Monday, December 31, 2007

The Flashback

#340 The Flashback

It happens every year at this time, this time being the period between Christmas and New Year's eve.

The flashback.

In the supermarket parking lot on the Sunday before the New Year, and there's this 20-something guy and he's collecting empty shopping carts and getting ready to move them back inside.

And he's whistling. And he's not whistling loud enough nor working close enough to be sure. But the wind catches some of the notes, and the suspicion is that it's "Jingle Bells." Jingle Bells. We haven't heard enough by now? And from a 20-something guy who, if he whistles at all, is much more likely to be whistling something by Megadeth. (That may be a stretch. No Megadeth tune has an actual melody, but you get the picture. This is not a generation that whistles at all, let along whistles tunes by either Megadeth OR John Pierpont.)

This has to stop!

"Hey, tell me I'm wrong, but are you whistling "Jingle Bells?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so," he replies, redding and putting on that sheepish puppy look that only someone that age can muster convincingly.

"Why? For cryin' out loud, haven't you had enough of that?"

"Well, you know, I've been working 40 or 60 hours a week inside the store for the last month or so and that's all they'd play on the loudspeaker."

"Well, you know, they have proven therapy for that condition."

He sheepishes his way around the parking lot, hunting up empty carts and lines up a long string of them and starts pushing them toward the store.

This is not some ORDINARY supermarket. This is FancyMan's, the fanciest supermarket in this -- and possibly any other town. And they have strict procedures about the way everything is done. Everything. From stocking the shelves, to greeting customers at the register and actually listening to their answer to "how are you?"

And one of these ten or 12 thousand rules is no one pushes more than seven carts at a time, lest there be injury to pusher or pedestrian or driver.

FancyMan's knows the population around here. Like the average driver, who doesn't know where the turn signal in his car is. So it pays to protect emplees from these drivers and these drivers from runaway carts.

But this kid has like 15 or 20 carts and he's pushing them toward the building.

Probably should report him. But after 60 hours of continuous jingle bells and the accompanying post-holiday flashback, he might become dangerous -- even while sporting a convincing sheepish-puppy look.

You'd probably hear him mutter "you don't get it unless you've been there." Or "is that your car, over there, the one with the huge, shopping-cart-shaped dent in the left door?"

Better to be diplomatic and say nothing.

Plus, you turn in a guy for an infraction like this and he's likely to lead the rest of his life as a petty criminal or low level street hood. (Ever hear anyone described as a "high level street hood?")

This is being typed about eight hours after the fact.

But jingle bells lives on in my head, somewhere it never would lodge had it not been for that shopping cart criminal.

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

©2007 WJR

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cultural Reverse Snobbery

#339 Cultural Reverse Snobbery

For those of us raised in a tradition of Euro-centric cultural snobbery, this may amount to treason.

But the highlight of the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors was a two minute snippet that happened almost accidentally.

First, let's clear up one dispute. People from Washington often talk of some kind of cultural rivalry with New York. Most New Yorkers, informed of this sub rosa war will respond by saying "what rivalry?" But the Kennedy Center Honors and the center itself were created to foster this deep south notion. It's a nifty hall, really. And it's close enough so the Washington political elite can pop in when they need a dose of something snooty, or to be seen among the great pretenders who hang out there.

The honorees this year included the director Martin Scorsese, who certainly deserves a salute from his peers and fans and anyone who's ever seen any of his movies.

Another was Dianna Ross, who didn't have to do anything but sit there and wave as a short roster of singers performed her hits -- all of them better than the originals, and some of them a LOT better. Dianna has about doubled in size from her prime. And her appearance on "American Idol" last year had to be the worst moment of her professional life.

For those Euro-centric cultural snobs, there was Leon Fleisher, an extraordinary piano pounder, all the more interesting because he had to fight physical disability at the peak of his fame, because he IS Euro-centric, but American Born and pals with the late Leonard Bernstein, who should have been charged with the attempted murder of Beethoven. Yo Yo Ma did a lot of the speaking for Fleisher, and while Ma is better known for playing irreplaceable 17th century cellos masterfully, then leaving them in taxi cabs, his verbal portrait was touching.

The longest and most elaborate tribute was for Steve Martin who is way smarter than he seems, and way more talented than many of us remembered. And this leads to the first thought, the one that started this little rant.

Martin plays the five string banjo, bluegrass style. This is not a state secret, but it isn't something you hear a lot about, either. His banjo mentor is the fellow generally regarded as creator of the style and it's foremost artist, living or dead, Earl Scruggs, who at the time of the broadcast was mere weeks away from his 84th birthday.

They brought him to Washington to play a song at this shindig. His theme, and probably the second-best known song in the genre, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." (The best known is Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky.")

