Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christmas vs xmas.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and already the jolly soldiers in the annual holiday war are falling into jolly ranks and files, their jolly muskets and computers cleaned and ready to fire this year's first jolly shot, both those of lead and those of electrons.

Christmastime brings out the warrior in all of us.

On one side (probably wearing red trunks) are the Hyperreligious.

On the other side, (probably wearing green trunks) are the rest of us. And we, the "rest" are violating one of the main rules of military engagement. We are fighting a war on two fronts.

Front One: the normal holiday hustle. Traffic. INTENSE traffic. Mall crowds. Busy shopping websites. Bills. Clamoring kids or grandkids.

Front Two: atop this, the red trunks are pounding us.

The reds have it easier. They KNOW the True Meaning of Christmas. And in true holiday spirit, they're giving us hell for our heathen ways.

We're just ordinary schlubs trying to bring a little material holiday cheer to others.

How heathen!

But it's not for nothing that our trunks are the color of money. We're working on "greeniing" the guns instead of putting on that gunmetal bluing.

But, of course, the reds have their right to try to beat us up for our materialistic ways.

The early history of the holiday is buried in pagan rites and date-keeping. THAT seems not to bother anyone.

But no one is keeping a REAL gun at their heads and demanding that they refrain from celebrating the neo overlay they've put on December 25th.

So how about a compromise. Two holidays. Christmas for Them, xmas (you don't even have to capitalize the word) for us.

They can sing carols, erect manger scenes, go to church and worship.

We can sing "Rudolph," erect gift stacks, go to Macy's and shop.

We don't have to talk to each other. We don't even have to SEE each other.

Well... Maybe that's extreme. Sometimes we'll probably have to ride the same subways or buses.

In which case, there may be typical mass transit battles of the boom boxes.

"O, Come All Ye Faithful" vs. "Rockin' Around The xmas (notice, still no capital 'x') Tree."

Or maybe battles of the iPods, during which all you will hear is "tshh TSHH, tshh TSHH, tshh TSHH," Which may be even MORE annoying.

Other than that, we can pretty well ignore each other.

In fact, we can celebrate on two separate days, if that’ll make the reddies happy.

They like 12/25… and because they are so giving, a big chunk of 12/24 as well.

So how about either 12/23 or 12/26. Are you fussy?

Okay, so you’re fussy. But are you THAT fussy?

And Now, because today’s Wessay is shorter than usual, here’s a question:

Why would an orthopedist demand the co-payment before seeing you? Is it because he believes his power to cure is so great that you’ll be able to run out of the office afterward?

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Went Shopping, Went Missing, Went Dead.

“Went missing.” Where did we get this imbecile phrase?

The Alabama teen that disappeared during a school trip in the Islands “went missing,” at least according to news accounts and the cops.

Judge Crater didn’t “went missing,” he vanished.

So have hundreds of thousands of other people over time.

But now, people don’t vanish, disappear, get kidnapped, abducted or captured.

They “go missing.”

Like someone went shopping. Or went out to eat. Or went to bed.

Well, if we’re going to use this construction, let’s really USE it.

A guy got pushed off a subway platform in New York the other day, was struck by a train and… and… what? Died? But not before parts of him went missing. They were later found below the tracks. So, the parts “went found.”

But did the guy die, or was it that he “went dead.” Like a telephone line without a dial tone or a cable TV box when you don’t pay the bill. (or when you do, but the cable company’s transmission “went ka-flooey.”

It’s politically incorrect, but historically common to say someone who lost his mind “went nuts.”

I guy loses control of his car and hits a tree. Earlier that evening, he “went drunk.”

The woman “went pregnant.”

Mere semantics, you say?

Semantics, yes. “Mere” semantics, no.

Words represent concepts.

Regular readers/listeners to these rants know that. Or at least this space has “went conceptual” more than once.

So what is the concept we’re examining when someone “went missing?”

Why it’s this: the person bears no responsibility for the action. Something happened over which the person who “went” had no control.

