Friday, December 02, 2016

1728 Leave No Question Unanswered



Times have changed.  Little kids used to ask parents why the sky is blue. Many parents didn’t know. They encouraged the kids to look it up.  The kids looked it up. Or didn’t.  But many of them retain the answer to this very day.

Today’s kids ask the same question.  And in moments, they’ll hear something along these lines:

“A clear cloudless day-time sky is blue because molecules in the air scatter blue light from the sun more than they scatter red light.  When we look towards the sun at sunset, we see red and orange colors because the blue light has been scattered out and away from the line of sight.”

One Philip Gibbs wrote that in May of 1997 on the website of the University of California/Riverside.  But 12 year old big brother Hank probably didn’t tell six year old Jimmy, thus consolidating his power as the go to guy for all the answers.

Hank didn’t know the answer either.  But he had his smart phone with him and found the information in mere seconds.

And now we all have the brains and memory we never had before.  Amazing what’s out there… much of it pretty accurate and easy to find.

You can translate anything from any language to any other language and while it comes out in a stiff electron-rich kind of way, without decoration or nuance, it works pretty well.

Some things are harder than others to find.  For example, trying to find out how many retail customers do business with Wells Fargo bank the other day required some research.  Research, of course, means going beyond the first website that comes up. Maybe even as far as a third or (heavens!) fourth.

The answer is around 70 million.  Out of context, that factum is meaningless.  But it could win you a last call drink at the Dew Drop Inn some future early morning.

So bring it on, kids.  Real questions get real answers. The better the formation of the question, the better the answer.

But sometimes, even stupid questions get instantaneous answers.  To experiment, we typed in “How much wood wood a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood?”

In less than a second, there appeared a reasonable answer and a little scolding:


“According to a Cornell publication, the answer is ~700 pounds.”   (The tilde means “approximately.”)  

The answer then went on to compare the chucking ability of a woodchuck to that of a beaver and a groundhog.  And apparently “chuck” in this context means “moving timber.”

Ya learn something new every day.

In any event, there’s no question that begs for an answer.

Grapeshot:
-Some websites are not only for research, they work as Ouija Boards… as happened when I put in the song title “When Will I Be Loved?” and the answer came back “Never… you don’t deserve it… and don’t ask questions in the passive voice.”

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

© WJR 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1727 The Amwayfying of Education



It’s a good thing the US Secretary of Education has no influence, no clout and no real function.  Thanks to Jimmy Carter for making this a cabinet position, elevating the job to one where it usually can do no harm.

Show of hands, now.  Who was the first person with this job?  Anybody?  Ah, yes. That girl, the one in the back of the room… Shirley Hufstedler is correct.  Funny no one remembers her.

She was followed in office by Terrell Bell of Idaho. That was a mistake. Bell spent actual time teaching. Can’t have that!  Later, such luminaries as Bill “Casinos of Virtue” Bennett served. Living proof that Harvard doesn’t check references.

Now, we have Mrs. Amway, Betsy DeVos, whose brother founded another center of virtue, Blackwater, and whose husband is heir to half the Amway fortune, a pot of gold based on come-ons, unkept promises, and what we now must call “multi-level marketing” because it is no longer politically correct to call it a pyramid scheme. And under pressure from state attorneys general, the company fine tuned its business practices to conform to the letter of the law. Oh, and Amway paid fines of $150 million. No quid pro quo here, people.

Ah, but Sweet Betsy from Ada (MI) is not going to go from classroom to classroom pitching the attributes of Amway LOC cleaner.  Nor is she going to recruit novices to build private schools with parents earning commission for each new student they recruit or new school they open in turn.

What she’s likely try, though, is privatize public schools.  

Remember, the war against public education, like the war on abortion choice, is fought from many angles, the main one being adding restrictions and roadblocks wherever possible.

With abortion clinics, it’s passing stupid laws designed to force closure.  With education, it’s building charter schools which drain money from public district budgets and ultimately could force them to collapse. (Michigan’s charter schools are among the least effective in the country, so Betz has a working model without ever having to leave home.)