So here's Earl, walking onto the stage. Arthritis in the shoulders, it looks like -- they're hunched, which they didn't used to be. And with that characteristic unsmiling, un-cultured, un-cultural, un-showbusiness deadpan, starts playing the song at abut 650 miles per hour, which is almost as fast as he played it 60 years ago, and not one bad note. Flawless.

Now THAT's an artist. And THAT was the highlight of the whole over-long program designed so that Washington could say to New York "Hey, we're here, too."

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

©2007 WJR

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

TV on Christmas

338 TV On Christmas

Maybe you noticed this: everything on TV this Christmas had to do with food, except on the Food Channel which was showing a travelogue.

The Travel Channel did a food show. Pizza around the world, or some such. Want to know where the "New York Times" thinks the country's best pizza is? It's in Chicago. Chicago!

All those bone heads have to do is walk out the front door of their shiny new building and across Eighth Avenue to any number of holes in the wall, and they'll find better pizza than in Chicago. Along the avenue from maybe 37th Street to 49th, there are something like two dozen dirty, grimy pizza joints. Dirty and grimy are important (Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut will never understand this.) Cheap, also. No air fare.

You know where else they have great pizza? According to the show, New Haven. Smells like a payoff. Pizza in New Haven, better than on Eighth Avenue? Nonsense.

One one of the shopping channels, there's an infomercial for some new kind of fast cooking oven. Uses regular heat, infra-red heat and convection. Schlep a roast and some asparagus out of the freezer, plop it into this thing and, bingo, you have a meal. Almost as fast as a microwave, but -- supposedly -- without the awful things that microwaves do to food while heating it.

Four easy payments of $39.99. But wait, if you order now, we'll reduce it to THREE easy payments of $39.99. But wait! You can get this whoopdie-do chopper-grinder thing free, just pay shipping.

That's where they get you. The oven's $120 bucks. But by the time you finish with the "free" stuff (including not one, but TWO whoopdie-do chopper-grinder things,) and the add-on capacity increaser for the oven (sounds like an x rated spam e-mail, no?) and three free issues of your favorite magazine, plus a "custom made" carrying case to take the oven on the road, plus the two year extended warranty, the item remains $120 bucks but the shipping has just gone up to half a gazillion dollars. And that's "regular" shipping that takes like six months. If you want the things within 10-15 "business days," (they're doing business on Christmas, so that must count as a "business day,") just pay for the whole thing at once, and they'll "express" it to you. Probably Pony Express. And just pop the pony into the oven, set it for two hours and you get a yummy, scrumptious horse meat dinner.

They don't tell you most of this stuff on the infomercial. They leave that up to "Lisa," who answers the telephone at Oven Central.

If this thing works, it'll be a great addition to the kitchen. If it doesn't, there's a 90 day money-back guarantee, but not for the shipping. All you need to do is call a special phone number for an authorization. The phone number is in Barbados and operates only alternate Wednesdays between 4 and 5:10 AM, Atlantic Time.

Meantime, the host and hostess of the program are cooking chicken and salmon and roasts and probably the pony. And they're making noises of approval that sound like the background of a 1970s John Holmes movie.

There are a dozen more food show choices on TV this Christmas. But this has to stop here. Got some gourmet frozen waffles in the toaster. Don't want to burn 'em.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Monday, December 24, 2007

WestraDamus Retrodictions for 2007

# 337
It's that time of year again. It's time for WestraDamus, the Non-Prophet, to predict the past, this time for the year 2007, which is drawing to a close.

First an explanation for those of you who are new to this character and to the website

The supermarket tabloids used to have their resident astrologers predict the future at about this time of year. No one seemed to check their accuracy a year later. Except WestraDamus, who realized that these guys were almost always wrong.

So, why not predict the past and do so with the same accuracy as the tabloid astrologers?

Hence this entry, which started as a monthly arrangement, but in the last decade or so has been relegated to a once-a-year foray.

And so, now, to the retrodictions. And this year, they cover the world of diplomacy, war, literature, entertainment, sports and the economy.

First, President Gore. He'll win the Tony award for best musical of the year, a revival of the Broadway classic "Massapequa" by Lerner & Lowe. Gore's new lyrics and dance routines choreographed by the late Chris Benoit wowed audiences throughout the year.

Britney Spears will win the Pulitzer Prize in literature, only to be upstaged by her 16 year old sister, Jamie Lynn, who will win the Nobel Piece Prize, edging out Tila Tequila and Elizabeth Taylor.

The merry pranksters of Al Qaeda will open a United Nations Mission in New York and invite the Rev. Al Sharpton to share office space. Sharpton will decline but contribute 40 copies of his hit novel, "the Tawana Brawley Story," to its library.

Iran will see the error of its ways and admit it has (a) the bomb and (b) three gay men. The country will test (a) by dropping it on (b.)

Former Congressman Dick Cheney (R-WY) will die of asphyxiation when the air supply is sabotaged in his Undisclosed Location. But his electric heart will continue to beat for the next six months because no one can find the "off" switch.

