Monday, January 26, 2015

1439 Joe Franklin (1926-2015)

There are endless quotes. But this probably was his best: “You want to know the secret of success in show business?  Easy. Sincerity.  Once you’ve learned to fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Joe was sincere. It wasn’t fake. Neither was that Broadway Character persona.  He could have walked out of the pages of Damon Runyan.

The king of show biz nostalgia. The designer and builder of Memory Lane.  The man who knew everyone who was anyone and also knew the rest of us nobodies, hangers on, co-workers, and guys on the street.  Who lived in a world where the sun was always shining.  Who saw at least some good in everyone, even those who weren’t.

Everyone took his calls.  Didn’t matter if you were the head of a studio, an A-list star or the dry cleaner down the block.

You can’t count the careers he helped launch… or relaunch.

And he never missed a gig or even a cue.  Until recently when he didn’t report for duty at Bloomberg.

And the stories.  The young Marilyn Monroe, the old vaudevillians or early radio stars: Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Burns and Allen.  The same with Broadway and film and television… and with authors and health gurus.  And dry cleaners.

He was in striking distance of his 89th birthday when he died this weekend of prostate cancer.  

He and I were ships passing in the night at WOR Radio. But later, we were co-anchors at Bloomberg. He would wander in before he had to… a brisk wander. Carried an attache case that had long outlived its usefulness and its shape. Schmoozed with his colleagues… made a friend or five each week on his trip from the company coffee bar to the radio studio one floor down.

A small man with a huge heart.

And an office that would be the envy of the Collier Brothers.

When he was forced to move that office from one Times Square building to another, all that stuff went with him.

Rumors that his original building was condemned because of his clutter are untrue.  But it helped.

A self-admitted slob… No. That’s wrong. A self-proclaimed slob, he said among his greatest joys was stumbling over something that he thought he had lost decades ago.  It was a feeling, he said, that neat people could never experience.

His radio and TV shows never made the networks. It was always New York local. But he played the part of himself in a movie or two. His name came up on “The Simpsons,” and he’s in the Guinness Book for having the longest running TV talk show in history. That record stands.

Showbiz to the core: Just a few weeks ago, he told me “don’t tell people I’m sick. I’m not sick.”  But he was.  

And now as the obituaries and the tributes cascade in, there’ll be five hundred people saying he and Joe were best friends.

They’re not exaggerating.  That’s the way he made everyone feel.  Everyone.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

1437 Tarnished Silver

First, free advertising.  If you have whiplash, mesothelioma, got damaged by Xorelto, an artificial hip or any other bodily insult, there are many cheap lawyers advertising on TV. Forget them and try Weitz and Luxenburg.  They get oodles of boodle for … well … lots of people.

Plus they have celebrity endorsers like, oh, say, Sheldon Silver.  You remember Shelly, don’t you?  The speaker of the New York State Assembly?  More powerful than a locomotive?  Able to leap tall buildings and other obstacles in a single bound?

Oh, wait.  Maybe the TV lawyers aren’t too happy with their “of counsel” legal consultant.  You remember Shelly, right?  The guy in handcuffs, accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks over 20 years?

photo: The Yeshivaworld

The locomotive hit a brick wall and the brick wall won. He made bail --$200 thousand dollars -- without 
breaking a sweat which should be no surprise. And before his moment in court told reporters he hopes to be vindicated.

Sure.  At least he didn’t spout the standard line “I’m innocent of all charges and welcome to opportunity to prove that in a court of law” which is right there in the Good Government Handbook under “What to say when they slap the cuffs on.”

Every state, every municipality has its share of grafters and other crooks. Silver is a Democrat, but every party has its shining bad examples.

Silver isn’t the kind of electee with constituents who throw rose petals in his path when he walks down lower Second Avenue. No one recognizes him, other than as an old man and a throwback to when everyone in the ‘hood spoke English with a Yiddish accent.

They’re tossing around all kinds of figures, which means they’re uncertain of the exact amount Silver is thought to have stolen.  But it’s in the multi-millions.

