Wednesday, September 30, 2015

1535 The Martian Chronicles (with apologies to Ray Bradbury)

1535 The Martian Chronicles (with apologies to Ray Bradbury.)


True or false: Mars is


--dry.
--populated by Little Green Men who disappear when spotted by the NASA machinery.
--Has sent some of the LGMs to earth in flying saucers and now they live among us.
--Is planning to invade earth using global warming as a weapon of mass destruction.
--Is planning to invade earth by taking over the minds and bodies of whichever minority you most hate and/or fear this week.
--Has salt water streams.


Can they all be true? No.  Too many contradictions.  


Can they all be false? Yes. But we don’t know enough to say.


Can some of them be true-ish?  Sure.


The recently discovered hydrated salts on Mars give rise to academically sound theorizing that the planet is less dry than believed, at least in spots.

So, what should we do?  First thought is to send up a gift.  Maybe pond scum.  Be good for their rivers as it is for ours.


“We are making the solar system safe for American Democracy.  Or environmental protection. Or something.”  


Similar programs have worked well for us in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and countless other places.  And since the US is the World’s Brain, the Martians will listen to us and adopt our ways, bringing peace to the solar system.


Oh, wait.  There IS peace in the solar system except for small pockets here on earth.


Seriously, though, NASA’s take on discovery of hydrated salts is a little more enthusiastic than that of the scientists who analyzed the images.


After studying the information from the Mars Orbiter, the lead investigator, Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, told the New York Times “There pretty much has to have been liquid water recently present to produce the hydrated salt.”


“Pretty much has to have been...” is not the same as “Has to have been.”


Aside: we’re not talking about lake- size bodies of water, here.  We’re talking about damp ground.  Or maybe “pretty much” damp-looking ground.

What’s the big deal about water, anyway?  Well, where there’s water, often there’s life.  Often.  Pretty much. Not always.


But life on Mars is one of earthlings’ favorite speculations.  And it’s well founded. Think about it. Look at the night sky and ask yourself “how with all that’s up there can “we” be the only “intelligent life form?”


It doesn’t seem possible.


But just because some Little Green Man spat on the ground and then disappeared, keep your eye out for those invading flying saucers and the stolen minds of the minority you most hate or fear.


Shrapnel:


--Here’s a way to help ease our balance of trade deficit. Start including military weapons stolen from those to whom we gave them.  Start with Syria.


--They use antiseptic swabs before administering lethal injections. Why? To move the veins closer to the skin.  Wouldn’t want to hurt them, now would we?


--Twitter is again considering ways to expand users’ 140 character limit. If that happens, it will have shed its main asset, forcing people to say what they have to say in a small space. This Shrapnel has 221 characters.


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

© WJR 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

1534 Car-ma

1534 Car-ma


What goes around, etc.  Volkswagen, “the people’s car,” was the brainchild of well known and vicious dictator and now has been hit with a time- release curse of its own making.


Automakers in general would rather live with their flaws than admit them even when people die.  But Ford recovered from the famous exploding Pinto. And it looks like GM is recovering from its death- dealing self- deactivating ignition switches.


Can VW do the same now that we’ve found out about its toxic diesels?  Exploding Pintos and faulty switches are mistakes.  Corrected badly and way too late, yet still mistakes.


But rigging a car that follows orders about when and how to behave and when to belch out hazardous fumes and not to -- like when it’s being tested -- is something else.


While the class action lawyers circle like buzzards, and the dealers looking to cover their eventual losses  circle like vultures, we have to ask “what is the right thing to do now.”


The obvious answers are:
The factory buys back the faulty cars.
The various affected countries fine VW.
The guy who caused creation of the shyster software goes to jail, along with the rest of the executives who knew what was happening and failed to stop it.


No one will die as a direct result of these belching fumes, at least not right away.  No trees will fall over tomorrow.  No species will be wiped out instantly.  And the creep of the east coast toward its new home in Cincinnati won’t happen any faster.


The long term damage to air, water, plants and animals?  Too early to say and anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or lying.  Half a million cars -- the estimated number of emissions lawbreakers -- will not make a whole lot of difference.  We need to send a message.


You’ve read this here before: In this country, at least, vehicle making is the single most important of our remaining few industries and the largest buyer of metals, plastics, electronics, upholstery, glass and rubber.


The country can’t afford to allow this kind of damage. Even Adolf might agree.


Shrapnel:


--Headline: Iraq to share intelligence on ISIS with Iran, Syria and Russia.  That means the NSA will have to concentrate its hacking efforts on those countries, rather than its more important target, terrorists like you.  But intelligence -- by either popular definition -- is not what we need over there, and you know it.