In happier retrodictions, the housing boom will continue full bore throughout the year, setting ever rising records for building starts, new home and existing home sales, and a reduction of the mortgage rate to 4.65 percent. The Dow will continue its corresponding climb, closing the year at 34,786.58. The Forbes Magazine list of billionaires will be doubled in size to 800, but still be led by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft (MSFT,) and present owner of France, Northern Ireland, Colombia, India and Pakistan.

The cities of Los Angeles, California and Newark, New Jersey will cede control to the Crips and the Bloods who will then hold a peace conference at which former President Jimmy Carter will successfully broker a truce. Members of the Carter team, including social critic Carlos Mencia, Economist Tom Keene and aging football legend Bill Parcells, holder of the record for consecutive retirements, will be honored at the White House by Vice President Edwards.

In medical retrodictions: researchers working jointly for Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson will announce a cure for cancer, consisting of an ointment made of ground Viagra, powdered Zoloft and niacin, smeared on a band aid. Other medical breakthroughs include the discovery that it's all in your head, that you can't roller skate in a buffalo herd, and that if you stick to a low-fat diet and climb every mountain, you will survive to a hundred and five.

The Makers of Lunesta will announce FDA approval for a new, non-drowsy sleeping pill.

Students at Penn State University, which has a building named for Paul Robeson, will learn to stop mispronouncing his name, and those members of the school's football team not charged with felonies will caucus in a Volkswagen.

Mike Bloomberg will not seek the Socialist Workers' Party nomination for President. The party will then designate Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage as its ticket.

Billboard Magazine's song of the year will be the near-ubiquitous digitally remastered reissue of Ukulele Ike singing "Who Takes Care of the Caretaker's Daughter While the Caretaker's Busy Taking Care." It will only slightly out-poll the near-ubiquitous digitally remastered reissue of Home & Jethro's "I've Got Tears in My Ears From Lying on My Back in My Bed As I Cry Over You."

Transportation retrodictions: Boeing will unveil its new superliner, the 707473727-A. It's the most fuel efficient aircraft ever designed and it holds 1,200 passengers (and a crew of four.) The plane's efficiency comes from a previously unused concept: no engines. The plane and its 1,200 passengers and crew of four is towed onto the runway, sits there for four hours and then is towed back to the gate. Although the plane is capacious, its size was kept compact by the elimination of the galley, so there's no food or water. And by the elimination of bathrooms. Since it doesn't fly, there is no reason for overhead racks. Passengers simply leave their luggage in the aisles.

General Motors will go private, purchased by a coalition of state-owned investment companies in China. In a two-step process, the new owners will establish wage parity between workers in the US and those in Shanghai (not the other way around.) And they will announce plans to move all production to Malaysia.

Amtrak will cut its remaining four passenger routes, pave over the trackbeds and lease them to Greyhound.

Notable Death retrodictions for 2007: George W. Bush (He actually died in 2005, but residual effects of ingested chemicals, powered and liquid, keep him dancing on the table for an additional two years.) Dan Rather, Don Imus, Prince Charles and the entire soprano section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Social Change retrodictions: Denny's in Yazoo City, Mississippi admits an actual African-American man to its tables, takes his order and serves his food, all within four hours of his arrival. Wal-Mart overcomes the deep-seated prejudice of customers at its Tel Aviv store and sells 14,000 Christmas trees. The Boy Scouts of Philadelphia name their first openly gay Eagle Scout. Vito Corleone converts to Islam. Poland and Germany sign a non-aggression pact. The Lakotas secede from the United States and declare all treaties void. Radio station KILI of Porcupine, South Dakota, freed of federal regulation, increases its transmitter power to one million watts, drops its annual 362 day fund raising marathon and accepts ads from Marlboro, Camel, Parliament, Kool and Native Star cigarettes.

Climate change retrodictions: the Xinhua Kapok Collective of Shanghai will donate 100,000 life vests for polar bears who can't swim and who face possible drowning because of global warming. The Consumer Products Safety Commission will determine there is an unacceptable level of lead in the vests' bright orange die, and order a recall.

P&G finally will tell us what is in the 56/100 of Ivory Soap that isn't pure.

Starbucks will announce a new product line, coffee, which will be served side by side with its present line of burnt brown water.

PETA will announce a campaign against ExxonMobil, charging cruelty to cartoon tigers and winged horses.

The government of Italy will announce a campaign against the global positioning gizmo maker Tom Tom for refusing to acknowledge that all roads lead to Rome. Twenty minutes later, the government of Italy will dissolve itself.

Apple, fresh from its successes with the I-pod and the I-phone will announce its latest product, the I-truck.

You will buy a house that should cost $123,999 and pay $1.47 million for it. Your introductory interest rate of 2.38% will expire 23.8 minutes after the loan is granted, after which the rate becomes 18.064%. Your lender will provide you with temporary housing while you search for new digs (while supplies of washing machine and refrigerator boxes last.)

