Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day Retrospective

248 Memorial Day Retrospective

This should have been said a few days ago, Memorial Day. We don’t understand how this works. Or, we didn’t until now:

On Memorial Day, the Tomb of the Unknowns opens up and if the ghost inside sees his shadow, we have six more years of war.

It was sunny. The ghost saw his shadow. Looks like we’re in Iraq for awhile, yet.

They don’t put this ceremony on television. They should. And they should name the ghost. Arlington Al or Arlington Abe or Virginia Vic.

So Vic saw his shadow and now, more war. Maybe we should try again on July 4th.

We can stretch this idea a bit. Apply it to most of the holidays.

On Labor Day, at the tomb of Samuel Gompers, we get to find out if we have six more years of diminishing union membership.

On Thanksgiving Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Turkey we get an advance look at grocery prices.

That kind of thing.

We Americans love predictions. Most of them are wrong. But we love them. (More about this at www.westradamus.com.)

Notice how most forecasting – from the weather to the direction of the stock market – turns out off the mark. Even those that can be fudged.

Like corporate earnings forecasts.

Forecasters of THIS ilk have learned some hard lessons. Be accurate and Wall St. punishes your stock. Err toward the conservative and Wall St. punishes your stock. Err toward the optimistic and Wall St. punishes your stock if you’re right and kills it if you’re wrong.

The so-called “independent” analysts have it even cushier. When they’re wrong, they just say their predictions were misinterpreted. They continue to collect their seven to nine figure salaries and bonuses and Wall St. punishes the stock.

Still, we eagerly await the weather report, the earnings estimate report, the tax revenue earnings estimate, the horoscope, the tarot reading and all the guessing about who will win the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony, the Nobel Peace Prize and the Moote Pointe Hog Calling Contest… The Indy 500, the Belmont Stakes, the Employee of the Month Award at Wendy’s. The spelling bee, the best marks in the graduating class, the next touchdown.

Part of this is the inborn American optimism: Things are going to get brighter.

Part of this is the American reluctance to live in the present.

Part of this is the American “need” to get an edge over the next guy or the Chinese or the Russians.

(Notice, we’re no longer interested in getting an edge over the Japanese!)

About 35 years ago, a friend, Izzy (yes, that’s his real name,) closed up his shop on MacDougal St. and went to a country where he didn’t know a word of the language, Sweden, where he lives happily to this day.

No one predicted that.

So, some things really DO come from out of left field.

But most of the stuff we look at and try to turn into a palm reading or a phrenology session doesn’t mean much.

But the Ghost of the Unknown DID see his shadow, so it’s pretty safe to say we’re not leaving Iraq any time soon.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, May 28, 2007

Faking Precision

#247 Faking Precision

This is really, really cool. You can fake precision using real numbers and no one will much think about your trickery.

Here’s a quote from the label of a waterless hand sanitizer bottle: “Kills 99.99% of Most Common Germs That May Make You Sick.”

Wow, powerful stuff, right? Zaps pretty much everything dangerous. A virtual instant sterilization. Only .01% left when you’re finished.

Maybe.

But look at it closely.

“Kills 99.99% of most common germs…”

“Most” can mean just over half. Say 50.000001% So, really, this stuff can kill about 99% of about half” So, that a more precise rendering would be “kills about half” of “common germs that may make you sick.”

But what is COMMON? And what does “MAY” make you sick mean? If these germs may make you sick, they also may not make you sick.

And while we’re at it, what does “sick” mean? Are we talking about Yellow Fever? Or maybe a little bit of itchiness? Are we talking about cancer? Or maybe a sniffle?

The thing sounds downright scientific. But there are so many variables, the figure means 100.00% of nothing. (or 0% of everything.)

So, here we have an example of hiding behind number-supported imprecision. But it’s only one example.

Here’s another, the famed Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is calculated by taking the closing prices of 30 stocks, adding them together and divided by 30, right? Wrong. The DJIA is “weighted.” Stocks are given values over and above their actual price. That’s why when you add up the stock prices and divide by 30, you get nothing like what Dow reports as the day’s closing figure.

