Monday, November 30, 2015

1571 Unsafe at Any Speed

1571 (Correct) Unsafe at Any Speed

“I don’t like Ralph Nader and I didn’t like the book. But there was definitely a role for government in automotive safety.” -- Retired multicompany auto executive Bob Lutz quoted in the New York Times.

The book “Unsafe at Any Speed” has turned 50. It catapulted Nader into the national spotlight, a place from which, mercifully, he has withdrawn.

What got everyone’s attention in 1965 was the first chapter.  It said, in effect, that a moving Chevrolet Corvair would roll over on command more easily than would an obedient and well trained cocker spaniel.

The Corvair was General Motors’ answer to the original Volkswagen Beetle, a small economy car with its engine in the back.  GM tried to bring Nader down by putting a private eye on his tail in hopes he’d do something scandalous.  He did of course, but not then and not the kind of scandalosity they were hoping for.  More about that a little later.

Nader’s belief in far fewer and far less sensational words than he used was simple. Someone has to keep track of the car makers to guard against making design and engineering flawed death traps.

A good point and it worked.

The Johnson administration created an agency to set safety standards.  It was something the auto industry couldn’t seem to do for itself.

Example:  Preston Tucker’s “Torpedo” stressed safety with things previously unheard of… like padded dashboards.

It was a flop when introduced in 1948.  The few cars actually produced now routinely sell for close to $3- million.

In 1956, Ford offered previously unavailable safety features in its passenger models.  They didn’t sell well either.

Now, of course, we wouldn’t consider buying a car without a dozen airbags, decent head restraints, padded dashboards and excellent seatbelts.

But they’re still mass producing death traps, although  fewer now than 50 years ago.  And in a way we now accept safety, high gas mileage and low emissions as birthrights.

Nader refused to quit while he was ahead. He went on to found group after group of questionable merit to deal with questionable causes questionably. Fortunately most were outlived by fruit flies.

Now, about scandalous behavior: the “unsafe” book turned Nader into a leftist cult figure and that cult figure, gave us the first four years of George W. Bush.

And that was a scandal we could have and should have avoided.


--Where are the Republican presidential candidates on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings? Last we heard they were still figuring out how to defund the organization as part of their war of a thousand bites on abortion, which they see as killing babies.  What about these kinds of killings and woundings, people?

Note to readers:  Being unable to count beyond my fingers and toes, I’ve used the numbers 1530-1539 each for two different posts.  This post restores the accurate numbers. WR.

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

1560 Black Friday

1560 Black Friday

If there’s one thing you can say about Black Friday it’s that it’s better than Black Monday.  

Actually, there have been plenty of black Mondays and now there are plenty of black Fridays even though many don’t take place on an actual Friday.

Black Monday, Oct. 29, 1929 is the day the stock market began its crash.  They use also use the term for Oct. 19, 1987 when the stock markets again tanked.  But although we’ve called that a crash, it really wasn’t. And a lot of people made a ton of money in the days that followed.

Black Friday is the day retailers in America finally turn a profit, or so the modern folk tale goes.  Black ink on the ledgers instead of the red ink which shows a loss. It’s hard to believe that no one makes a buck before the day after Thanksgiving.  But that’s the conventional wisdom.

Earnings reports and other indicators tell a different story.  But that’s complicated.  As a society we hate and fear complicated.  Or we can’t be bothered to learn about the moving parts.

Like everything else this century, everything is swollen except our bank accounts.  So it’s not surprising that Black Friday sales started well before today.

As this is being written, people are already setting up tents to be among the first to crash through the doors of Best Buy or Wal-nut or Toys R Us or Sears or Kohl’s.  Well, maybe not Sears.

Little do they know that there are some sneaky merchants who actually had lower prices before Thanksgiving than they will today.  Some places announce that.  Sale! Sale! Sale! Black Friday Begins Tuesday!  Others just lower their prices earlier in the week, then raise them on Friday.

Why?  Dunno. One of life’s great mysteries.