The Alabama teen had no say in her disappearance. Or did she? At this writing, we don’t know. She may have willingly gone along with her captor or captors. Or not.

The guy who “went drunk” HAD control over his situation, at least until the third martini.

The guy on the subway platform did not. And his limbs and other assorted parts CERTAINLY did not.

So, “went missing” leaves the (not so clear) implication that the person had nothing to do with what happened to him.

The cop who was shot in the line of duty yesterday (11/27/05) went dead after doctors failed to save his life.

But saying it that way sounds… well… imbecilic.


But not for long.

Once one of these phrases gets into the language, it tends to stick and expand.

How many times have you heard the relatively recent “at the end of the day….”?

It might have been good usage the first time or even the first thousand times, when applied to something that actually happened at the end of a day.

But now, it’s EVERYWHERE.

Soon, the word “went” will be applied to all kinds of things we’re not used to hearing. And by this time next year, we’ll accept it as part of the language.

This essay has “went done.”

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

©wjr 2005

Thursday, November 24, 2005


(Advance for Saturday, 11/26/05)

Washington State’s export binge seems to have slowed a bit. The key word is “seems.” It really hasn’t. It’s growing underground with expansions and the insinuation of this social movement into other areas.

Seattle is a lovely city, so ‘tis said. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer.

Here in New York, we have been infiltrated by two major Seattleists: Starbucks, the coffee monolith and Washington Mutual, the financial wannabe-monolith.

Fine boys and girls, all.

But different.

Not from each other, but from everything else around here.

Not BAD different.

Just different.

For a time, Starbucks expanded geometrically. Multiplied like the brooms in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Chop ‘em in half, and you get two active brooms instead of just one. Or like worms. Cut ‘em in half and you get two living worms.

In fact, it appears the goal was (if it isn’t still) The Starbucks Mirror Window Experience. That’s when you look out the window of any given Starbucks and see… another Starbucks.

It’s not a bad place. The brownies are a little cement-y. The plain coffee is a tad French (read “burned”) But there are so many add-ons you can cover the burn with any flavor you like. And when you dunk the cement-y brownie, it becomes, well, moist and chewy.

There are lines. Oh, what lines. That’s because walking into one of these places turns even the most decisive and regular customer into a puddle of puzzlement.

And here’s something you maybe didn’t know.

The menus on the wall?

They become blurs while you’re waiting on the line, forcing you to re-read them when you get to the order-taker and THEN spend time making up your mind.

But there’s a friendly pseudo-intellectual, pseudo relaxed chaos in the place that many find appealing.

Washington Mutual has copied some of the more appealing of these characteristics and added a few touches of its own.

There are no lines. There are waiting clumps.

The tellers are not behind a glass cage, they’re out at kiosks arranged in patterns that look from the air like Jackson Pollok’s castoff preliminary sketches.

They give away coffee to sip while you wait. It’s better than Starbucks’ and doesn’t cost enough money to feed a family of four for the day.

But they don’t have money at the kiosks.

So, if you’re there to cash a check, say, you swipe your account card, type in your pin, and get a receipt which you then take to another kiosk, this one, automated.

You punch in a code you’ve been given and the machine dispenses the money you’ve withdrawn.

The machine kiosk doesn’t panic when a masked and hooded hood comes in with a gun.

But it IS an extra step.

The cutesy arrangements at these two places may be catching on.

Trader Joe’s, based in New England and with no known ties to Seattle, has a similar kiosk-style checkout system.

Target’s checkout counters are almost as confusing as WaMu, as it calls itself.

And Costco has food sample kiosks on weekends.

But you can’t buy hot coffee there.

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

©wjr 2005

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Creeping Jersification

(Advance for Thursday 11/24/05)

Once upon a time, when you leased radio spectrum space from the American people, you had, in return, to serve the community where that spectrum segment was situated. Such a place is known in the trade as a “city of license.”

If you made a station in, say, Moote Pointe, New York, you were expected to serve Moote Pointe, New York. If your signal reached Greenwich CT or Greenwich Village or even Greenwich, England, that was fine. You still had to concentrate your efforts on Moote Pointe, New York.

