Thursday, December 29, 2005

Twerpolium, The Wonder Element

(advance for Saturday, December 31, 2005)

An explanation of why we sometimes act the way we do.

Do you remember chemistry class and the table of the elements? Oxygen, Nitrogen and so on?

Well, we at the Secret Seaside Laboratory have discovered a new one, and it’s not one of those fancy elements you have to make with huge atomic reactors and subfreezing potions shot with neutrons from outer space.

This is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless, tasteless (especially tasteless) gas called Twerpolium, chemical symbol TP.

We don’t have the entire genome down pat yet. Nor do we know how it appears in the atmosphere, at what intervals and in what amount. But we DO know how it affects those who breathe it.

It’s ever present in some quantity. And it affects various people in various ways, according to our 30 odd years of research.

Inhale it and you acquire the quirks of a twerp.

Inhalation can turn an ordinary human being into an instant twerp without warning, and it often does.

And some people overdose easily. Perhaps, scientists speculate, this is because some people are more susceptible to its “charms” than others, they may have an inherent tendency toward twerpism.

Some people are put into a constant state of twerpitude, suggesting that the effects of TP linger in the body and are not expelled or exhaled completely with each breath.

Hence, when your friends start acting like twerps, figure it’s probably because they’ve had a little too much of this element – which, we find, is water soluble without losing most of its strength or concentration.

When politicians do strange things, make strange statements, make lame excuses, remember that TW exists in higher concentration around government buildings.

Our research has developed no hypothesis about why this is. But it can be measured with a Twerpolium Content Detector or CDT.

CDT readings in Washington DC, Trenton NJ and right here in Moote Pointe, NY are all generally higher than average.

The same is true of many centers of higher learning and corporate activities. Yellow Springs OH, Cambridge MA and Berkeley CA are all higher than average.

And the entire state of Delaware has a concentration beyond the scale on the most up-to-date CDTs, apparently matched by the air over lower Manhattan, though it’s hard to tell which is higher.

There’s no known antidote, yet.

Fortunately, it’s not usually fatal, and generally the effects eventually wear down if not off.

So when friends and colleagues start acting like twerps, try to remember it’s probably not genetic or intentional. It’s probably from a high concentration of Twerpolium.

(Editor’s Note: the original working name for this element, when first discovered in the mid 1970s was “assholeum,” but that’s soooo gauche we changed it for today’s blog. Call it what you will.)


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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Retrodictions (con’t) And Some Short Takes

Well, now that we have the politics of the year gone by adequately recorded, how about the rest of the world that fascinates us, the world of celebrities.

Here are the retrodictions for 2005, and please remember these are “predictions” of the year gone by and meant to be wrong.

J-Lo, Brad Pitt, Jennifer Anniston, Angela Jolie, Jessica Simpson, various Hiltons, Alla of “The Apprentice,” Jude Law, Lindsay Lohan and the entire cast of “Desperate Housewives” all faded into oblivion. We will fade into oblivion and we’ll hear nothing or about or from any of them.

“The Star” will publish a photo of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor together, proving they really ARE two different people.

Ratings for the three network evening newscasts will skyrocket, assuring Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings additional multi million dollar, multi- year contracts.

The Crew of “60 Minutes” will move wholesale into a nursing home, but continue to broadcast each week.

WestraDamus wishes you a happy new year. And you can verify all the statements here, easily and to your heart’s content.

SHORT TAKES: Items to small for a whole day’s blog.

--The NYC transit strike is said to have cost about one billion dollars in lost business. This does not include the overdue fines at Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and the New York Public Library. Best scam of the strike? The guy on Broadway at 97th who charged motorists with three people and who needed four to pass the HOV checkpoint five bucks, got out at 95th street, walked back and kept repeating the whole routine. He performed a valuable service. Like the Godfather, only cheaper.

