Friday, January 18, 2019

2040 The Ignorance Project

Here’s a chilling news item:  Some colleges, fearing irrelevance and strapped for cash are thinking about eliminating some liberal arts programs.  None of that seems right around the corner because colleges can’t just up and do something.  They have to form exploratory committees for everything from their statement of purpose to the size of the type in their press releases that no one reads.  Exploratory committees. Where ideas go to overcomplicate and die.

Any committee with more than three members is flypaper.

But here’s what’s happening: some colleges and universities want to convert into what amounts to trade schools.  It’s perfectly okay to teach practical stuff.  But when you take away majors like English, History, Art and such, you produce single minded drones who can’t put their “trade” into the kind of context needed for ordinary life on earth.

If you want to learn auto body work, accounting, engineering, etc., there are plenty of good places.  While some are better than others and some are really nothing more than pigs at the funding trough, many are still pretty good.

MIT and Caltech are much more practically oriented than Sandwich State University of Pocatello which doesn’t have even a single course in potato genetics.  But you’ll still leave the big tech schools with at least a smattering of literature, history, economics, sociology and business. Maybe even philosophy.

Smatterings ‘smatter.

There exists a secret society. It is so secret, many of the members don’t know who else is in it. Its job is to dumb us down. It is composed of influential members of the academic, corporate, media, video game and multilevel marketing industries.  It’s an Unthink tank.

Among its founding principles:

--Lies are the new truth.
--Truth is of the moment.  What’s true today may not be true tomorrow.
--Opposites are not opposite.
--Teach George Orwell.

 It’s part of an effort to make each of us so preoccupied with the next month’s rent and tomorrow’s dinner that we don’t do anything else.

It’s not an active conspiracy. It is a bunch of like-minded and well-heeled people working for the same goal at the same time. It’s similar to the humorist Roger Price’s question “What would happen if all the samba dancers in the world threw their hips in the same direction at the same moment?”  Would that throw the world off its axis?

To the schools that want to abandon liberal arts:  Please don’t eliminate majors that stretch the mind and give us context.  Don’t bury our past in a sea of how-to courses.  Instead, continue to support the idea that not every major has to have an immediate marketable result. To feed our families, to pay the rent, we need to know more than how to feed our families and pay the rent.

I’ve called all this turning us all into farm animals.  Now, I’m calling it “The Ignorance Project.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2039 Everyone's Above the Law Except You

One of today’s big questions: Is the President above the law? Can he be formally charged with anything from crossing against the green, to obstruction of justice, collusion to murder?  Nah. Never happen.

But what about the rest of us?  

Well, let’s see… some trumplings have been convicted of stuff. Some have been sentenced.  Some of those sentences will ultimately be served -- at least during the endless string of appeals that surely will follow.  

If you commit murder and they catch you, you’ll likely be convicted.  And you likely will be sentenced in the range between “suspended” to “time served” to death. And again, if it’s a jail or prison term, if you don’t try to escape, don’t assault a guard and do mind your manners, you’ll get early release because

--You’re not a bad person.
--You had a rough childhood.
--You’re turning your life around.
--Jails and prisons are too crowded and private incarceration companies can’t build new facilities fast enough to accommodate demand.
--She was asking for it.
--He deserved what he got when I shot him.

Interesting, the fine point they put on the case when you’re accused of killing someone. Some people get off with probation. Some get a few years.  Some get lots of years.  Some get life.

Some get two or more life sentences.  Odd… no one ever serves the second one.  See that squirrel over there?  That’s really John Wayne Gracy in his second life.  But he never served his second life term.
Take this rifle. You know what to do.  Just don’t violate the squirrel's rights. And make sure you get a translator to read him his Miranda Rights in Squirrelese.

So we go down a list of offenses.  Things like burglary, robbery, arson, carrying more than two joints, having more than three condoms in your handbag while walking up 8th avenue.  Shoplifting.

The lower your crime, the surer you are of cruisin’ up the river.

It’s really tough to convict a murderer, colluder or obstructer of justice.  They get lots of column inches and air time.  They get high priced fear-inducing lawyers.

