Monday, May 30, 2016

1649 A Handshake in Switzerland

Ah, Switzerland, home of neutrality, Nazi loot and four national languages squeezed into a space the size of a shoe box.  

Switzerland with expensive watches, secret bank accounts and the kind of sleaze that goes with them, chocolate for those who look down their noses at a Hershey Bar, bell ringers, ski slopes and cheese with holes.

And this, which they probably learned from the same people who invented numbered bank accounts and neutrality:  there is no state religion, but there are “official” churches.  Of course, not a lot of people pay much attention to any of them.  But it’s Europe, after all.

They’re also pretty good about tolerating what many in this country would call marginal faiths. Like Jews and “other,” which we’re still trying to figure out.

Muslims are another story.  They’ve been immigrating to Europe in large numbers recently and who can blame them?

Who wouldn’t want to escape dictatorships and monarchies like Iran or Saudi Arabia… and especially these days, Syria?  No one wants to live in a permanent war zone.

And here comes a problem. Along with their mothers, their fathers, their sisters and their brothers, some are bringing along the very misery they fled.

In the small Canton (that’s like a state) of Basel-Landschaft, two Syrian boys declined the age- old Swiss custom of shaking hands with their teachers, who in this case were women.  

You can probably think of a few of your own teachers you wouldn’t want to touch.  But that’s not the point. The point is these lads said such a brazen act would violate their religious principles.

The Canton said you gotta.  The boys’ parents said “no way, Zoey.”  The Canton said the fine for that will be five grand.  A sheikly sum for a newcomer without a stash of gold in a Zurich vault.

State over personal, tradition over individual is the standard there. So you can just imagine the Swiss fuss that followed.  

The overwhelming majority were outraged by the boys and ready to embrace Swiss policies and traditions.  Big shots of all political persuasions united on that one.  Left, right, neutral.  There has to be neutral. It’s Switzerland, after all.

In ever-diplomatic Switzerland, the authorities based their decision to enforce compulsory handshakes on the idea that not ALL Muslims were on board with the boys and that the no-touching-the-opposite sex wasn’t a central tenet of Islam.

That wouldn’t go well over here in America, land of give me your poor, your hungry, your sweaty hand.

The left would be outraged because we were being racist and uninclusive. The right would be outraged because we were knuckling under to foreigners who don’t look like “us,” and practice a self- oppressing faith.

Congress would get in on the act.  So would the teachers union, the ACLU, the KKK, Occupy Everyone, Very Serious Professors of every stripe, the Pentagon, and every social worker and cleric identifying as anything from Atheist to Zoroastrian.

Good thing we don’t put our traditions into anything more concrete than speeches.

Lest I leave you wondering on which side I stand: When in Rome, etc.

Shrapnel:
--Memorial Day.  It’s not just another three day weekend.  If you don’t know why -- and you should, look it up.

Today’s Quote: “... Royal Caribbean's highest priority is to ensure the safety of all its guests and crew members and any final maintenance is being carried out in accordance with strict safety guidelines…” A company spokesman explaining open floor drains, non functioning toilets and closed or unfinished attractions on the shakedown cruise (appropriate name, no?) of its new “Harmony of the Seas,” which looks like a floating public housing project lying on its side.

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

© WJR 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

1648 I Will Not Switch to Windows 10

Dear Bill,


I’ve been your loyal customer since the days of MSDOS.  You remember MSDOS, right?  The thing you and Paul Allen bought for 50- thousand dollars… that made you two into billionaires… that the courts eventually forced you to pay what the system was actually worth to its originators?


I have suffered through countless upgrades of Windows 3, 3.2, 95, 98, 2000, Vista and Windows 8. And now you’re trying to force “10” up my… nose.


It may be Free Free Free.  But I don’t need it. I don’t want it.  It reminds me of the days when you were trying to “cut off the air supply” of your competitors,  as you so tenderly put it at the time.


Why the tirade?  Because Win 10 forces me to undergo a constant barrage of “house ads” for your lame software, your lame browser, your lame search engine and your lame tablets.