How about your body temperature? It’s 98.6, right? Normal. But not always. Some people are a little higher or a little lower most of the time and they’ve learned not to panic after reading the thermometer.

We won’t get into the way surveys are taken, because that’s too long and complicated for this venue. But suffice it to say asking “are you willing to spend $120 million on a new school building?” will not elicit the same percentage of “yes” answers as “do you want your children to have a good education in better surroundings than they now have?”

And “do you want to win the war on terror?” will not get the same “yes” votes as “should we send more Americans to fight in Iraq?”

This example should ring true: “The temperature is 87 degrees.” Very precise. Except also meaningless, because chances are you can’t feel the difference between 85 and 89.

One well known media company has a complex formula for determining the value of employee bonuses. The formula is used to determine the value of something akin to a stock certificate. But the number of these faux stocks awarded to an individual employee, is decided by whim. So the precise accounting is meaningless and the amount of the bonus dependent not on the value of the paper, but on the mood or attitude of the supervisor.

Numbers are, indeed, precise. What we do with them often is more camouflage than calculation.

(A briefer version of this Wessay was used on my WBLF radio program in May, 2007.)

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, May 25, 2007

Public Enemies

#246 Public Enemies

The President and Draft Dodger In Chief has come up with a "Public Enemies" list. But he hasn't disclosed all of those he put on it.

He did mention Osama and Company as "Public Enemy Number One." But that's where he stopped. Now it's entirely possible he stopped because he doesn't know which number comes next. (It's two, according to reliable authorities in the world of mathematics including retired bank president Paul Wolfowitz.)

But a raid on Rasputin Rove's secret files gives us a leg up on the rest of the bad boys. Herewith is the list, along with the reasons they're there.)

#2. Ted Kennedy (Has done nothing right since driving off a bridge.)

#3. Hugo Chavez (cut into Bush family oil profits by nationalizing everything in Venezuela but Wal-Mart.)

#4. The New York Times (No explanation necessary.)

#5. TIE: Bill and Hillary Clinton. (No explanation necessary.)

#7. The rest of the "Democrat Party" presidential candidates. (Including Al Gore) (Reasons vary.)

#8. TIE :John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani. (Not REAL Republicans.)

#10. ABC News (Spilled the secret beans on the plan to screw with Iran.)

#11. The UN (Islamist-kissing minority third world nations that want to loot the US.)

#13. The Jews (insufficient support for Israel.)

#14. This blog and the radio program associated with it (aid and comfort to the Democrats.)

#15. The Texas Rangers baseball team (only turned a profit when the Bush family sold interest.)

As soon as the Wessays team got this far, our agents were surprised by a $7.00 an hour security guard who turned them over to the Department of Justice for prosecution as perpetrators of a "third rate burglary." Hence, we don't know the rest of the list. But as soon as our guys (all ex-CIA a former actress from "Law & Order C.I" and The Real Giselle of the NYPD) get out of jail, we'll extend their tour of duty and send them back to Rove's safe.

The Roly Poly one cannot watch the closet at all times. Even with a hidden camera. Plus, if it was good enough for Nixon, it’s good enough for us.

At least we got into the top 15. To our astonishment and disappointment, we were not in the top ten. But at 14, we are in some pretty good company, though we probably would have put Verizon, Cablevision and the Red Sox higher than our own ranking.

We would also have thought the Washington Post, Canada, TGIF Fridays Restaurants, Colin Powell and Charles Darwin would have made the important end of the list, and maybe rap/hiphop music and Rolls Royce. But we have what we have.

So, while Frat Boy didn't name the rest of the names on the list, we've gone a ways toward doing that here.

Another public service from the column that asks the question, "What the hell's going on in this country, anyway."


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

(c) 2007 WJR

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The No Legislator Left Behind Act

245 The No Legislator Left Behind Act

Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? It’s a way to make members of Congress, the state legislatures and various town and county and city governments WAY more responsible.

It’s the No Legislator Left Behind Act.

Why do we need it? Because the people you pay to make laws don’t actually make laws. No. They’re put together by staff and even more often by lobbyists.

