Friday, December 09, 2016

1731 The Coal Huggers

The dilemma: what do you do with the people?  

There's no question we have to stop using fossil fuels. Or at least slow down.

But the coal huggers are right when they ask “what about the jobs?”

Never mind the fevered desperation of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas. (Big Gas. That has a nice ring to it, no?)

When an energy company views the world from atop a mountain of money, who can blame it for striking out in fear?  Fight or flight.

You can write off the climate change deniers as people who have deep roots in an idea.  Kind of like a town full of out of work coal miners with the idea that moving is a wrong move.

Miners are people.  And they won’t migrate from home because there aren't real jobs anywhere else and because they’re, well, home.

“Training!” you say? “Training is the answer!” Training?   For what?  You can’t even find a job as a gas jockey anywhere in this country except New Jersey and Oregon.  And the fringe benefits?  You’re allowed a couple of free coffees from the convenience store each day to ward off the cold of winter and boost your flagging energy. So take what you get and don’t forget to say “thank you” to Manager Bob or even the free coffee will go away.

So what’s the solution?  Don’t look here, folks.

And don’t believe everything you hear about solar power and wind power.  We are not going to look like the Netherlands with its quaint windmills sitting passively in the lowlands.

To make enough electricity for a community larger than your block you need a propeller the size of the everglades and it has to be sitting in a typhoon zone.

Electric cars?  Earth to Earth-dayers.  They’re not selling well.  Even though they’re environmentally friendly and have won the hearts of cheating spouses and hard drinkers who need to sneak home silently in the small hours of the morning.

Doing good is good. Saving the whales, saving the spotted owls, saving the redwoods, saving the fruit flies.  All fine goals. And we should continue to do that.   But we also need real jobs for real people.

Yes, the unemployment rate is technically low. Don’t look too closely at how they arrive at those figures.  

What we’re in is not a recession and not a depression. What we’re in is a regression, a hillbillification.  There’s nothing wrong with “self reliance.” But there are limits in a country of this size, scope and population.

So stop pretending you’re living in the era of Davy Crockett and Wild Bill Hickok.

Those who will soon be in charge of dismantling modern America are trying to bring back a wonderful era that never was.

Today’s Quote:
“There’s (a sucker) born every minute.”  -- Attributed to P.T. Barnum but a phrase common among crooked 19th century gamblers.

-Let the record show that El Generalissimo, the chief- elect of the oncoming junta, is not really channeling Leona Helmsley except for the “only the little people pay taxes” part.

-Is it just me, or is there something wrong with the story of California mom Sheri Papini who disappeared while jogging on November 2nd and was found along a roadside on Thanksgiving Day.

-A sad farewell to pioneer astronaut and former Senator John Glenn of Ohio who has died at age 95.

--You may not realize it but the right and its “alt” have their own version of politically correct speech.  If you don’t call the Democratic Party the Democrat Party, you’re a “liberal,” or “the L word.” And you’re not anti abortion, you’re just “pro life” at least when it comes to protoplasm residing in a womb.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

1730 I the Jury

1730 I the Jury
That’s Mickey Spillane. Tough guy. Author of the novel with the title stolen for this post.

But this is not about Mike Hammer, private eye. This is about a one man jury in that bastion of democracy and equality, South Carolina, who dissented from eleven others and made a mistrial for Michael T. Slager, disgraced and disgraceful ex cop and killer.

Eleven jurors voted guilty.  The holdout -- and we don’t yet know who he is -- couldn’t bring himself or herself to go along.  

The slayer Slager who is white killed Walter Scott who was black as he ran away from a traffic stop for a broken tail light.

If you haven’t seen a bystander’s phone video,  here's a link provided to and by the New York Times. Caution: violence.

The cop feared for his life?

What happened here is called jury nullification, which the courts have declared illegal but cannot stop.

Nullification happens when a jury decides that the accused is guilty but the law is lousy or wrongly applied and acquits.  It’s easier to do this in trials that don’t require unanimous verdicts.  This one did.  So the result is a mistrial.