As for the Weitz connection:  Silver apparently did no actual legal work for them, but received more than $5 million in salary and referral fees.

Though it probably wasn’t an attempt at humor, the New York Times has a pretty funny headline atop a story about the legislature:  “‘Chaos’ Predicted in Albany After Arrest.”  Think anyone will notice a difference?

Shrapnel:

--While the Silver business was going on, Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg (D-Merrick) was getting ready to do time. He pleaded guilty to bilking a law client of $2.3 million. That’s chickenfeed compared to Shelly, but still would feed a lot of chickens.

--Yemen, long an incubator for terrorists, is without a president.  He resigned while held prisoner in his own house by “rebels” said to have ties with Iran.  And there’s concern the country will break apart into tribal-run splinters.

Grapeshot:

-Think kind thoughts and beam them at Joe Franklin, who is ailing.

And with the usual apologies to Jimmy Cannon, Wish I’d Said That:

I watched the President being interviewed by three YouTube program hosts. There haven't been that many softballs since the last Patriots game.” --Charlie Kaye, broadcast news executive.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1436 The Real State of the Union

Okay, maybe you heard the presidential spiel, maybe you didn’t. But you don’t need this space for a recounting.  The president touched on many important points.  But he never quite got to the actual state of the union.

Let’s do that little chore for him.

It’s pathetic. It’s twisted out of shape. It’s under attack from the outside and suicidal from within.  We’re a nation of liars.  We lie to ourselves and to others.  

We lie about the weather. We lie about the economy. We lie about race relations. We lie about health.

And we lie about what once made us a great country. It was smokestacks and farms and mines. It was a government that knew when to meddle and when not to. All with a well paid and productive (usually unionized) workforce, now called the “middle class.”

It was a nation that didn’t put a higher value on paper pushing Wall Streeters than people who actually produced  something.

Who makes the big bucks today?  Trust fund babies, financial finaglers, the hedge funds, the private equity funds, the banks, the pharmaceutical makers and the oil tycoons.

We talk a great deal about these types “paying their fair share,” and income redistribution.  No present or former wage earner cares how much the Koch brothers or members of the Walton family have.  They just want an honest buck for an honest day’s work.  

But they should care. Not because they lust for part of those fortunes, but because so much money and power in so few hands means the average person has no control of his own life, present or future.  Maybe the Oxfam report on wealth distribution will light a fire under some of us.  Maybe.

Factories don’t have to pollute.  But they have to make things and people have to be able to buy them.  Even Henry Ford recognized that. He understood that his production workers needed a living wage, else “...who will buy my cars?”

Ford was anti-union and wanted to be seen as a great benefactor who could set the tone for the lives of his workers.  But he understood there were limits.

To some extent, the rest of the 19th century robber barons understood that, too.  And when they forgot, there was always the United Whatever Workers to remind them.

Megafarms don’t need GMOs to supply more wheat and oats and tomatoes and potatoes and guava melons to feed the nation and half the rest of the world.

Mines don’t have to be minefields. Mine safety has been an oxymoron since the first Hopi tripped over the first chunk of coal more than a thousand years ago.

It’s right to ask “do we still need coal?” The answer is yes.  Even in an age of wind power and solar power coal still does much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.  Can we make it pollution-free?  Probably, eventually.  In small steps.  And we must.  
Are we going to continue to needlessly lose lives underground and spit out miners with bad lungs? Yes, but we can reduce the number. And keep reducing it.

We lie about the weather, or more properly, the climate.  There no longer is any doubt about climate change.  We can’t stop it. We can’t reverse it and we really don’t know what part of it is man made.   But SOME part of it is and we have to do what we can to reduce our share -- yes, even while burning coal and oil.  And we can.  But we don’t.

We lie about education by substituting technology for teaching.  Every kid has an iPad or a laptop computer. The entire world’s knowledge is on the internet. But who is to teach them how to use it? Educrats are forever coming up with new schemes for “improving” the classroom.  But there’s only one scheme that works and that’s teaching and learning.

