Friday, August 30, 2013

1219 Al and NBC, Adolf and Facebook

1219 Al and NBC, Adolf and Facebook

This happened in the early 1990s, soon after Al Gore invented the internet.  

At NBC one early morning we were trying to do a brief story having something to do with underworld activity in Chicago.  We thought a small snippet about Chicago’s all time best known gangster, Al Capone would help viewers with perspective.

Since the newsroom library was limited to things like the 1955 edition of the pronunciation guide and the structure of the US government in 1780, we turned to a search engine, probably Alta Vista (remember them?) and typed in “Al Capone.”

What we got back was a page that said something like “the site you are searching for has been blocked because it may contain information on how to commit a crime.”

Apparently management thought such instructions should be viewed only by employees whose job it was to contemplate and/or implement crimes.

We killed the story.  No big deal.  It wasn’t much to begin with and without Al, it was almost nothing.

This all comes up now so you can see that spying on internet stuff is nothing new, the corporations and government agencies have been at it since the early days.

Fast forward to 2013.  The New York Times does a story about an Italian vintner who is making wines with pictures of Adolf Hitler on the label.
Perish forbid any of Adolf’s pals should forget what he looked like.

The Times, to its credit, made the winemaker look insensitive and foolish.

But several attempts to “share” the item on Facebook were futile.  The post went up. Half an hour later someone took it down.

Okay, let’s give it another try.  Maybe the poster clicked the wrong thing.

Presto, the wine post returns.  And presto, about half an hour later, it comes down again.

And this time, no explanation.  Obviously Facebook’s computer thought someone was recruiting followers for the Fourth Reich, even though the article was critical.

The third try was a little different. Here it is:

I have tried for two days to repost an article from the NYTimes about wines celebrating the life of and showing the picture of a particular figure from a country east of here and with which we were once at war. It has been taken down twice. It's headline "From Italy, a vintage redolent of horrors." Look it up if interested. It was published on August 25th and appears on page 8 of the New York edition of August 26. I think it's worth reading.

Chances are a lot of people who saw it missed what it was about.  It sent others running to online dictionaries to look up the meaning of “redolent.”

So Facebook must have some kind of a program that hunts and shoots certain keywords or key phrases.

Not necessarily a NSA-level spy job.  But a spy job nonetheless. Some computers have too many terabytes on their hands.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

1218 The Sermon on the Mall

It was August 28, 1963, and it was hot as hell. But the sermon, 50 years ago today, probably was the coolest and most meaningful we’d heard or heard of since Jesus finished speaking, rose from the rock where he was seated and walked down “the Mount.”

The Sermon on the Mall was in some ways a 20th century update of the Sermon on the Mount, making many of the same points and the reaction to each was approximately the same.

Today is Wednesday. 8/28/63 was a Wednesday.  We don’t know which day of the week Jesus sat on the rock.  In fact, we don’t even really know if he DID sit on the rock, but that’s what Carl Bloch’s painting shows and it’s the image in many of our heads.

So there was Dr. King and 250-thousand of his close friends, some who didn’t know it and had never before heard of him. He was talking about his dream of racial equality and judging people “...not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

And now, 50 years later, part of that dream has come true.  But only part.  

To remind, the official title of the gathering that day was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”  We don’t always remember the “jobs and freedom” part.  The national unemployment rate in  1963 was 5.7%.  The black unemployment rate was about 11%.  That five percent difference doesn’t look all that big until you see the raw numbers.  

In 1963, the US population was about 189 million of which about 21 million were black.  Eleven percent of 21 = 2.31.

Today, the US population is 316 million of which about 39 million are black. The most recent available overall unemployment rate is 7.4% and the black unemployment rate is pushing 14% which is almost 5.5 million.  

And all these figures are subject to debate because of the ways the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the rates.  The number of job holders is marching backward.

Then, there’s the freedom part.  We no longer have separate “but equal” schools though some say they’re more segregated today than they were when segregation was legal.

