Friday, September 30, 2011

920 Women Drivers

920 Woman Drivers

Uh oh, you’re thinking, here comes a 500 word dis on women behind the wheel.

Well, not exactly.  Many women drive just fine, thank you.  This is about Saudi women behind the wheel.  Even though the king has “granted” them the right to vote, he has not granted them the right to drive.  Confusing things going on in the Arab Middle East.  

Women are not allowed to drive, but they’re not NOT allowed to drive, either.  At least there’s no written law against it.  But the Religious Police stop them on grounds that if they DO drive, they may be led into sin, sin being defined as social interaction with any male not a relative or spouse.

A recent case has a woman driver sentenced to lashes.  Nice.  (Do they have to drop their skirts for that in front of strange men, doubling the “original sin,” or do they have woman caning specialists over there?)

Instead of driving themselves, women are to employ paid drivers.  They can’t be other women, obviously.  So they must be men.  There’s a contradiction in this tangle, somewhere.

It’s likely Saudi Arabia will come to its senses on this issue, because in addition to the hunger for power in the guise of religious law, the country is about money.  And it will ultimately occur to one of the 8-thousand princes and under-kings and dukes and sheiks that when women can drive, car sales will rise and so will the incomes of which ever royal brothers-in-law run the Rolls Royce and Fiat dealerships.

There are reports that the king of Saudi Arabia has nullified the sentence.  But what about the next woman and the ones after her?  If it takes a royal proclamation to reverse idiotic “justice” that’s going to be one busy king!

In the meantime, ladies, try un-covering, skip the  makeup, get a fake beard, dress like a construction worker or a businessman, tie and all, and drive to your heart’s content.

Shrapnel:

--More from our “allies” in the middle east or “peace lovers” speak & act:  Medics in Bahrain have drawn long prison terms for treating anti-government protesters.  Closer to home, a Boston-area man is charged with planning “jihad” and trying to destroy the Pentagon with explosives bought from undercover federal agents.  

--Headline on “Wall Street 24/7”:  “Feisty Old People Want to Continue Working” past retirement age, and not just because of the housing crunch and mounting debt.  It’s the way we’re wired, and thanks for recognizing yet another difference between us and our children's generations.

--Then, there’s the story of Samuel Eshaghoff, a 2010 graduate of Great Neck North Senior High School on New York’s Long Island.  Eshaghoff is accused of collecting up to two grand from each of half a dozen students in return for taking the SATs, the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, for them.  Great Neck North is your correspondent’s alma mater.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

919 Music: The Autopsy Report

919  Music:  The Autopsy Report

This has been puzzling for a long time:  What’s radically different about today’s music, compared with previous eras?  Finally, a possible answer.  And thanks for that to Nicki Minaj.  Who?

Minaj is a 28 year old “singer” from Queens by way of Trinidad and Tobago.  She has been nominated for or won scads of awards from everyone but the Grammys, which also will fall into line.

You can sort of understand what she’s singing.  This makes her a hybrid between today’s singers who are as articulate as Demosthenes fixing his speech by practicing with marbles in his mouth (except today’s singers do it without marbles) and Tony Bennett with every word clear.

Hearing Minaj has led to an epiphany of sorts.

Musical instruments since well before the age of Bel Canto have mimicked the human voice for both accompaniment and solo performance.  Somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s the roles reversed and the human voice became an accompaniment for the instruments.

The words don’t matter anymore.  It’s about sound.  And the human voice has become just another instrument.  Plenty of room for nuance.  Plenty of room for tone.  But lyrics are secondary, which makes you wonder why so many of today’s “artists” labor so over them and when they don’t rhyme and the meter is off.

Here is a link to “Make Money by Any Means” by the “artist” 50 Cent.  It’s clownish juvenile junk that makes little sense.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is when you hear it, you can’t understand it.

(It’s in link form because heaven forbid we should quote ten words and get sued even though it would be “fair use” under the copyright law.)

“Money”as example because you’ve probably heard of the “artist.”

Alan Jay Lerner, Johnny Mercer and Hank Williams Sr., Ray Charles, Leadbelly, and Andy Razaf are whirling.

Now when you hear Brittney Spears or Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Lady Gaga or “Blink-182” “singing,” you can understand why they sound that way, just not what they’re saying.

Remember at the same time that at least since “Walk Like an Egyptian” in 1986, no music in any genre -- even classical -- has been more than just soundtrack to accompany the video.