Rev. Mike Huckabee will convert to the LDS church. LDS Bishop Willard M. Romney will (a) become a Baptist and (b) admit that he always hated the Rambler.

Biologists at UC Berkeley will announce they've cloned a rock. But later, the student newspaper will investigate and discover it wasn't cloned and that the "cloned" stone was chipped off the old block during a faculty party celebrating Governor Schwarzenegger's declaration decriminalizing pot.

Former Durham, North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong will open an Amway distributorship and will promptly be arrested on charges he raped a stripper hired to liven up a recruiting party. The charges will eventually be discredited

Detective Spenser will disclose his first name.

WestraDamus will grow another day older and deeper in debt.

This item will be available throughout the year at

©2008 WJR

Friday, December 21, 2007

Go To Zell

#336a Go To Zell

Maybe it's the only way a newspaper can survive. Get taken over by a mogul, either the top down type or the bottom up type. The moguls who own the New York Times made their money by doing newspapers. The are bottom up moguls. Sam Zell, new owner of the Chicago Tribune is a top down type. He made his money elsewhere and now has ridden in to save the day. Real estate guy. Not the first to buy a zombified group of papers. There was Mort Zuckerman, realty tycoon, top down mogul who owns the New York Daily News Zell, and he buys Tribune Co. along with which comes Newsday and the LA Times and a bunch of TV stations and a baseball team.

The Tribune itself is a storied mediocrity, kind of like Johnny Mathis and Fiats. Everyone knows them. Everyone. Few think much of them.

But the LAT and Newsday are not. At least, not yet.

Newspapering is like show biz. Everyone who buys one thinks he knows how to run it better. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Zuckerman's Daily News isn't terrible. It's kind of pale has no real editorial position (which could be an advantage these days,) and sells a gazillion copies. The Washington Times IS terrible. It's owned by the Unification Church, which is owned by Rev. Moon, who also is a real estate mogul.

Rupert Murdoch bought Dow Jones the other day. He will not ruin the Wall Street Journal. Change it, yes. Wreck it, no. Rupert is a bottom up newspaper mogul.

Sam gave an interview to the Tribune the day the sale went through. He told the reporter he thought of himself not as the chairman and CEO, but as the owner. This is not a good sign. First off, it's not entirely true. There's an employee stock plan to be financed with new debt. If the house collapses, the mogul won't walk away unscathed. But he won't have more than a few cuts and bruises.

There's a whole chorus out there singing a funeral dirge for newspapers (and the Nightly 6:30 TV news.) Their dirging is premature. But circulation is down and papers have cut maybe 4,000 newsroom jobs nation-wide in the past ten or so years. That's a lot of jobs. And that's not a way to run anything. Maybe Sam'll swing the axe a bit, maybe not.

But a newspaper isn't an office tower, a housing development or a boatyard, and it can't be run like one. The guys who ran Tribune into the ground were busy not doing newspapering. In fact, no one quite knows what they WERE doing, other than thrashing around and trying to look important. Maybe Sam'll find some news guys to run the thing when he tires of playing with it or finds it's playing with him.

In the meantime, to the boys and girls at 202 W 1st Street in Los Angeles, the guys on Pinelawn Road in Melville, New York, and in Hartford and in Baltimore, and on Michigan Ave in Chicago: Don't make any major purchases just now. And learn the real estate business.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Montego Pete's News Stand

#335 Montego Pete's Newsstand

Montego Pete came over from Jamaica after making a few bucks and he smiles, though he's a little hazy when he tells you how it happened. But now he's in another Jamaica, the one in Queens and he's running a newsstand, living the American Dream.

There are 4,000 odd newsstands in the City of New York and Pete, which is not his name, is running the only one of its kind.

He took those few bucks and borrowed a few more from either the local shark or maybe it was Citibank or maybe they're the same (he gets hazy about that, too, but always with a big smile,) and built this thing.

He's got coffee for the commuters. He's got Caribbean magazines for the back-home crowd, and he's got all the papers. The Times, the Journal, The News, Il Progresso, The Forward, The Post, The Amsterdam News, Newsday. He gets the Jamaica Gleaner and the Sunday something or other, maybe a week late.

And he's got all the Magazines: Newsweek, Time, The Star, In Touch. And all the tabloids. And then there's Montego Pete's specialty, the trade journals.

You need The Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology? You need Colorado Geology Digest? You need The Aristotelian Review? Montego Pete's got 'em.

"You know, people are always getting studies from these magazines second or third hand," he says. "There are studies of Nevuses in Dermatology Today and you can only get them quoted in the papers. You get 'em filtered through some reporter's reading. I want to give people the real deal."

