’ll run it without guaranteed elections, dirty presidents, dirty money and firearms.

Their message: Stop screwing with lingo and start correcting decades -- maybe centuries -- of wrong.  Build that machine so that it’s a rental, not an ownership.

“Am I Next?” -- sign with slogan carried by many of the anti-gun high school demonstrators.

--Earth Day 2018 has come and gone and surprisingly we still have an earth to celebrate… or at least recognize.  This space has long suggested readers and listeners consider buying open land in the area of Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky.  That’s almost sure to be the new Atlantic seacoast.

--Memo to Barbara Bush:  Now that you’re dead there are all kinds of things you can do that you couldn’t do during life on earth. Here’s hoping one of the first will be seek out Nancy Reagan and punch her in the nose for the way she treated you.  If she’s actually up there with you, which may not be the case.

--A check with confirms a suspicion long held in some circles.  Kim and trump are related. They are forever bound together by their ability to lie and brag, and that’s genetic.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, April 20, 2018

1934 Rudy

Attention squeegee men of Washington and Florida.  It’s time to run and hide.  Because here comes RUUUUDY. The man who put you out of work and until now had plenty of time on his hands.

America’s Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani is coming to town to help get trump off Mueller’s hook.  At least that’s what the news people say. We haven’t had a philandering story about Rudy in years.  But the leopard can’t change and this White House doesn’t mind a little close order drill, though trump gets firsties.

You may remember the former mayor’s “valiant” faking following the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Just remember this: on 9/10/01, Rudolph W. Giuliani couldn’t have won an election for dog catcher.  And remember that the late social philosopher Jimmy Breslin called him “A small man in search of a balcony,” which as you students of mid-century history know was a reference to Benito Mussolini.

So after faking competence in 01 and trying to muscle Mike Bloomberg to delay the start of his mayoralty of New York, establishing a private security company of dubious distinction, running a failed presidential campaign and performing his pain in the butt clown act in various venues, Rudy’s found a home.

Let’s hope he’s as successful in ridding America of Robert “Bobby Three Sticks” Mueller as he was in prosecuting as a US Attorney with a splendid record of having his convictions overturned.

He has all the characteristics of a mini-trump.  He cheats on his wives. He hires incompetents and/or crooks for big jobs and he changes major viewpoints more often than you change shirts. (But not more often than Dinkins changed shirts.)

A contest between Mayor Combover and Bobby three sticks is like a batting contest between Joltin’ Joe and the Tin Man.  

The BS has already started.  Giuliani says he “has great respect for Robert Mueller…” which is Rudy-speak for I’m going clobber the SOB.

And trump long ago revived “Lock (Hillary) up” and other diversions and false equivalencies.  

Nope. Theatrics and courtroom and interrogation room showmanship is not going to win this case.

But that’s Rudy’s one identifiable talent. A show biz president needs a telegenic lawyer who is on the speed dials of every guest booker at CNN, MSNBC, Fox, the Fishing Channel and all the shopping channels.

trump’s lawyer’s lawyer’s lawyer says Giuliani won’t have anything to do with the New York cases -- Stormy Daniels and her roommates in the brothel.  Good thing, too.  Because once trump fires three sticks and his Justice Department handlers and then pardon’s his entire staff, there’ll still be the New York stuff. And since those aren’t federal crimes, there is no presidential pardon.

What can this schmeckle add to the team of losers already in trump’s bullpen? Name recognition and… and… well, nothing.  But you can bet DC will have more dirty windshields than usual. And fewer turnstile jumpers.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

1933 Everyone Needs a Fixer

Mike “Tom Hagen” Cohen may be trump and Hannity’s fixer.  But he’s certainly not the first and he won’t be the last.

Not exactly a job you can find on LinkedIn or Monster-dot-com. And no one posts these job openings in a public space -- at least not yet.  But there are plenty of them in the woodwork and while helpful, you don’t need to be a termite to find them.

Most of us don’t remember Eddie Mannix. He was Hollywood’s go to guy to make sure the public images of stars were, shall we say, normalish. And there’s famous fixer Anthony Pellicano, of Michael Jackson and John DeLorean fame.  He’ll soon be out of jail.

It’s not restricted to Hollywood as we’re finding out.  Take a look at New York’s Ben Brafman and Washington’s Bob Strauss.  And the ever reliable “crisis manager” Judy Smith, also of Washington.

