Wednesday, January 30, 2019

2045 Do You Have that Hat in Blue?

Jackie on the corner isn’t sure what he’s going to do when 2020 rolls around.  He says trump hasn’t made America Great. But maybe he needs longer than four years.”  Jackie, I tell him, America was great in the first place and still is.  But what he’s doing is dismantling this country brick by brick.

“Yeah,” says Jackie. It’s all Hillary’s fault.”

He has a point. If some normal person had run against trump, he or she would have won. So in a way, yeah.  Others say it was Jeff Zucker, president of CNN. He gave trump so much air time that everyone just squandered their votes.

The real problem with this “president” is he doesn’t understand the job and doesn’t distinguish between truth and not-truth.  You may be saying “yes, but all politicians lie. It’s what they do.” And that’s true. But most of them either admit it when cornered or walk it back or otherwise wriggle out of the net.

Not trump.

He’s the next best thing to Goebbels when it comes to “the big lie,” which means repeating the same thing over and over and over until people start to believe it.  If you yelp that the moon is made of green cheese long enough, people will sign on. Even if you have to say you have proof there were bits of cheese on Neil Armstrong’s boots when he returned to earth.

Adolf’s propaganda minister had more in his arsenal than the big lie. He taught people that when you set the rules of the game and erect the framework, you win.

Example: Many trump supporters are anti-abortion though trump himself never was until he started running for office.  But they don’t call it anti-abortion, they call it “pro life.”

Aren’t most people pro life?  If you don’t know, ask anyone whether they’d prefer life or death.  We have accepted the euphemist expression “pro life” for anti abortion. It’s much easier to sell.

The opposition has yet to catch on to speaking in code. Until it finds a better way of saying “Medicare for all” or “single payer,” there’s no chance of selling that.

President trump is an evangelist promising a white-dominated heaven on earth if only you believe in him and take him into your life.  Eat your hearts out, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and the rest of that crowd of snake oil salesmen (and the occasional woman. Tammy Faye Bakker and Aimee Semple McPherson were that job’s diversity.)

We need a blue version of the hat. We need to undermine the Great Underminer.  His core supporters -- his “base” -- is far smaller than the number of potential voters.  And they’re his dewy-eyed prom date, even though they know he’s a bad boy.  He holds them in his arms. They look up at him adoringly. He has plans for them when the music stops.  And for us.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Monday, January 28, 2019

2044 The Suspect who Committed the Alleged Crime

Let’s start at the end.  The cash drawer at the 7-11 is open and empty when the police roll in.  Badar, the clerk on duty is cowering in a corner.  He tells the cop that a guy pointed a gun at him and demanded the cash.  Badar takes the drawer from the register and places it on the counter, then retreats to his corner.

Ahah, speculates the cop, someone has committed a robbery!  He takes a description of the holdup man from Badar whose boss has just come from home to comfort him.

Then arrives the reporter from the South Albrightsville Daily Advocate-Herald-Journal newspaper who snaps a few pictures with his iPhone and tries to get a quotation from Badar who still is too shook up to say much.

The next morning, readers of the Advocate discover that a “suspect has allegedly robbed the 7-11.”

That’s three ways wrong.

It’s pretty obvious there was a crime. So even though Badar is the only witness, it was a crime, not an alleged crime.  Police have a description of the gunman, but no suspects, at least not yet. So, no “suspect” committed the robbery, a robber did.

And finally, as we like to say in the news biz…

The store wasn’t robbed, Badar was.

Three strikes, you’re out.  

Such illiteracy is not the lone suspect in this kind of alleged mistake.  It happens in big places, too.  Like Metropolis and Gotham City and Oz, Glocca Morra and Brigadoon.

Sure, we don’t want to say John Jones held up the 7-11. Once the police consider Jones a suspect, we can call him “the suspect” or “a suspect.”  But we still know a crime was committed. Allegedly by John Jones, but we don’t know that unless Jones is tried and convicted.

Nitpicking?  No, but we’ll settle for alleged nitpicking.

Here’s another duh moment in common crime reports:

It kind of overlaps.