So Montego Pete is the go-to guy for Cosmology Quarterly, which is the only place you can read Hawking's latest theory on Black Holes, Dark Energy and Anti-matter. CQ is right there on the shelf next to GQ, Esquire and Details.

"I don't sell a lot of this stuff," Pete says, "But it builds trust, and customer traffic. And I get to meet a lot of dermatologists, cosmologists and pediatric endocrinologists. Also coal miners."

There are no coal mines in Jamaica, Queens. In fact, there are no coal mines anywhere in southern New York. But they come anyway, because Pete's is the only place outside West Virginia and Kentucky you can buy Anthracite Today, which is the leading coal geology magazine.

"The public has a right to know," he says, "and they don't want to get their information second hand, like when the Wall Street Journal quotes a study of feet from Cobbler's Digest, which you can usually only get in Brazil and Italy, though there's soon going to be an Indonesian edition in English."

I ask him if he carries Genetic Altered Food Grower's Week. He says he did, but the Sutphin Boulevard Ecology Club picketed him and that was bad for business.

"They made me sell fair trade coffee, and I accepted that. But they drew the line at Genetic Altered Food Grower's Week."

I ask him if fair trade coffee is a monthly or a weekly.

"It's just coffee," he says. They don't have their own magazine yet. I'm thinking of starting one for them.

And always with that smile.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Monday, December 17, 2007

Clean Up the Kitchen

#334 Clean Up the Kitchen

Guy walks into a diner, tells the counterman he wants a cheeseburger with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, mushrooms, avocados, and bacon. The counterman turns around and shouts the order out to the cook: "Clean up the kitchen."

It's a bad old joke. But today's post is made up of the stuff that sat around all year without growing long enough to warrant the usual 500 words or so. Hence, Cleaning up the kitchen.

A. I'll keep My I out for you:
Until very recently, none of this was in the first person singular. I kept my "I" out for you. This is fairly unusual in any prose these days and the principle behind it hearkens back to the days when reporters were brutally instructed to keep themselves out of the story. They invented an editorial "we" and a "told this reporter..." or "told NBC News..." and similar phrases to get around the restriction when it was absolutely necessary or when the editor was finishing his bottle of Seagram's or the producer was on the phone with a field crew trying to figure out why the picture wasn't getting through.

But times have changed, and in order to be modern, I figured, why not. I'm an old guy. I'm not edited a lot. And if Jimmy Breslin and Robert B. Parker and Nancy Reagan can "I" you to death, why not me, too. It still doesn't sit well. A character flaw, perhaps. But I'm working on it.

B. I verses you.
We capitalize "I" but not "you." Does that mean the writer is more important than the reader? I want You to tell me.

C. Analog Vs. Digital or Grandma's 78 RPM records were as bad as you remember them, and so are CDs and MP3s, but for different reasons:
The scratchy old 78s are almost impossible to hear when played on the machines they were made for, which are 1920s era wind up gramophones and Victrolas. The CDs and MP3s all glare at you. They're so in your face (or at your ears) and seem to have no ambient room noise it's the listening equivalent of staring into the sun. Early classical musicians believed that the room helped form the sound of the music. But, of course, most of them recorded on scratchy old 78s, so what did THEY know?

D. Chicken Wings:
They're big around here. Question, what do those places that sell only the wings do with the rest of the chicken?

E. They're running out of street names:
Must be. Else, why this?
There was a street around here called Lowe's Boulevard because there was a Lowe's at one end of it. Lowe's moved, and they changed the name to Colonnade Boulevard. So far, so good. Except that it intersects with Colonnade Way. That's confusing. My home street intersects with itself. So did my home street in Moote Pointe, New York. And Borden's hasn't been in Queens for decades, but they still call the street where it was "Borden Avenue." Maybe the City of New York doesn't move as fast as the folks around here. Or maybe they just don't know the factory's closed.

F. George W. Bush:
God save us from a drunk who finds Jesus.

G. A New Kind of Strike:
A few years ago, the guys who drive the snow plows for the Town of Hempstead, NY went on strike. But no one knew about it except the people who live there. The drivers didn't walk off the job, they didn't picket, they didn't throw bricks the the window of the Third Assistant Deputy Undercommissioner in charge. They got into their trucks when and as they were supposed to. They went out on their routes when and as they were supposed to. The drove all the routes and returned to the plow garage. No plow ever touched the ground. But the routes were covered. This could catch on.

Are you listening, UAW, WGA, DGA, UFT?

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Coffee Conversion

#333 The Coffee Conversion

There are epiphanies and there are epiphanies
Most of the time when you get one of those "Ah-HAH!" moments, they're about something important. You realize that you're a republican or a democrat or you find your purpose in life is to save the whales or build a nuke plant.

But sometimes there about really tiny things.

Like this one.

The other day in Big Box Club they had this name brand coffee on sale, I mean really cheap. And in looking over the label, I noticed that it was marked "mild." Now, there's something un-manly about "mild" coffee. I've been mainlining espresso for decades. The blacker the better.

