Friday, August 31, 2018

1990 Take the Law into Your Own Hands

You don’t need a map to know where this road goes.

Our title today sounds like a call to action and that’s exactly what it is.  Take the law into your own hands -- it’s the only defense left against an anti-American president, an anti-American Congress and an anti-American supreme court.

This is not as much a call to vote against trump, as it’s a call to vote for America. To save America from a reality show president and the sycophants who play along out of either fear or stupidity.

Take the law into your own hands because you are the final judge of what should be legal.  Do it by voting the bums out in November and then keeping the pilot light on until 2020 and keep up the good work.

Take the law into your own hands by voting even if you don’t like the opposition candidates.  Do it at every level you can from city or county government to the state legislature, the governor and both houses of Congress.

If you don’t, you’re going to get more of what we have now.  And what we have now is a death march along the road to hell.

We have doctrinaire purists of every stripe and they’re all wrong.  Some are on the left, those who want to turn the US into Denmark.  That can’t happen here.  Well, let’s put it another way: that’s unlikely to happen here.

And then we have those of the right.  Some want everyone to become Christian.  Nothing wrong with that choice if it’s what you want.  But many of today’s Christians would find Christ’s message too goodygoody. The treat Christ like a spiritual ATM machine and babysitter.

Others don’t care about religion, only about money. They want all of it.  They have never thought through the single most important words of Henry Ford, the greedy, anti-Semitic and Hitler-loving former king of the auto industry when he raised workers’ salaries to $5 a day because otherwise “Who will buy my cars?”

A living wage, the right to organize, health insurance and government are all evils that today’s super-rich  -- with few exceptions -- want to eradicate.

The government won’t help you, it’s too busy navel-gazing and largely beholden to the right wing.  Your city council or state or congressional representative won’t help you.  These people are too busy doing their real job, running for the next term.

The supreme court won’t help you. They hand down strange decisions … like “citizens united” and strange interpretations of the first, second and fourth amendments.

The president won’t help you… he’s too busy doing his real job, running a group of shady companies, paying off hookers and porn stars to keep silent, destroying education, courting enemies, alienating allies, telling lies and tweeting.

Here’s what won’t work:

Either or both of these will set up a storm that made the Oklahoma dust bowl look like a breezy day at the beach.

But please remember what we’re trying to do here.  Replacing a budding dictatorship and carnival with the normal rough and tumble of politics, not promote any one party or candidate.

So what’s left?

Take the law into your own hands.  It’s the only way to get the country back off that road to hell.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

1989 Lenny the Ax

Leonard Bernstein turned 100 last Saturday.  Did you remember to send a card?  Of course not. He’s been dead for 28 years.  Some think it was earlier because although he was still walking around right up until mid October, 1990, though that might have been postmortem spasms like Mike the headless chicken.

Bernstein the cultural icon, the Grrreat Conductor, piano player, composer, educator etc, etc!  It took decades for the New York Philharmonic to recover from his chaotic and dissonant style.  Decades, and the materializing at Lincoln Center of an East German, Kurt Masur, who was used to conducting bands with twice the population of the New York band.

Once Masur righted the ship, he was shipped back to Leipzig. The patrons loved him.  Orchestra management did not. 

Bernstein was lauded by the ever-shrinking pool of big money classical music fans.  He was better doing his comedy act at Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village as a young man than he was waving his stick in hysterical and unreadable patterns, a swoon on his face, before 105 members of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 802.

Critics called Bernstein the “greatest interpreter of Mahler.” What?  Mahler needs no interpretation. His music speaks for itself.

Bernstein wrote the music that turned a decent story into the worst Broadway musical of modern times, “West Side Story.”  Dissonance where harmony was needed. That was Lenny.

And he’s the guy for whom the term “Limousine Liberal” was created.  It’s hard to be seen as a champion of the worker or oppressed minority from the back of a 21-foot-long Chrysler Imperial from a time when that company still knew how to make a car.

A famous party in his Park Avenue duplex, with members of the Panthers among the guests, remains immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s 1970 marathon article in New York Magazine.

But his politics didn’t really matter and the other guests, musical hotshots and society couples all thought the party was cute.

When you’re a big star, there’s no reason you can’t party with whom you please.  And if you’re a big star there’s no reason you can’t ride in more than 20 feet of tin,even if you don’t need the room. Music is another matter.