--We have a channel for watching trials. We have a channel for watching home repairs. We have a channel for watching surgery, we have a channel for watching geegaws. We should have a channel for watching industrial construction and manufacturing. Wouldn’t you like to see how they put up a skyscraper? Like the Bloomberg Building on New York’s Lexington Avenue? The one where they had to pour the foundation twice because they put it in backward the first time? (You can’t make this stuff up!) Wouldn’t you like to see the Chevrolet in pieces BEFORE its put together instead of buying it, driving it and THEN seeing the pieces? And there can be an offshoot, Industrychannel II – where they demolish buildings, bridges and cars.

--Does this happen to you? No one calls for days and then ten people try to reach you at the same moment?

--A log of a phone call when trying to return a computerized speed reading program:

Customer Service Rep: Why do you want to return it?

Customer: It’s filled with religious propaganda.

CSR: How so?

C: The reading test is about Jesus.

CSR: Are you an atheist?

C: Yes.

CSR: Okay, here’s your authorization number.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Annual WestraDamus Rite 2005 Part II


First, some background:

For the last ten or eleven years, posing as “WestraDamus,” your blogger has been predicting the past.

What?

Yes, predicting the past and largely getting it wrong.

The whole idea started with astrologers’ predictions for the year ahead. They appeared in papers like the “National Enquirer” at the time its reporters specialized in stories about two headed aliens born to celebrities and miracle weight loss pills.

Did anyone ever check on which of these came true? Yes, but the results never were published because they were always wrong. It didn’t matter.

Hence, came the idea of “Retrodicting” the past and getting it largely wrong. Saves time and effort. Chances are, you KNOW it’s wrong to begin with. No research needed.

In past years, these retrodictions appeared on the website westradamus.com. While the site lives on, it has become cumbersome to handle and therefore, this year’s material is made available here.

The Retrodictions:

The year 2005 will see many important developments in war, politics, science and social events. New personalities will emerge and lead America and the rest of the world in new directions.

Perhaps the most important of these is the establishment of democracy in Iraq. The administration in Washington will succeed in bringing true American style government to this war-torn former dictatorship. The feuding factions will unite behind the idea that it is better to work together than it is to bomb each other.

Upon the establishment of peace, General Motors, Ford and at least two other auto companies will build factories in the country and start building Middle-East branded versions of their US and Japanese counterparts. The Chevy Ali, The Ford Farsi and the Toyota Ayatollah will sell well. But all will not be harmony. The German built Shalom-Mobile will fail.

Because Iraq will become America’s number one Arabic-speaking ally in the middle east, the price of gasoline in the U.S. will fall to under 70 cents a gallon.

The President, having triumphed over the nay-sayers and “nervous Nellies” will resign to give Dick Cheney a chance to show his stuff.

Cheney will immediately propose legislation to move the Capitol to Wyoming, to be built by Haliburton, start a military action against Chechnya, and work toward statehood for China.

He will pardon Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay for his evil doings in the Enron scandal, but will reject a pardon request from WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers.

Federal aid for education will be withdrawn from states whose science curricula do not include “intelligent design.”

Eight of the ten commandments will be uniformly inscribed on stone tablets and supplied to every federal courthouse. The two commandments NOT engraved will be the one about not stealing and the one about bearing false witness.

This will be seen as the administration’s willingness to compromise on issues that affect all Americans.

So much for the national and international retrodictions. Wednesday, we will address the personalities of the past year.


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

©wjr 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Paper Clips

(Advance for Saturday 12/24/05)

When was the most recent time you went out and actually BOUGHT a box of paper clips?

Gotcha!

You CAN’T remember.

But you have one, maybe more than one. It’s on your desk or in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere in the house and the office.

So, how did they get there? Maybe you inherited them from a poor uncle (everyone talks about RICH uncles. How about the poor ones; the middle class ones?)

Maybe they just appeared. Poof!

The conclusion: there’s a finite number of paper clips in the world, and they just keep circulating. It’s a non-renewable resource, but one that’s not likely to be exhausted, like, say, oil, Brazilian rosewood, or Buicks.

You get a bunch of papers in the mail, and they’re clipped. You save the clip. Use it again when you need one. You send it to someone else who sends it to someone else. Eventually, one or more come back to you and it’s not because of your magnetic personality, either.

