Monday, October 30, 2017

1864 The Case for "Their"

Ok, grammar commissars, put a new sheet of paper in your Royal Portable and make sure you have enough carbon paper.  This one is going to provoke a torrent of hate mail.  And what better than an antiquated machine to write it on. Or with which to write it.

It’s time to consider an amendment to the Grammar Constitution. It would make life easier for anyone who has to write anything about a group of three or more in which not everyone is male.

Convention dictates that we use “he” or “his” when referring to a mixed group.  “Each steamfitter must bring his own wrench to work.” But these days, ask Ms. B of the west coast whether every steamfitter is a “he.”  (Hint, she’s one and be warned: don’t mess with her.)

In an age where there are people who identify as men, women, fluid-gender, transgender, gender curious, gender experimenter, and countless variations of gay, bi or lesbian we need to reflect on the way people self label.

Most workarounds thus far are awkward. “S/he is sure to get a summons for running the red light.” This is an academic-created band aid.  It looks awkward on paper and it’s impossible to make yourself clear by pronouncing it anything but “she,” and that’s misleading.  

For awhile, professors of prissiness and high school and middle school English teachers wanted it pronounced “sss-he.”  But that sounds like a snake about to sink his or her fangs into the speaker.

Slightly less annoying but wordy enough to break the flow of any sentence is “he or she.”  “He or she is sure to get a summons…”

So as we build toward the climactic case for “their” we can say “If you speed, you’ll get a ticket.”

How about “every steamfitter should bring their own wrench?”  We do it in polite conversation. We do it when talking about couples: “A couple of old sailors own the boat. They bought it…”  “The happy couple’s  honeymooning in Bermuda.  They’ll be staying at …”

Technically, a couple is an “it,” a collective singular.  But who would say “The happy couple is honeymooning in South Bend, Indiana. It got on a flight this morning?”

The pacesetter of US grammar outside the classroom, the Associated Press Stylebook, recently declared “we don’t use masculine pronouns as the default.”

Is this just political correctness run amok?  No. It’s a matter of adjusting the language to circumstances.  This space has long opposed modern “descriptive” dictionaries.  Prescriptive -- if you can find one -- still rules the language, or should.  

But language does evolve and once Miss Grundy gets over this part of evolution and becomes Ms. Grundy, English teachers across the land will likely stick to their he-man ways or risk being branded a traitoress.

English English on which our language allegedly is based has long gotten around this.  And if those Veddy Proper Brits can do it, so can we.

“British Airways are buying 10 short haul planes from Cessna.”  They really aren’t. But if they were, that’s how they’d announce it.  “The couple are honeymooning in Scotland.”

Yes, it are.

“Brexit was the stupidest thing ever.  But we trumped em.” --Mike Bloomberg.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, October 27, 2017

1863 Fats

(AP Wirephoto 1956)
What is there about this man that so ingrained him in our minds, hearts and ears for six decades?  Fats Domino. Pounding piano. Big band.  Doghouse bass fiddle.

Happy or sad there was mirth in his baritone; power in his piano.  There was a sameness to each of the songs that were unmistakably his whether a pop standard or an original composition.  It didn’t matter whether he was “walking, yes indeed ...walking” or harvesting on “Blueberry Hill.”

It was that sameness we wanted, we reveled in, we applauded and cheered.

Fats burst onto the national scene at what should have been the absolute wrong time, the mid 1950s when New Orleans jazz piano was fading from memory and rock n roll was just getting started.

But it turned out to be the absolute right time.  He wasn’t a clone of Fats Waller. But he wasn’t a clone of the Doowop Brothers or the “Comets” either.  He was just Fats.  Most of us up north had never heard anything like him and couldn’t wait to start saving for the next record the day we bought the current one (for less than a buck, by the way.)

He said his height (5’ 5”) was the same size as his width. True?  Who knows?

In 2015 he was performing the same songs he performed in 1955.  Oh, sure, there were new ones, new ones that sold copies in the millions and millions.

And as was the habit in the early days, there were covers by white guys, copies.  When Pat Boone recorded “Ain’t It a Shame” Fats ignored him.  But by the time Ricky Nelson covered “I’m Walkin’” Fats embraced it, performed it live with Nelson.  Never a bad word between the two.  And there was the Blueberry Hill duet with Elvis.

(The registered title of the song is “Ain’t It a Shame,” even though Fats always sang it “Ain’t That a Shame.”)