You snatch some underwear from Victoria’s Secret and if you're 18 years old or older, you’ll do time.  Why? Because the AP won’t carry the story and Alan Dershowitz is unavailable.  You get whichever down on his luck lawyer they can scrape for you out of last night’s drunk tank. Even if he hasn’t bathed this week and his only suit has a rip in the left knee.

Crime doesn’t pay? Sure it does, if it’s bad enough.  Ask any of the men and women protesting their innocence in any lockup in America.

Bottom line:  Do the crime you won’t do the time unless you’re poor, a minority, unrepentant, a kid or have a lawyer with bourbon breath and a rip in his pants.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

2038 Megyn as Metaphor

Megyn Kelly has left the building.  She carries with her a $30 million goodbye offering -- what she would have been paid between now and the end of her contract -- and a promise not to badmouth NBC.  Some people hope her story is a metaphor for a larger and more important and hoped for event, a reversion to form of the American Republican Party.

Kelly was on the low end of Fox’s template.  A little less leg and a little less hysteria than, say, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and the virulent Laura Ingraham.  But she was a Fox soldier through and through. Until all that nasty sexual predator stuff came to light.

Her big boost into the big time was when trump tore into her during a presidential debate.  From there, her future seemed bright and shiny.

NBC evidently thought the same, hired her away and then tried to figure out what to do with her.  What they came up with didn’t work: a weekly talk show and a daily hour of her own on the then-faltering “Today Show.”

The talk show bombed and was canceled.  The ratings in the third hour of Today tanked. And Megyn kept putting her foot into her mouth.  Plus few on the inside beyond the executive suite were willing to help her succeed.  A personality needs the writers, producers, directors, production assistants, technicians, and lighting, sound, makeup and hair people.  There was no support from “the help.”

NBC brass finally decided there was no room at the table for Kelly and ditched her.  Since then, the ratings have risen to what is “normal” for an hour of The Today Show.

What those geniuses at 30 Rock failed to realize was that there’s a big difference between viewers of Fox and their own steady but dull outfit.  

Here’s the hope:

Fox viewer types are running today’s Republican Party.  The present president is a prime example.  A looney toon in a bad suit who rules by fear and chaos.  Neither “quality” is appealing to your run of the mill Republican.  And as the 2018 election showed, the party’s ratings are circling the drain.

What needs to happen is a resurgence of true Republican principles: Smaller government, social programs that work, judges and justices that put law over party, reasonable taxation for all and respect for accomplishment over rhetoric.

It would be good to think that among the viewers of the Republican Party there are more like the NBC than the Fox viewers.  Or is that merely wishful thinking and the GOP really is nothing more than a ‘48 Dodge on blocks in the front yard.

As for Kelly … well, like the public relations people might say, we thank her for her effort and wish her best of luck at her next assignment. (At one of the shopping channels or the host of the Lee PressOn Nails infomercial. Or maybe Copper Chef.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
© WJR 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

2037 Don't Stand Under the Spire

The Chrysler building is for sale. I'll start the bidding at $89.95.

In the opinion of many, it is the most beautiful building of its era and possibly the most beautiful example of art deco architecture anywhere.

But the Chrysler Building is like the dog who wins best of show at the American Kennel Club, promptly dies, gets stuffed and forever sits in the middle of the living room getting in the way of everything and requiring constant repair.

Not that it’s falling apart.  Everything’s more or less up to code. But anything that sits in one spot for nearly 90 years tends to creak a bit.

Walter Chrysler oversaw the building and owned it.  He wanted his kids to inherit it, which they did.  His company’s east coast HQ2 was located there from opening day until 1953.  And the family had two apartments in it, one duplex and the other a quad-plex.

Chrysler didn’t visit his house a lot. Same thing with his estate in Kings Point, Long Island -- now the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  But it was a pet project and personal.  The company didn’t own it. He did.

You walk into that lobby and you’re transported into gloriously over-decorated old times.  Exotic wood walls in the elevators.  Floors, if fallen upon will not break as easily as you would.
Can you imagine being the real estate agent showing prospective buyers around?

“Wait a minute.  This is only the 38th floor. We have a few little highlights to see on the remaining 39 stories! You can take a nap on the 50th.”