Congress members, Senators and such may think of the stuff (well, sometimes they do,) but it’s the lobbyists who do the actual work.

Is that right? Of course not. Legislators should know what’s in those bills.

And this Act is how to make sure they do.

From now on, we must decree, that no legislator can vote on a bill until they have actually read it. (We don’t want to make them over work, so they don’t actually have to write legislation. After all, that’s so gauche. But from the moment this act becomes law, they’ll have to know what’s in the bills.

How do we know that they know? By giving them tests. Not too tough, understand. But tough enough so they can demonstrate the expertise that they claim all along to have.

So 65 is passing. Unless, of course, their name is among the sponsors. Then, passing is 85.

Standardized tests for anyone who gets to vote on a bill. Then, we can gauge more about our lawmakers than we now can. We’ll know more about them than mere financial disclosure. We’ll know more about them than is said in the campaign “literature.” We’ll know more about them than what local newspaper editorial writers and reporters let us know.

It may slow things somewhat (this crowd is in no danger of winning the Kentucky Derby, in the fastest of times to begin with.)

But after they take and pass the test, we’ll know what they know – and it will be more than the present level which often is nothing.

We can start remedial reading and thinking classes for these class clowns. We can publish the grades – passing and failing alike – on the internet.

It would be nice to know, for example whether, say Senator Kennedy (D-Mass) could recite the substance of 85 percent of his immigration bill. It would be nice if Representative King (R-NY) could receite and translate the substance of 85 percent of his Homeland Security bill.

It would be nice if anyone could intelligently discuss the specifics of ANY bill on which they have voted or planned to vote.

Is this a serious proposal?

Absolutely.

Does it have a chance of passing?

Absolutely not.

The Congressites would have to read it first. And we know no one does that.

Of course, there’s no reason we have to limit this to the legislative branch.

Do you think Supreme Court Justices actually read the rulings and decisions their names are on?

Or does the President actually read any of those executive orders he’s always issuing?

Not on your life. At least not yet.

(parts of this blog were used earlier as part of the author’s daily radio program on WBLF, Bellefonte/State College PA.)

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Floral Tribute

244 Floral Tribute

Some flowers should be named for diseases. That would comfort the sick and improve the description of some plants.

The first one that comes to mind is the Osteoporosis Violet. It’s kind of hook-shaped, but still has a pretty face. Think of the encouragement this could give to people with this awful condition. Their very own flower and mirror image.

But don’t stop there. How about the Emphysema Cactus? Kind of reminds you that every time you take a breath, there’s this prickly green thing standing there giving you encouragement. It’s learned to live on scarce little water. You learn to live on scarce little air.

How about the Melanoma Pansy? There it sits, it’s splotched little face looking up at you as you await surgery. It’s a bonding experience no skin cancer patient should miss.

Then, there’s the gallstone potato. Another mirror image. And you can be oh so glad your stones are his size. See? There’s always someone worse off than you are.

And what of the Jaundice Tulip? Another yellow fellow to keep you company while the docs work on your liver.

The Brain Tumor Turnip. Parkinson’s Eel Grass.

The Appendicitis Hibiscus? The Kidney Stone Pussy Willow? How warm and fuzzy!

The Alzheimer’s Dandelion becomes something else after it leaves the fly-away stage and turns into an actual flower. But still.

Just think: cut flowers, potted plants, boutonnieres, corsages. The variations are limitless.

It all sounds so unseemly. But wait. Hallmark or FDT or 1800-Flowers will come up with something like this before long. And it won’t be limited to actual flowers, either. The internet beckons.

You’ll get e-cards with lifelike pictures of the flowers and you will (optional at extra cost) find matching screen savers and offers of embroider-by-numbers versions. Beats those velvet Elvis pictures and Dali prints you have on your walls now.

Then, there are book covers, tote bags and magnetic stickers for your car.

And bumper stickers: “I may have a low white count, but my White Rose helps me though the day.” “That black thing in the middle of my daisy is the spot on my lung.”

Why they can even engrave these flowers and plants on your tombstone.

