Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Beer Boys

183 The Beer Boys

The Beer Boys are both boys and girls. They ride the Long Island Railroad in the small hours of the morning and sometimes on weekends.

They are loud and rude and drunk and lots of fun and their days are numbered.

When an especially obnoxious underage drinker sits next to you on a train, telling him that you want him to move does nothing.

But here’s how to get rid of him (or her.) Instead of politely saying “could you please sit somewhere else?” which is useless, say this: “I had a whole pepperoni pizza and a 12 pack of Bud for dinner and I’m not feeling so well...” generally gets them out of the seat pretty quickly.

The Long Island Railroad is trying to stop drinking on its trains. This is a new thing. People have been drinking on Long Island Railroad trains for 160 years.

The fist thing they did was eliminate the “bar cars.” It’s impossible to buy a drink on a moving train anymore. Now they want to do two things: (1) get the bar carts off the platforms in Penn Station, Flatbush and Jamaica and (3) crack down on the drinking kids on the 4:05 am to Penn.

The drinking kids on the 4:05 were mostly young women “beer boys.” They smoked, they undressed. They sang. Mostly they laughed and staggered. This train was full of cops on their way to work. The cops did not stop the beer boy girls. The conductors didn’t, either. Usually, they either left the train or fell asleep before Jamaica. It was a ritual. Thursday mornings, mostly. Could never figure out why.

The 1:40 am eastbound local was much worse. It only had two cars. They were always smoke filled and louder than the crowd at Yankee Stadium after a seventh game World Series win.

The conductor didn’t even TRY to take tickets. Free ride on the LIRR. Those of us with monthlies subsidized the beer boys. Sometimes we got beer in return. After all, when you get on with a Bud suitcase and two friends, you just can’t finish the whole thing.

There’s this one guy who runs a bar car on track 18 at Penn Station. No one knows his name. He doesn’t know yours, either. But he knows what you drink if you’re a regular.

Come down the stairs to the platform at a certain time each day and No Name would have your “usual” all ready for you by the time you hit the last couple of steps. Guess he’ll be out of work soon.

Eliminating bar cars and drinking on platforms and trains is as Un-LIRR as running on time and clean.

The death of a culture.

They should install bag holders on the backs of the seats like they have in airplanes.

The beer boys will have to find something else to keep them busy on the early morning and weekend trains.

Got a match?

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Engineering 101

182 Engineering 101

High winds and the door blows open. It’s a new door. Modern. It has a knob and a lock. But in the high wind, it still blows open.

Fifty feet away, and 50 feet higher, near the top of a maple tree, a squirrel has a nest. He (or she) started building it at about the time the door was installed. He did not go to Lowe’s or Home Despot for parts. He did not have it professional installed by a Talented Team of Professional Crafts-people. (Awful, awkward term, “crafts-people,” but these days…)

What he did was forage around for twigs and sticks and dry leaves and built the thing himself. And when the wind blows and the maples sway, the nest…. stays right there and sways along with the treetop.

The door does not blow open. The furniture does not get thrown around. The nest just stays there. Maybe a few twigs fall off. If so, Forage The Squirrel runs up and down the tree a few times and fixes his house.

Door-O-Rama has spent tens of millions of dollars designing and building doors.

Forage The Squirrel has spent nothing. Doesn’t even know what money is. Doesn’t even know what doors are. But he can build a whole nest that withstands the worst wind and rain (and probably snow) and doesn’t have to call customer service to get the thing fixed when it doesn’t work right.

So from this, we determine that squirrels are better engineers than humans. And now we have to figure out a way to hire them to build our houses, factories, barns, bridges and roads.

This, of course, will lead to two probable events:

First, our houses, factories, barns, bridges and roads will improve in a geometric progression.

Second, some enterprising beavers will figure out that they build dams better than humans can, and if they can do that – why not build other things, too. Like factories, barns, bridges and roads. Hence, competition. Very American.

Someone tip off the buyout companies. Kohlberg-Kravis-Squirrel & Beaver has a nice ring to it.

But this is not without problems. Forage has backdated the nut options for his crew. And he doesn’t pay a phone bill. He just sits on the poll, chews up the insulation and makes calls for free. These legal difficulties may delay the acquisition.

But it’s still a good idea. You never hear about rebates or zero percent financing when squirrels are in charge. You never hear about plant closings or pension defaults. They just build and scurry around chasing each other.

Their stuff lasts. Their guarantees are iron clad – no small print.

And talk about low prices? These guys work for peanuts. Acorns. Beijing, eat your heart out.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Frank Stanton (1908-2006)

181 Frank Stanton

Unusual guy, Frank Stanton, who died at 98 a short time ago. Quiet. Preferred to work behind the scenes. Except when he was the public face of broadcasting when that meant something.

Stanton did a lot of good things as president of CBS, and some not so good ones. First, he was the guy who all but invented ratings. It was then and is now an inexact practice, one given to error and misinterpretation. But the only system we have, now updated and computerized and filled with charts and graphs and demographics. Stanton’s system was comparatively miniscule, and probably no more or less accurate than today’s.

The other major bad was the design and decoration of the building that once served as CBS headquarters on Sixth Avenue. Cold, unwelcoming, modern to a fault. Ugly. But, then, that’s subjective, isn’t it?