In the 21st Century, this, apparently is no longer true. With “station clusters” (which means the big guys gobble up the little guys,) and relaxed ownership rules, everyone can be everywhere.

Sort of.

Which is how we get to Creeping Jersification.

An awful lot of the radio stations in New York City seem to have forgotten New York City.

The other day, a morning program host announced he was making a personal appearance in Flemington, New Jersey, 47 miles from the city line. He called the town “the heart of (our) listening audience.


Buried in the middle of a recent internet post about another station, was a note from a historian who said he and his group considered that station, located on New York’s Broadway for the past 80 years a “New Jersey Radio Facility.”

He’s right. It is.

Many big transmitters are located in NJ’s welcoming swampland, where land is cheaper and more plentiful than it is in the five boroughs. They’re there for technical and business reasons. But the piece of paper that allows them to operate, the licenses, remain based in New York City.

These two stations are just examples. There are many more.

It’s fine to serve the people of New Jersey. They need all the help they can get.

After all, they have cities like Newark which is more like a movie set than a real place. They have cities like Camden, where no one remembers that the crime rate is down, because it isn’t. Or cities like Elizabeth, where you really CAN see the air.

They have places like North Shady Grove where people are so rich, their feet never touch the ground. Saves money on shoes. But it makes for rocky walking.

The attitude of the people broadcasting on those stations, by the design, says “we’re not REALLY in New York. We’re Jersey Boys, just like you.

The northern and eastern suburbs of the city are all but ignored. Except by one station that gives Hudson Valley weather every two seconds.

Note to them: the people in the Hudson Valley are too busy listening to their own stations to bother with you.

There’s no argument with serving the entire metro area.

But there IS argument with serving every place in it except the city of license.

Does nothing happen in town anymore?

You wouldn’t think so if you were listening.

How about these guys concentrate a bit on programming for Staten Island, which is ALMOST New Jersey. They could gradually work their way into actually talking about Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens occasionally too.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Suburban National Anthem

It’s almost winter, and that means it’s time once again for the sounds of the Suburban National Anthem.

What’s that? If you live in the suburbs, you already know.

If not: it’s the “sound” of a thousand lawn blowers blowing.

From early morning until late at night, comes The Song, the Anthem.

It’s a catchy little tune, hard to describe in words. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.

But it’s usually something like this:


At top volume.

The lawn blower is a simple musical instrument, very much like early hornpipes or pan flutes.

And because of that, these instruments can be tuned.

Simply changing the diameter of the opening will go a long way.

And for the truly ambitious, holes can be punched at various spots along the tubes, allowing them to be played like clarinets or saxophones.

Arrange a dozen or so of these on a suburban street and the musical possibilities are endless.

Throw in an electric can opener or two, and you get some hard-to-hear but pleasant background hum.

Now, what’s with the proliferation of leaf blowers in the first place?

Well, first, technology has again outstripped philosophy.

In olden days, one had to rake leaves.

Same as you had to open cans by hand.

But modern life is different.

When we raked the leaves, we put ‘em in a pile at the curb and burned them.


And, as Ronald Reagan taught us, trees cause more pollution than cars.

Hence, burning tree effluvia must be even worse.

Modern technology has saved our polluting bacon once again.

And, not incidentally, philosophy has once again caught up with the technos by supplying reasons.

And, finally, The Law has caught up with both technology and philosophy by forbidding us to burn leaves at the curb, or anywhere else on what passes for “our” property.

Goodness! The politicians/lawyers have to protect the pristine and vulnerable lungs of our young and our old, the former for “Tha Fyoooocha,” for which we’re always being cautioned is at risk, and the latter for our “poor doddering seniors,” who might get sick and cost the municipal medical system a few grand more than it can pay – especially when it’s paying five bucks a pop for aspirin tablets at a Select Hospital Near You.

While we’re on a late fall cleaning binge, here’s how you can get even with the morons who post garage sale signs on your trees and utility poles and don’t take them down when the sale’s over.

