Friday, July 31, 2015

1519 The Cowardly Dentist

1519 The Cowardly Dentist

The Wizard of Oz is an unending source of analogy and metaphor.  The Cowardly Lion turned out to be brave, after all.  The cowardly dentist who shot Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe is another story.

Cecil was raised on a game preserve, a place where you can’t hunt.  He was a local celebrity, evidently on the laid back side of lionism, who played well with other lions and was used to people… trusting, maybe even.

Then along comes this Walter Palmer, this smarmy, smirky little man from the upper Midwest, with his arrows and his record as a serial killer of wildlife with a rap sheet as long as your arm, lures the cat out of the park and “takes” him.  Takes?  Like what, a glass of champagne off the tray of a waiter at a dinner party?

And the excuse? “I thought it was legal.”  That’s right up there with “I didn’t know the gun was loaded and it just went off while I was cleaning it.”  Or the drunk driver who tells the cop who pulls him over for going 70 in a 25 mph zone “Gee, ossifer, wazh I speeding?” Or the guy on the living room couch with a naked teenage babysitter who tells his wife when she unexpectedly comes home “It’s not what it looks like, honey.”

Walt was in trouble with the law over this kind of thing before.  Fined.  Chastened. But he bought his way out and still had the fifty grand enough to travel to Zimbabwe.

Why? “I don’t play golf,” he said.  

Plus no 300 yard drives down the fairway. Much easier to shoot an arrow than a Titleist, and no one seems to mind when it’s not a kill.

Except maybe Cecil, who wandered off to see about his wound, was tracked, shot, beheaded, skinned and his body left to feed other animals.

Except no creature in the African jungles is going to eat a global positioning device. So researchers located the body by computer and went to inspect the damage.  And the damagers who were arrested.

Not Walt, though.  He flew home with dreams of Cecil’s detached head adorning his wall.

What he found were demonstrators on his doorstep.  Hundreds of them.  So he fled after issuing a smarmy little legalese statement “regretting” that he “took” Cecil.

Again, “took? Like what?  The A train? An Advil?  A leave of absence?

Let’s see if the old drillmeister can buy his way out of this one.  

Zimbabwe is trying to extradite him.  There’s a treaty for that, signed in the spring of 2000.  Tens of thousands have signed a petition requesting extradition.

There’s some leverage.  The US imports an average of $10 million a month from Zimbabwe.  And that ten spot goes a long way to funding things in a country whose GDP is under a billion dollars a year, has the third lowest average wage in the world and receives $700,000,000 in U.S. foreign aid.

So long, Walt. Hope you like your new accommodations.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

1518 Everyone Into The Pool

1518 Everyone into the Pool

They’re going to rebuild LaGuardia Airport.  Really. Finally.  Going to tear it down and start over. Remake it from scratch, all while it’s in use.

So, let’s start a pool. The planners tell us the project will cost four billion dollars and take three years.

What do you think?  How much longer and how much more will it take and cost?

Based on the history of major airport renovations in New York (and Denver,) it’ll take and cost at least twice the estimates.  The baggage carousels won’t work.  And the runways will still require planes with pontoons.

The Marine Air Terminal, a historic site, will remain where it is and as it is after preservationists have a shot at deifying every last crumbled piece of concrete, every inch of substandard plumbing and wiring and every broken window in one of the top ten ugliest and least useful manmade structures of all time.

And when they try to extend the runways, which they desperately need to, there will be another upheaval because someone will have discovered that there’s an ancient burial ground 50 feet out in the bay.

Vice president Biden says landing at LaGuardia you think you’re arriving in the airport of a third world country.  And while there are those who believe New York IS a third world country, Biden is right.

LaGuardia consistently ranks among the worst American airports for everything from delays to lost baggage to crowding to lack of pre or post flight public transportation to looks, smells, and sounds.

You can imagine Fiorello getting off a plane (he’d have ridden in economy and didn’t need extra leg room so de-planing would take awhile) and saying “I don’t make many mistakes, but when I do, it’s a beaut.”

(LaGuardia first said that in 1941 when questioned about a bad judge he’d appointed earlier.)

In any event, after all the overruns and delays, the snarled ground traffic, the noise abatement noise, the burial ground, I’m in the pool for $8 billion and six years.  How about you?

While we wait to see who is right about cost and time, here are some candidates for the dozen ugliest and least useful important American man made structures of all time.
12. The Sloan Building at MIT
11. Alcatraz
10. St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre NY/ Temple Beth El, Great Neck NY (tie)
9. Disneyworld, Orlando
8. Cabrini Houses, Chicago
7. The original Penn Station, New York (and please, no sentimentalist baloney about that one. It was ugly and dirty, badly run as LaGuardia is now.)
6. The Marine Air Terminal
5. Creedmoor Psychiatric Center
4. The entire city of Miami
3. Beaver Stadium, State College PA
2. One World Trade Center (sentimental favorite)
1. Bloomberg headquarters, 731 Lexington Avenue.

Here are some honorable mentions:  The Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Javits Center, Mount Sinai Hospital (New York), the entire city of Elizabeth NJ, Manhattan’s Trump and Olympic Towers, all of Daly City, California and the city halls of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Portland, Oregon; Portland, Maine, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and any city anywhere named Springfield or Albany.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

1517 Stropping Occam's Razor

1517 Stropping Occam’s Razor: Think Zebras

Back in the 13th Century, William of Occam devised a problem solving aphorism, Occam’s Razor. It says, more or less, the best answer is usually the simplest one.

A modern corollary: When walking in Central Park and hearing hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

Time to start thinking Zebras because when the problem is understated, the best answer often isn’t the simplest.

If you gave Willy of O a set of today’s problems phrased into today’s terms, you’d probably get simple answers.

-Too many guns in the wrong hands? Ban ‘em.
-Illegal immigration? Build a wall to keep ‘em out.
-Racism? Have people meet and greet.
-Environmental damage? Clean the air and water.
-Global warming? Stop fossil fuels.
-Too few jobs? Incentivize job creation.
-Too few factories? Build new ones.
-Too much debt? Print money.
-Income disparity? Tax the rich, give to the poor.
-Islamic terrorism?  Wipe out the terrorists.
-Newspaper circulation circling the drain? Kill ‘em and charge for TV, radio and internet.
-Too many criminals? Build more jails.
-Congressional cronyism? Term limits.
-Too many lobbyists with too much power? Make them illegal.

The list could be much longer.  But you get the idea.

These “solutions” are not as easy as identifying their companion problems because none of the problems are caused by single sources.  And single solutions may eventually work, but advocates don’t account for the “how” of them.  And they don’t take into account the hoofbeats of unintended or unexpected consequences.

And in most cases, you can’t use “collateral damage” as an excuse when some harebrained scheme fails.

Where did all this oversimplification come from?  A recent article in blames it on Barry Goldwater, his supporters and his circle of early supporters.  But even that is oversimplified.

The article goes on to say that politicians appealing to our emotions suck us in with imagined future glory (or income or clean air or a wall to keep out “Mexican… rapists” or racial harmony.)

Yes, appealing to emotions is easier than appealing to reason and resorting to planning and observation.

So when you hear hoofbeats in Central Park, yeah, horses are the most likely source.  But don’t rule out Zebras until you’re sure.

And get that razor sharpened. Then, find a feral zebra and shave him.


-If you have a few minutes for another take on this, there’s a little tune for you here .

Shrapnel (Chrysler Soap Opera Episode 23,456 Edition):

--Since the mid 1960s, Chrysler has succeeded it at two and only two things. First, they make eye-catching cars.  And second, they scare away customers.

-- Now, under government prodding Chrysler is to offer refunds to the buyers of half a million of its best selling vehicle, the Ram truck.  Seems it has a potentially death- dealing flaw in the steering mechanism. The steering wheel was invented and first used in 1894 and has undergone few basic changes since, so it seems an unlikely place to make a mistake even if you think zebras.

--Chrysler’s board of directors committed attempted corporate murder in the late 1970s and failed.  Then came another try -- from Daimler followed by a third and nearly successful attempt by Cerberus Capital. Now it’s Fiat’s turn to wield the knife and they’re pretty good at it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Friday, July 24, 2015

1516 Debate Idol

1516 Debate Idol

Fox TV is missing a chance to make political faceoffs fun again.  Fox is host to the first of the Republican presidential debates and has limited the number of candidates who can appear to ten.

While that’s a good number since presently there are 16, Fox is missing a great chance to cross- promote and shore up one of its historically big programs, the former ratings titan now stumbling into its final season, “American Idol.”

In its infancy and adolescence, Idol was the pacesetter for all the imitators who followed.  The formula was simple:

Gather three judges and a plastic parody of a 1970s radio disc jockey.  Hold auditions for singers (the louder the better.)  Make fun of the bad ones and eliminate them.  Put the top few in a climactic battle of the bands and let the public vote on who is best.

So, the proposal is simple. Have someone like Ryan Seacrest parade the candidates before three judges like Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson.
Eventually, boil the roster down to, say, four.  And let the public vote by phone, internet and text message.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Santorum, that’s three ‘nos’” says Randy, “you’re eliminated.”

“I love the part where you chainsaw through a copy of the tax code, Rand” but you’re not ready,” says Paula.

“What’s that silly thing on your head, Donald?” asks Simon.

Of course with all the remaining musical contest shows on TV, we’re practically out of washed up show biz types to play judge.  Maybe we should think in terms of interesting washed up politicians.

How about Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Bob Dole, Ross Perot, Rudolph Giuliani, Herman Cain or Rod Blagojevich if he can get out of jail on work release.

But we also share the joy of those who pass the auditions.  Picture Jeb smiling broadly and crashing out of the swinging doors to the audition studio proudly holding his “pass” pass to the cheers of his gathered relatives… Barbara, W, Laura, and adoring wife Columba along with friends like Rove, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney.


Debate Idol would give us a much more interesting series of programs.  And it would be much easier to eliminate the fake contenders.

When Kimberly Litterbug, 15, from Logan Falls, Minnesota forgets the words to Bah Bah Black Sheep on camera or sings “One Note Samba’s” one note off key, she’s eliminated.

When Rick Perry forgets which federal departments he’s going to eliminate, he’s eliminated.

Then, Fox calculates and you decide.


--Employee- Owned Nikkei’s $1.8 billion acquisition of the Financial Times newspaper gives them a true international presence.  The cost is much more than the paper is worth. But they’re going to make it work and you can bet that newsroom won’t shrink like so many others.

--With gold prices in freefall since November, 2014, retail prices have begun to fall, too.  And gold jewelry is starting to reappear in stores. Some of the new pieces come with their own wearable magnifying glasses.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

1515 When Was Yesterday?

1515 When Was Yesterday?

Remember the phrase “that’s yesterday’s news”?  The modern internet era has put us all in a time warp.  There was no yesterday.  Everything is “now.”

Back in ancient times, maybe five or ten years ago, you’d learn the state of the world by turning the TV on at around dinnertime. Or you’d start your day with a bowl of cereal and the morning paper.

Our first journalistic attempt to erase time came with the advent of the “evening paper.”  But by the 1950s, there really never was such a thing.  Late afternoon or mid-day, maybe.  But not evening.  Where were the sports scores?  Where was the market closing?

Long ago, the wire services stopped using AM and PM cycles.  It’s all one cycle now.  Once a day with updates as they happen.

In any event, with the exception of a few remaining dinosaurs, the evening paper project failed.  Bowed to the 24 hour news cycle and the advent of CNN, all-news radio and its imitators.

So this rids us of the pesky old idea of “yesterday,” unless you’re a Beatles fan, in which case it merely limits it to periods ranging from two to four minutes, depending on which version you’re hearing.

Good thing the days have names, because along with yesterday, we’ve also lost “today,” “tonight” and “tomorrow.”

When they push “send” or “transmit” at the Associated Press, the pusher has no idea when someone will read the story.

Such a catastrophic loss should have aroused people or at least got them to notice something missing.  It did neither.  Chances are you never really pay attention to details like these.  And probably you shouldn’t.

As computerism at once makes the world smaller and its parts more isolated, the terms don’t really mean much anymore.

We’re not at the point yet where on, say, Monday, we arrange an appointment for Tuesday instead of “tomorrow.” But we’re getting there.
And there’s no such thing anymore as “yesterday’s news.”


--In case your tinfoil hat was out at the dry cleaner and you didn’t get the message telepathically, the serial retiree and grandfather of flying saucer radio programs, Art Bell is back on the air. Check your radio listings for times, stations and internet locations.  And wave hi as you pass near Area 51.

--As quarterly earnings reports roll in and one analyst after another is shown for the umpteenth time to be wrong in predicting, companies are thinking about automating that function.  Not only will it save them all those enormous salaries, but it can blame wrong predictions on computer glitches and/or hacking.


-Tronald Dump and Sick Rantorum/ one will rile ’em one’ll bore ‘em.

-Real estate magnate Mort Zuckerman’s New York Daily News has come out against real estate magnate Tronald Dump, but of course, business competition has nothing to do with it.

-Sorry to hear of the death of Theo Bikel, 91, folksinger, storyteller and actor who portrayed Baron von Trapp, Tevye and countless other heroes and villains on Broadway, on TV and in film.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, July 20, 2015

1514 The Cosby Conflict

1514 The Cosby Conflict

The problem is not that he played a strict moral teacher on TV but secretly lured or drugged a bunch of young women into bed.  The problem is trying to describe the allegations against an apparent dirty old man while assigning part of the responsibility on some, but not all of the victims.

Here’s where we put in the obligatory CYA one liner: “Cosby was never charged with a crime.”

Okay, that probably covers the potentiality of a lawsuit. At least all of us who write about this think (hope?) so.

First and most important point, assuming the allegations are true.  Cosby should have kept his pants on.

But anyone who thinks the show business casting couch has been demolished, think again.  Not only hasn’t it, but it hasn’t even been stashed in the attic.

Using drugs (including booze) to get someone into bed is rape.  And if Cosby is proven to be a rapist, he should be held accountable at least for those that happened within the statute of limitation.

Generally, women have an easier time seducing men than vice versa. But seduction and rape aren’t the same.  And if someone makes a reservation on the casting couch and then pretends otherwise, there’s no case.

Trouble is, it’s hard to tell who had an appointment and who was a blindsided walk-in.

Is too much being made of this?  Is Cosby just a cad who traded on his fame and good-guy rep to bed some unsuspecting women?  Or is his whole public persona a charade to hide Satan’s personal representative to Hollywood, Philadelphia and New York?

If there was any hanky panky happening on the set of “The Cosby Show,” the usual gossipers at Kaufman Astoria Studios were awful quiet about it.

But, then, show business is the most gossip-laden, sex obsessed industry in America, so -- evidently -- many are cowed into silence.

Wish I’d Said That (with apologies to Jimmy Cannon):

Somehow, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and Bush the elder has become the party of secession talk, revolution talk and vigilantes harassing children on the Southern border, the party of the “war on whites,” “the war on Christmas,” tea parties and birthers, the party of anti-science, anti-history and fear that the U.S. military is, right this moment, preparing for the invasion of Texas. In a word, the party of crazy.
--Leonard Pitts in the Miami Herald

And this:
Aside from Mitch McConnell, the happiest person last November when McConnell won was Obama because he was freed from having to humor Harry Reid and Hill Democrats. -- Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.


-I credit Jimmy Cannon for the above title every time I use it because as far as I know, he was the first to say it in print.

Note To Readers and disclaimer: I did voice work for Lifetime Television at Kaufman Astoria Studios at about the same time as “Cosby” was filmed there.  I heard plenty.  But not about Bill.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015

1513 A Job You Never Knew Existed

1513 A Job You Never Knew Existed

Or maybe your correspondent is just behind the times.  

Food stylist.


Yes, food stylist.   It’s something like a hair stylist or a furniture stylist or an interior decorator or a song stylist.  But instead of the latest “do,” or the oldest chair or that impossibly haunting rendition of “Let’s Talk About Me” by Toby Keith it’s someone who arranges stuff on plates to make you think it’s better than it probably is.

The most obvious and ludicrous example:  Any ad for a fast food joint.  Find an ad for a “Baconator” a “Whopper,” a “Big Mac” and cut it out or print it from a website.

Then take it to the appropriate burger stand and order one, then compare it to what you’re served.

Food stylists are magical creatures, just like makeup artists who can make Godzilla look like Betty Boop. Your burger will come out squished.  It will ooze mystery sauce or ketchup or cheese or whatever you have on it.  It will be half as tall as the picture leads you to believe.  And chances are, it won’t be hot, despite the warning label that says “Burger may be hot, use caution.”

These are the highest of high falutin’ food stylists.  Far better at deception than the ones who teach chefs at the fancy restaurants. But they’re pretty good, too.

The restaurant versions don’t entice you with a preview.  They just decorate the plates before you’re served.

There are certain rules.  