By the time a kid graduates from high school, he should have the basic knowledge of what came before him, what’s going on around him and how to balance a checkbook.
The president wants junior college free for all.  Ridiculous.  They should have a working education before that.

Four year colleges shouldn’t have to teach incoming freshmen how to read or add a column of figures.

Worst of all, we lie about and with statistics.  Our math-phobic millions accept anything wrapped in arithmetic as objective truth.

The literacy rate, the unemployment rate, industrial production, the GDP, the budget at any level of government or business, crime, foreign aid, television ratings, market share, productivity... You name it, you can fake it.

Sometimes it’s because we just can’t get the sets of figures right.  Sometimes it’s on purpose. But statistics don’t tell the stories of people, they tell the stories of the people. And that itself is an artificial construct.

We get crazy about religion, race relations, guns, “freedom,” taxation, health care, social security. We get crazy about homeland security, we alienate our allies. We embrace our enemies and reject our own people.

The state of the union is not only pathetic, twisted out of shape, under attack from the outside and suicidal from within.  The state of the union is sorry.

And the first step toward changing that is to recognize it.

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

© WJR 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

1435 Martin and the Oysters

The Martin Luther King holiday is upon us.

In “Through the Looking Glass” (Or maybe it’s in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”) The Walrus and the Carpenter are forever fighting.  They oysters try to get them to the bargaining table and they succeed. The Walrus and the Carpenter agree to eat the oysters.

All of which brings us to the annual rant about not second guessing King, but with a slight difference.  For many years, we’ve been saying it’s an insult to co-opt his name and insert what we think he would say about current conditions.  But things have gotten so bad, we have to step back from that. Because what he’d likely be today is appalled.

Income inequality.  Certainly he would have something to say about that.  But unlike the hard left it probably wouldn’t be a Robin Hood solution, take from the rich and give to the poor.

Nor would it be the right wing solution: cut benefits, end the safety net and let them all become entrepreneurs.

If there’s a middle solution, it’s silent. Let’s hear it.

Race relations.  They’re in horrible tatters.  And it’s not just in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland and in New York.

The left’s position, expressed by police brutality victim Rodney King, “Why can’t we all get along?” doesn’t work.

The right’s position: Racism is a form of collectivism we would all get along if instead of black or white we’d all think green.  Green as in money, not as in environmental protection.

If there’s a middle position it’s silent.  Speak up.

Homeland Security.  King was a fighter for human rights. The Patriot act does as much or more to restrict American freedoms since “separate but equal.”  But “separate” was right out front where you could fight it.  Now, we have secret courts and we frisk little old ladies in wheelchairs, tap phones, read emails, track your websites and maybe have secret prisons.

That he’d oppose the idea of increased security is in doubt and speculative.  That he’d oppose the mechanics practiced today is not.

What about Charlie Hebdo?  Probably, Martin would rail against singling out Muslims for persecution.  What he’d say about the bloodshed is an easy guess: he’d oppose violence.  That he did while still alive.

King family dysfunction.  He’d probably try to get the feuding family members together.  But, then, if he were alive, he not they would decide where his assets and intellectual property would go.

He’d probably think little of the tea party freak show or the congressional freak show or the NRA freak show or the Citizens United freak show.  

He might or might not support the Al Sharptons of the world, those small men who now stand on his grave and his memory.

But one thing he surely wouldn’t be: the oysters.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

1434 Switzerland's Pizza Problem

First some background.  


  1. There is no such thing as a bad pizza, even if it’s an English muffin with ketchup and American cheese cooked in one of those toy ovens that use lightbulbs for heat.
  2. Some pizzas are better than others.
  3. New York is the only place in the known universe you’ll find a *GREAT* pizza… just ask anyone who has eaten a slice.
  4. German pizza is closer to the toy oven muffins than it is to Ray’s Original, Original Ray’s, Famous Ray’s, Ray Barri’s, DiFara’s, Roberta’s, Patsy’s, Motorino’s or any of the others you can find on almost any block.
  5. German Pizza costs less than Swiss pizza.
  6. Until recently, pizza deliverers didn’t have to go through customs.
Note, “Until recently.” Now they do.  


