Friday, February 28, 2020

4556 Times is Money





Everyone’s best friend in journalism, A.G. Sulzberger, dropped us an email this morning.  It says the price of the New York Times digital subscription will go up in a few days. Sulzberger is the newly minted publisher of the paper. And his note about the additional two bucks each four weeks was, well, apologetic.

And carrying on the paper’s tradition, A.G,’s letter rambled on. And on. And on.  But that’s part of how they got their reputation for covering everything including the UN agenda, the schedule of ship arrivals in New York Harbor and the crossword puzzle comprehensively.  

Or at least in length. We peons sometimes confuse length with depth and scholarship.  Another trick they pull:  throwing in words that no one uses because no one has heard of them. Are you listening, Maureen Dowd?  There’s a workaround for that.  You can click on most any word in a Times article and get a drop down box with the definition.

A.G. is the new kid on the Sulzberger family farm.  So we can excuse some of his blahblah on his relative youth.  And there were some interesting assertions in the email, like a mercifully brief sentence about the paper’s mission. 

 Our mission — to seek the truth and help people understand the world — has never been more important than it is today. And it’s subscribers like you who make our journalism possible.

Always happy to help out, Artie.

Now, let’s see.  The paper has four million digital-only subscribers. So the increase will bring in about $24 million a year.  Probably a little less because enraged subscribers in small numbers likely will cancel. Not a bad haul.

A.G. goes on to list some of the recent top stories.  Hey, if we subscribe, we probably know all about that.  It’s why we subscribe and what we do with the e-paper.

But let’s end this on a list of our own, that of words I had to look up by reading Dowd’s recent columns: 

Auto-da-fé, concupiscence, opéra bouffe, Praetorian, smirch, whingeing, Pharisaic, Javert, just to name a few.

So, OK, A.G., you’ll get your two-buck raise.  But don’t think for a New York minute that you’ve set a precedent.  And keep writing those op-ed pieces for the Wall Street Journal. (Did that really happen?) (Yeah.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Any questions? wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

4555 Bag the Bags



Practical and practically unbreakable. Bringing an oil drum to the checkout line is kind of like driving a Tesla or a Prius to show that you think every day is Earth Day.

Starting March first, New York State will ban most plastic shopping bags. The law is heaven-sent to environmentalists and to the corner grocer.  The state wants you to bring your own.  They’re thinking those germ germinating cloth bags.  We’re thinking paint buckets and oil drums.

The grocer can sell you paper bags at a nickel per. New meaning for a drug abuser term, “Nickel bag.” Assuming there’s no sales tax on paper grocery bags that’s not all that much. But if they DO tax ‘em that nickel jumps to just under six cents within NYC limits. No doubt, they’ll round it up to a full six.

Some items still will get plastic bags. Fruit, vegetables, prescription drugs. Probably some other items.  But those are the majors.

You may not know this, but stores aren’t required to supply bags. Some of the warehouse clubs never offered them.  Cheaper for them, cheaper for you, better for the landfill and if you’re buying ketchup in 50 bottle quantities, they probably come already boxed.

There are alternatives -- real ones -- to plastic bags and 50 gallon steel drums. Bankers’ boxes. Just bring a couple of them to market, fill them as you go through the aisles and let the checkout clerk unpack and repack them.  It’ll slow the line. But so does packing those cloth bags.

Picnic coolers are pretty good, too and they fit neatly in most shopping carts.  Or how about a canoe? That may be a little awkward in a shopper traffic jam. But if you have a bicycle bell or horn on your cart, people will clear a path for you.  Just be careful not to knock anything fragile off the shelves.

And you can stop blaming the former mayor for creating a nanny state.  It’s been around longer than most of us.  And it’s in our cultural DNA.

Final thought: you can order stuff on an app and get your groceries delivered in most places nowadays.  That’s one way to help both the environment and the further the retail apocalypse at the same time.

GRAPESHOT:
-New pet peeve: Grammar apps that insist-every-damn-pair-of-words needs either a hyphen or to be squished together into a singleword.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ® 
Any questions? wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020


Monday, February 24, 2020

4554 Writer's Block


Two lions of music, Merle Travis and Johnny Mercer tell us what to do when our brains turn off.