The physicist Stephen Hawking has not responded to inquiries about a “big bang” theory of paper clippature. He’s a bit busy these days, and slow to answer his e-mail. But there’s word in the scientific community that he will soon deliver a paper on the anti-magnetic properties of black holes in space and may postulate that that’s where the clips come from.

There are factories that make them, you say. Oh yeah? Have you ever seen one?

“Invention” of this marvel is generally credited to a Norwegian working in Germany in 1890, Johann Vaaler. It is said he needed a device to pin together the extra vowels and consonants in his name, the extra “a” kept floating away and the extra “n” kept falling off. But is this true? Perhaps, nominally. But what was his inspiration, really? Perhaps it was the intervention of a higher spiritual being.

(There’s also speculation that the American William Middlebrook was the inventor, and he too had extra letters in his name, i.e. “l”, “d” and possibly “o.”)

Thus, the “Intelligent Design” theory of paper clippage.

Some theologians and their followers assert that this marvel of technology had to be thought up by an outside intelligence, that it is too ingenious for the human mind to accomplish on its own. (What they are really saying, of course, is that it is too ingenious for THEIR minds to grasp.)

They insist that their notion of the origin of paper clips be taught in science classes, along side the big bang and “ever circulating” theories. This would require the re-writing of every science text book at huge costs to already financially pressed school districts.

So, in the end, this battle is about money, not science or even theology.

All of us at the secret seaside laboratory would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas. But we won’t.

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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Reality TV

Forget about “Survivor.” Ignore “The Apprentice,” “The Biggest Loser,” “The Jerry Springer Show” and “Maury.”

REAL reality TV is on the shopping channels.

Forget about CNN, Fox News MSNBC, The Evening News, The Nightly News and World News Tonight.

Forget about “The Early Show,” “Today” and “Good Morning America.”

The REAL America is on the shopping channels.

Few to no talking hairdos, no pompous fools spouting baloney faster than any deli slicer.

What they have is REAL AMERICANS and a certified Mount St. Helen of realspout.

Look at the people and look at what they do. They are mostly ordinary looking men and women who can maintain an ad lib about a pen or a ring or a watch for a full hour and never run out of things to say.

This is live, folks. There’s no editing, no going back over mistakes, no real script.

Think of the energy levels of these “hosts.” Think of the enthusiasm. Think about taking an ordinary object, something you’d get in a store, and talking about it for a solid hour at a time with no commercial breaks or field reports and only a smattering of viewer phone calls.

This is amazing stamina. This is a performance that polished professionals should and do envy.

And, unlike “Survivor” or the Nightly News, you CAN try this at home.

In fact, why don’t you.

Pick an ordinary object and make some notes. Say a Bic pen.

Make some notes. Assign it a catalogue number. Set a price, invent a phone number. Then, place it on the table in front of you. Sit at the table and imagine a TV camera is focused on you.

Here are some of the props you will want: a shirt, a purse, a briefcase, a pair of pants and several kinds of paper.

Now, start pointing out the features of the pen: it has a cap. The cap fits tightly (it won’t come off unless you want it to, but comes off relatively easily when you DO want it to.)

It has a point (available in “fine” and “medium” to “customize” your handwriting.)

It writes on (virtually) any kind of paper (demonstrate.)

You can write letters (demonstrate) or shopping lists (demonstrate,) take down the phone number of Andy’s Shopping Service (Call 1800 SHOP ASS.)

It fits in your shirt pocket and grips tight (demonstrate.) It fits in your purse or briefcase (demonstrate.) Its rounded ends will not poke through the pocket of your slacks (demonstrate.)

Give the catalogue number and the phone number. Tell them they won’t be able to get these pens at this introductory price after this hour at Andy’s Shopping Service.

(Repeat as needed, preferably using different words.)

You think this is easy? It’s not.

Further, it is showing America at its most optimistic and enthusiastic. And it keeps the wheels of the economy whirling at an Indy-500 pace.


