Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Guinness

209 Guinness

We are fast approaching St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone’s Irish and everyone who drinks will drink Guinness. It’s an acquired taste and some of us have spent decades rigorously and regularly acquiring it, or trying to.

It’s bitter stuff. But it’s you’re patriotic duty to have at least one on or about March 17th every year. Ordinarily, that line would read “…to have at least a pint on or about March 17th.” But, taking a tip from us much smarter American marketing geniuses, they have reduced the size of the can to 11-point-something ounces. This would be a matter of national shame in Dublin (or even Belfast,) but here, it’s just another US-style “improvement.”

Do they think we’re going to have just one of these? It brings new meaning to the phrase micro brew.

The people who make this stuff have also made a series of very funny television ads about drinking responsibly. Well, how about a little responsibility over there, people! If you want us to just have one, then give us a full one, not some skimpy shadow of a real brew.

The Germans, the British, the Canadians, the Austrlians (ESPECIALLY the Australians) even the American beer monoliths still make 12 and 16 ounce cans and bottles. What’s with you stingies? You maybe think leprechauns are all of a sudden too small to lift a full can? (No self respecting leprechaun would drink the stuff out of ANY size can or bottle. On tap is the only way. But you get the picture.)

Further, they’re sticking these little nitrogen releasing pills in each of the cans and bottles now. Supposedly it makes it taste better. (Earth to the brewery: It tastes lousy no matter what you do to it. It’s supposed to. It’s like the bitter herbs at Passover. Reminds you of the tough times. Only unlike the herbs, after a few cans, you don’t care anymore.) The little nitrogen pills take up room. Room that could be used for more stout.

These pills are called “widgets.” Widget used to be a generic term. Many people applied it to many different things. Now, Guinness is trying to expropriate the term. Another shameful act.

You may be interested in knowing that they have not removed any strings from the harp logo at the same time they removed part of an ounce from the can. At least they respect SOME traditions.

Nevertheless, they should go to their “book of world records” department (it’s probably in the same building) and enter this cheap trick into it under “record stingy beer tricks.”

And if they don’t have that category (along with the world’s biggest zucchini and the highest number of university students to cram into an English phone booth) they should.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, February 26, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith & The Warren Comission

208 Anna Nicole Smith & The Warren Commission

Disclaimer: If you were a big fan of Anna Nicole Smith and are squeamish skip reading this. For the rest of you, who love to make tasteless and juvenile light of the plight of celebrities, please read on.

That’s the Jake Warren Commission. Jake runs the candy store at the train station and he’s decided to form a blue ribbon panel to investigate the death of Hollywood’s Anna Nicole Smith, which as of this writing remains a mystery.

There have, after all, been all those theories floating around, and Jake thinks it’s time they are put to rest.

These include:

SUICIDE: She just had enough of all the hassle, the marriage and the court fight that followed, the fights with her stepchildren, the death of her son and the paternity status of her daughter, the fatherhood of whom has been claimed by about two thirds of all males between the ages of 14 and 90.

THE UNDERWORLD: She was pretty palsy with some pretty shady types. Maybe she went to a shark for money to cover her expenses during the lawsuit over her late husband, and couldn’t keep up with the vig, so they bumped her off.

THE CUBANS: She died in South Florida, right? What more evidence do you need?

PENTHOUSE MAGAZINE: Playboy rival maybe got tired of all that free publicity every time anyone mentioned Smith.

IMPLANTS: Some of her friends said her implants were painful, causing her to take large quantities of painkillers which ultimately did her in.

FORTUNE TELLER PROPHESY: a “seer” once told Smith she wouldn’t live past 40. Since she was 39 at the time of her death, maybe the fortune teller did it.

THE CIA, THE NSA, THE DIA, THE FBI: gutted by the Homeland security bureaucracy. No way they have the resources to do this.

It’s hard to imagine that a single pill slipped into her medicine bottle was the work of a lone individual. Ballistic tests on Vicodin, Oxycontin, Prozac, Zoloft, Valium and Trim Spa show that no single dose can kill.