I am the inventor of the Tire Fire which is two shots of espresso in a huge cup and the rest of it filled with the worst, stale-est most burned coffee Starbucks has to offer. And no diluting this concoction with milk or sugar or (heaven forbid!) any of those silly, good-for-nothing flavored syrups.

But, okay. A bargain is a bargain. So let's try it.

As an aside, I have noticed that the Mexican made Mister Coffee machine for 12 bucks is every bit as good as the Mexican made fancy "German" super precise, auto timed, tell-us-how-dark you like it machine for 120 bucks.

So I load up the coffee maker with this "mild" stuff, and you know what? The grounds don't smell half bad.

Obviously, they put something in this wimpo blend to make it smell like real coffee, that is until you drink it. Then, it shows its true color, which is probably a translucent beige-red-brown instead of the customary and more preferred opaque black.

Okay. Coffee in. Water in. "Gentlemen, start your engines."

Yeah... here comes the mild coffee. And it is, just as I suspected, a translucent red-beige-brown. You call this coffee? It's hot coffee colored Kool-Aid.

Oh, wait. I forgot to try drinking it.


Hey. Not bad.


Not bad at all.

But, then, what does this say about me. All these decades spent savoring espresso or at least the dark French Roast and here I am liking this watery looking stuff, which if you found in your sink, you'd probably call a plumber.

I have to admit it. I love the unmanly brew.

This is a stunning introspective insight from a guy who doesn't believe in stunning introspective insights. A weak brew instead of the high test stuff? Me? Oh for shame!

I was going to keep this a secret. Not that any one's watching which coffee I drink.

After finishing wanting to keep it secret, I thought about going the opposite way, like sending a mass mailing to my entire e-mail address book announcing this discovery and disclosure.

But I wanted a test run first.

So I sent a mini-mass mailing to my kids, except the one who is still home and who doesn't care what kind of coffee comes out of the machine as long as it's COFFEE.

The daughters replied pretty close to instantly, saying, in effect, "who cares!"

The younger long distance son replied a little while later, saying "Dad, are you okay, why are you writing to me about your preference in coffee?"

And the older son will contemplate his answer for the next three months, and then call me six different times over the course of two days asking me what I'm talking about, and then not call again for another three months.

I'd call that e-mail test run a total flop. So, I've decided against the mass mailing.

But now when I go to the convenience store on my way to work, I buy the extra large size coffee and add a touch of hot water to thin it out.

I try to be sneaky about it. But Shawn and Gina at the store caught me the other day.

They asked, practically in unison, what I was doing.

The only answer I could give them that made any sense at all was "I'm wimping out."

And very publicly, at that.

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


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lab Rat Here

#332 Lab Rat, Here

Yes, many of us have become experimental subjects. And the geniuses who are doing the experiment? Why the pharma plans. Why take, say, Lipitor (even if it's worked for years,) when you can take Zxplnobl H.L? Why take those old brand name blood pressure pills when they can experiment on you with the generic version, Fefatonin Clecktikanin?

"See how you do on these, sir. If it doesn't work out you can always have your old stuff back."


At ten times the price.

All this comes along with a nice warm and fuzzy letter.

"Dear Sir, We've received permission from your doctor or other health care professional, to switch you from Zoloft to the new generic version, called "Sad-Be-Gone," a superior antidepressant at a price that will save you a bundle. While using this drug, please report any suicidal thoughts or attempts to your doctor or other health care professional. If your depression worsens, please contact your doctor or other health care professional or a suicide prevention hotline."

Suicidal thoughts or attempts? What's in this stuff? It's supposed to be an ANTI depressant, not a PRO-depressant. Life's depressing enough without taking medicine to make it more intense.

But at least there's money to be saved. A three month supply of "Sad-Be-Gone" is $12.38. A three month supply of Zoloft is $385, with the "Speedy Pharm Customer Discount." You can imagine what the stuff costs without that good hearted price break.

So, we've become medical lab rats.

"Hey, let's see what happens to cholesterol levels when we give 'em Zxplnobl H.L.," says Speedy Pharm's marketing department. (Marketing departments make all scientific decisions -- at least those that the accounting departments don't make.) "Maybe we can help our stock in Zxplnobl Generix, our supplier and captive subsidiary. And maybe we can even cause a few heart attacks and strokes, then let the insurance guys take care of these people. The insurance guys and the undertakers."

The packaged food industry has been doing this for years. So why not the drug pushers?

Ever read the label on a potato chip bag? A loaf of white bread? A candy bar?

You inhale a bag of Fritos and don't die, right? You have a peanut butter-on-white and you're still here, right? So why not a handful of Fefatonin Clecktikanin? What's the worst could happen?

The auto industry does a bit of this, too. Remember the Pinto? The Corvair? How about the SUVs that rolled over like obedient Cocker Spaniels?