A long time friend, a brilliant artist, designer and illustrator wrote the other day and said she was having a crisis.  She was on deadline for a project and stumped about what should go into it.

Well, art is art. And for decades, I’ve been telling a story to people who complain they have writer’s block.  Here’s the current version:

I first heard this many years ago from a person whom I trusted and who said he was in the room when it happened.

It is a conversation between two good-ole'-boys, one from Georgia and the other from Kentucky. Both were legends or icons in the music industry.

The first was Johnny Mercer who wrote many of the songs that made up the music of an earlier time: "One for My Baby," "Blues in the Night," "Something's Gotta Give," etc.

The second was Merle Travis who more than 25 years after his death remains one of the most influential guitarists of the 20th century. Travis also wrote and first recorded the Ernie Ford hit "16 Tons."

At the time of this conversation which I have dramatized because, of course, I wasn't there myself, Mercer was co-founder and president of Capitol Records, one of the biggest major labels of the era. He was a notorious drunk and a truly unlikable person.

Travis was a staff lyricist at Capitol and also a notorious drunk. He approached Mercer one day in their famed Hollywood tower (look it up if you don't know the building. You'll recognize it instantly.)

Travis: Johnny, I'm on deadline for a song for Sinatra and I've got writer's block.

Mercer: Merle, let's say you have a dripping faucet in your kitchen and you call the plumber and he looks at it and says "gee, I wish I could fix that today, but right now, I have plumbers' block."

Your plumber would never tell you that. He'd fix the leak and leave.  If next morning the leak returned and you called him in a rage demanding that he fix it again at no charge. And what would he do?

What he'd do is come back and fix it.

So, Merle, said Mercer, go write something. And in the morning, if I don't like it, I'll visit your office in a rage and demand that you fix it.  And you will. And it'll be fine.

He did. It was 

Writer's block, "creative block," "artist's block," "plumber's block," and all that affect teachers and tailors, designers and sailors, salesmen and hitmen, and every pro athlete whoever lost a tournament or led his or her team to disaster one night on national television.

The business of commercial artists is business.  We're paid to produce. And produce we will. It was who Dali and Hemingway were. And it was Jake the Plumber. And Edward R. Murrow and Rembrandt.  And Gilda Radner.  And Leslie Nielsen. And evil men like Henry Ford, and Walt Disney. And great men like Babe Ruth who had plenty of bad at-bats. And Albert Einstein when he had algebra block. And millions of nobodies galore.

Now stop crabbing and go to work.  Go home. Have a cocktail. Play with your dog. Then fix the leak in the morning.

---
With great sadness, I report the death of my long-time acquaintance, B. Smith. She started as a model. Opened nice restaurants. Wrote books, did TV shows.  She once said she wanted to be “the black Martha Stewart.” I’d told her one Martha was more than enough. Just be Barbara. Alzheimer’s got its ugly and unrelenting claws into her years ago. B. Smith was 70.
 
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Any Questions? wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020



Friday, February 21, 2020

4553 Dems Butt Heads in Grate Debate






Who won the “great” debate among Democratic Party presidential aspirants? Probably Donald trump.  The one-liner of the night goes to Elizabeth Warren who said she’d back any democrat who wins the nomination.

Sanders was pretty convincing.  But his numbers aren’t there. His base is likely to sit out the vote if he’s not the candidate.  And that balloon is full. No room at the inn or helium from the tank.  

Bloomberg seemed robotic, which is unfortunate because he isn’t in real life. I know this first-hand and have for more than 20 years. 

Klobuchar seemed desperate. Biden?  Who is that guy, anyway?  
Great teeth, though, Joe. 

Buttigieg?  Small midwestern towns are no more representative of America than the members of the two-man billionaires’ club.  

Amy? Elect me and that’ll cure sexism ‘cause we’ll be able to show our stuff. Huh?

Like practically every political debate, this one degenerated into minutia. Bernie is right, the American Working Man and Woman need a voice.  Is he that voice?  Well, he seems to think so. That’s not for sure.