For about ten minutes, this was the tallest building in New York. It now is the sixth tallest.  That’s still pretty tall, 77 floors. And it’s 80 percent occupied… lower than the average for an office building in the borough.

Who owns it today?  Hard to say.  All these giant buildings are owned by huge and convoluted partnerships.  An investment bank here, an Asian or Middle East kingdom, the tax collector… it’s hard to figure.  

But apparently all the partners agree, it’s time to sell.

The spire leaks.  The Cloud Club is gone.  The land beneath is owned by Cooper Union and has been since the 1800s.  And now… all this can be yours.

No one’s really talking price yet.  But the building’s most recent sale was for $800 million.  The market has seesawed since then. Was 2008 a good year to buy $1.1 million square feet in midtown? Most likely.

Probably be helpful if you came to view with a preapproved mortgage in hand.  Or cash. Well, maybe not actual suitcases of money. That would make you look less like a real estate mogul and more like a drug lord.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

2036 The Errand Boy

Once again, old is new.  In many places, you can get your groceries delivered or call in your order and pick it up.

In olden times, you could just phone your local grocer (remember those?) and they’d put your order in a big pushcart and deliver it to your door.  The errand boy -- they were all boys -- would bring the stuff upstairs if you lived in an apartment and if that’s what you wanted. They worked for tips.  

As chain supermarkets began to replace the locals, the practice first became an endangered species and then became extinct.  But it’s back. Bigly.

Here are the majors:
--Instacart: They hire personal shoppers who take your list around the market, then deliver your order.  Insta serves mostly small chain stores in regions where many people don’t drive.

--Peapod: It’s a division of Stop & Shop and a pioneer in this resurgent trade. They’re just starting.  For now, no perishables. But you can bet that will change and soon.

--Google Express: again, no perishables.  But you can buy bulk items like cleaning supplies, paper towels, bathroom tissue.

--Walmart: Not quite there yet. But you can order on line and pick up from a reserved parking space right outside the store. They’re trying something like this at their Sam’s Club division, too.

Ms. Zhao, in her 70s, and not a driver doesn’t want “some sloppy kid choosing my tomatoes for me.  That’s what sloppy husbands are for.” Inspired by this, the Wessays(™) undercover research department dispatched observers to three different chain grocers to see how the sloppy kids do their jobs.  Some conclusions:

1.    All the errand boys were girls.
2.    All the errand boys inspected the perishables, one at a time before putting them in their carts.
3.    They checked that eggs weren’t cracked.
4.    They checked that dairy was within sell-by dates.
5.    The made sure fragile stuff -- chips, eggs, bread, etc. were bagged separately.
6.    They wore exam gloves.

“I think of my customers like they were my grandparents,” said Sarah the order picker.  “I love my grandparents and wouldn’t dream of bringing them a cracked egg, a bruised apple or tomato or a dented can,” she said.

Next thing you know, gas stations will start hiring pump jockeys. Office towers will start hiring elevator operators. Footwear stores will hire shoe dogs who know style, fit and which colors clash.
--Have you had enough Kool-Aid yet? If the answer is “no” try the newest flavor, Jamaica Estates Orange. And for a limited time only, each carton comes with a coupon good for a bucket of balls at the trump driving range in Moscow.

--Congratulations to Susan Zirinsky, newly named President of CBS News and the perfect choice for the job.  But while we’re throwing bouquets at “Z,” as she’s often called, let’s not forget Hinda Glasser, technically Cronkite’s secretary but actually the woman behind the throne at CBS News when women behind the throne weren’t acknowledged.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Monday, January 07, 2019

2035 Amazon Invades Queens

Jeff Bezos is frightened. A multibillionaire frightened? More than likely.  Else Amazon would not be out there courting the residents of Long Island City where it plans a “second headquarters” employing 25-thousand people.

Neighborhood opposition has grown geometrically since the plan was announced along with a $1.5 billion tax break from the city and state. Eat your heart out, Welcome Wagon.

Leading indicator of the fright level:  Amazon has taken out ads promising to work and learn and “grow together” with its “new neighbors.”  That sounds like the company believes the opposition is real and has some clout.

A propaganda campaign similar to those of big countries about to annex smaller ones may be the best way to win the hearts and minds of landlords salivating to turn their buildings to coops. But it does little for the tenants.