It’s taken two years to figure out how to use Windows 8 without an engineering degree.   I’m too old to jump through still more hoops.  And 30 years ago I was already too old. But I did it because I thought I had to.


You have been blue-boxing my eyes for a year.  No day passes without your outrageous demand that I give up something I can use for something I have to re-learn and re-jigger and can’t really guard against your prying eyes.


And the blue box “invitation?”  The “x” to “x it out” is getting smaller all the time.


News reports say you’ll soon make the change for me if I don’t make it myself.  And, yes, there’s a way to revert to 8.  But how long will that last?


Don’t feel too bad.  I won’t go over the wall and get a Mac.  They’re just too cool for me.  The likely replacement will be a ChromeBook.  


Google is becoming the Godzilla you guys once were. But at least I know my way around.  I’ll have to find a way to use MS Word because I have years stuff worth keeping on it.  But that’s a small price to pay for not having to deal with you.  In non-geek circles there was hope that when you got rid of that windbag Ballmer that the new guy would be able to drum some sense into MSFT.  If force feeding “10” is how he’s going to operate, I want no part of it.


Shrapnel:
--Micro’s problems are just karma, and so is this: Former “independent” counsel and Republican hitman Kenneth Starr of Monicagate fame was removed as president of Baylor University and demoted to chancellor for mishandling a football sex scandal.  But  he gets to continue teaching his specialty, over- zealotry 101. The football coach was fired and the search is on for someone new who is good at showing the boys of Autumn how to bang their heads, the cheerleaders and each other.


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

© WJR 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

1647 Bernie in a Lab Coat

This is about the Chaos Theory in physics, but don’t click off the page just yet. You’re not going to get a lot of sciency gobbledygook. Chaos tells us that sometimes things kind of go a little nutty and change form or direction, then lose their way and quit.

The most common example:
The cigarette is burning in the ash tray.  The first inch or so of the smoke rises in a fairly straight line.  But a little higher and it begins to spread out. Still higher it blends with the air and eventually vanishes.

Actually, there’s nothing chaotic about it.  The particles of smoke are fewer in number by billions than the particles of air.  So while they still may be there, ready to cancerize the lungs of your helpless house pets, neither you nor the pets can see them.

Senator Sanders heads what amounts to a movement. He’s calling for radical rethinking of a lot of our values and how we obtain and the use our resources.  He has gazillions of loyal hard core followers and plenty of us “sort-of followers”.

If you put a two dollar bet down on this horse and he won, you’d be stratospherically rich.  That’s how long a long shot that would be.

Still, millions of followers, psyched, vigorous, and dedicated.  What happens to this movement when its election goal isn’t reached?  Optimists among us say, well, they’ll continue pressing for Bernie’s agenda.  They’ll work in the trenches.  They’ll organize neighborhoods.  They’ll work for office seekers below the level of president.

Yes, some will.  Maybe many.  But if Sanders takes the lab coat off, turns out the lights and closes the door, many will not.

They will become that stream of smoke in the picture.  They will reorganize so as to become invisible.  It happens more than it doesn’t.

The “Occupy” movement’s molecules are floating around in the air, occasionally clumping for snippets of time and in large enough numbers to be noticed.  But not often enough or steadily enough to have any impact.

In other presidential races, the same things happened to John Anderson, John Edwards, George McGovern and Ross Perot.

This kind of chaos works in reverse, too.  Willard Romney was a leader without a following. Rick Santorum tried to look like something more than a middle manager in a chain of franchised barber shops.  His following, such as it was, dissipated faster than that burning cigarette attacking your poor old mother’s lungs from afar.

And this is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Mao, Franco, Baby Doc, Chavez.  And you can bet when the Castro brothers leave this world, it’ll happen in Cuba, too.

So his followers’ best bet is that Bernie keeps the bunsen burners burning and the lab coat laundered.  Else his fledgling lab rats will scatter like so much smoke.

---
While we’re talking science, here’s Today’s Quote:
--“Einstein suddenly stopped, turned to me and asked if I really believe that the moon exists only when I look at it” --Einstein biographer and fellow physics genius Abraham Pais discussing objective reality and  quoted by wired.com.

