Friday, October 30, 2015

1548 America Invades Itself Without Trying

1548 America Invades itself Without Trying

Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press- Enterprise via AP

(BLOOMSBURG, PA) -- An unarmed North American Aerospace  Defense Command spy blimp meant to guard the east coast against foreign enemies and trailing 67-hundred feet of heavy cable slipped its mooring in Aberdeen, Maryland and wandered about 160 miles north into this small town in central Pennsylvania where it landed.
No one was injured.  But the leash wiped out electric power to many of the 14-thousand or so people who live or work here.

The cable is about the thickness of those on suspension bridges and can cut power lines like a Louisville Slugger destroys a spider web.

Nothing so exciting has happened here since iron mining died in the 19th century.

Airborne, spy blimps are about as safe as drones, which is little-to-not-at-all.  Five years ago, two of them went down in the Carolinas when they collided in mid air.

That’s the bad news. The good news is although they’re huge, they’re filled with lighter than air gas -- helium, mostly -- and once on the ground, with the gas gone, they are about as damaging as a dishrag of similar dimensions.

NORAD may have been trying to conquer the area, but had failed to onload any weapons. Dishrags, especially slow-landing dishrags aren’t enough.  Some blimps are armed.  Not this one, fortunately.

Not to be outdone by the National Transportation  Safety Board, the Pentagon sent a crew of 40 workers to “investigate” and to pack the thing up and take it back to the warehouse.

The trip from the Aberdeen Proving Grounds took about four hours, the same time the internet maps say it would take you to drive at the speed limit.  For part of the journey, it was trailed by a pair of F-15 jet fighters.

What were they expecting the planes to do?  Shoot the thing down in an unpopulated area?  The landing zone is about as unpopulated as it gets.  Unless you count each individual asparagus plant.  

All we need is a jet fighter strafing of someone’s pet cow or prize winning bull.  Oh, the bovine-anity.

Shrapnel (Republican debate edition):

--Who won the debate?  “None of the above.” Too bad he’s not running.

--Who lost the debate?  CNBC, with the most inept moderators ever gathered in one spot.  And all of the candidates who talked over one another, which was all of them. Time to return control of the “network” to NBC News which lost it in Con-Cast’s attempt to right the ship in which it had punched all those holes.

--Are we seeing the last gasp of the Bush campaign or is that just wishful thinking?  In a typical Bush family move, JEB set himself up for a takedown in a small set-to with Rubio over nothing. A takedown is not a pin and a three-count… but close.


-Daylight saving time ends Sunday morning.

-Semi annual reminder there is one “s” in “daylight saving time,” not two.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

1547 Bacon Baloney

1547 Bacon Baloney

The World Health Organization says bacon and other processed red meats cause cancer.  This is not new. But after WHO studied lots of other studies it concludes that it’s worse than thought.

We all know by that the mere act of being in the room with an unlit cigarette exposes us to fatal fumes.  If someone dares to light up, you’re dead meat.

Which brings us to dead meat.  They haven’t gotten to the point where they think walking past the beef and pork in the supermarket exposes you to those same death rays.

But what about all the smoke at barbecues?  Think of the Little Children!  The Suffering Elderly. The Innocents Next Door.  The poor yard squirrels and birds in the line of fire.

Be careful when you fire up the grill.  You never know where that cancer laden smoke is going to go.  But if you can smell it, (mmmm!) you’ve inhaled it.

Soon, someone will propose legislation barring unlicensed outdoor barbecues.  Many modern grills have covers.  So maybe you have nothing to worry about.  Except sometimes the smoke gets through the cracks where the lid meets the lip.

The police radio crackles “we have a 10-367 at 134 North Elm St.”  Oh my.  A 10-367. The police radio code for well done illegal cheeseburger.  Someone’s going to jail.

“It’s only vegetables and a chicken breast, officer. Please don’t arrest me!”

“A likely story, lady. I smell burgers. Not only am I going to arrest you, but then I’m going to take three weeks disability leave to make sure I haven’t contracted eye cancer.  Smoke gets in your eyes, you know.”

Technically, the various studies curated by WHO talk only about “processed meat.”  So maybe -- just maybe -- your freshly ground chuck or uncured bacon won’t kill you.

But you can bet your buns someone will come out with “facts” that “prove” you can die from just thinking about any of this.

The grill and frying pan makers will start selling face masks and safety goggles as accessories.  Already, Martha Stewart, Chanel, Joseph Abboud and Duluth Trading are working up new designs.

