Monday, March 31, 2014

1311 April Fool

Hey! Your shoelace is untied.  April fool!  Oh, when will we stop this silliness?  It wasn’t funny. Not even in the beginning.  

Hey! When was the beginning?  Well, no one really knows.  But middle English historian Alistair Balthazar Newcastle Bolstridge III, professor emeritus at the University of St. Andrews says the holiday didn’t see print until Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the 1390s.

Others say it was based on the Roman festival of Hilaria.

Festival of Hilaria?  Maybe someone’s playing a prank.  

Hilaria, indeed.

Maybe Chaucer was playing a prank.

Maybe Alistair Balthazar Newcastle Bolstridge III is playing a prank, although he actually KNEW Chaucer and once borrowed his lawnmower.

There has to be a way to rid ourselves of this annoying holiday.

If Obama backs April Fool's Day, congress is sure to oppose it. Can’t you just see it now?  Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and the rest of that crowd could kill it as just another socialist program to control your behavior.

The clergy would be on board in no time.  Pat Robertson would step up and condemn it as a pagan throwback.  So could the current Bob Jones and Jerry Falwell’s kids.

Rev. Terry Jones dropped plans to burn copies of the Quran. But he probably could be induced to burn a stack of Johnson Smith  or Prank Place catalogs.

The world would be a better place without whoopee cushions.

In this age of extremes, it’s funny that those handshake buzzers are still around.  You’d think by now someone would have invented a Taser version.

On the other hand, someone seems to have formed a club to promote the holiday, the NAS, the national Aprilfool Society.  And they have already declared that some amendment or other gives everyone the right to bear practical joke toys.

We respect your right to own such things as self-tipping hats, Groucho glasses, toilet paper with pictures of barbed wire printed on it, dribble glasses and even lifelike rubber or plastic ants and roaches.

But we draw the line at exploding cigars, fake parking tickets, rubber animal droppings and fake blood.

Our founding fathers may have guaranteed our right to carry concealed pranks.  But they never thought of gum packages that squirt water or pregnancy tests that always show positive.


--Earth to Hobby Lobby:  the morning after pill does not attack a fetus. It temporarily restricts the ovaries from manufacturing eggs for long enough to deprive an errant sperm of a target.  Even if you believe that life begins at conception, it’s not abortion because there has been no conception.

--Craft stores are creepy.  You want to eliminate waterboarding and have terrorists begging to tell you all they know?  Lock ‘em up in a craft store for four or five hours while they wander around the artificial flowers, the build-your own jewelry stones and findings and supplies for making bad art. They’ll do anything to get out.

--With things heating up in Europe, can Asia be far behind?  Maybe it’s time to revive SEATO which, had it lived, would turn 60 this year. And this time, it could do its own funding.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

1310 The Secret Service Goes Shopping

The Presidential limo is a 2009 Cadillac.  Sort of.  And it’s time for a new car, a little something for use in 2017 and thereafter.

So, the secret service is going shopping.  But unlike most of us, it doesn’t go through all the usual baloney car buying requires.

Instead of reading Consumer Reports or Edmunds, it takes bids.  And there are laws about that.  The bids have to come from carmakers which both will build it and which have headquarters in this country.  That limits bidders to GM, Ford, Chrysler and Tesla.

The buyer doesn’t go to a neighborhood dealer and start haggling about the price of options.  Slick Spike the salesman in the checkered polyester coat can’t tell them “armor plating only comes with the Deluxe Presidential package which also contains undercoating, windshield VIN engraving, run-on-flat tires and the 10-thousand watt Bose audio system.”

There’s something you have to know about presidential limos.  They're not really cars anymore… though the first dozen or so were.

They are combinations of trucks and tanks with car-like cosmetics… things like grilles and taillights. They weigh between 10-thousand and 20-thousand pounds.  They have windows that are inches thick that laugh at bullets and explosives. They have armor, and seals that repel chemical weapons and fires.  They have windshield wipers better than anything you can get for your car.  They have steering systems that can work a slalom course with ease but without giving up that living room ride.