Shrapnel:

--There now are at least four major singing competition reality shows on TV:  “Idol” “X-Factor,” “Got Talent” and “Sing Off.  That’s too many and they’re all too long.  Running two consecutive nights of two hour programs is just a cheap way to avoid having to develop worthy drama or comedy series.


--The Televangelists tell us that 9/11, Katrina etc. happened because we’re doing bad things in God’s eyes.  But you don’t hear that from them when the Bureau of Labor Statistics say the unemployment crisis is tougher in their territory -- the south -- than almost anywhere else in the country.  But maybe, just maybe...


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

918 Projection

918 Projection

This is the right wing’s real weapon of mass destruction, and it probably comes from personal fear.  It’s called projection and Freud first came up with the concept.  Projection is when you blame others for the evil feelings you harbor or positions you take.

Example:  Little Rickey Santorum the presidential wannabe said in one of those cheap debates he opposed ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” because that would introduce “social engineering” into the military.  In the first place, it’s not “introducing.”  There’s plenty of social engineering there to begin with.  Second, it’s Little Rickey Sanitarium who is trying to social engineer.

Example:  Obama wants the rich to pay its share of deficit recovery.  Rep. Paul Ryan says the President is waging class warfare.  Wait a minute, Pauly.  WHO is waging class warfare?

Example:  Rush Limbaugh says dealing with a liberal is like fighting a one armed lunatic.  He’s just going to keep on swinging.  WHO is going to keep on swinging?

Got the picture?  You can find countless other examples on your own. This is what they do.  And they don’t do it by accident.

Sigmund would have a picnic with these guys.  Projection.  It’s the little seed of the Big Lie.  Jung described a different kind of event.  He said in “Man and His Symbols” that all political agitation is based on projection.”  So that rally Glenn Beck held?  You fill in the blank.

It’s also a handy tool to keep one’s self righteousness in good repair.  “You are the cause of all our problems.  Without your nonsense, life would be paradise.”

Oh.

It happens on both ends of the political spectrum.  But nowadays it’s largely a function of the right.  They tell us that were it not for the opposition, all our problems would be solved, and probably overnight.

They are working toward institutionalized paranoia.  They are trying to convince you that you cause the evil for which they stand.  Not much of a conservative position.  Where’s that self responsibility you all keep quacking about?  And that’s not only projection, it’s downright nuts.




Shrapnel:

--Want to cure extremism?  Here’s how: compel people with “The Solution” to live in a miniature version of their ideal for a year and see how well they do under the weight of whichever “ism” they’re preaching.  They’ll come out of that wringer as pristine moderates.

--Did anyone doubt Russia’s Medvedev was only a placeholder?  Prime minister Putin’s running for president in 2012 and there’s no doubt he’ll win and the guys’ll switch jobs.  So the long march away from dictatorship and toward neo-dictatorship will continue uninterrupted.

--A friend returns from the Arab middle east and writes he can’t get on an elevator there if there is a woman on board.  She could be stoned, he says, if they are “caught” together even if they haven’t talked or even made eye contact.  And these are our ALLIES.



I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

917 Reasonable Doubt

917 Reasonable Doubt

Georgia doesn’t want to be Florida.  Or maybe Georgia just doesn’t want to be thought of as Florida.   

In any case, two criminal cases with opposite outcomes, one in each state, seem to be based on the same basic premise, summarized here as “Evidence?  What evidence?”

Casey Anthony skates on a toddler killing because a jury of her peers decides evidence is too thin to convict.  Troy Davis gets executed because a parole board decides the lack of evidence is too thin to call it off.

Davis died when all of his appeals, recanted witness testimony and the appeals of the anti-death penalty folk got nowhere.  An off duty cop was shot dead in a Savannah parking lot in 1989, and Davis was convicted a couple of years later, though there was no physical evidence connecting him to the shooting.  No gun.  No shells.  No DNA, no nothing.  Just a bunch of iffy witnesses, many who have since retracted some or all of what they said on the stand.

Georgia figures it’d look lousy if it followed the lead of the Orlando jury that spared Anthony.  Tough cookies, those Georgians.  Not gonna let dumb doubts get in the way.  Plus they already bought the chemicals and the needle.

Florida probably did, too.  What’s the shelf life of the death cocktail?  Do the IV bags say “Best before 10/1/11?” Money is tight.  Unnecessary spending has to be curtailed.  And one Confederate state has to show another it has more spine.

Does it make a difference that one defendant was a hot white babe and the other was an ordinary looking black man?  Probably some, but that wasn’t likely the main factor.