The popular definition of a 21st century fixer is the same as the popular definition of a 1970s street pimp: He or she does nothing, but does it with great style.

The definition is good as far as it goes. But fixers really don’t do actual nothing.  They pick up phones or connect their clients with payments.  Most of them, like the pimps of yesteryear, work on commission.

There are so many around these days, they might have to advertise much like personal injury lawyers.  One I knew personally but whose name won’t be disclosed in order to protect my remaining good knee, got paid a couple of grand just to pick up the phone and advise a scandalmonger to stand down, even if he shouldn’t have.

Of course, everyone today is a star, if nowhere else but in their minds. And therefore, everyone needs a fixer.  

But especially guys like trump. Man, wouldn’t you like to have been a fly on Mikey’s wall? Think of the dirt you could dish. The presidency brought no change in this president’s modus operandi. He’s been the same for … well, forever.

Of course, after one “fixes” for a while, a problem can develop. Like Cohen, they may do things that lead to the need for fixer fixers.  And that can spark a chain reaction.  Cohen needs a fixer.  Then Cohen’s fixer needs a fixer and then the fixer of the fixer of the fixer needs a fixer.  

And there’s risk.  Sometimes, fixer’s fixer’s fixers stop in their tracks and don’t know where they are or what they’re doing.

This is a condition known as Fixer’s Block. It’s like writer’s block. Except that when you have writer's block you can simply keep working.  Fixing, on the other hand, is like a game of musical chairs. And when the fixing stops, someone gets hurt.

Of course, there’s always a major alternative: don’t break anything.  Like your vows or promises or contracts. It’s easier than you think.

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

1932 trump's War of Diversion

1932 trump’s War of Diversion

Someone ring the bell for the next round.  With all his troubles in the legal area of New York and the legal and legislative arenas of Washington what does trump do?  What so many other scandal scarred presidents have done before him.  He starts a war.

America didn’t not learn its lesson on nation building by getting rid of the evilest of evil terrible horrendous miserable dictators of the moment, Saddam Hussein.  And the foibles of other presidents were small compared to what trump faces.

Both Bushes had outs they failed to take in Iraq.  Reagan had an out and failed to take it in Nicaragua. And Nixon?  Yes, even Nixon had a legitimate exit strategy.  It’s obvious trump has none.  And the only thing he knows to do is lie. 

What about this time?  In his announcement of strikes against Syria Friday he described in gruesome detail the effects of chemical weapons on the people who died when -- as we’re told -- Syria’s government used them against innocent civilians.  

Do you think he really cares about those people?  Only if the military attacks keep his real worries off the front page, the cable panel “news” shows and the lead to the nightly news.

trump cares about glorious pieces of chocolate cake.  And women who willingly oblige him but who wouldn’t give him the time of day let alone access to their bodies if he weren’t a multi thousandaire.[i]

The military strikes against the Assad regime are not going force Assad into a Saddam Hussein style hidey hole in the middle of a traveling tent city in the middle of the desert.   And they’re not going to divert attention from Mueller vs. trump or the woes of his Tom Hagen-like consigliere Mike “the fixer” Cohen (a Long Island boy, by the way.)

Envision:  trump, like HW Bush before him, rings up a couple of other world leaders -- in this case England and France and asks them to send a couple of army grunts to participate in the invasion. They agree.

Then he calls Assad and says “Look Haf-azz, we’re going to hit some of your poison gas stations and you’d best move all that evil crap somewhere else so you’ll still have it on hand when you need gas a few more A-rabs.”

Assad answers: “Haf-azz was my father, I’m Bashar al Assad. But you can call me Al.  Listen up, bud: you’re going to have to telegraph your intentions in a tweet otherwise the world will know we’re phone buddies and Facebook friends.”

trump: “Yeah, you got a point.  I’ll tweet something out while I’m on the toilet after dinner.”  

Which is what happened.

Looks like he managed to knock the legal troubles off the front page, at least for the Sunday papers.  Not a mention of that at the top of the websites of the New York Times or Daily News.  And the Post led with a story about Mrs. t, Melanoma, who thinks she’s not getting enough attention from the media these days.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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[i] Thanks to Gail Collins for “thousandaire.”