Remove the sign. Wrap it. Bring it to the address that’s on it and leave it on the offender’s doorstep.

Even better, go around the neighborhood and collect all the signs from that sale and then, in the dark of night, post them on the seller’s tree or utility pole.

Then, next morning, go out to the street with you handy cassette recorder (do they still make those?) record The Suburban National Anthem, and e-mail them an iPod downloadable version.

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

©wjr 2005

Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's Over. Cash In Your Cow Chips & Go Home

Disclaimers: the writer is a life-long New Yorker, a life-long fan of country music, was a “personality” on two country radio stations, both of them in New York and was a charter member of the CMA, the Country Music Association.


We were inundated recently by the run up to and the hosting of the CMA Annual Awards here in New York.

The association placed its programming on New York City’s non-commercial educational station, WNYE.

They closed Times Square for a day to set up for a Garth Brooks TV live-shot, which was no less packed with people than on New Year’s Eve.

A Grand Celebration of American Roots.

The recorded music sells well in these parts. The live shows are well attended. So why hasn’t country music radio succeeded here?

There are two and a half reasons.

Here’s the half: Madison Avenue won’t support something that doesn’t “sell well.”

Here’s the first full reason: no country music station (and there have been nine of them in the area at one time or another) gets near the top of the ratings, and no owner is satisfied with the concept “we have no shot at the top, the best we can hope for is something out of the top ten.”

Here’s the second and most important:

We don’t relate to the lifestyle. We New Yorkers don’t “get” country.

The tunes are generally pretty. So are the performers. The words are generally clever in a corny wordplay kind of way. The production is as elaborate as any rock concert, and generally better executed.

It’s the hayseed persona and the hayseed patina that turns us off.

That’s hayseed, not blue collar. Blue collar built and continues to build and runs New York.

The average New Yorker thinks of “country people” as dumb, artificial, superficial, uneducated primitives who go to church every Sunday, and then do nasty things to sheep and cows, cousins, siblings and neighbors’ wives and husbands on Monday, get into a disproportionate number of bar fights and spend most of the rest of the day in either the truck or the double-wide.

You can say most of that about ANY culture and be at least part-right.

We mostly don’t care whether that’s going on in our midst unless it hits us in the face.

But in the case of “country people” there’s an emotional recoil built into it.

We just don’t like the so-called Nashville/Austin sensibilities.

The unsophisticated acts of “early” or post-war country didn’t make a dent around here. Hank Williams, Senior, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Webb Pierce and the like couldn’t cut it in New York.

Even Elvis wasn’t a hit around here until he ditched the moveable feast of pink Cadillacs.

The industry is a lot slicker and less “down home,” now. But it won’t make a difference.

The afterglow of our one night stand with the Confederates won’t last long.

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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pharmaceutical Creationism

If you’re on Medicare, you can now sign up for some kind of discount. Part D, it’s called. D for dazed or dumbfounded or damn it what are they talking about, anyway?

There are a bazillion plans on the market and they’ve been advertising heavily for months.

All of the plans have this in common: they’re part spider web and part rats nests, with a maze or two thrown in for good measure. A mine field in a moving roller coaster.

Breathtakingly complicated, hard to maneuver, scary.

It’s touted by our Esteemed Leaders as a way to bring discount drugs to The Great Unwashed Masses, which would be all of us who aren’t either Esteemed or Leaders

The real answer, the simplest answer is to nationalize the drug companies, fund the research (which is mostly the government, anyway,) and sell the drugs at little or no profit.

That's impossible. At least it's impossible here and now.

So the next best thing to do is to form a few "public benefit corporations," or "public benefit authorities" like the MTA subway/bus/rail/bridge system in New York. Then issue bonds, and use the money to buy large chunks of the stocks of the majors on the open market, and control their activities that way.

The present plan, signing up for some kind of half baked discount, is complicated and if you believe the news accounts, a lot of people aren't going to do it because they don't understand it.

You've seen countless ads for various health plans and other companies that are trying to convince people to sign up. They all say the same thing: "it's complicated. we make it simple. you CAN benefit up to 'x' dollars a year."