It wasn’t as well received as the publicists would have you believe.  And it’s still not being well received.  Here’s what the New York Times’ Zachary Woolfe said recently of a new performance of Bernstein’s “Mass”

“... after revisiting this two-hour extravaganza ... when it was presented by Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, I think that if it’s not his worst, it surely reflects his worst tendencies: his allergy to self-editing, his saccharine streak, his embarrassing wordplay, his obsession with (and tone-deafness toward) youth culture, his weak counterfeits of pop styles.”

(Note, Zachary Woolfe and Tom Wolfe are not related.)

Lenny the Ax did all he could to chop down the tallest trees in the musical forest. He failed. And we are all the better for it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Monday, August 27, 2018

1988 What Was it About John McCain?

What was it about John McCain that made him stick in our hearts and minds?  That’s a tough question to answer.  Here’s an attempt.  Character.

Let’s first get the war hero thing out of the way.  Yes, he was a war hero, even though ‘Nam technically was not a war.  But he wasn’t a war hero because he was taken prisoner and tortured.  Unimaginably unbearable as that suffering might have been, he is a war hero for an entirely different reason.

As an officer, he would not accept an offer of early freedom while his men remained behind.  That’s what a POW officer is supposed to do.  And that’s what he did.  He wasn’t the only officer to follow that path, just the best-known.  And because he did as he should, he truly IS a hero.

He was kind of a loose cannon at Annapolis and that left him near the bottom of his graduating class and kept him as a captain when his father and grandfather each were admirals.  (A Navy captain is equivalent to colonel in the other branches of the service.)

But he knew how to launch a Skyhawk from an aircraft carrier. And he knew what to do when the North Vietnamese shot it down.

Then there’s the “maverick” thing.  He was no maverick, he was just an ordinary Republican. He favored small government and low taxes.  But he also favored social programs that worked, rejected those that didn’t and was willing to work with those both more conservative and those who were Democrats. He understood “nation of laws not nation of men.”

At the time he started in politics, that was a normal Republican.  It no longer is.

While he clung to life as a POW, he had a political death wish.  It took the form of Sarah Palin, a political nothing with a cartoon brain, cartoon values and no possibility of getting elected.

McCain/Palin didn’t stand a chance against Obama/Biden. Probably no one did.

As a Republican candidate for president, in an era when the Republican Party had already begun its march into the cesspool, McCain found himself defending his opponent.  Can you imagine that happening today?

Two well known examples: One where he deflected someone who dissed Obama. McCain stood up for his opponent’s … character.

The other was when some ditzy old bat got up at a town hall meeting in Nowhere, Minnesota, and said she couldn’t trust Obama because “...he is an Arab.”

Now, in death, they’re all hitching their wagons to McCain’s star as they did with Ted Kennedy who died of the same kind of cancer nine years ago.  

Everyone loved Teddy at the end.  Everyone loves McCain today.  Even those who would hide their watches when either man asked for the time.

At the end of his career in the Senate, McCain took on trump and the trumpets.  He remained mostly civil in his criticism in public.  But he didn’t want trump to attend his funeral.  Here’s hoping that wish comes true. It’s not much to ask.  But he certainly earned it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday:  A birthday bash for Leonard Bernstein. A bash. Really.
© WJR 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

1987 Baby Pictures

What parent doesn’t love to show off pictures of the newborns, the oldborns and at every stage of life in between? It’s a time-honored tradition that predates the Kodak Brownie.

And it’s wonderful to see the children of friends and family on Facebook or in emails and sometimes even with the actual kid sitting on your lap.

But sometimes, the urge to show off becomes unsettling.  Especially when the “baby” causes trouble beyond the boundaries of immediate family.

Which brings us to the president, a man parented by the media which now cannot resist showing him off. Daily. Hourly.  Sometimes by the minute.

And we’ve been doing it since his birth, first as New Yorkers, then as golf enthusiasts and travelers, then as television watchers and now as president.

“Donald’s vocabulary has been increasing lately. Here’s a video of some of his new words.  And notice that he’s speaking an actual complete sentence.”
Here’s where the proud parents play the tape of him saying “Lock her up! Lock her up!”  Isn’t he cuuuute?

And look here… it’s dondon with his first girlfriend. (Show Ivana in a maternity dress.)

