Monday, July 06, 2015

1508 The BYO Phonebooth

You remember phone booths, right?  Of course you do. You’d slide in, close the door, sit down, put coins in the telephone and make your call.

This organ of commerce began to whither a long time ago. First it was replaced by those doorless, little things that look like waist-high  bus shelters and are guardians against both privacy and noise. And now, with cellphones, even these half baked organs are all but vestigial.

So here’s the bright-idea-of-the-month:  restore phone booths, only leave the phones out.

You bring your own.  A dime for three minutes of privacy and relative quiet… or just a private space to sit down.  Six minutes for 20 cents.  Or a bulk use nine minutes for a quarter.

Americans are no strangers to “bring your own.” Potluck suppers, wine or liquor to restaurants without liquor sales licenses and so on.

We pump our own gas, wash our own cars.  Some of us dust other people’s furniture when they’re not looking.  We self medicate.  We self sacrifice. We self indulge.  

So bringing one’s own cellphone to a phone booth is no big stretch.  Plus we know in advance that the phone we’re carrying works. (Don’t use the pay booth if you’re not getting at least two bars of signal.  Three is better.  No one gets four anymore, not even when you’re standing under a cell tower.)

You rent an apartment. You may rent a car.  Or a parking space. Or a summer bungalow. Or a dorm room. So why not a phone booth.

This never will be the big money business that telephone booths with telephones were.  But the maintenance costs will be lower. And they’re less likely to be broken into, especially if you are allowed to use a credit or debit card… maybe even a metro card.

Coins would be best, though.  They don’t need an internet connection of (perish forbid!) a phone line to register and verify your card number.)
Plus these days there’s nothing interesting on street corners but coffee and pretzel wagons.  So once again, you will be able to ask a stranger “hey, buddy, can you spare a dime for a phone call?”

If he says yes, hit him up for a buck so you’ll have a cup of coffee when you make your call.


--In a commercial for “Inventhelp,” George Foreman tells his friends who ask about their new ideas where to get help.  Nice pitch from a lovable guy.  But is George likely the first person you’d ask when you invented something?

--The only thing Foreman invented was himself.  Once a brutally mean and angry pugilist, George has become a living symbol of good low fat living and that dodo invention company.  Just don’t look at his waistline.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Friday, July 03, 2015

1507 The Ten Dollar Woman

Picturing only dead people on money used to be tradition.  But somewhere along the line it became law.  This means there are all kinds of important people who can’t be considered when we finally feminize the ten spot.

Among them:

--Kim Kardashian.  What’s more American than drooling over some mindless, talent-challenged tricked out celebrity?

--Condoleezza Rice.  Smart enough to get out of politics while the getting was good.

--Billie Jean King: Great athlete, good human being, activist for women’s rights and gay.  Two birds with one stone.  Same as

--Rachel Dolezal:  Not only a woman, but a white masquerading as black.  One and a half birds with one stone.

--Oprah.  She made reading cool for many who never would otherwise have picked up a book.

Of course, the faces on currency are supposed to reflect who we are.  Of those above, only Kardashian meets that threshold.

So let’s consider some important dead women:

--Sacajawea.  She flopped as a coin.  Too heavy. But America is, after all, the land of second chances.

--Susan B. Anthony.  Ditto.

--Aimee Semple McPherson.  Now there’s someone who represents us. Powerful, devout. Overweight.  Oh, wait. She fooled around with guys not her husband.  Oh wait again… so what.  And her Canadian birth doesn’t disqualify her.

--Jackie Kennedy.

--Marilyn Monroe.

--Rosa Parks. Her aching feet changed America for the better.

--Rosie the Riveter. The pinup girl who won the last important war.

--Marie Curie.

--Eleanor Roosevelt.

Whoever gets the honor has to share it with Alexander Hamilton.  Alex gets to stay with the ten, but in a diminished role.  Kind of like getting demoted from the Nightly News to the cable network.

But Hamilton’s continued presence on the ten could cause tongues to wag.  It has to be made clear that he and the woman in the picture are nothing more than “just good friends.”

Then there’s this:  There are seven denominations of notes.  (The government no longer prints any bills above $100, though there are plenty in the hands of collectors and some remain in circulation.)

So eight portraits on current money (including Hamilton’s upcoming diminished capacity) and only one is a woman.  That means women are featured on only 12.5% of the currency.

If you don’t count Hamilton (no one thinks he’s going to last, anyway but he has to be allowed to work out his contract) it rises to 14.29%.  Still not terribly representative.