Well, what they really mean is "use our plan. we'll screw you over no worse than the other guys."

Next, you’ll likely see the Lotions and Potions crowd, (which would dearly love to be referred to as the homeopathic remedy and diet supplement industry) hop on the bandwagon. It’s kind of like “Intelligent Design.”

After all, they’ll tell you, medicines are iffy. Just a theory. Like Darwin. Not curing anything and only dealing with symptoms.

So why not also discount those little sugar pills you stick under your tongue when you injure yourself. Or the pills that grow hair, improve memor and clean out your impacted bowels.

(Aside: "Gold Bond Medicated Powder" and "Focus Factor" are not chemically similar and not the same thing as Ovalitine.)

And what about wine? It’s supposedly good for your heart? So why not a wine discount?

Orange juice. Diet plans. Health club memberships. Where is the American “can-do” spirit, here? These people don’t usually let the grass grow under their feet.

Unlikely they will now, either.

Tropicana, Ernest & Julio Gallo, Jack LaLanne, Dr. Atkins, where ARE you?

And what about coffee, enough to keep you awake while filling out those sleep-evoking forms? A medicinal coffee discount! Yes!

Somebody’s going to benefit from this benefit. Not you, though.

The fundamental problem is that Congress doesn't write laws anymore. They're written by "advocates" and "consultants" and (oh my god!) lobbyists.

That's got to stop. But it won’t.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

Sorry, Wrong Number

There’s some kind of screwup in the software at the phone company.

The result is twofold. First, the cellphone rings a lot with calls for American Express, the New York Times, Medicare, Blue Cross and Nextel, which is not the carrier that sold the phone.

Thing Two: customers of American Express, the New York Times, Medicare, Blue Cross and Nextel are (a) frustrated, (b) unable to reach the people they want to call and (c) befuddled.

How does this happen? The Carrier doesn’t seem to know. They just apologize “for the inconvenience.”

If it happened once or twice or even ten times, it would be annoying, but possibly understandable. But it happens every day. That’s not a metaphor or an analogy or a figure of speech. It happens EVERY day. Usually more than once.

The Carrier says it’s all to do with the routing of toll free “800” calls to local numbers and the computer missing a number or two and sending the call to the wrong phone. Some techno-babble that no one can understand, apparently including the engineers at the Carrier.

Many new friends, now. Anonymous phone friends. People who want to check their credit card balance or buy travelers checks or find out why their newspaper wasn’t delivered this morning, or whether fixing their ingrown toenails need pre-authorization.

A typical call goes like this:

Caller: “I want to know why I didn’t get my paper this morning. Is it because someone’s stealing it or is it just that your deliveryman doesn’t know what he’s doing. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Callee: “I’m sorry, ma’am, but this isn’t the newspaper. It’s a private phone, a cell phone and…”

Caller: “Is this 1 800- 245 67…”

Callee: “It’s not 800 anything, ma’am, it’s just a telephone and….”

Caller: Click.

You’d think they could fix this, but apparently they can’t. Not after years and years of allegedly trying.

Since each incoming call costs one of those precious “any time minutes,” this new form of recreation mounts up.

There’s a strong preference for the customers to call during daylight hours. That’s good because who wants to be awakened at midnight for a balance check? But it’s bad because incoming calls at off hours are not billed.

Maybe the Carrier has a room full of callers (probably somewhere in Afghanistan,) who make random calls to cell phones to run up higher bills.

Given the wage scale in Afghanistan, and the cost of an “any time minute,” they probably come out ahead of the game.

Either that or the call center and the telephone service itself are on two different budgets, budgets that never meet and don’t talk to one another… and they rake in the sheckles or drachmas or whatever they use for money in Afghanistan.

And who is the “Carrier?”

In the interest of fairness and a level playing field, there will be no actual identification. But you already know it’s not Nextel. It’s also not Sprint. And it’s not AT&T. And it’s not Cingular.

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

©wjr 2005

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Oldest Profession

It’s not what you think. It’s not the one you’ve heard all your life.