There no longer are “colored only” water fountains, public restrooms, hotels, lunch counters and seats on the bus.  And it’s no longer fashionable to be a public racist.  But privately, some things never change.

So there’s some progress.  But, of course, you can’t legislate feelings and attitudes.

Both Martin Luther King and Jesus were preaching to the choir.  Pretty large choirs.  But much of the choir wasn’t listening.  And still isn’t.

In almost two thousand years, we haven’t seen the meek inherit the earth and it doesn’t look like much about that will change in the immediate future.  Maybe it isn’t in our nature.

(Note to readers: You can find the full texts of both sermons on line.  We can’t direct you to a link to “Dream” because of copyright murkiness and won’t link to “Mount” because you probably have a copy on a dusty shelf somewhere or know someone who’ll let you see it.)

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

1218 Disposables

It’s tough to know what to do with the things you want to get rid of in these times.  So the Wessays™ Consumer Education and Green teams have combined forces to bring you this handy guide.

The key to disposal is sorting.  In olden days, you just threw stuff in the garbage can or down the incinerator and they’d be carted off to … who knows where, or burned and the ashes put to the curb for collection.

We are much wiser today. We know that certain things should not be mixed with certain other things for the good of the planet and the saving of the landfills for more important items like furniture, car parts and the bodies of errant underworld figures.

So, let’s start with the organic material… food.  Even this should be sorted.  You can’t just plunk everything in a container anymore.

Separate the plants from animal material.  Place the animal material in one container.  Do not combine with dairy product waste.  You can establish a separate container for out of date cream cheese and sour cream.

Vegetable leavings… carrot peels, used ears of corn and their wrappings, the wooden-like bottoms of broccoli crowns, etc. should go into their own container.

If you must, you can put them out for collection, but ideally you can create a mulch pile.  If you have the room and aren’t fussy about appearances, you can just pick a spot and plunk the apple cores and peach pits in one spot.  It’s probably best to pick a far corner of your yard because after awhile, this stuff begins to stink.

If you can’t create a mulch pile or add to an existing one, help others establish theirs. For example if there is a wooded area nearby, take the vegetation there and dump it.  Or if there’s a neighbor you dislike and who happens to be out of town, dump it on his lawn after dark.  Keep that lawn in mind.  It will come in handy later in this posting.

Remember: Sort, sort sort.

That’s especially true when dealing with recyclables.  Recyclables should be subdivided by material.

Metal (like cans or empty Altoids boxes) should go in one container.  Paper should be put in a paper or plastic bag.  If you really want to be green, separate and sort the paper, keeping newsprint, computer paper and slick magazine papers apart.

Glass can all go together.  But if you really want to be green, separate clear glass from colors.  Brown beer bottles may be mixed with jars that contained baby food or pasta sauce.  But that would be unsporting of you.

The real show stopper is plastics.  Plastics are subdivided into seven categories.  Those marked 1 or 2  inside a little triangle can be lumped together.  Number 3 is PVC which is used for things like Windex bottles and vinyl siding.  Most recyclers don’t want it but will take it anyway.  Number 4 is things like bread wrappers. Five, six and seven are tough customers to recycle and many curb pickup programs won’t touch them.

Ideally, you can get a few different bins and separate your own plastics.

Lightbulbs are a problem, and so are batteries.  Here’s where that disliked neighbor’s lawn comes back into play.  If he’s still out of town, dump them by the light of the stars so you don’t get caught.  Otherwise you’ll have to just throw them out.  If you actually hate the neighbor, don a mask and heavy gloves and crush the CFL bulbs as you distribute them among his philodendrons.

As an added bonus, you may be able to snuff a couple of cats who absorb the chemicals through their paws.

Finally, there are things you shouldn’t put into garbage disposals.  Chicken bones and onion skins, for example.  Carrot or celery peelings, likewise.

Coffee grounds are okay, but not the used Mr. Coffee filters.

See?  You can be smart and green all at the same time if you follow a few simple steps and own about a dozen garbage cans, recycling bins and enough property for a reeking mulch pile.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

1217 A Cubicle of Your Own

When the entire world cubicleized everyone complained.

They’re too restricting. They prevent or retard communication in the office.  There’s no room for your stuff.  It’s like elementary school.  It’s like jail.  It’s lonely.  It’s claustrophobia inducing.  It’s impersonal.

All of that was true 20, 30 years ago and remains mostly true today. But we’ve become accustomed to our cubicles and learned to love our cells, or at least to tolerate them.

Now, when you lose your job or retire, you pack your belongings in a banker’s box or two and take them home.  Unless of course you’re one of those.   “Those” are the kind that are called away from their cubicle into Personnel (Human Resources if you must, Inhumane resources if you choose) and then fired, met by one or two beefy security guys with poker faces and cheap suits and escorted from the building without returning to your desk.

In that case, your co-workers will be packing your stuff and shipping it to you.  And you’d better hope there’s nothing incriminating or embarrassing in that desk.  Like a bottle of bourbon or six months of “Hustler” magazine or the boss’ computer password.

In any event, at some point you will lose your cubicle.   And you will have your work stuff at home and you will try to make a private space.  

You will find it less confining, less constricting, less claustrophobic, roomier and less prison like than third grade.
You’ll probably find that claustrophobia has turned into coziness, that lack of space has made you more efficient and that you miss Miss Mazola, your third grade teacher.

You will miss the privacy that the cubicle walls afforded.  People will just walk in on your home office and hang out.  Spouses, children, dogs, cats, parakeets.

You will feel like a stranger in your own room. And/or a traffic cop.

What you’ll want to do is build or have built your own home cubicle.  It will bring you familiarity and privacy.

The good news:  cubicle stuff is cheap. If it weren’t, corporate America wouldn’t be building them by the acre.  You’ll probably be able to buy what you need for less than the amount of your first unemployment comp check.

And building one is easy.  If it weren’t, corporate America wouldn’t be building them by the acre.  Once home, you probably won’t spend more than lunchtime putting it together, even if you’re a klutz and even if the directions from Ikea are in 16th century Swedish.

You can pin pictures of your kids on the wall and hope that they ward off visits from your actual kids. You can write on your whiteboard just as in the good old days when you were leader of the supply chain team at Trans Galactic Insurance.  (If there IS a company of that name, we are unaware of it and unable to find it.)

While your work cubicle may have been your home away from home, your home cubicle will be your home within your home.

Now, aren’t you feeling better already?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

1216 Get Up and DO Something

1216 Get Up and DO Something

For awhile, there, it was common for the anti-choice crowd to sport bumper stickers or t-shirts with “Adoption, not abortion” on them.

That’s kind of faded.  And with good reason.

You ask someone with one of those shirts “how many kids have you adopted?”  The answer usually was none.

“Well, why haven’t you, hotshot?” “Umm. Uh. Ahhh.”  

It’s easier than ever to adopt. The bar is pretty low, but evidently not low enough.

In other news, the Republican Party is self destructing because the former mainstays have ceded control to its psychoneurotic delusional wing. It has become the party of hysterical fantasy.

The Democratic Party is self destructing by proposing impractical solutions to real problems, removing the spines of its office holders and office seekers and relying on unfocused goal-free roving bands of walking on air party boys and girls to carry what’s left of its message.

Reason enough, say the relatively sane among each group, to form a new party.

“Well, why haven’t you, hotshot?” “Umm. Uh. Ahhh.”

Of course that’s a pretty big task.  Last one with any clout ran Mr. Magoo and “Elbow” from “Measure for Measure” at the top of the ticket.  Not a winning combination.  So the bar is pretty low, but, evidently not low enough.

The point here is everyone talks about this stuff and no one does anything.

There are plenty of obstacles to any plan for increasing adoption, not the least of which is the imbecile attitude that if he/she isn’t from my gene pool, they’re not my kids.  

Then there’s politics.  Forming a third party from scratch requires effort, energy, money and patience.  It’s that last one that troubles too many.  