--Outgoing House Speaker Boehner is taking a page from the playbook of his alleged arch rival, President Obama. John-boy is showing some spine by slamming the tea bags he’s been unable to herd, calling them “false prophets.”  Where were you, John, when you could have done something about this?


--The thumb-on-the-scale geniuses at Whole Foods have decided to open one of their new “bargain” mini stores in Los Angeles instead of the “full service” version they had announced.  This is getting all the neighborhood yuppies in a twist.  Don’t worry, kids, it’s not a slam against the up-scale-itude of your neighborhood.  Besides, there already are all kinds of places already open where you can pay more than you should for worse than you expect.


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

© WJR 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

1533 But Back to the Speech

1533 But Back to the Speech

If you saw the pope’s speech to congress, no doubt you noticed he spoke to us in English.  He’s from Argentina, so you’d think that being an inclusive kind of guy, he would have said at least a few words in Spanish.

Maybe he’ll fix that obvious, insensitive omission during the New York leg of his US visit.  And since he was raised in a family of Italians, maybe he’ll even say a few words to New York’s still- enormous Italian rooted population.

But back to the speech.  

Oh. Just a moment. Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg nodding off?  Or was her head bowed in prayer?  Or both?

Along with Ginsburg sat Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Anthony Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor.  Another 5-4 decision, as Scalia, Thomas, Kagan, Bryer and Alito had better things to do.

But back to the speech.  

Oh. Just a moment. Biden and Boehner sat behind the Pope and while Biden clapped appropriately, Boehner had to think about it a bit and looked like he was working one of those gizmos that turns on the lights when you clap your hands.

But back to the speech.

Oh.  Just a moment. Wonder if the conservatives were anticipating the colonoscopy Francis gave them.

But back to the speech.

The talk started typically papal, alright. “Life at all stages… is sacred.”  Brace yourself for another anti- abortion diatribe.  But that didn’t happen. Sneaky Francis.

The he put the camera further inside the patients as he talked poverty and arms sales and wars and such.  And he singled out four Americans for having the right stuff:

Of Abraham Lincoln he said:  “Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”

Martin Luther King:  “I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of "dreams". Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.”

Dorothy Day: “...who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.”


Thomas Merton: “...it is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue -- a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons -- new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.”

Note that for much of her life, the church didn’t exactly embrace Dorothy Day.  It was near the end of her life that they finally decided she wasn’t a communist, wasn’t an anarchist and was trying to make practical use of the church’s stated missions.  Still, you don’t hear her quoted a lot in Vatican circles and certainly not from a pope.

Pope fever will last a few more days. He has things to do in New York and in Philadelphia.  Then we can all go back to doing what we do best here: Marginalize the poor, put boots on the ground in places we’re not wanted in the name of a democracy we don’t ourselves practice and put a satisfied life out of the reach of anyone not on or near the Forbes 400.

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

© WJR 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

1532 The Usual Suspects

1532 The Usual Suspects


It’s been a terrible week for terrible people.  And it’s only Wednesday.


Cars with bad breath:  Those clever Black Forest elves at Volkswagen figured out a way to cheat on emissions tests.  Attach the equipment to the tailpipe, and the car “knows” to adjust its breathing and get an “A.” Detach and the car goes back to its normal -- and over- the- limit belching of pollutants.  Recalls abound. And the automonster has stopped selling those models for now.  Germany has lots of experience in adjusting the components of gas.  This is the second greatest of their many accomplishments in this department.


What’s a little salmonella among friends?: Stewart Parnell, 68, has been sentenced to 28 years in jail for knowingly distributing peanut products that contained salmonella. His Peanut Corporation of America in effect poisoned its customers, killing several. PCA was found to have leaking roofs at its plant and other conditions that turned it into a breeding ground. He wouldn’t answer questions before or during his trial but managed to croak out an apology as they led him off in handcuffs.  He won’t get out of jail until he’s 96 years old. If he lives that long. Which he probably won’t.


Which came first, the chicken or the oil? The Greater Sage Grouse is a chicken-like bird that inhabits a great deal of land in from California to the Dakotas. The oil boom in the region appears to be threatening breeding grounds, which could mean the grouse is on its way to extinction.  It’s not a protected species yet, but it might soon be.  And you can bet that the petroleum industry is oiling up for a fight.

The workers’ friend: Let’s hear it for failed presidential hopeful Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. He had the smarts to drop his bid for the republican nomination as his poll numbers tanked.  No worries, friends of labor, every remaining candidate will try to bust unions, only they won’t boast about it as Walker did.