The judge can overturn a verdict. So if this jury had voted to acquit, the judge could reverse.  But in the case of a single holdout in a hopeless deadlock, there’s nothing much a judge can do but start over.

It is impossible for a rational human being to not see the evidence in the Scott case.  But there certainly could be nullification. The jury may dislike black people and decided that the cop killed a black guy just because he had a pretend reason.  The jury could nullify because it believes that broken taillights are a true menace to society.  There are such people.  Some of them are cops.  

Put yourself in the position of the officer who “feared for (his) life.”  Page 2 of The Police Officer’s Guide to handling street crime:

“(1) When a guy has a gun you can see and he’s running or walking toward you, your life is in danger. (2) When you see a guy with no gun running away from you, your life is not in danger.  If necessary you may fire in situation number one, but not in situation number two.

Slager must have missed class that day. Hope he had an absence note from mommy.

--Broadcast news people from an earlier time confused “innocent” with “not guilty,” which are not the same. The theory: if someone tuned in at the exact wrong moment, they’d hear the “guilty,” but not the “not.”  Some of us rebelled against the policy and won.

Today’s Quote:
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 12/8/41 describing the attack the previous day on Pearl Harbor and asking congress for a declaration of war.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016

Monday, December 05, 2016

1729 Missing Channels

Note to readers: this is an edited Least Worst Wessays™ from 2006. Most readers had not seen it. It appears today while the entire staff and management concentrates on extracting antidictions from WestraDamus in time to make the year-end deadline. Oh, and attending raucous holiday parties.

Yes, there are missing channels, hard to believe as that is.

Here are some we should have and don’t:
THE CLOCK CHANNEL: Just a clock. Big and easy to read. 24/7. No need to hunt around the screen while Fox and CNN and MSNBC and ESPN and CNBC and Bloomberg play “hide the time.”

Maybe a little background music to go with it. “Time On My Hands,” “the Right Time of Night,” “’til the End of Time.” “The Syncopated Clock,” “My Grandfather’s Clock,” “Do That To Me One More Time,” “Time After Time,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” you get the picture.
Great for offices, factories, hospital rooms, jewelry stores and just a little something to pass the time of day.

THE FENCE CHANNEL: Tour the world’s favorite fences, from the Great Wall of China to the President elect’s fence on the US border with Mexico. Look into the DMZ between the Koreas. Check out the back 40 from the comfort of your den. Check out your favorite ball park.

THE TATTOO CHANNEL: Watch body artists at work. See bikers and schoolgirls, sailors and stockbrokers. Learn about this fine craft and maybe sneak a peek at some piercings, too.

THE WHITLING CHANNEL: Live from the front porches of America, professional and amateur whittlers show you what to do with a knife and a stick. Prime time lessons in how to carve a decoy duck out of a left over 4x6.

WEATHER CHANNEL CLASSICS: All the great storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, snowfalls, and clear days from history. They have this footage, why not use it?

THE COAL MINE CHANNEL: What’s it really like down there? Find out 24/7 with helmet cams and mics worn by real miners working real mines. See how they seek it out, bring it out and sometimes get snuffed out right before your very eyes.

THE JUNKYARD CHANNEL: Tour America’s great junkyards. Learn the complex puzzle stacking systems used by modern computerized yards, and the haphazard slapdash methods of Old School operators. See junkyard dogs trained. Find parts for that rusting Oldsmobile on blocks in your front yard. Or for that 1929 Packard you’re restoring or for that bumper you just busted when you hit and ran.

THE SHIPPING CHANNEL: Watch boats loaded and unloaded in stories port cities like or New Orleans.  See how they bring in cars through the Port of San Francisco and make jobs disappear at the same time. Be a part of the shapeups. Watch the Longshoremen’s Union collect dues. View incoming drug shipments at the Port of Miami or Port Arthur, Texas. Watch middle eastern terrorists get out of cargo containers on the Canadian coast.

THE PIPE LIGHTING CHANNEL: There are as many ways to light pipes as there are guys who still smoke them. Learn technique, wind measurement, the flame properties of everything from a common gas station matchbook to an elaborate antique Zippo.