Would Davis have been spared if his date with death were scheduled before Anthony was declared not guilty?  Maybe.  Impossible to tell.

So there are protests in Georgia as there were in Florida.  And then we’ll all walk away and get back to whatever we were doing before we became consumed with these cases.

But the Davis execution points out a flaw in use of the death penalty.  Reasonable doubt should not be the standard for its application.  Some doubt may be enough.


Shrapnel:

--Go Yankees!  They took the AL-East crown with a tie breaking run in the 8th against Tampa Bay.  Was bringing the aging Jorge Posada off the bench just dumb luck or a smart move?

--Speaking of hits, Simon Cowell’s “X” factor show makes American Idol pale by comparison and comparison’s inevitable.  “X” is faster moving, much more watchable and Simon has trimmed his lah-di-dah crankiness just a bit.  This show is going to score big because it’s Idol without the yawns.

--And speaking of scoring big, Mike Bloomberg lands at number 12 on this year’s Forbes 400 Richest with 19.5 billion.  Most notable figure to drop from the list:  Berkshire’s Chas. Munger who gave a lot of his wealth to his children after the recent death of his wife.  But rest easy, the usual suspects top the list:  Gates, Buffett,  the Koch Bros. and a whole lot of people named Walton.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

916 Mr. Coffee

916  Mr. Coffee

The two most important liquids in the life of any old school journalist are coffee and booze.  In that order.  The particular form of each is a personal choice and some are choosier than others.  But there’s no doubt about the basics.

Sure there are news guys who don’t hang out in bars or down a gallon of caffeine a day. And it’s getting easier to find them.  But the old school is the old school, and it has nothing to do with age.

There’s a maxim in the business.  You find a newsroom that’s not in easy walking distance of a good saloon and you find a news room that’s churning out gibberish.  (There are critics who say ALL newsrooms churn out gibberish.  But they’re just jealous.)

At the Associated Press it was Charlie O’s.  At NBC they installed a company extension at Hurley’s on 6th Avenue to call staffers needed back at 30 Rock.  There was nothing worthy at Bloomberg when it was on tony Park Avenue and not much more at not-so-tony Lexington, and that may account for what came off those presses or into that air.

But of the two, it’s coffee that’s the more important.  The lifeblood of the news.  And some of it was bad blood, but it didn’t matter.

Now comes the era of the latte and the espresso and the K-cup.  And this is a laughing stock in the business.  That stuff’s not coffee.  It’s coffee-esque, maybe.  But it’s not coffee.  Country club yuppie nonsense.

And this brings us to what we brew first thing in the morning.  The array of coffee makers at the kitchen store or the department store is both overwhelming and confusing.   Timers, built in grinders, fancy looking machinery the operation of which requires an engineering degree.  And what comes out of most of them isn’t worth the effort.

When your old machine breaks down, and it inevitably will, you replace it with a simple Mr. Coffee with an on-off switch and no bells or whistles.  It costs under 20 bucks, there’s nothing to figure out, it cleans up easily if you’re inclined to cleaning it, which most are not.  And it makes a decent cup -- which means if you like your brew so dark you can’t see the bottom of the spoon through it, no problem.  Hint:  don’t buy the extended warranty.  Hint: stay away from the fancy name brand coffees.  There’s no real difference between Tim Horton’s in the can at 70 cents an ounce and plain old Maxwell house at 22 cents.

As for saloons?  When you start a new job, look for the joint that has only three or four beers on tap, not 25.  And if you see those little measuring stoppers on the tops of the bottles of hard stuff, walk out and find somewhere else to swill.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

915 Hy Fruchtan

915  Hy Fruchtan

Hyman G. Fruchtanner, now shortened to Fruchtan,  is a retired piano tuner from Flushing, New York, and he’s getting a lot of heat from his pals at the retirees’ nutrition club which meets each month for lunch and a discussion of healthy eating at a diner on Main Street.

That might sound like a contradiction, meeting at a diner for a discussion of healthy eating and nutrition, but they all have salads, at least while the rest of the guys are watching.  Hy’s problem is some of his friends are a little hard of hearing, as we used to call it.  Others don’t see so well anymore.  And some are, well, a little out of mental kilter because of their age.

So some of the guys are thinking “Hy Fruchtan” and High Fructose are the same thing and they want to know why Hy is poisoning everyone with that stuff he makes, and what’s the matter with plain old sugar, anyway?  (They also want to know if he’s become rich off the profits, but are too polite to ask, politeness coming to their conversational repertoire only late in life.)