It’s 10 PM on a weeknight.  We’re in the bar of a hotel.  Suddenly a man (not a suspect) walks in, draws his gun and shoots three people one of whom is his ex-girlfriend who is talking to (gasp) a man.

The shooter then runs out of the bar, gets in his car, peels rubber. A couple of blocks away, he swerves and hits a chain link fence. He’s uninjured, breaks into the nearest house, shoots and kills the homeowner and then himself.

Police refer to him as the suspect.  He’s not the suspect, he’s the gunman and he’s dead.

The next day the Chief of Police holds a news conference the highlights of which are:

--We presume the cause of deaths were gunshot wounds. But we’ll have to wait for the results of the autopsies.


--We think alcohol may have been involved.

Okay.  So maybe the dead people died from a sudden onset of inoperable brain tumors or a previously undiagnosed heart condition (not caused by the sudden entry of a bullet.)

And even though it started in a bar a few hours before closing time maybe everyone was drinking club sodas with a twist.

Wait. It gets worse.

Let’s get reaction from people who live nearby.  Do you need this post to tell you what that was?  Do you think anyone said “this is a pretty dull neighborhood?  Nice to have a little excitement.”

 Michel Legrand (1932-2019)

You may not know the name, but you know the music. Legrand scored 250 films including Casino Royale and The Summer of 42, won a roomful of Oscars and Grammys, and toured until last year.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Friday, January 25, 2019

2043 Rudy

New York City has had some great mayors. Fiorello (he didn’t need a last name. He was and is the patron saint of city politics and government.) Ed Koch, Mike Bloomberg. It had some serious clunkers and clinkers.  Walker, Impelliteri, Beame, Dinkins. It had its share of so-so men. John Lindsay, Robert Wagner, Bill O’Dwyer. 

Then, there’s Rudolph Giuliani.  Where does he fit? Most charitably in the so-so category.  The columnist Jimmy Breslin called him a small man in search of a balcony,” a reference to Italy’s fascist dictator Mussolini.

Rudy found his “balcony” and his bunker on the 23rd floor of a building near the World Trade Center… a building destroyed in the attacks that made Giuliani famous.

For a while, he was “America’s Mayor.” Now, he’s seen as a brainless blathering buffoon.  But guess what?  That’s always what he was.

As mayor he was a fireball of random energy, fixing things that weren’t broken. His major first term accomplishment was moving squeegee men from midtown to the outer boroughs and jailing people for breaking windows, tagging buildings and jumping turnstiles.

Those major problems solved in the snap of fingers, he went on to his second term.  Still filled with steam, his major accomplishments were cheating on his wife, building a barricade in front of city hall and hiring a corrections commissioner who later was found to be an ordinary felon.  They put his name on a building.  The name came down soon after his successor, Bloomberg, was sworn in.

On September 10th, 2001 Rudy couldn’t have been elected president of a co-op board, let alone as mayor. On September 11th, he became a hero.  America’s Mayor. Calmer of the afflicted, director of downtown traffic and a symbol of all that was right with America at that time.

And that’s the Rudy he wants us to remember. Yes, he did a fine job after the attack on the trade center almost all of before TV cameras.  Soon after, he reverted to form.  And now as donald trump’s chief publicist he regularly puts his foot in his mouth.

He’s actually an asset to the trump campaign (it’s always a campaign, never mind leading the nation.)  The asset?  He’s a symbol of the fools, grifters, conmen and women and plain old dopes running the country and knowing that will help us remember to replace them with real boys and girls instead of wooden replicas.

So let’s all thank Rudy for being the unlovable bumbler he’s always been. And that’s a fact.  An alternative fact, but a fact nonetheless.

And a suggestion: Don’t drink until after the prime time yap shows are over for the day because walking backward a day later is unbecoming.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2042 Hold the Back Page

These days it’s DOG BITES MAN kind of news when a newspaper goes out of business.  This one is a little different. The Jewish Forward newspaper has been printing for 121 years. Sometimes in spite of itself.

It started as a New York daily in Yiddish. It became the biggest of its kind. It started an English language version in 1990.  And it has been shrinking ever since.

That English language version has been getting most of the attention because there are only four Americans left who can read Yiddish.  But it’s not a big seller in English either.