And China, Inc. is way ahead of the United States on this score. They have spent decades growing human lab rats. And now, they're helping us along the way, with new forms of pet food and finding the REAL safety levels of lead in paint.

Plus why should the academic world have a monopoly on lab experiments. They suck up a ton of money that could better be given to the stockholders of Zxplnobl Generix, including our friends at Speedy Pharm.

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Smart Car, Dummkopf

#331 Smart Car? Dummkopf!

Dr. Z, Dieter Zetsche, fresh from his triumphal reign at Chrysler, is back with a car so small he could have imported it to the US by putting it on his back and swimming the Atlantic, and hardly gotten is moustache wet. A comical looking guy, with a comical looking car.

The Smart Car, they call it. Or, if that's too hard to remember, or you're not smart enough, simply "the Smart." It's a pocket car you can park anywhere. It carries two people, if they're not to big. It has no trunk, it has no back seat, and it barely has an engine. This engine-lessness can be an advantage. Helps with the gas milage. Under the hood is a little teeny gasoline powered sewing machine. Handy, if you rip your jacket squeezing into the "passenger" seat. Forty miles per gallon, city. Highway? Don't know. No one's ever dared drive this thing on a highway. Zero to 60 in 20 seconds. If there's a tailwind. And if the thing'll actually DO 60.

This is Germany's Great Automotive Hope. The car's a big hit in Berlin and in Paris. It will not be anything of the kind over here.

Fifteen, 16 grand for a two seater? We're not talking Miata, here.

To get an idea of how small this thing is, take eight steps from your wall. That's how big it is -- or isn't.

The grille is in the shape of a smile. It is more cartoonish than even the ultra cartoonish Mini Cooper. And it makes the Toyota Yaris (which gets just about the same milage but seats four and has room for a suitcase or two) look like a limo. Not a STRETCH limo, of course. But a limo nonetheless.

Wait until some eco-conscious celeb drives one of these things into a wall at ten miles an hour and dies. Wait for some Gomer to take this thing out on the Interstate and has a set-to with a Peterbuilt and ends up like a piece of aluminum foil with blood coming out. Bring on the lawsuits.

Somewhere in the back of Dr. Z's mind must be the idea that this will be the next Volkswagen Beetle. Good milage. Small. Cute. German. Wrong.

The original Beetle (a design collaboration between Ferry Porsche and Adoof Schicklgruber) was solid, easy to fix, cheap to buy, cheap to run. This (obviously designed by a German committee,) is none of that.

It's really designed for use in cities. This will place it in the company of, say, New York City taxis, UPS trucks, and fire fighting apparatus. You don't have a chance, got it?

You can get a Yaris or a Cobalt or the smallest Honda for the same price, and actually get a few bucks back if you live long enough to trade it in, which, chances are, you will.

It's hard to whip up sympathy for the sad sacks at Daimler. But in this case, you have to feel for them. They've put a ton of money into a toy that has one advantage and one only.

If you're in one and get hit, the lights'll go out fast and you won't feel a thing.


I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.
©2007 WJR

Friday, December 07, 2007

Death Knell For Newspapers

#330 Death Knell for Newspapers

Paulie always said there'd always be newspapers because you can't take the computer into the bathroom. Paulie was wrong. Just ask him. He's got this mini computer, weighs maybe a pound and a half and has wireless internet. Now, his big worry is getting electrocuted. But he just shrugs: "how much electric can there be in that little battery. No worries."

He's right. You can take the computer into the john. You can take the computer on the line in the supermarket and read all about it without getting ink all over your hands.

This, says Paulie, is the end of the newspaper. "I paid 350 bucks for this thing. A year away, I've made it back by not buying the Post." Rupert Murdoch should worry. When Paulie says stuff like that, it's time to sell your stock in Ink-O-Rama and National Newsprint and Tribune Company. That's because Paulie is always the last guy to latch on to the latest.

If he could have kept it going, he'd still have his '48 DeSoto on the road. As it is, he made it last longer than anyone else. The Last DeSoto.

Paulie isn't overjoyed with its replacement, a 1966 Oldsmobile. And he isn't overjoyed with the mini computer, either. But he's a man of his word and now that he can read it on the throne he's doing it. Even though the typing keys are much to small for his stubby, arthritic fingers. Even though you have to remember to charge up the battery at night. Even though the screen is only seven inches, which means there's some squinting involved. He's not complaining because he doesn't need the keys all that often, and he has to squint at the paper these days, anyway.

Paulie's particular interest in the newspaper centers around the stuff that's really important in this life. The racing and sports pages, the TV listings and the obituaries. He doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to the other stuff. And he recently got a geeky schoolkid to see if there's a way to make the box scores a little bigger on the page.
There isn't. But maybe the kid can figure something out.