He supported loyalty oaths and sometimes blacklisting later expressing regret. A rare burst of humility for a corporate type in today’s world where admitting mistakes seems to be a capital crime.

A lot of the credit for CBS’ success goes to Chairman Paley. But Paley and Stanton were the ying and yang of a company which was unlikely to succeed had one of the two not existed.

Now for the good stuff:

He was a champion of broadcast news before there was such a thing. And he was a champion of the form when it was unpopular to be so. He gave us Ed Murrow. He established the concept of network-owned news bureaus. He and chairman Bill Paley didn’t make – or expect to make a profit from the division, even in its prime.

Stanton knew you had to spend money to make money, and that’s what he did.

He appeared before congress when few others in his position would show their faces, let alone face down powerful members of the House and Senate to protect his company and his industry.

The standards he established and codified remain, nominally, the standards of today. But only nominally.

CBS differs in an odd way from its main competitor, NBC. CBS –even now – is a radio company with a lot of tentacles in television. NBC (when it owned radio stations and radio networks) was a TV company that did radio, starting in the post-war era.

Credit Stanton for CBS sticking to its roots closely enough to avoid the disasters it could have made when it owned Fender guitars, Steinway pianos, Hytron Electronics and the New York Yankees. All that happened on his watch, too, and little of it made any money for the company or friends for the subsidiaries. But neither did any of those subsidiaries get gutted or murdered as would happen today.

You can date the start of the broadcast deterioration today to Frank Stanton’s forced retirement in 1973. You have to wonder how he viewed what changed after he left.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Sunday, December 24, 2006

WestraDamus Retrodictions for 2006

180 WestraDamus Retrodictions for 2006

For those of you unfamiliar with the WestraDamus persona: it was invented in 1990 in response to the annual predictions of supermarket tabloid astrologers. ‘Damus (AKA The Non-Prophet) decided to predict the past and usually gets it wrong. These projections for 2006 were formulated in December of 2006 and apply to the previous eleven months and 24 days.

What a glorious year 2006 will be. Except for the stock market.

We will end the war in Iraq, see a lasting peace treaty signed between Israel and the Palestinians, and President Cheney will die shortly after the Senate convicts former President Bush for high crimes and misdemeanors. Bush, speaking from his cell at Club Fed, will welcome the rule of outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and send his condolences to the Cheney family.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of the year comes when Osama Bin Laden turns himself in at a police station in Detroit, where he’s been living in secret since 2002, running a 7-11 and planning terrorist attacks on his father’s palace in Riyadh.

Saddam Hussein will be declared not guilty of war crimes and move to Uganda, where he will work as an arms broker. Silly man. There’ll be no more wars. Who needs those F-14s and Mig 21s? And who needs all that Ukrainian nuclear waste. There’s no market for that stuff.

Oh. Speaking of the market: The Dow Jones Average of 30 Industrials sinks to 4,234 in late November, but recovers slightly thereafter.

Good thing, too. After all, the four trillion dollars in bonuses awarded to the heads of Wall Street’s top four investment banking firms would have looked excessive if the Dow weren’t heading back toward 5,000.

Also in business: Ford Motor (F-NYSE) will report its first profit in 49 years after closing all of its plants and furloughing all of its blue collar work force.

Kirk Kerkorian, who tried to make a mess of Chrysler before its German occupation and of GM afterward, returns to Las Vegas and his casinos. Authoritative reports say that Kerkorian and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner plan an establishment similar to the Mustang Ranch for people in their demographic. Word is, it’ll be called The Glue Factory.

Medical News, now: Friend and colleague Jim Kingsland of New York reports on his blog, the Buttonwood Speculator (http://buttonwood1792.blogspot.com/) that red hot chili peppers can cure diabetes, and that the insulin makers will take a big hit. This is provokes America’s largest drug company, Altria, to launch a hostile takeover for Merck and Pfizer, offering 28 cents a share for the former and 32 cents for the latter. (Call that the Kerkorian/Hefner effect.)

We also note that a buttonwood tree was where Wall Street’s first major conspiracy, the founding of the New York Stock Exchange, supposedly took place. We also note that buttonwood is a tropical plant, a mangrove, which likes salt marshes and hot climates, neither of which is characteristic of Manhattan. So said tree was either temporary or non-existent, which means that even THEN Wall Street was snowing you.

On the culture front: opera star Luciano-the-P will announce yet another farewell tour, and fans around the wished it were Plastico Domingo instead.

A Django Reinhardt impersonator will be caught trying to crush his own left hand in efforts to appear as authentic as the real Django, but fail when the driver of the bus he intended to use notices him and veers out of his path in the nick of time. Unfortunately, in the maneuver, he hits a group of visiting Italian nuns taking a walking tour on Second Avenue, injuring five, two seriously.

Pop Culture: B Spears @brainy.com vanishes from the scene entirely. And no one can find Kevin F, P.Diddy (I may be a non-prophet, but figuring out this guy’s name changes in beyond my skill set.) or that other great rap star Mike Bloomberg.