First English editor was Seth Lipsky, a veteran of the Wall Street Journal and pretty conservative for a newspaper with a socialist reputation to uphold.  The latest in the top spot is Jane Eisner who is getting kicked out along with 20% of the staff, all of them credentialed veterans.  Here’s how she put it in an email:

I’ve been asked to step down as editor-in-chief, effective at the end of this month, and am evaluating what role I would like to have in the future with Forward management.

“Asked?”  Don’t let the door hit you in the tochus on the way out, Jane. “(W)hat role I would like to have in the future?” Put this shmata on your head and you know where the broom closet is, right?  You don’t? Why it’s your former office.”

So as it has in so many places, amateurs or unseasoned beginners will be running the website.

The journalism side of the paper was usually solid. Big name writers going back 120 years.  Advocacy for all things Jewish, a little sketchy on the Israeli government.  The business side was like the caucus race at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

They did things like sell their New York radio station for more than $78 million to support the printed word.  They sold their midtown building. Was this money squandered?  Well… there’s no way of telling. The figures aren’t public.  But like the circulation, the pile of money was shrinking.

Board members and their predecessors aren’t granting interviews.  Eisner will likely be penalized for sending her farewell email.  But the best guess is the paper lost about five million dollars a year in recent years.

As Eisner wrote in her email, l’hitroat.  That's "goodbye," but less final. 

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Additional reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Post title by Bill Crowley.
© WJR 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019

2041 Remembering Dr. King

We had a great teacher, but we were bad students.  We observe the Martin Luther King national holiday as we observe most of the rest of our national holidays:  with big sales, no mail delivery and sentiment that approaches and sometimes crosses the borderline into the maudlin.

We pay lip service to his accomplishments and the poetry of the one speech that everyone knows by its four-word summary and by the March for Jobs and Freedom.  And then we go right back to normal. Normal is figuring out ways to keep minorities down without the blunt force trauma of “white only” signs over water fountains and on the doors of public bathrooms.

We second guess “what Martin would say today.”  Always risky.  But nowadays, conditions have calcified to the point we probably can be more accurate than in the past.

What would he make of a guy in a hoodie being shot dead by a rent-a-cop for walking in a white neighborhood while black? How about a real cop shooting an unarmed guy running away from a pistol packing real cop?

Has much changed since someone -- and we don’t really know who -- killed King at a cheap motel in Memphis?

Well, red baseball caps have replaced white sheets. They don’t hide your identity as well, but hood-wearing no longer is fashionable.

It’s time to restate the goals of the civil rights movement.  To do that we have to examine what they aren’t. 

They aren’t means to advance a particular group of people. Black power is the same as white power. This isn’t about either. It’s about removing barricades that never should have existed. That notion has been lost to people since forever.

Here’s a microcosm of what should be:  A black man walks into a redneck bar in the middle of Mississippi and no one pays any attention.  A white man walks into a local bar on 141st street and no one notices.

Don’t like bars?  Your loss. But substitute “church” or other house of worship with the same results.

Introspection.  We’re not collectively good at that.  What we are good at is playing the victim.  And we don’t have to second guess Martin’s thinking on that. We know where he stood because he tried to teach us. And he wasn’t shy about it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

2040 The Ignorance Project

Here’s a chilling news item:  Some colleges, fearing irrelevance and strapped for cash are thinking about eliminating some liberal arts programs.  None of that seems right around the corner because colleges can’t just up and do something.  They have to form exploratory committees for everything from their statement of purpose to the size of the type in their press releases that no one reads.  Exploratory committees. Where ideas go to overcomplicate and die.

Any committee with more than three members is flypaper.

But here’s what’s happening: some colleges and universities want to convert into what amounts to trade schools.  It’s perfectly okay to teach practical stuff.  But when you take away majors like English, History, Art and such, you produce single minded drones who can’t put their “trade” into the kind of context needed for ordinary life on earth.

If you want to learn auto body work, accounting, engineering, etc., there are plenty of good places.  While some are better than others and some are really nothing more than pigs at the funding trough, many are still pretty good.