Friday, April 13, 2018

1931 A Taxing Time of Year

It’ll soon be over.  Tax deadline is Tuesday, April 17th. Usually it’s the 15th of April. If that happens on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s on the following Monday. This year it’s on Tuesday because this Monday is a holiday in Washington DC, Emancipation Day.

There’s an irony in there somewhere.

But that’s for another time.

The fact is you have a little more time to get the return done.  And if you have problems, the good men and women of the Internal Revenue Service are here to help.  Devote a full day to attempted connection.

Ask your question. Write down the answer.  Re-place the call. Ask your question again.  Re-place the call. Ask your question a third time. If two of the answers match, go with that one. If none of the answers match, flip a coin. (Okay, okay, you don’t have a three sided coin.  So draw straws.)

And please remember that while it’s nearly impossible to connect by phone with the IRS, the IRS does not connect with you, at least by phone. If they have something to say, they’ll say it in a snail mail.  So any calls you get from someone who says he or she is from the tax office and that you owe a bunch of money, tell them to come and arrest you.  They won’t. Or tell them that you gave that money to a Nigerian Prince who asked for it in an email.

Here are some things we’ve learned as a long time tax payer.  

--Remember that BS they gave you when you signed up for your IRA? You know. Where they told you they won’t take taxes out on payday but when you start withdrawing, you pay a lower tax because you’re in a lower bracket.  Guess what.  You probably aren’t in a lower bracket and you’re going to pay through the nose.

--The Shoe Box System of filing paper doesn’t work. You have to separate out the income statements and the deductions. If you don’t and you’re going to file on or near deadline, you’ll go nuts with those shoe boxes full of receipts and miscellaneous junk you’ve thrown in because you don’t know what else to do with it.

--When you finish sorting paper, look on the floor for stuff you dropped.  You’re going to drop something. It’s a law of nature.

--Sort out the stuff you don’t need but don’t throw it out or shred it. Put it in one of those plastic grocery bags if you’ve kept at least one that doesn’t have a hole in it. (Recyclable plastic bags are so fragile, you can cut them with a sharp look.)  Stash the bag somewhere and hold on to it for a while because chances are you’re going to need something you thought you could discard.

--If you have room, keep the trash for a few years.  Put a label on the bag.  Use a piece of paper and a piece of Scotch Tape.  Post it notes have a way of wandering off.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Spy vs. Spy 2.0

Cuban expatriate Antonio Prohias created these guys and they’ve been published in MAD Magazine ever since 1961.  They’re essentially two versions of the same spy. The only difference is one has a white suit and the other’s is black.  Prohias had them chasing each other and trying to put one another out of business.

Fast forward to today.  Both of these cartoon fellas are still at it.  But they have new competition.  We call it Spy vs. Spy 2.0 to give a modern and high tech twist to an old story.

The 2.0 crowd has no physical features. No black suit. No white suit. No beak-like faces.  We don’t yet know about the bombs behind their backs. But they are far more dangerous.

No bodies, but they do have names.  

Siri is the spy who lives in your Apple devices.
Alexa is the spy who lives in your devices.
Cortana is the spy who lives in Windows 10.
Hey is not really a name.  But to summon her, all you have to say is “Hey, Google!”  Kind of magic words.

Spies live secret lives.  Unless they get caught, we never know who among us is one of flesh and blood.  But the techno spies make no secret of who they are or even where they are.

You summon them by name or magic words and they appear in your ears to do their day jobs.  These include looking up stuff on the internet, finding things you want to read, ordering merchandise, making phone calls… that kind of thing.

But no matter what you say, they’re listening.

Let’s say you have a Poodle named Ralph.  Ralph is asleep over in the corner on his rug.  His paws are extended forward and he rests his head on them.  He’s having doggy dreams. 

But if you suddenly say “Hey, Ralph,” Ralph wakes up -- usually instantly -- and looks at you as if to say “What’s up, boss?”

It’s what dogs do.  But the spies don’t have feet or eyes.  And they never sleep.  In order to respond to the commands, they have to listen to everything.

When you tell Alexa to find the nearest Pizza joint, she doesn’t stand up groggily shake or stretch to get the kinks of sleep out.  She’s there right away and she’s ready for action.

In order to do that, the spy has to be listening to everything that goes on in the room.  Everything. That argument you’re having with your spouse.  Your side of the phone conversation you’re having with the collection agent, the customer service agent, the landlord or your Aunt Tilly in the nursing home.