Now where is that WWII Ground Observer Corps gas mask that used to be in the basement?  Must have left it at the Cigar Lounge.


--First they find evidence of dampness on Mars. Now they discover a geyser on one of Saturn’s moons.  All of a sudden, the solar system has all kinds of water.  So not only do we have to get ready for an invasion of Martians, but now we have all those Saturnian immigrants practically at our borders.

--Desk duty for the white cop who flipped his lid and then flipped and dragged a black high school girl out of a classroom for being “disruptive.” The guy can cool his heels while the other cops of Columbia SC figure out how to twist this into something resembling a reasonable explanation.  But probably there isn’t one.

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

Monday, October 26, 2015

1546 A Tale of Two Canes

1546 A Tale of Two Canes
Was it Andy Benedict or George H.W. Bush who said getting old was not for wimps?  In any case, the quotation is correct.  (Actually, H.W. doesn’t speak in complete sentences, and Andy never spoke in short sentences, so maybe it was someone else.)
Now, to one of the vagaries of the human body at "this" age.  Arthritis.  Yeah, yeah, we all get it.   And yeah, yeah it's sometimes painful, even disruptively painful.  And there isn't a whole lot to be done for it.  And sometimes it goes away, sometimes it goes away and comes back for a later visit.  And sometimes it just doesn't want to leave.  Hospitality is a beautiful thing.
Oh.  Backstory.  This household follows an Asian tradition:  no outside shoes inside.  A nice idea and a good way to keep floors clean.  Sometimes it can take twelve different changes of footwear to, say, take the garbage out and then head to the basement to do laundry.  You get used to it.  There's a sense of history and tradition to it.  And you get to buy and keep footwear in sizes that guests are likely to have in addition to your own stuff.
Now the hard part:  two canes.  One for outside, one for inside.  One for use outside the house and in the garage, and another for use inside the house.  Well, most of the house.  What eludes, so far, is what to use in the basement, where separate pairs of shoes are the norm.  If you use the inside cane downstairs, is it still the "inside" cane?  The basement floor is unfinished concrete.  Technically, it's inside.  But emotionally, it isn't.  
To use the outside cane downstairs, the outside cane would have to come inside, long enough to be transported downstairs.  There aren't enough hands to do that and still carry the laundry.  So the short term solution is not using a cane, or maybe using a broom handle downstairs.
But a cane is not JUST a cane.  It is a fashion statement.  And you never know who you're going to meet in your basement, and wouldn't want to be there with a broom handle -- so peasant-like.
But owning three canes, somehow, has an air of permanence about it, that one or two don't.

Although if truth be told, not much at “this age” is permanent.


--Here’s a lesson for America’s shopping mall owners, and it comes from China where more and more shopaholics live but big centers are failing.  If you run a crummy, dilapidated property, eventually, people will stop stopping by. Pretty much anything you want is a click away.

--And was it Chris just being Chris when the governor of New Jersey was asked to leave the “Quiet Car” where phone calls are forbidden and he was mouthing off at what witnesses say was top volume?  The almost-news-service Gawker says “yes.” The guys who walk behind him with a shovel say he was in the car by mistake and left of his own free will.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

1545 The Knives of October

1545 The Knives of October

What’s a mass murderer to do when there’s a school down the street just aching for a slaughter and there’s nary a gun to be had?

That’s an easy question. You get yourself a sword or a big knife, put on a mask -- it’s almost Halloween, after all -- and go to work.

So that’s what one man or near-man did the other day at a school you never heard of in a town you never heard of near a city you may have heard of in a country you haven’t given a thought to since the day in 2005 that you finally had to give up trying to keep your 1962 Volvo in running condition.

Oh, and a country where stuff like this “never” happens.

So, when a guy wearing something like a Darth Vader mask walked into the Kronan School in Trollhattan, 50 miles or so north of Goteborg, no one gave it much of a thought.  At least not at first.

A Halloween prank?  Some prank.  At least two teachers dead, several others and some kids wounded.  That happens here, the dead and injured number far more.  Because here, we have the right to guns but not the right to not get shot.

The violent death of a loved one always is traumatic.  And the scale doesn’t matter, at least to the immediate circle of the victim or victims.

And yet, the scale does matter.  For had Darth had a gun, the death toll surely would be higher.

The cops arrived.  They shot and wounded the knifeman and eventually he died.  

The usual suspects got up and publicly mourned. The country’s prime minister.  The king. Yes in Sweden they don’t have legal machine guns but they do have a king.