Paulie doesn't quite trust the machine, so he hasn't canceled his subscription to the Racing Form yet. But he's come over to the tech side of life, and is ever discovering new things. Like e-mail ("these guys want to lend me money? Send me coupons? Enlarge my, um... well, you know.") And...

"Hey, did you know you can play solitaire on this thing? AND you can cheat?"

The only thing that'll change his mind about the machine is if it lands in the sink when he's washing his hands afterward. And so far, he's been pretty careful. And he's invented his own security system for the thing. No one else who knows where it's been will touch it.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. © 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

#329a Granny's Cranky Today, Let's Make Her a Zombie

#329a Granny’s Cranky. Let’s Make Her a Zombie

The papers say a lot of nursing homes are giving psycho drugs to men and women who don’t need them because they’re “distruptive.” That turns them into head-bobbing, drooling, sleepy, creepy docile people.

Many more people get psychotropic drugs than have the matching psychoses, says the Wall Street Journal, which is not given to slighting profit-grabbing psychos of another kind, the kind that make money for their stockholders and, not incidentally, for themselves.

So if the Journal says this is happening, it’s probably happening because they don’t do anti-business stories without extreme provocation, like when an editor’s mother gets an overdose of Thorazine because she bit an attendant who wanted to steal her 150-year old family heirloom necklace, or her teeth.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they don’t fuss about the food, the dirty laundry, the dirty floors or the stink. They’re turning your grandparents into zombies because they complain about the lousy food and the bad lighting and the cheap cable TV service – cheap, but not inexpensive.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they won’t call for help while the floor nurse and the resident MD are doing the nasty in the pantry and don’t want to be distracted.

They’re turning your grandparents into zombies so they won’t notice that no one’s made the bed in four days and the eggs at breakfast are cold, the prescribed medicine isn’t being given or is being over-given and the sink and toilet don’t work.

But this isn’t anything new. Anti psychotic drugs get dolled out like samples at a Fuller Brush sales pitch and always have. What’s new is the latest incarnations of the drugs themselves.

They’re so effective the victims don’t know they’re under the influence. Unless, of course, they try to pilot those rusty wheel chairs into some area where no chair has gone before – like the sex pantry.

These drugs have black box warnings. A black box warning, says Phil Metcalfe of the Citizens Against Drugs Work-Group, is one that’s so important they put a black box around it so you won’t think it’s just another anti-tobacco spiel.

These drugs, says Phil, are so powerful the people who are forced fed them have no memory of the crime, and bob and drool as if they’d done it all their lives.

Time to go ‘round the wards at the nursing homes, collect this stuff and give it to people who really need it. Bush, Cheney, Rice, Gates, and all the comic cand-id-ates.

If we’re going to zombify anyone, it should be the people who got us into the social, tactical and economic messes we’re in now. Let them sit around the oval offce and the the various campaign headquarters and drool and bob their heads.

Psychotropics and anti-psychotics will help them forget who they are, which will benefit us and, to an extent, them.

Meantime, someone give Zombie Grannie a wake up call and a new set of teeth.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Olive Branch From The Mega Church

#328 An Olive Branch from the Mega Church

The bishops of Bentburg must be feeling ecumenical. Either that, or business must stink.

A year ago in this space we complained that the stores here in Stonewall County omitted Chanukah decorations, foods, candles and music. No need, they said. Too few Jews.

This year, it’s different. Walking through Mega Church Super Store the other day, along with the Bing Crosby cliché music, and the Best of the Saccharine Singers, was an actual Chanukah song. Right there on the loudspeaker system between the Brand-X overalls and the Museum of Pre Historic Vegetables.

If you still think Mega Mart is a department store and haven’t yet realized that it’s a church, you’d better wander the aisles with your eyes and ears open. A church and a way of life. Check out what passes for clothing and jewelry styles. Check out what passes for the book section. Check out what ISN’T in the music department.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when the Council of Elders planned this year’s December holiday merchandising?

They got some letters of complaint about the lack of ecumenical stuff last year. They didn’t answer. Maybe that one song is the answer.

Things ARE tough in retail today, and that’s how the Mega Church makes its money, except for tithes.

Maybe they had a “analyst” or a “consultant” on board.

Maybe he (it would have to be a “he,” because they learned their lesson about women executives earlier this year) said, look we all know about these complaining customers. Let’s do what we do with everyone else and play to their habits. Can’t hurt business, might even bring in a few extra bucks “…which y’all can certainly use.”

Okay, says the consultant, let’s look at how we think about these complainers.

1. They’re cheap. Okay, so are we. There’s potential here.

2. They’re clannish. Yes, and even though there aren’t many of them, they stick together and talk among themselves and we really can’t risk alienating these guys because….

3. They control the media and the banking industry, and while we don’t need the banks – at least not right now – we don’t want any more bad press than we already get just by being who we are and doing what we do.

It could have happened that way. But only the Mega Church Bishops know for sure.

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 ...