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

©wjr 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Phone Calls

It’s one’s patriotic duty to serve, especially when called upon directly by the President of the United States.

So it was, that the letter arrived with that awe-inspiring and scary return address, “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC 20500.”

A request to help the already overburdened National Security Agency (formerly known as No Such Agency) monitor domestic phone calls.

And with it, a little computer plug-in to make more traditional and cumbersome “monitoring” easy.

So, in goes the plug-in, and up comes a list of phone numbers. And here’s what the No Suchers were able to find out about terrorist activity here in Moote Pointe, NY.

Call #1: Male, received from female late on a Friday morning. Woman requests man “pick up a quart of milk and loaf of whole wheat bread” from Dairy Barn Drive-through on his way home from work.

Analysis: The caller, requesting whole wheat bread is obviously a health food nut and probable left wing radical. REAL Americans eat WHITE bread. Keep an eye on this seemingly innocent request.

Call#2: Same male, calls same female about one hour later. Says he can’t pick up groceries because he has to be at religious services to usher and will be home late.

Analysis: This guy is going to a religious service on a Friday? REAL Americans go to church on SUNDAY. The subject is either (a) lying or (b) Jewish or Muslim, and therefore a suspected radical. In person surveillance may be warranted.

Call #3: Male calls male on a Saturday morning. Caller says he has to stay home and “wait for the plumber,” asks call-ee to pick up his “son” for a “Little League game.” Call-ee agrees.

Analysis: both these guys are worth watching. Waiting for a plumber? Isn’t “plumber” someone who fixes leaks in information systems? What information system might the guy be calling about. Is the “son” REALLY a SON? And are there Little League games at this time of year?

Call #4: Male calls male on a Saturday night, near midnight. Call is in an unknown language, peppered with occasional English words. Extreme noise on one end of the call, sounds like a large crowd of people, also in an unknown language. English words heard: plastic, fuse, George Washington Bridge, and “…(garbled) is great.”

Analysis: Sounds like a party. The caller may need extra utensils (plastic,) may be having trouble with his electrical service (fuse) gives directions to call-ee (George Washington Bridge) and “is great” probably applies to the great time to be had at the party. Ignore this one.

Call #5, Female to female on a Sunday morning: Caller asks call-ee if she wants to go holiday shopping while the men are home to watch the kids. Call-ee agrees to meet caller at local mall.

Analysis: What do REAL AMERICANS do on a Sunday morning? (See analysis of Call #2.) These women may be part of the new breed of woman terrorists who have emerged since the liberation of Afghanistan.

These calls – with the names and numbers filled in, have been sent to the President with a note on how fulfilling it is to perform one’s patriotic duty.


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

©wjr 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chutzparama

advance for Saturday 12/17/05

We used to define chutzpa with this example: A boy kills his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

Now, comes Kenneth Lay, Kenny Boy to his pal the President, and he ups the ante.

The orphan in the fictional murder case had nothing on the disgraced corporate dealmaker.

Kenny Boy is throwing himself on the mercy of… his former employees and the public.

He’s on the banquet circuit, telling all who will listen that he’s a victim of overzealous prosecution.

His wife has gone on TV to cry poverty and wring her hands about possible bankruptcy.

But Mother Jones Magazine reports the Lays hid assets in insured annuities that will pay them about $900,000 a year and the creditors can’t touch it.

You gotta feel for this guy.

The White House has probably stopped taking his phone calls. The former employees with poached nest eggs probably would lynch him if they thought the could get away with it.

Kenny Boy is following the playbook developed by other disgraced Bushies, including the President himself.

The war in Iraq? Worth it, says the President. He keeps pounding that idiotic message figuring the Goebels technique was good enough for Kindly Old Uncle Adolf, and it should be good for the rest of us.

Political money laundering? Tom DeLay says he’s the victim of overzealous prosecution.

Leaking the identity of a CIA undercover agent? Karl Rove (“Turd Blossom,” the President calls him, appropriately,) says he did no such thing.