Will travel porn return to National Geographic:  Back in the day, Geographic used to print pictures of bare chested women, mostly from Africa.  Very instructional.  Now, the Geo Society has sold a 70-plus percent interest in the magazine to NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s print empire.  Chances are we’ll get that old school education again soon.  But the women will be blonde.


Take two Daraprim and call me in the morning… from the poor house: The drug company Turing bought this decades- old treatment for compromised immune systems and raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750.00.  Why?  Because they could.  That’s 5000% overnight.  The company says the reported increase is “an overstatement.”  Oh. Sorry.


Eric Holder’s Justice Department declined to jail white collar miscreants.  Loretta Lynch has reversed that. So, can we expect a roundup of the usual suspects?  Probably not.  But it might give second thoughts to those who previously were too big to jail.


Note: the plagiarism checker has given this page a rating of 92% and cites two “plagiarized” phrases.  They are “presidential hopeful Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin,” and “...to NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch’s print empire.”  I can live with those if you can. --WR


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

1531 Altice in Wonderland

1531 Altice in Wonderland


“Off with their heads!” -- The Queen of Hearts


If you’re expecting big things from the new owners of Cablevision, don’t.  If you think all of a sudden customer service will stop stinking like a road-killed skunk, think again.  If you hope your bill will stop increasing with each sunrise, abandon all hope.


Corporations are people.  Many important actual flesh and blood bipeds say so. The majority of supreme court justices, Railroad tycoon Bancroft Davis who was among the first to win that point in the 1850s.  Mitt Romney is famous for saying so.  


If true -- and we all know it HAS to be true because it wouldn’t be on TV and Radio, in the papers and on the internet if it weren’t -- corporations each have their own DNA.


And a change of venue for Cablevision’s front office is not going to change the genetic makeup, no matter how hard the new owners may try.


“Whooo are Youuuu?” -- The Caterpillar


The European cable operator Altice announced it was buying Cablevision from the founding Dolan family of Long Island.


The head guy at Altice, Patrick Drahi, is a French Israeli or an Israeli Frenchman depending on when you ask him. He’s trying to be a combination of John Malone and Rupert Murdoch.  But as far as can be told for the moment, with less politicality than either.


Cablevision was a pioneer in its business.  But it has long since missed the rabbit hole to the big time.  


Comcast has more than 22 million customers and TimeWarner says it has 15 million, a figure which raised doubt while the two were briefly holed up in a Philadelphia budget motel planning their wedding. Cablevision has 3 million.


Tweedledees vs Tweedledums


The founding Dolan family? It appears daddy and his children don’t get along all that well.  And since there are a bunch of offspring in various real and fake company jobs, they probably realize that the light at the end of the tunnel is on the front of an oncoming train and decided it’s better to sell than fight.


So Altice’s King of Hearts will grow roses in the United States in addition to most of Europe and the Caribbean.  And his dwarves will continue to paint the white ones red.  His mad hatter tea party will move to Bethpage. And his Cheshire Cat will appear in trees in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties, northern New Jersey and a few other places, smiling down as you fume about the rates and service.


Still Not Through the Looking Glass


Oh, and don’t for a minute believe you’ll soon be free of the Dolans.  They’ll still own Madison Square Garden, the hapless Knicks and Rangers, the still- great Radio City Music Hall and the once- great-ish Newsday newspaper,which may or may not be part of the cable deal.


As for Drahi, sit down.  Have a chunk of mushroom and obey the signs that say “drink me.”


Shrapnel:


--There are few observers who’ve gotten the human condition as right as Lewis Carroll.  Among them are Tom Lehrer, Laurence Peter, L. Frank Baum, George Carlin and Jon Stewart.  Everyone read, saw or heard. Few absorbed, looked or listened.


Grapeshot:


-It’s nice to see the rest of the opining class catching up to the Wessays™ take on Carly .


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

© WJR 2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

1530 Beery Eyed

1530 Beery Eyed

The brewer’s new name will make it sound like a law firm: Anheuser, Busch, Inbev and SABMiller.  

Bud's buying Miller.  Or trying to.  Wait. that's not exactly right. The InBev oligopoly of Belgium owns Anheuser-Busch which makes Budweiser and wants to buy England-based oligopoly SABMiller which makes Miller.

That would make the “King of Beers” and the “Champagne of Beers” into the committee of beers.  Or the Gang of Beers.  Or the People’s Republic of Beers.

That the two largest American beer companies are foreign owned -- both purchased relatively recently -- is like waking up one morning to find that Tata has purchased 100% of Ford and Dongfeng Auto of China owns 100% of GM.