Regular firers of all these were closely questioned by experts and each swore that one pill or even half a bottle won’t do it.

The preliminary report of the Warren Commission shows that this was an accidental death due to an undetermined combination of factors and apparently the work of a lone medicine taker, that there was no connection to any mobsters, Cubans, magazine publishers, implant makers fortune tellers or any intelligence or law enforcement agency.

Unfortunately, there’s no record of the events immediately before her collapse in that hotel room. There were no security cams in her room (at least none that anyone will admit to,)

So, one of the lingering questions remains: Abe Zapruder, where were you when we needed you?

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, February 23, 2007

More Retail Delights

207 More Retail Delights

Sears is sending a part for the stove. It’s the bottom panel for inside the oven. The original has aluminum foil baked onto it. It is not covered by the warranty because in the book, allegedly, is a phrase akin to “do not put aluminum foil on the bottom panel of the stove because it bakes on and you’re screwed. Plus we do not cover owner lunacy or failure to follow directions.

The Sears help line lady says it’s in the book. It may be. So far, it remains un-found. She gives this number for parts: 1-800-242-4485. It is the wrong number. It’s in this Wessay because it is an unlisted direct line where the repair guys who work for Sears call for help and information. It is nowhere else to be found. So now, you have it, for what it’s worth, and no one else who shouldn’t does.

The actual number to order parts is well publicized, so it won’t appear here. If you need it (fool) you can find it yourself.

Once in touch with parts central, after giving the guy the model number, the part number, the “division number” (whatever that is) and the “PLS number” (whatever THAT is,) I’m told that the part will cost $38, but with shipping and taxes it’s $52,

And the piece de resistance? The letter of confirmation is scheduled to arrive AFTER the part is scheduled to arrive.

Why? Because “…that comes from another place.”

This does not strike the guy as an odd sequence.

Then, there’s Macy’s. We’ve been downgraded from two “Platinum” accounts to one “gold” and one lowely “Red Star” accounts. This means Macy’s thinks we aren’t spending enough money with them to warrant continuation of our coveted and exclusive “Platinum” accounts. No free services. Smaller “rewards,” a demotion.

A combined 110 years of shopping at Macy’s has done us no good. “What have you done for us lately?” is what they’re asking.

Well, earth to Federated Department Stores: The local Macy’s is kind of like a 7-11 with no coffee but some clothing. There’s nothing worth buying in the joint. Thirty-fourth Street? Sure. Roosevelt Field? Sure. But Moote Pointe PA? Nah.

This calls for some deep reflection. Do we keep the inferior status or do we cut up the new cards and send them back? This is the kind of decision that causes people to go over the edge.

TJ Maxx:

Customer: “may we have the hangers along with the shirts?”

Clerk (an old guy): “No, we’re running low. We need to keep them. We have a policy against giving away hangers.”

One week later:

Customer “may we have the hangers along with the jacket and sweater?

Other Clerk (a young woman): “Oh, of course. We have these things coming out of our ears. I just threw 200 of them into the dumpster. Happy to have you take them.”

There was a temptation to ask for a look at the company’s policy book to double check the previous clerk’s citation.

Giant Supermarket, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Despot: Lose those self-checkout machines. Or at least take down the signs that say “fast lane.”

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Again Chrysler

206 Again, Chrysler

Calling Walter Chrysler. Come back home. All is forgiven. Oh. Wait. He’s dead. And so is the company he founded. Walter knew enough to lie down. The company doesn’t. And it’s gone through at least seven of its prospective nine lives.

If ever there was a company that escaped the grave more often and better than this outfit, someone please write or call and be heard. This outfit was in financial hot water from the get go. Walter had worked for Alco, Willys and Buick before striking out on his own.

To do that, he bought the maker of Maxwell cars and killed the brand. Always in the forefront of engineering, the company came up with all kinds of improvements we take for granted today. In style…. Well, WHAT style. That is until one of their near-death financial experiences led them to the tail fin look of the 1950s, at which no one out dazzled them.