Good public school teachers are not overpaid.  When they succeed it’s despite federal (and state) intervention not because of it.

Common Core, Outcome-based education, open classrooms, closed classrooms, new math, and all the other fads have brought us absolutely nowhere.  But assuming confirmation, Mrs. Amway will likely try harder and more effectively to take public schools and put up a parking lot.

Today’s Quote:
“When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all.” -- Paul Simon (“Kodachrome.”)

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016

1726 On the Subway

Your reporter first started riding the New York City Subways at the age of four or five.  There was no fare if you could pass under the turnstile without duck-walking.  


There is a website, https://www.quora.com/ where readers pose questions and other readers respond. A recent question was “What is the craziest thing you ever saw on a New York Subway?”

My reply:
Until I retired, I was a regular NYC subway rider for more than 60 years, steady for more than 40 of them so I hardly know where to begin.
There was the conductor on the E train who had married two ex-nuns in succession. (The first one passed away.)

The coke machine that returned $20 in dimes and a coke in return for two nickels. There was the cop who helped me after I fell on a platform chasing and missing a train, cutting myself badly, bleeding profusely from a head wound. He asked me if I knew where I was. I did. And I asked him to take out his ticket book. Why? “Because, officer, I’m going to light up right in front of that no smoking sign.” He asked me if I had a spare while his partner called the Emergency Medical Service.

There were...
“Homeless” panhandlers who had a better apartment than I. Kids selling M&Ms to support their fake basketball team or their fake anti-drug programs. A guy who imitated Al Jolson and credibly. My boss, a billionaire and the city’s mayor hugging a pole so a pregnant woman could have his seat. The guy with a boom box playing the overture from “Carmen,” The straw covered seats on what’s now called the “7 Train” that would puncture your pants and scratch you. The rats that laughed when the Transit Authority put up signs that warned against going on the tracks because they’d just spread rat poison.

Man, I loved every minute of it. Glorious entertainment at the price of a nickel, then a dime, then a token and then a not ready for prime time MetroCard.
But there was far more than that.

The emergency light bulbs with reverse threads so you couldn’t use them at home if you stole them… the ads for Dr. Zizmor the acne-battling dermatologist and Dr. MD Tusch who catered to gay men with backside problems. The loudspeaker announcements made in no known language but when you heard them, you knew you were going to be late.

In later years there were street musicians many of whom were better than anything you could buy in a record store:

An Asian guy who played some kind of bowed string instrument and could do more with four notes than the violin section of the New York Philharmonic… a lovely red-haired soprano with a name you either never knew or easily forgot, but a voice you couldn’t… Doowop quartets and quintets that sang circles around The Penguins and The Coasters and The Moonglows… a security guard turned classical guitarist who sounded like a young Segovia.

All this happening as rush hour filled platforms with herds of home bound riders who knew exactly where to stand on the platform to line up with a door when the train stopped.  At least most of the time.

For a time, some of the cars were rolling art museums. Graffiti, yes.  But but graffiti that stunned with form and color.

Full trains that pulled in, opened up and no one got off except the 85 year old guy who was nowhere near a door and carried four full shopping bags.  And no room to squeeze in, but we did anyway.

Somehow we always got home. Maybe a little late. Maybe a lot late. But we made it.

Some call the New York subway a mess. I call it a near-miracle.

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

© WJR 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

1725 Black Friday

1725 Black Friday

Today is “Black Friday,” the day when those merchants who are going to show a profit this year will start to fill in the ledgers with black ink instead of red.

Of course, who keeps ledgers these days when you have spreadsheet programs that allow you to manipulate data, slice and cube it, puree and bake or broil it into meaninglessness?

But I digress.  Let’s look at Black Friday and the way merchants merch.

First three of the big failures- in- waiting:

  1. Macy’s. They coupon themselves to death based on a secret formula about to be disclosed.
  2. Kohl’s.  They’ve mastered the Macy’s formula and turned it into high art.
  3. Sears.  Gimme a break.