Frenzied buying continues on “Cyber Monday,” a relatively recent addition to the shopping addiction. Internet- only discounts on everything from office supplies to pre-fab steel buildings.
Many of us have always wanted a pre-fab steel building.  Why? Quonset huts remind us of a happier time when all we had to worry about was an invasion and we actually won a war.

--A shout out in Wessays™ #1560 to radio 1560, New York.  Once the “high fidelity classical music station,” WQXR was owned by the New York Times, then it became  WQEW with American Pop Standards, then Radio Disney, now WFME with religious programming.  A blowtorch of a signal but you can hear it better in Boston and Philadelphia than you can in Manhattan.

--Anyone remember NYC Mayor de Blastoff’s promise to get rid of those cruel and inhumane horse-drawn carriages the tourists all love?  Could it be that what was behind it had nothing to do with animal cruelty and everything to do with a big campaign contributor’s lust for the land on which the stables stand?  Unimaginable, of course!

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

1559 Thanksgiving

1559 Thanksgiving

Back home they used to call it the “Macy Day Parade.” You know the drill:  big cartoon balloons, floats, bands, rock stars, Santa, 12- trillion cops, 50- trillion fidgeting kids straining to see the action. And you can’t get there from here… no matter which “there” you seek and which “here” is your starting point.

Of course it’s not “Macy Day,” it’s Thanksgiving day, the day that marks the voyage of the pilgrims seeking freedom of their religion and to deprive everyone else of theirs.

Snoopy and Mickey were still centuries in the future, as was Macy’s.  And it was centuries before the Shinnecock tribe had to remind people that the golf course was named after them, not the other way around.

There are three days each year when it is totally stupid to be in Manhattan: New Year’s Eve, July 4th and tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day.  Even people who live there wish they didn’t.

The entire population of Ohio will be on Broadway.  Except the few who end up at your house.  Some of them without forewarning.

In former years, Thanksgiving Day was the unofficial start of the year-end holiday season.  That’s why Santa brings up the rear of the parade.  Now of course the unofficial start of the holiday season is in September and only because they haven’t figured out a way to start it in August.  Yet.

It’s still a time for family get togethers. The grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, uncles aunts and cousins will all gather in one place for the greatest of unsung traditions: arguments fueled by Aunt Ivy’s Special Cocktail, two gallons of which she will have brought with her.  When everyone’s out of that fuel, they’ll lubricate with what’s left of the keg the college age kids will have brought along, along with their current significant others.

Same sex couples will be segregated at what used to be called “the children’s table,” but now known as the gay buffet.  Around this will orbit various other relatives, some of whom will be there to pretend a show of approval while others will be there to scowl.

Uncle Hemlock and uncle Foxglove -- brothers -- will square off on the 2016 presidential election, Hemmy on the conservative side and Foxy on the progressive. Meantime knots of supporters will form around each and no one will be paying attention to what is going on in the kitchen, which is general inattentiveness.

After dinner, with about 30% of the revelers passed out on someone else’s easy chair or “my spot on the couch” the remaining people will vie for the right to be rejected as cleanup helpers.

So there are many things for which to be thankful but also important things to be thankful one doesn’t have.  And high are the latter list: No having switched to Windows 10 and not being anywhere near Broadway for the parade.


-There’s always one relative who has the nerve to specify “all white meat” when offered leftovers to go.

-Aunt Ivy will be insulted if there’s any of her cocktail left and insulted if there’s none for her to take home.

-Someone will leave a cell phone behind and you won’t be able to tell whose it is.

-Someone will leave a cell phone behind and -- not that you’re nosy or anything -- but you will disapprove of “those pictures.”

-Count the silverware.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

1558 My Father's Radio

1558 My Father’s Radio

So this guy Max comes here in 1930-something because he’s a Jew and no longer welcome in Germany. He has a sponsor, his sister, already in New York and already a citizen.  She signs a paper that says in effect “I promise not to let this guy goof off, get ‘home relief’ as they called welfare in those days, will brush after every meal, salute the flag and mean it and speak something vaguely resembling English.”