About the killer:  as of this posting, they haven’t disclosed his name… not that that matters.  And they’ve been vague about a possible motive.

What’s floating around is that the knifer had no police record, but cops found Nazi “literature” and other indications in his house that he was a right wing, anti-immigrant “freedom fighter.”

“Right wing anti-immigrant” is not a combination one associates with a country known for cold weather, pretty girls, freedom of moral choice, big trucks and relatively safe cars.

Sweden is a place where Americans move to avoid American style racism.  Blacks and whites alike.  Maybe that’s no longer the place to go.

What’s odd is that so far those great lovers of gundome in this country haven’t risen as one to “prove” that they’re right about one thing:  guns or no guns, we humans will find ways to kill each other for no reason.

Well, they aren’t right.  Just look at the scale.


--All Clinton had to do to win the debate with the congressional Benghazi vigilantes was keep her mouth shut.  That’s what she did. And that’s why she won.

--The Vatican denies it, but some newspapers in Italy are reporting that Pope Francis has a brain tumor.  It’s probably not so.  But given the resistance to change in Rome, this pope better watch his back.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2008, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

1544 Hinging on a Hinge

1544 Hinging on a Hinge

Now and then monster corporations marching toward the graveyard get something right.  And this may be one of those times.

Microsoft’s newest invention is causing positive buzz for the first time since Bill Gates got shamed into becoming Andrew Carnegie.

It’s a new laptop called the Surface Book, the first computer the company has actually put its name on, though its Windows operating system remains the dominant player.

First, let’s look at some of those corporate death marches cut short, probably accidentally.

When Gibson came out with its Les Paul guitar in 1952, it saved itself from an obvious plunge to death at the hands of Leo Fender.

The 1955 Chevy was one of the best cars ever built in the United States and people learned that pretty quickly.  (And, yes, the ‘55, not the flashier ‘57.) It got another shot in the arm from the current Impala, thus allowing it to continue “shipping crap” as Lee Iacocca once said of carmakers in general.

Merrill Lynch saved itself by getting sold to Bank of America.  That hasn’t turned out all that well for BofA, but Lynch is doing fine, thank you.

Grumman, searching for something off its normal path, made canoes, truck bodies and bad buses when the lunar lander business tanked and the F-14 was declared too fat to fly.

And look at this year’s New York Mets!

So, Microsoft.  Rich as can be, but staring obsolescence at the end of the tunnel comes out with a product … a high tech product that hinges on… well, a hinge.

Strange little thing, this hinge.  Looks a little like a mammalian spine in a position only seen in advanced yoga class and among contortionists.  Lets you bend the keyboard backward and use the screen as a tablet.

High powered.  Mid-high priced.  More bells and whistles than a carillon in a calliope factory.
Oh, you say, “but the laptop is dead.”  Maybe. Oh, you say “tablets rule.” Maybe.

So this is Microsoft’s hedge fund. Whichever way the market goes, they’re already there.

The preview reviews are universally excellent.  No one has a bad word to say about this thing.  The once most- hated tech giant is getting four or five stars from everyone?

Still, they’ll probably whistle as they pass the graveyard. This time.


--What does Saudi Arabia know that Germany doesn’t? Why has it declined to accept any Syrian refugees while offering to build new mosques in Germany which will take in 800-thousand people? Many rich middle east countries are following Saudi Arabia’s lead.

--Associated Press headline: “New Top US General Looks to Capitalize on Iraq Successes.”  Good luck, General Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  But Joe, babes, just what successes are you talking about?

--Is Japan becoming more like us in that they don’t make stuff anymore?  Our new “Japanese” TV set was made in Mexico.  So were our Korean washer and dryer.

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

1543 Remembering Cam'ron

1543 Remembering Cam’ron

Probably you never had heard of Cam’ron Matthews or his hometown, Alto, Texas.  And probably you never had reason to. Now you have and you do.

Matthews was a 16- year- old high school junior and Alto is a town of maybe 15- hundred people about 150 miles southeast of Dallas and surrounded on all sides by … nothing.

But they have a high school.  And the high school has a football team.  This weekend, Matthews became the sixth high school player this year to die in the line of duty.

Cam’ron Matthews with sister Paige Matthews. Family photo via KETK/NBC Tyler TX

Right near the end of the first half of Friday’s game, Cam’ron had a seizure and a few hours later he died in a Tyler, TX hospital.
One relative is quoted as saying “Football didn’t kill him. God chose this time for him.”  Yeah, sure.

The real key thought in the outpouring of stories: Cam’ron’s been playing football ever since he was a little kid.

Uh huh.  Are we going to learn some day that football is the deadliest team sport played in North America?  We going to give those players aged six to maybe 45 who don’t die right away the medical help they need?

Nah.  We’ll babble about safer helmets and thicker padding and fewer direct shots to the head from now until the next teenager or college or NFL player dies of chronic brain hits.

Collectively, football has adopted the public relations strategy of the National Rifle Association: “Guns don’t kill people.”

Guess what, folks. Guns kill people and so does football.  And sometimes death is better than the alternative.  What alternative? Living the rest of their lives as rutabagas.

So what’s the answer?  Do you really need that pointed out?  Okay, if you say so: kill the sport before it kills more.

Seditious thought, eh?  The money crowd sure thinks so. So does the crowd of fake macho groupie dads who live their pathetic lives through their sons’ football prowess.

Everyone describes Matthews as “a good kid…” “a bright kid…” a “fine athlete.”  Of course.  Every dead kid becomes a saint at burial. But in this case, the praise seems apt and deserved.

But even if weren’t true his was still a human life, damaged and then destroyed by a “game” in which the odds are against the players of both sides.


--The Mets lead the American League championship series with the Cubs 2-0, giving rise to the hope that the expansion team from Queens will have a shot at playing in and even winning the World Series.  The Mets have won only two World Series since their creation in 1962.  And good as they’ve been this year, they’re still the Mets, so don’t put the champagne on ice just yet.


-It pays to remember, though, that the absolutely worst players in the majors are better than you or I by a long shot.

More Shrapnel:

--When does one take the “ette” off of baguette? The Guinness Book just awarded “longest” to one that was 400 feet long.  To most of us, that would be a whole Bag.

--What were they thinking dept: the third Republican presidential debate is scheduled for October 28th in Boulder, Colorado, the last major hippie enclave in the Mountain West. Bound to be more protesters than audience at this one.

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

Friday, October 16, 2015

1542 They Can't Help Themselves

1542  They Can’t Help Themselves

Who can’t help what they are? Lots of people.  But since this is the political season (when isn’t it?) we can and should focus on politicians.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s say the politicians become politicians because they want to improve things… the country, state, city, county, village. Whatever.

Let’s also say that at root they’re no less intelligent or less rational than the average person.

But once they’ve mounted a successful campaign and taken office they are like drug addicts and serial killers:  they have to have more just to feel neutral.

What they do as politicos is less important than what they say about it.  And it’s the saying more than the doing that KOs them in the early rounds.

The most recent glaring example of this came from Republican-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee. At the very beginning of his appointment to the Senate, he told fellow debate participants and watchers that he voted to deregulate banks -- an error, he now says -- because it was his first vote and his father had just died. Guess he didn’t read the part of the New Senator’s Handbook that says you don’t have to vote on every bill.  Especially when you don’t know what your vote or the bill means.

But it came out sounding like “The dog ate my homework.”  And you can bet it will form the icing on his farewell cupcake, the one that’s 8.5 cm in diameter by 9 cm tall.

But this is just one example.  You need more? It’s easy enough to find. Here’s a start: Gary Hart, Ross Perot, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson.

People say dumb stuff all the time. Should we penalize them just for that?  In the case of politicians and corporate spinmeisters, yes, for sure.  Why?  Because these fakers have deep and long lasting influence on your life.

Looking at the current list of disabled presidential wannabes: Some people take Dr. Clueless seriously or at least more seriously than the previous Oreo because he’s a man of accomplishment… did something more than just building a chain of mediocre pizza joints.

Some people take the two women more seriously than in the past… one because she has a famous husband and did more as first lady than, say, Highway Beautification.  The other because she ran two major tech corporations into the ground, killed the stock and ruined the brands.  We like bad girls and Ronda Rousey isn’t old enough to run.

A northern governor who runs his state like it’s a backwater speed trap in Georgia. Two affirmative action Latinos with no experience and no grasp of reality.

A blowhard billionaire with an empire built like a house of cards and who has a pre-Christmas Ebenezer Scrooge chip on his shoulder.

A pathetic ex governor who fell from a famous family apple tree wormhole side up.  A couple of senators or ex senators caught wandering in the street and when ordered onto the sidewalk obeyed the cop and thus survived.

A dreamy hippie with a hunting rifle.  And possibly a likeable buffoon who can’t leave his foot out of his mouth for more than one consecutive sentence.