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, May 23, 2016

1646 The Envelope Please

It’s in the constitution, in the bill of rights.  You don’t think so? Look it up:  Everyone gets a trophy.

Our founding fathers, anticipating children and adults with feelings of inferiority and a lack of self esteem would need a boost, ranked the right to trophies right up there with freedom of speech, religion and heat-packing.

What foresight!

Getting prizes for showing up or trying reallyreally hard to connect bat with ball even if unsuccessful are nothing new.

And and prizes for the un-prizeworthy are not just for slackers and laggards.  Did you know that Abraham Lincoln got an award for perfect attendance in Sunday school?

Or that Donald Trump got an award for trying reallyreally hard to have nicely trimmed fairways and greens at his golf courses.

More about that later.

There are some truly meaningful awards.  The Medal of Honor. The Nobel in any field, even dumb ones. National medals in science.  The Intel Prize.

But most awards are nothing more than institutions patting themselves on the back.  It’s better, of course, to win an Oscar than not.  Or a Pulitzer.  But after that, we’re heading in the general direction of the Pillsbury Bakeoff or Wendy’s Employee of the Week.

In TV we have a saying about the Emmys. They’re like a head cold.  Eventually, everybody gets one.

All of which brings us back to the prestigious American Academy of Hospitality Sciences and its coveted Star Diamond Awards.

What! You mean you’ve never heard of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences?  For shame.  You can find it’s website here .  If you click on the site you’ll find a lot of pictures of fancy places and fancy people. Lotsa Trump on that site, too.

But if you click on the link to find out who runs this place -- their trustees, you’ll find the link doesn’t exist.

Well, no matter. At least we know who the chief cook and bottle washer is, Joseph Cinque.  Mr. Cinque is known in the trade as a mover, shaker and Very Important Person.  He also is known as “Joey No Socks.”  

And the Academy is headquartered at his Central Park South apartment in Manhattan.

The Associated Press reports he is a convicted felon. And Yahoo News, quoting sources at the Academy, mentions he is a one of “Trump’s dear friends.”

Trump was once and still may be a member of that can’t-be-found board of trustees. His title was “Ambassador Extraordinaire.” His properties have won many of those Coveted Star Diamond Awards.

And of course there’s absolutely, positively, certainly no connection with someone on the board getting fists full of awards from it.  Positively. Absolutely.

Trump has described Cinque thus: “There’s nobody like him.  He’s a special guy.”

But, shockingly, he now has changed his tune.  Now, he tells the AP, he doesn’t “know they guy well” and “wasn’t aware of his criminal record.”

We’ve become accustomed to Trump’s 180 degree turns when questioned about actual issues and policies.  It’s nice to know that the same carries over into his business life.

Joey No Socks is not in the same league as Sammy the Bull or “Crazy Joe” Gallo or “Fat Tony” Salerno. But still… it’s an odd nickname.  And it’s an odd bedfellow for Trump.  But you can be sure it’s an award winning bed.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments (and send awards!) to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

1643a Statistically Correct

It was 1954.  A newsman named Darrell Huff put out a book that should have rattled us.  It was called “How to Lie with Statistics.”  By all accounts, Huff lacked the mathematical muscle to reconcile his checkbook, but he hit upon an idea, an earth shaking idea, that should have changed the world, but didn’t.


He never identified the idea in layman’s terms.  So here it is:  Wrap anything in arithmetic and the unwitting and math phobic public will assume it’s true even if it isn’t.  Even if it’s completely outlandish.


Here are some examples:


--More doctors smoke camels than any other brand of cigarette.


--Trump is a few points ahead of Clinton in a presidential race that pits the two of them.


--The unemployment rate remained at 5% at latest count.


--Nate Silver can see the future.


We won’t try to debunk each of those likely falsities individually.  But the part about Silver is worth examination.


When we first ran into Nate, he was an uncannily  accurate predictor of the future based on Rocky Mountain size piles of data filtered through his website subsite, Five Thirty Eight.


