Monday, September 01, 2014

1377 September

It seems like it was only yesterday it was August.  Come to think of it, it was only yesterday.

Yes, here we are on the first of September, but for much of August we were getting a preview.  You can hardly tell the difference. Great September weather. Early.  The kind of weather about which people say “I could do with these conditions all year.”

Some hot days here in the northeast, but not Arizona-hot.  Some cool days, but not Yukon-cold.

Maybe the heavens are rewarding us for good behavior.

You have been behaving well lately, right?

No.  Me, neither.  So it’s probably not that.

They forget to read the calendar up there?  

Probably not.  Even if there is an “up there” and even if they read and have calendars.

Floods in the midwest and north of us.  Drought in the west and to the south of us?  Yet, here we are enjoying something like six weeks of really nice conditions, punctuated by an occasional downpour… the kind that comes and goes pretty fast.

But, of course, there’s more to September than just the August weather.

The kids are either back in school or soon will be. The nominal adult college students are back in class.  Well… back on campus and in the frat houses, private apartments and dorms.

And though reasonably modest up until now, the political campaigns will move into third gear.  That’s always a thrill.

But the big question remains: if August was September weatherwise, what will September be?

Today also is Labor Day, or Salute to the forgotten man or woman day.

The holiday is a salute to the American worker, to the men and women who built this country, to the men and women who fought for their rights as human beings in an era when they were considered farm animals or machines, who organized and then told capital "you can't do this to us.  We're doing the work.  We want our share, no more, but no less."

Recalling the good organized labor has done for disorganized labor:  the 40 hour week, paid holidays, paid vacations, a living wage, health benefits, a retirement plan.  All stuff your boss wouldn’t give thought to were it not for unions, even if there isn’t one in your shop.

Today, unions have become the enemy and are losing the battle to represent workers.  The ranks have been diminishing, the existing contracts have become law school examples of how to not get what you need or want or deserve.  Organizing efforts?  WHAT organizing efforts?  Handing out handbills at Wal-Mart is not what we used to call “organizing.”

You can summarize the reason for the labor movement in two words “bad bosses.”  American workers often don’t want unions as they clearly demonstrate these days.  But they needed them back then and they need them now, maybe now more than ever.  If you’re in a union shop, just think of how things would be without a wall between you and the Simon Legree or Torquemada who supervises you.  If you’re NOT in a union, you don’t need to think about it... you know better than the rest of us.

(Portions of this appeared previously in posts about Labor Day in 2010 and 2011.)

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014, 2011, 2010.

Friday, August 29, 2014

1376 The Typewriter

The most valuable course I ever took in public school was typing.  In the eighth grade.

Mr. Corcoran taught us to never look at the keyboard.  And the typewriters we had, Royal office models, had   blank spaces instead of letters on the push keys.

He also taught us “never compose on a typewriter.” Write stuff out by hand and then type your paper as a presentation.

Mr. Corcoran is probably long gone.  But his lessons live on -- even the ones that were wrong.

Like most of us, I now compose on Google Docs and or Microsoft word.  And I look at the keyboard.

Word processors did not exist in those years. Today, there is no better or faster way to convert thoughts into type or fix mistakes.

But typewriters are making a comeback.  Or so it’s reported.

Ah, the clacking of keys… the strengthening of fingers.

Part of this is nostalgia, much in the same way vinyl phonograph recordings have again become a big enough niche to mean something.

But it’s also an expression of paranoia.  The hackers and the National Security Agency can’t tap into your typewriter and steal your secrets.

You don’t need passwords.  All you have to do is lock your paperwork in a drawer and chances are no unauthorized eyes will see anything they shouldn’t.

Some problems here.

First, few new machines are being made.  Brother has some electric models.  Royal has some manuals.  And some websites offer new-old stock models that weren’t sold back when they were common.  

Failing to find a new one at a good price, the next best bet is finding and fixing an old one.  These were relatively rugged machines.  But there are delicate innards. Keys break.  They get bent.  Typefaces wear out.

There are people who advertise they repair or restore here and there among the newspaper articles about the “last typewriter guy” in this or that town or city.  You could pick up an oldie at a garage sale or thrift shop and take your chances with getting it restored.

Ribbons are not as hard to find as you might think if you have a once-popular brand like Brother or IBM.

But here’s the real problem:  Even the lightest weight portable typewriters are about as portable as the original portable TV sets.  That is to say “not at all.”

