Monday, August 31, 2015

1532 Why Not Tattoos or Arm Bands, Gov. Christie?

1532 Why Not Tattoos or Arm Bands, Gov. Christie?

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie had a brilliant idea the other day.  He came up with a way to “track immigrants.”  Bar codes.

Christie wants FedEx to design a system similar to the one it uses to track packages, which, by all accounts, works pretty well, barring bad storms, birds in the engines or the presence of suspicious packages.

Bar codes would be more humane than Trump’s plan to throw the bums out.  It’s just scary and insulting and cheap instead of brutal and impossible… oh, and scary and insulting, but not cheap.

But let’s not limit ourselves.  How about a bar code system for, say, the elephantine, although they’re pretty much self defining or identifying.

Then how about politicians?  You think immigrants are wrecking America?  You’re wrong. It’s the political class.  

We know what most of them look like because they’re always on camera somewhere. But there are a few we might not recognize.  So how about arm-banding, tattooing or bar coding politicos.  

Then there’s always the Hester Prynne system.  Put a big red “P” on the forehead or clothing of every office holder or seeker.  Politicking is right up there with adultery when it comes to public acceptance, and with good reason.

It’s not as graceful as the Nazi or Republic of South Africa methods.  But it’s an easier way to identify those undesirables.  And while it’s humiliating, it’s less unsettling than deportation.

Any “anchor babies” in your family, Chris?

Chrissie says a lot of people enter the US legally and then overstay their work or student visas.  Maybe so.  This is not a new problem.  And it’s not really a problem at all except for that sliver of the pie that turns criminal.

All this intrusiveness from a big man who thinks the government is too big.  Too intrusive. Too … um … fat.

As of this writing, FedEx has not responded to Christie’s request. They probably want to wait until they stop laughing before they answer.

So, once again, why not tattoos and arm bands, governor?  Worked pretty well in the Thousand Year Reich, no?


--The plague that missed Boston will vent its rage on Los Angeles.  The city has “won” the right to become America’s bidder for the 2024 Olympics, pending city council approval.  Here’s hoping they just say no.

--A stunningly beautiful lake in the Ural Mountains has won an equally stunning but much less beautiful prize. Scientists say Lake Karachay is the single most polluted place on earth. It’s right next to Russia’s once-secret nuke lab and factory. And when they tell you “go jump in (this) lake,” it’s a death sentence.

--There really is no resource we haven’t squandered, no advantage we haven’t abandoned and no riptide we haven’t confused with a placid pool. We really are dragging this country to hell in a handbasket, aren’t we? Good thing the road to hell is downhill, else we’d have to put wheels on the handbasket.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, August 28, 2015

1531 The Early Line on 2016

1531 The Early Line on 2016

The duties of president are clearly defined in the constitution.  All except the most important one, setting the tone of the country.

The present occupant isn’t doing too well at that. Neither did his predecessor or his predecessor’s predecessor.  Who did? FDR. Truman. Eisenhower. JFK. Reagan.

You may disagree with the tone set but at least there was one you could identify.

People say they vote on issues and policies.  Many do. But many don’t.

You don’t have to be Mister (or Ms) Personality to get elected. A lot depends on the opposition, the circumstances and one’s use of the Magic Political Mystery Formula: the right combination of stroking and striking fear into the hearts of your friends, colleagues and enemies.

The most recent true master of that was LBJ. And he, too was a tone setter.  But the tone he set was not the one people were looking for at the time.  Just ask the gazillions of anti-war protesters.

So, who are the leading tone setters in the sorry bunch of current presidential wannabes?  Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and (shudder) Donald Trump for the Republicans.

Which tone do we want badly enough to elect a candidate? Bernie is channeling FDR.  Trump, in his own distorted self braggadocio way is trying to channel Reagan’s “morning in America.”

Not only does Obama set a vague and directionless national tone, he has no mastery of the Magic Political Mystery Formula.  His stroking and threatening skills are just fine… until he leaves the room or you do.

Reagan had an advantage.  He was old and seemed not to care what people thought of him. But he was charming in a Hollywood actor sort of way. Bernie has some of that: he's old and doesn't have to care. His charm is in his relative bluntness and the clarity of his thinking and therefore his speaking and writing.

Additionally, Bernie seems capable of building a coalition. And he has an advantage that Reagan didn't: today’s republican party is straight out of Bellevue and the people -- or at least many of us -- know it and don't want to be part of it.

So the question is "can Bernie reform Wall Street, income inequality, environmental damage, useless and costly wars, racism and institute a single payer health care plan that circumvents the insurance industry?" Of course not. But he probably can use sufficient stroking and induce sufficient fear to take good steps.

Then, there’s Biden. Who can be sure of what Obama's relationship with him really is. They put on a brotherly picture.  And the president was right when he said picking Joe was the smartest decision he ever made.

JFK and LBJ didn't like each other.  But at the time, Johnson was a good choice for vice president because of his many years in the senate.  He was a leader there, knew where the bodies were buried, knew where to bury the bodies he added to that and knew both how to kiss and to inspire fear as needed.

Biden never fought in that division, but he's the closest thing we have now.  So practically speaking if he can harness Obama's email list and ground troops, he could win.

When you back the favorite and the favorite wins, the payoff is lower than when you bet a winning long shot.  But a win is a win.

As for Clinton, we don't really know what she stands for. And we certainly don't know what she'd do or try to do as President. It’s not sure she knows either.  

At the moment, Trump is the only republican who counts. Want a reason? His traveling medicine show touches on the fears and desires of plenty of dems who oppose immigration and are tired of the do-nothing, gerbil wheel the presidency has become.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

1530 Johnny Pipes

1530 Johnny Pipes

So you think plumbers make a lot of money? Listen to this! Gianni P. of The Bronx, New York. Lives in Westchester now. Has a big house with a big lawn and no shrubbery. Says he likes his view without anything in the way. His view is the street. Not much of a view. Paid a million, two for the place, spent another half a mil fixing it up.

Good money in plumbing.

They call him Johnny Pipes. He says that is a slur against ordinary citizens of Italian lineage, which he calls “Italian abstraction.” They call him Johnny Pipes because he is the Michelangelo of plumbers. You need a bathroom, a kitchen, maybe a basement sink? You need something that leads from the house to the sewer? Johnny’s the guy to call. He’ll make it work beautifully and better yet, what you look at when you look at it is a work of art.
His shop’s still in the old neighborhood. Doesn’t get a lot of calls from the new one. But those who DO call are always happy. Johnny wouldn’t have it any other way. Art. Not just plumbing, but ART.

Last year, Johnny took in maybe as much as his house cost. And most of the time he works alone.
The apartments in the Bronx need a lot of work. They don’t need art. But they get it anyway.

And he keeps unusual hours.

He’s in at maybe five or 5:30 in the morning. And sometimes he works well into the night. Work is play when you love your job.

So how does this guy pull down a million bucks in a year, buy a house in Westchester and take the wife and kids on a cruise to the islands at least once in awhile.

Art. Industrial art.
Johnny Pipes has a sideline and it’s a pretty good one. He’s in there early, working at the lathe, firing up the blowtorch, that kind of thing. Makes small pipes out of big ones. Threads the ends. Fills the insides with little pieces of aluminum and fiberglass and sometimes when he can get it, asbestos.

These are not for the kitchen, bathroom, basement or sewer.
These screw onto the fronts of handguns. Makes them more efficient, in a way.

All that stuff in the pipe does slow the bullet down a tad if the gun is fired. That’s not the efficient part. The efficient part is when you fire the thing, it doesn’t usually make enough noise to disturb the neighbors.

Not only is he an artist, he’s a considerate artist.
These efficiency gizmos, he calls “sculpture.” His customers call them “silencers” which Johnny doesn’t much care for. Why? Because you still hear something of a “pop” when the thing’s used. It isn’t right to call it “silent” when it’s just “quiet.”

An artist, and an honest one at that. No false advertising here.

Art like this is expensive. It’s hard to find. And the market is excellent. Booming, in fact.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. ®
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Note: this post originally ran in August, 2006.
© WJR 2006, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

1529 A Perfect Ten

1529 A Perfect Ten
No, not the 1979 film in which Dudley Moore finds Bo Derek and which also co-starred a telescope.

This is about the new - new - newer-than-new Microsoft Operating system, which is designed to work on your computer, your tablet and the 283 Windows- based smartphones that have been sold since 1995.

It’s hard to believe that Microsoft is struggling.  After all, they were the company that started the home computer business.  At one point in the early days, when trying to wreck a competitor, co-founder Bill Gates directed his troops to “cut off their air supply.”

They could do that back then and did.  Today, they make the dominant operating system, but it’s no longer a “must have.”  

Windows 10 is an apology to customers and a hope to keep them.  Apology?  Yes, for Windows 8.0/ 8.1, a freak show of complexity, instability and ineptness wrapped in ugliness.

In “10,” they’ve prettied things up. They’ve reverted to easier use.  They’re replaced their clunky “Internet Explorer” browser with “Edge” to enhance “your web experience.”  And they’ve built in all kinds of goodies to make you more vulnerable to data mining and less able to keep your data out of their bases.

With 10, you share control of your computer with the Geeks of Redmond.  Not that you were all that well protected in earlier times.  But now MSFT decides when you update, how and how much you update. The upside is you’re harder to hack.  Except by the aforementioned Geeks of Redmond.  

They try to corner you into using their search engine, “Bing” instead of Google, something most users wouldn’t do on their own. Okay, it’s commerce. Google does the same but with less fanfare and unnecessary bells and whistles. Apple does the same but with more grace and pretty pictures.

In a further show of flop sweat, Microsoft is giving the software away to those who have versions 7, 8 and 8.1.  Microsoft giving something it could sell? What does that tell you.

And if you don’t want to make the change, get used to the little blue pop up blocker-proof pop up asking you to do so, because it appears every time you open your browser.  (You can get rid of it.  Doing so is fairly easy.  All you need is a lot of time and a degree in computer science.)

Windows 10 is circling the wagons.  Except many of the wagons have left.


--Norton AntiVirus is right on top of the little blue Windows window.  Theirs is green and promises their program will work with the new MSFT system. (MSFT is the stock’s symbol.)  And because Norton is more nimble than Micro, it gets to the screen faster.

Disclaimer: Windows 10 is not for everyone. Tell your reseller about all your computers and whether you’ve recently visited countries in which certain viral infections are common. If side effects develop, stop using “10” and notify your customer service rep immediately. Side effects may include dizziness, confusion, eyestrain, nausea, brain freeze and the Blue Screen of Death.  Ask your reseller if “10” is right for you.

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

Friday, August 21, 2015

1528 Times Square: Nature Will Out

1528  Times Square: Nature Will Out

(New York) -- You’ve heard it here time and time again: nature gets the last word.  The grass will grow in the cracks in the sidewalk.  The Avian Flu will mutate ahead of efforts to stop it.  Eventually, cancer wins.

Now we have yet another example:  Times Square is in the process of un-morphing from the Disneyesque fantasy that started in the first Giuliani administration and continues today.

Times Square had long been a high-crime, deteriorating collection first of ne’er do wells, then of prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers and their customers, homeless, vagrants, runaways and dirt. There were porn shops, restaurants that remained open in the face of years of warnings from the board of health.  Litter, sometimes ordinary, sometimes human.

Rudy swooped in to urban renewalize.  And Mike continued.  Two consecutive decades of trying to prevent the grass from growing in the spaces between the concrete slabs of sidewalk.

But the ultimate reversal began with creation of the pedestrian mall, a breeding ground for the good old days. The mall is pushing Times Square back to its roots.

Of course, no one had the courage to tell Mayor Bloomberg that he was naked. Now, he isn’t.

But there are a bunch of painted city women wearing nothing (except paint) panhandling for tips and charging money to pose in selfies with the visiting dignitaries from places like Iowa and Pennsylvania and Tokyo.

The Naked Cowboy somehow managed to remain a presence all during the attempted turning of Times Square into a theme park.  But now, he’s joined by the bare naked ladies, the jugglers and whistlers not good enough to pass auditions for America’s Got Talent or even the singing-in-the-subway program.

You’ve got the New York Times building, a frighteningly ugly and frighteningly expensive headquarters built on the belief that print ads would forever take care of the finances.  The print business is tanking, but the Times’ debt is not.

Cheap, dark bars probably won’t be back right away. The rent remains high.  And there are dozens of laws about where and how you can sell porn or present peep shows. So it’ll be awhile before they return.  But return they will.

So will the dollar-a-minute hotels, the drunks, the pot and gun dealers.

Now it’s not fair to blame the creation of a pedestrian mall for the probable resurgence of the real Times Square.  Its construction was just a tipping point.  Or maybe a tipping pointless.

It was created as similar projects were failing all over the country.  Bad timing? Bad thinking? Bad for business?  A traffic disaster in a place that has among the highest pain thresholds for defining traffic disasters.

The present mayor, Bill de-Zaster, hasn’t yet said he’s going to open the streets to vehicular traffic.  But it sure looks like he’s leaning in that direction.

Hurry, Bill.  Winter will be here sooner than you think. And after that, spring.  And there’s a lot of grass getting ready to grow between cracks in the sidewalk.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

1527 The Walking Fish

1527 The Walking Fish

It’s 5 PM.  A turtle, an octopus and a fish walk into a bar in Australia.  The turtle orders a Sloe Gin Fizz, the Octopus wants only a Coke (“I never drink before eight”) and the fish orders a Johnny Walker on the rocks.

Wait a minute.  Fish can’t walk into a bar or anywhere else. Uh… yes they can. Meet Australia’s Climbing Perch.

Ugly little guy, no?  But still, a walking fish.  A fish that can go six days without water.  A fish that can hibernate on the beach for six months.
This all may be news to most of us, but the walking fish was first discovered in 2005 by Australians out for a stroll of their own. No one said much about it at the time. Before now, scientists had to assure themselves and others that they weren’t hallucinating after a night filled with Foster’s Oil Cans The perch has sort-of lungs with its sort-of gills and can walk using those gills for sort of  feet and legs.  

They’re probably working on a four footed model as we speak.  Problem:  Like most bar- fish, this guy is pugnacious. He threatens and sometimes endangers water fish and can live on both a salt free or salt-plentiful diet.

And although they can’t fly -- yet -- they’re dangerous to the birds that try to swoop down and eat them.  Those gills/feet get stuck in the birds’ throats and chokes them.  Well, no… not exactly.  When the bird catches the fish, the fish expands its gills and THEN the bird chokes. No word yet on whether the fish can then roast the bird.  Probably not.  That would require a cooperative critter capable of starting a fire.

Or maybe Australian kangaroos come equipped with Bic lighters in their pouches and just have to be talked into sharing a light in return for a share of the carcass.
So, makes you kind of wonder what else is out there under our noses that we just haven’t yet noticed. Flying hippos?  Talking mules? Individual monkeys that don’t need a lot of company to type King Lear on an iPad?

Because of a perceived threat to Australia’s ecosystem, fishermen are being cautioned to inspect their catch and toss back the perches.  After all, the bars in Australia are crowded enough with all those turtles and octopi.  


--Happy Birthday to the Wizard of Oz movie, so often quoted or referred to in this space.  It’s 76 years old. And while it’s not true to the book (what movie is?) it’s close enough for Wessays™.

--The FDA has approved the pill that is said to increase female sex drive.  That means, guys, your Sundays of continuous football are over.  Because if she doesn’t get enough at home, she’ll find someplace else.

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

1526 Disability

1526 Disability

One of these hangs on my rearview mirror:
To be completely politically incorrect about it, I am, therefore, a State Certified Cripple or SCC.  I can barely walk even with a cane and when I do, it’s agonizingly slow.  I can’t remain standing for what most people would consider a reasonable length of time.

And I hate it.

But slow and painful as ambulation can be, I still say far too much is being made of this kind of thing.  It’s a fact of life for many of us.  But it doesn’t have to be a center of life.

It’s not as hard to get around as it was before the Americans with Disabilities Act. But it still can be difficult, though we the SCCs shouldn’t be carping about it all the time.

But there is one thing that’s bothersome. A disability is a disability, not a character flaw.

Some people don’t believe that.  They think in terms of “God punished this guy for something he did or failed to do”  or “This guy is like that because he’s bad.” Or a freak.  Or stupid.

Scorn is worse than gratuitous pity.

Disability is not proof of bad living.  At least not most of the time.

And disability is not catching any more than is the cancer or aids or heart disease or old age in people you may awkwardly avoid.

Physical disability is not a mental illness.

It’s just a lack of ability.  Sometimes it’s even temporary.

But let’s get back to those hang tags.  Long before achieving SCC status, some of us saw red every time there was a car in a handicapped spot with no credential -- either the hanger or a license plate with a wheelchair or DAV logo.

“Oh, I’ll just be a minute.”  Or “I applied for a tag and it hasn’t come yet” or “I left it in my other car.”

Yeah. Sure.

Call the cops and you get no satisfaction, unless the offending driver is parked at the precinct… or at the donut shop.  And even then, maybe not.

Leave notes on the windshields or in the door slots of violators.  It probably won’t fix anything, but you’ll feel better.


--Microsoft has upped its “get Windows 10” popups which now appear every time you log on.  Popup blockers don’t stop them… after all, they’re Microsoft. But the more often many of us have to “x” out those annoying come-ons, the less chance you have of “selling” the free software, which is worth no more than you’re charging.

--The real estate association, Realtor, is out with its rankings of the “hottest” zip codes in the country, places where people are likely to move and buy.  Top spot on the list: Melrose MA (Greater Boston.)  Others include Fargo, ND; Austin TX and Novi, Michigan… but not Beverly Hills.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

1525 Banjo Rant

1525 Banjo Rant

The five string banjo made a comeback during the folk music fad.  The fad has faded but the instrument lingers on and that pleases those of us who play.

But in recent years, the banjo has fallen victim to a dismal affliction that affects many aspects of our lives.  We confuse musical virtuosity with complexity and speed.

With each new player we get less of the first and more of the rest.

The early icons were Earl Scruggs and Pete Seeger. Scruggs was fast. Ho-boy was he fast.  But he was also musical.  If you listen to his recordings, even those he made at the beginning and end of his career, you hear actual music.  Yes, it’s complicated, yes it’s “folk music in overdrive,” as someone put it. (The someone is unknown, but the phrase is generally attributed to song “collector” Alan Lomax.)

Seeger wasn’t a soloist like Scruggs.  But he was an innovator none the less. (You want to know what he innovated, drop me a line.)

In recent years, we’ve welcomed a new generation of players.  Maybe welcomed isn’t the right word.  But each has tried to expand the reach of banjo music and most have failed.

Bela Fleck was the first of them. A breathtaking technician.  He makes sounds no one previously imagined coming from a simple instrument assembled mostly using parts you can buy in a hardware store.