We’re proud of our offspring even though we spawned a monster.  

Can’t wait to show you some new pictures.  Here’s one… it’s a mugshot. Isn’t he just so darling!

Yes, yes, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we even repeat them.  But he’s trying to turn his life around and we’re trying to help him by putting his face in your face a million times a week.

He told the judge, reading from a cue card “I’m not a bad person, your honor.”  That would have been fine if he had just stopped there.  But you know baby Dondon.  Then he added “and just because some losers and whiners on a jury think I am doesn’t make it so.”

Poor baby.  Maybe he has some condition that makes him blurt out weird stuff that eventually hits him in the nose.  Or maybe they shouldn’t have allowed cameras in the courtroom.

--trump backer and congressman Duncan “Dippin’” Hunter (R-CA) is free on 15-thousand dollars bond after pleading not guilty to federal charges of using campaign money for personal expenses.  Outside the courtroom, people gathered to shame him.  All we want to know is where the bail money came from.

--trump friend and appropriately named tabloid “news”paper exec David Pecker has been given immunity in the Pecker Presidential Payoff case. That looks like a story fit for the front page of his National Enquirer.  Know any safecrackers?

--Rebellious Jeff Sessions bit former friend trump by denying allegations he hasn’t taken control of the Justice Department as Attorneys General are supposed to. Along with that chunk of mud, trump said he never would have nominated Sessions if he knew Jeffy would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. That’s probably the first piece of truth out of the president’s mouth this week… if not this year.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

1986 Charles W. Gruffly Speaks

Charles W. Gruffly retired as Executive Editor of the Gotham City Gazette in 2015. Gruffly spent his entire career at the GCG, starting as a copy boy in 1973 and working his way up in the ranks. While he spent his working life in the newspaper business, he was a psychology major as an undergraduate student at Bard College in Red Hook, New York.

We interviewed Mr. Gruffly at lunch at the Tavern Restaurant in State College, Pennsylvania where he was visiting to lecture on his new book, “Psychotherapy is a Load of Crap,” published by Random House and scheduled for release in mid-September:

Wessays: Charles, what possessed you to write a book with a title like that?

CWG: I have been thinking about it for years. As a student at America’s second greatest quirky college I learned all about psychologists from Freud to Skinner and beyond.  And as an observer, reporter and editor, I’ve noticed that most screwed-up people remain screwed up after therapy which is both expensive and time consuming.  And it’s conducted by people who tend to be more screwed up than their patients or clients.

W: You met a lot of people in your decades at the paper…

C: Yes and many of them were the victims of therapists and social workers and gurus and swamis and were no better off after the end of the treatment and sometimes worse.

W: In your book, you recommend an alternative for those who realize their lives are emotional kaleidoscopes or mine fields and it’s not going to sit well with the League of Shrinks.

C: Correct. But to hell with those money grubbing nutjobs.  

W: What do you suggest for people who are more or less nuts?

C: I’m glad you asked.  What I suggest is that people who are more or less nuts, hire a Life Editor.  This is not for people who are certified as completely insane by credentialed therapists who graduated from non-quirky med schools. It’s not for people who are striving to “get well” after a lifetime of drug addiction or abuse. It’s for people who want to get on with life and have no desire or patience for anything short of a cure. This is the cure.

W: What is?

C: Life Editor.  You’re a reporter or writer or for that matter a TV news anchor, you report to an editor. The editor has final say over what’s printed or broadcast.  If you’ve made mistakes, we correct them. If you’re barking up the wrong tree, we send you elsewhere in the forest.  The key here is authority. I am the law.  You do what I say and that’s that.

W: That sounds like Charles Manson or Herbert W. Armstrong or Werner Ehrhardt or Rajneesh.

C: No, no, no.  There are no leaders. No idolized figures. And no one who puts you on a couch or in a trance or anything like that.

W: What then?

C: You walk into my home office which is in a cape cod style bungalow conveniently located near the Long Island Railroad station in Massapequa Park and you find me sitting at a battered old wooden desk.  There’s a desk lamp with a green glass shade.  I’m wearing a green eyeshade.  There’s a fedora on the hat rack. My vest is unbuttoned, my collar is unbuttoned and my tie askew.

You tell me your problem.  I tell you how to fix it. You fix it.  That’s that. You’re cured.

W: But there’s no underlying theory or psych history here.