While he hadn’t a new hit in decades, his draw as a performer never waned.  You booked Fats, you got a full house.  A full house of happy concert goers. And you understood every word despite the molasses- thick NOLA drawl.  Unlike most of today’s “music.”

He got into the news rarely, though. The biggest story about him recently was the drowning of his favorite piano during Hurricane Katrina. Sad. But not fatal. He escaped and reminded us he never went Hollywood or Nashville. Home was home.  We loved that about him too.

It isn’t surprising when a man of 89 passes away. But it’s shocking. Probably, it shouldn’t be. 89 is a long time even by today’s extended standard.  But news of his passing put a hole in more hearts than we could imagine.

As a kid, he delivered ice to homes with ice boxes. As an adult he delivered excitement and warmth to all of America.

OK, enough. What would Fats want us to do?  Let’s party!


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1862 Tales of One City

1862 Tales of One City

NEW YORK -- Strange things are happening.  Here are three examples.

Starting in September, the cafeterias in New York City public schools will observe “meatless Mondays.” This is the latest Big Idea from Mayor Bill de Blastoff struggling mightily for something to talk about as he seeks reelection as a Democrat in the most heavily Democratic Party major city in the country. His chances are iffy which isn’t hard to believe.

Appealing to the vegetarian crowd would better be served by offering meat alternatives five days a week. Also: Ask any school kid about cafeteria food.  Yes, for many, their best meal or meals of the day will be what they eat at a school breakfast or lunch.  But most of what’s offered can be described only as Virtual Food.

If you ran a restaurant serving clones of these meals you’d be out of business in two weeks. Maybe less.  But there’s little chance of one opening.  Unless some bright entrepreneur finds financing from someone who didn’t attend school here.

New Yorkers yuck it up when we hear that New Orleans sits below sea level. We ask what cement head would build a city that’s guaranteed to flood?

But New York is a city by the sea.  And even though we all know that global warming is a myth promoted by scientists who were bullied as children and trying now to bully back, New York is at risk.

The ice cap is melting.  Not all the way. At least not yet. And even though we know your car and your barbecue and your coal fired power plant are not at fault, the ocean is likely to rise.

The temperatures over the medium term are expected to rise by up to six degrees.  Six degrees? Why that’s nothing.  You can’t feel the difference between 86 and the mid 90s.  You can’t feel the difference between 25 and 19 degrees. Right?

Oh yeah?

So those seditious science phonies say instead of a catastrophic flood every 500 years we’re likely to see the interval reduced to five.

It’s a conspiracy. The building trades and the MTA are conspiring to get more money, tax breaks, etc.  You think that’s going to work? Of course not. It’s all about the corporate government complex trying to scam you into stricter construction laws and the city looking for revenue, legal or fuzzy.

The city is finally admitting the failure of the MetroCard, the quirky, fragile easily lost slip of plastic that replaced subway tokens which had replaced actual money.  The MTA is experimenting and running trials that require either debit or credit cards with chips and smartphones with Apple or Android pay apps.

America laughed as Hillary Clinton tried to use a MetroCard to get through a turnstile during the 2016 presidential campaign.  But to paraphrase her husband, we felt her pain.

The transit authority has had since 1992 to get this stupid thing to work right.  It got to the point that City College offered free courses in how to use the thing. Private health clubs gave courses in exercises to develop right arm dexterity sufficient to get that swipe motion right the first time.  

No known MetroCard user has had 100% success because the company that built the computers that run the system is the same one that builds video slot machines.  The house always wins.

Anyone believe the replacement system is going to be any better? If so, we’ll buy you Monday lunch at  the PS 150 cafeteria.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, October 23, 2017

1861 The Printer's Lament

The people who put out printed newspapers and magazines are in trouble and that’s no secret. The conventional wisdom is no one’s found a way to make up lost sales via internet subscriptions and advertising.

As is often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong.  But there’s a catch.

The catch is if they want subscribers, they have to offer superior content.  If they want to offer superior content, they have to hire enough of the right people to do the job and only enough dummies to satisfy the owning family or company’s feeling of proprietorship and superiority.

They need a squad of useless people and people they can push around to make themselves feel meaningful and in control.

Most papers and magazines have that dummies part down pat. It’s the other part that seems to stump them.

But now there are a few templates they can follow.

The Washington Post and the Boston Globe have gone private.  The Globe is a fine regional paper. The Post is fast resuming its stature as a fine national paper.

The secret they share?  Owners who don’t need the money and will spend their way to profitability. The New York Times has been private for more than 100 years, even though they’re technically a public company with stockholders.