Breathtaking, yes.  Musical?  Not so much.

Latecomers like Tony Trischka and Jens Kruger have traveled the same path.  Expand the repertoire. They dazzle.  And they have good acts.

Tony looks like your favorite uncle. His stage show is filled with self effacing talk.  He’s the genuine article. But his playing, brilliant as it may be, is often tiring.

Jens is a jolly Swiss with a loveable lopsided European command of English that makes him attractive.  But the same about his playing.

This is not a recommendation to return to roots.  There were problems in the good old days, too. Bad playing. Lyrics that used what has become an outdated vernacular even in the mountains of North Carolina and the flatlands of Kentucky. Monotony.

If you want to hear a good compromise artist slightly below the earning level of what passes for banjo superstardom, try “Mean Mary” James.  She’s modern, makes good music, makes good videos.

Guys, it doesn’t have to be jet-fast, jazz- complex and Flamenco percussive.  It just has to be nice to listen too.


--Guy in Alaska puts on a bear costume, head and all, goes into the woods and annoys real bears.  Chased by wildlife cops, he then started to annoy people who came to watch the bears.  Cops say he wouldn’t identify himself and they still don’t know who he is or why he did what he did.

--Sesame Street moving to HBO and PBS only gets first runs second?  After 45 years?  And now you have to pay to watch it?

--The Sesame Street move would be bad enough on its own, but with the breakup of Miss Piggy and Kermit, it seems like the end of the world.  Piggy told us she was ready to hit the social scene. Kermit has not returned repeated phone calls or emails.

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

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

1524 School for Scoundrels

The major universities are missing out on a golden opportunity. They’d better act before the for- profit career institutes realize what’s going on.

What’s going on?  There are so many criminals in jail -- organized mobsters to street level bookies and drug dealers -- that there’s nowhere reliable to learn the trade.

Time was, you started as a numbers runner.  If you caught on and were a “good earner,” you got promoted.  Eventually, you might be a “soldier” or a “captain,” or even higher.

Time was, you started as a sports customer service telephone representative and  you could learn and rise through the ranks high enough to open your own bookie joint.

Now… as in journalism, law, music, art and advanced agriculture, it’s up to the universities to fill in the gaps left by the end of the apprentice system.

So, how about The Harvard School of Criminality? Or the Michigan State Institute of Gaming Management. Or the Capone School at the University of Chicago. Or the Sandusky School of Pedophelia at Penn State.

It’s tough for an ambitious, young shoplifter to rise through the ranks to anything bigger these days and American higher education doing its share.

One could argue that an apprenticeship -- was far more an effective teaching and learning experience than, say, some Whiplash Willie dump of a law school in the middle of flyover country.

True as that may be, there just aren’t enough places to “read for the law” and school is the only alternative.

This is fast becoming the fate of the would be criminal. Amateurs, most of them.  They don’t have Vito Corleone or El Chapo to rely on anymore.

So we have to find retired or otherwise out-of-action criminals to hire, design curricula and teach.

Help wanted: The University of East Acne, Idaho seeks candidates for a tenure track professorship in loan sharking.  Excellent salary. Benefits include legal services, health insurance and a defined benefit retirement plan.  Please send your CV and rap sheet to the address below. Applications accepted through 12/15/15 for the spring 2016 semester. No calls, please.

You can expect a lesser class of graduates from these places than you would of someone tutored by an established team of professionals.  That’s generally the case in any college level trade school.

But at least they won’t be total greenhorns and amateurs.

The higher education system better latch on to all this before Ace Technical and Mrs. Skinner do.


--For all the reasons you already know, it’s good to say we’re “not in Kansas any more” (And thanks again, Dorothy and Toto.) Here’s another: a proposed  law would bar people from voting if they can’t prove citizenship.  If you have trouble proving you’re a citizen there’s a good chance you are (a) black or hispanic, (b) poor and (C) a democrat.

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

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 ...