The New York Times reported that President Obama wanted a hybrid. The Secret Service said no.  Too slow on acceleration.  The Toyota Prius takes about 11 seconds from zero to 60.  An armor plated version would probably take about a day and a half.

So security and speed trump politics and economy.  And should.  Putin may ride a bicycle, but Obama is not going to.

The law raises a question about Chrysler, which is owned by Fiat which is headquartered in Italy but which is run like it were independent, which it isn’t.

Cadillac has been the brand of choice for about 20 years.  Before that, most were Lincolns.  Lincolns have reliability problems. But surely there are people at Ford who know how to build a luxury tank, though not one YOU can buy.

GM is a logical choice because it was recipient of a government bailout. And while that probably won’t factor into the decision, someone is going to make that the cases both for and against Cadillac.

Some questions, now, on the car itself:

Does it have to be black?  Or can the next President have red or yellow or cobalt blue?

How many do they actually build?  There isn’t just one of these cars, they are part of a fleet of identical siblings.

Does it have to have leather seats?  Leather can be slippery.  You wouldn’t want Hillary or Mitt sliding all around that big back seat, now would you?  But cloth is so… cheesy in a car like that.  And fur is out of the question.  That’s only for pimps and ponzi schemers.

And what do they do with the old ones?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

1309 Role Models

When we’re the little kids, we want to be big kids.  Often we succeed. We use the big kids as role models.

But the use of role models doesn’t stop in late childhood, it goes on throughout many a life.

Mental fitness guru and fire walker Tony Robbins has made a name for himself and a ton of money showing failures, real and imagined how to “model” themselves after successful people.

And if you pick the right role model, you can do pretty well, especially if you add your own strengths to the role you’re modeling.

But just as role models are not limited to children, they are not limited to individuals.  And when they become institutional, they can lead to trouble.

You know the bank down the corner with the huge bank in the big city as its role model?  As the little guy down the block grows, it’s more likely to have the big guy’s flaws than its virtues.

Stone cold lending policies, low interest returns and sometimes even crooks in high places are not the things you want to imitate. But they’re much easier to copy than whatever virtues made the big guys big.

If I foreclose on enough houses, I’m going to be the next Bank of America.

And there are hospitals.  You can have all the grand balls and other charity events as the big guns.  You can get rich people to donate plenty and put their names on buildings.  You can hire the best and the brightest doctors. You can publish the slickest brochures.

But often a regional hospital will compare with the big boys only on infection rates and malpractice suits.

Bigger isn’t always better.  It’s only better when you outstrip the competition on good stuff.

Then, there are reverse role models.  A small college is getting better results than a big one, and the big one notices and adopts some of the trappings of the small one.

Smaller classes, unusual subjects, teachers who actually teach instead of racing to “publish or perish,” admissions based on rationality rather than test scores… that kind of thing.

This doesn’t work well most of the time because a bigger thing can’t let go of its bigness long enough to figure out why the smaller one succeeds.

Sometimes you need better role models.  Sometimes you need greater familiarity with what makes a good or great role model good or great.

Sometimes you need no role model at all.


--How do you know you’re one of the “big kids,” or even an adult? Here’s one way:  You pass by the toy store and there’s nothing in it you want.  But if there were, you could buy it without asking anyone’s permission.

--President Obama wants to end all that NSA spying on Americans, a pretty good idea whose time has come.   But there’s a big question mark hanging over this proposal… how will we know?  And an even bigger question is how congress will justify having to give the president his way on an issue as important as this… or any issue, for that matter.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

1308 No One Here Chewed Gum

SUNNYSIDE, QUEENS (Wessays)™ -- The makers of chewing gum are in a fix.  Use is down.  In some cases, waaayyy down.  Eleven percent over the last four years according to industry figures reported by the Associated Press.

The older people of this small enclave a short subway ride from midtown were pioneers in not chewing.  No present day figures are available.  But when Sunnyside bordered on the Long Island City industrial zone, gum on the candy store shelves would collect so much dust you’d need more than Lee and Morty Kaufman’s new Swiffer to clear it.

The aroma from the factories would fill the air, the scent of baking bread from the Silvercup plant chief among them. Delicious.  Local grocers sold the loaves so quickly, the shelves emptied by noontime seven days a week.

But once in awhile when the wind was wrong, we’d also get the stench of the Adams factory where they made Dentyne, Chiclets and Black Jack Chewing Gum.

No way to tell what they put into that stuff back then.  But it sure did smell like a tire fire.  Burning rubber without benefit of spinning wheels on pavement.

The stuff stank.  Really stank.  Nothing like the smell of the finished product which was mint, licorice fruit and cinnamon. Burning rubber.

Everyone knew where it came from.  

And no one chewed gum.

No one.

At the local elementary school, you never heard a teacher say “don’t you chew gum in MY class!”  None had to. There were no wads of used gum under the shelves of bookcases or classroom desks or the undersides of water fountains.

Today, the rest of the gum chew world is learning what we knew all along.

Don’t feel too bad for the makers.  That 11% drop still meant taking in nearly four billion dollars.  But that’s chickenfeed compared to their good old days.

At its secret Amusement Park Laboratory, the Hershey folks are working on creating a gum that dissolves after you chew it for awhile. But that will only provoke reassurance of the old myth that if you chew gum and swallow it, it’ll stick in your digestive tract and bring untold harm. It doesn’t. It won’t.  But you can bet that tale will reemerge.

Candy sales are surging.  So are sales of boxed mints like Altoids.

Gum makers are quoted as saying they don’t expect a big turnaround anytime soon.  But they’ll stick to their gums for the most part, at least for now.


--Bubble gum was made the same way as chewing gum in those days and may still be. Sunnysiders had no reservations about using Bazooka and Double Bubble.  We didn’t have to smell those being made.

--Today’s chewing gum choices are so wide and variable that it’s hard to make up one’s mind about which not to chew first.  Where there once were maybe 20 flavors and a dozen brands, there now are about a million.  And the packages are so attractive it’s hard to resist at least trying some of them.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

1307 NYPD Blue

This is going to be complicated. Our story about the New York Police Department starts in Washington, where a reporter filed a freedom of information request to see the department’s policy book about the way it handles Freedom of Information requests and the request was denied because the book was written by a department lawyer and therefore is covered by attorney-client privilege.

Are you following?  Okay. Let’s take a break here and give you the chain of evidence just so you know where all this comes from.

It was on the journalism watchdog site It is based on an item on the DC website  It was written by one C.J. Ciraramella about the guy who filed the request, Shawn Musgrave who writes for something called Muckrock.

Still here?  Good.

The befuddled new commissioner, William Bratton, is looking into this.  Transparency is important, he says.

Do not hold your breath until you see that FOI request fulfilled.  And if it ever is, it will probably be smartphone photos of pages too curved and blurry to read and with many sentences and paragraphs blacked out.

Transparency is not the hallmark of any police department.  It’s just not in their DNA.

As in politics and private equity funding, many “orders” are issued using the wink-and-nod system.  No paper trail.

Sometime back, we predicted a rise in the crime rate, which for New York City is hovering at historical lows at the moment.

The befuddled new mayor, Bill de Blasio is flailing around and misstepping at historically high levels.  Snow removal snafus, St. Pat’s Day Breakfast snafus, St. Pat’s Day Parade snafus.  The guy’s head is in the clouds, and not only because he is tall enough for the NBA.

In confusion, there is crime.  And this mayor is sewing more confusion than anyone since accountant Abe Beame failed to uncook the books he was hired to uncook.

The previous administration believed it lowered the crime rate because of “stop and frisk,” which was mostly a way of rousting innocent black and Hispanic males between the ages of, say, 14 and 28 or so.

Everyone “knows” people like that are all criminals or criminals in waiting.  But the courts struck stop/frisk down because of the racial and ethnic implications.  So now, the police will stop everyone.   And they will miss most actual criminals just as they have all along.

We all know the best way to smuggle contraband over the border into the city is to use white women or elderly white men driving Infinitis and Lexuses. No drug lord or cigarette bootlegger will want to send up a Mexican guy driving a 20-year old El Camino.

Bratton’s “broken window” anti-crime policy worked during his previous NYC commissionership.  What that means is arrest all the low-level criminals like window breakers and turnstile jumpers before they graduate into purse snatchings, muggings, beatings and murder.

Scratch a guy who hurled a brick through a storefront and you find a drug lord-in-waiting?

The tactic worked at the time because the crack epidemic was ending.  So they could have done next to nothing to lower the crime rate which went down all over the country without the need for removing evil squeegee men from the streets.

Cops work in secret.  They work with unspoken or code-spoken orders as often as not.  And those orders?  They find favor not rebellion from an awful lot of police officers.

So what you’re going to see slowly developing is a police department that acts as befuddled as its leaders.

This is not to advocate stop and frisk at least as they’ve been doing it.  It can be carried out in a race and ethnic neutral way.

But it won’t be.

And you won’t know that unless you’re a victim of a crime, because the cops will continue to stonewall Freedom of Information requests, despite any potential orders not to at 1 Police Plaza.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

1306 Spring

1306 Spring

Welcome, sweet springtime, we greet you with song. I’ll spare you some misery by saying that but not singing it.

Since seasonal stories often are written well in advance of their airing or posting, I have no idea what the weather will be like tomorrow, the first day of spring.

If it’s spring-like, wonderful.  If winter refuses to move out of the way now… it will later.

Climate and weather does not adhere to the calendar of mere men and women.  It does as it pleases.

My older relatives were fond of reminding me each year that it was snowing heavily in New York on my birthday in April... 70-something years ago. Some nerve.

But the turn of seasons gives us a chance to express gratitude for what surely will be more temperate days and nights for awhile.

Unless you live on a floodplain, chances are you have no legitimate complaint about this season.  And chances are you have been looking forward to March 20th ever since you realized in February that this region’s answer to snow removal is… July.

Yes, it was a miserable winter, especially when compared with those of the past few years.

Brutally cold. More snow than anyone south of Buffalo or Minneapolis could want or expect.

A note to climate change deniers: the earth’s temperature continues to rise.  And the folks at NOAA who collect the statistics told the Washington Post that this past January… even with the freak subzero days and Polar Vortex was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest since they began keeping track in 1880.

Even with late snowfall or spring freeze, there’s something more benign about this season than any other.

The crocuses and daffodils will soon be springing. Young birds will be learning to fly and leaving little presents on your sidewalk.  New rodents will soon be digging up your garden.

You’ll soon be greeting and being greeted by neighbors you haven’t seen since November, and some of them will borrow your lawnmower and -- maybe -- return your snow shovel.

You’ll think about spring cleaning, and maybe even do some.

Your Hoveround will not skid or bog down in snowdrifts.

There will be a new spring in your step.

At any rate, spring will be with us for a quarter of a year.  And that gives us three months to prepare for complaining about how hot it is in summer.

Shrapnel (NYC Tourism Edition):

--Various news agencies are reporting that New York City Night Court has become a tourist attraction.  “Gritty entertainment,” one of them says.  Not surprising… because it’s both interesting and costs a lot less than a Broadway show or even the “suggested contribution” to get into many of the city’s museums.

--Tickets for the Empire State Building Observatory range between $21 and $27.  The view from Google Earth is almost as good, especially if you look at it on a giant TV screen. And there are no long waits for that.

--A 48 hour pass for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour is $59. Interesting as that can be, it’s also pretty expensive.  Especially if you’re a family of six from, say, Prescott, Arizona.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

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 ...