At contract time, Silver and his employer couldn’t come to terms so he picked up his bat and glove and sold himself to ESPN, the sports cable network where he remains today.


And despite the height of the mountain, Silver and most others have mis read the mood of the data. Wait, data have mood?  No, of course not. But the public on which the data are based do.


Trump is a joke.  Trump is not a serious contender for the nomination.  Trump can’t win.  That was the early line on the bragging bully.  The later line:  Gee… he IS a serious contender.  And it sure does look like he’s winning the nomination.  For the record, the first of the early line statements remains true.


Well, the joke’s on us.  And if he’s elected president, no one’s going to be laughing.


The Republican regulars looked at that original data and promptly returned to the golf course.  The teabaggers looked at the original data and promptly returned to their Koch fueled “think” tanks to figure out more ways to make sure you turn into a plow horse with no time to spend in the think tank in your head.


Surprise!  


Figures lie.  Because people lie when counted on or counted up.


Now here it is late in the primary season and it looks like Hillary Clinton and Trump will be the contestants in the general election.  


That’s what the statistics say now.


Have you ever read the reporting data in a corporate annual report or an SEC filing?  “We had a great quarter.  We took in money hand over fist. We lead our industry in this and that.  

Then come the footnotes.  Tiny footnotes filled with numbers.  They add up to “that great year part only counts if you disregard these 19 things that screwed up.”


The top of the page calls for celebration. Those figures PROVE it.  


How about this one:  “A majority of patients got excellent results by taking Enteric Coated Super Mixolydian ® for heart valve disease.”  That can mean 49 percent didn’t. It also can mean 40% got excellent results, 20% had no opinion, 20% got bad results and 20% died after the first dose.)


Or this one: 63.8% of the people who read this will be unaffected by it and continue to believe EPA gas mileage stats, gross receipts for this weekend’s top box office hit and that the US economy is robust,  healthy and still growing.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

1643 Gaming the Market

The stock market? Easy. Buy low, sell high.  Also it’s impossible to time it. Im-poss-i-ble.  If Buffett can’t do it, then the schmeckle you deal with at Bargantrades.ba can’t do it either. Even if you visit him in Bosnia.

It’s the supermarket we’re talking about.  The object of the game is getting in and out as fast as possible.

Rule One:  Have a list.
Rule Two: Bring it with you.
Rule Three: Question potential purchases you’re about to make if they’re not on the list.
Rule Four: Check out.

Four and up are the hard parts.  Even in the best of circumstances, you’re likely to run into some kind of a jamup on the line.

--Someone will need change of $100 for a 69 cent purchase and the cashier won’t have it.
--The register tape will run out.
--Your new chip encoded card won’t work and the card reader will refuse to allow you to swipe.
These things are unavoidable. But judicious line selection can help make the trip down the aisle less slow.

Rule 5: The shortest line is not necessarily the fastest.

Rule 6: Seek a pro.  Look for a cashier who appears to have been born to the breed.  Look for someone with some gray in his or her hair, not the cute young boy or girl you like to fantasize about.

Rule 7: Time wasting lines to avoid:

--Those with morbidly obese people ahead of you unless they’re highly and happily verbal and animated. (Yes, it’s profiling, but so what!)

--Those with a whole Sunday paper’s worth of coupons.  Half of them will not scan properly or the customer won’t have the right merchandise or the right quantity or the right size.

--Those with a pile of those germ-factory reusable bags.  They take much longer to pack than paper or plastic.

--Mothers with newborns and/or men or women who speak baby talk to any kid, especially those over two feet tall. (More profiling.)

--Mothers or fathers with gaggles of hyperactive kids, especially screaming and cranky hyperactive kids.

--Gaggles of young people jabbering in any language, but especially a language that is not common in your neighborhood.

--Elderly men who look like the kind that started grocery shopping when “high tech checkout” meant writing the prices down on the bag and adding them by hand.

Rule 8:  If you go to a line that says “maximum 20 items” and you have 25 or thirty ignore the sign. Most cashiers don’t care.  If you hit the rare one who does, break the purchases in two.