Pizza joints on the German side of the border had special deals for customers who paid in Swiss francs for delivered food.


Not only that, but going through customs takes time.  And time is the enemy of hot pizza.


There are some among us who like our pizza cool or even cold.  But the majority want a hot pie.  So the ever- neutral Swiss have declared war on German pizza.


Germany says it has no plans to retaliate by, say, establishing numbered bank accounts.  But Conservative province alderman Heinz Haberschlammerrung proposes plans to establish those secret bank accounts despite the national government’s refusal.


Haberschlammerrung says he’d attract customers from high and middle income earners by using the secrets of the Swiss and the 1970s marketing plans of  American banks.


These include giving away prizes like toasters and blenders, offering free checking, high introductory interest rates and convenient no-fee ATMs scattered throughout Switzerland.


“And for the real high rollers,” said Haberschlammerrung, “toaster ovens just big enough for a large swiss cheese and Braunschweiger two-sauce pizza that got cold on the trip across the border.”


You have to watch the Swiss.


Shrapnel:


--Meantime, the Swiss franc is soaring against the Euro in a complicated set of events that is forcing stock prices in Zurich sharply lower.  This has to do with the European and Russian economies and nothing to do with cross border pizza.  But it devalues everything else from candy to watches to cheese to cuckoo clocks.


--At the same time, some in Switzerland are moving toward loosening the bank secrecy laws.  About time. And an invitation to Germany, Austria, Italy and France to get in on the numbered account action.


--Newspaper publisher Belo and others are to test drones to deliver newspapers to the 324 people who still read the print editions.  Fewer tips.  But don’t worry, the papers will still land on your roof, in your shrubs and in your neighbor’s driveway as usual.


Grapeshot:


-Flu shot objectors have finally won one after federal health officials say the current vintage is only 23% effective.


-If you’re having trouble falling asleep there’s help ahead: the state of the union speech is just around the corner.


-The counter speech, the Republican “rebuttal” (when did we start needing that?) will be given by freshman sen. Joni Ernst, who rose to fame with her commercial about spending her youth castrating pigs.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
For more of my nonsense check out Gargoylz
© WJR 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1433 Salt Water

(Mount St. Nittany, PA) -- Worthy water supply is a problem in much of the world.  Countries are ever looking for ways to desalinate their seawater.


Here at the Wessays™ Secret Mini Mountain Laboratory, we are going in the opposite direction. We add salt.


Explanation: The water here is so hard you can make hammers out of it. There’s so much calcium in it, the deed to your house comes with a guarantee that if you drink 16 ounces a day, you will never get osteoporosis.


The calcium clogs pipes, laundry machines, coffee makers, shower heads, faucets, and taps for the garden hose.  It destroys hot water tanks, leaves blotches on pots made of freight train- grade steel.


It turns the outdoor plants white if you water them.  White roses are attractive.  But only if they’re born that way.  White powdered ferns, ewe bushes and red maple trees are not.


Calcium vaccinates bath soap, shampoo, dish washing liquid and laundry detergent against sudsing.


So we knuckled under to science and had installed a softening machine.  It looks something like a nuke plant scaled down to 5% actual size.  Tanks. Meters. Plumbing. More plumbing.


And it eats salt. Not sea salt, not kosher salt, not iodized salt, not flavored salt. Just… salt. The Water Softening for Dummies website isn’t clear about what it does but is clear as smooth water that the salt and the water never touch.


The salt tank holds about 200 pounds worth and needs replenishing now and then.


But all of a sudden, the soap is soapier, the pots don’t stain and the water tastes like, well, water. (As opposed to well-water.)


Salt is cheap.  It doesn’t have a “use by” or “expires” date.  The only difference between the “official” salt for softeners and the stuff you buy in the supermarket is it’s chunkier and dirtier.


Also, Waldbaum’s and ShopRite don’t have 50 pound bags on the shelf.