Since then, they’ve gone through two takeover attempts, both of which were fended off and one “merger of equals” in which they replaced “Benz” as the last name in Daimler-Benz, which is now DaimlerChrysler. If you remove the last three letters of “Daimler” and the first four letters of Chrysler, you get what they’ve become.

Jerry Flint of Forbes Magazine called the new American Division of Daimler “Occupied Chrysler.” Which probably landed him in trouble with the PC police. Anyway, he’s stopped using the term.

The last guy anyone remembers running the company was Lee Iacocca, who is best known for (a) appearing in commercials and for (b) the statement “you can’t succeed if all you ship is crap.”

We had the comical “Dr. Z” in the commercials for awhile, but people couldn’t relate and they pulled the ads. Plus “Dr. Z,” Dieter Zetsche, has bigger knockwursts to fry. Like solving what the automotive press genteelly calls “quality issues” with the Mercedes.

Since then, a parade of The Scared and the Colorless have run the company into its present position. If Ford weren’t so pathetic, Chrysler would look like a homeless guy sitting on the curb and drinking from half a bottle of Listerine.

In efforts to stay afloat, Chrysler has killed the Plymouth and DeSoto brands and turned Dodge into a Chrysler clone with no real existence on its own. It has taken the Jeep brand and turned it into just another SUV, for the most part.

They’re firing a gazillion workers, and they are for sale. Who wants ‘em? A bunch of people are kicking the tires. The main contender as of February, 2007 is General Motors, which has made some multi-boneheaded decisions lately, like selling off its parts division and most of its profitable financial subsidiary.

Two losers rarely make a winner. What Chrysler needs is new faces. It’s just grand that they’ve revived the 300 and the Dodge Charger. But its not enough.

Whoever ends up buying this thing will want to suck out the cash reserves, close factories and slap the name on a Korean or Chinese built tin can.

The humane thing would have been to shoot this thing and put it out of its misery sometime in the 1940s.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ace and the Dollar Coin

205 Ace and The Dollar Coin

Ace Farmer runs the little coffee cart on the corner of Park and 59th. It used to be a busy corner and he used to not be Ace Farmer.

It’s no longer busy as it used to be because the new tenants at 499 Park and at 110 E.59th are not as coffee and danish conscious as the previous ones were. The Bloomberg News and Data types spent big bucks with Ace.

Ace Farmer became Ace Farmer on September 12th, 2001. Sometimes he calls himself Al Farmer. But he never calls himself by his previous name, Achmed Farouk.

Ace rolls up in a van each morning about 4:30, detaches the coffee cart and sets it up on the street, loads it with the breakfast stuff, drives off to find a legal parking space, then runs – RUNS – back to the cart to open for business.

After work, about eleven, Ace hooks up the cart and before he heads for the garage in Queens where he keeps it, he stops off at the bank which is right outside Grand Central on the Lexington Avenue side. It’s eleven and there’s a big crowd. What’s going on? Ace aces his way nearer and he’s horrified.

There are the guys from the US Mint and they’re showing how dumb they can be. They are doing this by displaying and selling the new US Dollar coin.

Ace, who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body has developed a major hatred of Susan B. Anthony and Princess Sacagawea. His English is good. His spelling is okay. But he can neither say nor spell Sacagawea. Who can blame him? And who can do better.

Ace makes change in the pre-dawn hours and now he’s got another dollar coin to worry about. When the Princess coin came out, he put a sign on the cart: “No Dollar Coins, Please.” No problem. No one used ‘em. (He wasn’t here when the Susan coin was introduced.)

He won’t put the sign up this time, having learned well before the Mint that no one’s going to use the new one. The Mint hasn’t learned that yet. It will.

Canada is laughing at us. They – and every other country that has tried to fob off a high-value coin on its population has learned that the only way people will use the coins is if they can’t get the bills.