THE ROADPAVING CHANNEL: You’re always stalled at construction sites, and never get to see what’s going on behind those road cones and blinking orange lights. Now, you can find out what goes on while guys seem to just stand around doing nothing. Watch them spread rock and then gravel and then asphalt or tar. Watch them carefully grade the road so it floods in low lying areas and they are re-called to fix it, adding to the economy through the time honored tradition of cost overruns.

THE MAIL DELIVERY CHANNEL: Postmen and women from coast to coast brave rain, snow and gloom of night. Now, see what THEY see, as they see it. Watch them dump mailbags into rivers and oceans. Watch them as they try to read the handwriting on envelopes. Watch them try to pick YOUR mailbox out of the crowd.

THE GRASS GROWING CHANNEL: keep track of someone’s lawn as it sprouts from seeds, grows into grass, gets fertilized and mowed and infested with weeds and insects and finally is covered with snow. It’s a slow story, but satisfying.

THE DESTRUCTION CHANNEL: This will be a favorite all over the world. Implosions, explosions, wrecking balls, gunfire of infinite variety, samurai swords beheading dislikeable parents and western humanitarian aid workers, bows and arrows, grenades, missiles, poison manufacture, auto wrecks, shootouts, building collapses, house fires, high rise fires tire blowouts and much, much more.

Steal these ideas. Let no niche go unfilled.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. ®
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(c) WJR 2006, 2016

Friday, December 02, 2016

1728 Leave No Question Unanswered

Times have changed.  Little kids used to ask parents why the sky is blue. Many parents didn’t know. They encouraged the kids to look it up.  The kids looked it up. Or didn’t.  But many of them retain the answer to this very day.

Today’s kids ask the same question.  And in moments, they’ll hear something along these lines:

“A clear cloudless day-time sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light.  When we look towards the sun at sunset, we see red and orange colors because the blue light has been scattered out and away from the line of sight.”

One Philip Gibbs wrote that in May of 1997 on the website of the University of California/Riverside.  But 12 year old big brother Hank probably didn’t tell six year old Jimmy, thus consolidating his power as the go to guy for all the answers.

Hank didn’t know the answer either.  But he had his smart phone with him and found the information in mere seconds.

And now we all have the brains and memory we never had before.  Amazing what’s out there… much of it pretty accurate and easy to find.

You can translate anything from any language to any other language and while it comes out in a stiff electron-rich kind of way, without decoration or nuance, it works pretty well.

Some things are harder than others to find.  For example, trying to find out how many retail customers do business with Wells Fargo bank the other day required some research.  Research, of course, means going beyond the first website that comes up. Maybe even as far as a third or (heavens!) fourth.

The answer is around 70 million.  Out of context, that factum is meaningless.  But it could win you a last call drink at the Dew Drop Inn some future early morning.

So bring it on, kids.  Real questions get real answers. The better the formation of the question, the better the answer.

But sometimes, even stupid questions get instantaneous answers.  To experiment, we typed in “How much wood wood a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?”

In less than a second, there appeared a reasonable answer and a little scolding:

“According to a Cornell publication, the answer is ~700 pounds.”   (The tilde means “approximately.”)  

The answer then went on to compare the chucking ability of a woodchuck to that of a beaver and a groundhog.  And apparently “chuck” in this context means “moving timber.”

Ya learn something new every day.

In any event, there’s no question that begs for an answer.

-Some websites are not only for research, they work as Ouija Boards… as happened when I put in the song title “When Will I Be Loved?” and the answer came back “Never… you don’t deserve it… and don’t ask questions in the passive voice.”

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

© WJR 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1727 The Amwayfying of Education

It’s a good thing the US Secretary of Education has no influence, no clout and no real function.  Thanks to Jimmy Carter for making this a cabinet position, elevating the job to one where it usually can do no harm.

Show of hands, now.  Who was the first person with this job?  Anybody?  Ah, yes. That girl, the one in the back of the room… Shirley Hufstedler is correct.  Funny no one remembers her.