Always listening. Always alert.

And these gizmos are getting smarter all the time.

“Siri, open ‘’”
“Sorry. The government seized the page because there were hooker ads and maybe sex traffickers and other nefarious characters. It no longer can be opened.”

“Hey, Cortana,” where is the best place to buy a pizza around here?”

“There are 15 places that serve Pizza within three miles of here.” (Reads list.)

But if you think about it, the spies are taking in all kinds of other information about you.  Maybe they know about your checking account balance from the most recent time you checked your bank’s web app.  Maybe they know you’re planning a surprise party for your spouse. Will they spill the beans ahead of time?  Unknown.

Warrantless searches by private parties are not illegal.  If you break into the house down the block and snoop, maybe find some suspicious activity, the court won’t throw out the evidence.  Warrants are for cops and prosecutors.  Other than that, you may be charged with breaking-and-entering or even burglary. But what you discover can’t be excluded if you find 400 unpaid traffic tickets in the house you burgled.

So as we have discovered from Facebook v. Everyone else, all this stuff is sitting in computers in someone’s data farm.
And they’ll sell you to the highest bidder.

Advice for the victims? Unplug.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, April 09, 2018

1929 Rebellion at the Denver Post

The before and after staff pictures were taken in 2013 and earlier this month. There, in two photographs you can see the staff cutbacks at the 125-year-old Denver Post newspaper, which serves an area of 700-thousand people in Colorado.

It’s not unique.  But the staff response to it is.  On Sunday, April 8th, the paper’s editorial director published a series of op-ed pieces about the takeover of the paper by the New York based venture capital company, Alden Global Capital.

The headline: “As Vultures Circle.”

The Post is to fire more people today.

This kind of rebellion is growing at other papers, large and small, as big corporations take them over and gut them.

But lately it shows signs of pandemia.

Yes, it’s a tough business. Yes, the internet has forced readership away from print. Yes, advertising revenue has shriveled everywhere from the mighty New York Times to the puny Centre Daily Times of State College PA.  

Yes, many in the news business consider it a calling rather than a job and maybe it isn’t.

Here’s one thing for sure:  You don’t want to be Chuck Plunkett this morning.


Plunkett is the editorial page editor. And he is the mastermind of this.  As of this writing, he’s a hero in the newsroom. Monday, the vulture capitalists 1800 air miles due east will have picked his carcass.

In some ways, this rebellion carries the vibe of students rebelling against the food in a middle school cafeteria.  In other ways it has the vibe of when a priest visits prison to walk the death row inmate to the gurney.

The rebels can’t win.  They couldn’t win at Aviation Trades High School Cafeteria, where the food still is worse than what the kids will get when they’re adults and working for an airline. The priest can’t crimp the tubes running into the arm of the inmate.  And the staff of the Denver Post can’t win against the moneybags and MBAs at the vulture capital firm because to them, a newspaper is like a news stand or a widget wholesaler only bigger and less portable.

Big important papers sometimes find sugar daddies.  The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and to go back to ancient times, the New York Herald Tribune are examples.

So, to the rebels: Polish your resumes.  And your job jargon.  Learn these phrases: “You want fries with that?” “Welcome to Wal-mart.” “Shine, Mister?” “Thank you for choosing Uber.” “High, I’m Marty and I’ll be your server.”  “Hey, baby, want a date?”

--To what do we owe this stunner?  Nancy Grace is back on TV, with a live audience that applauds as she and Dan Abrams evaluate and debate “big” cases.  A&E has also put another failed prosecutor on, but Marcia Clark is at least tolerable and doesn’t cause the TV to vibrate like it wants to jump off the wall-mount.

For further reading on Ms. Grace, click Here for earlier thoughts on Gracenoxious from July 2016.

“The most alienated among us load up on weapons and express their soul-sickness in blood. Finland, Norway and Denmark are not without problems, but researchers say what sets the happier nations apart is the premium their cultures place on the time spent in nature and in harmonious, intimate contact with friends and family.”  --Editor-in-chief William Falk of The Week magazine on growing alienation Americans feel.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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1935 Lewis Carroll and George Orwell on Campus

The head-spinning babble out of so many school authorities translated for the toiling, translator-challenged masses: Let’s start her...