Hy, among the youngest in this crowd has only been receiving his Social Security payments for eight or nine years, while others in the group have been there for 15 or 20.  So he tolerates the ribbing and the un-asked questions.

“I’m a simple piano tuner.  I got Social Security and a little pension from Steinway and I don’t know from High Fructose or Hai Karate or getting high or anything like that,” he tells them.  No one believes him.

Himmelfarb picks up a bottle of cola, points to the ingredients:  “So how come your name is on the bottle?”  Hy asks “since when do you read the fine print, Farb, you haven’t been able to see well enough in 25 years to read that -- and without your glasses, yet!”  Farb asks “Hah? Wot you said?”

Hopeless.

For their latest meeting, Hy brought along large type printouts of the latest propaganda from the Famous Users of Cornsyrup Combine, the industry trade group.  It says the stuff is pretty much the same a sugar, doesn’t hurt you and is all natural.  He also brought along a lighted magnifying glass and an enlargement of the ingredients from a Pepsi bottle.

And that didn't work either.

Shrapnel:



--The wireless guy lied.  He said 5 GB a month would be enough data for three moderate users.  But we burned two and a half gigabytes in about ten days, and signed up for a double allotment.  There go the savings, but at least it’s a little faster than DSL..

--GM is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for its workers in the new contract and seems to have offered to reopen the former Saturn plant in Spring Hill TN, about 40 miles south of Nashville.  Good for the workers and the people of Spring Hill.  Now, about those excuses for automobiles you pump out so proudly...

--Has anyone figured out a way to appraise a house?  The appraisers certainly can’t seem to come up with anything based on reality.  It’s all grading on a curve, smoke, mirrors and a touch of three card Monte.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2008, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

914 Ms. Hollis' House

914 Ms. Hollis’ House

This story has a happy ending, sort of.  But it sure didn’t look that way for awhile.

Texana Hollis of Detroit lived in her home on Carbondale Avenue, a street of small, neat houses, for about 50 of her 101 years.  In 2002, her son Warren, 64, running her finances, took out a reverse mortgage for about 30-thousand dollars and used the money to fix the roof and make other repairs and didn’t pay the bills or the taxes.  He freely admits this and says he thought they’d never evict her.

But they did.  Just dragged her stuff to the curb and ordered her out.  And out she went, straight to Henry Ford Hospital because she became “disoriented.”.  HUD bought the mortgage some months ago.  Its public relations guy said “we thought it was in foreclosure for taxes.”

This caused a bit of a stir in Southwest Detroit.  To the point where HUD said “oops, our bad”  and told Ms. Hollis she could return home and stay there for the rest of her life as soon as she’s released from the hospital.

Now... what’s to happen to her idiot son?  We’re talking about a handful of tax bills that don’t amount to a whole lot of money -- money that apparently was in her account.  Plus what’s to prevent some computerized and mistaken HUD drone to from doing the same thing somewhere else?

And it’s not a new problem.  In Nassau County on New York’s Long Island -- well before the start of the subprime mortgage crisis, they’d sell houses for unpaid taxes to politically connected speculators who also put people out on the street.  Many of those never got an “oops, our bad,” and ended up on the curb with their furniture as the party faithful buyers huffed that they were not breaking any laws.

And it had to have been happening in places other than Hempstead and on Carbondale Avenue in Detroit.




Shrapnel:

--Seen the “Missoni” line of clothing and accessories at Target?  So many viewers piled on that their website crashed the other day.  Staring at the stuff is a great way to provoke seizures and hallucinations, like with those Japanese video games.

--Why do lens coatings at the opticians cost more than the lenses themselves?  And why do they wear out in strange patterns a year after you buy them?  The good news, though, if you view the Missoni stuff through the weird pattern made by your worn-out lens coatings, the seizures come on faster and the hallucinations have more color..

--In a special election, disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s congressional seat went to a Republican doofus who told the largely Jewish district that America is a “Christian nation” and, oh, by the way, let’s gut Medicare.  The district has been in Democratic hands for 88 years.  This is not a good sign.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

913 Europe

913  Europe

The European Union came to be in its present state in 1993.  It is 18 years old, about the age of the United States in 1794.  While the EU is not a formal, united country it’s a serious aggregation and it’s acting -- as we did in ‘94 -- like an 18 year old.

Sex and military service are legal.  So is drinking in some places.  And all the component states are so busy bickering among themselves that nothing is getting done.