The oldest profession is gossip.

Now, we call it news reporting.

Those paintings they’re always discovering on the walls of caves? What do you think that is? Great Art? Great Scott, it’s not!

It’s a newspaper – only there was no paper or ink in those days, so they used what they had: stone and paint.

They say stuff like “The quick marriage between Zarg and Ook is kaput. Zarg was seen at forest clearing #51 holding hands with Blapp, then slipped off to her cave for the night.”

Hieroglyphics? Same thing: “King Farouk has spent the Cairo treasury down to its last thousand dollars, and will have to raise taxes.”

Folk songs? Same thing: “It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.”

As technology has improved, the newsies have multiplied.

But it’s the same old stuff.

Only now we get it from 500 television channels, 500 radio stations and satellites, the newspapers and magazines like “Paris Hilton Digest,” internet sites like “The Sludge Report” and “The Shopping Guide.”

So let’s not get too huffy about people like Judith Miller or any of the other reporters and “institutions” that we shun – or pretend to shun here in the 21st century.

Since all of society is on cultural steroids, why should she be any different?

In colonial days, one of the risks of being a pamphleteer with an unpopular viewpoint was having a couple of goons with sledgehammers break down your door and bust up your printing press.

Now, we have courtrooms and jail houses instead.

Gossip from the respectable newspapers and TV channels. Gossip from the neighbors. Gossip from government handouts.

All the same thing.

And all have been with us in one form or another since we creatures learned to make and use language.

On any given day sources of “information” ranging from the Lofty New York Times or the Nightly News down the line to this lowly blog-site can be full of truth or full of shit. Or anything in between.

And how do you know which is which? You don’t.

You have to rely on your own judgment. And on what do you base that?

In cave days, you could pretty easily confirm the story about Zarg and Ook and Blapp.

Today, it’s much tougher.

So you do what any normal, rational citizen would do, you consult your beliefs.

If you don’t believe in gravity, it doesn’t matter. Gravity will do what it does, with or without your agreement.

If you believe the world is too complex to have happened at random, well – who knows whether you’re right or wrong.

If you believe we should be killing American soldiers in Iraq because it’s the right thing to do, who’s to say.

If you believe that the oncoming subway is an illusion, and jump in front of it, you may have some trouble.

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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Got A Match?

Maybe you’ve noticed this: the heads of matches have shrunk to the point you can’t get a decent light from one – you need two or three to get a respectable flame.

Probably it’s a money saver. The match companies use less chemical and cut the cost of manufacturing.

Probably, they have a non-justification justification for this, like “it makes for a more efficient building process,” or “we found that people want lighter lights,” or “shrunken heads don’t matter because we’re using materials that flame hotter.”

All of that may be true. But the final result is you use more matches.

A careful examination of the facts, performed at the Wessays Secret Seaside Laboratory: Today’s matches are no hotter than older ones with full size heads.

They do not burn any slower.

Further, in testing, using the famed “burned fingertip test” developed at Cal Tech in the 1960s, scientists at the Secret Seaside Lab have determined that not only are the match heads smaller than they used to be, but the stems are weaker.

Hence, it is easier to burn one’s fingers, using the “burned fingertip test.”

Not a pretty picture. And painful, unless you’re Gordon Liddy, who advises us in “All the President’s Men” that the secret is “not minding that it hurts.”

We’ve come to accept that the chocolate cartel reduces the size of a candy bar without raising the price or reducing the size of the packaging. They even have a legitimate claim to the idea that the smaller amount means fewer calories, less fat, fewer carbs and less sugar, which may mean healthier candy.

We’ve come to hope that the car makers will reduce the engine size if that’s what it takes to use less gasoline.

It’s even okay that a two-by-four is less (sometimes significantly less) than two-by-four.

The match makers have no such justification.

Or do they?

Perhaps there is a metaphor here.

Why not carry this so-far shady idea into other areas of life.

Like reducing the number of words in any legal document.

If a contract were short and simple, you might be willing to pay your lawyer extra for the clarity.