C: Right. It’s just an editor telling an underling what to do. You want extra sessions? Okay. We can evaluate your progress and do other things that therapists do to prolong your sessions to the limit that your health insurance will tolerate.  Oh, and we’re strictly cash.

W: That doesn’t sound very therapeutic.

C: It isn’t. It’s just fixing your copy.  Who cares about the underlying crap?  Now, let’s cut this off here. I have a big day tomorrow.  Going to be on the Today Show and CNN and then the Gotham City Gazette is doing a feature with a writer and photographer. And in then I’m taping with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah.

W: No Doctor Oz or Martha Stewart?

C: Nah. He’s a quack and she’s a Julia Child wannabe. She needs my help more than I need hers.

W: But she’ll make you a lovely take-home Souffle.

C: I’m allergic to eggs. And to Martha.

W: Before I close this, one more question: How would you “life-edit” Elon Musk, the Adderall- popping head of Tesla?

C: Oh, that’s an easy one.  Musk should take Arianna Huffington’s advice and change his work habits, but not the way she suggested. He should promote himself to something loftier than CEO and then hire some “car guys” to get that factory popping out the tin.  I suggest he call himself “Chief Hardware Architect,” the title similar to one Bill Gates gave himself when he stepped away from the top spot at Microsoft after realizing it had outgrown his ability to micromanage it.

W: Our thanks to Charles W. Gruffly, retired Executive Editor of the Gotham City Gazette and author of the new book “Psychotherapy is a Load of Crap.” Available soon at, Barnes and Noble and your neighborhood independent bookseller if you still have one.

Gruffly is a fictional character. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Even guys named Fitzgerald or Fanto or Swayze or Bartlett Monzella or Rattigan.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018

Monday, August 20, 2018

1985 We Are Not the Enemy

We the evil corporate liberal media have been getting a bum rap from a bum in Washington.  This is my answer, adapted and expanded from my answer to a question on the website “Quora.” It’s also a way to join those newspapers and other broadcasters who have begun to strike back.

The Question was “As a journalist, what do you wish the public understood.”

Reporting and presenting the news happens in a pressure cooker, not a vacuum.
Too many of today’s young journalists want to be TV stars, not reporters. There’s nothing wrong with working in TV news if you don’t forget the “news” part.
Public officials tend to be bullshit artists and sometimes filtering what they say for nuggets of fact is both hard and smelly.
For the most part, corporate owners of the media keep their hands off the product and concentrate on things like advertising, circulation and ratings. It’s rare for the owners of a major network or a large newspaper to effectively push a viewpoint. There are a few. Fox, Sinclair, Russia Today and MSNBC come to mind. But with these, there’s no attempt to hide a slant.
At the time I worked for NBC, no representative of the owner, General Electric, told us to spin a story. At the Associated Press, the slogan was “Deadline Every Minute.” Try working under those conditions. No one has time to contemplate ways to slant a story.
We are not generally lazy. We are not generally illiterate. With certain exceptions, we’re certainly not overpaid.
This is not to say we’re flawless. We’re human. We make mistakes. We have a duty to correct them, even small ones.
All-news radio and television are like sharks. They have huge maws to fill. Sometimes we fill them with stupid. Example: the moronic speculation panels of “experts” and former FBI agents or professors of statistics, psychology, engineering, sociology and basket weaving. They remind me of my college days when we sat at the bar with a pitcher of beer and a couple of shots and naively solved all the world’s problems. We had to pay to drink and dribble drivel. But now, it’s a job description and there’s no beer.
It’s like watching pro wrestling only it’s rare for the ref to be ignoring the action and even less likely that someone will get clobbered with a steel folding chair.
This puts a terrible burden on the public. It has several components. Among them:
—You have to evaluate what you hear, see or read.
—Sometimes there aren’t two equal sides to a dispute.
—You can’t rely on any one source no matter how lofty.
—You can’t rely on choosing only media that seem to suit what you want to hear or read.
Let’s look at that “two sides to every story” thing a bit. Yes, if there’s a dispute, it’s wise to present both sides of the argument.  In fact, it’s a requirement.
But if there is conclusive evidence that one side has facts and the other has fancy, that has to be reported, too.
To that end, let’s look at some of the nasties posted by our liar in chief:
Statement gist: The democrats forced cancellation of the proposed military parade in Washington.  Fact: The city cannot afford the millions of dollars it would be forced to pay as its share.  Sure, most if not all city officials are democrats.  And if they were big spenders, they’d find a way. But if republicans ruled, there’d be no blame for the same stance that small government types would take.
Gist: Omarosa is crazy and a dog.  Fact: Omarosa is not the nicest person you’ll ever meet.  And there are ways to point this out without name calling which only escalates the conflict.
Expanding this template beyond the president:
Gist: Global warming/climate change is a hoax. Fact: No it ain’t. And it isn’t a conspiracy, either.
Gist: Tax cuts for the rich will expand jobs. Fact: not so far. But they did clear the way for even more money to fall into the hands of careerist politicians with no cajones and no principles.
Gist: The economy is booming. Fact: yeah as long as you don’t count wage stagnation and underemployment.
You get the point.
Sorry, folks. Today’s news presentation environment forbids the passivity that you have come to embrace and love. You have to think.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wessay in Brief 1985B News isn't Your Enemy