This is the time of year we expect to hear appeals for help from people who need stuff. Not enough food, can’t pay the rent, battered and abused, too sick to work, that kind of things.

There are volunteer Santas or Salvation Army bell-ringers on every corner. The newspapers are filled with the needs of the neediest.

Victims of AIDS, or discrimination or other horrors are telling us of their plights in person, by mail, by telephone, in advertisements and billboards.

There is enough poverty and misery and illness and abuse to go around. And around. And around. But this is America. There’s always room for more.

So let’s lump Kenny Boy, Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby, Turd Blossom and that whole sorry lot into the same stewpot as the guy down the street who can’t afford his heating bill or the guy with the cup of coins on the subway.

If there isn’t a Kenny Boy Legal Defense Fund, there ought to be. After all, he can’t touch those annuity payouts for another year or so.

Actually, if he’s convicted of the various schemes and bilkings and shell game trading for which he’ll eventually go to trial, he won’t need the money. He’ll have room and board, a steady job and lifetime security there in the Texas lockup.

Maybe he and Bernie Ebbers can start a craft circle. Maybe the President can display their wicker baskets and such at one of his “We’re Bringing Freedom To Iraq” cheering sessions.


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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Exclusive Clubs

We used to be “users” or “buyers.” Then we became “customers.” After that it was “consumers,” and now, “members.”

Users and Buyers were okay. Customer was okay. Consumer was almost okay.

It’s hard to “consume” an insurance policy or an automobile, though you can eat one and set fire to either.

But most of the time consumers was alright.

But member?

Members belong to clubs and associations and societies.

Then, one of the Charge Card companies (American Express?) started calling users of its services “members.”

It caught on. Soon, all cards got rid of all their users, buyers, customers and consumers, and we all became “card members” or “card-members” or “cardmembers.”

Now, come the stores. We have “wholesale clubs” like “B.J.’s” (where did they get THAT name?) and Costco and Sam’s Club.

And the TV shopping channels are playing right along. You can be a “member” of QVC, simply by asking. Probably HSN and ShopNBC, too.

And there are benefits, galore, the first (and most important) being you get much more advertising than you used to. Mailings, e-mail, even phone solicitation in an opt-out era. (Yes, it’s legal if you initiate business with them.

Another benefit? At the shopping clubs – the concrete ones – you get to buy large size items which often expire before you can use half of whatever it is, unless you’re running a summer camp, a daycare center (which has members, too) or a family with two dozen kids.

Big saving, that one.

At some branches the “clubs” will sell you gasoline at a couple of cents off the average neighborhood price. For this privilege, you pay between 40 and 70 dollars a year.

Another big saving.

The TV shopping services will ask you for your membership number and up will pop your name, address, e-mail and credit card number.

How convenient. Makes it easy to load up on those ab toners, Cubic Zirconium rings, and that wonderful wristwatch with the ten interchangeable bands. Things you really need.

The competition for “members” is so fierce these days that you now get “rewards” for joining and participating.

Free pen and pencil sets (all you pay is postage.) Upgraded shipping and handling. (The 15 dollar ground delivery fee is waved, or you get extra speedy deliver for the same price. Which makes you wonder what they actually do when they “handle” something.)

Frequent flyer miles (some of which expire before you’re wheels down on that “member-special” flight from LaGuardia to Moote Pointe International or Dover NJ, or other highly desirable travel destinations.)

But it’s not all bad.

There’s a sense of community. The guy in the airplane seat next to you may also be a member of the frequent flyer program.

Everyone you meet in Costco is a member of that same tightly knit, smarter-than-the-average-shopper fraternity.

Let’s not restrict “membership” to the Moose Lodge and the shopping club.

Think of the fun you can have as a “member” of, say, your mobile phone carrier, instead of a mere user, buyer, customer or consumer.

It’s nice to belong.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cow Chips II


New York City’s full of tourists.

Fa La La La La, La La La La.

Once again, we must endure this.

Fa La La La La, La La La La.

Don we now our suits of armor.

Fa la la, lalala la la la.

Do not hurt him, do not harm her.

Fa La La La La, La La La La.