And imagine the reaction if you brought one into a Starbucks or McDonalds or Barnes & Noble and started clacking away among the silent laptops and iPads.

I have a Swiss- made Olympia portable in the basement.  It in mint condition because in the school years (it was a high school graduation gift in 1959) it got very little academic use.  But that’s another story for another time.


--This is going to shock little girls-- and some big ones the world over. Hello Kitty is not a cat, she is a third grade girl. Take a look and see if you can see that.

--Imagine this: sometimes professional football players abuse their spouses and or children.  Completely unbelievable, of course.  But the National Football League is “tightening the penalties” for these phantom crimes.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

1375 Scam Unmaked and Admitted

The calls came cascading in.  One after another after another.  Seventeen of them in two days, all from the same number in Welch, West Virginia.

Sixteen of them, there was no one there or a hangup. Seventeenth time was the charm.

The caller was “Ed from Microsoft.”  Ed has that distinctive accent that comes from being born, raised and living in India.  Ed?

So Ed, I say, what department of Microsoft do you work for?

Instead of answering, he tells me my computer is infected and endangered.

So Ed, I say, you didn’t answer my question.

Ed is busily reading from his script.  He needs to take control of my computer so he can fix the problem.

Okay, Ed, so what department of Microsoft are you with?

Well, he says, we’re contractors for Microsoft and they hire us to find problems like yours and fix them.

So, Ed, what contractor and from where, please.

Back to the script.

So, Ed… keep talking.  But one more question.  Do you know what Interpol is?

Yes, he says.

“Well if I keep you on the phone long enough, Interpol will be able to trace the phony West Virginia number to the real number in Bombay and in an hour, there’ll be a cop at your door.”


So, Ed… this is a scam, right?

Yes, he says.  But your Interpol, your FBI and your CIA will never find us.

And he hangs up.
So the scammer admits it.  And gets off the phone in a big rush because maybe, just maybe, the guy he called really HAS had Interpol alerted.  And maybe, just maybe, they WILL find him.

Some research.  Welch, West Virginia is an old town, population about two thousand. It’s tucked into the southwest corner of the state, a little over a hundred miles from Charleston.

Ed probably doesn’t know that, let alone have lived there.  His phone number is “virtual” which in telephone company lingo means fake.

What he probably DOES know is that you can’t block a call if your phone service provider is Vonage.  That’s probably also true of FIOS, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner, Magic Jack, Ooma or any of the other phone services that use the internet instead of the wires on a phone poll.

It’s a selling point for the antiquated and overpriced copper wire (and fiber optic) phone companies now struggling for your business.

Meantime, if you get a call from Ed, don’t answer.

--The latest stand down in the middle east is like so many recent US Supreme Court decisions. It deals with technicalities instead of getting to the meat of the matter.  And it’ll work just as well as those technical decisions the supremes issue.

--Burger King is going to Canada as many US conscientious objectors did during the Viet war.  But BK’s conscientious objection is to US taxes.  So it’s spending $11 billion to take a brave stand on a crucial issue, just ask them.


-Reminder… there are no mergers, just dolled up acquisitions.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WRJ 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

1374 Self Examination for the Corrupt

Early detection is the gold standard of treatment.  Cancer, Diabetes, many other dread conditions often can be stopped, slowed or even reversed if you catch them early enough.

Same with corruption, also a disease.  So today, we have a tale of two governors one from each major party, with early detection benefits.

Andrew Cuomo, D-NY disbanded an anti corruption commission he created when it started looking into the executive branch.

Rick Perry R-TX vetoed funding under similar circumstances.

(Where’s the little name card that most suspects hold for their mug shots?)

So, one high profile governor from each party is in the hotseat with early detection and early diagnosis.  And neither appears ready to put himself in the hands of a competent medical professional.

Perry has been indicted on charges of abuse of power. This puts his future in doubt.  And a lot of sensible people are thankful.  Perry doesn’t have enough gray matter to contribute 50% of a halfwit.  Cuomo does.  But it doesn’t matter.  Smart arrogant and stupid arrogant still are arrogant.

Aside to Mario Cuomo:  Talk to your kid.  Teach him to respect reality. Teach him how to weasel out of this because he really SHOULD have another term in office.

Aside to Rick:  Game over.  The details of the case against him have to do with his handling of a drunk driving charge against a local district attorney.  The details are unimportant.  What IS important is his mindset.

