Thursday, January 29, 2015

1440 Take Me Out of the Bowl Game

Sunday upcoming is the best travel day of the year. The highways will be empty and all will be quiet.  It also is the best shopping day of the year.  You will have the place to yourself, whatever the place.

Stuporbowl Sunday.

Yes, once again it’s time for Madison Avenue to show the latest stunning commercials about which you’ll remember everything except the name of the advertised product or service.

And it’s time to surround those commercials with the world’s longest hour, all 300 minutes of it.  

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, glorification of the lowest of the low i.q. sports.  A choreographed street brawl with a lot of time- outs.  Big men running around a football field the size of a football field occasionally kicking and throwing a blimp-shaped bladder covered in pigskin but mostly just bashing the daylights -- such as there are of them -- out of each other.

And this year it’s in that great mecca of professional sports, Glendale, Arizona, a tiny city on the verge of bankruptcy and which fires municipal workers and raises taxes so it can attract major sporting events that it subsidizes.  This game is the World Series or World Cup of football.  But, mercifully, it lasts for only that 300 minute hour instead of dragging on for weeks.

Pro Football is different from college football. First, the athletes are better paid. Much better paid.  And not under the table.

With the pros, you can’t bring your own food into the stadium, something that’s tougher to do at college games than it used to be.  

With the pros, injuries are better hidden but more severe.  Young college players are more resilient and recover faster than the creaky oldsters in the NFL.

And by the time a professional gets to the big time, he’s already pre-injured what passes for his brain, his knees and his hips to the point that additional scarring and swelling will settle in and feel right at home.

Superbowling is a fine way to keep undesirables off the street for a Sunday afternoon or evening. And it gives the rest of us a chance to travel at the speed limit.

Shrapnel:

--Glendale’s in big financial trouble.  But here’s an idea: bundle its bonds, get the rating agencies to give the bundles a top rating.  Then soak the suckers who want a piece of the inaction.

--Subprime auto loans are going the same way as the subprime mortgage finagling that caused most of the ‘08 depression.  Bundling. No credit, no problem!

Grapeshot:

-Question for the minimum wage earner who just bought a Lexus: do you think you actually can pay back that $40-thousand loan with an interest rate of 25%?

-Question for the loan sharks: How did you let the credit bundlers outmaneuver you on your own territory?

Personal Stuff: I note with profound sadness the passing of Carlo Greco, guitar builder extraordinaire.  Carlo was a friend of many decades, the creator of a marvelous classical guitar of which I am the proud owner and whose artistry and skill helped establish the original Guild instrument company as a major player.  He was a beloved and respected figure in the world of his craft, a friend to players and wannabe players and one of the great musical instrument artisans of the late 20th and early 21st century.  

CA 2012.Source unknown

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

© WJR 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

1439 You Can't Avoid the Middle Man

Save time, thought and energy! Have your GPS talk directly to Facebook and Twitter. Completely hands off.  You have to do … absolutely nothing.  It’s all automatic.

Here’s a typical Facebook auto- post:

Janie Glotz is at Fabu Fitness Gym, 5:45am.

Followed by

--Janie is in Fabu Fitness Shower, 6:30am.
--Janie is in her 2011 Honda Accord, 7am.
--Janie is at Dunkin’ Donuts 7:10am.

Think of the typing Janie is going to save and still let all her social media followers know her every move.

--Tommy Winters is bar fighting at the Dew Drop Inn, 11:45pm.
--Tommy has been discharged from Hollow Point Memorial Medical Center prison ward, 12 noon Saturday.


Sometimes, this can be embarrassing.

--Ming Kim Park (with Anna Forbush) drove through a red light at Queens Blvd and 40th St., 9:35 pm.

--Ming Kim Park (with Anna Forbush and Patrolman Arnie Frangapani) at curbside, Queens Blvd and 43rd St., 9:36 pm.

Or…

Donald J. Feinstein (with “Brandi”) at the Good Night Hotel (New Rochelle, NY) 10:30 pm.

So, your GPS reports directly to your Facebook page.  Avoids the middleman: you.

But our lives are crowded with middlemen.  That dress or suit you just bought? It went through countless middle stages from cotton or wool to something you can actually wear. The process never happens under just one roof.  The thread, the fabric, the dye, the cutting, the sewing, the finishing are all pass along jobs usually handled by different middlemen.

Same with raw foods, whether meat or vegetable.

The average grocery store runs on a margin of between two and three percent.  Profits to farmers -- even some factory farmers -- range from “negative” to “slim.”  And yet you’re paying a ton of money for a pound of hamburger meat.

The “supply chain” adds cost every step of the way.

Where does the money go?  Who gets how much for what?  Sorry. Trade secrets.

Middlemen could teach the NSA about secrets.  If they report at all, they report with such ferocious obfuscation no ordinary mortal can figure it out.

When H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt get a call to do taxes for All-American-Facilitators, they call a forensic middleman tax preparer.

Your health insurance is the middleman between you and your doctor.

Some government departments are made of nothing BUT middlemen.

And it’s not just about material goods and services.  What do you think clergymen and women are?

Oh, back to those auto-posts on Facebook: Wes Richards is at the Wessays™ Secret Minimountain Laboratory 6am 1/26/15.

Shrapnel:

--Most places didn’t get the huge snowstorm forecast for the beginning of the week. But a lot of moving and shaking went on in preparation.  Consider it a practice drill for when the icecap melts and the eastern seaboard decides to move to Indiana.

--On 60 minutes the other day, they asked McConnell and Boehner who hate Obamacare for their alternative. No answer.  So let’s ask again:  So just what do you propose and when will we see the legislation now that y’all are running Congress.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

1439 Joe Franklin (1926-2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A small man with a huge heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

1437 Tarnished Silver

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

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

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

photo: The Yeshivaworld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrapnel:

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

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

Grapeshot:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1436 The Real State of the Union

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

Let’s do that little chore for him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© WJR 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

1435 Martin and the Oysters

The Martin Luther King holiday is upon us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

1434 Switzerland's Pizza Problem

First some background.  


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


You have to watch the Swiss.


Shrapnel:


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


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


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


Grapeshot:


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


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


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


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