About a month ago, we in greater New York endured the Country Music Awards and the accompanying and attendant hoo hah (or hee haw) that went with it. The tourists followed the sage advice offered in this space, cashed in their cow chips and went home (Wessays, 11/17/05.)

But they’re baa-aak.

By the tens of thousands.

Can’t walk on 34th Street or Broadway, nearby.

Macy’s is a rock star.

Dank, creaky, old, slow, but a rock star.

Meet the sisters: Virginia Reel and Alabama Jubilee. They’re here from their respective states to do a bit of shopping. They got on the tour bus at four in the morning and will go back at nine at night. Larded with bright red bags full of stuff they could have gotten on line without the need to travel, without the sales tax and without the hassle – theirs or ours.

But no.

They are in Macy’s Visitors’ Center which is on floor number 1-and-a-half. Really.

Bet you didn’t know there was such a place or such a floor.

But there they are, looking in the dog-eared yellow pages on the coffee table for something called “Caesar’s Restaurant,” and not finding it.

An Evil Native is there, waiting for his wife to finish shopping (this is another story for another time, but it’s an all day deal.) He whups out the white pages and finds it. It is at 24th St, and Madison Ave.

“It’s a bit of a walk with all those packages, but you head out the door on 34th, turn left and walk. First comes Broadway, then comes Sixth Avenue which also is called Avenue of the Americas on the sign, then Fifth Ave. Then Madison.”

It’s a project explaining the setup of East and West on the street signs, and how the addresses fan out in two directions. But although they’re Hill Folk, they’re not STUPID Hill Folk and eventually catch on.

“Is it a long walk?”

“Only when YOU and your zillion compatriots are here.”

Don’t they have Macy’s in other places? Couldn’t you try Bloomie’s? Same company, snootier location, smaller sidewalks but fewer people on them.

Maybe next year, they’ll go to Atlanta.

Much nearer for both of them, good shopping and much more exciting. Robberies, murders, and Genteel Southern Mayhem.

Not as exotic, maybe. But much higher emotion.

Much shorter ride, much higher risk.

Or if they’re REALLY adventurous and brave, Miami.

The pastrami is almost as good as New York’s. And the Media Noche sandwiches are better.

As are the cigars, if you know the right corner.

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

©wjr 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Judge Judy For President

It started with “The People’s Court.” Cases settled on television programs, usually by moderately funny, moderately sensible judges who’d run out of steam in real courtrooms or other political venues, and now slathering on the makeup and appearing under the lights to render “final” decisions in “real” cases.

There now are at least a half dozen of these characters on your TV screen, all of them with styles that wouldn’t work in a “real” courtroom, but do fine as entertainment.

But wait.

There’s a real chance for life changing reality here.

It’s two fold.

Fold one: such programs can help television fight off the internet to become the center of America’s cultural life. That throne is threatened in ways it hasn’t been since it was established in 1947.

Fold two: these judges really DO make sense most of the time.

Think about that original “People’s Court” guy, Joseph Wapner. A real judge in real life and a TV judge in retirement. Smart decisions. Smart remarks. Judge Mathis, Judge Joe Brown and more. Same story.

But the Leader of the Pack has to be Judith Scheindlin. Judge Judy. She is a combination of everyone’s Brooklyn Jewish Mother and her sister, the Know-It-All Aunt.

Why waste this valuable resource on what are essentially trailer park types suing one another for small amounts of money after crashing each others’ trucks, lending (or giving) each other money and failing to pay rent?

Put her in the Oval Office and let her get the job done.

Example: Judy to Gigunda Motors: “Waddaya mean you wanna take these guys’ pensions away? You made a deal. No one put a gun to your heads. Stockholders? Sir, listen to me carefully. Do you know what the word ‘risk’ means?”

Example: Judy on Iraq: “Democracy? THIS is DEMOCRACY?” You’re getting people KILLED over there. Iraqis are FREE? What about all those women running around without schooling and wrapped like mummies!”