MIT and Caltech are much more practically oriented than Sandwich State University of Pocatello which doesn’t have even a single course in potato genetics.  But you’ll still leave the big tech schools with at least a smattering of literature, history, economics, sociology and business. Maybe even philosophy.

Smatterings ‘smatter.

There exists a secret society. It is so secret, many of the members don’t know who else is in it. Its job is to dumb us down. It is composed of influential members of the academic, corporate, media, video game and multilevel marketing industries.  It’s an Unthink tank.

Among its founding principles:

--Lies are the new truth.
--Truth is of the moment.  What’s true today may not be true tomorrow.
--Opposites are not opposite.
--Teach George Orwell.

 It’s part of an effort to make each of us so preoccupied with the next month’s rent and tomorrow’s dinner that we don’t do anything else.

It’s not an active conspiracy. It is a bunch of like-minded and well-heeled people working for the same goal at the same time. It’s similar to the humorist Roger Price’s question “What would happen if all the samba dancers in the world threw their hips in the same direction at the same moment?”  Would that throw the world off its axis?

To the schools that want to abandon liberal arts:  Please don’t eliminate majors that stretch the mind and give us context.  Don’t bury our past in a sea of how-to courses.  Instead, continue to support the idea that not every major has to have an immediate marketable result. To feed our families, to pay the rent, we need to know more than how to feed our families and pay the rent.

I’ve called all this turning us all into farm animals.  Now, I’m calling it “The Ignorance Project.”

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2039 Everyone's Above the Law Except You

One of today’s big questions: Is the President above the law? Can he be formally charged with anything from crossing against the green, to obstruction of justice, collusion to murder?  Nah. Never happen.

But what about the rest of us?  

Well, let’s see… some trumplings have been convicted of stuff. Some have been sentenced.  Some of those sentences will ultimately be served -- at least during the endless string of appeals that surely will follow.  

If you commit murder and they catch you, you’ll likely be convicted.  And you likely will be sentenced in the range between “suspended” to “time served” to death. And again, if it’s a jail or prison term, if you don’t try to escape, don’t assault a guard and do mind your manners, you’ll get early release because

--You’re not a bad person.
--You had a rough childhood.
--You’re turning your life around.
--Jails and prisons are too crowded and private incarceration companies can’t build new facilities fast enough to accommodate demand.
--She was asking for it.
--He deserved what he got when I shot him.

Interesting, the fine point they put on the case when you’re accused of killing someone. Some people get off with probation. Some get a few years.  Some get lots of years.  Some get life.

Some get two or more life sentences.  Odd… no one ever serves the second one.  See that squirrel over there?  That’s really John Wayne Gracy in his second life.  But he never served his second life term.
Take this rifle. You know what to do.  Just don’t violate the squirrel's rights. And make sure you get a translator to read him his Miranda Rights in Squirrelese.

So we go down a list of offenses.  Things like burglary, robbery, arson, carrying more than two joints, having more than three condoms in your handbag while walking up 8th avenue.  Shoplifting.

The lower your crime, the surer you are of cruisin’ up the river.

It’s really tough to convict a murderer, colluder or obstructer of justice.  They get lots of column inches and air time.  They get high priced fear-inducing lawyers.

You snatch some underwear from Victoria’s Secret and if you're 18 years old or older, you’ll do time.  Why? Because the AP won’t carry the story and Alan Dershowitz is unavailable.  You get whichever down on his luck lawyer they can scrape for you out of last night’s drunk tank. Even if he hasn’t bathed this week and his only suit has a rip in the left knee.

Crime doesn’t pay? Sure it does, if it’s bad enough.  Ask any of the men and women protesting their innocence in any lockup in America.

Bottom line:  Do the crime you won’t do the time unless you’re poor, a minority, unrepentant, a kid or have a lawyer with bourbon breath and a rip in his pants.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

2038 Megyn as Metaphor

Megyn Kelly has left the building.  She carries with her a $30 million goodbye offering -- what she would have been paid between now and the end of her contract -- and a promise not to badmouth NBC.  Some people hope her story is a metaphor for a larger and more important and hoped for event, a reversion to form of the American Republican Party.

Kelly was on the low end of Fox’s template.  A little less leg and a little less hysteria than, say, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and the virulent Laura Ingraham.  But she was a Fox soldier through and through. Until all that nasty sexual predator stuff came to light.