You think the marketing geniuses have covered all the bases? Obviously not. At least not yet.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, May 18, 2007

Moving Targets

243 Moving Targets

What is it about this woman that she has to move everything that isn’t nailed down… and even some stuff that is?

Just when you get used to seeing the kitchen clock to the right of the sink, she moves it to the left. No sooner have you gotten used to the new spot, when it lands somewhere else.

There are clocks in the bathroom, the bedroom, the basement, the living room. They don’t stay still for long.

It makes the change from Standard to Daylight time a hunting expedition.

Dining room placemats aren’t in the dining room. They started in a little sun room at the back of the house. Now, they’re in the kitchen. It’s been a month, and it’s just now getting easier to remember where they are instead of heading for the previous location and then thinking “oh, yeah. They’re in the kitchen now.”

About the only things that haven’t moved are the ones that were inconveniently located in the first place. Like the hair dryer. It’s under one of the two bathroom sinks. But not the sink of the user. No. It’s under the sink of the bald guy who doesn’t have any hair to dry. No room under her sink.

Around here, we wear slippers in the house, so as not to dirty the floors with street shoes.

Where are the street shoes? In the closet on the second floor. Or in the rack in the garage. Depends on the day. Sometimes on the hour.

This from someone whose motto is “always put stuff back in the same place so you’ll know where it is when you need it.”

Physician, heal theyself.

This said after a nightlong hunt for a set of keys.

The bedroom, normally orderly and spotless, was chaos. Boxes of jewelry were spread all over. Boxes and drawers were open and emptied. It looked like a cross between a burglary and the bargain bin at Costco the night after the annual clearance sale.

“Please check your handbag.”

“Sure. In a minute.” (rummage, rumamage.)

“May I check the drawers?” “Sure.”

(rummage, rummage.)

“Did you check your handbag?”

“I never put them there, but, yes, I will. In a minute.”

“How about in your winter coats? (does anyone need 16 winter coats?)

“I never leave them there, but you can go look.”

(rummage, rummage, rummage, rummage.)

“Did you check your handbag?”

“Not yet.”

(Rummage, rummage.)

“Might they be in the car?”

“No. And I won’t be able to sleep until I find them!”

“Did you check your handbag?”

“I will.”

“May I do it?”

“Sure.”

(rummage, rummage.)

“I think they’re stolen.”

“No one would steal your keys. Did you look in your handbag?”

“No. But I will. Just another minute.

“Did you drop them somewhere?”

“No. and can you help me lift this crate out of the closet?”

“Sure. What’s in it?”

“Handbags.”

(Who needs 32 handbags? Practically every woman alive.)

(Rummage, rummage.)

“Oh, here they are!” (in the 28th handbag.)

Everything in its place.

Remember that. Otherwise, you’ll misplace stuff.

Unlike us.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Dime Novel

242 The Dime Novel

Here’s the ultimate inflation insult: the “dime novel” now costs ten bucks.

It’s not enough that a three cent stamp now costs 41 cents. It’s not enough that a song on a juke box can cost half a buck. It’s not enough that a quarter’s worth of gasoline now costs three bucks. But now, the price of a ten cent book has risen 1000%.

Don’t you love what the publicists tell you? Don’t you love the weasel-worm “justifications” that apologists offer?

Here’s a sample – a made-up one: “You have to understand that the cost of paper and of cover art is always rising. You have to understand we’ve enlarged the page size and the type – so even more paper, plus more ink! And the DISTRIBUTORS!!! Plus no one ever sells these things at sticker price, anyway.”

Oh boy. Put away the magnifying glass. Put away the “Itty Bitty Book Lite,” which never works, anyway, and I’ll put away the reading pillow. A nice chunky dime novel that’s self-illuminating, small enough to carry, but large enough to see is a dandy improvement, even though the recycled paper isn’t as nice as the usual thick newsprint.

Actually, this is all a lie. The book is not ten bucks. It’s $9.99. With the sales tax, it’s $10.58.