She was followed in office by Terrell Bell of Idaho. That was a mistake. Bell spent actual time teaching. Can’t have that!  Later, such luminaries as Bill “Casinos of Virtue” Bennett served. Living proof that Harvard doesn’t check references.

Now, we have Mrs. Amway, Betsy DeVos, whose brother founded another center of virtue, Blackwater, and whose husband is heir to half the Amway fortune, a pot of gold based on come-ons, unkept promises, and what we now must call “multi-level marketing” because it is no longer politically correct to call it a pyramid scheme. And under pressure from state attorneys general, the company fine tuned its business practices to conform to the letter of the law. Oh, and Amway paid fines of $150 million. No quid pro quo here, people.

Ah, but Sweet Betsy from Ada (MI) is not going to go from classroom to classroom pitching the attributes of Amway LOC cleaner.  Nor is she going to recruit novices to build private schools with parents earning commission for each new student they recruit or new school they open in turn.

What she’s likely try, though, is privatize public schools.  

Remember, the war against public education, like the war on abortion choice, is fought from many angles, the main one being adding restrictions and roadblocks wherever possible.

With abortion clinics, it’s passing stupid laws designed to force closure.  With education, it’s building charter schools which drain money from public district budgets and ultimately could force them to collapse. (Michigan’s charter schools are among the least effective in the country, so Betz has a working model without ever having to leave home.)

Good public school teachers are not overpaid.  When they succeed it’s despite federal (and state) intervention not because of it.

Common Core, Outcome-based education, open classrooms, closed classrooms, new math, and all the other fads have brought us absolutely nowhere.  But assuming confirmation, Mrs. Amway will likely try harder and more effectively to take public schools and put up a parking lot.

Today’s Quote:
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all.” -- Paul Simon (“Kodachrome.”)

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

1726 On the Subway

Your reporter first started riding the New York City Subways at the age of four or five.  There was no fare if you could pass under the turnstile without duck-walking.  

There is a website, where readers pose questions and other readers respond. A recent question was “What is the craziest thing you ever saw on a New York Subway?”

My reply:
Until I retired, I was a regular NYC subway rider for more than 60 years, steady for more than 40 of them so I hardly know where to begin.
There was the conductor on the E train who had married two ex-nuns in succession. (The first one passed away.)

The coke machine that returned $20 in dimes and a coke in return for two nickels. There was the cop who helped me after I fell on a platform chasing and missing a train, cutting myself badly, bleeding profusely from a head wound. He asked me if I knew where I was. I did. And I asked him to take out his ticket book. Why? “Because, officer, I’m going to light up right in front of that no smoking sign.” He asked me if I had a spare while his partner called the Emergency Medical Service.

There were...
“Homeless” panhandlers who had a better apartment than I. Kids selling M&Ms to support their fake basketball team or their fake anti-drug programs. A guy who imitated Al Jolson and credibly. My boss, a billionaire and the city’s mayor hugging a pole so a pregnant woman could have his seat. The guy with a boom box playing the overture from “Carmen,” The straw covered seats on what’s now called the “7 Train” that would puncture your pants and scratch you. The rats that laughed when the Transit Authority put up signs that warned against going on the tracks because they’d just spread rat poison.

Man, I loved every minute of it. Glorious entertainment at the price of a nickel, then a dime, then a token and then a not ready for prime time MetroCard.
But there was far more than that.

The emergency light bulbs with reverse threads so you couldn’t use them at home if you stole them… the ads for Dr. Zizmor the acne-battling dermatologist and Dr. MD Tusch who catered to gay men with backside problems. The loudspeaker announcements made in no known language but when you heard them, you knew you were going to be late.

In later years there were street musicians many of whom were better than anything you could buy in a record store:

An Asian guy who played some kind of bowed string instrument and could do more with four notes than the violin section of the New York Philharmonic… a lovely red-haired soprano with a name you either never knew or easily forgot, but a voice you couldn’t… Doowop quartets and quintets that sang circles around The Penguins and The Coasters and The Moonglows… a security guard turned classical guitarist who sounded like a young Segovia.