Briefly in other upcoming events, reported in the past tense:

Rush Limbaugh… out of the closet…caught clubbing with Ted Kennedy. The New York State Controller… seen trying on a DayGlo orange Armani jumpsuit, with the number 29-14554 emblazoned on the back and the iron neck collar at a rakish, off center angle.

Katie Couric signed a four year deal to do infomercials for Lee Press On Nails after CBS replaced her as anchor of “The CBS Evening News with Vanna White.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote a self parody to the tune of “the Third Man Theme.” She says “now that there are no more wars, and Dubya’s in jail, I have lots of time on my hands.” Plus there are so many words that rhyme with “rice.”

Not going to die in 2006: Theodore Roosevelt, Betty Crocker, Alexander The Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, Pappa Joe Pistachio, Hank Snow, Carl Sandberg, Herbert Hoover, R.H. Macy, Benito Mussolini and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

New York City will ban all fats in restaurant foods, causing an economic boom on Long Island and in New Jersey where fat remains beautiful.

Thousand Island dressing will be renamed 1123 Island dressing because of inflation. Scientists at The Pennsylvania State University School of Agriculture will come up with an algorithm for how much wood a wood chuck can chuck, but the results will be disputed, as other scientists fail to replicate Penn State’s results.

Also on the education front: schools will continue to lower standards for students and teachers alike… the Los Angeles Public School Authority will create a self-esteem development center for crack-addicted eight year olds at the Lompoc, California Juvenile Corrections Facility.

The KGB and the CIA will merge into one global spy agency. The Homeland Security Department and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority will each disband. The Longines Symphonette will run out of time.

And now, your non-prophet is going back to sleep for another year.

But you can visit him at Westradamus.com any time.

(c) 2006 WestraDamus

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Staying the Course

179 Staying The Course

12/06

Uh oh! The Commander-in-Chief is waffling. He now says there’ll be some losses in Iraq.

This is not acceptable, given the scope of the mini war he’s sent America’s young men and women to die for. (As in “it’s a war to die for!”)

When you’re losing on the battlefield, and in politics, the obvious answer is to escalate.

So let’s solve a whole bunch of problems by setting out toward world conquest. Not that we aren’t doing that, but admit it and escalate.

Since we’re there, anyway, take Sen. McCain at his word and send in more troops. Once they’re finished with Iraq, leave the army of occupation and head on over to Iran. Then Syria, Israel, the Administered Israeli Territories, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and that handful of oil emirates that make up the rest of the middle east.

This will solve two problems. First, there will be peace in the middle east for the first time in almost 6,000 years and second, there’ll be no worries about our oil supplies. Can’t you just see all those big V-8 truck and SUV engines pouring off the line in Detroit?

India and Pakistan are threats. India because they’re unreliable and Pakistan because they have The Bomb. Conquer them and solve the stability and nuclear problems on the Indian subcontinent.

Next, Russia and the other former Soviet republics. More oil, fewer loose nukes. Easy pickings.

After that, we can solve a bunch of other problems by conquering Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador and all those troublesome similar places that keep sending us illegals. Once the countries have been conquered, the immigrants will no longer be illegal.

We’ll have Venezuela surrounded and Cuba doesn’t mean anything, anyway.

Also, Mexico has plenty of oil. Maybe those V-8s should be V-12s.

China might be a problem. So ally yourself with Beijing, and conquer Taiwan, Japan Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, South Korea and all those other tinhorn southeast Asian “countries.” You can take care of China later, after you’ve settled the rest of the world. Oh, and in the meantime, the Chinese can knock out the North Koreans and the Japanese.

Then, it’s on to Europe. The French won’t be a problem. They’ll surrender as soon as they know you and your flight suit are coming. Same with the Swiss and the Scandinavians. The Brits? You can leave them alone. They’re American lapdogs, anyway. After China, maybe.

Forget about the tiny countries like Monaco. Lichtenstein. Belgium. Those places. Germany might give you some trouble, unlike the rest of the world which is ready to roll over and have its collective belly scratched like some idiotic cocker spaniel. Germany is not only war-like, they’re terrible recidivists. But if you already have taken over their Mexican car and coffee maker factories, if you’ve already sent Lee Iacocca in to run Daimler-Chrysler and Volkswagen, what choice have they but to knuckle under!

As for Africa? No problemo.

There you go. The plan. If you’re going to send thousands of people to die, they might as well be dieing for something worth having.

Meantime, Mr. President, have a tall one and relax.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Some Like It Rough

178 Some Like It Rough

Some like it rough. No, not THAT kind of rough. For that, you’ll have to watch Talking Sex with Sue which is a late night television program (on the Winfrey Channel) in which a horny granny type says stuff you can’t believe is coming out of a grey mouth like hers, and during which she takes strange calls from (mostly) women who are having serious trouble with their sex lives or lack thereof.

This is a more generalized kind of rough. And it’s everywhere. Start with the president, who’s been described in this space previously as sounding like he’s making a late night call to Sue of the Oxygen Channel or perhaps to Condi. (“What are you wearing, Condi?” “A bath towel and a splash of Channel No. 5.”)

Not only does this guy sound like a heavy breather on the telephone, but what he says is the antithesis of smooth. Didn’t used to be that way. Clinton was smooth in his “aw shucks” good ole boy redneck way. Reagan was all smooth and no substance.