That’s a pretty big focus group, guys. Three hundred million residents of the United States, and millions more around the world. Dollar coins don’t work. We don’t want ‘em. The two previous editions are sitting in dresser drawers or in piggy banks (those with slots big enough,) and in cigar boxes.

They weigh us down. They tear holes in purse and pocket.

You’d figure two huge and recent failures would have taught them what we want and what we don’t. But, no.

Earth to Mint: We want money to burn holes in our pockets, not rip them.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, February 16, 2007

Two New York Stories

204a Two New York Stories

(2/14/07)

Here are two Valentine ’s Day stories from New York. To save you time, they’ve been jumbled together.

As you may know, the Department of Health gives out condoms. It’s been doing that for years. Today, though, they are using what the manufacturing industry calls a “new distribution channel.”

Specially marked packets of condoms are being given out in the subways. They have subway decorations on the outside of the pack. The health department says this is so they can track who received which. People on the G train got G train condoms, people on the 7 train got 7 train condoms and so on.

It’s an exciting concept for the advertising business. Think of the slogans. “Prevent STD on the BMT,” Or “Get your lay on the Uptown A.”

The IRT comes in numbers. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Those are route designations, guys, not inches.

For the rest of the routes:

B: Be careful, boys and girls. Use these.

C: Conception? Not today.

D: Defense against clap and babies.

E: Escape the burdens of premature parenthood.

F: Censored.

G: Get together safely.

And so on.

So, the promise was for two stories. Here’s the second:

While subway riders were receiving condoms, little kids who don’t usually use the subways alone were using the subways alone. Ten year olds.

Why? Because the geniuses that run this joint hired a “consultant” to “improve” school bus service and make it more economical.

The outfit has somewhat less than a stellar reputation. But they have pretty brochures, so, natch, they were hired.

Their first step was to manufacture a problem: “too many routes, too many buses.”

Okay. Change or consolidate some of the routes and eliminate some of them and some of the buses. And don’t forget to tell the parents about the changes.

Well, they did the first stuff, but not the “tell the parents” part.

So there’s the snow and the ice and the wind and the cold. And there are clots of kids standing out in this stuff, waiting for buses that never show up.

It gets better. Joey and Janie go to the same school and on the same schedule, but are in different grades. For years (remember, these are LITTLE kids,) they rode together and watched out for each other. Now they have to take two different buses. Progress.

The Board of Ed didn’t leave its lunatic ways behind when they closed 110 Livingston St. and moved into the Tweed building. Their explanation: It’s an improvement. You’ll learn to love it.

The NYC school system doesn’t have enough trouble without this? They saved how much? The consultant cost how many millions?

As usual, the people doing the work are people who have to use what’s being worked on.

But at least the elementary school kids riding the subway alone this morning had access to free condoms decorated with Transit Authority logos and route designations.

When twelve year old Lizzy drops her backpack on the living room floor and the contents spill and mom sees the W-train condom and asks “Elizabeth! Where did you get this!?” She should say “A guy on the subway gave it to me.”

That’ll make mom happy.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why We Love The Government

203 Why We Love The Government

A form arrives in the mail from something called “the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Instructions include stuff like “answer the questions in black pen or pencil because a computer will read your response.”

What IS the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services? A phone call to its toll free number leads one to believe it’s a government agency and not some identity thief seeking personal information.

Why does it seem so? Because the voicemail menu is longer than the food menu over the counter at McDonald’s. And because said menu is barely comprehensible.

After a long wait, a guy comes on and when asked whether he’s a faker says “no,” which is what you’d expect any faker to say. Why is there “real postage” on the envelope with the forms instead of the “we’re the gov’t, we don’t pay postage” labels that you see on mail from other agencies? Mr. Centers doesn’t know.

Why does Medicare need personal information AFTER it issues the card? “Just routine.” That’s the same answer a cop gives you when you ask why he wants to know where you were at about 9:30 night before last when your neighbor got whacked.