As you may recall from your history class, we had a little war then.  Germany and Italy were the bad guys.  And while the war went on, German emigres were not always greeted with open arms in the US.

You never knew when that sneaky Hitler fellow might slip in a spy or a mole.  Oh, you say, Max couldn’t have been one of those. He was Jewish and Hitler had production lines going where he killed Jews.

But you can never be sure.  Even when Max applies for citizenship.  Takes the test. Passes. Gets sworn in.

After some years, he gets married.  To an American, yet.  An American with no German in her bloodline.  Perfectly safe, right?  No closet Nazi, right?

They move into an apartment they’ve furnished with one and only one luxury, a console radio-phonograph. With a short wave band.  Which some government guy came along and disabled.  Could be used for getting messages and instructions from Hitler.

Short wave was kind of like Facebook and Twitter in those days.  Reached everywhere.  One difference, though:  you couldn’t reply to messages.  Just listen to broadcasts from around the world. Including the bunker and the Reichstag.

The technician who disabled the shortwave band left the house with some radio parts and a promise he’d return them when the war ended, which he didn’t.

The only “messages” Max received on his shortwave were from Beethoven and Brahms.  Guys like that. They “spoke” in musical notes.  And you could get those same “messages” from the New York Times’ radio station which broadcast classical music from a sinister looking antenna array in Queens and for which you needed no tricky radio that brought in programs from Berlin or anywhere else.

All this to show you that while today’s immigrants are getting hassled, this is nothing new.  And it’s no more worthwhile now than it was then.


--Our comment in another venue that we should build a wall around Syria and make Syria pay for it has received an outpouring of support. But some responses have been over the top.  Like the one that suggests building a dome like a sports stadium or a giant version of the thing they use to keep room service meals hot during delivery.

--Recalls are all the rage in the world of small toys, mid sized cars and anything to do with babies, especially faulty playpens, cribs and car seats. This leaves us intellectual proprietors feeling left out.  So we’re recalling this column just because we can and urging you to bring it to your local Wessays™ dealer for a no cost fixup even though its warranty period expires in two days.

--Do you share this view?  Those endless loop videos on Facebook and other sites are making people crazy, causing seizures in some and hypnotic- like trances in others.  Plus how many hundred times can anyone watch the same cat bat the same ball of yarn off the table and into its water bowl and then scooting off at screen right before we want to throw the computer or tablet out the window?

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

1557 Anyone Want More Coffee?

1557 Anyone Want More Coffee?

Sure, thanks. Black, no sugar, no cream. Coffee is the lifeblood of creativity, second only to pure alcohol.

But wait.  There’s more. Coffee is bad for you.  It makes your heart race.  It deprives you of sleep. It raises your cholesterol.  All of this is proven scientific fact, ably demonstrated in a host of peer reviewed studies.

Oh... but wait.  There’s STILL more.  Coffee is good for you. It prolongs life, fights cancer and deflects dementia.  All of this is proven scientific fact, ably demonstrated in a host of peer reviewed studies.

Which peer are you fishing from?

It may be that different kinds or strengths of coffee affect different people in different ways.  There are those of us whose blood pressure doesn’t rise, who don’t have heart attacks, whose cholesterol is normal and who aren’t sleep deprived regardless of when we drink, how much we drink and what we do or don’t put into it.

But there also are those of us who get palpitations just by entering a 7-11 or walking on the Starbucks Side of the Street. If you can find a street where they aren’t on both sides.

Here’s a radical idea:  If coffee affects you badly, don’t drink it.  If you detect benefits, do.

There are some peer reviewed studies that are universal: Whipped cream in your coffee is not a weight loss chemical.  Sugar in your coffee isn’t, either.  But some artificial sweeteners can scramble your brain waves.

If you don’t like the taste of coffee in the raw… here’s that radical idea again: don’t drink it.  No one actually needs caffeine.  Or put something in it that hides the taste but doesn’t scramble your brain waves or make you fatter.

Now that you’ve absorbed this unreviewed point of view, come down on the side of the drinkers and decided “X” cups a day are fine, how do you best make it?