It can’t happen overnight.  It can’t rest on one candidate’s personality or persona, even if he or she is sane, a truly rare occurrence in today’s climate.

The system didn’t break overnight and it’s not going to get fixed overnight.  

So what are the advocates doing besides trying to “reform from the inside” which may be impossible?  They’re hoping the tooth fairy will leave them what they want under the pillow and to their delight they’ll find it in the morning.

Both these ideas need to grow from the ground up and without “patrons” like the anti-abortion movement and the Koch brothers.

Shrapnel (Jazeera edition):

--Good debut.  They raced out of the starting gate like Seabiscuit at a pony ride.  Here’s hoping they can maintain what probably is the best start ever in the relatively young field of cable news.

--CNN’s Jeff Zucker has probably torn out what little was left of his hair.  PBS and NPR should be stacking sandbags at the river.  Fox has nothing to worry about.

--Jazeera is handicapped by low clearances, the number of places that can receive it and because it’s placed in the pay-extra cable and satellite transmission systems that do carry it.  it’s also handicapped by a lack of flashy Fox foxes.  Could be a growing audience for all that long form news, though.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

1215 You Can Call Me Al

1215 You Can Call Me Al

Al Jazeera is set to invade your TV tomorrow (Tuesday, August 20,  2013.)

Most of the cable and satellite services that said it wouldn’t carry it will carry it.

Thanks, Al Gore, for selling your relatively useless Current TV to an Arab oil sheik with an anti-American reputation.  But $500-million is an offer most of us wouldn’t refuse.  Even rich environmentalists with huge personal carbon footprints like the self-described inventor of the internet.

And do we need another cable news service?  We have CNN (regular and sensational crime versions) and MSNBC and Fox (regular and business versions) and  BBC and CCTV from China and RTV from Russia and CNBC and Bloomberg.

Well, maybe room for one more.

These are tough times in journalism.  Lots of people out of work.  So the sugar sheik has plenty of really good people to do his work.

A lot of good reporters and anchors, producers, photographers, directors and such were out there looking.

Put a big bowl of these types in a newsroom in New York (including an oil tanker-load of former colleagues) and chances are, you’ll get some pretty decent reporting.

The newsroom has a lot going for it: Money.  More money. Still more money.  TV news is expensive.
Start from scratch operations like ‘Jazeera have a habit of succeeding.  Look at CNN in 1980, Bloomberg in 1990 and Fox in 1996.

Maybe this one will, too.

Also going for them: sponsors are pretty much shunning the new tent in the bazaar.  But the bazaar has turned this to its advantage: six minutes of commercials per hour instead of the usual 15-plus.

When an Al Jazeera anchor says “we’ll take a quick break” he or she will mean it, unlike, say HLN, where a “quick” break gives you enough time to shower and shave and not miss a story.

And they promise straight news, no shouting and minimal celebrity gossip.

We could all use a dose of un-sensational serious reporting from US bureaus where no one else has them... 12 cities and counting, in addition to places where all the established services have them... Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles... places like that.

Can they do what they say they can do?  Yes.  Can they sustain it? Evidently.  Will they?

Shrapnel (San Diego Snarky Edition):

--We want Bob Filner, the hamhandedly oversexed harasser who soon will be recalled as mayor of San Diego, CA and who will need a job.  New York does not discriminate against these types.  We have Spitzer and Weiner, so what’s one more.
--Filner is higher on the scale of disgustability than either Spitzer’s or Weiner’s misdeeds.  The Spitzonians were paid fairly well for their trouble and the Weinerschatzies encouraged Anthony at the very least.

--Where’s the Westboro Baptist Church when you need it?  Its membership will picket a fence if they believe it has deviated an inch from whatever it is they think is right.  Maybe California is just too corrupt for their brand of purity.

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

© WJR 2013

4745 An Ounce of Cure

  Forget the ounce of prevention and the pound of cure.  With everything getting odder, let’s make it a Troy Ounce of prevention.   While “n...