“Yes,” says the publicist, “the price will vary. Not every state charges sales tax on books. Right. There’s no tax in Delaware. Four other states have no sales tax, but they do have excise taxes. And almost everything there is a luxury.

So, let’s organize an excursion, an Atlantic City-style bus trip, to Delaware to buy tax free dime novels for a mere $9.99.

It’s been a long time since publishers have demanded big page counts so they can justify charging $28 for a hardcover book. What is truly astonishing is how many books don’t get sold, despite attractive titles, authors, covers and advance payments.

Many go right from the printing press to the “book for a buck” table at Barnes & Nobel. Saves a lot of promotional money, advertising and storage space.

Along with the price inflation, there’s variety inflation. Stuff that no one likes, cares about or will buy rolls out of the binding plants at a rate that would make tree killers like the New York Times and Staples green with envy.

At latest count, there were 24,346 titles that fall under the umbrella “self-help” or get rich quick. “How I made 20 billion dollars refilling Amway boxes” should be on everyone’s library shelf.

There are biographies of 110,238 people you never heard of, don’t need to know about and add nothing to your life. Hot off the press: The Daisy Cruz Story. Who? Exactly.

There are travel books about every possible location (even Delaware!)

And those canny book marketers never miss a trick. Since women writers of fiction sell far more books than men, there’s a (not too) secret push in publishing circles, to raise the cover price of books written by women.

The price of E-books has remained fairly stable. That is for two reasons: (1) No one likes them, and (2) it’s hard to bring your notebook computer or Palm Pilot into the bathroom. Not to mention dangerous.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blimplants

241 Blimplants

Is there a way they can do the opposite of those stomach-stapling operations? This is a case of stomach envy. Most of the men around here and many of the women have these immense figures. Those of us who are merely chubby are hurting. We feel out of style, out of fashion, out of sorts and out of not enough of our clothing.

Wasn’t there an outfit that did stomach implants? Was that in “Parade” or “Modern Cyclist?” or “Pro Wrestling Digest,” of Fatty Fashionista Monthly?” And was it an article or was it an ad?

All attempts at acquiring this look naturally have failed. Living at McDonald’s (even though Zagat’s gave Wendy’s a much better rating except for the fries,) stopping all planned exercise, drinking large quantities of bad local beer have not turned the trick.

How many bags of Fritos can you eat and not gain enough weight to make a difference?

The Big Men’s Dept. at Whale-Mart is beckoning, but thus far, the call must go unanswered. It’s a lonely feeling. Said department is a rallying point for all the guys with big bellies.

Some of them are even skinny – except around the middle. This is truly painful. And none will share his or her secret.

Investigators have gone stalking at mealtime, spying on restaurant (especially fast food restaurant) patrons. They’ve done the peeping Tom routine at houses and trailers where the Large People live – especially around dinner time.

There is no way to tell.

The Blimplant is the last hope. A survey of doctors and hospitals typically results in a reaction like “you want to do WHAT? You must be nuts.”

Not even do they get to the very first question in any medical conversation: “Who’s your insurer?” Not with this one. Nope. Just “…you must be nuts.”

This may be barking up the wrong tree. Maybe Blimplants aren’t the answer. Maybe this should be part of the organ donor program.

“This is Stonewall County Hospital, sir. We have found a donor match for that new stomach and we’d like you to come in for some tests.”

Excellent! Too bad some poor 40 year old fool with a colossal midsection had to be up on that ladder fixing his leaders and gutters during a thunderstorm. Here’s hoping he went easy.

But, do you have any idea how humiliating it is to not be “one of the boys” at this advanced age? How lonely? It’s like being shunned or even excommunicated. Where is Father Damian when you need him? Or the Saranac Lake Sanitarium?

If misery truly DOES love company there should be a place for us.

In the meantime, it’s off to McDonald’s. They have a special today on Big Macs. Buy one, get one free. Probably buy three or four to get six or eight. Plus a large decaf. One can’t be too careful about one’s health, after all.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Toothbrushes

240 Toothbrushes

So there you are at the dentist and you're all finished up with the exam, and they give you a new toothbrush with their name on it and they tell you go get a few of these... extra soft Dento-World Sure-Grip wavy bristle brushes. So, being the obedient follows-doctor's-orders kind of patient, you zip on down to CVS or Duane's and of course they don't have it.