These are two potential candidates for president.  The problems of one do not cancel out the similar problems of the other.  What they do is further the impression that the political party system as it stands isn’t too steady on its feet.

But not just the impression, the fact.

We deserve better in a president than we’ve had since, say, inauguration day in 1969.

On the bright side, it’s better that we know what we’re dealing with now instead of after the Nixon scandal, the Ford bumbling, the Carter incompetence, the Reagan cheerleading sleepiness, the first Bush wars, the Clinton pants scandal, the other Bush wars and the spineless Obama.

But only slightly better, though maybe we know enough not to give either of these guys a chance at the top job.

Shrapnel (Police weaponry edition):

--Cops used to complain that the bad guys outnumbered and outgunned them. The numbers may still be true.  But thanks to the Pentagon and other arms merchants the outgunned part may not be.

--Attention Police Shoppers!  Your Abrams tank is out of date and France has something better for your riot squad, the AMX 50, which they no longer are using. Probably get one for under ten million, the sticker price on its newer replacement, the AMX 56.

--Unfortunately, the Ukraine-built T-84 s temporarily unavailable at retail since defense forces there have put all available rolling stock into service, anticipating a need as Russian troops gather on the border.  But for smaller US cities, like maybe Ferguson, MO, you might consider Italy’s M13.  Oh, wait… never mind… it’s a Fiat.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

1373 Dear President Biden

We were pleased to hear of the steps you plan to take in matters like health care, unemployment, the minimum wage, the war in Iraq, the coming war in Iran, the war in Afghanistan, the coming war in Pakistan, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, global warming, securities fraud unemployment, underemployment and several lesser issues.

As for former President Emeritus Obama… we wish him well in his new job, professor of constitutional law at Harvard. It’s fortunate that the offer came along when it did, else we would still be the international joke we’ve become and the domestic pinball game we were fast becoming.

We long had urged the president to discover his… um… backbone.  And finally he did:  he resigned and handed over the messes he made and the messes Bush-2 made to you.

You’re probably not as smart as he is.  But you have attributes he doesn’t.  First off, you’re not as likely to galvanize the racists who used his skin to stop what little he tried to do.  It was pretty obvious that that was behind the congressional linebackers and their followers’ efforts to make him the least effective president since Carter… maybe since Garfield.

Second, you’re old. So we probably don’t have to worry about having you around all that much longer.

Third -- and most important -- you know how to horse trade.  And horse trading is the secret and devaluated currency of this country.  So, some of those pretty decent Obama ideas?  Maybe you can get them through congress.

Oh, you’re a bit of a bumbler.  And you must be pretty flexible to keep putting your foot in your mouth as often and as well as you do.  But that’s part of your charm.  In fact, it may be ALL of your charm.

But charm is what we need now.  A just- plain- folks kind of guy.  Like Ford who seemed a breath of fresh air after Nixon, the only other president to resign in disgrace.

Speaking of Jerry Ford, please don’t start your first oval office speech by saying “our long national nightmare is over.”  It isn’t.

The people who hated the Obama programs and foreign policy will merely dislike them when they come out of YOUR mouth (in those moments both your feet are on the ground.)

And we wish you continued good health.  The idea of a President Boehner is just too frightening.


--Too many cops in too many places are too well armed and too quick to pull the trigger when lesser use of force will do.  It’s not just Missouri.  It’s everywhere.

--It’s one thing to be outgunned by the bad guys.  But the presence of a tin hat dictator’s armored fighting vehicle on the streets of a small town  -- or even a big city -- is more provocative than helpful. Especially when its overused.

--History didn’t begin in 1985 when the mayor of Philadelphia, Wilson Goode, sent his police helicopter into the sky to bomb a row of houses with C-4 explosive.  Eleven dead, more than 200 homeless and the block destroyed.  And again, we learn … what?... from history.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

1372 Don Pardo

So an old man dies.  A very old man.  And it’s no surprise, really.  But it’s still shocking. Ninety six and still working?  Except Don Pardo did not consider it work.

Neither did those around him. And a lot of people worked around him.  He had started with NBC as an announcer in 1944.  Everyone knows him as the voice of Saturday Night Live.  But that was just a side job.  

In the early days of the medium, “staff announcer” meant broadcast royalty.  A pretty humble member of the royal family, he was, along with other notables like Bill Wendell and Howard Reig, and Bill Hanrahan, and Roger Tuttle and Fred Facey and Johnny Olson (who also started at NBC in 1944) and Ed Herlihy.