Here’s the Macy system:  buy lots of stuff wholesale. Figure out how much you’ve spent on everything combined and how much of an overall profit you think you should make.  Forget MSRPs and hold sales, boosting the prices of some stuff while you sell the rest at cost or less.

Yes, at Macy’s and Kohl’s the price you pay for an item often has little or nothing to do with the store’s cost.

Sears?  Why are they still in business?  Terrific TV ads.  And every aisle in the store is a passing lane with no speed limit and no one to pass.  Once they were the country’s biggest retailer.  But the combination of e-commerce, Wal-mart and no clear vision of what they are -- or aren’t -- have choked them.

They’d do better to rent their buildings for use as rehearsal halls for dance troops and military march training.  Maybe with a bowling alley or an indoor golf course.

But if they want to survive, it’s not Wal or Macy’s who are the real competitors. The real competitors are Home Despot, Lowe’s, Ace and Tru-value.  And unless they learn that, they can’t be around much longer. To make matters worse, their K-Mart component is maybe one and a half steps above the Goodwill store.

The true beneficiaries of this kind of merchandising are the Marshall’s/TJMaxx kinds of stores. They get the pick of what the big name customers didn’t buy and sell it for a song.

People in droves are staying away from malls. Who can blame them?  

Let’s say ten flying saucers from Mars land in ten different shopping centers and communicate thus:  Lead Saucer: Let’s meet at the Gap.  So far I’m the only one here.
Saucer 3: I’m at the Gap and don’t see you.
Saucer 4: Me too.
Saucer 9: I don’t know where you guys are, but I’m the only Martian in front of the Gap.

They’ve all landed in different states with malls you can’t tell apart if you’re an earthling looking for a pair of sneakers let alone a Martin visitor.

Yes, yes… the gigunda versions like Mall of America and King of Prussia are sort of exceptions.  But you can’t tell the difference between Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island and the Sovereign Nation Mall in Butte, Montana.

Each has a Macy’s a Penney’s a Sears and maybe a Nordstrom or a Bloomingdales. Each has a Sunglass Hut, a GNC, a Gap, an Old Navy, four or more competing cell phone kiosks, a generic athletic shoe store and a food court with a pizza counter, a burger counter, a Subway or Blimpie, a Thai place, a Chinese place and a pretzel stand.

So why go? To see and be seen. But not to buy.

The traditional stores are moving to online business just as newspapers are moving to on line publication and with the same dancing- in- the- dark bungling.  

Meantime, Amazon, Zappos, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, Lands’ (sic) End, Stauer, Harry & David, Omaha Steaks and the TV shopping channels are eating brick and mortar for lunch and without choking, breaking a sweat or a tooth.

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

© WJR 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

1724 He Who Shall Not Be Named


This is not about Lord Whatsis in Harry Potter and it’s not about the Hasidim who insist on spelling “God” with two letters separated by a hyphen.  This is about the President Elect of the United States.

Some background:  While narrating and producing a nationally broadcast radio show, your correspondent decided to see how long he could go without saying “President Bush” or any variation of the name.

It started during the runup to the vote.  So far, so good. No mentions. Zero!  Nada. None. Zip. Zed. Naught.

Then the Supreme Court elected him president. By five votes.  The smallest margin in the country’s history.  Okay, let’s see how long we can continue this game without the bosses noticing and stopping it.

We did stories about “the President,” the “incoming administration,” the “White House,” the “Commander-in-Chief.”  Every substitute that was possible.  After all, the president generates a lot of news… so there were a lot of stories.

It’s time to haul out all those phrases and dust them off.  Time to write about the President-elect, and after the inauguration about the President.  And let’s see how long we can sustain making a non person out of the guy’s name. Just for the fun of it.

“Donald Trump.”  With any luck that’s the last time you’ll see the actual name in these posts.  Why? Just because it’s possible to tell the stories without using his name.

What does that accomplish?  Nothing.  Doesn’t even satisfy my inner sophomore.  But these days small amusements count because there will be so many reasons to not have them.

So move over President B*sh, Lord Whatsis and the actual Lord, you’ve got company in President Elect Tru… oops. Almost wrote it.