Take a 5,000 word deed and turn it into this:

“Here is a house. It’s address is 409 Sandcast Boulevard, Moote Pointe, New York, 11566. Its assessed valuation is $483,000 as of 11/1/05. It’s owner is Philip J. Curtainrod.”

You’d pay big bucks for a three line deed.

How about reducing the number of letters in some common words: Kidnaped. Exces. Veranzano. Delicatesen. Wesays.

Even the alphabet can be cut. Why do we need both “c” and “k,” when “k” and “s” cover pretty much everything with those sounds. Eliminate “c,” and you have a sleeker, more efficient alphabet. (the “ch” sound could be replaced by “kh.”

Yes, take a tip from the matchmakers. There’s something to be said for a weak stem and a little head.

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

©wjr 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Election Day '05

If you watch enough TV cop shows, you know by now that one of the big catch phrases is “there are no coincidences.”

If there are two dead bodies, one M.O. in the same neighborhood at around the same time, chances are there’s only one perp.

The TV Cops should give lessons to the real-life politicians, who would then stop insulting our intelligence with both word and deed.

Political coincidences are a little less cut and dried. But only a little.

Is it a mere coincidence that the amount of highway construction ramps up during the summer before election?

Is it a mere coincidence that the price of gasoline falls all the way down to outrageous just before election day.

Look at the pump! What was $3.25 or even $3.59 a week or two ago now is $2.47.

A miracle! A downright miracle.

It’s hard to say how an office seeker might force ExxonMobil and others to cut their prices, if only temporarily.

But put nothing between an office seeker and the electorate around election day. If there’s a way to do it, these inventive men and women will have figured it out and done it.

It’s surprising that there isn’t a way to make abortion laws both more and less restrictive at the same time.

It’s hard to believe no one’s yet figured out a way to continue and end the war at the same time.

It’s astonishing to notice that no one has been able to control the price of drugs and maintain a free market in the price of drugs at the same time.

It’s not so hard to believe that they’ve figured out a way to make taxes go both up and down at the same time.


Easy. Cut federal taxes. Everyone gets a check signed by the President.

Then, to make up the shortfall, everyone also gets a new and higher bill from the city or the county or the school district or the state or all of the above.

The good news for most of us is that when the election is over, all this stuff will go away, or at least leave our immediate consciousness.

The major political parties are two giant corporations. They’re like the auto companies: essentially, they’re all selling a frame, a body, four wheels and an engine.

They may be incrementally different, but essentially, they’re the same frame, body, wheels and engine.

And look what’s happened to the car companies after 80 or 90 years of that nonsense. Three are left, one of which is foreign-owned and the other two are talking about bankruptcy protection – which was unthinkable only a decade or so ago.

Maybe it’s time for the Republicans and Democrats to file for Chapter Eleven.

But not until the roads are all smooth and the price of gasoline hits $1.99.

The office seekers think that we think they walk on water (or on gasoline.)

Got a match?

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

©wjr 2005

Friday, November 04, 2005

Talk Talk Talk

Want a decent conversation? Start talking to strangers.

Not chat room strangers, real ones. Strangers on the street. On the subway. In the diner.

We’ve been told that the art of conversation is dead. Not even close. The art of conversation is alive and well. It’s just that your friends are boring and your relatives have ulterior motives.

Let’s rewind that for a moment. Your friends aren’t necessarily boring. But you know their rap and they know yours. It’s like having the same conversation over and over again.

And your relatives -- well, maybe they DON’T have ulterior motives. But you know that there are certain things you can’t discuss with them, lest you raise points that’ll never be solved and that will just cause everyone grief.

So do this New York thing: horn in on a convo. If you’re REALLY not welcome, you’ll find out soon enough. The conversers whose territory you’ll be invading will give you the Dark Glare Of Death. Or they’ll just tell you to shove off.

Most people are too polite for that.

Plus, we humans are social beings, even most of the sociopaths among us, and thus are willing to talk with anyone about anything.