Anheuser Busch is twice the size of SAB.  But both outfits are enormous.

To be fair, a combined company wouldn't be a real monopoly. But close enough.  Also to be fair, Miller doesn't really taste like pony pee.  

The authoritative peer reviewed "Journal of American Horse Excreta" says the two chemical compounds resemble each other closely but aren’t a DNA match that would hold up in court.

But still.

These companies are worldwide.  They have a million brands, including some so-called craft beers.  "So called" because a "craft beer brewer" is someone who makes six million barrels- full a year or fewer.

Craft beer. Six million barrels. A "barrel" is a fixed and formal measure.  It contains 31.5 US gallons.  Six million x 31.5 = 189,000,000 gallons. That's 118,129,000,000 pints. Here is the figure spelled out: 118-billion, 129-million pints.  Remember, craft beer. You make 118- billion slices of white bread a year and call it “craft white,” people would laugh.

AB makes about 130 million barrels a year. Miller makes only about half that. But that's still plenty. Talk about industrial production!

There are those of us who prefer industrial over craft. And the figures show we connoisseurs of the mass-produced have nothing to worry about from the "artisans" who sit cross legged on the brewery floor taste-testing samples from all six million barrels, then instantly fall asleep after the commercial is finished shooting.

Beer is pretty much recession-proof.  When the economy tanks, sales go up, not down. That's because you get a small kick from it, or a good night's sleep or because it's often cheaper than other canned or bottled beverages.  So how good an idea would it be to put 70% of the country's consumption under one corporate roof?

Fortunately, there's something of a poison pill on the Miller side of the equation. Minority owners Miller-Coors has dibs on expanding its stake in the event of a sale.  And make no mistake, this is a proposed takeover, not a merger.

How much would it cost AB to buy Miller?  Hard to say. The estimates range from $62 to $90 dollars a share. So a final figure would be dictated by how many shares are actually available.

AB won’t be able to buy SAB lock, stock and um... barrel.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

1539 The Terminator

1539 The Terminator

The best thing so far about Trump’s run for the republican presidential nomination is his replacement on the business “reality” show, “Celebrity Apprentice.”  

Maybe you’ve heard of him. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Apprentice” was on life support when it was suspended so its “host” could “pursue other interests” to cite the cliche used to describe executives and stars who suddenly get resigned.

Ahnold is 68 years old.  And he’s come a long way since he was the immigrant muscle man from Austria.

When he switched from bodybuilding to “acting,” his use of English was so poor they had someone dub in his dialogue. But that was a million years ago.  Now he speaks well, though with a moderate to heavy Austrian accent many people find charming.

He gave up movies to become governor of California.  Well… not exactly “gave up.” He starred in the state’s tourism and job ads.

Then he went back to movie making.  

A great actor?  No. But charming in a brutal sort of way.  And funny both on and off screen.

Someone at Comcast must have been nodding off, thus allowing NBC to make its second really good casting decision this year. (The first was putting Lester Holt in the Nightly News anchor chair.  And make no mistake about it… that was a casting decision and an excellent one.)

“Apprentice” pits celebrity interns against each other to please the boss.  For all of its run until now the boss was Trump and his act was getting so tired he demoted himself from TV star to politics.

Schwarzenegger is lower key.  His sense of humor sneaks up on you.  It’s droll and in many ways self-mocking.

The show won’t start until the 2017 TV season, late in 2016.  That’s an awfully long prep time. But he always told us he’ll be bahk.






Shrapnel:

--When Ahnold first was allowed to use his own voice and words in the movies some wags invented a board game.  The object was to determine how many words you could make out of “Schwarzenegger” that Schwarzenegger could actually pronounce. If memory serves, the winning number was 28.

--Arnold showed his true nature when the California legislature passed a law banning smoking within 20 feet of state buildings.  He put up a large tent and equipped it with a telephone.  It was 21 feet from the steps of his office and in that way, he could still work as governor and puff on his cigars.

--His movies are dumb fun. He always plays a larger than life action hero who intimidates with a smile and a collection of weapons and moves that delight audiences. But you never leave the theater seat or living room couch without liking him.

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

© WJR 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

1538 Ghost Writers in the Sky

1538 Ghost Writers in the Sky

What can more boring than a Broadway musical about working in a Broadway musical?  A writer writing about writing.  

Be prepared to be bored.

A friend of many years standing has written a book for a Very Famous Person, but has been given no credit for the work, which is creditworthy.

Not knowing his arrangement or contract or whatever the two men (they’re both men) agreed to, it’s hard to be critical.  And making a buck writing stuff doesn’t come easily these days.