Don was long retired.  But the SNL gig continued well past the days when he’d have to show up at 30 Rock to warm up a quiz show audience and then introduce the program to listeners or viewers.

And what shows! The Colgate Comedy Hour.  The Price is Right. Jeopardy.

Don was more than just an anonymous voice.  He had a style all of his own, that long, drawn out building-to-a-big-finish largo. He had a particular kind of personality that came through even if you couldn’t see him on screen. And a voice and delivery that stood out among standout voices.

While most staff announcers had regularly scheduled programs, they also were assigned miscellaneous voice chores within the company.  So Don and the others worked a full week for a mediocre salary and the fees associated with their programs.  The fees were where the bucks were. No one starved.  Not even when there were almost 40 announcers on staff. (Today, there are none.)

A personal memory:

It was New Year’s eve, sometime in the 1990s, but no later than 2000.  NBC’s holiday show competed with ABC’s for public attention kind of like the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island competes with Henry VIII.

But we tried.   And Don had agreed to announce the show’s open and close.

Good thing everyone knew him on sight and on sound because he’d left his company i.d. home.

Well, not everyone.  Everyone but the security guard at the studio elevators at 30 Rock.

The guard may not have known Don, but he knew me, standing there right behind him.  So I said “He’s with me” and we both got in.

In the elevator Don looks.  Says “I think I know you but who the hell are you?”  I tell him, and then he remembers and we have a bit of a laugh over it.

While on the matter of NBC, Salvador Dali appeared on the Today Show in the early 1950s and told his interviewer, probably Dave Garroway, that “In death people become 10-thousand times greater than they were in life.”

Often true.  But not in this case. Don Pardo was a warm, intelligent, sensitive, widely read and talented gentleman then.  We knew it then. We know it now.

Guess St. Peter needed someone new to announce the names of the incoming at the gate.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

#1371 The Scarlet Letter

We ban things that scare us.  Sometimes its official, sometimes it’s an unspoken agreement.

There was a time you couldn’t legally buy James Joyce’s Ulysses or Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer.  They were banned.  Too racy.  They’re pretty tame by today’s standards.

TV’s Ozzie and Harriet had separate beds.  So did Lucy and Desi.

Then there’s mental illness.  No official ban there and a lot of people -- professionals, supposedly -- who preach about it.  But most of the so-called mentally ill suffer in silence and secret as long as they don’t exhibit obvious symptoms.

Robin Williams’ death removed the ban, at least part way.  Depression.  Mania. Addiction.  The walls didn’t come tumbling down.  But Williams in maybe his final act put some holes in them.

We admit to friends and family now that we’ve been popping Zoloft or something like it. It’s okay.

It really didn’t take the tragic death of a beloved public figure to do that.  But in the short term, it helped.

Mental illness -- an unfortunate term to begin with -- is stigmatized. People are often shunned when they are discovered to have tangled chemicals in their brains.

It happens to some cancer patients, too.  We fear we will catch what they have even though cancer isn’t contagious.

These conditions are seen as flaws, and they are.  But they’re not character flaws, they are biological. Chemical. Genetic.

You have a headache, you take a pill. It goes away.  Even a migraine is looked upon as treatable, although that one’s borderline scary.  Migraines are not contagious any more than cancer.  But we’re cautious.

No one faults you for having diabetes and treating it with insulin and better diet.  It’s a chemical problem, you treat it with chemistry.

No one faults you for having acid reflux.  It’s a chemical condition. You take a pill. It goes away.  Same with hypertension, too much cholesterol and hay fever.

But admit you take Prozac, a wall goes up around you.

Depression is a chemical problem, not a mental illness. You’re not crazy.  You just have something wrong.  It’s more like cut that doesn’t heal or a bruise that lasts too long, except for the part about longer lasting.

Putting aside so-called spiritual aspects of the human machine, you are an electrochemical mechanism.  So what’s wrong with fixing you in an electrochemical way?

Remove your scarlet letter.  Now.  Right now.


--Fourteen people were shot at in New York City last night, including at least one by a cop trying to stop  someone from stabbing someone else.  This is unusual for the city as a whole but not for the neighborhoods in which they occurred.  No riots broke out, no looting took place, no tear gas was fired and no armored personnel carriers were deployed.

--Does that mean we’re more civilized or more jaded than the people of Ferguson, Missouri?  Does that mean the NYPD has better relations with the communities it patrols?  None of the above.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014