Gotta practice practice practice.

Today’s Quote:
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t.” -- The guy who called Mrs. Clinton “Crooked Hillary” for a solid year during his campaign for election which he won on a technicality.

Shrapnel:
--The President Elect met with big shots from TV news the other day in order to chew them out for not kissing his orange behind during the election.  His people called the session “cordial.” The New York Post called it something close to a beheading.

--Happy Thanksgiving, a real American holiday.  We can overeat, overdrink and fall asleep in an easy chair as uncle Ned tells his WWII stories for the 13,456th time. And we can promise ourselves that next year it’s going to be at YOUR house.

--A reminder, WestraDamus 2017 is under construction. It’s scheduled for posting here and on the website sometime toward the end of the month. If you have anything you think worthy of the non prophet’s attention, don’t hesitate to drop him a note.

Grapeshot:
-Here’s one way to grow the economy: mandate three point seatbelts for every passenger on every school bus… a move that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and save countless lives.

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

© WJR 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

1723 Liar Liar Pence on Fire

1723 Liar Liar Pence on Fire

These three guys have one thing in common.  They’re Funny.  But only one does it on purpose.  On the left, there’s Leslie Nielsen who started as a movie bad guy and then turned out comedy hit after comedy hit.

On the right is former governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.  His four years in office were a running joke.

And in the center ring is Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and the biggest joke of all.  Oh.  And you elected him vice president.

Well, wait a minute. Maybe you didn’t because more people voted against than for him.  But the people you elected to take the vote that will elect him will elect him in your name.

Anti abortion, anti birth control, anti- gay marriage.  He’s the guy who made sure businesses in Indiana could discriminate against gays.  He blabs a lot about being “Christian,” but WWJS?  He was one of the first in the door for the tea party where he now plays the Mad Hatter.  He’s in the bag for the Koch brothers. And as we found out the other day, he’s an avid theater goer where the audience booed him and the cast cast aspersions.

Not worried?  You say we’ve had a lot of comedic vice presidents?  Well you’re right about that.  Think about some of our recent veeps.  Internet inventor Al Gore. Nattering Nabob Spiro Agnew. Art lover Nelson Rockefeller. Mr. Potatoe head Dan Quayle.  George HW Read-My-Lips Bush. Richard Checkers Nixon. Dove of Peace Lyndon Johnson. Joe (Stand Up, Chuck and let everybody see you) Biden. Dick (If I only had a heart) Cheney.

And if you want to go a little further back, Schuyler Colfax also of Indiana doesn’t get nearly the credit he should for great standup.

Who remembers anything Leslie Nielsen said after “doing nothing is very hard to do. You never know when you’re finished.”

And who remembers anything Tom Corbett said about anything?

And yet white hair power lives.  It’s not as funny as orange hair.  It’s a lot more common. But still…

What’s truly funny about Mike Pence is that he’s the guy the republican establishment wants as president. If Trump had lost the election -- the real election -- both he and Pence would be a footnote.

But Trump will likely be a one-term president.  And then, like Hillary Clinton, it will be Pence’s turn.  Why do the old-school Republicans like him?  Because he can be bought.  And Amazon.com probably will run a special.  (Your one-click order has been placed.)

Jefferson Davis is laughing in his grave.

Today’s Quote:
“Chris Christie is a very talented man.” -- Donald Trump, 11/20/16.  Translation: So long, Chris, there’s no room at the inn.



Grapeshot:
-Remembering Milt Okun who brought us acts like John Denver, Peter Paul and Mary and countless others and who died this weekend at age 92.

-Your tax dollars at work: Each November, New York City revises its budget and this year an overall increase of more than $1 billion includes more than $6 million for outside lawyers to work on the various play for pay investigations swaddling Mayor de Blastoff and his cronies.

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

© WJR 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

1722 Martian Aliens Invade Earth

All of a sudden, everyone’s worried about “fake news.”  The real media are overwhelmed with stories about how people are being misled.   This is new? Pishposh!
Fake news has been a coin of the realm since Orson Welles landed his flying saucers in New Jersey, one of which deposited the guy we’ve been calling Chris Christie among others. (He was the big Green Man who said “take us to your leader.”)