Various levels of legislators oppose the incursion.  

Wait a minute.  Why would politicians whose only real job is running for the next term want to chase away the prospect of all those jobs, some of them high-paying?  Easy answer: sometimes working for their constituents is unavoidable.  So they do it.  Granted it’s a distraction from their real work, glad handing and making ridiculous promises from the throne rooms of their air castles. But …

Long Island City lies on the east bank of the East River.  It is fabulously crowded.  And it has few conduits for people heading to or from Manhattan on the west bank, the Ed Koch 59th St. Bridge, several clogged highways and tunnels and an already over-strained combination of buses and subways.

It has long been an industrial area, once bustling with factories that baked bread, bottled milk, manufactured electrical and office equipment. It built watches.  It made chewing gum.  It made household cleaning chemicals.  It prints the New York Times and Newsday.

Now, it has a college, a major magnet vocational high school with excellent ratings, a movie and TV studio and countless smaller product and service businesses.  So the glory days of heavy industry are gone and Amazon proposes to bring them back.

Until recently it resisted gentrification. But it’s a happening place, seven minutes from Midtown on those rare days when there’s no trouble on the Seven Train. In adjacent Sunnyside, and in LIC proper, rents already are rising in anticipation of the Amazon conquest.  And they weren’t exactly low cost housing to being with.  Say the same a short distance north in Astoria.

Does the area need a boost?  Yes and no. 

Does it need more cars and trucks on the road, more people in the buses and subways?  Does it need the kind of rent gouging that’s going on in other parts of the city?

So, Jeff, how about figuring out a way to keep your employees off the roads and subways… use those famous drones for same day delivery.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Friday, January 04, 2019

2034 Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

2018 ended with no real surprises.  Nothing out of the ordinary happened.  The government shut down. The wars continued in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. North Korea and Iran remained nuclear threats.  And the revolving door to the White House continued to spin with the leaving of a so-so number of bigwigs, some of them generals.

We’re so used to all this stuff that we barely notice when it happens.  What we would notice is when it doesn’t.  No worries. 

Although the democrats now are the majority party in the House the president still is president, the Senate is still a flock of headless chickens. They may be even more chicken now because the traffic lights on the road they keep trying to cross have been turned off as part of the shutdown.

Impending roadkill.

Oh, about those generals:  Do you think they all left at around the same time so they could hang out at the Officers’ Club to plot the coup? Probably not. We have no one to ride to trump’s defense as Yeltsin in the tank did for Gorbachev.

The “president” has a new enemy in his own party, Mitt Romney, someone unlikely to attract sympathy from practically anyone.  But he has two things going for him:  Romneycare in Massachusetts and a big mouth, but polite.

The worry about Mr. Private Equity Fund is that he’ll run his mouth in speeches, then toe with party line when the votes are counted.  Romney is no McCain, Flake or Corker, but he’ll do for now.

He’s right when it comes to one thing: the presidency is not “just” about policy and appointments.  The president, he said less clearly than necessary, sets the moral tone and the attitude of a country.

At this point a stiff like Mitt is preferable to an amoral pirate more at home on the seas around Somalia than in the White House of a supposedly civilized first world country.

In any case, when you’re at the supermarket, avoid the whole chickens in the cooler if they have tire tread marks, else you might be having Mitch McConnell for dinner.

--China has landed a spaceship on the dark side of the moon.  A friend predicts it will be followed by a McDonald’s franchise.  Others see the construction of steel mills and sewing factories that don’t meet code.

--Apple says sales of iPhones in China have been slowing, leading the company to revise earnings downward and investors to push the stock lower in a market that’s already shaky. The mighty hasn’t exactly fallen, though. Fourth quarter revenue is still going to land in the 80 billion dollar range, between five and ten billion less than most analysts forecast.

--And about those analysts: They’re so often wrong, few pay much attention. They also are the largest breed of worker bees who get to keep their jobs.  Oh, and some get raises for their A-for-effort.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2019

2040 The Ignorance Project

Here’s a chilling news item:  Some colleges, fearing irrelevance and strapped for cash are thinking about eliminating some liberal arts ...