Someone else, someone with some clout is sure to notice and publicize that inequality!

So all of this is a fine academic discussion.  What’s different about the $10 bill is -- no matter whose picture is on it -- it ain’t worth what it should be.


-This is not meant to be a list of all the important women in American history so if your candidate isn’t on it, calm down.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

1506 Chris Christie's Weight Problem

It’s not his rotunditude, his suit size or whether he breaks a common bathroom scale by simply standing on it.  For all his size and girth, the man is a flyweight.  And a bully.  And just another political hack, but with a good gimmick.

The famously “moderate” Republican governor of New Jersey is no moderate.  And no President.  And possibly the only New Jerseyan on earth who figured no one would notice manufactured traffic jams at the Fort Lee side of the George Washington Bridge.

(It’s not an entrance, people. It’s an exit. Ordinarily impatient New York area drivers are waiting on US-80 to flee Jersey, and while still ill tempered, they’re tough and determined, and thus more patient than one would expect.)

We like a little swagger in our Presidents.  But just a little.  And while Chris brings off the imitation of a 14 year old high schooler better than some other candidates have, his shtick remains an imitation of a 14 year old high schooler.

We like our candidates to get around.  But Chris has spent maybe half of his second term traveling.  Raising money for his party, showing his face in places where they endorse candidates relatively early. That’s too much time.

It’s okay that he likes the Dallas Cowboys and attended a game on someone else’s dime.  But when was the last time you saw him at a Jets game in East Rutherford?

Oh… and of course that Dallas visit has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with the team’s owner getting a lush contract with the Port Authority, the bi-state agency controlled from Trenton and Albany.

Like the other cartoon candidates (you know who you are!) Christie is relying on bluster and blindness (his own and others’) to win friends and influence voters.

And we love bullies as long as it’s not OUR lunch he’s demanding at the point of a baseball bat.  But times are tough in New Jersey.  So Christie wants to expand the schoolyard to all 50 states.

But he’s a moderate, you say.  A moderate bully is someone who steals only half your sandwich. Oh, and the apple.

But this is a guy who thinks he can eliminate the competition by sitting in their laps.  The surprise? He has no weight to throw around.

You want a big man in the White House?  Fine. Write in Hulk Hogan or Fats Domino.  Because underneath all those acres of skin and chins, is a small man with a big mouth and a lot of hot air.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.


--Here’s to Ed Baer, New York’s most frequently frequented fill-in disc jockey who has finally decided to retire after about 80 million programs on practically every radio station you can think of.  He even had a full time job (WHUD) for about 30 years. And everyone who knows him says the nice guy (or Good Guy since he was one of those on WMCA) he’s played on the air for all this time is the real Ed.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

1505 An Old Wristwatch

1505 An Old Wristwatch

There’s something comforting about a piece of antique technology.  It recalls a simpler time.

When you see a cobblestone street, don’t you just have to walk on it?  Of course you do, even if only briefly.  There are reasons we don’t make roads that way anymore. Good reasons.  But when you spot one, there’s a charm about it, and you just have to try it.

The bentwood rocking chair is not nearly as long-term comfortable as the La-Z-Boy, but it’s a treat to sit and rock in one for awhile.

Old pocket watches make an impression… mostly on your leg.  But when someone de-pockets one, other people want to sneak a peek.

Then, there are wrist watches. You remember those, right?

They wind up. If you wind them, that is.  There’s one on the workbench here at the Wessays™ secret mountain laboratory.  It’s fittingly quirky.

It goes tick-tock so quietly, you have to strain to hear it.  And it’s hungry.  It needs two windings a day. If it doesn’t get “fed,” it goes on strike.

The people who made it were Swiss.  The parts were made in Switzerland. It was assembled there. It did not cost a fortune when bought new more than 50 years ago.

It just tells time.  Sort of.  Approximate analog time. No counting of fitness footsteps, no alarm, no date. No blood pressure measurement.  You can’t use it to answer your telephone or read your email.  It isn’t self setting or even self-winding. It doesn’t pick up the time signal from the “official” radio station WWV in Ft. Collins or the enormously powerful Allouis Longwave counterpart in France.  There’s no alarm.

It is not nearly as accurate as your cellphone.  The hands don’t always align perfectly.  But so what?  It looks cool.  Cooler than your imitation Rolex.  Cooler than your Apple Watch.  Even cooler than the latest fake antiques from Seiko or Fossil.