So, no disclosure… no names here.  

It’s not a complete secret. The names were mentioned in a newspaper story and on a website. But it was way down in the item, low enough to where most people won’t read. And the website is so obscure that it’s almost a collection of job- specific classified data.

So the subject gets a writer credit and plenty of praise for his skill with words.  And the actual writer gets a paycheck but can’t put the book on his resume.

In movies, television and music it’s often just the opposite.  People who have done no writing get credit in the credits or on the label.

Movie and TV writing often is collaborative.  So a bunch of people sitting around a table hash out plot and dialogue.

Songwriting also is collaborative, but when you see three or four names on a label or a piece of sheet music, the chances are the first two are the writers and the third and any others are Very Famous People who helped promote the song to an artist or publisher and had nothing to do with the creation.

Royalties, if any, are split into equal parts.  So everyone gets a paycheck.  But the check is lower because the deadweight VFP takes a cut for nothing more than making a phone call or writing an email.

None of these scenarios is fair to the actual writer.  But a job’s a job. And this post is far shorter (and cheaper) than “42nd Street” or any other mind numbing, eye glazing play about plays.
Shrapnel:

--Gov. Walker (R-WI) is expected today to announce a master plan to eliminate unions for federal employees and the NLRB.  That may be the dumbest proposal since we brought stability to the middle east.  But anything to be heard above the roar created by and about Hurricane Donald.

--Rick Perry has a “very bright future.” We know this because President Trump says so and he’s never wrong.  We don’t know what that future will be, but here’s one possibility:  Model for eyeglass frames that make him look like his IQ is above room temperature.

--This looks like a good time to bring up the Albert Einstein quote “The world is run by C Students.” Einstein was talking about c- students in the physics department at Princeton.  The adage remains true, only now it’s about C students in the gender studies or media departments at Goddard College or diversity majors at Liberty University.

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

© WJR 2015

Friday, September 11, 2015

1537 The Colber’ Repor’

Or more accurately, the report on Colbert, successor to retired Late Show host David Letterman.

For now, at least, it looks like CBS made the right choice in the late night TV department and its decades- long fight to dethrone NBC’s Tonight Show.

What do we look for in bedtime television?  A little irreverence, a little music and a few laughs, mostly about the political-celebrity class.

There’s a reason NBC has dominated the time slot since the first day Steve Allen sat down at the piano.  Then came Drama King Jack Paar followed by Johnny Carson and then Jay Leno.

What did all these guys have in common?  A kind of -- well, low key is not exactly right -- maybe a “medium key” pace and delivery.

The current Here’s Johnny wannabe, Jimmy Fallon has to be the least funny guy to face a camera since TV stations signed off with the Sermonette.

A loud, self-involved song and dance man, Fallon is harder to watch than best-of reruns from the Shopping Channel.

Across the dial at CBS, Letterman kept that medium key thing going.  Not well enough to topple Leno.  But well enough to win a big chunk of the audience.

Now that he’s retired, we get Stephen Colbert.  Bright, young, articulate, funny.  But like Fallon, too high energy.  

These shows are taped in the late afternoon.  But they’re watched at 11:30 (or 11:35 or 11:36.)  When we’ve just seen half an hour of the local doom and gloom news, the last thing we need is a marching band or cheering squad in our bedrooms.

If Colbert calms down a bit, his burst of good ratings from viewers who sample will turn into something more durable.

Colbert is funny, topical, a little edgy, though not nearly as much as he was on the original Comedy Central Colber’ Repor’.  And the potential for success is there.

The debut was a ratings monolith, 6.6 million viewers, almost twice Fallon’s score for the night and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel was left in even deeper dust.

That’s not a sustainable lead.  A lot of it was people who were just curious and (according to Nielsen) people who don’t ordinarily have their sets on as midnight approaches.

To Stephen:  Good luck, keep it up and calm down.

Shrapnel:

--Jeb! was completely unfunny on Colbert’s opening show.  They should have called the segment “Bush unplugged.” But that would have been redundant.

--Last night, Biden wasn’t funny, either. But he was candid when he said he didn’t know whether he could fully commit to the duties of President what with the recent death of his son. And he added, that “110% commitment…” is what the office needs.

--The second republican presidential debate will have eleven candidates on stage at the Reagan Library in California this coming Wednesday.  Former reject Carly Fiorina is in. The rest of the debate-1 rejects are still rejected: Jindal, Perry, Graham and Sanatorium. This is the only story of its kind this week you’ll read without a mention of you-know-who.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015