New York Times stock is meaningless and pretty much powerless except for the subclass held by the ruling Sulzberger family.

The Dogpatch Gazette can’t compete on that level, but it can compete.


The Boston Globe went after the Church of Rome and uncovered the boy-priest scandal.  The editor at the time has since moved to the Post and now has set its sights on the Jamaica Estates Crime Family.  And people in Dogpatch are starting to notice.

None of these papers gives it away.  They don’t have to.  They’re filled with stuff people want to read and who DO read.  

It’s fine to cover the Dogpatch Kiwanis and the top athletes of the week.  It’s fine to write about new restaurants opening even if no one bothers to review them.

But there’s always something going on in government that warrants public attention but the first position to be eliminated usually is the investigative reporter.  

Juicy stuff doesn’t have to be sensationalized.  It just has to be juicy.  Like the district attorney who is sleeping around and communicating ex parte with sitting judges while they’re on the bench.  

Someone somewhere in your town likely is on the take for something.  It’s a strong probability because it happens all over.  The tricks are knowing who’s taking what and then proving it.

There’s dirty money in politics everywhere.  Follow it. (Neither Woodward nor Bernstein ever said “follow the money” and neither did “deep throat” but they put it in the movie and everyone thinks it’s fact.)

So follow it.  It always leads to someone who doesn’t want you to know about it. Always.

Transportation is big news everywhere but there are few reporters dedicated to the problems and projects.

Land development almost always comes with a component of exchanged value.  Don’t think it doesn’t happen in your town. It does.

Health departments, consumer affairs departments, federal and state agencies that operate locally all are great sources.  But you have to look.  And you have to verify.

Let’s hear it for Deep Throat and Deep Pockets, Deep Thoughts and let’s work our way out of deep despair.

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The latest scores from Dogpatch U sports.  All the ham pot pie dinners … rescued cats and on Wednesday, the Sermon Roundup, the best of last Sunday from each of our 53 churches.

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I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, October 20, 2017

1860 Holden Says "Later, Mate."

1860 Holden Says “Later, Mate”

Who is saying goodbye in colloquial Australian?  Well, not who, but what.

By the time you see this, Australia’s last home grown car will have rolled off the production line in Adelaide.  It is the last car factory in the land of Kangaroos and Wallabies and Waltzing Matilda.

Holden is a subsidiary of General Motors. It produces Chevy- like cars with tougher bones and a prettier face.  You’ll rarely see one on an American road, and if you do, you’ll think “hey, they put the steering wheel on the wrong side.”

Australia drives on the left, something that they held over from the era of British rule.

Australians tend to overlook that GM thing.  The car was born in the same factory in which it died.  At one time, half the cars in Australia were Holdens.  Having one was a matter of national pride.

Now, in a world of global trade and shrinking tradesmen, Australia will have to rely on imports and they’re not liking it.

Ford had a factory there for more than 90 years.  Toyota put down roots more recently. Both gone.

Currency values, relaxed trade and so forth have a lot to do with the plant closings.  It’s complicated. Too complicated for a simple explanation here.  The bottom line:  not enough in the bottom line. It’s cheaper to import and relabel.  

And the horror show of politics also stains the decision.  Lefties say additional subsidies would have allowed production to continue.  Righties say they’ve put plenty into the company already.

Here in the US, we’re used to subsidizing.  Most recently, GM and Chrysler got a heap of government help.  But our car building dwarfs Australia’s and the ripple effect here would have been economically catastrophic had there not been what conservatives call a “bailout.”  

The bottom line also is the loss of 900 high paying jobs at the Adelaide factory.  There will be new “Holdens.”  They’ll be made in Germany.  They will be decent cars.  But it’s just not the same.

SHRAPNEL (personal injury lawyer edition):
--Eventually all the personal injury lawyers will win all the injury lawsuits.  Then what?  New law firms will appear to help you take your personal injury lawyers to court for inadequate settlements.

--Those lawyers all advertise you don’t have to pay unless you win.  Some put it a little more lawyerly by saying “no fee” unless you win.  You have to wonder if that means you have to pay expenses like their phone calls and making photocopies and the parking meters at the Courthouse Bar and Grill.

--A local personal injury lawyer does his own commercials, never a brilliant idea.  But where he used to be photographed standing, he now more often sits.  Do you suppose he’s been in an accident?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

1859 Mind Games

1859 Mind Games

This is not the same as head games.  Mind games.  That's when you do stuff with your brain so it doesn't atrophy and make you into a prematurely demented codger. 

There's been an awful lot written lately about how you can stave off stuff that's probably mostly genetic.  And the boomers and the pre-boomers are all convinced that the key to life is to keep forever young. 

Those of us in a certain (undesirable) demographic have become totally obsessed with making sure our brains, such as there are of them, don't short out and shut down.  It's a nice idea, if a bit obsessive. 

But a whole industry has arisen over this, and there's an irony to it.  We older folk are largely ignored by the world of commerce.  Not entirely a bad thing.  I like being invisible in an auto showroom, an appliance or furniture store or at a real estate open house.  I don't like having become a target of the video game industry, which is over us like pigeons on a park bench these days, to get us to buy brain enhancing toys. 

You guys couldn't give us the time of day a couple of years ago.  Now, you've learned to play on our fears and sell us expensive game consoles and even more expensive games that have us clicking away like a couple of 14 year old boys killing spacemen or aliens or "enemy" soldiers on video screens.

Crossword puzzles, writing thrice weekly blog entries, and just plain ole' thinking would do the trick.  But no, you have to try to sell us fancy "scientifically proven" junk to "improve" our coordination and mental agility.

Well, I'm going to bust your bubble.  Most of us already have an expensive video game that will do just fine in keeping the brain in shape.  We don't have to buy it because it's already on the computer.  Computer solitaire.

If you go after it like dog vs. bone, you can do as much mental calisthenics as you would by playing Senior Brainiac or any of the other expensive stuff.

You think it's simple?  Just flip cards and take a chance?  Not so.  Computer solitaire is not just chance, though chance plays a part.  It takes planning, strategy and thought.  And it takes speed.  The little numbers in the upper right hand corner show you elapsed time and actual score.  Speed counts.

You have to figure things out.  Like if you have a black king on the board and another black one comes up -- skip it in favor of a red king, if you have one.  That sort of thing.  You have to move face-up cards around a bit sometimes, and since the computer won't stop you from shifting the three of clubs from beneath the four of hearts to the four of diamonds, it's "legal."  You have to be thinking.

And you have to be working a strategy.  This is as good for you brain (and your increasingly arthritic fingers) as anything the Wii (is that pronounced "wee," or is it "why?") people or the Game Boy people can throw at you.

Another thing they tell you about keeping your brain fit is that you should play a musical instrument.  If you have one, dust it off.  If you have to buy one, here are a couple of suggestions.

If you want to annoy your family and neighbors, Wal-Mart sells a clarinet for under $200.  That may seem a little expensive, but in the world of woodwinds, that's dirt cheap.  Plus, a clarinet learning experience is sure to drive your neighbors nuts.
Especially the ones who play hip hop music until three every morning.  If you’re older, chances are you try to sleep early and you have to rise early.  There's nothing like the squeak of beginning-clarinet at eight or nine in the morning to get those kids riled up. 

(Don't worry about the gang attack.  These guys dress like cartoons and act tough so you won't notice they dress like cartoons, and the toughness is all surface.)

If you like your neighbors, get a solid body guitar and no amplifier.  You can play at any hour of the day or night and no one can hear it but you.

And you can join the "Y" or some other health club to keep the blood flowing.  That, too, is supposed to enhance brain function.  Plus there's a lot of good scenery to view while you're on the treadmill or the stationary bike pretending to read back issues of "Better Homes and Gardens" or "Palates Quarterly."

I'm Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.® 
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Monday, October 16, 2017

1858 Downfall of The Creep

The Award for Lifetime Sexual Predation goes to

And you thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was getting more diverse. If they kick out all their sex addicts, there may be no one left except Cheryl Boone Isaacs and three old white guys.

The creep in the picture above has won 81 of the statues pictured above him.  Eighty one.  Didn’t people know what he was before his expulsion from the Academy?  

Digression:  It’s almost impossible to get drummed out of the academy once you’re elected to membership.  Shysters and shylocks, drunks, drug addicts, drug distributors and other ne'er do wells have long retained membership.

But they throw The Creep out just for … well… just for imposing himself on unwilling females (as far as we know, females.)   The question is why do something like that if you can get your hands and other body parts on perfectly willing substitutes at any time of any day or night… possibly except Oscar Night and maybe even then.

All of what’s written here so far will not withstand the view that this isn’t about sex, it’s about power.