Just don’t be like the Oysters in “Alice In Wonderland.” They tried to stop a fight between the Walrus and the Carpenter, and ended up becoming dinner after the combatants resumed rationality.

Other than that… there’s all kinds of fun and interesting stuff that can happen among people who don’t know each other and assume they will never again meet.

The other day at a restaurant, Iron Grey Joe was waxing poetic about the mayor of the city of New York.

In the midst of his poetic endorsement of said mayor’s re-election, he said something outrageously untrue. So, he got corrected. The conversation then doubled to include two tables of diners instead of one.

It would have been nice to continue. But Iron Grey Joe and his poetic wax suffered a seizure or stroke or heart palpitation, and attention was turned suddenly and permanently to getting the cops and the ambulance on site and Joe to the hospital.

This is not a typical end to one of these horn-in-on-the-conversation conversations. Usually, you end up learning something and teaching something.

The opportunities for good talk, good learning and good teaching are endless, especially if there’s no ulterior motive.

If one of these happens at a pick up bar, it will be less spontaneous and more stilted than if it happens while waiting for the light to turn green.

We, remember, are as boring and same-subject as our friends and as touchy as our relatives. The way to have a fresh start every day is to … well, start fresh every day. Or every other day. Or even every week.

The art of conversation is not dead. It’s just sick, and lacks health insurance.

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

©wjr 2005

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Toaster Wars

The simple act of buying a toaster has become like so much else around here. You have to be an expert.

It’s not exactly like buying a car. But close. The product rating organizations don’t say much about these machines. Maybe they should.

The need for one of these arose on a recent morning when Old Bernie The Toaster finally breathed his last. Old Bernie, so-named because he had two settings that worked: dark and charcoal.

That morning’s toast was made in the microwave. Here’s a handy household hint: microwaves can’t make toast. They can make hot bread. Soggy hot bread if you drip a little water on the slice. But not toast.

Where to go?

The first foray was to Gigunda-Mart, where everyday low prices are the rule.

Fifty different toasters. Two slice. One slice. Four slice. Even six slice. Prices from ten bucks to about 30.

Flimsy junk from overseas. But cheap.

Nothing seemed to leap off the shelf, which probably is a good thing because one of those would likely crash to its death on hitting the floor. Ugly.

All those Gigunda-Mart employees you can never find when you need help because they’re out calculating their overtime and fringe benefits would gravitate to the aisle where the toaster was screaming in its final agony. And, of course, “you broke it, you bought it.”

Next foray: the mid-price department store, where the array was slightly smaller, the prices slightly higher and the parking closer.

“Toasters?” said the guy with the carnation on his lapel? “Just go through the men’s suits, pass through the cosmetics and jewelry departments and head downstairs.”

Final stop: the specialty retailer, Gourmet Tools Paradise, which specializes in $200 carving knives and things that look like kitchen implements but that no one but Martha Stewart knows what to call – and even SHE doesn’t know how to use.

They had toasters, alright. Bottom price, $150. Beautiful red or yellow or blue enamel finish. Precisely calibrated temperature controls. None of this “light-medium-dark” baloney. AND “Guaranteed To Make Perfect Toast Every Time.”

So, toasters are ten bucks at Gigunda-Mart and 150 at Gourmet Tools Paradise. That’s some spread.

And does this machine (it’s just a couple of heating coils, after all,) do bagels? “Oh NO, sir. Of COURSE not. We have a special bagel toaster you can buy, but this one just does sliced bread.”

Perish forbid they make the slots a little wider to accommodate hand cut bread or rolls or bagels!

Why don’t they? “Oh, sir, that would cause the heat to be distributed unevenly and obviate the ability to guarantee “…Perfect Toast Every Time.”

Of course!

The next morning, the toast went into the seldom-used stove. This is a bad idea. Not even the resident seagulls would touch what came out of the oven.

Maybe someone can fix Old Bernie.

Either that or it’s Special K for breakfast from now on.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ™

4744 The Running of the Bull

  Newsday Photo   A bull escaped from a farm in Moriches on New York’s Long Island and has been playing hide and seek ever since.  It’s not ...