The songs on the radio sound like they have chips on their shoulders and would love to fight (target practice with radios tuned to “hot talk,” “right talk,” “modern Christmas” “hiphop and rap,” “Contemporary hit….” You need a lot of radios – if you are a lousy shot, ones that can change stations quickly.”

The newspapers are rough. The dancing is rough. The receptionist in the emergency room is rough.

The graceless crud that passes for culture nowadays leads one to believe that there’s nothing moving in arcs or sine waves anymore.

Paris Hilton? “Entertainment Tonight?” “Page Six” of the New York Post? Mel Gibson and his soul mate Michael Richards?

Then, there are those things and people who appear smooth but really aren’t.

A mushroom cloud is graceful. Its effects are rough.

Championship figure skating is graceful. Off the ice, the skaters are generally rough.

The car salesman or woman appears smooth, but wait until deal-making time comes.

The pro wrestling ring is a gentler place than the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which doesn’t speak well of either.

It won’t be long before “let’s get hitched, b____.” is an accepted form of marriage proposal.

Dealing with customer service is rough. Deal with your neighbor is, too, as often as not.

The Motor Vehicle office, post office, the IRS, the INS, the cops, even a great many bartenders. Amusement park logistics, movie line logistics, working a digital camera, a Play Station or a TIVO. Beds sheets, two-by-fours and the nails you put into them, organizations exempt from the “Don’t Call” law, the NBA, the ocean.

Things are rough all over.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Subtitles

177 Subtitles

Oh what a fuss they made when some of the big opera companies installed this machinery. It let’s you know in English what’s going on. Dialogue; words to the arias. It’s all right there for the Great Unwashed to see. The code is broken. No longer do you have to be a scholar to know the story or the words to the songs.

“There goes the neighborhood” sniffed the Opera Cossacks.

Televised opera soon followed suit. Subtitles. The same Cossacks were even more outraged!

“Caruso would be apoplectic” they sniffed. (Actually, Caruso would probably would say “”passi prego lo scozzese,” which means “please pass the scotch.”)

They have the right idea. But they haven’t taken it far enough.

Let’s expand it. Start with rap. Anybody know what these guys are saying? Put up subtitles in English and you can find out.

“Emsa great can’ gettaday t buttum notgunna hesitate. gonnamate.” Thus becomes “I’m so great, though I can’t get a date but I won’t hesitate. I’m going to mate anyway.”

Loses nothing in the translation, except the cowardly hiding behind the mumbles.

You can do heavy metal the same way.

Thus “eeeeyu waaa baaaaa SCREEEEEEEEM” becomes “my life sucks and it’s your fault.”

But why limit this to music. Or to what passes for music these days?

Medical appointments, political statements, laws and the like also deserve subtitles.

DR. SKIN to patient: That is a suspected malignant melanoma. Let’s take a piece and do a biopsy.

SUBTITLE: That is a malignant melanoma. We need a biopsy to confirm, but I’d bet if you leave it alone for six months you’ll be dead.

DR. OBGYN to patient: This will feel a little cool and you may feel some pressure.

SUBTITLE: You’re going to freeze your “girlfriend” off and it’s going to feel like there’s an elephant in there.

HOLISTIC “DOCTOR” to patient: The medical establishment is trying to keep it quiet, but our double-blind scientific tests show this stuff will definitely cure your cancer, heart condition and muscle pain. Just take six tablets three times a day.

SUBTITLE: we don’t know what this junk does, but it’s our major profit center and we’d not only like you to try it, but we’d like you to become a “distributor” and you’ll rake a little off the top of every bottle sold by anyone you recruit.

DENTIST to patient: We’re almost done.

SUBTITLE: maybe another hour or two and we’ll be at the point where we can think about getting you out of the chair.

AUTO TECHNICIAN to customer: You’re next.

SUBTITLE: your car is a mess. Come back next week, we’ll probably be finished by then.

GASOLINE PRICE SIGN: Unleaded Regular 2.48 (9.)

SUBTITLE: $2.49.

JUDGE JUDY to courtroom: Ruling in favor of the Plaintiff for $250.

SUBTITLE: Pay the guy 250 dollars for the hole you knocked into his trailer.

STOCK ANALYST to customer: We don’t think United Widget will meet our expectation for fourth quarter earnings this year.

SUBTITLE: Sell this mutt.

KEN LAY to Enron stockholders: Buy.

SUBTITLE: Sell.

TOBACCO EXECUTIVE to Congress: There’s no scientific proof that nicotine is addictive or that smoking causes lung cancer.

SUBTITLE: Your mother had cancer because of tree pollution and she CHOSE to smoke four packs a day. All we did was make the stuff available.

RUM COMPANY EXECUTIVE to news media: We find that at a certain level, the consumption of 151 proof beverages has a fast acting and moderately long-duration affect on the autonomic response times of a particular class of individuals.

SUBTITLE: Drink a shot glass of this stuff and you’ll be drunk for a week, and a menace on the roads. If you’re 14 and under, it’ll kill you in 20 minutes or less.

GENERAL to Congress: We call it a peace keeper missile system because The Aggressor will not want to engage us in any meaningful way.

