Monday, December 31, 2007

The Flashback

#340 The Flashback

It happens every year at this time, this time being the period between Christmas and New Year's eve.

The flashback.

In the supermarket parking lot on the Sunday before the New Year, and there's this 20-something guy and he's collecting empty shopping carts and getting ready to move them back inside.

And he's whistling. And he's not whistling loud enough nor working close enough to be sure. But the wind catches some of the notes, and the suspicion is that it's "Jingle Bells." Jingle Bells. We haven't heard enough by now? And from a 20-something guy who, if he whistles at all, is much more likely to be whistling something by Megadeth. (That may be a stretch. No Megadeth tune has an actual melody, but you get the picture. This is not a generation that whistles at all, let along whistles tunes by either Megadeth OR John Pierpont.)

This has to stop!

"Hey, tell me I'm wrong, but are you whistling "Jingle Bells?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so," he replies, redding and putting on that sheepish puppy look that only someone that age can muster convincingly.

"Why? For cryin' out loud, haven't you had enough of that?"

"Well, you know, I've been working 40 or 60 hours a week inside the store for the last month or so and that's all they'd play on the loudspeaker."

"Well, you know, they have proven therapy for that condition."

He sheepishes his way around the parking lot, hunting up empty carts and lines up a long string of them and starts pushing them toward the store.

This is not some ORDINARY supermarket. This is FancyMan's, the fanciest supermarket in this -- and possibly any other town. And they have strict procedures about the way everything is done. Everything. From stocking the shelves, to greeting customers at the register and actually listening to their answer to "how are you?"

And one of these ten or 12 thousand rules is no one pushes more than seven carts at a time, lest there be injury to pusher or pedestrian or driver.

FancyMan's knows the population around here. Like the average driver, who doesn't know where the turn signal in his car is. So it pays to protect emplees from these drivers and these drivers from runaway carts.

But this kid has like 15 or 20 carts and he's pushing them toward the building.

Probably should report him. But after 60 hours of continuous jingle bells and the accompanying post-holiday flashback, he might become dangerous -- even while sporting a convincing sheepish-puppy look.

You'd probably hear him mutter "you don't get it unless you've been there." Or "is that your car, over there, the one with the huge, shopping-cart-shaped dent in the left door?"

Better to be diplomatic and say nothing.

Plus, you turn in a guy for an infraction like this and he's likely to lead the rest of his life as a petty criminal or low level street hood. (Ever hear anyone described as a "high level street hood?")

This is being typed about eight hours after the fact.

But jingle bells lives on in my head, somewhere it never would lodge had it not been for that shopping cart criminal.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®

©2007 WJR

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cultural Reverse Snobbery

#339 Cultural Reverse Snobbery

For those of us raised in a tradition of Euro-centric cultural snobbery, this may amount to treason.

But the highlight of the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors was a two minute snippet that happened almost accidentally.

First, let's clear up one dispute. People from Washington often talk of some kind of cultural rivalry with New York. Most New Yorkers, informed of this sub rosa war will respond by saying "what rivalry?" But the Kennedy Center Honors and the center itself were created to foster this deep south notion. It's a nifty hall, really. And it's close enough so the Washington political elite can pop in when they need a dose of something snooty, or to be seen among the great pretenders who hang out there.

The honorees this year included the director Martin Scorsese, who certainly deserves a salute from his peers and fans and anyone who's ever seen any of his movies.

Another was Dianna Ross, who didn't have to do anything but sit there and wave as a short roster of singers performed her hits -- all of them better than the originals, and some of them a LOT better. Dianna has about doubled in size from her prime. And her appearance on "American Idol" last year had to be the worst moment of her professional life.

For those Euro-centric cultural snobs, there was Leon Fleisher, an extraordinary piano pounder, all the more interesting because he had to fight physical disability at the peak of his fame, because he IS Euro-centric, but American Born and pals with the late Leonard Bernstein, who should have been charged with the attempted murder of Beethoven. Yo Yo Ma did a lot of the speaking for Fleisher, and while Ma is better known for playing irreplaceable 17th century cellos masterfully, then leaving them in taxi cabs, his verbal portrait was touching.

The longest and most elaborate tribute was for Steve Martin who is way smarter than he seems, and way more talented than many of us remembered. And this leads to the first thought, the one that started this little rant.

Martin plays the five string banjo, bluegrass style. This is not a state secret, but it isn't something you hear a lot about, either. His banjo mentor is the fellow generally regarded as creator of the style and it's foremost artist, living or dead, Earl Scruggs, who at the time of the broadcast was mere weeks away from his 84th birthday.

They brought him to Washington to play a song at this shindig. His theme, and probably the second-best known song in the genre, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." (The best known is Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky.")

So here's Earl, walking onto the stage. Arthritis in the shoulders, it looks like -- they're hunched, which they didn't used to be. And with that characteristic unsmiling, un-cultured, un-cultural, un-showbusiness deadpan, starts playing the song at abut 650 miles per hour, which is almost as fast as he played it 60 years ago, and not one bad note. Flawless.

Now THAT's an artist. And THAT was the highlight of the whole over-long program designed so that Washington could say to New York "Hey, we're here, too."

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

©2007 WJR

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

TV on Christmas

338 TV On Christmas


Maybe you noticed this: everything on TV this Christmas had to do with food, except on the Food Channel which was showing a travelogue.

The Travel Channel did a food show. Pizza around the world, or some such. Want to know where the "New York Times" thinks the country's best pizza is? It's in Chicago. Chicago!

All those bone heads have to do is walk out the front door of their shiny new building and across Eighth Avenue to any number of holes in the wall, and they'll find better pizza than in Chicago. Along the avenue from maybe 37th Street to 49th, there are something like two dozen dirty, grimy pizza joints. Dirty and grimy are important (Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut will never understand this.) Cheap, also. No air fare.

You know where else they have great pizza? According to the show, New Haven. Smells like a payoff. Pizza in New Haven, better than on Eighth Avenue? Nonsense.

One one of the shopping channels, there's an infomercial for some new kind of fast cooking oven. Uses regular heat, infra-red heat and convection. Schlep a roast and some asparagus out of the freezer, plop it into this thing and, bingo, you have a meal. Almost as fast as a microwave, but -- supposedly -- without the awful things that microwaves do to food while heating it.

Four easy payments of $39.99. But wait, if you order now, we'll reduce it to THREE easy payments of $39.99. But wait! You can get this whoopdie-do chopper-grinder thing free, just pay shipping.

That's where they get you. The oven's $120 bucks. But by the time you finish with the "free" stuff (including not one, but TWO whoopdie-do chopper-grinder things,) and the add-on capacity increaser for the oven (sounds like an x rated spam e-mail, no?) and three free issues of your favorite magazine, plus a "custom made" carrying case to take the oven on the road, plus the two year extended warranty, the item remains $120 bucks but the shipping has just gone up to half a gazillion dollars. And that's "regular" shipping that takes like six months. If you want the things within 10-15 "business days," (they're doing business on Christmas, so that must count as a "business day,") just pay for the whole thing at once, and they'll "express" it to you. Probably Pony Express. And just pop the pony into the oven, set it for two hours and you get a yummy, scrumptious horse meat dinner.

They don't tell you most of this stuff on the infomercial. They leave that up to "Lisa," who answers the telephone at Oven Central.

If this thing works, it'll be a great addition to the kitchen. If it doesn't, there's a 90 day money-back guarantee, but not for the shipping. All you need to do is call a special phone number for an authorization. The phone number is in Barbados and operates only alternate Wednesdays between 4 and 5:10 AM, Atlantic Time.

Meantime, the host and hostess of the program are cooking chicken and salmon and roasts and probably the pony. And they're making noises of approval that sound like the background of a 1970s John Holmes movie.

There are a dozen more food show choices on TV this Christmas. But this has to stop here. Got some gourmet frozen waffles in the toaster. Don't want to burn 'em.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Monday, December 24, 2007

WestraDamus Retrodictions for 2007

# 337
It's that time of year again. It's time for WestraDamus, the Non-Prophet, to predict the past, this time for the year 2007, which is drawing to a close.

First an explanation for those of you who are new to this character and to the website Westradamus.com.

The supermarket tabloids used to have their resident astrologers predict the future at about this time of year. No one seemed to check their accuracy a year later. Except WestraDamus, who realized that these guys were almost always wrong.

So, why not predict the past and do so with the same accuracy as the tabloid astrologers?

Hence this entry, which started as a monthly arrangement, but in the last decade or so has been relegated to a once-a-year foray.

And so, now, to the retrodictions. And this year, they cover the world of diplomacy, war, literature, entertainment, sports and the economy.

First, President Gore. He'll win the Tony award for best musical of the year, a revival of the Broadway classic "Massapequa" by Lerner & Lowe. Gore's new lyrics and dance routines choreographed by the late Chris Benoit wowed audiences throughout the year.

Britney Spears will win the Pulitzer Prize in literature, only to be upstaged by her 16 year old sister, Jamie Lynn, who will win the Nobel Piece Prize, edging out Tila Tequila and Elizabeth Taylor.

The merry pranksters of Al Qaeda will open a United Nations Mission in New York and invite the Rev. Al Sharpton to share office space. Sharpton will decline but contribute 40 copies of his hit novel, "the Tawana Brawley Story," to its library.

Iran will see the error of its ways and admit it has (a) the bomb and (b) three gay men. The country will test (a) by dropping it on (b.)

Former Congressman Dick Cheney (R-WY) will die of asphyxiation when the air supply is sabotaged in his Undisclosed Location. But his electric heart will continue to beat for the next six months because no one can find the "off" switch.

In happier retrodictions, the housing boom will continue full bore throughout the year, setting ever rising records for building starts, new home and existing home sales, and a reduction of the mortgage rate to 4.65 percent. The Dow will continue its corresponding climb, closing the year at 34,786.58. The Forbes Magazine list of billionaires will be doubled in size to 800, but still be led by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (MSFT,) and present owner of France, Northern Ireland, Colombia, India and Pakistan.

The cities of Los Angeles, California and Newark, New Jersey will cede control to the Crips and the Bloods who will then hold a peace conference at which former President Jimmy Carter will successfully broker a truce. Members of the Carter team, including social critic Carlos Mencia, Economist Tom Keene and aging football legend Bill Parcells, holder of the record for consecutive retirements, will be honored at the White House by Vice President Edwards.

In medical retrodictions: researchers working jointly for Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson will announce a cure for cancer, consisting of an ointment made of ground Viagra, powdered Zoloft and niacin, smeared on a band aid. Other medical breakthroughs include the discovery that it's all in your head, that you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd, and that if you stick to a low-fat diet and climb every mountain, you will survive to a hundred and five.

The Makers of Lunesta will announce FDA approval for a new, non-drowsy sleeping pill.

Students at Penn State University, which has a building named for Paul Robeson, will learn to stop mispronouncing his name, and those members of the school's football team not charged with felonies will caucus in a Volkswagen.

Mike Bloomberg will not seek the Socialist Workers' Party nomination for President. The party will then designate Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage as its ticket.

Billboard Magazine's song of the year will be the near-ubiquitous digitally remastered reissue of Ukulele Ike singing "Who Takes Care of the Caretaker's Daughter While the Caretaker's Busy Taking Care." It will only slightly out-poll the near-ubiquitous digitally remastered reissue of Home & Jethro's "I've Got Tears in My Ears From Lying on My Back in My Bed As I Cry Over You."

Transportation retrodictions: Boeing will unveil its new superliner, the 707473727-A. It's the most fuel efficient aircraft ever designed and it holds 1,200 passengers (and a crew of four.) The plane's efficiency comes from a previously unused concept: no engines. The plane and its 1,200 passengers and crew of four is towed onto the runway, sits there for four hours and then is towed back to the gate. Although the plane is capacious, its size was kept compact by the elimination of the galley, so there's no food or water. And by the elimination of bathrooms. Since it doesn't fly, there is no reason for overhead racks. Passengers simply leave their luggage in the aisles.

General Motors will go private, purchased by a coalition of state-owned investment companies in China. In a two-step process, the new owners will establish wage parity between workers in the US and those in Shanghai (not the other way around.) And they will announce plans to move all production to Malaysia.

Amtrak will cut its remaining four passenger routes, pave over the trackbeds and lease them to Greyhound.

Notable Death retrodictions for 2007: George W. Bush (He actually died in 2005, but residual effects of ingested chemicals, powered and liquid, keep him dancing on the table for an additional two years.) Dan Rather, Don Imus, Prince Charles and the entire soprano section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Social Change retrodictions: Denny's in Yazoo City, Mississippi admits an actual African-American man to its tables, takes his order and serves his food, all within four hours of his arrival. Wal-Mart overcomes the deep-seated prejudice of customers at its Tel Aviv store and sells 14,000 Christmas trees. The Boy Scouts of Philadelphia name their first openly gay Eagle Scout. Vito Corleone converts to Islam. Poland and Germany sign a non-aggression pact. The Lakotas secede from the United States and declare all treaties void. Radio station KILI of Porcupine, South Dakota, freed of federal regulation, increases its transmitter power to one million watts, drops its annual 362 day fund raising marathon and accepts ads from Marlboro, Camel, Parliament, Kool and Native Star cigarettes.


Climate change retrodictions: the Xinhua Kapok Collective of Shanghai will donate 100,000 life vests for polar bears who can't swim and who face possible drowning because of global warming. The Consumer Products Safety Commission will determine there is an unacceptable level of lead in the vests' bright orange die, and order a recall.

P&G finally will tell us what is in the 56/100 of Ivory Soap that isn't pure.

Starbucks will announce a new product line, coffee, which will be served side by side with its present line of burnt brown water.

PETA will announce a campaign against ExxonMobil, charging cruelty to cartoon tigers and winged horses.

The government of Italy will announce a campaign against the global positioning gizmo maker Tom Tom for refusing to acknowledge that all roads lead to Rome. Twenty minutes later, the government of Italy will dissolve itself.

Apple, fresh from its successes with the I-pod and the I-phone will announce its latest product, the I-truck.

You will buy a house that should cost $123,999 and pay $1.47 million for it. Your introductory interest rate of 2.38% will expire 23.8 minutes after the loan is granted, after which the rate becomes 18.064%. Your lender will provide you with temporary housing while you search for new digs (while supplies of washing machine and refrigerator boxes last.)


Rev. Mike Huckabee will convert to the LDS church. LDS Bishop Willard M. Romney will (a) become a Baptist and (b) admit that he always hated the Rambler.

Biologists at UC Berkeley will announce they've cloned a rock. But later, the student newspaper will investigate and discover it wasn't cloned and that the "cloned" stone was chipped off the old block during a faculty party celebrating Governor Schwarzenegger's declaration decriminalizing pot.

Former Durham, North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong will open an Amway distributorship and will promptly be arrested on charges he raped a stripper hired to liven up a recruiting party. The charges will eventually be discredited

Detective Spenser will disclose his first name.


WestraDamus will grow another day older and deeper in debt.


This item will be available throughout the year at http://www.westradamus.com

©2008 WJR

Friday, December 21, 2007

Go To Zell

#336a Go To Zell

Maybe it's the only way a newspaper can survive. Get taken over by a mogul, either the top down type or the bottom up type. The moguls who own the New York Times made their money by doing newspapers. The are bottom up moguls. Sam Zell, new owner of the Chicago Tribune is a top down type. He made his money elsewhere and now has ridden in to save the day. Real estate guy. Not the first to buy a zombified group of papers. There was Mort Zuckerman, realty tycoon, top down mogul who owns the New York Daily News Zell, and he buys Tribune Co. along with which comes Newsday and the LA Times and a bunch of TV stations and a baseball team.

The Tribune itself is a storied mediocrity, kind of like Johnny Mathis and Fiats. Everyone knows them. Everyone. Few think much of them.

But the LAT and Newsday are not. At least, not yet.

Newspapering is like show biz. Everyone who buys one thinks he knows how to run it better. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Zuckerman's Daily News isn't terrible. It's kind of pale has no real editorial position (which could be an advantage these days,) and sells a gazillion copies. The Washington Times IS terrible. It's owned by the Unification Church, which is owned by Rev. Moon, who also is a real estate mogul.

Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones the other day. He will not ruin the Wall Street Journal. Change it, yes. Wreck it, no. Rupert is a bottom up newspaper mogul.

Sam gave an interview to the Tribune the day the sale went through. He told the reporter he thought of himself not as the chairman and CEO, but as the owner. This is not a good sign. First off, it's not entirely true. There's an employee stock plan to be financed with new debt. If the house collapses, the mogul won't walk away unscathed. But he won't have more than a few cuts and bruises.

There's a whole chorus out there singing a funeral dirge for newspapers (and the Nightly 6:30 TV news.) Their dirging is premature. But circulation is down and papers have cut maybe 4,000 newsroom jobs nation-wide in the past ten or so years. That's a lot of jobs. And that's not a way to run anything. Maybe Sam'll swing the axe a bit, maybe not.

But a newspaper isn't an office tower, a housing development or a boatyard, and it can't be run like one. The guys who ran Tribune into the ground were busy not doing newspapering. In fact, no one quite knows what they WERE doing, other than thrashing around and trying to look important. Maybe Sam'll find some news guys to run the thing when he tires of playing with it or finds it's playing with him.

In the meantime, to the boys and girls at 202 W 1st Street in Los Angeles, the guys on Pinelawn Road in Melville, New York, and in Hartford and in Baltimore, and on Michigan Ave in Chicago: Don't make any major purchases just now. And learn the real estate business.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Montego Pete's News Stand

#335 Montego Pete's Newsstand

Montego Pete came over from Jamaica after making a few bucks and he smiles, though he's a little hazy when he tells you how it happened. But now he's in another Jamaica, the one in Queens and he's running a newsstand, living the American Dream.

There are 4,000 odd newsstands in the City of New York and Pete, which is not his name, is running the only one of its kind.

He took those few bucks and borrowed a few more from either the local shark or maybe it was Citibank or maybe they're the same (he gets hazy about that, too, but always with a big smile,) and built this thing.

He's got coffee for the commuters. He's got Caribbean magazines for the back-home crowd, and he's got all the papers. The Times, the Journal, The News, Il Progresso, The Forward, The Post, The Amsterdam News, Newsday. He gets the Jamaica Gleaner and the Sunday something or other, maybe a week late.

And he's got all the Magazines: Newsweek, Time, The Star, In Touch. And all the tabloids. And then there's Montego Pete's specialty, the trade journals.

You need The Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology? You need Colorado Geology Digest? You need The Aristotelian Review? Montego Pete's got 'em.

"You know, people are always getting studies from these magazines second or third hand," he says. "There are studies of Nevuses in Dermatology Today and you can only get them quoted in the papers. You get 'em filtered through some reporter's reading. I want to give people the real deal."

So Montego Pete is the go-to guy for Cosmology Quarterly, which is the only place you can read Hawking's latest theory on Black Holes, Dark Energy and Anti-matter. CQ is right there on the shelf next to GQ, Esquire and Details.

"I don't sell a lot of this stuff," Pete says, "But it builds trust, and customer traffic. And I get to meet a lot of dermatologists, cosmologists and pediatric endocrinologists. Also coal miners."

There are no coal mines in Jamaica, Queens. In fact, there are no coal mines anywhere in southern New York. But they come anyway, because Pete's is the only place outside West Virginia and Kentucky you can buy Anthracite Today, which is the leading coal geology magazine.

"The public has a right to know," he says, "and they don't want to get their information second hand, like when the Wall Street Journal quotes a study of feet from Cobbler's Digest, which you can usually only get in Brazil and Italy, though there's soon going to be an Indonesian edition in English."

I ask him if he carries Genetic Altered Food Grower's Week. He says he did, but the Sutphin Boulevard Ecology Club picketed him and that was bad for business.

"They made me sell fair trade coffee, and I accepted that. But they drew the line at Genetic Altered Food Grower's Week."

I ask him if fair trade coffee is a monthly or a weekly.

"It's just coffee," he says. They don't have their own magazine yet. I'm thinking of starting one for them.

And always with that smile.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Monday, December 17, 2007

Clean Up the Kitchen

#334 Clean Up the Kitchen

Guy walks into a diner, tells the counterman he wants a cheeseburger with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, mushrooms, avocados, and bacon. The counterman turns around and shouts the order out to the cook: "Clean up the kitchen."

It's a bad old joke. But today's post is made up of the stuff that sat around all year without growing long enough to warrant the usual 500 words or so. Hence, Cleaning up the kitchen.

A. I'll keep My I out for you:
Until very recently, none of this was in the first person singular. I kept my "I" out for you. This is fairly unusual in any prose these days and the principle behind it hearkens back to the days when reporters were brutally instructed to keep themselves out of the story. They invented an editorial "we" and a "told this reporter..." or "told NBC News..." and similar phrases to get around the restriction when it was absolutely necessary or when the editor was finishing his bottle of Seagram's or the producer was on the phone with a field crew trying to figure out why the picture wasn't getting through.

But times have changed, and in order to be modern, I figured, why not. I'm an old guy. I'm not edited a lot. And if Jimmy Breslin and Robert B. Parker and Nancy Reagan can "I" you to death, why not me, too. It still doesn't sit well. A character flaw, perhaps. But I'm working on it.

B. I verses you.
We capitalize "I" but not "you." Does that mean the writer is more important than the reader? I want You to tell me.


C. Analog Vs. Digital or Grandma's 78 RPM records were as bad as you remember them, and so are CDs and MP3s, but for different reasons:
The scratchy old 78s are almost impossible to hear when played on the machines they were made for, which are 1920s era wind up gramophones and Victrolas. The CDs and MP3s all glare at you. They're so in your face (or at your ears) and seem to have no ambient room noise it's the listening equivalent of staring into the sun. Early classical musicians believed that the room helped form the sound of the music. But, of course, most of them recorded on scratchy old 78s, so what did THEY know?

D. Chicken Wings:
They're big around here. Question, what do those places that sell only the wings do with the rest of the chicken?

E. They're running out of street names:
Must be. Else, why this?
There was a street around here called Lowe's Boulevard because there was a Lowe's at one end of it. Lowe's moved, and they changed the name to Colonnade Boulevard. So far, so good. Except that it intersects with Colonnade Way. That's confusing. My home street intersects with itself. So did my home street in Moote Pointe, New York. And Borden's hasn't been in Queens for decades, but they still call the street where it was "Borden Avenue." Maybe the City of New York doesn't move as fast as the folks around here. Or maybe they just don't know the factory's closed.

F. George W. Bush:
God save us from a drunk who finds Jesus.

G. A New Kind of Strike:
A few years ago, the guys who drive the snow plows for the Town of Hempstead, NY went on strike. But no one knew about it except the people who live there. The drivers didn't walk off the job, they didn't picket, they didn't throw bricks the the window of the Third Assistant Deputy Undercommissioner in charge. They got into their trucks when and as they were supposed to. They went out on their routes when and as they were supposed to. The drove all the routes and returned to the plow garage. No plow ever touched the ground. But the routes were covered. This could catch on.

Are you listening, UAW, WGA, DGA, UFT?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Coffee Conversion

#333 The Coffee Conversion

There are epiphanies and there are epiphanies
Most of the time when you get one of those "Ah-HAH!" moments, they're about something important. You realize that you're a republican or a democrat or you find your purpose in life is to save the whales or build a nuke plant.

But sometimes there about really tiny things.

Like this one.

The other day in Big Box Club they had this name brand coffee on sale, I mean really cheap. And in looking over the label, I noticed that it was marked "mild." Now, there's something un-manly about "mild" coffee. I've been mainlining espresso for decades. The blacker the better.

I am the inventor of the Tire Fire which is two shots of espresso in a huge cup and the rest of it filled with the worst, stale-est most burned coffee Starbucks has to offer. And no diluting this concoction with milk or sugar or (heaven forbid!) any of those silly, good-for-nothing flavored syrups.

But, okay. A bargain is a bargain. So let's try it.

As an aside, I have noticed that the Mexican made Mister Coffee machine for 12 bucks is every bit as good as the Mexican made fancy "German" super precise, auto timed, tell-us-how-dark you like it machine for 120 bucks.

So I load up the coffee maker with this "mild" stuff, and you know what? The grounds don't smell half bad.

Obviously, they put something in this wimpo blend to make it smell like real coffee, that is until you drink it. Then, it shows its true color, which is probably a translucent beige-red-brown instead of the customary and more preferred opaque black.

Okay. Coffee in. Water in. "Gentlemen, start your engines."

Yeah... here comes the mild coffee. And it is, just as I suspected, a translucent red-beige-brown. You call this coffee? It's hot coffee colored Kool-Aid.

Oh, wait. I forgot to try drinking it.

(pause)

Hey. Not bad.

(pause)

Not bad at all.

But, then, what does this say about me. All these decades spent savoring espresso or at least the dark French Roast and here I am liking this watery looking stuff, which if you found in your sink, you'd probably call a plumber.

I have to admit it. I love the unmanly brew.

This is a stunning introspective insight from a guy who doesn't believe in stunning introspective insights. A weak brew instead of the high test stuff? Me? Oh for shame!

I was going to keep this a secret. Not that any one's watching which coffee I drink.

After finishing wanting to keep it secret, I thought about going the opposite way, like sending a mass mailing to my entire e-mail address book announcing this discovery and disclosure.

But I wanted a test run first.

So I sent a mini-mass mailing to my kids, except the one who is still home and who doesn't care what kind of coffee comes out of the machine as long as it's COFFEE.

The daughters replied pretty close to instantly, saying, in effect, "who cares!"

The younger long distance son replied a little while later, saying "Dad, are you okay, why are you writing to me about your preference in coffee?"

And the older son will contemplate his answer for the next three months, and then call me six different times over the course of two days asking me what I'm talking about, and then not call again for another three months.

I'd call that e-mail test run a total flop. So, I've decided against the mass mailing.

But now when I go to the convenience store on my way to work, I buy the extra large size coffee and add a touch of hot water to thin it out.

I try to be sneaky about it. But Shawn and Gina at the store caught me the other day.

They asked, practically in unison, what I was doing.

The only answer I could give them that made any sense at all was "I'm wimping out."

And very publicly, at that.

I'm Wes RIchards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them

©WJR

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lab Rat Here

#332 Lab Rat, Here

Yes, many of us have become experimental subjects. And the geniuses who are doing the experiment? Why the pharma plans. Why take, say, Lipitor (even if it's worked for years,) when you can take Zxplnobl H.L? Why take those old brand name blood pressure pills when they can experiment on you with the generic version, Fefatonin Clecktikanin?

"See how you do on these, sir. If it doesn't work out you can always have your old stuff back."

Sure.

At ten times the price.

All this comes along with a nice warm and fuzzy letter.

"Dear Sir, We've received permission from your doctor or other health care professional, to switch you from Zoloft to the new generic version, called "Sad-Be-Gone," a superior antidepressant at a price that will save you a bundle. While using this drug, please report any suicidal thoughts or attempts to your doctor or other health care professional. If your depression worsens, please contact your doctor or other health care professional or a suicide prevention hotline."

Suicidal thoughts or attempts? What's in this stuff? It's supposed to be an ANTI depressant, not a PRO-depressant. Life's depressing enough without taking medicine to make it more intense.

But at least there's money to be saved. A three month supply of "Sad-Be-Gone" is $12.38. A three month supply of Zoloft is $385, with the "Speedy Pharm Customer Discount." You can imagine what the stuff costs without that good hearted price break.

So, we've become medical lab rats.

"Hey, let's see what happens to cholesterol levels when we give 'em Zxplnobl H.L.," says Speedy Pharm's marketing department. (Marketing departments make all scientific decisions -- at least those that the accounting departments don't make.) "Maybe we can help our stock in Zxplnobl Generix, our supplier and captive subsidiary. And maybe we can even cause a few heart attacks and strokes, then let the insurance guys take care of these people. The insurance guys and the undertakers."

The packaged food industry has been doing this for years. So why not the drug pushers?

Ever read the label on a potato chip bag? A loaf of white bread? A candy bar?

You inhale a bag of Fritos and don't die, right? You have a peanut butter-on-white and you're still here, right? So why not a handful of Fefatonin Clecktikanin? What's the worst could happen?

The auto industry does a bit of this, too. Remember the Pinto? The Corvair? How about the SUVs that rolled over like obedient Cocker Spaniels?

And China, Inc. is way ahead of the United States on this score. They have spent decades growing human lab rats. And now, they're helping us along the way, with new forms of pet food and finding the REAL safety levels of lead in paint.

Plus why should the academic world have a monopoly on lab experiments. They suck up a ton of money that could better be given to the stockholders of Zxplnobl Generix, including our friends at Speedy Pharm.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©WJR

Monday, December 10, 2007

Smart Car, Dummkopf

#331 Smart Car? Dummkopf!

Dr. Z, Dieter Zetsche, fresh from his triumphal reign at Chrysler, is back with a car so small he could have imported it to the US by putting it on his back and swimming the Atlantic, and hardly gotten is moustache wet. A comical looking guy, with a comical looking car.

The Smart Car, they call it. Or, if that's too hard to remember, or you're not smart enough, simply "the Smart." It's a pocket car you can park anywhere. It carries two people, if they're not to big. It has no trunk, it has no back seat, and it barely has an engine. This engine-lessness can be an advantage. Helps with the gas milage. Under the hood is a little teeny gasoline powered sewing machine. Handy, if you rip your jacket squeezing into the "passenger" seat. Forty miles per gallon, city. Highway? Don't know. No one's ever dared drive this thing on a highway. Zero to 60 in 20 seconds. If there's a tailwind. And if the thing'll actually DO 60.

This is Germany's Great Automotive Hope. The car's a big hit in Berlin and in Paris. It will not be anything of the kind over here.

Fifteen, 16 grand for a two seater? We're not talking Miata, here.

To get an idea of how small this thing is, take eight steps from your wall. That's how big it is -- or isn't.

The grille is in the shape of a smile. It is more cartoonish than even the ultra cartoonish Mini Cooper. And it makes the Toyota Yaris (which gets just about the same milage but seats four and has room for a suitcase or two) look like a limo. Not a STRETCH limo, of course. But a limo nonetheless.

Wait until some eco-conscious celeb drives one of these things into a wall at ten miles an hour and dies. Wait for some Gomer to take this thing out on the Interstate and has a set-to with a Peterbuilt and ends up like a piece of aluminum foil with blood coming out. Bring on the lawsuits.

Somewhere in the back of Dr. Z's mind must be the idea that this will be the next Volkswagen Beetle. Good milage. Small. Cute. German. Wrong.

The original Beetle (a design collaboration between Ferry Porsche and Adoof Schicklgruber) was solid, easy to fix, cheap to buy, cheap to run. This (obviously designed by a German committee,) is none of that.

It's really designed for use in cities. This will place it in the company of, say, New York City taxis, UPS trucks, and fire fighting apparatus. You don't have a chance, got it?

You can get a Yaris or a Cobalt or the smallest Honda for the same price, and actually get a few bucks back if you live long enough to trade it in, which, chances are, you will.

It's hard to whip up sympathy for the sad sacks at Daimler. But in this case, you have to feel for them. They've put a ton of money into a toy that has one advantage and one only.

If you're in one and get hit, the lights'll go out fast and you won't feel a thing.

Splat!

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Friday, December 07, 2007

Death Knell For Newspapers

#330 Death Knell for Newspapers


Paulie always said there'd always be newspapers because you can't take the computer into the bathroom. Paulie was wrong. Just ask him. He's got this mini computer, weighs maybe a pound and a half and has wireless internet. Now, his big worry is getting electrocuted. But he just shrugs: "how much electric can there be in that little battery. No worries."

He's right. You can take the computer into the john. You can take the computer on the line in the supermarket and read all about it without getting ink all over your hands.

This, says Paulie, is the end of the newspaper. "I paid 350 bucks for this thing. A year away, I've made it back by not buying the Post." Rupert Murdoch should worry. When Paulie says stuff like that, it's time to sell your stock in Ink-O-Rama and National Newsprint and Tribune Company. That's because Paulie is always the last guy to latch on to the latest.

If he could have kept it going, he'd still have his '48 DeSoto on the road. As it is, he made it last longer than anyone else. The Last DeSoto.

Paulie isn't overjoyed with its replacement, a 1966 Oldsmobile. And he isn't overjoyed with the mini computer, either. But he's a man of his word and now that he can read it on the throne he's doing it. Even though the typing keys are much to small for his stubby, arthritic fingers. Even though you have to remember to charge up the battery at night. Even though the screen is only seven inches, which means there's some squinting involved. He's not complaining because he doesn't need the keys all that often, and he has to squint at the paper these days, anyway.

Paulie's particular interest in the newspaper centers around the stuff that's really important in this life. The racing and sports pages, the TV listings and the obituaries. He doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to the other stuff. And he recently got a geeky schoolkid to see if there's a way to make the box scores a little bigger on the page.
There isn't. But maybe the kid can figure something out.

Paulie doesn't quite trust the machine, so he hasn't canceled his subscription to the Racing Form yet. But he's come over to the tech side of life, and is ever discovering new things. Like e-mail ("these guys want to lend me money? Send me coupons? Enlarge my, um... well, you know.") And...

"Hey, did you know you can play solitaire on this thing? AND you can cheat?"

The only thing that'll change his mind about the machine is if it lands in the sink when he's washing his hands afterward. And so far, he's been pretty careful. And he's invented his own security system for the thing. No one else who knows where it's been will touch it.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. © 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

#329a Granny's Cranky Today, Let's Make Her a Zombie

#329a Granny’s Cranky. Let’s Make Her a Zombie

The papers say a lot of nursing homes are giving psycho drugs to men and women who don’t need them because they’re “distruptive.” That turns them into head-bobbing, drooling, sleepy, creepy docile people.

Many more people get psychotropic drugs than have the matching psychoses, says the Wall Street Journal, which is not given to slighting profit-grabbing psychos of another kind, the kind that make money for their stockholders and, not incidentally, for themselves.

So if the Journal says this is happening, it’s probably happening because they don’t do anti-business stories without extreme provocation, like when an editor’s mother gets an overdose of Thorazine because she bit an attendant who wanted to steal her 150-year old family heirloom necklace, or her teeth.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they don’t fuss about the food, the dirty laundry, the dirty floors or the stink. They’re turning your grandparents into zombies because they complain about the lousy food and the bad lighting and the cheap cable TV service – cheap, but not inexpensive.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they won’t call for help while the floor nurse and the resident MD are doing the nasty in the pantry and don’t want to be distracted.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they won’t notice that no one’s made the bed in four days and the eggs at breakfast are cold, the prescribed medicine isn’t being given or is being over-given and the sink and toilet don’t work.

But this isn’t anything new. Anti psychotic drugs get dolled out like samples at a Fuller Brush sales pitch and always have. What’s new is the latest incarnations of the drugs themselves.

They’re so effective the victims don’t know they’re under the influence. Unless, of course, they try to pilot those rusty wheel chairs into some area where no chair has gone before – like the sex pantry.

These drugs have black box warnings. A black box warning, says Phil Metcalfe of the Citizens Against Drugs Work-Group, is one that’s so important they put a black box around it so you won’t think it’s just another anti-tobacco spiel.

These drugs, says Phil, are so powerful the people who are forced fed them have no memory of the crime, and bob and drool as if they’d done it all their lives.

Time to go ‘round the wards at the nursing homes, collect this stuff and give it to people who really need it. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Gates, and all the comic cand-id-ates.

If we’re going to zombify anyone, it should be the people who got us into the social, tactical and economic messes we’re in now. Let them sit around the oval offce and the the various campaign headquarters and drool and bob their heads.

Psychotropics and anti-psychotics will help them forget who they are, which will benefit us and, to an extent, them.

Meantime, someone give Zombie Grannie a wake up call and a new set of teeth.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Olive Branch From The Mega Church

#328 An Olive Branch from the Mega Church

The bishops of Bentburg must be feeling ecumenical. Either that, or business must stink.

A year ago in this space we complained that the stores here in Stonewall County omitted Chanukah decorations, foods, candles and music. No need, they said. Too few Jews.

This year, it’s different. Walking through Mega Church Super Store the other day, along with the Bing Crosby cliché music, and the Best of the Saccharine Singers, was an actual Chanukah song. Right there on the loudspeaker system between the Brand-X overalls and the Museum of Pre Historic Vegetables.

If you still think Mega Mart is a department store and haven’t yet realized that it’s a church, you’d better wander the aisles with your eyes and ears open. A church and a way of life. Check out what passes for clothing and jewelry styles. Check out what passes for the book section. Check out what ISN’T in the music department.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the Council of Elders planned this year’s December holiday merchandising?

They got some letters of complaint about the lack of ecumenical stuff last year. They didn’t answer. Maybe that one song is the answer.

Things ARE tough in retail today, and that’s how the Mega Church makes its money, except for tithes.

Maybe they had a “analyst” or a “consultant” on board.

Maybe he (it would have to be a “he,” because they learned their lesson about women executives earlier this year) said, look we all know about these complaining customers. Let’s do what we do with everyone else and play to their habits. Can’t hurt business, might even bring in a few extra bucks “…which y’all can certainly use.”

Okay, says the consultant, let’s look at how we think about these complainers.

1. They’re cheap. Okay, so are we. There’s potential here.

2. They’re clannish. Yes, and even though there aren’t many of them, they stick together and talk among themselves and we really can’t risk alienating these guys because….

3. They control the media and the banking industry, and while we don’t need the banks – at least not right now – we don’t want any more bad press than we already get just by being who we are and doing what we do.

It could have happened that way. But only the Mega Church Bishops know for sure.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Cheese Cake

#327 Cheese Cake

It’s come to this. We bought a cheese cake from Home Shopping Television. A big, gooey, high-calorie, high-fat, high-cholesterol, three layer, cracker crust three pound cheese cake.

Sacrilege.

Every restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, inconvenience store and –if they had any here in the sticks – bakery offers “New York Style” cheesecake. And “New York strip steaks” and “New York bagels and New York pizza, and it’s all lies. Lies, lies, lies.

A recent posting here decried New York of 2007 as Jalalabad On the Hudson. And it is. But these things – OUR things – haven’t changed and can’t be exported.

The only people who believe in the offerings of New York cheesecake, steak, bagels or pizza have never had New York cheesecake, steak, bagels or pizza, or at least haven’t in so long, they’ve forgotten.

There is no hope for pizza or bagels where they have water like they have here in Stonewall County. It’s hard. Big business around here is selling water softening machines, which you buy as soon as you realize the water is putting fairly permanent white spots on utensils that should never have fairly permanent white spots.

That water can’t make a bagel or a pizza crust worthy of the name. Understand, the stuff’s not BAD, it’s just not authentic. New York had its own water problem decades ago. Most of the good local beers were made across the river in Newark. Newark had water that today you’d get fined or even jailed for pumping. When Newark water got “better,” the beer tasted like water. And away went Piels, Knickerbocker, Rheingold and Ballentine’s – they crumpled like an aluminum beer can. And, yes, some of that stuff started in Brooklyn, but they all hit their stride with New Jersey water, or whatever that stuff was came out of the taps of Essex County.

But the bagel water and the pizza water – that was delicious once you let a glass of it settle for awhile. New York City water is cloudy, almost carbonated. That’s not because it’s unsafe, it’s because of pressure in the lines.

The steak… well, that’s just a matter of buying what the New York restaurants buy and where they buy it. Anyone can make a decent New York Strip Steak, all it takes is some decent research,

But cheesecake, that’s a different story. It’s more than the water. It’s the ingredients (some of which you can’t pronounce, let alone spell.) It’s about texture and sweetness and temperature. And it can’t be duplicated.

Here in town, they have FancyMan’s Supermarket, which fancies itself a gourmet palace, which in many ways it is. They have their own special “New York” cheesecake. Feh!

At Magic Mart supermarket, the working family’s friend, they have a white, brittle, sweet entity that’s called “New York Cheesecake.” Nope.

And at the Intermediate Shop, they have “Italian Style New York Cheesecake.” You know before you buy it you’re being lied to. Real Italian cheesecake is so heavy you can’t life a whole one alone. Not this stuff. It’s also supposed to be drier than “regular” cheesecake, without sacrificing tape. They got it half right. It crumbles.

So, we order through the mail and hope that whatever comes (and it ain’t cheap,) both tastes and feels like the real thing.

Home Shopping Television disappoints more than it satisfied. But what harm could a little optimism do?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.





(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Credit Crunch From the Black Lagoon

#326 Credit Crunch From the Black Lagoon

Banks were hit by a credit crunch or meltdown or crisis. It’s like a flying saucer from Mars landed here and disgorged this previously unknown life form.

Or maybe it wandered out from the primordial ooze of the Black Lagoon.

At least that’s the way we’re thinking of it and being told about it.

The big banks were just going about their business, making loans, taking in deposits, issuing credit cards, maybe renting out a safe deposit box or two. Then, along comes this monster from outer space or from the deep. No one was expecting such a monster. No one had even heard of one.

The geneticists were puzzled. So were the astro-biologists. A new creature. Even a new form of being. And nasty. This critter went right for the Scrooge McDuck safes and with mighty jaws devoured some of the largest and most respected banks and brokerages in the world.

Fortunately for Allstate and Geico, they dodged the bullet of destruction that claims from those the credit crunch (maybe it should be written “Credit Crunsh.” Grammarians have yet to decide) hit would have caused.

And where is this monster now? No one knows. The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bankers sprayed like exterminators in a locust plague. But not knowing the creature’s biology, there’s no assurance it’s just flattened on the canvas and not really dead.

So, we think of the Credit Crunch as something not of our own making. But we’re wrong.

It’s time to learn from our friends in the street lending business about how to vet a potential customer. These are the boys who taught us about credit card interest rates, formerly known as vigorish, a term borrowed (at no interest) from the Yiddish word for winnings.

No self respecting loan shark would have tossed a spare nickel at half the people who got the loans that put the rest of everyone in a money cage. And if one did, he would know how to collect.

With banks easing restrictions to anyone with a pulse – even an erratic one, street loans were harder to come by for the last few years than a nice little adjustable rate mortgage from the stickup artists in suits at their desk at Citi or most of its smaller kin.

Can you imagine Gotti or Lansky or Costello or any of those guys putting money into the hands of the people who “qualified” for legal loans from these banks? Not on your life. Or theirs.

If the bank boys had worked for the big boys, they’d be wearing cement shoes beneath the Hudson River.

And the customers? They’re lining up at the major appliance stores. After all, it’s the holiday season and refrigerator cartons suitable for families of three are on sale cheap.

The Credit Crunch from the Black Lagoon shows no mercy.

At least the mob supplies groceries and some rent to the widows.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Pushers

#325a The Pushers

They’re trying to hook us. And it’s a grand tradition they’re following.

Video games! They want older people to play video games, and that’s not happening. We have our own silly diversions. We have Classic TV and Classic Coke Cola. We have tobacco. We have TV dinners, and sometimes the TVs to go with them.

Now they want us to try some new addictions. Okay, we went along with the computer, and learned to love it. We went along with having seatbelts in the car. We went along with gasoline that’s more expensive than Gin. The cell phone. All that good stuff.

But that wasn’t good enough for the pushers. Now they want us to play video games.

And they’re not shy about it. They have the young looking old people in the commercials and they forget someone’s name or look dull-eyed at the camera and say silly stuff.

Then Mister Announcer comes on and tells us that we don’t have to lose our minds. We should exercise them using xyz video game that makes our eyes and our brains work out, just like the treadmill makes our bodies work out.

And we are trained to obey Mister Announcer. (Many of us in radio got our first taste of authority while BEING Mister Announcer. That, too is an addiction.)

Clever devils. This is only a test.

If this advertising campaign works, zillions of elderzombies will march obediently down to MegaMart and buy these things. We don’t want to lose our minds, after all. And if this machine works, why – Viagra for the brain. But cheaper.

And if we do, what’s next? Madison Avenue has always ignored anyone over 50. But times are tough and business is slow. And the old arguments “People over 50 don’t respond to ads,” and “People over 50 are too set in their ways to try anything new.” Have to be re-tested.

At the moment, we only get ads for medicine (have you ever read those full page disclaimers? You wouldn’t take anything resembling a pill for any condition afterward.)

Now, we’re getting ads for video games. A whole untapped market to tap. It could be the start of something big.

Yes, we’ve exploited every other domestic demographic. We’ve exploited every foreign market. And still, sales are slow. So let’s start selling to SENIORS. What a concept.

But we already know which toothpaste, denture glue, automobile, cold remedy, joint pain remedy, gasoline and hamburger stand to use. So, give us something NEW.

Like those brain building video games. Maybe adult tinker toys. Do what you do for all the other generations: appeal to our weaknesses.

Like, say, reading. This generation reads for fun. And works when it isn’t being “aged out.”

Tune in, turn on, drop in. And don’t trust anyone under 50.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pardon

#324 Pardon

The President traditionally “pardons” some turkeys jut before Thanksgiving Day. The turkey he should have pardoned was himself. Just get us past Our Long National Nightmare II, the sequel.

Pardon Rove, pardon Cheney, pardon Libby, pardon Gonzales, pardon the whole bloody flock of ‘em and get it over with. Save us the trouble of years and years of stupefying trials and speculation. Just assume the whole birdhouse is guilty of something – it’s more than likely to be true.

The Turkey-in-Chief can’t get that much less popular, so what if he drops a few more points while doing something decent? He doesn’t have to work once out of office, so why not do something statesman like for a change, show some of that compassionate conservatism and get all the drinking buddies AND the rest of the country off the hook. Even Nixon did that in 1960 and again in 1974.

He could pardon some of the kids who’ve been sentenced to life without healthcare. He could pardon some of the drug dealers for not recalling dangerous pharmaceutical from market until people were murdered.

He could pre-pardon his likely successors Giuliani (bragging, and swaggering with intent to deceive,) Thompson (underacting,) Romney (putting every mom and pop stationery store out of business,) McCain (jowls are a crime in Arizona,) Huckabee (being from Hope, Arkansas is a crime in 46 States,)

If he wants to reach across party lines, something he did as Emperor of Texas, he could also pardon Hillary Clinton (obstructer of the Freedom of Information Act,) Obama (possible drug and alcohol charges, something about which the prez surely knows,) Richardson and Gore (overweight will soon be a crime,) Biden and Edwards (phony hair,) Kucinich (piloting a flying saucer without a license.)

And for true globalism, how about pardoning Saddam Hussein, and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, and Costa Rica? (Why Costa Rica? Because SOMETHING must be going on there. Who knows or cares what.) And the Chinese toy makers and pet food suppliers.

And since this year’s Thanksgiving comes on the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, how about some posthumous pardons? Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Lyndon Johnson, Earl Warren, Dorothy Kilgallen, J. Edgar Hoover and the entire Dallas police force as of, say, 1965, Fidel Castro and the bosses of the major underworld families. Or is it the OTHER underworld families.

And how about your brother Neil, the Silverado bank whiz. And your brother Jeb, who helped you steal the election. And Prescott and George H.W. Bush for the worst crime of all, fathering.

Now, there’s a legacy!

What a thankful Thanksgiving Day this could have been.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

#323 Jalalabad on the Hudson

All that’s missing is the sheep. New York? Must have missed it on the way to somewhere else. Or, it’s BECOME somewhere else.

It’s a bizarre bazaar. A movie set of itself. But not itself anymore. Or was it ever itself?

Maybe a long time ago.

They have bicycle taxis now. Maybe it should be Beijing on the Hudson. These have not replaced the horse drawn rickshaws, but supplemented them. Not nearly as romantic. But easier on the horses, since there are none.

Paisley decorations on the yellow cab hoods and roofs. Silly looking. But at least you can use your American Express Card for your ride now. This is a big improvement.

Dirtier than ever. Does America’s Mayor, in his strained and fanciful and pandering campaign for his party’s presidential nomination, ever come here anymore? All he did for New York was get rid of the squeegee guys. And, (you heard it here first!) it’s only a matter of time before they return.

The Projects, the most depressing buildings ever built, are worse. The traffic, never any good, is worse. The people? Who are these people.

It never was the melting pot it was cracked up to be. There still are people from all over walking the streets. Like Jalalabad. Like Cairo. Like London. But it’s somehow not the same. Something is missing.

But what? Spirit? Energy? A sense of self? A sense of purpose? What?

There are a few key vestiges left. There’s the guy puffing away, right under the “No Smoking” sign. And there are plenty of strangers who willingly inset themselves into your conversation… and strangers willing to have you do the same.

And the streets are like Jalalabad, except the mobbed up paving is better.

Who would live in this place who didn’t have to? It’s hard to imagine, asking that question. But after just under two years away from it, it’s harder to imagine than it is to do.

There are lustrous aspects that in fairness to Jalalabad, New York has. The museums – largely tourist attractions. The skyline – entirely a tourist attraction. Times Square – it’s become too tame even for the tourists.

There’s still the dirt, but not the grit. It seems a city in a grey fog.

Now, the question: is the fog really there? Or is that, too, imagination.

They built the Empire State Building – still THE New York building of buildings – in about a year. And that, at the height of the great depression.

The depression left by the bombing of the World Trade Center is still a hole in the ground, now, seven years after the fact.

New York can’t make up its mind what to put there. Or it can’t agree on a final design. Or it can’t come up with the financing.

Hey, wait. Maybe things haven’t changed all that much.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.


CLARIFICATION: In Wessay #321, “Fiorello,” the world “fusion” is used in its generic sense, which is similar to, but not synonymous with the word as applied by political scientists, who ascribe it to any number of combinations of nominally $opposing viewpoints working together for one particular purpose. The Republican Party of Ohio, for example, called itself the “Fusionist” Party, before changing its name to Republican.

As professor Gerald Meyer, Coordinator, Social Sciences, Hostos Community College put it in a letter, published in the New York Times on May 12, 1992:

(LaGuardia) ran for mayor in 1933 on two ballot lines, Republican and Fusion Party (a type of good-government party).

What is forgotten, however, is that after the American Labor Party was formed in 1936, La Guardia hastened to register in it, and he remained a registered member of the A.L.P. until he died in 1947. The A.L.P. provided almost 36 percent of his vote in 1937, when he ran for his second term, and 27 percent of his vote in 1941, when he ran for his third term.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Window

#322 The Window

The living room window is about seven feet wide and has vertical blinds. Sturdy, professional installed, custom-made vertical blinds. Bought from a Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center, called Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center, and guaranteed for life.

They don’t say who’s life. But let’s not quibble about little things.

The blinds open and close using a push and pull and twist rod that let’s you twist the blinds to a “let in the light” position, and push it open, pull it closed and twist the blinds to a “don’t-let-in-the-light” position.

The push, pull and twist rod is attached to the rest of the mechanism using a clip shaped like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

If you’re not really careful, Casper lets go of the rod and you can’t push or pull or twist anything. And you can’t put it back.

So, it’s off to Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center to get a new Casper. Or a new rod.

Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center has moved from one location to another since the purchase and professionally installed, and no longer stocks parts.

Plus, the guy standing in the aisle and adjusting his handsome Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center red vest, wants to know who custom made the custom-made vertical blinds.

It doesn’t have a label.

If you made ghosts that can’t hold onto a push pull and twist rod for maybe a year or so, you wouldn’t want YOUR name out there, either.

So let’s take a little plastic rod (cost: $00.97) home and try it out.

It doesn’t work.

Several phone calls later, we figure out the culprit, and – since there’s a lifetime guarantee, order the Casper clip and (just to be sure,) a spare rod. (Spare the rod and spoil the custom-made, professionally installed vertical blinds.)

A couple of weeks later, while wondering out loud what happened to Casper, the doorbell rings, and there’s the UPS guy with a package. It is over eight feet long.

We know this without measuring, because the ceiling is eight feet high and the box is too big to stand on end.

Talk about careful packing!

Here’s where investigative reporter school comes into play. It must be the whole mechanism. Not just Casper. Not just the rod. The whole damn thing that sits inside the window and on which the blades of the blind clip.

There’s little doubt that while the custom-made, professionally installed, lifetime guaranteed blinds are under warranty (no one involved in the purchase has died as of the time the package arrived) the professional installation is not.

There’s a reason you get these things professionally installed.

Usually the reason is you don’t know how to do it yourself and the “easy” instructions are in Chinese.

Well, there’s a Chinese-reader/speaker in this household.

Gotcha!

Once again, rugged individualism triumphs over Leading Big Box Home Improvement Center.

Now, the hard part: Amateur Installation.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fiorello, Call Home

#321 Fiorello, Call Home

You walk through the airport and if you haven’t been stopped by the match-in-shoe police or some variation, you eventually come upon this bronze head of a chubby, curly haired guy and you remember – or maybe find out for the first time that there was really a guy called LaGuardia and this is what he looked like.

The ninety-ninth mayor of New York was an oddball, and the kind of oddball we could use today. And not just in New York.

He was what they called a “fusion” candidate. That means he was a Democrat in Republican’s clothing (something like the current mayor.) But no one cared. He brought Republicans and Democrats and republicans and democrats (and socialists and communists and every other “ist” you can name) together.

Maybe it was in his genes. He was a walking fusion.

His dad was a lapsed Catholic from Italy. His mother was an Italian Jew from Arizona. And he identified Episcopalian. Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Jew, Bronx born, desesrt-raised. Mah Non. Or Oy Vey. Such a combination.

He spoke four languages. English, Italian, Yiddish and Serbo-Croation. How fusion is THAT?

And he got a lousy airport named for him, which is not exactly an apt remembrance. Oh, and much later, a junior college.

That’s okay.

Liked to ride the fire trucks. Firemen (they were fireMEN back then, not fire FIGHTERS.) Didn’t matter. He was pretty small. Didn’t take up much room. Problem was when they got to the fire, especially at night, sometimes they confused him with the hydrant.

So, he brings together people of every stripe, figuring they could do more by pulling the fire wagon in the same direction than not.

There isn’t a whole lot of that today.

Every fire is a conflagration. Every crash is a collision. Every slight is a raging insult.

We need a Fiorello to save us from ourselves.

Fight a war? Okay, fight a war. But let Congress declare it first.

Take care of sick kids? Fiorello knew from that – he worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Take care of the unemployed? This all took place during the New Deal when people knew how to treat one another. Starting – but not stopping – with the WPA.

Wall Street? It has its place. It’s place is NOT at the top of the heap or above the puppet stage, strings in hand.

And LaGuardia wasn’t the only one. Couldn’t have been. Couldn’t have done it alone. Knew that.

Rugged individualism? Sure. But there are limits. Fiorello understood THAT.

And he got stuff done.

Was pretty popular at first, but the magic wore off as the programs started to work. Only to be expected. “What have you done for me lately?”

Still and all, this is the kind of guy we need. Unkempt, small, squeaky-voiced. Fireplug on feet with fire in his heart and actual grey matter in his brain.

The next guy, though, should get a better memorial than the world’s worst major airport.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gorby Revisited

#320 Gorby Revisited

Mikhail Gorbachev was the prize. Well, not exactly. Dinner with Gorby was the prize. An American couple won by bidding highest, with the money (supposedly) going to a Russian charity that helps kids with cancer.

We forget what a good guy this was. Especially compared to that KGB worm Putin.

But that’s beside the point.

Gorby is our Evil Empire Rock Star. And as such, we should know all the dirt and gossip about him.

So, for the first time one the air, here’s the lowdown.

Gorby and some armed oligarchs burst into a St. Petersburg hotel room (it was off the strip, and not exactly a five star joint,) and stole some of his memorabilia. Among the items, the suit he wore on the day the Berlin wall was taken down. There also were a few ICBMs (it was a big room.) And, of course, a bottle of his mother’s homemade borscht and an autographed Rugby ball. (Bet you didn’t know that after college, he played two seasons in the Soviet Union’s NRL, National Rugby League.)

His elementary school text “A Boy’s Bedside Marx” remains missing.

Mikkie has hired Alberto Gonzales to defend him at the trial. Ken Starr wasn’t available and Clarence Thomas isn’t allowed to freelance.

The break-in wasn’t his only problem.

He’s passing all his court ordered drug tests (except vodka, the over-drinking of which is not a crime in Russia, but a national obsession.)

But there exists a videotape of him jumping a red light in Red Square (where all the lights are red, so how’s anyone to know which is stop and which is go?) But he was text messaging and had the kids in the back seat.

Funny how we like this guy. He hasn’t had a hit record in 20 years and yet we still flock to see his action films.

But he’s doing a lot of good works. For example, he recently was given high marks for his fine work in helping victims of the Siberian fires. And he raised a ton of money for the Minsk institute for stem cell research after the Kremlin said that was baby-killing.

And we understand he’s going to donate his custom made balalaika to the Country Music Hall of Fame in the shores of the Black Sea.

The paparazzi don’t follow this guy around as much as they used to which is why we didn’t hear anything about that dinner auction until now. Plus, Tass barely reports on him anymore.

It’s tough being a celebrity elder statesman. But Gorby’s up to the job.

Maybe with the auction, we’ll see more of him now. We certainly should. This guy is OJ, Britney, Schwarzenegger and Hank Williams all rolled into one fuzzy ball of Cyrillic delight.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Ladies Auxiliary

#319a The Ladies Auxiliary

Has a kind of old fashioned ring to it, no? Maybe even politically incorrect these days.

But what else could you call it that’s not worse? The Girls? The Estrogen Gang?

The secretary of state, the president’s daughters and mother. And Karen Hughes. And his sometimes spouse. Maybe they’ve been talking sense to him. Or maybe it’s a Lysistrata thing. Or an Oedipus thing. But in any event, there must be a dialogue.

Political operative and nominal chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, Nancy “Nerd” Nord must be angling for the Hughes seat, now that it’s vacant. For she’s been thinking more like a normal person and less like Rove In A Skirt lately. She’s come around and ended her opposition to putting some teeth back into the mouth of her agency, replacing the mush that resulted in the epidemic of poisonings from China.

Jenna and Barbara appear to have given up the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton act, put down the bottles and started acting like, well, grown children. The Globe newspaper reports that Laura has given up her fight for a divorce six months after the end of the Idiot’s term in 2009.

Maybe she’s talking. Maybe he’s listening.

We haven’t seen much of our bionic-hearted vice president lately. He must be off in his Undisclosed Location licking his …um … wounds.

Rove is gone. Gonzales is gone. Hughes is gone. Harriet Miers is gone. Wolfowitz is gone. The women must have had something to do with that, because the men in this administration are made of rubber and jello and straw.

But they’re all sworn to secrecy. The president of the United States, the Decider, would never admit to listening to – women. Even some of the officious and manly ladies mentioned above.

Some of them are book smart (secretary Rice.) Some of them are goo-goo dolls (twins.) Some of them are overbearing and loose-mouthed (mommy.) Some of them are saccharine (Laura.) But all of them realize that the president they serve or service couldn’t get elected of his college drinking club today.

So, let’s hear it for the Ladies’ Auxiliary, who will making and serving coffee and donuts at our church supper of an executive branch, have pounded some sense into this blockhead.

Just a little while to go and he can get out from under all this – and so can we.

This brings us (again) to the replacement prospects. A sad lot, to be sure. Not a one of them presidential (except maybe Fred Thompson, who plays the part in the movies but has to use Reagan’s 3x5 cards.) Not a one of them can get us out of the messes the Frat Boy has created.

But even the worst of ‘em will be an improvement.

Plus, we’ve discovered yet again that we can go eight years without a president, although it is harder now than at first.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, November 09, 2007

Antonio Torres

#318 Antonio Torres

The county singer Hank Thompson has died. He was one of the early greats. That was when every other county singer was called “Hank” something. The imbecile newscasters called him “the King of Western Swing,” which is the title of Bob Wills.

Hank was a superstar and had just announced he was retiring at the age of 80-something. A string of hits a million miles long. Pretty good player, too. Had an old Gibson arch top. One of the “vintage greats,” as befits a vintage great.

Probably that guitar will go to the Country Music Hall of Fame where it’ll share space with the guitars of Mother Maybelle Carter, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis and a bunch of others who never heard of Antonio de la Torres, a fellow from Spain who invented the modern guitar in 18-something.

Until then, guitars, staple of country and rock music, were any old thing anyone wanted to make. Antonio Stradaveri had one with five “courses,” sets of double strings. Skinny little thing that no one now knows how to play. Others were before and after Tony Strad, as his pals in the trade called him.

But it was Tony Torres in Spain who made the first modern guitar. Shaped like a girl. Six strings. Tuned EADGBE. After this Tony guy, everything was a copy. Christian Martin, Orville Gibson,, Bill Collings, Gianni DeAngelico, Jimmy D’Aquisto, Carlo Greco, Oscar Schmidt, Epi Stethapoulo. They all owed Tony Torres. Travis, Bigby, Gretsch, Fender, Levin, Loar.

Everyone. So who remembers this guy today? You, now. Because of this item. Or maybe you read about him somewhere.

There’s a Martin actually made by Martin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They also have Segovia’s guitar, made by Hermann Hauser.

No one has a Torres. Well, almost no one. He made ,maybe 600 of them. Maybe 60 have been identified. And that’s WITH the labels intact.

Who else is out there who made something first and no one remembers?

Anyone know who really made the first computer? How about the first dial telephone or the first gasoline pump? Who came up with the sharpenable pencil, the paper clip, the staple, the pop-up toaster. All these things we take for granted, but someone had to think up first.

We know who invented the yo-yo. Figure it was 500 BCE or so. But it wasn’t until Pedro Flores of the Philippines started mass producing them in the 1920s and Donald Duncan took over the business in the 1930s that anyone took notice.

So think about Hank Thompson singing “Honky Tonk Angels” using one of those pre-Torres guitar-like things. Doesn’t work.