There are no answers forthcoming. But based on its behavior, it appears this is a real agency, with no known purpose. Wouldn’t be the first. So at least the fraud and faker issue is settled. The form will be filled, using a special black pencil that only a computer can read (take them at their word.)

Someone designed the form. Someone arranged for its printing. Someone arranged for its distribution. Some machine has to be in house in order to read the reply. Someone has to be around to field questions from Medicare customers who think they might be being duped. Heavens! We could send another 20-thousand boys and girls to Iraq for that kind of money, and not have to go still further into debt.

Here in Moote Pointe, we have two apparently good public high schools across the street from each other, and both pretty new. The school board wants to tear them down, build one giant high school and turn the existing second school into athletic fields at a cost of something like $100 million.

The giant new school would not have more capacity than the combination of the present two, but would, says the board, “increase a sense of community.” Assuming that this is built and that it is the first public works project in American history to come in on budget, that’s an awful lot of money to spend on a “sense of community,” and doesn’t take into account the cost of disruption (which can’t be measured in dollars,) or the future needs of the area (into which scads of kiddies are expected to move in the next decade or so.)

You have to love the folks who insist that local government has it all over federal government. They’re the same animal, just different spots.

California and Pennsylvania are considering universal health care. The medical insurance establishment is up in arms. “A lot of uninsured people just don’t WANT the insurance,” they tell us. And it will cost too much.

Washington can help. Mostly by eliminating the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Maybe send 10-thousand extra people to Iraq and with the money that would have covered the rest of the 20-thousand proposed earlier, would buy some aspirin or chemo for uninsured sick people.

We have long made the point that government is not a business, it’s an infrastructure. It’s still true despite what the hard right wingers shout from within their imaginary worlds. However, the infrastructure is not fully sound.

If the present regimes were in power in 1940, we’d all be speaking German today.

The bridge needs more than a paint job.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, February 12, 2007

Political Quick Takes

202 Political Quick Takes

Try as we will to keep politics out of this, it’s tough to withhold comment on the current crop of dwarves seeking the 2008 Presidential nominations. Herewith is the early assessment.

Obama: Lil’ Bratz’ answer to Barbie’s Ken.

Romney: Better off mitt out. Insufficent bedroom capacity in White House.

Bayh: Bye bye.

Giuliani: 9/11 prematurely slows or ends the merry martinet’s political death spiral. Eight years of one-man rule in the White House is enough. Remember Bernie Kerik.

Schweitzer: Brian ain’t no Albert.

Dodd: Dudd.

Biden: Senator from America’s Corporate Paradise.

Vilsack: Who?

Hegel: Who?

Cox: Who?

Paul: Who?

Hunter: Who?

Huckabee: Sounds like part of the punch line for a joke about NASCAR.

Brownback: Needs more Intelligent Design

Thompson: Mr. Welfare reform should stick to what he knows. What DOES he know?

Edwards: The present President was a cheerleader between drinks at college. One was enough. No need for a Hairdresser-in-Chief.

Pataki: Oh, Please! Proof that New York State can function without a governor.

Clark: No one named Wes is all bad. That said, this is General Windup (not to be confused with General Electric.)

Gingrich: Broke contract once to our universal benefit. No second chance.

Frist: Can’t spell his own name. And would you trust this doctor with your mother’s health?

McCain: Plays James Dean’s “Rebel” while channeling Reagan.

Richardson: What kind of Hispanic is named Richardson?

Gore: Gippetto’s finest handiwork still not ready for prime time.

Clinton: Wait for the second version of the operating system. US Robotics and Microsoft working on a fix.

Now some long shots:

Imus: Probably should be the Libertarian Party candidate.

Bloomberg: Like Perot before him, one decent idea, executed relatively well, makes him appear to feel omnipotent, but unlike Perot, he’s sane.

Schwarzenegger: Candidacy resulting in a possible win would require a Constitutional amendment, for which there isn’t enough time. A tax and spend Republican, though.

Rice: A black Republican woman? Sure. Ready now.

Sanders: A Jewish boy from Brooklyn who represents Vermont in the Senate? (See Rice.)