Fine lot you are, folks.  One of these people is going to be our president.  Heaven help us!

Where’s the ballot spot for “none of the above?”

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

1541 The Nobel Prize in Economics

1541 The Nobel Prize in Economics

I’m going to nominate myself for the Nobel Prize in economics.  Given the workmanship that goes into the entries and results each year, it seems like an easy win.

This year’s prize, just announced, went to Scottish-born Princeton economist Angus Deaton for his work showing that how people live depends largely on what they can afford to buy.

Another way of putting that is “poor people are poor if they don’t have enough money.” And the way around that is to make sure they have more.


The 2014 prize went to a guy who discovered that “it’s tough to say what should be regulated and what shouldn’t be.  Equally brilliant.

A selection of earlier winners:

2005: Psychology of traders influences trading and therefore market trends.

1995: Knowing about economics is necessary to set economic policy.

1985: Attitude and actions on personal savings can affect the global economy.

1975: Smart allocation of resources usually brings good results.

So, here is the winning entry for next year:

2016a: Reducing taxes on billionaires does not create jobs unless the billionaires use the money to employ people.

And if that’s not good enough for you…

2016b: States with small governments and low taxes receive more from the federal government than they pay.  Therefore they are welfare queens at the expense of states that don’t care about the size of government and which pay in more than they get back.

Economists are the best single players in the Arithmetic game.  It’s simple.  Wrap any idea in math and math- phobic America will buy it as truth.
Long complicated explanations and dense, unreadable prose make it even better.  And everyone knows if you spout equations or inequalities you must really know your stuff.

Throw in some computer printouts and you have it made.

But you have to start small.  Simple.  Then get complicated by covering it over with bubble wrap and packing peanuts of figures, studies of questionable worth and put THIS SIDE UP on the paperwork.

Works every time.

Now in order to win, all I have to do is get some researchers to coat my ideas in numbers.

The spreadsheets will be dazzling.  The powerpoints will put Hollywood to shame.  And the unemployment rate among economic researchers will sink to the lowest level since Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen won the first Economics Nobel in 1969 for their work in developing “dynamic models” to analyze how the economy works.

The dynamic duo.

We can’t do with static models, now can we?


--A common comment from educated men caught with a copy of Playboy Magazine always has been “I read it for the articles,” which, of course is a lie, good as many of those articles are.  Starting next March it will probably be truer than it used to be as Playboy eliminates pictures of naked women. The internet has replaced the centerfold and you don’t have to hide it under the bed or in the closet.

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

1540 The First Scratch

1540 The First Scratch

Some old horse died in the Black Forest and got made into a windbreaker, which dad wore for something close to 50 years. At first sight, it was already battered to the point that the dead horse wouldn't recognize it.

He refused to part with it. "It was nice and shiny and deep brown when I first bought it," he said. But all those decades later, he insisted on wearing it. "It was fine after the first scratch," he said. After that first one, all the others felt -- and looked -- at home.

Same thing with the new car. Pristine on the showroom floor. Not so pristine after you pull into a parking space and Griselda in the mammoth SUV parked to your right swings a door too wide and puts in the first scratch.

Goldy the sportscaster had a leather satchel of a briefcase, probably made out of the same horse as dad's coat. He didn't much care about the way it was scratched. He didn't even seem to mind when your correspondent spilled a whole container of Pepsi on the thing. It was scratched to the point the horse wouldn't know it was him. It was like a leather portrait of a rat's nest. "The more, the better," Goldy said. Keep those battle scars coming.

So here's the next job: getting a job with the Fender guitar company. They keep cranking out the same stuff they’ve made in 1952. But now, they've added "distressed"models. These are new guitars that look like they've been on the road for half a century or more. They look it -- but they were made yesterday in the factory in California.

They have guys who wear them out as soon as they come off the production line. Those people scar them with matches and cigarettes. They scrape off pieces of the finish -- using knives and sandpaper and make the new guitars look like they've been on the road all this time. And they charge extra for "finishing" them as if they were 50 years old.

It's a job no guitar freak could resist. And since demand is so strong, maybe they're hiring.

If they aren't, maybe Michael Kors or Dooney and Bourke need handbag agers.
Or maybe Chrysler. Get one of those new "300s," and turn it into a rolling wreck. Then sell it as new -- but distressed and aged.

No one will care. The factory will have made the first scratch.

A 1955 "300" with "aging toner and some dents.

What a concept!

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...