Early on, the US was racked with painful arguments, one state against another. The EU has similar problems within.

Although the individual countries go back, some of them, into ancient times with ancient traditions, cultures and laws, they’re acting like a bunch of high schoolers at a house party when mom and dad are away for the weekend.

“Greece is a bunch of spending maniacs.  We won’t help them until they reign in their evil ways,” says the European Central Bank.  France and others cheer, and prepare punishing loan rollovers that aren’t going to fix anything and are not going to protect their investments. Greece is a tangential economy, but it’s the main focus at the moment.  Other economies are problem plagued, too.  France, Italy, Britain, Spain, Portugal etc.

Belgium doesn’t like the oil and gas deals struck by other member states and is trying to get in the middle: divide and conquer.

Trade disputes within (and with us,) pipeline disputes, air space disputes, court disputes all abound.

Over here, the conflict isn’t so much between states any more, but between states in general  and the central government.  Who has what rights?  Who ultimately governs?  Once, state’s rights was strictly a southern game.  But it has spread nationwide.

The EU has made it close to impossible for member nations to protect their own interests, has big-footed most of the individual currencies and confused everyone.  And the US is coming full circle, from a bunch of ragtag semi independents into a more or less unified whole and -- now -- back into a bunch of ragtag semi independents.

Ah, don’t you love progress.


Shrapnel:

--Half way through a big box of contact lenses, we find one that’s pre-torn.  It may be worth a complaint.  But how do you prove to the optician that it wasn’t a self-inflicted wound?

--Political debates among scads of candidates at a time?  It’s the new reality show and just about as believable as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.”  The only thing missing is the vote-by-phone feature.

--It’s always gratifying when someone whose work you admire comes up with approximately the same thought at the same time as you do.  Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist, Princeton professor and New York Times columnist has written about hijacking the meaning of 9/11.  Here's a link to his column posted soon after the Wessay™ that made the same point.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

912 The Gas Pump

912 The Gas Pump

The latest in self service gas pumps have started to appear and they are daunting.

It was hard enough to get used to the original electronic pumps.  You had to know which way to insert your credit or debit card, how quickly to withdraw it, whether to choose your grade of gasoline before or after you jumped through the payment hoops.  And afterward you had to make sure you carefully closed your fuel tank with the right number of “clicks” as you twisted the cap back on, and then make sure that you had the tank door closed afterward.

You’d think they’d simplify all this when they installed the shiny new pumps.  But, no.

The first thing you notice is that the little computer-like screens that tell you how many gallons you’ve pumped and how much you owe now do many more things.  No longer is it “do you want a receipt?” Now, it is a full fledged television with full fledged commercials.  Just commercials, no programs.

Contemplate your termites or your lack of storm windows while you pump your unleaded regular.   Or maybe sign up for a degree program at “Western Governors University.”  Or “buy our potato chips.”

Annoying.  Even more annoying than the so-called music they used to play through tinny (but weather resistant) little loudspeakers, probably stolen from a junk yard specializing in cast-off 1950s drive-in movie equipment.

One of these pump monsters asks you -- before you are allowed to put gas in the tank,  but after you’ve established credit  “Do you want a car wash.”  They have an automated car wash.  It’s open 24 hours, should you have the urge to clean up a three o’clock on a Wednesday morning.  You have to press “yes” or “no.”  You can’t find the “yes” or “no” buttons without a magnifying glass even if you know where on the machine to look for them.  And you can’t pump your gas until you’ve passed both the credit test and the car wash test.

So, they charge you something within walking distance of four bucks a gallon and you have to take a test or two before they’ll deign to take your money.  And since your time is worthless, they’ll fill it with animated televised ads?

Ain’t technology grand?


Shrapnel (Jewelry Edition):

--Why is it that with the price of gold approaching $2000 an ounce, most gold jewelry has started to look cheesy?  Maybe it’s because when you look at it you say “this can’t be real.”  Or maybe it always looked that way and we just don’t remember.

--You have to hand it to the jewelry merchants.  They’ve substituted an awful lot of stainless steel for gold and silver these days.  It costs little, looks good, lasts forever, doesn’t turn your skin green and if you lose it, so what?

--That said, stainless isn’t yet the “new gold.”  That’ll only happen when and if Tiffany and Cartier start promoting it as such.  Tiffany quietly lists a few steel items but Cartier has yet to follow the other fashion leaders, Tiffany, Wal-Mart, Costco and Home Shopping Network.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2011