Powell: To the Bushies, he’s Wellstone. To the Wellstoners he’s Bush without the war.

Sharpton: Charlie Rangel without the brains.

Mencia: Comedy Central standup star is this column’s personal choice. But would require the Schwarzenegger Amendment.

Other than Carlos Mencia, this is a pretty sorry lot. We can only hope that someone will emerge who is not a right or left wing whacko. Of course, today’s left wing whacko is yesterday’s moderate. Thank Ronnie for that one. He upset the natural swing of the pendulum and the natural scale before which it swings. And we bought the changes.

I’m Wes Richards and I approved this message.

Paid for by the Friends of Wes Richards for President Committee,

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Spam That Ate Google

201 The Spam That Ate Google

The spam count has recently elevated to about 200 a day. This is only in one “account.” The others are relatively untouched by this recent burst. It can’t be just a few of us, else why would Gmail have installed a new feature to empty the spam box in one stroke instead of in individual excising?

They remain unopened. But it’s temping to look at some of them.

This one commands attention “Pizza Tasters Wanted.” The preview line: get free pizza for a year. This could be a windfall of saved money. Say you receive – oh, one pie a day.

That’s nearly 3,000 slices. Maybe they don’t deliver on Christmas and New Year’s Day, so subtract 16. But maybe they give you an extra for Garibaldi’s birthday or Columbus Day, or the anniversary of Mussolini’s assassination. So forget the subtraction. This is a tempting offer.

Right under that there’s a diet offering that will “Blow Hoodia away.” Seems like an odd coincidence. Oh, and that one’s followed by Orbit Medical announcing that it’s possible to “enjoy an active life again in a motorized wheel chair.” Cool.

Also to be learned is why sender “Chris” says “Kelly’s brother now knows more than you about profiting from the internet.” Fascinating.

“Bet-Zip” is offering free entry to an online poker game. Various other “senders” are offering free gift cards from Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Old Navy, American Airlines and Ikea.

There are several offers to work from home, several for credit cards (including one that’s been “issued” and is awaiting activation. There are loan offers, offers to increase or shrink various body parts, and something that’s “better than Botox” for wrinkles and “works instantly.”

The best of the bunch, though are those that come from senders with funny names (like “qp3bj\kjtfm”) and whose subject lines are in no known language (“shop with Imeno tak. Mne imusho tnga.”) Does anyone read this stuff?

Is someone paying spam-springs actual dollars to send this stuff out? Why is only this one particular e-mail address singled out.

Maybe Google is such a popular website that they single out Gmail addresses, especially because they offer more storage than anyone else and the recipient might not delete the ads?

Anyway, it’s better than having this stuff come through the regular mail. No carrier has to carry tons of this debris and wrench a shoulder sorting it at mailboxes. No trees die. And, with any luck, no business is transacted.

Now, some stray thoughts not worthy of a full 500 words, but still worth noting:

-“The Sopranos” is now on free cable, allowing the non-HBO subscribers among us the pleasure of watching it. It’s rrrrealllly boring.

-A large number of exhibits are planned to honor the late Robert Moses this year. But the real monument is the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the empty hulks of buildings that still line much of its length.

-Someone ought to extinguish the few among us who can’t take “yes” for an answer.

-Someone should make sure Papa and Baby Doc are really out of the picture. Washington’s getting to act like Port Au Prince.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Global Warming My Foot

200 Global Warming My Foot

Okay, my fellow tree huggers, it’s nice to know that in the short term we were wrong about global warming. It’s been so cold in the northeast lately that the polar bears are protesting. Carrying signs that say “Al Gore Come Home!”

It got to be eight degrees at mid morning and stayed there until early evening. And it was only through the efforts of the 50-thousand member Moote Pointe Farm Cooperative that it did.

Fifty thousand farmers got out into the cold and wind, cranked up their tractors, and their pickups and pumped thousands of cubic yards of greenhouse gases into the air. They were joined by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Warehousemen who cranked up the semis and let ‘em run -- not just outside the Lowe’s loading doc as they do most mornings, and the supermarket receiving departments, but everywhere.