Some basics: light roasts are stronger than medium or dark but don’t taste it. If it’s real, Sumatra is stronger than anything else except certain “breakfast blends.”

Coffee from K-cups and similar give you no control over strength and are really really expensive. Plus they have a kind of plastic-y aftertaste.

French Press and stovetop percolators are great if you have the time. But if you’re a big or impatient drinker, you probably don’t have the time.

For automatic drip makers, those with thermal pots cause fewer fires, but the coffee tastes like the bumper of a 1947 Dodge.  (For those of you who have never tasted 1940s, bumpers, take the word of those who have.)

You don’t need a built-in timer.  You don’t need a clock. The simple, straight-forward plug and play machines give you the most control and the least that can go wrong.  

Few last more than a year, no matter the cost.  Replacing one for 20 bucks is more cost efficient than replacing one for any higher amount.  And when you throw the old one out, you don’t feel like you’re parting with a good friend.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

1556 The Emperor's New Code

1556 The Emperor’s New Code

This post is completely secure. To read it, one needs  knowledge of a radical new secret code.  But, loyal readers, read on, because the key is here.

The code is made up of the first 26 letters of the English alphabet.  The letters are used to form secret words, known only to those who visit this site.  But for the occasional or beginning reader, there is a handbook.

If you don’t understand a particular secret word, you can look it up in the handbook, sometimes called a dictionary.  These code decoders are available only to initiates.  You know who you are and you know where to look.

We are taking this extraordinary step because we have realized that unauthorized persons have had the capacity to read previous posts by simply… reading them.

Our code is unbreakable.  Unlike “https” and Playstation 4.  The terrorists, the identity thieves and “Anonymous” the hacker ensemble know all the high tech tricks to shield their internet and telephone “chatter.”  This system, however, is absolutely foolproof.

It’s a good thing we’re not doers of nefarious deeds because we could wreak havoc anyplace in the galaxy and no one would be the wiser.

Since the attack on Paris, intelligence agencies around the world have let Isis know that its use of non-traditional coding is hard to follow. It’s back to school and budget overruns at the NSA, the CIA, FBI, DIA, Department of Agriculture and the school for scoundrels.

The NSA has started training its operatives in Playstation and Nintendo. There are advanced classes in Fisher-Price “I Can Play Piano” and historical classes in Atari, Amstrad and Saga.

Isis is said to be preparing to create a Morse-like code in transliterated Arabic and teaching Navajo. And there are unconfirmed reports that Isis is training some of Syria’s famous carrier camels to swallow condoms containing messages written in invisible laser toner and inkjet ink.

Here at Wessays™ we have them all fooled. And our system is much easier to use than any other.  At least for some of us.

Grapeshot quotes about Isis and more or less related topics:

-“The only cure for a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.” --The National Radiation Association.

-“I’m on your side.” -- Vladimir Putin.

-“Bomb the oil rigs then send in Exxon… they can fix ‘em overnight.” -- Donald Trump.

-“My brother kept us safe.” -- Jeb Bush.

-“I couldda sworn there were weapons of mass destruction.” -- Jeb’s brother.

-“I volunteer to supervise the elections if they happen soon enough.” -- Jimmy Carter.

-“New York City is completely safe.” -- Brooklyn Mayor Bill de Blasio.

-“It would be safer still if we still had stop and frisk.” -- Former Bronx Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

-“Windows 10 is not part of an Isis plot.” -- Satya Nadella.

-“Is, too.” -- Tim Cook

-“No Syrians in our states! -- The US Governors’ Greek Chorus.

-“Hey, don’t hook those guys up with us, our reputation is bad enough these days.”  -- Greece.

-“What Greece said.” -- Norman Luboff.

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

1555 Covering Paris

1555 Covering Paris

Can we stop being stupid, just for a moment?  Probably, but not for sure.  The “we” is the news community.  It is not beyond hope. But close.