SUBTITLE: we can blast those clowns back to the stone age by pushing two buttons in a missile silo in the middle of the desert. I hope they’re stupid enough to try something.

ROAD SIGNS: Route 495 East, Route 87 North, Traffic Moving Well To Cross Island Parkway.

SUBTITLES: Long Island Expressway AWAY from the city, New York State Thru-way to Albany, Traffic not too bad until you get there. Then, it’ll “well” into a total screwup.

MAGAZINE to subscribers: Published every other month.

SUBTITLE: published every other month except combined issues in March and August and a triple issue in December-January-February, and no issue in May on alternate leap years. All of which means you never know when the thing’ll show up.

IRS to taxpayers: Combine the totals on lines 12a and 14b, then subtract the total on line 23f.

SUBTITLE: we haven’t figured this one out yet.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Missing Channels

176 Missing Channels

Yes, there are missing channels, hard to believe as that is.

Here are some we should have and don’t:

THE CLOCK CHANNEL: Just a clock. Big and easy to read. 24/7. No need to hunt around the screen while Fox and CNN and MSNBC and ESPN and CNBC and Bloomberg play “hide the time.”
Maybe a little background music to go with it. “Time On My Hands,” “the Right Time of Night,” “’til the End of Time.” “The Syncopated Clock,” “My Grandfather’s Clock,” “Do That To Me One More Time,” “Time After Time,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” you get the picture.

Great for offices, factories, hospital rooms, jewelry stores and just a little something to pass the time of day.

THE FENCE CHANNEL: Tour the world’s favorite fences, from the Great Wall of China to the Bush fence between Texas and Mexico. Look into the DMZ between the Koreas. Check out the back 40 from the comfort of your den. Check out your favorite ball park.

THE TATOO CHANNEL: Watch body artists at work. See bikers and schoolgirls, sailors and stockbrokers. Learn about this fine craft and maybe sneak a peek at some piercings, too.

THE WHITLING CHANNEL: Live from the front porches of America, professional and amateur whittlers show you what to do with a knife and a stick. Prime time lessons in how to carve a decoy duck out of a left over 4x6.

WEATHER CHANNEL CLASSICS: All the great storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, snowfalls, and clear days from history. They have this footage, why not use it?

THE COAL MINE CHANNEL: What’s it really like down there. Find out 24/7 with helmet cams and mics worn by real miners working real mines. See how they seek it out, bring it out and sometimes get snuffed out right before your very eyes.

THE JUNKYARD CHANNEL: Tour America’s great junkyards. Learn the complex puzzle stacking systems used by modern computerized yards, and the haphazard slapdash methods of Old School operators. See junk yard dogs trained. Find parts for that rusting Oldsmobile on blocks in your front yard. Or for that 1929 Packard you’re restoring or for that bumper you just busted when you hit and ran.

THE SHIPPING CHANNEL: Watch boats loaded and unloaded in stories port cities like Newark NJ, or New Orleans Louisiana. See how they bring in cars through the Port of San Francisco and make jobs disappear at the same time. Be a part of the shapeups. Watch the Longshoremen’s Union collect dues. View incoming drug shipments at the Port of Miami or Port Arthur, Texas. Watch middle eastern terrorists get out of cargo containers on the Canadian coast.

THE PIPE LIGHTING CHANNEL: There are as many ways to light a pipe as there are guys who still smoke them. Learn technique, wind measurement, the flame properties of everything from a common gas station matchbook to an elaborate antique Zippo.

THE ROADPAVING CHANNEL: You’re always stalled at construction sites, and never get to see what’s going on behind those road cones and blinking orange lights. Now, you can find out what goes on while guys seem to just stand around doing nothing. Watch them spread rock and then gravel and then asphalt or tar. Watch them carefully grade the road so it floods in low lying areas and they are re-called to fix it, adding to the economy through the time honored tradition of cost overruns.

THE MAIL DELIVERY CHANNEL: Postmen and women from coast to coast brave rain, snow and gloom of night. Now, see what THEY see, as they see it. Watch them dump mailbags into rivers and oceans. Watch them as they try to read the handwriting on envelopes. Watch them try to pick YOUR mailbox out of the crowd.

THE GRASS GROWING CHANNEL: keep track of someone’s lawn as it sprouts from seeds, grows in to grass, gets fertilized and mowed and infested with weeds and insects and finally is covered with snow. It’s a slow story, but satisfying.

THE DESTRUCTION CHANNEL: This will be a fast favorite all over the world. Implosions, explosions, wrecking balls, gunfire of infinite variety, samurai swords beheading dislikeable parents, bows and arrows, grenades, missiles, poison manufacture, auto wrecks, shootouts, building collapses, house fires, high rise fires tire blowouts and much, much more.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Stopped: The Presses

175 Stopped the Presses

Newspaper circulation has been in a death spiral for the last 15 or 20 years.

They blame competition from the internet and cable news channels. And they’re partly right.

But there are two other reasons – reasons they never get around to mentioning.

1. People can’t or don’t want to read.

2. Most papers are awful.

USA Today revolutionized papers when it first came out in the 1980s. It was pretty, it had color pictures and the stories were short enough to engage the then-beginning MTV generation which wants everything fast. It used charts to summarize stories it thought might be too complex for the D average reader. And it influenced every other paper in America, if not the world.