The question then is what causes submission?  The desire to get someplace in what may be the cruelest and least forgiving industry?  More to the point, what kind of power can a disgusting overweight un-sexy blob of a man get by forced conquest?

But the question remains: If everyone “knew all this” why did it take until now for it to come out?  Part of the reason: without careful and verifiable vetting of the accused, the story could be seen as “fake news.” And believe it or not, those of us in the news trade hate to be wrong or even worse, wronging someone else.

So NBC had the story first and got cold feet. It was up to the NY Times and New Yorker Magazine to tell the tale in all its smarmy smarminess.

You can bet The Creep wasn’t the first and isn’t the only Hollywood mogul to expose himself or demand massages or (and here’s the only iffy part of this story) rape someone.  You can document this kind of thing going back to the earliest days of the industry.  And other industries.   Like hedge funds, medical practices, private carting, policing and firefighting, airlines and other mass transit systems, publishing, academics and public officialdom.

If “everyone” knew about all this, why did it take an “emergency meeting” of the Academy’s board to throw the bum out?  It could just as easily have happened at a regular session under the category of “new business.”  Or maybe even old business.
And keep politics out of this. This guy was a Big Democrat.  But with little or no effort you probably think of a Big Republican with similar habits. (Hint: prematurely orange.)

What The Creep should have done is borrowed an Eliot Spitzerish little black address book, not an Anthony Weinerish contacts list.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, October 13, 2017

1857 Breaking Organized Crime's Glass Ceiling

Francy’s not her real name.  But she hides behind it because she’s the only known woman loan shark in town.  She calls herself a financial adviser.  But the best advice she can give a client is “try out those new Kevlar knee pads.”

Thus, she tries to protect her customers from the collection agents she hires when a borrower gets a little underwater with his payments. That way, when her collection representatives take a Louisville Slugger to a guy’s knees, he can get the daylights scared out of him, but without permanent damage.

“I broke the glass ceiling when (redacted)  put me on the street.  But as a woman, filled with maternal instinct I want to protect my guys.  To a point.”

What is the point?

“Well, it’s hard to pinpoint.  But sometimes a lazy borrower can go so far that we have to take stronger action. I don’t like it.  But…” she trails off.

Francy is a leading expert in the field of people with bad credit.  “We don’t do I.D. theft,” she says, “our customers don’t usually have much of a credit rating.”

Time was she could hack some welcher’s account and drain it.  But these days, it just doesn’t pay.  

Francy doesn’t look like a computer nerd and in fact she’s not.  “My oldest kid is 13,” she says.  He’s training my six year old daughter. They do the hacking.:

Kids go to juvie, not to the Big House.  Easier on the family.  

In the old days, a woman like Francy would train her kids to shoplift.  But this is the 21st century, after all. And there are spy cams everywhere.  It’s not easy to get out of Bloomingdale’s with a decent haul nowadays.

“We’re trying to make a deal with the Russians” she says.  “They have these neat poisons and you can sidle up to a deadbeat, and he dies like Stalin of a brain hemorrhage” and your average coroner can’t find any trace of the poison.  We don’t want to hurt them, we just want them dead,” she adds.

There aren’t enough free agent Russians with poisoned umbrella tips available these days.  Most of them are finding easier work for public officials in Washington and on Fifth Avenue.

“So sometimes we have to resort to old fashioned methods.  You know, like choke holds or kneecapping. We know everyone with the Kevlar knee pads because they bought ‘em from us.  So now you need three guys for the job: two to hold the client and one to unwrap his knees.”

Francy loves the idea that someone hacked the credit bureau. It drives customers to her corner of the local Starbucks where she holds forth most mornings from about seven o’clock until the lunch rush.  After that, there are too many potential witnesses.

But that’s one of the few bright spots in her trade these days.

She points out:
-Even though payday loans are illegal in many states, there are still plenty of active lenders and their labor costs are pretty low because they don’t have enforcers.

-There’s unfair competition from the banks which charge interest only slightly lower than hers and which operate legally.

-There’s unfair competition from the credit card companies most of which have lower rates, smaller payments and legal status.

-In hurricane ravaged areas of the south and the Caribbean, the government is likely to supply low cost financing to people it might ordinarily abandon to die. Well, maybe not in the Caribbean.

-Bail rates are going up.

Francy says today’s marketplace reminds her of Oscar Brand’s song “Pity the Downtrodden Landlord.” She writes:

Pity the downtrodden loanshark
Whose burdens are many and big.
Don’t ask for more time
That would be a crime.
And don’t be behind with the vig.

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