When the attacks happened on a mild autumn evening in Paris, in a soccer stadium where a friendly rivalry was in play, in a concert hall where a band from California was making the noise that passes today for music and in the little cafes and bars that underpin the romantic and poetic myth that is Paris, we the coverers got our collective head out of the trivia that today passes for news.

Suddenly, your TV set and your newspaper forgot about college protesters in Missouri and New Haven. It forgot about Cosby, the Kardashians, the red carpets and the kindergarten for the criminally insane that passes for the current political climate.

In the big newsrooms of New York, Atlanta and Washington, the cry went up “call the Paris Bureau.”  This was immediately followed by the counter-cry “we don’t have one of those anymore.”

So the biggest story in Paris since its liberation in 1944 had to be covered by a patchwork of rusty old timers and greenhorn youngsters and random people with cellphone cameras.

Few reporters now on the scene know what the city smells like. Fewer still can give you walking directions from the Eiffel Tower to the low-rent 18th district or tell you when the garbage is picked up or recognize the sound of a Renault horn.

In fairness, not much happens in Paris that commands the attention of American newsies. But the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo might have warned us to keep an eye on things over there. Especially now that Syrian refugees are streaming into Europe and no doubt at least some of them are not your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Would ISIS use the immigration to hide attackers? Perish the thought.

First reports are almost always wrong.  Figures change. Rumors and facts gather in the same blender.

The news troops on the ground or heading for it can be excused for getting caught in the undertow of error. Temporarily.

So now, some days into the coverage, how are we doing?

The only truly  indispensable news outlets in the country, the Associated Press and the New York Times, covered Paris like sharks on blood. Once they got there.

The NBC ex-pats at CNN and CBS managed, too. CBS was concentrating on its Saturday debate and lagged. Fox filled its airtime with the usual collection of hairdos and short skirts.

Now comes the why. Why Paris? Because when you hate pleasure, there are only two places worthy of attacking in jealousy or envy or self righteousness. And Vegas is too far.


--Watching the Dems debate Saturday night was a money saver for many. It was a brilliant substitute for Sominex and Lunesta.  And certainly not habit forming.

--It had to happen. Ronda Rousey finally lost a professional fight.  You knew she was in trouble when it went on long enough to have a second round. Holly Holm KOed the previously undefeated Rousey and claimed the UFC championship, if only temporarily.

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

1554 What Day is It Again?

1554 What Day is It Again?

It’s Friday the 13th, and a very special day: Black Friday.  But wait.  Isn’t Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving?  


So does that mean we’ve already had Thanksgiving and some of us slept through it? Missed all the fun of family fights?  Burning a turkey or serving it raw? Hiding the uneaten cranberry sauce amid bones on the plate?  Secretly feeding the dog from the table? (They always know who to ask first.) Falling asleep in the least comfortable chair in the living room? Getting reamed after everyone’s gone for “being nasty to Uncle Ed?” while you’re cleaning up?


So, what’s with Black Friday?  Why, the usual manifest destiny that happens to almost all events.  Black Friday sales have been going on for awhile now, including on days that aren’t even a Friday.

Early starts and expanded sales are not a good sign.  Well, maybe for you, but not for the retailers.

Macy’s, almost everyone’s favorite Christmastime store, says it has a lot of merchandise on hand; stuff that didn’t sell over the summer and fall.

Wal-mart worries aloud about sales and is beefing up its loss leaders… those items it sells at a loss to get people in the doors.  And they’re considering something that has never occurred to any of its company higher-ups, ever:  getting the checkout done in less that forever.  (If they come up with a way now, why didn’t they do it 20 years ago?)

Retail stocks are taking a hit.  That means investment computers “think” sales will be flat or perhaps even (shudder) down this holiday season even if floor traffic is up.  

And as everyone knows with sales-per-square-foot only big increases count.

But it’s not just the in-person retailers that appear to be panicking.  It’s the catalogers, shopping channels and internet sites, too.

Catalogs are almost quaint these days.  But you’ll still get plenty, often from companies that you never heard of, but who’ve rented your name address from someone you once patronized even if it was back in the 1980s.