Neither do any of the other drugstore chains.

You call the doc and he says "try the website." And, sure enough, at dento-world-dot-com you find exactly what you're looking for. Two bucks each and a few bucks shipping. No prob.

You order (securely, on line, of course.) and eight weeks later, come your tooth brushes. Soft Dento-World Sure-Grip wavy bristle brushes.

What happened to extra soft.

"Contact Us."

"Dear Dento-World we ordered some extra soft Dento-World Sure-Grip wavy bristle brushes. But you sent us "soft," not "extra soft" as my dentist recommended."

"Dear Customer, thank you for writing. We are happy to hear from consumers (as opposed to "customers." How do you "consume" a toothbrush, other than burning it?) Unfortunately, we no longer manufacture extra soft Dento-World Sure-Grip wavy bristle brushes. We hope your tooth brushing experience will be a good one. Thanks again for writing and don't hesitate to contact us about our products any time."

So you call the dentist (again) and you tell him that the brushes he gives away and recommends are no longer being made, and what should you do?

In some cases, the answer is “find another brush.” To which you should reply “okay, but don’t recommend anything. If you do, it’ll vanish from the shelves (if it was ever there in the first place.”)

In others he’ll say “don’t worry about brushing, you won’t have any teeth left to brush the way you’re going.”

If you have a tooth pulled, and want it (there was a necklace like that under construction here, once,) they now tell you it’s medical waste and they have to dispose of it properly. If you’re a long-term patient and they know you’re not a secret spy for the Medical Waste Police” you might be able to talk them into (or out of) a more decorative position.

In the meantime, there is a secret stash of those highly desirable Extra Soft Dento-World Extra Soft Sure Grip Wavy Bristle brushes. But you’d better act fast.

--
http://wessays.blogspot.com
Radio WBLF 970 M-F 3-5PM

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

239 Tag Teaming

239 Tag Teaming

They had the professional wrestlers here in Moote Pointe the other day. Live and in person. Also on television. The young boys and their fathers by the thousands in a great indoor arena.

The boys came to see the modern-day versions of Hulk Hogan and that crew – people like the normal-looking champion, John Cena. And the history buffs came to see Rick Flair, who might be 100 years old but still performs.

The fathers came to see the women, people whom Aldus Huxley would describe as “pneumatic,” no longer called “lady wrestlers,” but, instead, “Divas.” This was a Diva tag team match, where two women are supposed to be in the ring at a time, and they alternate pretending to do each other bodily harm.

Sometimes at a match, people really DO get hurt. There was one popular guy, once, who fell from some kind of rope arrangement suspended from the ceiling. Only it wasn’t suspended all that well, and the poor guy crashed to the ground and died.

But mostly, no one gets hurt.

The Divas weren’t the only tag team match here that day, though. There was another one playing out in court about ten miles up the road.

Here, you had a kid charged with a minor crime, held in the kind of bail usually reserved for the CEOs of crooked energy traders or international terrorists or suspected serial killers.

There’s a bail hearing. Everyone’s in court. The solemn and stately judge sits there and listens to witnesses for the defense, then witnesses for the prosecution. The witnesses for the prosecution are late-teen women who speak copspeak, which means someone’s told them what to say.

After the witnesses are finished telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth that they have “sworn or affirmed” to do, “so help them, God.” Judge Solemn looks down at the paperwork and notices that the original bail (Gotti paid less,) was set by another judge with whom he’s familiar: his son.

Yes, a father and son judicial tag team.

So after all of three seconds of contemplation, he denies the bail reduction motion and everyone goes home or to lunch. Except the defendant, who now has waited behind bars for almost as long as the sentence for his crime. Seventeen days.

No foul, no harm?

Nah. No one gets hurt. But Stonewall County doesn’t get its Kenneth Lay sized bail money, either, because only guys like Kenny Boy have that kind of money.

The show was pretty much the same in the ring and in the courtroom. The outcome was decided well in advance.