The Moote Pointe Construction Association ran some of THEIR pickups throughout the day, too. And even private motorists turned over the engines of their beemers and Corvettes and let ‘em run for hours.

This was not a light undertaking, not with gasoline and diesel prices still in the stratosphere. But it worked. Accu-Weather, which is based here at the Pointe estimates that had this massive community effort not been mounted, the temperature would have risen to a mere 7.876 degrees, F.

The local gasoline retailing and convenience store chain, which is named for an article of bed clothes, only misspelled (“Sheetz,”) would not reduce its gasoline prices for the Moote Pointe Warming event. But they did offer a free meatball hero sandwich (here called a “hoagie,” whatever that means,) with every fill-up of eight gallons or more.

At the high school, public spirited students went around asking for donations based on the amount of gasoline they burned (take that, Cancer Awareness Walk! And a tip of the Wessays hat to Ms. Amanda Glockenspiel of nearby Elephant Township who earned $450.00 by burning a total of 280 gallons of unleaded regular in her father’s fully restored 1928 Packard, ruining the engine, which can’t use unleaded fuel, but ruining it for a good cause. )

Twelve hundred local condo dwellers set their gas-powered barbeque grills to working and the local town council opened the windows to let the hot air from its meeting fill the atmosphere.

In the meantime, the wildlife is confused. There’s this poor schlep of a deer, made homeless by some of those gas-fired condo dwellers and he wanders around from small woods to small woods wondering where to settle next. It’s so cold that the fur on the poor guy’s legs turned white. The rest of him still is tan, however. One wag cracked that “his legs have always been white.” That’s the local jokers for you.

Professor Able M. Carborundum of the Pompous State U. Dept. of Climatology cautions us to “…take the long view. This cold snap is an aberration. The temperature of the Ionosphere is rising by .124 degrees per decade. If we had had that extra .124 today, we wouldn’t have had to burn all that fuel reaching eight degrees.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mario And Mark and Harold And Junius

199 Mario And Mark and Harold And Junius

Will someone please buy those two hacking coughers at that table over there a bottle of Robitussin? They’re spreading germs throughout the library. And you don’t want to catch what they have.

The two are Mark and Junius. And they say they’re writers. More like data entry clerks, though.

Mark has “finished” two books based on Mario Puzo’s characters in “The Godfather.” Junius has finished two books based on large fragments left behind when Harold Robbins died.

Four books by dead guys. “The Godfather’s Revenge,” “The Return of the Godfather,” “Blood Royal” and “The Betrayers.”

Neither Puzo nor Robbins were what you’d call masters of great literature. But they were good and original storytellers. The posthumous books are kind of okay. But they’re kind of like 12th Avenue streetwalkers: not bad from a distance, but when you drive up close, you find out they’re guys.

No one can blame the Puzo or Robbins estates or the publishers for wanting to make a buck by trading on reputations. But be forewarned: the Puzo stuff works off plots and themes that never would have happened if Puzo were still alive and writing. And the Robbins stuff? A totally idiotic pair of stories.

(In “Royal,” a Princess-Di-like character plots to shoot a Prince-Charles-like character at a costume party. In “Revenge,” Michael Corleone has murdered his brother Fredo and is haunted by his ghost.)

There’s no telling where either of the real authors would have taken this material, if anywhere. But there’s no suspense in neo-Puzo and the sex in neo-Robbins is buried.

Robbins wrote a formula. Some people say he told the story over and over again, changing only the names of the characters and their occupations. Maybe so, but it was a good story. “Royal” ain’t.

But we live in an age of replicas and re-issues.

John D’Angelico and James D’Aquisto, two of the greatest guitarmakers of the 20th century live on. The instruments with their names on them look and even feel like the originals. But the music that comes out of them, even in the hands of master players, just doesn’t sound the same.