Her big boost into the big time was when trump tore into her during a presidential debate.  From there, her future seemed bright and shiny.

NBC evidently thought the same, hired her away and then tried to figure out what to do with her.  What they came up with didn’t work: a weekly talk show and a daily hour of her own on the then-faltering “Today Show.”

The talk show bombed and was canceled.  The ratings in the third hour of Today tanked. And Megyn kept putting her foot into her mouth.  Plus few on the inside beyond the executive suite were willing to help her succeed.  A personality needs the writers, producers, directors, production assistants, technicians, and lighting, sound, makeup and hair people.  There was no support from “the help.”

NBC brass finally decided there was no room at the table for Kelly and ditched her.  Since then, the ratings have risen to what is “normal” for an hour of The Today Show.

What those geniuses at 30 Rock failed to realize was that there’s a big difference between viewers of Fox and their own steady but dull outfit.  

Here’s the hope:

Fox viewer types are running today’s Republican Party.  The present president is a prime example.  A looney toon in a bad suit who rules by fear and chaos.  Neither “quality” is appealing to your run of the mill Republican.  And as the 2018 election showed, the party’s ratings are circling the drain.

What needs to happen is a resurgence of true Republican principles: Smaller government, social programs that work, judges and justices that put law over party, reasonable taxation for all and respect for accomplishment over rhetoric.

It would be good to think that among the viewers of the Republican Party there are more like the NBC than the Fox viewers.  Or is that merely wishful thinking and the GOP really is nothing more than a ‘48 Dodge on blocks in the front yard.

As for Kelly … well, like the public relations people might say, we thank her for her effort and wish her best of luck at her next assignment. (At one of the shopping channels or the host of the Lee PressOn Nails infomercial. Or maybe Copper Chef.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.
© WJR 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

2037 Don't Stand Under the Spire

The Chrysler building is for sale. I'll start the bidding at $89.95.

In the opinion of many, it is the most beautiful building of its era and possibly the most beautiful example of art deco architecture anywhere.

But the Chrysler Building is like the dog who wins best of show at the American Kennel Club, promptly dies, gets stuffed and forever sits in the middle of the living room getting in the way of everything and requiring constant repair.

Not that it’s falling apart.  Everything’s more or less up to code. But anything that sits in one spot for nearly 90 years tends to creak a bit.

Walter Chrysler oversaw the building and owned it.  He wanted his kids to inherit it, which they did.  His company’s east coast HQ2 was located there from opening day until 1953.  And the family had two apartments in it, one duplex and the other a quad-plex.

Chrysler didn’t visit his house a lot. Same thing with his estate in Kings Point, Long Island -- now the United States Merchant Marine Academy.  But it was a pet project and personal.  The company didn’t own it. He did.

You walk into that lobby and you’re transported into gloriously over-decorated old times.  Exotic wood walls in the elevators.  Floors, if fallen upon will not break as easily as you would.
Can you imagine being the real estate agent showing prospective buyers around?

“Wait a minute.  This is only the 38th floor. We have a few little highlights to see on the remaining 39 stories! You can take a nap on the 50th.”

For about ten minutes, this was the tallest building in New York. It now is the sixth tallest.  That’s still pretty tall, 77 floors. And it’s 80 percent occupied… lower than the average for an office building in the borough.

Who owns it today?  Hard to say.  All these giant buildings are owned by huge and convoluted partnerships.  An investment bank here, an Asian or Middle East kingdom, the tax collector… it’s hard to figure.  

But apparently all the partners agree, it’s time to sell.

The spire leaks.  The Cloud Club is gone.  The land beneath is owned by Cooper Union and has been since the 1800s.  And now… all this can be yours.

No one’s really talking price yet.  But the building’s most recent sale was for $800 million.  The market has seesawed since then. Was 2008 a good year to buy $1.1 million square feet in midtown? Most likely.

Probably be helpful if you came to view with a preapproved mortgage in hand.  Or cash. Well, maybe not actual suitcases of money. That would make you look less like a real estate mogul and more like a drug lord.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
© WJR 2019

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 ...