You also want to be the person others want to be behind.  Therefore:

Rule 9: Have your money or your pay card at the ready if it’s safe to do so.

Rule 10: Have your “shopper’s card” out.  This is especially important if you’re at a store whose card you don’t often use. You’re going to have trouble finding it buried there in your wallet or purse -- or even worse, the glove box of your car.

Rule 11: When there’s room on the conveyor belt, locate and position the little bar that signals the end of your order so the 450 pound guy behind you can start putting his groceries, his pile of reusable bags and his phonebook size stack of coupons down.

Rule 12:  If that double wide sloth behind you gets too close while you’re entering your pin number, say one of two things:

  1. Back off, fatso.
  2. Am I in your way?

He’ll get the message.

Method B is recommended.

Finally, a semi- rule.  If your market claims it’s open 24 hours, it really isn’t.  You can buy a lot of stuff at 3 in the morning.  But don’t expect deli, butcher, fish, or bakery counters to be staffed.  Don’t expect more than one open register.  Don’t expect empty fruit and vegetable displays to be refilled.  Customer service, check cashing and signing up for a shopper’s card will all be unavailable. Carts left in the parking lot will stay there overnight, so grab one on the way in.

But the security cameras will still be alert as ever, even if the screen watcher has nodded off.

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, May 16, 2016

1642a No Wake for the Irish Bar


WOODSIDE, QUEENS -- No one lacks for an Irish saloon here.  Not that there are all that many Irish left, at least not like there used to be.  But the bars don’t move much.  


Donovan’s. Saints and Sinners. Sean Og’s.  Luke Kelly’s. Cuckoo’s Nest.


You know the kind of place.  You can sit with a beer for hours and read the paper, play the ponies shoot the… um… breeze.  Argue. And they kick you out if you order a Jameson’s with ice.


NEW ROSES, PA -- You move to a place like this and since it’s a college town, there would be at least a token representative called Derry Pub or McGonigall’s. Nope. Bars line the main drag. Someone with a couple of pumps could connect them all and wholesale the booze.


No Irish bars, at least nothing real. But they did have a Hooters.  And it failed. Smack across the street from a huge and boozy college, and it went under.  Go figure. Unless it’s violating the liquor laws or the noise laws, it’s almost impossible for a bar here to fail.

Along comes Kildare’s to fill the space.  And they know how to pour a Guinness. And they don’t care if you want a Bushmill’s on the rocks.  And they have Shepherd’s pie.  And it’s big enough to satisfy.


Waitresses in kilts.  Many with better legs than the Hooter’s girls.


It’s not Hurley’s.  It’s not even The Blarney Stone.  But it’s good enough to satisfy old man McCarthy formerly of Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside who moved to Twisty Creek Run here in New Roses.  And also Rich up the street even though he’s an Orangeman.


Only one problem with Kildare’s.  Well, two, the second being parking at the dinner hour.


Problem one:  the place sits on prime real estate.  So prime, in fact, that developers would have lunch there so they could drool not over the cabbage Colcannon, but over the property.


The restaurant’s lease runs until 2017.  But they closed down the other day without even a whisper in advance.


Sudden death.


Apartments soon rise from Kildare’s grave

A whole new building.


The love child of a flipper and flippee.


Company A bought the land and planned the building.  But then along came company B which made company A an offer it couldn’t refuse.  


“We didn’t buy the building to flip it,” says Company A. “We just wanted to create a beautiful living space a little higher than the zoning allowed at the time.”  Oh, sure.


But flip it they did.  Why go through all the bother of building an apartment house and displacing a youngish but still beloved saloon?  Easy money.


Company B’s plans are a little more grandiose and on a faster track.  So fast, they kicked out the tenant.  No notice.  Just “closed.”


Not even time for a decent Irish wake.


Shameful.


And you can’t get Dublin Coddle in a place that doesn’t have the right leftovers.


Today’s Quote:
--“We’re getting there.” --  Reality TV Star D. Trump on getting House Speaker Paul Ryan to endorse his doomed presidential strategy.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR