Wednesday, December 24, 2008

492 Next Post Facto

492 Next Post?  Facto

This posting has been going on for a little over three years.  But it's actually an extension of a project started at Bloomberg Radio in March of 2000, which means it's really something like nine years old in its present form, or close thereto.

If we can rely on the statistics, readership -- or at least visitorship has grown exponentially in recent years and now is all the way up to small.  Small is beautiful.  And I feel as if I know each of you personally.  In point of fact, I probably DO know most, if not all of you personally.  But that doesn't stop me from (a) continuing or (b) thanking you for being here.

Here's hoping the new White House can fix the last eight years of wrongdoing, negligence, malfeasance, misfeasance.  This is a reasonable New Year's wish.  Here are some that are not so: that GM and Chrysler should survive, that Gov. Blago of Illinois will go to jail, that the Jewish faith should recognize the existence of Hell, if only for co-coreligionist  Bernie Madoff, that the Christian faith should recognize that there are others of equal sincerity out there, that some high profile leaders in the middle east should recognize that there's more to life than explosives, that the people who keep yamming about the joys of free market capitalism be forced to live under it, and the same for the twelve remaining doctrinaire Marxists.

Thank you for reading and for listening.

Next post will be Friday, 1/2/09.  And that's a fact-o.
Shrapnel:

--Hats off to MNSNBC's Rachel Maddow.  She picked up on that bank story the other day and took it one step ahead.  She wants her show to turn into a bank, a "very bad bank," that can win a federal bailout by filling out little more than the name, address and telephone number.

--Hats on to the rest of the media which did nothing much with the bank story. Hats on is the opposite of hats off.  Especially to what passes for the business press these days when business is a real story.

--The Irish rock star Bono and his investment group are buying a big chunk of the business behind the Palm Pilot, which ain't doing all that well.  Great idea, Bono.  If you can revive that outfit, you can offset some of the losses you're bound to take eventually, for your investment in the publishers of Forbes Magazine.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

491 It's the Money

491 It's the Money

Time was you walked into a bank to get change of a 20 and you walked out with change of a 20,  a cup of free coffee, a souvenir ball point pen, a couple of pieces of hard candy and a mortgage loan.  Heady days.  Money flowed freely.  Well, not freely, but cheaply.

We thought those days were over, but they aren't.  Well, maybe for YOU they are.  But not for everyone.

Today, when you go into a bank to break a 20, you come out with $19.90 after they deduct the service charge.  If you want a loan, they'll likely ask you things like your ability to pay it back (they'll check what you say,) and they'll want to know why you want the money -- how long you think you're going to need it and, "oh, by the way, it would be helpful if you moved your no-interest checking account to us."

The good old days are gone for you -- but not for your bank.  It's just gotten a boatload of your tax money to keep itself stable.  But, as in the good old days, it's not telling you how able it is to repay it, and it's not telling you how it's spending your money.

News reporters have been questioning the banks which received bailout money and none is replying.  Things like "we don't do dollar-in-dollar-out accounting" and "we're haven't made that public and we won't,"  fill the reporters' reports.  Maybe we peasants have to do things like that.  But not the banks.  Say what?  You're using public money but not telling the public where it's going -- or not going?  

Do we really need to know how every penny is spent, and would we know what to do with the information if we had it?  Yes and yes.  Do we want to know whether the money is being lent or hoarded or used to pay dividends to stockholders or bonuses to the CEO?  You bet we do.

It's not the principle of the thing, it's the money.

Shrapnel:

--Columnist/professor Paul Krugman has an interesting take on the Madoff scandal.  He says Madoff isn't that much different from many of the other over-paid, money-losing investment bankers and managers.  But, he says, Bernie just skipped a couple of intermediate steps -- like actually investing.

--The malls were jumping during this last weekend before Christmas and Hanukkah. And some people are carrying what appear to be purchases in store-logo shopping bags.  But maybe they just brought them into the malls from home so they'd look prosperous to the other non-buyers.

--After a day of malling, what could be better than a little gathering for drinks and snacks at the employers' house?  This:  a little gathering for drinks and snacks at the employers' house followed by a nap on their living room couch.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

490 More On Chrysler

490 More On Chrysler

Chrysler is the soap opera of the car business.  It's my favorite drama.  Those of us in the busness press have been writing its obituary since 1925, the year it was founded, the year Buick executive Walter Chrysler decided there was a market for a new car not built by GM or Ford.  The automotive press has been writing this company's obituary for more than 70 years.  Maybe they've turned up right this time.

The company's owner, Cerberus Capital surely bit off more than it can chew when it bought 80% of Daimler's 100% interest.  Now, the Cerbies want their cake and to eat it, too.  they want the government to give it money in return for making a bunch of mediocre cars that no one wants to buy.  Thousands of jobs are at stake.  So are two venerable brands, Dodge and Chrysler.  You know you love the Chrysler 300 -- not the current model, but the one from the 1950s.  You know you want the Plymouth Duster and the New Yorker and the Imperial.  Or the mini van.  Or the Sebring.  Or the Viper.

Earlier this week came word that the company would halt all US production for a month.  Stopping some or all of the lines at this time of year is fairly common in the car biz.  Usually it's a week or ten days.  A month is rare if not unique.  At the same time, Ford announced a shutdown, and GM stopped construction on a new factory for the Chevy Volt, a car that -- if they ever really make it -- could put them into the black in less than a year.  And (leak, leak,) talks may have resumed with Chrysler on a merger or partial merger of some kind.

Used to be Chrysler could pull a rabbit out of a hat.  A new model that left car freaks tongues hanging out.  But the previous majority owner (and current minority owner,) Daimler cut off that avenue.  Development money?  Foggettaboudit.

When a financial outfit like Ceberus takes over a company in an industry of which it has limited knowledge and experience, the first thing they tend to do is lard up the executive suite with marquee name officials who face steep learning curves with widely varying abilities to steer.  Enter Bob Nardelli, who made a good name for himself at General Electric and then erased a good part of it as he went to and then golden-parachuted from The Home Depot.  What, there were no car guys at Chrysler who knew how to build a set of wheels people wanted to buy?

Today's Chrysler is living in the world of "practically irrelevant."  And it wasn't the UAW that put it there.  Or the potential buyers of cars and trucks.



Shrapnel:

--Portions of today's blog were sponsored by Madoff Financial Services.  Reminding you that we've Mad(e) Off with your finances.  Each office independently owned and operated and for an office near you, call 1800- MY PONZI.

--Note: the above 800 number does not actually work from either the 814 or 516 area codes.  But who knows?  It may work from where you are.

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

489 Spy On Yourself

489 Spy On Yourself

Phone taps, computer monitoring, sneaky and underhanded spying on Americans? Some of us who aren't targets feel left out. No one thinks we're part of the Evil Empire or the terrorists who are hiding behind every rock -- except ours. It makes those few of us who aren't spied upon or who THINK we aren't being spied upon feeling we're second class citizens.

Here's the solution. Spy on yourself. Install security cams in your house -- every room. Tap your own phone and listen to the wiretaps to make sure you aren't secretly saying or doing anythingterroristic . Maybe have a trusted friend or neighbor in to review the transcripts you make. After all, you may be evil without even knowing it. Then, get a keystroke monitor for your computer. You never know which sites you'll be visiting.

Don't make those cameras too obvious, though. Hide them in flowerpots or behind wall hangings. Maybe a hidden microphone in a lamp or two or in a fruit bowl on the dining room table. In an extreme case, you can go outside and peep into your own windows to make sure you're not doing anything dangerous -- except maybe risking arrest as a peeping tom.

And then there's your car. Better get a global positioning system if you don't already have one. You want to know where you've been, after all. Oh... and make sure your cell phone's always on. If you play your cards right, you can track yourself and know everywhere you've made phone calls.

The government may or may not be spying on you. If it isn't, it's because the resources aren't there. But remember, the government doesn't trust you and you shouldn't either.


Economic times are tough. The government can't afford to spy on absolutely everyone. If you're one of the Americans whose been cut out of the domestic spy program or (good heavens!) too insignificant to be in on it, you can muster some good old fashioned American get-up-and-go and spy on yourself. It's your patriotic duty.


Shrapnel:

--Bernie Madoff is a giant in his crooked field. The schemer and Ponzi artist is the stuff of which legends are made. But when you look at the damage he's done with his fake investment scheme, which robbed the rich and the children, you have to wonder what his genius might have accomplished if rightly channeled.

--Payback: The car companies are just like you when you go for a car loan. They're sitting in the finance office, waiting to see whether their loans are approved. And they're trying to control their bowels and urinary tracts while they wait -- just like you do.

--To make a statement, Khrushchev pounded his shoe on the podium at the UN. The middle east reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush also was trying to make a statement. Neither meant anything real, but remember that shoes are something more than what was in Imelda Marcos' closet.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

488 Meet the Dave

488 Meet the Dave

You have to feel sorry for David Gregory.  Here he is in the hottest hot seat in Washington journalism.  And he seems so young.  David's now the "moderator" of "Meet the Press."  Yesterday (12/14/08) was his first trip out of the starting gate, and by all accounts a success.  There's plenty to talk about, what with the incoming Obama administration and Illinois Gov. Blago.  But it's not just a matter of sitting on a TV set at nine in the morning and throwing questions at Mitt Romney or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan or Blogo's soon-to-be successor Pat Quinn.

David is a fine reporter.  Covers the White House for NBC.  Has earned the highest prize in that position, the one where the administration won't talk to you because they think you're "against us."  A sure sign that young Gregory is doing his job right.  But fine reporter or not, he had to be seeing ghosts yesterday when the red light on the camera came on.

Well, not ghosts, but ghost.  Somewhere, up there among the television lights, had to be hovering the ghost of Tim Russert.  Tim, the grand old man who put MTP back on the map back in '92.  Woke it up.  Made it important again.  Had to make the new kid nervous, even though he didn't look it.  You look at David and ask "old enough to shave?"  Well, he's 38.  And when Russert took the reigns at the program, he was 41 or 42.  So not a lot of difference, chronologically.

But Russert had a lot less to lose.  "Meet" was in the doldrums in those days.  Just one of the Sunday "game shows" or the "Sunday funnies" as they're known to some in TV.  Gregory has a lot to lose and appears smart enough to know it.  The show has become a beltway must and appears also to be a huge money maker for NBC.   So there's a lot riding on this guy.

Then, there's Betsy Fischer, executive producer since '02.  She had something to prove, too.  The executive producer is final authority in a broadcast.  And what she had to prove was that she could do this thing without Tim.  And she has.  And so have her producers, directors, technical directors, unit managers, production associates, lighting, hair, makeup booking people, camera people, audio people, stage hands, writers, editors, video geniuses, all the others involved in what looks like such a simple program.

The Ghost probably did a little jabbing and made a few wisecracks at 8:59 Sunday morning.  But he probably had a smile at 10:00:30.




Shrapnel:

--All of a sudden, the sleepy condo association started getting active, cleaning leaves from drains, patching sidewalks, shoveling minor snow.  The prediction that followed:  they're going to raise the fee.  The letter that followed the prediction:  they are going to raise the fee.

--Not all the financial news is bad.  Social Security is giving us employees raises.  And they're not bad.  

--Those raises are so good, I'm going out on a spending spree.  New luxuries.  Bread, to name one.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

487 Hog Butcher To The World

487 Hog Butcher To The World

Oh, Chicago, city of broad shoulders, time to butcher your own hog. Or take him up to the observation deck atop the Sears Tower and throw him 1353 feet to the ground. Rowdy Roddy Blagojevich, whose crime is being caught doing what politicians often do, should be made to pay for the trouble he has caused.

It's not that we can't stand a corrupt official of the government. We do that all the time. It's not that we can't stand corruption in a "leader." We do THAT all the time. It's that THIS time, it's a guy who's connected to the guy who might be the best President of the United States in generations. And we don't need that to happen.

Chicago is noted for its tombstone votes. It's noted for its highest bidder politics. It's known for having governors and others who go to jail. None of this is an especially big deal. ExceptBlago . He is more than just a politician selling favors. He is a stone around the neck of the President-Elect, and, therefore, a stone around the neck of America.

We used to know how to take care of guys like Blago. The Sears Tower. Before that, the back room of a mob-operated flower shop.

The selling of a Senate seat? We've lived through that before. But not a senate seat linked to a president elect who may be the most important guy of the lifetime of anyone now living.

Sandburg is rotating in his grave. Al Capone is rotating in his grave. The "original" Mayor Daley is rotating in his grave. This is a lot of spinning. Let's hope it doesn't affect the earth's own rotation.

In perspective, Rowdy Roddy is only a blip on the radar, a footnote to history, a guy with John Edwards hair, Richard Nixon vocabulary and the morality of "Jaws." But he's also the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Chicago Democratic Party machine is something akin to the straight vertical line that represents the Confederate States family tree. But this is not the time for that

In Chicago, they should be asking "Where is Frank Nitti now that we need him?"

Shrapnel:

--Kenny out in Arizona is looking to find a bailout for a railroad. He's talking about a model railroad that runs in his garden. Which proves that easterners who move to the sun belt get solar brain fry more severely than people who have always lived there.

--Actually, we bailed the "real" railroads out years ago. And did it work? Well, anyone looking to bail out the auto industry ought not to mention the rail thing until the check clears.

--But there is a romance to railroads, especially in an era of lousy air travel. But the airlines have just reported a quantum jump in on time performance and luggage retention. Easy enough to do when no one's flying -- least of all with baggage.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

486 A Tale of Two Canes

486  A Tale of Two Canes

Was it Andy Benedict or George H.W. Bush who said getting old was not for wimps.  In any case, the quotation is correct.  (Actually, H.W. didn't speak in complete sentences, and Andy never spoke in short sentences, so maybe it was someone else.)

Now, to one of the vagaries of the human body at "this" age.  Arthritis.  Yeah, yeah, we all get it.   And yeah, yeah it's sometimes painful, even disruptively painful.  And there isn't a whole lot to be done for it.  And sometimes it goes away, sometimes it goes away and comes back for a later visit.  And sometimes it just doesn't want to leave.  Hospitality is a beautiful thing.

Oh.  Back story.  This household follows an Asian tradition:  no outside shoes inside.  A nice idea, and a good way to keep floors clean.  Sometimes it can take twelve different changes of footwear to, say, take the garbage out and then head to the basement to do laundry.  You get used to it.  There's a sense of history and tradition to it.  And you get to buy and keep footwear in sizes that guests are likely to have in addition to your own stuff.

Now the hard part:  two canes.  One for outside, one for inside.  One for use outside the house and in the garage, and another for use inside the house.  Well, most of the house.  What eludes, so far, is what to use in the basement, where separate pairs of shoes are the norm.  If you use the inside cane downstairs, is it still the "inside" cane?  The basement floor is unfinished concrete.  Technically, it's inside.  But emotionally, it isn't.  

To use the outside cane downstairs, the outside cane would have to come inside, long enough to be transported downstairs.  There aren't enough hands to do that and still carry the laundry.  So the short term solution is not using a cane, or maybe using a broom handle downstairs.

But a cane is not JUST a cane.  It is a fashion statement.  And you never know who you're going to meet in your basement, and wouldn't want to be there with a broom handle -- so peasant-like.

But owning three canes, somehow, has an air of permanence about it, that one or two don't.






Shrapnel:

--It's nice to know the Chicago Trib will still be on the doorstep despite its bankruptcy filing.  Yes, there it is, right on the doorstep.  And we live 570 miles from Chicago, so this is no small feat.

--Nice to know that in a period of high unemployment that some people still have jobs.  Jay Leno comes to mind.  And soon, we won't even have to stay up until almost midnight to watch a show he tapes at 5:30 in the afternoon.

--Everything is losing value.  Long Island home prices are down about ten percent.  Even worse, no one's buying recycled bottles, cans and newspapers anymore.



I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

485 The Plotz Thickens

485 The Plotz Thickens

Plotz. It's a Yiddish word that literally means a bowel movement. But it's also used as an expression of surprise or to feel faint with emotion. Oh, and it's a last name, worn proudly or not, by many men and women, one of whom, DavidPlotz, is an editor of the on line publication "Slate."

And it is this particular Mr. Plotz who was brought forward to explain what on the surface appears to be a truly plotz-worthy hire, that of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer as a columnist. For those of you who missed it, former Gov. Spitzer had a little problem a few months back. Seems he was spending a ton of (his own) money on what we politely call "escorts" or "call girls." He later resigned, and in disgrace.

But he's back. And you know what? Nixonian as all this seems, it's probably a good idea. First of all, the website Slate needs a little boost and Spitzer star power could give it to them. People will seek out his, um, entries, just to see what he has to say.

So, why would a reading public want to know what a whore-mongering, arrogant ex governor, ex State Attorney General has to say? Well, how about forget the whore-mongering and ex governor parts and concentrate instead on the arrogant and ex AG part.

Just as it's hard to remember anything about Nixon but Watergate, it's hard to remember anything about Spitzer than steamy sex in secret DC hotel rooms. But that's wrong. There's much more to Nixon than a "third rate break-in," the cover up that followed and the involvement of the White House. And there's much more to remember about Eliot than a guy who spent enough on sex to pay the national debt of Denmark.

Eliot's pretty smart about Wall Street, where he made is prosecutorial bones by herding a herd of felons and others out of the financial service industry. He's a guy who knows how the markets work -- and how men and women work the markets -- or game them. So, play-for-pay or not, this is a guy worth listening to.


Nevertheless, when I first saw the column, I nearly Plotzed.

Good night, David.


Shrapnel:

--Did you catch all the fuss over Pearl Harbor Day, yesterday? Oh, you didn't, either. How quickly we forget.

--This is blog entry 485, a number of significance to your blogger. It was at 485 Madison Avenue that about a quarter of my radio career was spent. A lovely old building that once housed CBS and Mad Magazine in addition toWRFM and its short wave sister station WNYW, though not all at the same time.

--Finally found something worth buying at a craft fair. It's an apple carved from Purple Heart, second hardest wood on the planet, and nearly extinct. Maybe going to use it as a hammer, because it's harder than any mallet head to be found.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

What Do All These People DO?

484 What Do All Those People DO?

Flip open your Newsweek or Time or Forbes or Midnight Globe Exposes magazine at take a look at the masthead (the masthead's the thing where they list the staff, not the big title on the cover, which is often called the masthead but really is "the flag.")

You'll find a long list of people. A really long list. A really REALLY long list. You'll find Editors and writers and senior editors and senior writers and junior writers and designers and permissions workers and lawyers and heaven knows what else. Nextpage'll have the "business side" staff. Publishers and general managers and development directors and sweep up people and heaven knows what else.

And you have to wonder, what do all these people do? It's a MAGAZINE, fer cryin' out loud. Sixty or 70 pages of stuff. Do they really need staffs the size of the Pentagon? Apparently yes.

Now, ask the same question of the big two-and-a-half US-based automakers. (GM and Ford are still big. Chrysler, not so much.)

Go to a car factory and you can see what people do. Go to a car factory office and... and... what?

Chairman, Vice Chairman, President and enough vice presidents to staff, well, the Pentagon. And what do they all do?

Okay, so they need accountants and lawyers and labor relations people, designers, engineers, public relations and press relations people, crash test dummies, environmental protectionists and on and on. But how many do they really need.

Should Chevrolet and Buick and Pontiac be separate divisions? How about Ford and Mercury? Or Chrylser and Dodge? They're so similar, the companies don't need 'em all. Does every division of each company need separate back office types? And corporate back office types to merge data from the other back office types?

Henry Ford, Alfred Sloan and Walter Chrysler thought their companies would do well to make everything in-house. Maybe that wasn't such a bad idea.

Here -- again -- are the brands we don't need: Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Dodge, Mercury. Get rid of them, and you're off to a good start.

The UAW says it's given back enough already. It's right. It's time for management to do the same.

Now I'm going to get into my 1947 Tucker and get out of here. Or was it a Studebaker, a Packard, a Nash, Hudson, a LaSalle, a Kaiser, a Fraser, a Willys, a Franklin or a Maxwell.

Shrapnel:

--Isn't a recession supposed to mean prices come down? Doesn't look like Blue Cross is going to be any cheaper in '09. And they'll cover less, too.

--Two local businesses here have declared bankruptcy, one a restaurant and one a car dealer. It's easy to understand the car dealer. But a restaurant in a town where almost no one cooks?

--The family of the guy killed in the Wal-Mart stampede on Long Island have sued lodged a wrongful death suit. A far more appropriate action than the one filed by a couple of hangers-on and reported in this space earlier in the week. Prediction:Wal-Mart will settle this one and we'll never know for how much.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

483 Bushed

483 Bushed

Catch the Prez on ABC the other day? This guy is trying to pull a Nixon. "Your President is not a crook..." "Plain, Republican cloth coat..." "Checkers..." "...18 minute gap..."

Actually, Georgie has been doing this for years. Caught doing coke? "Oops." Caught dancing nude on a barroom table? "Oops." Caught lying about WMDs ? "Oops." Caught declaring wars without congressional approval? "Oops." Economic crisis? "Oops." Politicizing the Justice Department? The Commerce Department? The Environmental Protection Agency? The office of U.N. Ambassador? "Oops, oops, oops, oops."

Torture? "Gee, um...." Rove? Gonzales? Wolfowitz? "Golly, yeah... not to good, huh?" No more lending ceiling or rainy-day fund floor for banks. "Um.... well, you know, a lot of bad stuff happened."

The die was cast before his watch, he says. He knows, he says, that a lot of good people put their reputations on the line in all this mess. (Colin Powell, perhaps.)

Yeah, some problems in the last eight years. But not his fault, says the Prez. Kind of like the prep school kid found dancing on the table and having to face the headmaster and Poppy.

ABC's Charlie Gibson deserves an Emmy for just sitting there and letting this yutz hang himself in public. Sort of hang himself. There's always the denial of responsibility from the guy who all but invented the idea of taking responsibility for one's acts.

We're in a recession. We're fighting at least two undeclared wars. Political operatives are running every department and division of the federal government. We're in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression.

This space has long expressed the view that the Presidency can go to any imbecile and we'll still survive.

No administration has so eloquently and positively served to prove this point.

We're still America, and we're still here.

Meantime, the frat boy is busy getting embarrassed about his gross mistakes and missteps. It's a tribute to both him and to the country that he actually seems embarrassed about what he's done all these years.

Now, get him out of Washington and out of our lives. And let a real President try to make sense and make amends and


Shrapnel:

--Our vote for the best novelty music video ever made. It has everything, scantily clad leggy girls, authentic New York Street scenes, Queen Elizabeth and Muammar Khadafy. Click here!

--Two guys with a whiplash Willie lawyer are suing Nassau County and the cops over the Black Friday death at Wal-Mart in Valley Stream. Injured? Sort of, but c'mon guys, two million bucks?

--RIP two distant acquaintances.  The folk singer Odetta was 77.  Former Nassau County Republican Chairman Joe Margiotta was 81.




I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

482 Stamp Collection

482 Stamp Collection

Frankie at the Post Office in Moote Pointe, New York, was about to retire and a patron suggested that he be honored with a stamp with his face on it. Frankie was appalled. "You gotta be dead to get your face on a stamp," he said. The patron, on learning this, was equally appalled and apologized elaborately. That was years ago. Times have changed.

Move over Elvis, George Washington, Frank Sinatra, and lots of other dead boys and girls. Make way for Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Steve Capus, Howie "Hazmat" Earl, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and ... YOU.

Yes, you can get your ugly puss on a stamp and the post office will not only recognize it, it will welcome it. Forty two cents for the postage and a few bucks to put your likeness on the stamp.

If you don't want to put your own face on it, you can substitute your dog or cat, your neighbor or the holdup artist from the security cam at the 7-11 down the block. Or your phone-cam picture of your EKG.

Frankie from the Moote Pointe Post Office, we're ready for your closeup. You, too. gentle reader.

It's not clear whether "your face on a stamp" has to be an actual face. Maybe a photograph of a meaningful piece of scenery would be better. Here's aunt Hazel's pictures of the trip to Grand Canyon. Or Uncle Bob's trip to the Empire State Building.

In any event, "your picture on a Stamp" is your chance at immortality. It doesn't matter whether you're the President Elect or a regular guy. Or cat. Or dog. Or boat. Or an EKG.

Or maybe you and some friends can each get face stamps and start writing letters to one another. Nah. Too much work.



Shrapnel:

--I've always thought of Valley Stream NY as a good place to avoid. But that Wal-Mart stampede could have happened almost anywhere. And what does that say about us?

--If you're interested in baseball, shady agents and players with no values, may I suggest using the link on the right side of this page and clicking on Steve Lanzone's two latest columns? And if you're still a baseball fan after that, start saving your pennies because a seat at the new Yankee Stadium ain't cheap.

--Every health insurance company in your region is trying to get you to lure you to their Medicare Advantage plan. Problem. No one yet has a full list of covered pharmaceuticals and no one will until after the time you can switch.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008


Friday, November 28, 2008

481 Black Friday

481 Black Friday

Never much cared for that term. It had and has overtones of gloom to it. But the big question this year is "will Black Friday really be black?"

Probably not.

The cash flow will be there. How can it not? But will there be enough to push our money-losing merchants into the black?

Thanksgiving morning, here comes the local paper. It's bigger and fatter than your normal Sunday edition with all the ads and the special sections and pullouts and wrap-arounds.

Best Buy opened at 5 this morning. But you could get coupons for the "door busters" at three. And some of those door busters were bustier than anyone could imagine. Really powerful computers for under $500. Really nice flat screen TVs at about the price of a fill up at Exxon. That kind of thing.

JC Penney opened at 3:30 in the morning. 3:30! John Cash Penney would rotate in his grave if someone could figure out a way to tell him what "his" store was doing. Penney's let no grass grow under its feet. The other majors opened at either five or six. Lazy bums!

While John Cash Penney rotates in his grave, Solomon Boscov is rotating as well. Solly started a chain of department stores in East Nowhere, PA about 100 years ago. Unlike Penney's, they're still family owned. Also unlike Penney's, they're in chapter eleven and waiting for the rest of the shoes to fall.

And there's Sam Klein, also in his grave. Sam's probably laughing. He beat the 21st Century rush by going out of business well ahead of the curve.

Alexander Farkas would be another grave spinner. But Alexanders turned itself from a cheap department store into a very lucrative real estate company. Pretty smart. Or damned lucky. And you can add Robert Hall, Howard Clothes and Crawford's to the list.

The list of stores that beat the deadline for bankruptcy is endless. Kaufmann's, A&S, Orbach's, Korvette, Altman's, Wannamakers, Bamburger's. All were ahead of their time. Oh, and the guy down the street who ran Jack's Hardware or Barrow's Music or The Shoe Parlor.

Then, there's the ad for the National Association of Domestic Automakers. They're telling us to buy cars. That's fine. You need a car, go buy a car. But maybe they should stop calling themselves "NADA." En espanol, "nada" means "nothing."

And maybe they should re-name the day "Bleak Friday."

But first, go out and help Best Buy and JC Penney stay afloat.



Shrapnel:

--If you're squeamish, don't read this riddle: What's the one thing you don't want to see happen during the Obama administration? Biden getting sworn in.

--Barbara Bush has an ulcer. That's not surprising. If you had a kid like that, you'd have an ulcer, too.

--The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was on CBS this year instead of the usual NBC. There was thought it worked that way because a parade without Couric isn't really a parade. But she wasn't there, disappointingly.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

480 Bail Out Wal Mart!

480 Bail Out Wal-Mart!

Alright, so they haven't asked for one. And they don't need one. And they probably never will. But, my right wing-nut readers and listeners, who is more deserving of a bailout thanWal-Mart?

We reward incompetence and misfeasance and malfeasance, why not reward success? We bail out Citi, AIG, the whole banking industry, probably the auto industry and who knows what-all else. So why not throw a few bucks at the most successful company in America and the only store that's doing any business. Shouldn't they get part of the pie?

Think of the benefits to society as a whole. They could expand even faster than they have been. They'll create jobs. They'll be able to afford health insurance for their workers -- real health insurance. They'll be able to squeeze their suppliers a little more gently (a kinder, gentlerWal -Mart, imagine!) They might even be able to afford the shopping cart you always seem to get, the one with the rectangular left front wheel (the right wheels always are perfectly round, making it much easier to turn toward the right wing than the left.)

Rewarding greatness is always better than rewarding failure, which is, so far, what the bailout is.

Of course, we don't just want to throw money at the situation. That would be so, well, public-education/welfare/workfare/food stamps/medicaid of us. We would want a stake in the operation in return for our Generosity of the Proletariat.

When every (legal) inhabitant of America is a shareholder, we'll be a little more careful about dropping candy wrappers on the floor ("was your store clean today?" That's a survey question that pops up often on theWal-Mart credit card keypad. After the bailout it really will BE "your" store.)

We'll be a little more careful about picking up stuff that's spilled in the aisles.

And we'll greet the greeters before they greet us (we're the boss, they're our employees. We should treat them courteously.)

And the dividends! A little check from your Uncle Sam each quarter (yes, we will have two uncle Sams -- the guy in the flag suit and the ghost of Sam Walton.)

Let WaMu and Wachovia fall into the water. Let Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo enjoy their shotgun marriages. Let's put our money where it will do the most good. In a place that sells cheap toilet paper and tomatoes that don't give you horrible diseases and books that pass the Can-You-Read-This-In Church test.

Bail 'em out. There's no time to waste.

Shrapnel:

--There really ARE stores that could use a bailout. But there's something untoward about giving money to Nordstroms or Saks. Long live the peasantry!

--Sometimes when a term gets into wide use, we forget what it means, "bailout" to name one. There's something to remember. Like, when you finish removing the water from the boat, there's still a hole in it.

--Consumer confidence rose this month. That's kind of like the gas gauge. It's all the way up to empty.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008.



Monday, November 24, 2008

479 Come Back When You're Legal

479 Come Back When You're Legal

This is all you "have" to read to get the gist of it: Today's music often is the autobiography of someone who hasn't lived long enough to do anything, accompanied by sound effects with a semi musical undertone.

There are lovelorn whose lives flash before their eyes. It's a short flash. Usually, it's a long song. Long and repetitive. Gives you a second, third and fourth time to try to comprehend the lyrics (lyrics is a term of generosity.)

These "vocalists" apparently didn't understand that their role models "Alvin and the Chipmunks" were supposed to be a joke, not a singing style. so they've carriedchipmunkism to a new high.

The only reason Tony Bennett's still selling records is because he's so novel.

In olden days (when a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking,) the words had to say something. Maybe not a very good something. But something. Why? Because you can understand what comes out of Bennett's mouth. Or Al Martino's or even Sinatra's.

If you roll back the musical clock, you can see the roots of this distortion in the 1970s, when disco was king and no one cared what the Bee Gees were singing. That's when falsetto and not-hitting-notes and not-having-notes-to-hit started. After awhile, no one can understand anything.

This may help explain the success of drunken, druggie, anorexic-looking Amy Winehouse. There are actual words and actual power and there is actual diction enough to hear beneath the now-customary raw emotion of what passes for songs.

Modern pop music may also be a reaction to years of stultifying abuse by Broadway composers who's stiffness and artificiality are perfect counterpoint to today's whining falsettos.

Part of the cure is requiring I.D. at the recording studio door -- just like at the bar, the beer joint or the liquor store. No one under 21 admitted with an autobiographical song. If they want to sing Irving Berlin or Puccini or Loretta Lynn, fine. If they wrote it and they're under 21, sorry. Come back when you're legal.



Shrapnel:

--This year's round of Hanukkah tableware is made in China. Startling at first. And then you remember that between the Chinese and the Jews, there are 10-thousand years of plugging along through life -- which makes the juxtaposition of the Star of David and the label "Made in China" a little less unsettling.

--We visited the equivalent of "downtown" in these parts the other Saturday. All the parking lots were full, but the stores in town were empty and there were few people on the streets. Maybe they were all at the football game, or maybe the space ship came down at the right moment and vaporized the drivers and passengers as they walked out of the lot.

--Why do they make you wait forever at the doctor's office but cancel your appointment if you're 15 minutes late? That kind-of says "our time is more valuable than yours." Maybe they're right.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

478 Here Come The Holidays

478 Here Come the Holidays

Ah, soon we will Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing. And we don't even have to sneeze to ask. Get ready for the end-of-year dysfunctional family gatherings. And -- trust this -- they WILL be dysfunctional even if the family is generally amiable and normal, normally.

The Thanksgiving Dinner is a mere preview of later holiday gatherings. But it's kind of like the ice breaker that gets us ready. Some family members will slave in the kitchen for days and be too tired for hunger at dinner time. Funny uncles will arrive in time to make the lives of the small children miserable. And every family has its quiet drunk. He'll sit (it's almost always a "he,") in the best chair in the living room with a pitcher of martinis or a jug of marginal wine and quietly turn some shade between pink and deep red.

The Devout Republican and the Devout Democrat will argue about the latest rumors on who will do what in the incoming Obama administration. The little kids will get cranky. The furnace will shudder and seem ready to shut down on what probably will be the coldest day of the month.

Someone will need, yes need, to see the ball games on TV. The noise from the game will annoy the little kids even more. And the quiet drunk will fall asleep and snore at top volume. Ah, the roar of the snore and of the crowd. All this goes on as people filter into the dining room to eat.

The kids don't want to sit at the "kids' table." The adults get confused by the passing of a zillion plates back and forth. There will be a dispute about the light meat and the dark meat. And everyone will praise the cook(s) for the stuffing, which, secretly was made not from scratch, but from a box. (Shhhhh! Don't tell anyone!)

When it's all over, the same people who spent time slaving in the kitchen and are too tired to eat will return to the kitchen to clean up the mess. It will take them until the end of December to recover. The year-end holidays will be a repeat of Thanksgiving Day at some homes, but will cause many people make for dinner what many a Thanksgiving Day home cook really wants: reservations.

Shrapnel:

--The coupons are pouring in. Every is getting ready for the year end holidays, and early at that. And each one is searching for money that isn't there.

--Detroit's Holy Trinity, Wagoner, Mulally and Nardelli were on Capitol Hill this week, begging for bailout money. Pretty humbling for them. But it didn't help their cause when each of them flew a corporate jet into DC instead of driving a Cobalt, a Fiesta and maybe a K-car with 150,000 miles already on the clock.

--Some scientists have mapped the DNA of the Woolly Mammoth. They think they eventually will be able to revive the species. Interesting bio-trick and great for the elephant gun business.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

477 Sonny G Retires

477 Sonny G Retires

Sonny G was going to do his 20 and out. Figured 20 years as a cop was enough. He'd collect the pension and then, maybe do some security work. Didn't work out that way. Sonny retired at the end of last month, more like 30 and out.

We're sitting at a diner. Sonny doesn't want you to know where. And you don't need to. He's in a mood to reflect.

"When I was new, I couldn't figure out how the crooks did it. And I couldn't figure out how fast we caught some of them. After I got promoted to Detective Third, it began to dawn on me."

Ears up, crooks, here comes the voice of experience.

Sonny takes a paper napkin out of the dispenser, fishes for a pen ("do you believe it? I still carry a note book and a pen everywhere I go. Retirement!") He draws a crude circle on the napkin.

"See this? You know what it is? It's a wheel. This is a cops' dirty little secret. We know what a wheel is. The bad guys? They think they invented it and we never seen it before. And they usually get it wrong. When we see a wheel, we know what it is."

Sonny has a point. Cops see the same crime over and over. They know what to look for. Or what to not look for. The bad guys -- they have reinvent the wheel every time.

"Guy sticks up a deli? We've seen that 500 times. We know what to look for. We find him, we cuff him. End of story. It's easier now with all those cameras. But it's really the same wheel, just rolled by different guys who've never rolled a wheel before. Or maybe thought they thought it up."

"You can tell the new driver from a block away. You know the stickup artist from the same distance. Sometimes it's like shooting fish in a barrel. "

But sometimes not.

Sonny has a couple of cold cases that bother him.

"I had a pal used to run this diner, Pete Acropolis" he says. "One night Pete closes -- it's maybe 2 in the morning. Empties the register into a white donut bag like he's done a million times before. Locks up and before he can get to the car, some guy rolls him. Okay, he's out a days receipts. But that wasn't enough. This guy beats him to within an inch of his life and leaves him there. Never found the sonofabitch. Burns me every time I think about it. And Pete? He got out of the hospital maybe a month or six weeks later and decided he'd had enough to do just getting around and wasn't goin' back to no diner."

"Burns me. Really burns me."





Shrapnel:

--Doesn't always seem that when you go to a funeral the sky's going to be grey? Does this mean anything? And what does it mean on those rare days when the funeral is held in sunlight?

--The deer are starting their annual march through the narrow woods behind the house. It's always strange to see them as we do each year. But, then, the Deer News has a very low circulation, so maybe some just haven't gotten the word: it's a housing complex now and the woods have been gone for several years.

--The bears have a better newspaper, or maybe its the internet. Haven't seen one in the Deer woods yet. Hope never to have to.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

476 Heavy Lifting

476 Heavy Lifting

First some facts. Fact One: Abu Dhabi announced last March that it was going to build "worker housing" for 400,000 people by the year 2010.

Fact two: Tuscon, Arizona has a population of something in the neighborhood of 400,000 residents.

So Abu Dhabi is in effect building another City of Tuscon in two years. The original has been around for about 300 years. So things move fast in Abu Dhabi, though they'll probably skip some of the intermediate steps, like the gunslinger era. Those new public housing units probably will have central air conditioning and running water, indoor plumbing and no resident Gila Monsters.

Fact three: The population of public housing in New York City is about 400,000, or the same as the entire population of Tuscon, or the population of the new housing projects in Abu Dhabi.

Most of the New York projects are pretty sturdy places on the surface. Ugly, depressing in the hallways, but decent inside. If you can get there. They've been having a lot of elevator problems lately.

When you live in a rent controlled place with a private landlord, chances are you experience elevator problems, too. That's one of the ways the landlords get rid of the low-rent tenants so they can't charge what they call "market value," and what the rest of us call outrageous. Surely there are private contractors you can hire to help make your low-rent tenants' lives miserable. People who will set fires in the basement, cripple the laundry machines, destroy the lobby and hall lights, and disable the elevators.

In public housing, they don't do that. If the tenants don't do it, the shoddiness of the machinery will take care of it by itself.

The elevators in the projects? Try schlepping a week's worth of groceries up 20 floors worth of stairs. The prime space used to be near the top of the buildings. Nice views. Less noise. Fewer break-ins. No more. The prime space in the buildings is no higher than the third floor.

There are risks. But they're worth it because you can walk up three flights a whole lot easier than you can 20. The city's going to fix the elevators. Any year now.

By the way, you can bet that in Abu Dhabi and in Tuscon, the elevators work.

Shrapnel:

--Bills used to arrive near the first and 15th of any given month. No so anymore. They come in a steady and unrelenting stream, sometimes a steady and unrelenting flood.

--The Internet has put a lot of people out of business. It's not just newspapers. It's the makers of letter openers -- no one's making them anymore, not even the cheap plastic ones with "Eat at Joe's" or "Robert Feinbaum, DDS" printed on them.

--We were shopping at a Target the other day when the lights went out. Think that stops 'em? Nah -- there's a back up generator so you can see your way to the register -- which also works on emergency power.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

475 Speculators Anonymous

475 speculators Anonymous

Think about the plight of the poor speculators. Oil prices are sinking like a body with cement shoes off Staten Island. Guys who bought oil for $147 a barrel are selling it for 57 bucks. You have to feel sorry for these people. And you have to figure they'll figure out a way to get even. They're speculators. They can't help themselves.

If they were normal traders, they'd hold on to the stuff and wait for the price to come back up. But it won't hit $147 again any time soon, so they're going to take a loss, one way or the other. And since they never actually take delivery, there's no way to hold on to it. A shame, really. They'll probably have to default on their rent-a-Benz or their third or fourth house. But they've probably got some money salted away. Some of it, they'll use for suing their would-be customers who will have weaseled out of contracts to buy the stuff. The rest won't be discovered until the IRS finds out about their Swiss or Bahamian bank accounts.

Of course, they can prevent that by never using the money. But being unable to use it is kind of like not having it in the first place.

Some of these newly impoverished, newly depressed fellas will have to go out and do something they've never done before, get jobs. And that's not terribly easy these days, either. Plus they often have no marketable skills.

They will have to start support groups. The name "Speculators Anonymous" has a nice ring to it. "Hello, my name is Steve, and I am a speculator..."

And it's not just oil we're talking about. It's pretty much everything. Even scrap metal. Yes, the market for scrap iron and copper have tanked right along with oil. But with scrap dealers there IS a bright side. If THEY have some bucks stashed away, they can hold on to their metal and wait for the market to come back, which, eventually, it will.

And they can look for new sources of revenue. Paper. Plastic. McCain campaign buttons.

And, again, there's always S-A. Not only will they meet like minded people in similar circumstances, but they'll be able to pass the time they'd usually be using soaking the rest of us.

Shrapnel:

--Farewell Howard Reig. Howard was the last of the great old time staff announcers recently retired from NBC and was 87. Introduced "Nightly News" from the John Chancellor through the Brian Williamsanchorships.

--Yes, Don Pardo is still alive and working. But in his 90s has reduced his work load to "SNL" and a couple of extras now and then. And, yes, he's still as powerful a bellower and as funny as ever.

--The job of staff announcer once was the most prestigious in broadcasting. And the guys who were in the job when the job was eliminated got lifetime guarantees of continued work. Back when unions were still labor organizations.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C) WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

474 Smart is Beautiful

474 Smart is Beautiful

This space has long and often talked about Presidential tone-setting as the most important single function of the job.

The most obvious example is Ronald Reagan. Reagan re-set the swing of the left-right pendulum. Soon after 1980 or '81, what once was considered extreme right wing became closer to the center and what had been considered moderate-liberal got labeled hard left. These labels were and are wrong. But the President has the power to set the tone.

So does Barrack Obama. And he's already started.

Obama is making smart fashionable. Beautiful. Acceptable. Once again, smart is good.

Bill Clinton might have done that, but his intense intelligence was diffused to the point that he either didn't try or no one noticed. Clinton ... aYalie. An international scholar. Oh, and also he came off -- probably intentionally -- as a rube and a hayseed.

Obama is different. He's neither a rube nor a hayseed. Nor does he go around flaunting his brain. It speaks for itself.

We've had smart Presidents before. Clinton wasn't the only one. Carter was very bright, and a disaster in office. Nixon was pretty bright, but nefarious.

Obama is just smart. And this is just what we need after 44 years of rampant anti-intellectualism. Maybe anti intellectualism is too kind. We've had 44 years of mindless ranting that passes for thought, for philosophy, for ideology, for political action.

Some of it was anti intellectualism masquerading as populism. Most of it was just plain mental thuggery.

So now, it's not only "okay" to be black, it's okay to be black and brilliant. Or even white and brilliant.

Obama has the same kind of "above the fray" intelligence that JFK had, but without the County Limerick bravado, which, entertaining as it was, never got much done. (It should be noted that Kennedy wasn't a legacyadmitee to Harvard, though there probably was some "pull" exerted.)

So, with all else that's going on, at least we don't have to fear our own brains. We don't have to fear our own intellect. We don't have to fear that we'll be branded elitist by the populist, delusional right wing that considers original thought second only to original sin.

Look for a resurgence not of the blather-filled college professor, but the real intellectual -- the public intellectual who has been hiding under a rock for the last four decades in fear of discovery.

Shrapnel:

--Obama's not perfect. He's barring some lobbyists from his transition team. He should be barring ALL of them.

--The auto industry cannot be allowed to fail. Too much depends on it. But in addition to bailing out Detroit, Washington would be wise to remove the upper management of the so-called big three and put in charge people who know and love cars.

--The Bush Library is going to have some unique pictures. The President will color some of them himself. Say inside the lines, George.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

473 The Church Fair

473 The Church Fair

Note: this was to have been auto-published one day earlier than it appeared, but the genius who handles that put the wrong date in the "schedule" column.

There's nothing like a bazaar at a Catholic church to make a New York Jew feel welcome in the middle of nowhere.

The bazaar itself was nothing much. The usual pre-Christmas tchatchka tables. The wheel of fortune. The tree ornaments. But there was a difference.

First thing, there was our pal Yetzy with his two pre-adolescent boys in tow and an open can of beer in his hand. Good stuff, too. "Hey, beer in church?" "Hey! We're Catholics." Ceremonial beer? No. They were serving wine and pina coladas as well. And they were carding people.

Then there was the brass ensemble. A trombone, a trumpet and a couple of twisty horns, behind which were young girls who not only could play music, but could play music together. Brass instruments in the hands of youngsters trying to play in harmony generally drive people out of the hall in a big hurry. Not these.

And there was Father Basketball. Why Basketball? Well, for one thing, he apparently is wearing one around his middle and for another, he seems pretty tall cruising the floor beaming benevolently from behind The Collar and the Irish sweater.

It's tough for a New Yorker to NOT identify with the rolly pollys who manned (or womaned) the table. There's a looseness among the people at this thing that you don't often find around here.

I'm not dissing the people who aren't like this. They are, after all, part of what we learned during the Presidential campaign, the Real Americans.

But every once in awhile it's nice to stand among and converse with people who don't have perpetually strained neck cords and clenched jaws.

These guys probably didn't vote the way we did. They probably have a completely opposite views on such matters as heaven, hell, abortion and guns. But for the first time in a long time we-all didn't feel like invaders from another planet. Or maybe refugees from another universe.

One woman, from Frankfurt, said she came for the food and for the football game on TV.

We didn't stay late enough for that.

But I have to tell you, there's nothing like a piece of home made carrot cake and a glass of white wine in a church to make a New Yorker feel at hom.



Shrapnel:

--Most of the leaves are off the trees. This makes the world look pretty baron. But that's okay, they'll be back.

-So will the Gypsy Moth Czar, a guy they hired to catch and kill those pests. He did such a good job last year that they're going to take a chance on him again, but don't bet on that lasting if there's a real invasion this time.

--A fancy local supermarket says it's reducing prices by abut 20%, expecting lower costs for 2009. So what's lower now than it was a year ago, wholesale food, rent, taxes what? Only the cost of help -- which always can go down when you fire a lot of people.




I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them (sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

472 Breakfast at the Chicago White House

472 Breakfast at the Chicago White House


President Elect Obama is spending a lot of time at the gym. That's how he remains skinny and fit. The rest of us will have either to go to the "Y," or accept that we're just going to remain "double wides," which may be our destiny. How do we know this? Because his every waking moment -- and probably his every sleeping moment is getting full coverage.

Yes, from now until inauguration day, we all will be forced to learn what the President Elect does each morning, noon and night. We will know how many strawberries he had with his Cheerios. We will learn what brand of beer he has with lunch, if any. And we will learn which of the National Security briefings he heard each day, but, of course, not what's in them.

We will know what kind of car he drives (Ford,) we will know where he buys his suits (Marshall Field's now Macy's) and what kind of puppy he will be giving his girls.

We will learn who is under consideration for a cabinet post, and what he orders from the McDonald's Dollar Menu (I'd bet the double cheeseburger, a genuine bargain.)

This is no fun. It's no fun for the President Elect, it is no fun for the reporters, photographers, sound technicians, satellite and microwave truck operators, producers, directors, editors, news anchors, viewers,listeners or readers. But compared with what comes next, this is the fun part.

After inauguration day and the surrounding hoopla, the real work begins.

It's always seemed amazing, being able to put together an administration and have it up and running in as short a time as they do it.

Can you imagine after taking the oath, President Obama leans into the ear of Chief Justice Roberts and says something like "Listen up, cement head, 'Roe' Stays."

Won't happen, of course, but it's a nice thought.

The right wing talk machines are cranking up The Big Scare. "Obama, the baby killer." "Obama will take your guns." "Obama will raise your taxes to the point you won't be able to afford your house." The talk-heads are in full panic mode on the outside, but secretly gloating on the inside. After all, if one of their guys had been elected, they wouldn't have anything to say for the next four years. That, of course is a generous assessment. The more thoughtful among us may have realized long ago that they never have anything to say.

Yes, the Rushes and Savages and such have become even less relevant than they were a few days ago. Of course, they hedged their bets all along, by criticizing McCain, too. Golly, what would they have done if Romney had won?

Oh. And by the way, how many strawberries DID Obama have with his Cheerios this morning?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. (sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

471 A Letter to Ms. Emma

471 A Letter to Ms. Emma

Mrs. Emma McClain
516 W. 143rd St
New York, NY 10031

Dear Emma,

For the first time since you passed away, I'm hoping there really IS a heaven and if there is, I know you're in it and probably watching what's going on in the neighborhood and in the nation. But in the event you aren't, I think you'll be interested in what has been happening down here.

Yesterday was election day, and the guy who won? He's a black man. Can you imagine that? No, I didn't think you could. I'm having trouble grasping it, too.

You and I? We argued, fought, laughed and cried together for years. And there always were things about which we disagreed, sometimes with great vigor. But not this. We -- Americans -- Americans of every race and every upbringing and ever idea and every ideal, elected a President we can be proud of. And, like you, he's mostly black. Forgive me, Em, but I know about your white relatives, because one day you told me. Maybe a bit too much wine. Maybe you were just feeling talkative, your son Cleve already in the great beyond. Your dog (I can't remember his name,) also there.

But the point isn't that we have an African American President ready to take the oath in just a few months. The point is we have a President who understands us and lead us and who happens to be African American waiting in the Wings.

He's from Hawaii. And lately, he's been living in Chicago. I guess that's not quite as good as having been from rural Georgia and living in New York. But no one's perfect. What IS perfect is that the kind of thing we worked for -- you and I -- has finally come to pass. If you were still in the world of flesh and blood, you'd be 95, now. I wish you were here to see this. It would have made your living heart glad -- just as it's making mine.

I had to work election night. When my chores were over, I got into the car and I cried. And I came home with fresh tears still in my eyes. And some of those tears were tears of joy for our country. But some of them were for you, because you deserved to see this. And unless there really IS a heaven, and you really CAN look down on us -- which I doubt -- I cried for you, too. Because you deserved to see this when you were alive. And I'm not sure the message'll get through.

But a lot of this is sentiment. My employer at the time of your death was Mike Bloomberg. He ran for his first term as Mayor of New York and he won. And when the cameras were turned on that night, he said "now comes the hard part."

President Elect Obama did not say that election night when he addressed the huge crowd in Chicago's Grant Park from behind bullet proof glass. But he knows -- and we know that that's the case.

Now comes the hard part.

The tone of the opposition was set tonight by Senator McCain, the Republican candidate. Mr. McCain was graceful and eloquent beyond what he needed to be. He asked us to come together as Americans and to get behind President-Elect Obama, and he sounded -- maybe for the first time during this slimy and ugly campaign -- that he meant it.

So, Emma, if you happen to be watching from that heavenly perch of yours, please do what you can to help us. We need this President, and we need your guiding spirit.

Love,

Wes.

PS. I still think you spoiled that dog rotten.

Monday, November 03, 2008

470 Where'd The Cities Go?

#470 Where'd the Cities Go?

Connie Fuentes is sitting behind her "Assistant Manager" name plate at her desk at the Last Big Bank on North Clybourn Avenue right near the river and one of the Presidential Expressways. in Chicago. Connie came up from from Lima, Peru, maybe 35 years ago. People think she's Mexican, but she doesn't mind. Mexico has big cities, too. Bigger than Lima. It's a Sunday morning. "Can you believe this," she asks, "a bank that's open Sundays? Look around you, what do you see?"

You see nothing. The bank is open, but beside one lonely teller, whose name also is Fuentes but is not related to Connie, there's no one in the bank. No one in Chicago goes to the bank on Sundays. There are no customers. But she's an officer, and the rules say an officer has to be on hand whenever the place is open.

So she's got the Trib in front of her and she's saying "This paper never picks Democrats, but they picked Obama. Me, too. I picked Obama. Tuesday is my day off and I'm going to the voting place and taking along a book or maybe a couple of puzzles." Like many people whose first language is not English, Connie takes pride in her skill with crossword puzzles enIngles.

"You know," she says, "the guy is sort of from here, Chicago, and you'd never know there was such a place if you look at his campaign stuff. Same with the other guy. I like the other guy, too. He was born in Latin America. That's not supposed let him run, but there was some law down there a million years ago that makes all those guys 'natural born Americans.'

"But the guy from Chicago? You never see Chicago in his ads. That TV show the other night? It was all out in the country. Same with McCain. Something happen to New York and Los Angeles, maybe they disappeared some time back and no one mentioned it? If I weren't right here, I would have thought Chicago disappeared, too. Maybe it did, and all these streets are just an illusion."

Her visitor notes that perhaps both campaigns either figure they have the cities locked up in their camp or can't make any inroads here so they don't bother.

"Nah, they want the farm vote," she says. "They want the guys in trucks and with AK47s in their kitchens. They forget us, here. You're from New York, what do people there think."

Can't claim much knowledge there. Maybe they're used to being ignored or taken for granted.

The visitor asks "Hey, Consuela, you got change of a five?"

She goes digging through her purse.

"No, I mean behind the counter. Might as well do SOME business."






Shrapnel:

--We had a time change yesterday. It was a little later than usual. But it remains fraught with the usual confusion and forgetfulness, searching for clocks you see every day and forget are there until you need them and then notice they're still on daylight time.

--Time is on every one's mind these days. Like the credit card companies that have shortened your grace period without telling you plainly. Gets you into that upper interest bracket late-payers have faced, and much faster than it used to.

--Time is on everyone else's mind, too. Like the companies that print coupons. Some of them expire so quickly now that they're out of date before they're printed.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(sm)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

469 Audit THIS

469 Audit THIS

Taking a course for which no credit is given and no fee is charged can be a lot of fun, a good "learn" and a major downer.

This last one comes from observing the other "kids" in the class, most much younger.

This space has never had much use for the grammar police, the spelling police or even the concept police. But there are limits.

Don't they teach English in high school any more? Or is it just that in the 21st century world of computer instant messaging and "texting" as the kids call it, there's no room for anything even barely formal.

"Texting" isn't new to some of us. It's a compressed and abbreviated form of communication that today's generation has embraced, and because thetelcoms charge a lot for this service, compression and abbreviation rule.

Any among us who've worked for what we old timers call "the wire services," know better. In the early days, the "long lines" companies, like AT&T and Western Union, which allowed the news to be spread worldwide in an instance charged by the word. So the AP, United Press and International News Service developed a min-language for communicating among their bureaus.

We at the AP called it the message wire. Can you figure this sentence out? "Richmond: unfind VA poll results. -NY." Simple, really. It's New York headquarters telling the bureau in Richmond that it was expecting a story about an election poll in Virginia. Six words instead of ten. Saved space, time and -- originally -- money.

By the time we got to the wire, the per-word thing had already long been a thing of the past. But the tradition of using that lingo persisted.

One guy is said to have quit his post by sending a message that read "Upstick job assward."

So texting is nothing new.

But the men and women of the Associated Press message wire were literate. They did this stuff intentionally. Today's texters -- and today's class assignment writers often aren't.

The problem isn't the chin-up appropriateness of the language. The problem is when the language deteriorates, so do the concepts the words and sentences represent.

Upstick class assward.




Shrapnel

--In February, 2006, I wrote this item about Paul Harvey, a tribute to a giant in my trade, who managed not to retire despite the rumors at the time. Now, in his 90s he's rarely on the air and when he is, he's sounding not just old, but old and ailing. I hope people will remember him not as he is, but as he was.

--Did you catch the Obama infomercial the other night? Apparently it was aimed at pushing straddlers onto his side of the fence. For those of us already there, it didn't mean much.

--Note to GEICO. Thanks for lowering my car insurance premium for the upcoming year. But I still want to crush that advertising lizard of yours and plan to put in a damage claim if I do.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

468 The First Scratch

468 The First Scratch

Some old horse died in the Black Forest and got made into a windbreaker, which dad wore for something close to 50 years. At first sight, it was already battered to the point that the dead horse wouldn't recognize it. He refused to part with it. "It was nice and shiny and deep brown when I first bought it," he said. But all those decades later, he insisted on wearing it. "It was fine after the first scratch," he said. After that first one, all the others felt -- and looked -- at home.

Same thing with the new car. Pristine on the showroom floor. Not so pristine after you pull into a parking space and Griselda in the mammoth SUV parked to your right swings a door too wide and puts in the first scratch.

Goldy the sportscaster had a leather satchel of a briefcase, probably made out of the same horse as dad's coat. He didn't much care about the way it was scratched. He didn't even seem to mind when your correspondent spilled a whole container of Pepsi on the thing. It was scratched to the point the horse wouldn't know it was him. It was like a leather portrait of a rat's nest. "The more, the better," Goldy said. Keep those battle scars coming.

So here's the next job: getting a job with the Fender guitar company. They keep cranking out the same stuff as they made in 1952. But now, they've added "distressed"models. These are new guitars that look like they've been on the road for half a century or more. They look it -- but they were made yesterday in the factory in California.

They have guys who wear them out as soon as they come off the production line. Those people scar them with matches and cigarettes. They scrape off pieces of the finish -- using knives and sandpaper and make the new guitars look like they've been on the road all this time. And they charge extra for "finishing" them as if they were 50 years old.

It's a job no guitar freak could resist. And since demand is so strong, maybe they're hiring.

If they aren't, maybe Michael Kors or Dooney and Bourke need handbag agers.

Or maybe Chrysler. Get one of those new "300s," and turn it into a rolling wreck. Then sell it as new -- but distressed and aged.

No one will care. The factory will have made the first scratch.

A 1955 "300" with "aging toner and some dents.

What a concept!




Shrapnel:

--Is this one foot in the grave, or what? The Christian Science Monitor is going all digital -- Internet only, stopping the presses. Forever.

--What's a college degree worth today? No, not what does it cost. What is it WORTH?

--Alcohol-free beer, beef bacon, fat-free everything -- is nothing real anymore? Up next: Water-free water. Just ad water, and you get ... water.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(r)
(C)WJR 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

467 The Hose

467 The Hose

It's getting toward winter and that means it's time to put the garden hose in the garage. Good thing, too, because it's really an eyesore out back. Yes, time to turn off the outside water and bring the stuff inside.

Hoses have lives of their own. And they're rebellious critters. Never can get 'em straight and never can get 'em rolled up neatly. They always develop kinks and no matter how elaborate your storage thingy, it never looks right with a hose on it. Funny, the catalogs never show that. When you see the pictures of the hose holders and rollers and such, the hose always is lined up and perfectly symmetrical. The rows are all perfectly even. There are no kinks and there is no dirt. Probably the picture hoses never have been used. Any fool can roll a virgin hose up perfectly. No one can roll up a used hose.

In reality, the hose never reels in properly no matter what you do. Further, the hose is always sandy -- even if your yard is 100% loam or clay and 0% sand.

Not only don't they roll up properly, they spit. They never hook to the water faucet perfectly. It doesn't matter whether you use the helpfully provided rubber washers. The seal never gets completely sealed.

You'd think the manufacturers would have figured this one out years ago. But they haven't. In fact, they probably have committees of engineers and executives and production workers who meet regularly to find new ways to make your garden hose look sloppy and kink up and spit at you.

We need to eavesdrop on some of those meetings. We need to learn their strategy. You can bet the participants go home at night chuckling gleefully about the messes they're about to make of America's back yards.

It's sinister. And it's too conveniently consistent to be accidental.

We used to be able to send a man to the moon, win wars, calculate Pi to the 256,233rd digit. But we can't make a hose that doesn't kink, doesn't spit and rolls up evenly.

Yes, it has to be intentional.




Shrapnel

--A guy at work notes that Wal-Mart is selling Palin costumes for Halloween. The price is $14.99 for Democrats. For Republicans, it's $125,000.00.

--Also at work: We have a guy who does a real estate show every Saturday morning. For Halloween, he's talking about how to talk to your broker if you think the house you want to buy is haunted. Basically, it's okay, unless the ghost is named Fannie or Freddie.

--A correspondent notes there are a lot of "buy one, get one free" items in the supermarket these days. She suggests you use the paid one first, especially when you dislike whatever it is. That way, goes the thinking, if you throw out the second, you won't be wasting money.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)
(C)WJR 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

466 Self Help Book

466 Self Help Book

A favorite "self help" book is called "Think and Grow Rich."  A guy named Napoleon Hill wrote it for publication in 1937 and it's still in print and still selling well.   Hill was a lackey of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and was the first to go public with Carnegie's "secret" which essentially this:  If you think you can do something, and you make an organized and viable plan, you CAN do it.

There is, of course, no data to support this thesis.  But it's been around so long, it's kind of "in the atmosphere."

Most richness happens either by accident, or -- as Balzac put it -- with a crime.

We just LOVE those self help books.  

Let's forget about the crime and concentrate on the accident.  After all, we don't want to encourage some budding Al Capone or Richard Nixon here, do we?  Nah.

You get rich accidentally, and often you get poor the same way.  So, do you think there's a market for a self help book called "Think and Grow Poor?"  Sure.  Why not.  Think it'll sell?  Of course it will.

We'd start out with some case histories.  Self help books love case histories.

We'd tell the story of, say, Uptown Jerry, who started life with plenty of dough, but ended up living in the projects.  We'll trace his history from born realty magnate, ended up as a bus washer and weaseled his way into the food stamp program and subsidized medical care and housing.

Then, we'd analyze his lifetime journey, show how he turned a pile of loot into a pile of Health & Human Services I.D. cards and the good life.  Guy hasn't worked a day in 25 years.  We'll show you how you can do the same.

You say no one wants to be poor and no one wants a book on how to become so?  Nonsense.  There's a crying need for this.

No job, no education, no problem.  You, too can become a member of the underclass.

No ambition, no energy, no problem.  You can join the ranks of millions of your fellow Americans and hundreds of millions of brethren around the world.

Work, education, ambition and energy are your enemies.  To use a frequent self help cliche, the longest journey begins with the first step.

Then, it's on to more case histories and more analysis.  




Shrapnel

--The above idea now has been rejected by eight legitimate publishers.   They're obviously afraid of the daring new concepts.  But they're not the only game in town.

--You think the "Amos 'n' Andy" show is dead, not so.    It's lighter weight than the original and even includes some white guys, but the 21st century version is on TV every morning.  They call it "The Maury Show."

--Shameless plug.  Using the new Google "Chrome" browser makes a lot of stuff faster, especially on a not-too-gracefully aging computer.  But there are worries that as the company spreads, it's going to become the next Microsoft.

--

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
(C)WJR 2008