Of course, we don’t know her politics. So here’s an alternative: “You guys have to straighten out what’s going on there. Build a White House, build a Captiol, build a Supreme Court and figure out that you can’t trade one dictator for another.”

Put the rest of the TV judges on a panel and get rid of congress. Checks and balances remain. But no more lobbyists. No more pork barrel. No more gerrymandering.

But DO keep The Supremes. Kind of a counterbalance to the counterbalance. We need a little dignity. And a little controversy to keep things rolling along.

If you put Congress out of business, you can always let the former Senators and Reps go on Unemployment Comp and then get jobs that better suit them. Like running all night gas stations and working the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts.

But who would hire guys like Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg?

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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Got Gas?

The IRS says gasoline is a bargain. Therefore, it rules, starting in January, reimbursement will fall from its present 48.5 cents a mile for business travel will fall by four cents to 44.5 cents a mile.

Where are these guys filling up? And more to the point, what are they doing with the ethanol component of what they’re filling up with?

We understand that adding ethanol to the gasoline helps reduce pollution and boosts octane. But you’re not supposed to drink the stuff.

The usual blend is nine parts gasoline to one part ethanol, ten percent or five proof. You have to chug a lot of gasoline to get a buzz, and chances are, it’ll kill you before you get high.

Plus it tastes lousy, even if you add Pepsi or 7 UP and a few ice cubes.

Maybe it’s the fumes. Yeah, that’s it. They’re breathing in the fumes and getting an indirect hit.

Do these guys actually BUY gasoline? If so, they must know that their “bargain” is, like, fake?

Sure, $2.40 is a better price than $3.40. But this is no bargain. And despite what the oil companies and their Amen Chorus in congress and the White House (to paraphrase Patrick Buchanan,) say, the price is going to rise again. And grow. Like Topsy. Like Mickey’s Broom in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Be assured, they won’t be so quick to put that four cents back in your pocket when the price goes up.

Meantime, there are some things we can do to keep reduce our energy use on the road. Don’t floor it. Don’t stomp on the brakes and get low wattage light bulbs when the ones you have now burn out or you hit a pole or a guard rail and have to replace them.

In fact, one of the best things you can do to reduce your use of gasoline is to hit a pole or a guard rail. While the car’s in the body shop, your mileage will be sharply reduced. But you don’t HAVE to tell the IRS unless they ask.

Of course, like anything else, there’s a trade off here. You have to be without your car and maybe suffer a concussion or a broken bone or two. But your managed care health insurance will cover the cost of that. And think of all those pretty hospital nurses and sympathetic doctors you’d never meet unless you took this big step toward fuel economy.

Here’s a safer tip for fuel economy: the new hybrid cars. No, not the ones that use batteries along with the gasoline engine. The ones that use wind power.

They look funny with those big fans on the roof. But on a good day, you can get from “here” to “there” and back with almost no gasoline use. One manufacturer is even thinking of adding a mast and sail to its lineup.

Awkward. But cheap.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, December 05, 2005

Making Book

The phone book as we know it may be doomed.

The Big Communications Company (formerly known as THE Phone Company,) wants to sell the part of itself that makes and gives out the books, and use the cash to “improve” its broadband internet network and its cell phone “service.”

In other words, it wants to get rid of something that it has done well for a century and use the money to further screw up what it doesn’t do well.

The stockholders will rejoice.

Income!

The “outgo” that goes along with the income will be on some budget line no one without an accounting degree understands, won’t show up on the bottom line for years, and will eventually be a lot higher than the sale price.

And who will give out the directories?

Why, the new Big Directory Company, of course.

Give out? Maybe. Or maybe someone has found yet another thing to charge for, even if it’s always been free – or at least included in the cost of telephone service.

Will your phone bill go down by a corresponding amount?

What do YOU think!

Even in the internet age, the classified phone book is one of the best reference works available.

You can learn more about a place by reading it than you can by absorbing the trillion words in every chamber of commerce’s glow self-description. And you can learn more about a place from the yellow pages (at least more stuff that you can use; that counts,) than you can from a year’s worth of history lessons.