  1. Fancy dishes must be served on chalk white plates.
  2. The chalk-white plates must be far bigger than they need to be.  White space = “class” to the classless.
  3. The chalk-white plates must be decorated with gratuitous inedibles.  Parsley for main courses, chives for potato dishes and sugar-shock versions of chocolate syrup for desserts.
  4. Never put enough on a plate to satisfy a big appetite.  That’s what extras are for.
  5. Make sure the flatware looks like it has been washed since its previous use.
  6. Offer to photograph your handiwork with the diners’ cameras so they can immediately post it on Facebook like 25,234,967 others will do at mealtime.

This, of course, leads us to another job you never heard of.  There isn’t really a title for it, but “Virtual Dietician” might do as a placeholder.

You can count the calories of those posted meals at your leisure and then inform the posters of their intake.  They’ll know then how much of a workout they’ll have to perform tomorrow.

At their “health club,” as designer gyms are called.


--You can’t make this stuff up.  Ad from a local hospital: Our surgeons use the latest cutting edge technology. Sure hope so.

--Associated Press headline: “Little Known About Suspect in Fatal Shooting of Marines” in Chattanooga TN.  Earth to the AP: the shooter is dead.  He’s not a suspect… we know he did it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

1512 Buckle Up for a Bumpy Ride

Old joke:  Guy walks up to the airport ticket counter, asks for a ticket to Los Angeles but “send my luggage to Toronto, Baltimore and Atlanta.

Ticket clerk: “Oh, we can’t do that, sir!” Reply: “Why not? You did it last month.”

There’s nothing funny about air travel anymore. Not since they swapped out the chairs for Graco “My Ride” kiddie car seats only with less padding and reconfigured the leg room to suit the comfort of no one taller than 4’9”.

Not since fuel costs fell 40% leading to an almost equal percentage rise in ticket prices.  Not since they figured out they could charge you extra for stuff that used to be free… like when the oxygen masks come down during turbulence. Not since it became cheaper to send your luggage ahead via UPS than to check it into the cargo hold.

Sooner or later they’re going to find a way to cram 1200 passengers into a standard size Dreamliner.  Oh, and reduce the crew size from 15 to eight.
Deregulation was supposed to increase competition, lower prices and boost on-time performance.  But what it did was reduce the number of operating major airlines from about ten to the present four.

It would be fun to blame this on Reagan.  Fun, but inaccurate. It wasn’t Reagan, it was Carter.

(Nixon briefly considered breaking up IBM, but learned from the chaos, service declines and price increases brought on by the dissolution of the Bell System and changed his mind.)

So, four airlines.  Four thousand destinations.  40-thousand variations in ticket price.  Brilliant.

Are they doing this by having their CEOs combine in a golf foursome using fake I.D., then deciding how to next further the causes of rising prices, lagging service and crowding?

There’s good reason to believe something like that happens.  But probably it doesn’t.  Lockstep is so ingrained in the airline culture they don’t have to conspire.

You recall that when, say, United raised or cut fares from New York to Chicago, so did everyone else.  Usually within hours.

The feds will investigate all this.  They probably won’t find any false-name foursomes.  They’ll report a clean bill of health and no evidence of a conspiracy.

And the airlines will continue with their sorry chant:

We lost megabucks in the 90s.
Shareholder value. Shareholder value.
We’re making up for it now.
Executive compensation. Executive compensation.

Meantime, if you’re average height or higher… if you’re average width or wider... If you’ve checked your luggage and failed to bring your own cardboard meal and are facing time pressure… fasten your seatbelt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

-Business class is a little better than steerage, but only a little.

-First class remains more or less okay, but you have to take out a second mortgage to buy the ticket.

-Is it kosher to tip the Skycap with Swiffer coupons?

-The longest distance between two points: the terminals at Dulles/Washington (also winner of the worst customer service in America.)

-The shortest distance between two points that takes the longest to traverse: A mid-cabin seat with 100 people ahead of you struggling to get their stuff out of the overhead bin.

-The shortest distance between two points that starts on land and ends in water: A tie between the diving board at the YMCA and any runway at LaGuardia.

-The scariest thing you can hear at an airport: the paging system calling your name.

-The biggest lie you can hear at the airport: Flight 2308 will be delayed, but only a few minutes, while we wait for the plane to come in from Colorado Springs.

-Biggest lie you can read at Miami International Airport: Hablamos Ingles.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

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...