Buttigieg will eventually flame out even though he is articulate. 

Warren -- who got the Wessays (™) quote of the night award -- still looks like a bobblehead. We don’t elect bobbleheads.

Then, there are questions. 

How much does the black vote really count?
How much does the Hispanic vote really count?
How much does the youth vote really count?
How much does the plutocrat vote really count?

Can Wall Street count on Bloomberg to deliver if nominated? Nah. You never really know with this guy. Can he manage the Executive Branch?  Well, if you can herd the cats of New York City as mayor and can herd the cats he’s hired in his company, probably yes.  Can we use some dull technocrat with a C-grade engineering degree from an A+ university? Yes.

Some takeaways…
 Mike, don’t bring a Univac to a gunfight.
Liz: Claws in.
Bernie: Stop yelling already! We get you’re passionate, but you’ve had engine trouble and might blow a(nother) gasket.
Joe:  Go home to Scranton.
Pete: Go home to Mayberry.
Amy: Who thought up your line “vote for me because I’m a girl?”

Also:
Chuck Todd: Go back to the library and study Tim Russert tapes more closely.

Lester Holt: Go back to the library and study David Brinkley tapes more closely.

CNN Afterparty: cut down the invitation list or get a bigger studio to fit in all the chatterers you’ve invited. Also, see if you can get them to talk one-at-a-time.
Kevin Sheekey: Didn’t Pat Moynihan teach you ANYTHING?

Today’s Quote: “Don’t let it go to your head.” -- Charlotte Bloomberg (1909-2011.) Mike’s mother after learning her son had earned an MBA from Harvard.

Today’s other quote: “The only reason Shakespeare wanted to kill all the lawyers is that the MBA hadn’t yet been invented.” --Anon.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Any questions? Send ‘em to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

4552 Medicare for All




Is this a goal post? Does the ball on the spike has a dollar sign engraved on the back?


Be careful what you wish for. A number of dems running for the party’s presidential nomination want this. But what does it really mean?

Sanders’ plan calls for free care for everyone with no co-pays and no bills.  That’s ideal. But is it possible?  Probably not, given the nature of congress and the country at the moment.

Buttigieg wants Medicare for “those who want it,” which is not a bad idea because it gives you some choices.  But it’s also a plan that sets up a conflict between the current broken medical insurance industry and the federal government. As far as we can tell, no country with “universal” healthcare uses this system.

Bloomberg thinks this will bankrupt the federal government. But the figures aren’t there.  Biden? Who knows? Warren? Medicare for all, but with restrictions.

In point of fact, “Medicare for all” in any iteration would put the federal government in direct competition with the current -- and idiotic -- health insurance system.  

Opponents say Medicare for all would wreck the insurance industry.  Who better to wreck?  But the workers at Blue Cross and Kaiser are human beings and they’d likely be put out of work. 

“All” would cost millions of paper pushing jobs.  But it also would let Washington negotiate with the Big Pharma for lower prices.  Why should Canadians pay so much less than we do for the same drugs?  Why would someone needing meds for two major ailments have to pick a “preferred” organ to treat if unable to afford treatment for both?

Yes, “Medicare for all” would get coverage for the 27 million Americans who are still uninsured and the countless number who are underinsured.

Do I have a solution?  No.  And no one else really does either even if they say they do.  But here’s a start.  Make sure the nonprofits really are non-profit. And the first place to start is with compensation for the top 10% of corporate leadership.

Step two: compel doctors and hospitals to bill at reasonable prices. No one’s going to have to take a sizeable pay cut.

Step three: Medicare for all but one step at a time.

SHRAPNEL
--trump is releasing all these convicts from prison. Blagojevich, Milken, Kerik and eight others.  Meantime people busted for smoking a joint continue serving their multi-year -- sometimes multi-decade -- sentences and that ain’t right.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020

Monday, February 17, 2020

4551 What's News?


Edward R. Murrow could answer that question. Would his answer still be right?

This question has been around almost as long as town criers cried in small towns.  And so have the answers.  All of them open to debate.