When you buy one of these, you know you’re getting a replica or re-issue and you know what to expect, and you’re right. When you buy any of these four books, better have a safety net under the reading hammock.

The Mini Cooper automobile is a re-issue, and so is the “new” Volkswagen “Beetle.” But you know that, going in. And you know what to expect.

You also know that your Time-Life collection of “1,000 Great Malt Shop Hits from the ‘50s” is going to have digital audio glare instead of the wonderful analogue scratchiness and lack of frequency response of the original 45s.

The far-east-made Swingline stapler you bought from Staples the other day is going to work. But it won’t have the heft and durability of the one made in Long Island City that lasted 40 years before it finally jammed to the point where you couldn’t fix it.

Olivetti still makes typewriters – sort of. Anyway, they look like typewriters and they type.

So, go polish your Beetle, then turn on the iPod with the Malt Shop Favs on it, settle into your Castro Convertible Easy Chair and read these phony novels at your peril.

Oh, and some Robitussin for those guys, please.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, February 01, 2007

American Idol In The House

198 American Idol In The House

Everyone with a TV set watches that awful show, “American Idol.” It’s possibly Fox Television’s biggest grabber (or at least tied with “House, MD.”

People really watch both programs for the same reason. They each feature a cranky, funny, rebellious character (mini Murdochs, really – fictional or semi-fictional versions of the boss of all Foxes.)

“House,” for those just back from Mars is a medical mustery show, tracking hard-to-identify afflictions. The lead player is a genius at that kind of thing, but cantankerous, maybe because of his injured leg and the pain killers he pops like candy kisses – or maybe that’s just the way he is.

One of the judges on “Idol,” is pretty much the same, only clean-shaven and with some form of English accent. (The guy who plays house IS British, and affects the best American accident since Ustinov.)

The judge, Simon, sneers, laughs and puts down the people who are trying to win Idol’s national talent contest. Usually he has good reason.

He’s the only reason people watch this apparently intentional horror show. If the cast of “House” was as bad as the cotestants on “Idol,” no one would watch.

The other judges are (a) a washed up erotic dancer-turned pop video star turned wretched and pre-hag-like before our very eyes and a jolly, fat African-American who’s fun to watch, if only because he knows (or pretends to know) the repertoire of the contestants and seems like a nice enough fellow, besides.

But there really IS another reason to watch. By doing so, you get a picture of the next generation of music. And the picture ain’t pretty. Even the “good” contestants are good only when compared to the rest.

Watching and hearing these “entertainers” makes you want to run to your iPod and put on Sinatra, who was awful and often off-key, but positively Caruso-esque compared to what gen-next presents.

They whine, they scream; they contort their faces. (Celine Dion contorts both face and body. But at least her sound is relatively pleasant and comes out of her mouth, not her nose.)

Idol winners and runners up in past seasons generally have gone on to decent careers, with scarcely a difference in talent between a number-one and a runner-up. Well, not TALENT, exactly. More like less no-talent than some others.

The 2007 crop seems to have even more no-talent than previous seasons’.

But the crabby judge makes it fun to watch in kind of the same way as someone else’s auto accident is fun to watch. Or an open sewer.

And you have to ask whether any of the stars who came up the old fashioned way could win this competition.

Harry Connick, Jr., Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarrah Vaughn. Sinatra, Bennett, Elvis, Johnn Cash, George Jones.

Olivia Newton-John was a guest judge recently. Could she have won?

The upcoming generation shows us that the next stuff on the radio wil be music, which like today’s has words you can’t understand, but adds a new twist: a non-existent melody. This is going to put a lot of piano tuners out of work. Not to mention hair stylists (they wear their hair in much the same way they sing) and wardrobers (ditto.)

It all makes you long for the sound of first year violin and clarinet students.

What you get on Fox Tuesdays is a marathon of cranky. Simon the judge followed by Hugh Laurie’s Gregory “I play a doctor on TV” House.

A fun evening fo those of us who like nasty.

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

(c) 2007 WJR