At some point it probably will stop. Again. It does that for no apparent reason and has since new.  But, really, it’s a decoration with limited utility.  So an occasional stall is just fine, thank you.

Anyone got the time?


--Scalia has given up one of his two titles.  At first he was the wrongest justice of the Supreme Court, but also the most entertaining.  His dissent on gay marriage jumped the shark in the entertainment department, leaving him with only “wrongest” in place.  We hope he gets his act together.

--We frequently refer to His Honor as Antonin “Tony Ducks” Scalia.  When they called Anthony Corallo “Tony Ducks” it was because he always managed to duck conviction (until he didn’t.)  In Scalia’s case, it comes from that famous hunting trip with that other master of the universe, Dick Cheney, when a case involving the vice president was on the Supreme Court case list.


-Let’s hear it for activist filmmaker Bree Newsome, 30, of North Carolina, star of this video from Vox taken on the lawn of the South Carolina state capitol:

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, June 26, 2015

1504 First Name Basis

Napoleon.  Liberace. Madonna. Sting. Cher. Cantinflas. Pink. Kreskin. Twiggy. Vampira.

See… famous people with only one name. Of course, they all had first and last names.  But when you say Rihanna, everyone knows who you’re talking about. Or Houdini.  Or even someone who two famous names but you only use one.  Say “Einstein” and everyone knows you’re talking about Albert Einstein.

So why do people use one name?  It’s different (though not as different as it once was.) It’s catchy if you spell it phonetically (unlike Sade.)  But some people hide behind a single name in hopes you won’t remember who they are.

Like John Ellis Bush.

He’s been known as “Jeb” for most of his life.  Kind of easy when (a) your family is big and famous, (b) your first and last names start with consonants and your middle name starts with a vowel, (c ) you don’t want people to remember your last name {because it is} (1) hard to say, (2) too hard to remember, (3) to easy to remember, (4) a blight on the landscape.

Hence John Ellis Bush is “Jeb.”  Good thing it wasn’t John Samuel Bush.  How would you pronounce “Jsb?”

In Jeb’s case, we go for C-4.

When you’re the grandson of a US Senator, the son of one president and the brother of another, what does it say about you when you don’t want people to remember that too clearly?  And what does it say about underestimating the memory of the electorate.  No one either forgets or ignores what would typically be considered a lofty political pedigree?

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders was born Bernie Sanders. His father’s name was Eli Sanders. Eli was born in Poland.  C’mon! No one from Poland is named “Sanders.” So you can bet Bernie’s New England-tinged Brooklynese that the name was changed either by the hurried and essentially illiterate clerks on Ellis Island or by Eli himself… after all, that was back in the day when everyone who came here wanted to fit in here.

Bill Clinton’s birth name was William Jefferson Blyth III. Blyth probably fits the man better than “Clinton.”  But the legal change came under extenuating circumstances and he’s never tried to hide it.

So here he is, John Ellis Bush.  The guy everyone thought would waltz into the Republican nomination.  And with the same silver foot he inherited from his “Poppy,” with every word he speaks, with every step he takes, he walks either into a wall or atop one of those land mines just like his brother and father blew up in the middle east.

You have to feel sorry for the guy in a way.  He never seemed to realize that in order to run, your feet should first be on the ground.


--Remembering Mario Biaggi, a hero in many a Bronx home, and who has died at 97. They sent him away once for accepting a low-priced Florida vacation he maybe shouldn’t have. But he got his revenge by outliving his foes and we remember him now as a public servant who knew how to serve the public and did so.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

1503 Car or Armored Car?

This was a tough decision: buy a new car or a used armored truck.  Both were available. The truck was cheaper.  Also older and scarred with an interesting pattern of bullet dents.  Proof, evidently, that the armor works.

The window glass was pristine.  So there’s no knowing how resistant it is to incoming bullets.

Why take an armored truck over a shiny new sedan?  Easy. Someone bashes into it in a parking lot, no biggie.  Ditto if someone keys what’s left of the paint job.

And it’s great for busting through DWI checkpoints.

When the cop tells you to roll the window down, you can’t.  And he can’t make you.  When you try to parallel park and hit a fire hydrant, no damage to the bumper.

The truck gets lousy gas mileage.  But if you drive only locally, that’s no biggie either.  It also rattles your bones something awful, but it’s smoother than a WWII era Jeep and more maneuverable and simpler than an F-250.

Fans of older cars worry that their carefully restored 1956 Packard would become a magnet for vandals.  Same with fancy sports cars.  The truck would invite the same vandalism and then repel it with a smirk. (Go ahead. Make my day!)