Fruit vendors, geegaw vendors, clothing companies.  You name it… the catalogs will be in your mailbox.  And your email box will get regular updates from every retailer on the planet, most of which you’ll zap without reading.

Desperation.  Fear of a figure lower than last year.  Extra “rewards” and deep price cutting.  We’re not sheep.  We’re fish.  We take the bait even if we know  it’s just a hook covered by a flashy feather.

So happy Black Friday.  Hope you enjoyed the Thanksgiving meal.


--In Page, Arizona, on the shores of drying Lake Powell, a big truck got into an accident and spilled most of its cargo on the road. Almost 40-thousand pounds of pizza dough.  Residents from miles around flocked to the wreck carrying jars of sauce, slices of cheese, bags of pepperoni, mushrooms and anchovies and argued about the recipe as the Arizona sun baked the pie.   

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

1553 Hummm

1553 Hummm

Hum?  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  Hard to miss these days.  Hum is a jolly new service that turns your car into a high tech wonder.

It’s a little thingy that plugs into your under-hood computer and warns you if anything is going wrong.  It alerts you to a small problem before it becomes big.

So far, so good, right?

Okay, here comes equal (or greater) time.

The daddy company of is Verizon.  That should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up all by itself.  In case it doesn’t, let’s look a little closer.

Here’s what Verizon says about Hum on its website:

hum gives you vehicle diagnostics, better roadside assistance and other helpful features with a single subscription. It makes your car smarter, safer and more connected.

Ducky.  Now, how does it do this?  By doing what VZ does best, collect data.  What does it do with the data once it’s collected?  Why stores it in the cloud, of course.  

But what can it do with the stats your engine puts out?  Not a whole lot.  It can gather metadata on what goes wrong with which cars.  Helpful to buyers if anyone cares to publish the figures.

It can offer your numbers and codes to your mechanic/technician. Helpful to owners who want to get their cars fixed before they break.

But wait, there’s more. Hum also is a GPS. Helpful if your car is stolen and the thief isn’t aware the system is running and disables it with the oh so tough deactivation process:  pulling out the plug.

But now, Verizon will know where you are whenever you drive. So, how about a fast look at their privacy statement:

Verizon is Committed to Protecting Your Privacy

Protecting our customers' privacy is an important priority at Verizon and we are committed to maintaining strong and meaningful privacy protections. The privacy of your information is a significant responsibility and we value the trust you place in us.
Of course! How silly of us to question VZ’s good will and good intentions. The privacy statement goes on encyclopedically in its detail.  But the essence of it “We won’t give your info away unless we have to and you can opt out of some of our marketing nonsense if you can find where on our many websites we hide the little boxes you have to check or uncheck.  
Privacy, of course, is vestigial these days, so what do you care, right?  Your cell phone tracks you. So does your EZ Pass.  And the chip the NSA planted in your head if you were born after 1990 covers the waterfront pretty well, too.

Hum costs 15 bucks a month. For now.  Here’s another piece of fine print from the website:

Limited-time offer for new hum subscribers. First month free with a two year subscription. $14.99 for the first car and $12.99 for each additional car, up to 3, per month thereafter. Other fees, taxes, equip. charges & terms may apply. Up to a $120 early cancellation fee may apply. Cancel the service at any time with no early cancellation fee; provided you return the hum equipment within 30 days of cancellation. Pinpoint roadside assistance provided by Signature Motor Club, Inc., up to 4 events per year. Many services require GPS service and/or network availability, not available in all locations. Not all incidents or problems will be detected. Compatible vehicle model restrictions apply. Automotive discount services not available to residents of AR, CA, DE, MT, NE, NV, NM, OK, SC, TN, VA, WI, and WY. © 2015 Verizon.

Emphasis ours.  We especially liked the part that says there’s no cancellation fee unless there is.

-We salute the men and women of the armed forces, past present and future on this Veterans Day 2015.

-And we remember with sadness the deaths of 29 men on the great ship Edmund Fitzgerald, eaten alive by the waters of Lake Superior 40 years ago yesterday.

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 ...