Except the bikini Divas dress better.

You wouldn’t want to see the father/son tag team in outfits like that.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dead Presidents/Bonaparte's Retreat

238 Dead Presidents or Bonaparte’s Retreat

It’s a song, not a fact of history.

It should be the song of the current White House, where the draft-dodging, drunken Chief-in-Chief always speaks in tones formerly reserved for anonymous dirty phone calls at three o’clock in the morning.

They’re getting ready to “cut and run,” as they like to say about those of us who oppose the imbecile war in Iraq.

They’ve got Howlin’ Wolfowitz, Rasputin Rove and “You can call me Al” Gonzo Gonzales one notch away from the firing squad. But they don’t have Osama anywhere near one.

They’ve got Bill Casey wannabe Dick “Buckshot” Cheney. They’ve got Condi (I’m proof ANYONE can get an advanced degree) Rice.

They’ve put their churches in charge of your health and welfare,

They’ve made moving targets of your sons and daughters. They’ve made stationary targets of every office building over 10 stories.

And now, they’re in stall mode until they can hightail it back to Texas and California and all those fields of poisoned soil that sprung ‘em.

And look at the glorious choices they have left behind. Rudy and Mitt and John, Fred, Tommy. Makes you long for Bobdole Bobdole, doesn’t it?

That rock of journalism, the “Globe” is reporting that Bush has been kanoodling with Condi, that he’s in full-drunk mode, and that first lady Laura is living in a hotel, and will walk out on the Prez six months after the end of his term.

Another retreat.

But it’s not just war and imposing their religion on the rest of us the Bushies are leaving behind. They’re leaving behind an economic mess of monumental size.

The derivative markets (and please run at top speed from anyone who tells you he understands them,) are going to implode.

The stock market is WAY overheated. The infrastructure is crumbling, as is the country’s information and data system. Underemployment is the new unemployment. Education is eating its young. And the remedy for these afflictions? More of the same toxic waste that caused them.

There’s more deregulation coming (we haven’t learned a thing.)

And lovers of compound interest, welcome to compound gloom. The other side of the aisle is no help. Look at who we’re asked to choose among: Hillary, whom no one likes, not even the people who agree with all of her positions (whatever they may be today,) Barak, who says nothing at all, Hairdo Edwards and a bunch of equally unimpressive Democrats.

If we draft Mike Bloomberg and by some off chance he wins, we’ll all have to get microchips implanted in our heads so he can keep track of us. But at least the speeches will be short and you’ll understand them, if they don’t put you to sleep. And at least the guy wears a flight suit because he has a pilot’s license, not to show off on an aircraft carrier.

Is there anything in the Constitution that says we have to choose a President from among the living?

If not, Norman Thomas, Roosevelt(s – any of the three of them whose names you know) call home.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Wallaby Street Journal

237 The Wallaby Street Journal

“No worries, mate. We’ll preserve the integrity of the Wall St. Journal,” says Australian-born Rupert “Murder” Murdoch, who became an American citizen to circumvent the law barring foreign nationals from securing broadcast licenses. Sure he’ll preserve things . Just like he did at the London Times, the New York Post, Channel Five in New York and countless other properties that his News Corp. has gobbled up in the last 20 or 25 years.

If Murder gets to buy the paper and its subsidiaries (which doesn’t exactly look like a sure thing in early May of 2007, ) you can bank on changes. It won’t be the London Sun, which has naked women on page three of every edition. No, this time it’ll be those tasteful Journal sketches – of nude brokers, analysts, executive types and high ranking government officials.

The NY Post’s most famous headline “Headless Body In Topless Bar” probably wouldn’t fly, either. unless they’re writing about a vacancy in the lawyers’ trade association.

But you can expect a livelier Journal. Probably a circulation war with USA Today and the New York Times (including a year of newsstand price cuts,) and a leaking of the paper’s right wing editorial pages into the news columns.

It won’t be as brazen as Murder’s TV network, Fox. But it’ll be there.