So let us hope that whoever buys this division from Big Communications (once known as THE Phone Company,) keeps up the good work we’ve all come to expect.

Where else, for example, can you find a heading for “aluminum siding” that refers you to “siding, aluminum,” and once there tells you to “see building supplies, retail?”

Where else can you find companies named “0000aaaa a Long Distance Moving and Storage,” or “9999zzzz Towing?” (Have you ever wondered how outfits with names like that answer the phone? Is it “Good Morning, this is zero zero zero zero AA AA A Moving?” Or do they just say something like “moving company?”)

Where else can you find a book called “The Yellow Pages” that has blue pages?

The thought of giving up these traditions is positively horrifying.”

And what about the coupon section of this year’s book? Will those coupons still be valid next year?

“Oh, I’m sorry, the coupon you are trying to use was issued by The Big Communications Company (formerly known as THE Phone Company.) We can’t be responsible for what THEY did!”

But there’s a bright side. Old Order phone books will become collectibles. You’ll be able to auction yours on E-Bay.

And that’s terrific, because these days (even in a society that recycles EVERYTHING) there’s no way to get rid of the damn things unless you sneak them into your garbage.

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

©wjr 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Paging Uncle Vito: They Need Your Help At Carnegie Hall

(Advance for Saturday 12/3/05)

Well… not exactly at Carnegie Hall, but near enough.

Vito knows how to run a Jewish deli. Or, more accurately, Unc knew how to run a regular deli in a Jewish neighborhood, like here in the South End of Picturesque Moote Pointe, NY.

But evidently, those at the Famous Mile High Sandwichery in mid-town Manhattan do not.

Here’s where you pay extra to taken an insult or two from the waiter. Where you go for the purest sourest sour dill pickles north of the lower east side. Where you go to watch the real life celebs whose black and white pictures hang on the wall.

Or where you used to.

Seattle Slim was back east for maybe the first or second time in 30 years or so. Here to celebrate his divorce by buying a Bentley. Or was it a Rolls. Or maybe an Audi. Something neo-German, in any case.

Slim met his friends at the Famous Mile High Sandwichery, his choice for the corned beef on rye.

Party of three. No reservation. Crowded, but not mobbed.

Slim is running late. Well, walking at a brisk-pace-late. At Slim’s age you don’t run anything.

The rest are at the Famous. The “hostess” tells us we can’t be seated until our entire party is there. This is a good start, if you like the floor show, which is being insulted by the waiter.

We are thrilled. But we fight back, and eventually get a table in a little room you can’t see from the front of the store. Private, kind of. Elbow-to-elbow private. Only after the hostess asks us who we think we are to request (and later demand) seats.

Slim shows up a bit later, wanders through the private room and wanders out. He doesn’t know what we look like (it’s been more than 30 years.) We don’t know what HE looks like (Same reason.)

Some cell phone calls later, he finds us at our elbow-to-elbow private room.

We share a sandwich. It really IS a mile high. But the waiter is a gentleman. No disagreement with our choice. No “Don’t Have That Sandwich, it’s lousy tonight.” No “what’s the matter with you? You NEED the fries.”

No. The Fries are fried in cholesterol-free oil. They are also flavor-free. The pickles are half sour. HALF sour? At the Famous?!

The coleslaw is crisp. It’s supposed to be soggy and crusted.

For this Slim travels 3,000 miles?

Gentrification foe the benefit of the yuppie tourist baby boomers. A concession to their health obsession, which really is an immortality obsession.

At least the sandwich is a mile high. And delicious.

Except for the third member of this trio, The Empress From Taipei. She doesn’t like meat and has agreed to this meal only because she is outnumbered.

She has spaghetti.

It is crisp. Like the coleslaw.

Instead of telling her “what do you want, this is the Famous Sandwichery, not Alfino’s. You want soggy spaghetti, go to Ray’s Famous Pizza. Here that’s what you get,” the waiter politely offers to bring it back to the kitchen for further cooking.

Vito wouldn’t have done that.

.

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

©wjr 2005