Former CBS News President Fred W. Friendly called it a TV show you can wrap fish in. Accurate then, accurate now.

But the graphics revolution was on, and even the New York Times – as staid as it gets – has color pictures in its pages, and a Sunday magazine that suddenly no longer looks like it was designed before World War I.

The above-it-all trade paper, The Wall Street Journal is about to undergo an upheaval of format unprecedented in its long history. It’s going to shrink the size of its pages.

But pretty as they are, many papers don’t have much in them. They are incomplete. They are badly written. They are badly edited. They have no soul.

Part of the reason is they’ve learned from broadcasters, particularly radio. Radio stations are a commodity nowadays. Like pork bellies and gasoline. They’re homogenized, and their owners, no longer needing to serve community needs, can concentrate on the bottom line at the expense of the listener and the advertiser.

Newspapers, especially the big chains are falling into the same trap, which is no surprise. What IS surprising is that they hadn’t done it decades ago. Newspapers, after all, are unregulated. There’s no FCC looking over their shoulders. There’s no license to renew. There are few, if any, restrictions on how many papers an owner can have in one city.

Knight-Ridder recently died because the diluted family gene pool running it failed to acknowledge the ink in its veins and instead listened to stockholders and investment bankers.

The New York Times is under fire from stockholders who don’t like that there are two classes of stock, one of which can’t vote. Like, who put guns to their heads and told them to buy Times stock in the first place. The current generation of family controllers there also have not paid attention to the ink in their veins.

Recently, staffers at Newsday on New York’s Long Island wrote a protest letter about staff cuts to its parent, the Tribune Co. of Chicago which got the paper when it bought the Los Angeles Times and its subsidiaries from the Chandler family, which may now regret the sale, even though it made them even richer than they were before.

That’s kind of like a student strike. Ultimately, campus security and the local cops will come and break up the occupation of the administration building.

Newsday is wounded, but not by a lack of staff. It had this little problem about fudging its circulation figures. Most every paper does that, despite the myopically watchful eye of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (also known as the locking-the-barn-door department.)

The Moote Pointe Pennsylvania Daily Gazette is a tool of the state university that controls much of what goes on in town.

The Miami Herald is so busy fighting Castro and putting out regional editions about bake sales and salsa parties that it’s lost its journalistic compass.

The Washington Post after Kate Graham is nothing but a local paper with some friends in high places and too many subsidiaries.

The Boston Globe is for sale. The NYT is the owner. It bought the thing and then realized it didn’t know baked beans about Boston. And it shows.

The world has changed. Now, it’s Rupert Murdoch is the only guy making a buck. And you don’t hear HIM complaining about cable channels and internet companies. Instead of yowling and playing the victim, he went out and started competing broadcasters.

That’s a long way from when his New York Post had to scrape together the day’s coins to buy newsprint.

As for the declining inability or unwillingness to read: don’t brutalize the kids. You’ll bruise their self esteem. There’ll always be some geek around who can read the menu to them.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Sunday, December 10, 2006

They All Look Alike

174 They All Look Alike

Your car is missing.

No, no one took it. (Who wants one of THOSE!?) It’s just that you parked and now you’re back, and where IS the thing?

Unless you have one of those toyboxes on wheels or a really imbecile color (bright yellow is oh so fashionable now but a guarantied value-dropper at trade-in time) your car looks pretty much like everyone else’s.

In fact, every car that isn’t an SUV or one of those toyboxes, looks like a 1986 Taurus.

Searching requires some forethought. Look around carefully. Eliminate the imbecile colors, which probably have imbecile names (“Lunar Mist” is Toyota-speak for “almost black,” for example.)

Okay, so now you’ve narrowed your search to four door sedans that are sort of dark blue or grey or (gulp!) Lunar Mist.

The next thing to do is get out your electronic, radio-controlled door unlocker, point it at a row of cars and click it. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be near enough to have your car beep or honk at you (unless, like one dummy, who will remain fifth-amendment anonymous, you’ve turned the thing off.)

Chances are, you’re not in range. So the next step is to start cruising the aisles with unlocker clicker in hand.

As you prowl along, you can eliminate cars with those EZ Pass gizmos on the windshield if you don’t have one, and those that do, if you do.

But the best procedure is the old cop procedure, looking for identifying marks or scars. This is usually applied to wanted criminals. But it also works for metal objects. A dent or ding, an interestingly patterned bird dropping can be an easy identifier. (Don’t worry, bird droppings don’t wash away, even if you’re parked out of doors.)

If you don’t have any of that, you might consider adding one. You might, for example, paint a big numeral on your trunk. Use either a small paint roller or a wide brush, each of which is available for little cost at your local hardware store – if you still HAVE a local hardware store. Use the same equipment to paint an “X” or other simple letter.

Or, you can use a NEW cop trick” Have a LoJack installed. When you can’t find the car, report it stolen. The cops’ll find it using the LoJack. Of course, there’s a risk. Doing this is filing a false report, which is a high-grade misdemeanor (and in some places, a low grade felony) so make a second call – to your lawyer before the cops get there.