But we settled on the plain-Jane sedan.  And that’s not a sexist reference.  The car’s “voice” is female.  And slinky.  Seductive, even.

Didn’t know she was there.  But then, one day, out of the blue, “What would you like me to do?”  The reply was something the editors here would blue pencil. But it had to do with increasing the earth’s population. Indirectly.

We’ve become friends since then.  She dials telephone numbers, plays music and teaches how to avoid the dreary superfund site that radio has become.

So, the sedan with the talking slinky woman was the logical choice.  And when making a major purchase, logic should play at least some role.

Someone else bought the armored truck.  It is rolling around town, a moving billboard for a sandwich shop. Pangs of regret?  Sure.  But pangs of regret beat buyer’s remorse any day of the week.


--Takata, famous for making vehicle airbags with minds of their own stopped safety audits to cut costs. How’s that working out for you, fellas?  Probably a little more expensive than your bean counters figured.

--Have you noticed that ads for pet medicine have started warning of possible side effects and advising precautions?  Not a bad idea.  But how about labeling small toys as choking hazards for Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds?

--Anyone else wondering about this?  Non-candidate Mitt Romney might be waiting in the wings while the mob of competing competitors for the Republican presidential nomination kill each other off?  We didn’t believe 47% of what came out of Mitt’s mouth last time around, so why believe him now when he says he won’t run?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

1502 Final Thoughts: Brian Williams

1502 Final Thoughts:  Brian Williams

Note to readers: This will be the last time this space offers a main story about former journalist Brian Williams.  You’ve heard this only once before when I promised that a particular column would be the last main story about child abuser Jerry Sandusky. That was about three years ago.  I’ve stuck to that and I’ll stick to this. -- WR 6/22/15)

It’s 6 PM and Mrs. Peterson comes home from a long day at the office.  Once inside, she hears strange noises coming from upstairs. She follows the sound and opens the bedroom door to find Mr. Peterson and an 18- year- old girl naked on the bed.

“Honey, it’s not what you think,” says Mr. Peterson.

And that’s about the substance of defrocked news anchor Brian Williams’ interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show last Friday.

Williams was suspended and demoted for lying about his role in some stories he covered. He kept his job, or at least *A* job at NBC. But he’s been demoted.  No more anchoring the Nightly News.  Instead he’ll become a part of the company’s MSNBC cable, the largest unwatched channel owned by a major broadcaster since CNN Money shut down.

He thus morphs into the highest paid typist and telephone message taker in the history of television.  If that.  

Standard operating procedure at the real networks -- and for all its faults, NBC remains a real network -- is the Jimmy Hoffa Solution, making a hard to fire employee simply evaporate.

Step one: assign him a job. Step two: give him an office or cubicle and stationery.  Step three: let him sit there and rot until his contract runs out.  NBC has done that to Ann Curry and to Scott Simon.  CBS did it to Dan Rather.

In Williams’ case it could be as expensive as was Milton Berle, awarded a $30 million contract just a couple of sweeps before his show bombed and was cancelled.  NBC kept paying him.  

Williams’ contract is five years and $50 million. Likely they’ll feed his checking account until time’s up, although water cooler scuttlebutt says he took a handsome pay cut.

As for the televised interview, you’ve never heard so much psychobabble in one spot since Wayne Dyer and Dr. Phil had a seance with Sigmund Freud.

And you never heard such evasiveness in one room since Richard Nixon dined alone.

Here are some Williams quotes:

When he started his suspension, “...I was reading these newspaper stories (about me) not liking the person I was reading about.”  (A common reaction to those stories.)

But was he lying?  “...I was not trying to mislead people.” (Then what WERE you doing?)

Lauer again asked the question, but worded it a little differently.  The answer: “...I told stories over the years that weren't true. I never intended to.”

Not once did Williams say “I lied.”  

Maybe he should be named euphemism editor.

And as for Mrs. Peterson... she didn’t believe a word her husband said, either.  After a thorough investigation and months-long suspension, she elected to remain married to him, but demoted him to the living room couch, confiscated his house keys  and installed a time lock on the bedroom door.   The teenage girl, now 25, writes an advice column for Larry Flynt’s magazines.

Disclaimer:  The poster was a writer for The Today Show and NBC Nightly News for eight years and worked with Williams occasionally and with Lauer regularly.  I do not know Lester Holt.  But I’m a fan and have been since long before the Williams Hullabaloo developed.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015