All this happening as rush hour filled platforms with herds of home bound riders who knew exactly where to stand on the platform to line up with a door when the train stopped.  At least most of the time.

For a time, some of the cars were rolling art museums. Graffiti, yes.  But but graffiti that stunned with form and color.

Full trains that pulled in, opened up and no one got off except the 85 year old guy who was nowhere near a door and carried four full shopping bags.  And no room to squeeze in, but we did anyway.

Somehow we always got home. Maybe a little late. Maybe a lot late. But we made it.

Some call the New York subway a mess. I call it a near-miracle.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

1725 Black Friday

1725 Black Friday

Today is “Black Friday,” the day when those merchants who are going to show a profit this year will start to fill in the ledgers with black ink instead of red.

Of course, who keeps ledgers these days when you have spreadsheet programs that allow you to manipulate data, slice and cube it, puree and bake or broil it into meaninglessness?

But I digress.  Let’s look at Black Friday and the way merchants merch.

First three of the big failures- in- waiting:

  1. Macy’s. They coupon themselves to death based on a secret formula about to be disclosed.
  2. Kohl’s.  They’ve mastered the Macy’s formula and turned it into high art.
  3. Sears.  Gimme a break.

Here’s the Macy system:  buy lots of stuff wholesale. Figure out how much you’ve spent on everything combined and how much of an overall profit you think you should make.  Forget MSRPs and hold sales, boosting the prices of some stuff while you sell the rest at cost or less.

Yes, at Macy’s and Kohl’s the price you pay for an item often has little or nothing to do with the store’s cost.

Sears?  Why are they still in business?  Terrific TV ads.  And every aisle in the store is a passing lane with no speed limit and no one to pass.  Once they were the country’s biggest retailer.  But the combination of e-commerce, Wal-mart and no clear vision of what they are -- or aren’t -- have choked them.

They’d do better to rent their buildings for use as rehearsal halls for dance troops and military march training.  Maybe with a bowling alley or an indoor golf course.

But if they want to survive, it’s not Wal or Macy’s who are the real competitors. The real competitors are Home Despot, Lowe’s, Ace and Tru-value.  And unless they learn that, they can’t be around much longer. To make matters worse, their K-Mart component is maybe one and a half steps above the Goodwill store.

The true beneficiaries of this kind of merchandising are the Marshall’s/TJMaxx kinds of stores. They get the pick of what the big name customers didn’t buy and sell it for a song.

People in droves are staying away from malls. Who can blame them?  

Let’s say ten flying saucers from Mars land in ten different shopping centers and communicate thus:  Lead Saucer: Let’s meet at the Gap.  So far I’m the only one here.
Saucer 3: I’m at the Gap and don’t see you.
Saucer 4: Me too.
Saucer 9: I don’t know where you guys are, but I’m the only Martian in front of the Gap.

They’ve all landed in different states with malls you can’t tell apart if you’re an earthling looking for a pair of sneakers let alone a Martin visitor.

Yes, yes… the gigunda versions like Mall of America and King of Prussia are sort of exceptions.  But you can’t tell the difference between Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island and the Sovereign Nation Mall in Butte, Montana.

Each has a Macy’s a Penney’s a Sears and maybe a Nordstrom or a Bloomingdales. Each has a Sunglass Hut, a GNC, a Gap, an Old Navy, four or more competing cell phone kiosks, a generic athletic shoe store and a food court with a pizza counter, a burger counter, a Subway or Blimpie, a Thai place, a Chinese place and a pretzel stand.

So why go? To see and be seen. But not to buy.

The traditional stores are moving to online business just as newspapers are moving to on line publication and with the same dancing- in- the- dark bungling.  

Meantime, Amazon, Zappos, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, Lands’ (sic) End, Stauer, Harry & David, Omaha Steaks and the TV shopping channels are eating brick and mortar for lunch and without choking, breaking a sweat or a tooth.

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

© WJR 2016