Who would believe such drivel?  And where does it come from?  Troublemakers on social media. What’s Facebook’s responsibility in sorting out the truth? Should fake news be banned?  By whom?  By what standard?

And what is the responsibility of the real media here?

No one believed Confidential Magazine.  Few believe the National Enquirer -- even when it’s right. The answer: many.  

Who believes Blightbot? Who believes the Daily Beast, the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report? The answer: many.

Harry Hapless, 12- year old executive editor of the East Acne Morning Crawl and News Director of radio KFOL scans the internet each noontime, looking toward tonight’s lead story and tomorrow morning’s front page.

This headline jumps out from the Our Times.us website:  COMEY DEATH RULED A SUICIDE.

Comey maybe would have done us all a favor by duct taping his two typing fingers, but he (a) didn’t take his own life and (b) isn’t dead.

This is followed by “COMEY SUICIDE STAGED? POLICE SUSPECT MURDER.”

Which is followed by “COMEY MURDER ORDERED BY CLINTON DEATH SQUAD.”

Fortunately, most fake news is relegated to the slag heap we call politics.  But what if it weren’t.

From “Insider News:” A council of highly regarded fortune tellers and ghost hunters has determined that the earth is flat.  

The story trends #1 on Facebook and Twitter.  Everyone knows this story is circulating.  But the East Acne Morning Crawl and KFOL decide to be fair and balanced.  Their headline: “Shape of the earth in Doubt.”

Real newsies would immediately fact check, obtain and display satellite imagery showing the earth is round. But the proof wouldn’t convince the listeners of KFOL.

If Modern Grocer reported that Tyson recalled x-thousand chickens because their diet of peanuts was a threat to thousands of people with peanut allergies, you can bet everyone would be checking with regulators and the company.

We’d soon know the truth.

Politics is one of the few industries not subject to that kind of scrutiny.

So if Congress Critter Jones tells the Morning Crawl she gets no money from the NRA, it can write a story about how she supports gun control, right? Wait up.  Maybe she gets no money from the gun lobby because she’s a long time supporter and doesn’t need the customary bribe.

Politics is exempt from reality.

Some people wonder why we vote for such candidates and why better people don’t step forward.

A US Senator from New York, retired by the voters some time back, says he doesn’t want the pay cut. Others are more interested in doing something that isn’t akin to swimming through Vaseline with his mouth open.

So the pond scum that goes onto the public dole by winning office joins or helps further create the alternative reality in which these people live.

Bottom line:  there are reliable sources and those that aren’t.  The reliable ones are likely to be something you know of.  They have reporters writing stories, editors editing them and when they screw up -- and they all do -- they run corrections… or broadcast them.

So as a public service here are some reliable sources, news outlets that are generally truthful and unlikely to try to put one over on you:

Newspapers, Magazines and Agencies:
--The New York Times
--The Washington Post
--The Wall Street Journal (except the editorial page)
--USA Today
--The New York Daily News
--The Los Angeles Times
--The Boston Globe
--The Associated Press
--Reuters
--AFP in English (France)
--DPA in English (Germany)
--Canadian Press
--Time
--Fortune
--The Week
--Business Week
--The New Yorker
Broadcasters and Websites:
CNN
CBS
ABC
NBC
BBC (UK)
Bloomberg
Fox (radio only)
CBC (Canada)

Why wasn’t “my favorite source” listed?  I’m waiting to hear from readers of The Economist, the Daily Beast, the Huffpost, Yahoo News, Google News, The Christian Science Monitor, UPI, The Washington Times, the Weekly Standard and Buzzfeed.

The quick answer is they are either unreliable or have an ax to grind and aren’t up front about it.

This is not meant as a comprehensive or all inclusive list.  But these are the kinds of outlets that are least likely to lead you astray.

Perhaps you have a good local TV station or newspaper you know to be reliable.  That’s less and less likely these days.  So beware.

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