Then, there’s gossip. All of Murder’s properties do gossip. Cindy Adams will be writing about the latest overheard at the famed watering holes and boom-boom-rooms of Wall Street. We can hardly wait.

(note: the Journal has already done an expose on the gay blade who ran British Petroleum into the ground, so what Murder’s editors and reporters do won’t be THAT far over the top.)

Up until now, the staid old Journal was a mouthpiece for conservatives who weren’t God-crazed neo-cons. Look for that to change. Barney Killgore is whirling in his grave. So, for that matter, is Chucky Dow.

What will the non-religious, conservative business men and women do to learn what they think? They’ll have to turn to Forbes Magazine. Oh. Wait. U-2’s Bono is a partner in an investment company that recently bought 40% of that company. Probably they’ll drift leftward.

The National Review? Already populated by the nut-case school of conservative thinking. Bill Buckley would be rotating in HIS grave, if he were dead.

There is an upside for a small group of people, though: the editors of other financial information publications and data providers, most of whom have spent their entire careers suffering from Journal Envy. There won’t be much left to envy.

The Bankroft family, about 35 surviving members, has owned the paper and Barron’s and a few other things they have in their shop since 1902. They’ve rejected offers before. And they have rejected the initial overture from Murder.

But they did it in such a way that suggests if they got more than the offered $60 a share, or about five billion dollars, they’d sell.

Maybe OWN is too strong a word. They OWN 25%. But they control 60 percent of the votes. And they don’t all get on with one another that well. So, the logical strategy is increase the offer and divide and conquer.

Rupert’s good at both.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

(note: a shorter version of this was broadcast on my radio program several days in advance of this publication. WJR.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Best Journalist You Probably Never Heard Of

236 The Best Journalist You Probably Never Heard Of

This could never happen today. Not with a bunch of instant news networks and the internet. But in 1963 things went slower. And often more thoughtfully.

The Saturday Evening Post, already ancient and tattered and beset by a deadly combination of dullness and constant search for an identity had one glorious moment. The editor was a guy named Clay Blair, Jr. He had been a reporter and would write a novel about his 15 minutes of fame at the Post and some interesting stuff about submarine warfare in World War II.

But Blair put together what probably is the best on-the-spot overview of the assassination of President Kennedy of its time. It was all wrong and it was all right.

All wrong? Sure. A black cover. Unheard of. The 1960s equivalent of focus groups proved it. Norman Rockwell portrait of JFK on the cover. Put a dead guy on the cover? Never. Bad policy.

Assembled on the fly, there were articles by former President Eisenhower about succession. Biographies of the President, his family, about President Johnson (including a Stewart Alsop interview.) There were large photo spreads about Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. A mountain of material, impossible to compile today using writers and editors who spoke with measured and dignified yet colorful and forceful tone.

This issue, cover date December 14, 1963 was Blair’s and the Post’s one shot at greatness. It hit the bull’s eye then, and it still does.

Strolling through an antique store in a small town months ago, there was the issue. Cover price 20 cents. Sticker price ten bucks. It stayed there when the visitor left. But several visits later, it remained and so got bought. And read. And read again. 1963 isn’t exactly antique. But like most concepts today, this one has been diluted.

You find all kinds of junk in antique stores, things you threw out that you now realize you could have sold and least for small money. Tinker toys and Barbie dolls, Erector sets and Formica-topped kitchen tables, autoharps and trombones, sewing machines and signs advertising Ipana Toothpaste or LaSalle autos.

To a guy who was a young reporter in the early 1960s, when this issue came out, a young reporter who marginally covered the story in a very indirect and small-scale way, this issue of this magazine still resonates.

It was the Post’s first hurrah. And it was the Post’s last hurrah. After that one, it went bi-weekly and became purely a nostalgia book for people who wanted the America of their childhood dreams – an America that never really existed.

Curtis Publishing started the Post, claiming it descended from Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, though its first issue didn’t appear until well after Franklin’s death. And today it exists in name only as a medical magazine that almost no one reads and even fewer buy.

But for one glorious issue, Clay Blair made us think and feel and reason. And things like that don’t happen today.

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

(c) 2007 WJR