Tomorrow, 8 20 18 I join with other journalists who have reacted resentfully to trump's description of us as enemies of the people.  
My answer varies from some other because I leave instructions on what you as reader, viewer or listener might do to make sure you stay informed in a world that is filled with government and corporate and political horseshit. And I try to make the case for fair, rather than fair and artificially two-sided.


Friday, August 17, 2018

This is Wessay #1984, a number of great fame and a book of great perceptiveness.  George Orwell predicted in his novel that we would all be on camera all the time. And on microphone.

The book was ahead of its time and the year was behind its time. But we’re here.  The digital revolution has made many of Orwell’s frightening predictions come true.

Most of the time, we know we’re being watched.  It’s unpleasant.  But most of us have the sense to withhold untoward in acts while sitting in the parking lot of a 7-11 or going into one with a drawn gun.  It’s the ones we don’t know about that are scary.

A whole generation of young people has learned to wear hoodies or at least baseball caps with the bill pointed down and no visible writing.  Huge sunglasses are all the rage.  As are high and turned up collars.

That helps in the parking lot and at the register. (Wear gloves so the shaky-cam can’t tell anything about your skin color.)

The phone companies know who calls whom, when and for how long.  Your text messages live forever… somewhere. Your prints are on file even if you have no police record, and chances are, so is your DNA.

It’s okay.  This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, right?  Sure it is. And if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. (This one red-lines the BS detector.)

To some, privacy is sacred.  To some, privacy is treasured. To some, privacy is guaranteed.  Nope. Nope.  And nope.

Your credit/debit cards? Your E-Z Pass.  The tracking device you carry around disguised as a smartphone?  They all watch.  And listen. And keep notes. Detailed notes.

Two of Orwell’s characters think they’ve beaten the system.  They get a room in a rundown old place to have their affair.  Guess what?  

In olden days, if you should venture into the Soviet Union, your travel agent told you not to speak near table lamps or statuettes.  Or the mounted heads of wild boars or brown bears. 

Primitive stuff by today’s standards, but the warnings were worth heeding, especially if you said something nasty about your hotel room or their dictator of the moment.

You’ve heard people here talking about “getting off the grid.”  The grid has no “off.” They found the Unabomber in a doublewide outhouse in the middle of the woods of Montana.  They can find you, too.

Body cams, dash cams, nanny cams, traffic cams.  Soon they’ll need cameras to watch other cameras. Those Big Brother devices aren’t cheap.  And the quality of the picture is improving all the time. Imagine Willie Sutton in HD.  (HD is practically old fashioned nowadays. Some security guy in Best Buy probably watched you try to boost that computer mouse on a 70-inch 4K UHD set in the back room fed by a drone camera the size of a caraway seed that hovers silently 8 feet above the floor and is pointed down.

The only hope is that there are so many pictures, videos, audio tapes and such that Big Brother won’t have the time to catalogue all of it… and certainly no time to watch it all.

And let’s not get started about keystroke monitors.

--Steve Bannon is about to release a pro trump propaganda film. It will show how most of the rest of us are ganging up on the poor beleaguered president and his galley slaves in Congress.  Someone should make some red baseball caps that say “Make Steve Relevant Again,” which is the real purpose of the film.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Don’t forget to BCC Big Brother.  Oh. Wait. Never mind. He’s already reading.
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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 ...