Maybe it would be better to take a sledge hammer to your roof. Nothing like a huge dent in the roof to make a car stand out in a crowd.

Around these parts, you can hang an Israeli flag or Jewish star on the rearview mirror. No one else will have one. Or maybe someone will notice and dent your roof for you.

Shame they don’t have extra-long-range remote door unlockers.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hawks & Doves

173 Hawks & Doves

Ask anyone at the Pentagon: winning wars ain’t easy. And we haven’t been too good at it lately.

Here’s another one they can’t win. It’s at the recruiting station in Times Square. The enemy is pigeons.

This dufus from Chicago makes 40 different kinds of machines to make pigeons go away. And he has this other dufus from Amityville who sells them.

The recruiters of Times Square get about a million visits from pigeons for every live mammal who walks into the place. But they don’t recruit pigeons. They used to. Had ‘em deliver messages. Now, they have satellite phones. Much more expensive and we don’t know how much more effective or reliable.

Okay, so the deal is to get rid of the pigeons at the recruiting booth. And here comes Amityville Dufus with the best of the 40 machines the Chicago dufus makes out in the middle of nowhere where they don’t have all those many pigeons.

Amityville has this machine, which is really an iPod with four loudspeakers attached. Guy’s got on a haz-mat suit. Goes up his ladder to the roof. Attaches the iPod with the four loudspeakers. Turns the thing on. Climbs down the ladder. Gets out of the haz-mat suit. Tells the Army guy the pigeons will be gone by noon.

The loudspeakers play the sounds of pigeons getting beat up by hawks and owls. The pigeons hear this and they’re supposed to get scared and leave. Instead, they move to the other side of the roof where there are no loudspeakers.

The Army guy calls Amityville Dufus. Dufus tells the Army guy to “stay the course.”

Now it’s about 5 PM and the iPod owls are hooting and the iPod hawks are cackling and the pigeons are having diner. Popcorn from a Times Square tourist – probably from Chicago.

The Army guy calls Amityville Dufus again. “Insurgents,” says Dufus. But he has the answer. He’ll add two more speakers and “…your troubles will be over by tomorrow.”

Next morning, here comes Amityville, again. He’s back in Times Square with two extra loudspeakers. But four’s all that’ll fit the iPod.

The Army guy says “Four? Four? My Jeep has eight, and this thing can’t take six?”

Amityville suggests installing spikes on the roof. The spikes are plastic. The pigeons don’t know from spikes. They wedge between them and bend them out of the way. The pigeons of Times Square also don’t know from owls or hawks, having never seen any.

They DO know from tourists from Chicago who spill popcorn. They have been known to attack tourists who have popcorn but don’t drop any.

The NYPD has a special undercover anti-pigeon unit called “the Hawks.” It has the worst arrest statistics in town. Espeically since they had to turn in their glocks. Something about shooting only brown birds.

Rumsfeld once sent a memo on pigeons at recruiting stations. And he wanted to establish a commission to investigate. No one read any of Rumsfeld’s memos.

Pete Seeger wrote a pigeons’ rights song. The pigeons attacked his banjo when he tried to perform it. Pete had no popcorn. And pigeons don’t like banjos, which can scare off an audience – but not a bird.

Pete brought along a dove, which is really only a white pigeon. The NYPD hawk squad tried to kill it to prove that it didn’t just kill brown birds. They Tasered it, and then the pigeons ate it. Cannibals. But what can you do when there’s no popcorn.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Snow Job

172 Snow Job

Age and arthritis have turned the electric can opener to a handy gadget, from its original position, which was the Ultimate Example of Suburban Decadence. Plus there’s something new out now that’s even more ultimate than ultimate.

It’s the snowball maker.

Really.

It’s two hemispheres attached to handles. You stuff it with snow, clamp the handles closed and presto, a glob of snow becomes a perfectly spherical snowball.

The thing’s about two feet long and makes a snowball that measures about three inches across.

Perfectly formed snowballs, which you then fling at a nearby object or person, and it smashes into a glob of snow again.

How did we ever get along without this thing. We never knew we needed it until it appeared.

Is there no end to American inventiveness?

Is there no end to the performance of stuff by device that used to be done by hand? Think of the possibilities. You can put away that summertime lemonade stand a make a wintertime snowball stand. Machine made 5 cents (ever notice that many IBM style keyboards don’t have a key for the “cent” sign?) Hand made, ten cents. Guaranteed for one throw or your money back.

Why make snowballs by hand when you can make them by machine. And why make them by machine when you can buy one and let a neighborhood kid make a few cents?

An enterprising youngster can even take advance orders. How about a dozen on the first “real” snow day, the kind that closes schools? Half down, half on delivery? Ten percent off if you pick them up and we don’t have to deliver? Free hot chocolate for orders of two dozen or more?

A REALLY enterprising 5th grader can arrange for Mastercard or Visa payments. But he’ll (or she’ll) have to charge more because the banks take a cut of the funds and that can be costly, especially since those snowball makers are about eight bucks each.

Or undercut the competition. Sell your snowballs at a loss until you drive the other kids out of business, then jack up your prices to maybe 12 or 15 cents. Either that or get to the store and buy up the entire stock or there’ll be way too much competition. It was good enough for Standard Oil, it should be good enough for you.

Get a small business loan from the First National Bank of Mom and Dad. They’ll stake you to start up capitalization, and they’ll be proud of you. Who knows, you might be able to retire before you’re old enough for Middle School.

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

(c) 2006 WJR

Monday, December 04, 2006

No Room At the Inn

171 No Room at the Inn

12/2006

So, isn’t this how the whole thing got going in the first place?

See, there’s this Jewish couple, Joey and Mary. And she’s beaucoup preggers – like it’s any minute now. Water mellon on sore feet. That waddle-walk. The contractions, and all – and Joey and Mary are on the road.

So they get to this motel and there’s a “no vacancy” sign. But Joey’s a persistent kind of guy so he goes into the office and asks “really full?”

“Yeah,” says the desk clerk.

“No ‘no-shows’?” Joey asks, “My wife’s about to give birth.”

“Sorry,” says the clerk, “not even a broom closet.”

So Joey and Mary get back on the road and keep slogging on. A few miles down the road, there’s this barn.

You know the rest of this one. But, to remind, a whole big thing grew out of the incident, and pretty quickly, too.

So, here we are in 2006, in the middle of nowhere, and looking for Chanukah decorations. At four supermarkets, two big name big box stores, a national chain of craft stores and a place that sells what it calls “religious supplies.”

Aisles and aisles of Santa, and wreath and tree, and lights and balls, manger scenes, hymn books, recordings, coloring books, music boxes, candle holders and five pointed stars.

Not a menorah, dreidel or piece of chocolate Chanukah gelt to be found.

No real biggie. Chanukah’s not a big holiday – not like Christmas or Robert E. Lee’s birthday, or anything that REAL Americans celebrate.

And in these parts, Jews are almost as scarce as Malaysian Methodists. Those guys in the long black coats and big black hats? The ones with long beards? They ain’t Hasids.

But the local population of Malaysian Methodists is greater than two. Perhaps as many as four. And the Jewish population, although small, also exists – and shops.

Called to their attention, the stores had varied reactions. Three of the supermarkets did not reply to e-mails. The fourth one said it was in the process of setting up a small display, and that it would have been bigger except there was a problem getting its merchandise out of Israel because of the recent fighting there.

One of the two big box stores did not respond, the other pointed out that they have a small selection of wrapping paper and other stuff. Yes, indeed they do. It’s so far off the beaten track, you need a passport to reach it.

The craft store is still knocking out automated replies.

“Thank you for expressing your concern. A customer service representative will be in touch with you soon.”

“Would you please fill out this form with your name and address and phone number so we know how to contact you?”

(If someone sends you an e-mail, doesn’t your e-mail address show up? Since they replied, it probably does.)

There’s a large collection of emails in the “Save” folder, but no answers to the original concern.

Last time a handful of Jews was ignored, a whole new religion grew up around them, eventually coming to pretty much dominating the global religion market for a long time.

So watch out when you say there’s no room at the inn. You never know what’ll spring up when a couple-a three Jews put their heads together in the face of adversity.

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


(c) 2006 WJR

Friday, December 01, 2006

John The Painter

170 John The Painter

John was from Scotland and no one knew his last name. Well… not NO one. HE probably knew it. But he wasn’t talking. Well, yes, he was talking. But not about his last name. Turns out it probably doesn’t matter because no one listened to him, anyway.

He painted walls and ceilings, not landscapes and portraits. He did this as a member of the “Plant Department” at Hofstra University near New York City, which in those days was merely Hofstra College, a pipsqueak second or third tier school known mainly for its ability to turn higher education into high humor.

Since those days, “high” has acquired a new meaning. But Hofstra of the early 1960s was a relatively drug-free space because the drug revolution hadn’t yet taken place.

One thing they did well was to get the place painted regularly. And much of that fell to this Scottish guy, John. He spoke like “Scotty” in “Star Trek” real thick and hard for American ears to understand some of the time. Too bad. He had at least one thing to say that the rest of us should have listened to.

“Take the profit out of war, and there’s no more war.”

John was an advocate of a single, national industrial union and worker ownership of the factories that made the implements of war, from supertankers to nuts and bolts. This didn’t fly in his native land, so he figured he’d come here. That doesn’t seem sensible now. But he figured he had a better chance here. Teach you to listen to a guy who plays a bagpipe.

Bechtel the construction giant has pulled out of Iraq or been fired, no one’s quite sure which and no one who knows anything is saying. But they’re left a lot of their un-done work to the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps is more used to taking things down than it is to putting things up. They must recruit the ham-handed. Or the ham-minded. And their cost overruns would make Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed green with envy. But they’re a non-profit. So it’s a start.

Another start: members of the Democratic Party recently won a majority representation in the Congress. That means they control stuff like… oh, say, appropriations.

And that means they can “cut and run,” as the right wing whackos call it. Cut the funding, and run THIS country, is more like it.

Cut the money. No more war.

Of course, no more Iraqi oil, either, once the mullahs get their hands on the moolah. But we always have our good friends in Iran, Saudi Arabia, The Emirates, Yemen, Russia, Venezuela, Mexico and the various ‘stans to count on.

Fill ‘er up, Borat.

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

(c) 2006 WJR