And we’re on the lookout to make sure all that salt doesn’t increase the softening machine’s blood pressure.  


Shrapnel:


--Groundhog day approaches, and in New York, mayor Bill de Blasio has wriggled out of another opportunity to cradle a creature in a photo op, since last year’s rat, Charlotte, turned her back on him, fell and later died. Staten Island’s Groundhogs won’t be tamed like those in Punxsutawney. In 2009, a predecessor hog bit then- mayor Mike Bloomberg who has since recovered.


--Congratulations to 25 year NBC veteran and whipping target Ann Curry who’s forming a new media start up.  When they lopped Curry off the Today Show they gave her a big contract which is near expiration. So they’re lopping her off once again.


Grapeshot


-Question for Mike Huckabee:  We know you’re a professional preacher but do you really think it’s your place to tell the Obama daughters not to listen to Beyonce’s music because it might lead them astray while you try to lead everyone else … who knows where?


-Question for Woody Allen: what makes you think your Hollywood experience has gotten you ready to do a movie for Amazon com?


Question for Google Drive: When will you allow macros so I don’t have to type...


...I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015 … 156 times a year?

Monday, January 12, 2015

1432 The Physics of Law

The words in the title are not out of order. Lawyers are among the leading physicists in America.  They take atomic and subatomic particles, rearrange them and turn lead into gold.


Eat your hearts out, alchemists.


Here’s what happens.


“A” is murdered.  “B” is suspected, arrested and charged.  Then the lawyers get to work.


You know how these cases go.  The defense makes a monster of someone who may have been the killer. Man into monster alchemy.


The defense admits “B” is not a saint, but is good to his children or his mother or was almost an Eagle Scout or worked in the soup kitchen and therefore couldn’t possibly have committed murder.


The prosecution will produce a fingerprint.  More magic.  The defense will say it’s only a 70% match.  The magic of diminished science.
The prosecution will use security cam video and the accused will suddenly appear at the crime scene.


The defense will say the videos have been altered.


This magic show will continue until half the jurors believe one side or the other has turned lead into gold.


Like modern day physicists, modern day lawyers work in the world of atomic and subatomic particles.  


Instead of cyclotrons and colliders, they use human powered wind machines, themselves.


Members of the jury are the peer reviewers academics depend on for reputation and confirmation.  Except the jury doesn’t have the credentials of a scholarly journal so they have to go on belief, the most volatile and unstable element on the periodic table.


Maybe the trial judge dozes off for ten seconds every once in awhile or is caught texting while the alchemists are on stage.  Grounds for appeal if “B” is convicted?


After a not guilty verdict, the defense alchemist passes out business cards.  “Hey! Let Whiplash Willie turn your lead rump into gold, too! Call 1800-4 Magic2.


At his sentencing, “B” will invoke the national anthem of the convicted, telling judge Snoozy: “I’m not a bad person.”


Yeah, probably, you are.  Not-bad-persons don’t commit murder.


Okay, alchemists, line up those protons and neutrons.  There’s always room for the wind accelerator at the appeals court.  


Shrapnel:


--Speaking of magic, the NYPD has made thousands of arrests and tickets disappear.  But they’ll soon tire of it.  So don’t try going 90 on 92nd street.


--Turning potential tickets into antimatter is the beat cops’ way of Charlie Hebdo-ing the mayor whom they believe is a key player in the Great Anti Police Conspiracy.  He isn’t.  He’s just taken too many public foot in mouth lessons from Biden or Bush.


--Cop wannabe George Zimmerman has been arrested again, this time for aggravated assault.  Police say he flung a wine bottle at his girlfriend in Seminole County, Florida.  Possibly after draining it mouthward.


Grapeshot:


-Question for Chris Christie: did you think you looked good in that orange sweater at the Cowboys game or are you just picking out a color for your minimum security jump suit.


-Question for the AP writer of this headline SEARCHERS HONE IN ON BLACK BOXES FROM AIRASIA PLANE: will you please learn the difference between “hone” and “home?”


-Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like hone.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015