First, let’s get rid of the “formal” answer which is something like: well, ya gotta know what’s going on in order for there to be a democratic society.  How we doin’ so far?

Well, we have an oaf in the White House, Oafs leading both houses of congress.  We have a bunch of states with legislators elected for life.  Careerists, one and all.  And all with your best interests at heart, just ask them.

All except members of the school boards whose job it is to quack about the best interests of the children. Oh, and keeping taxes low.

And, of course, that democracy is dependent on the financial machinery.  The papers, the radio, the TV, the internet will surely tell us when there’s scamming going on, when fake think tanks write cleverly -- or not-so-cleverly -- crafted lies to make us think they’re on our side.

How does it feel to be “loved” and looked out for by private equity funds, the Cloke Brothers institute type tanks? Do you like the way your bank holds you in its loving arms.  Well, just think of how bad it would be without Fox News or the Manchester Union Leader or the Washington Times or Drudge or Rush Limbaugh.

NOW how are we doing?

It’s a whole new world out there and no one with any clout or credibility is informing us.  

But all is not lost. The modern purpose of news is to keep you up to date on J-Lo, the Kardashians, groping movie moguls, the latest Hollywood divorces and sports, sports, sports.

Sports. So many people read the papers from the back you’d think the national language was Hebrew. And how about those Astros and their (alleged, supposed, suspected) signal stealing.  And those deflated ball New England Pats?

How many quarters does it take to pay an NFL Quarterback?

Yes! We are informed.

And real reporting has been on death watch for years.  The Ham Pot, Nebraska Weekly Sun has set, leaving this poor town without a newspaper founded in 1875.

Editors of print and internet sites decide what stories they print or post by the number of clicks they get, not the effect the local hand-in-the-till politician has on your daily life.  

Admit it. Most of us don’t really care about that stuff as long as we can survive another day.  But the politicians are turning us all into cattle whose only worry is where the next cud is coming from. We’re so busy doing that, we don’t have time or interest in watching what they’re doing.

Grapeshot:
-I haven’t seen my US congressman since he was first elected umpteen times ago.
-The only news on local TV is from out of town.
-The local paper leads with sports and repeats the story eight times in different spots on its website.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020


Friday, February 14, 2020

4550 Abe





Dear Present Lincoln,
I’m sorry I forgot to wish you a happy birthday the other day. But as you know, life sometimes gets in the way of best intentions. Let me first say that you look pretty good for your age which was 211 this week.

In recent years, people have put your years in office under a microscope with a 21st century bias and that’s not fair.  You did things you believed in. And you were a politician who needed to kind of sidle up to the so-called Loyal Opposition when you did things like freeing slaves which made some citizens consider you the enemy.

But we mid 20th Century types have a completely different take on who you were and what you stood for -- and against.

Before the advent of the fake national holiday, Presidents Day, we in the real United States had a holiday directed directly named for you.  And we celebrated it the way all real Americans celebrate, with flag-waving and its real world equivalent, sales.

People -- especially academics -- remember you for that seven minute speech you gave at the otherwise unimportant town of Gettysburg. It was pretty good, and this was in the age before speech writers and political scientists and other party hacks existed in the number they do today.  All your own work? Probably.

Meantime, back in Commack, Long Island, we S. Klein slavvies were ready for the onslaught of customers on 2/12. We weren’t in a Confederate state, so Lincoln’s birthday celebrated a heroic figure … with big discounts.

The “normal” pace for live public address announcements was one every 15 minutes. Not this day.  Every five or ten minutes.

Can’t write and deliver a credible commercial in that short a time. What would help?  A typewriter.  Could one be borrowed from Tony, the small appliance manager? No chance, At least not without the approval of someone higher in the food chain.

Starting at the bottom, the hardgoods manager and no luck. C’mon, guys, you want fresh announcements every five minutes? Give me the tools. Okay, next step up the corporate manager, the store manager.

“No way, handwrite the stuff.”  Finally the “managing director,” a fan and a friend -- sort of. Tony the small appliance manager delivered it to the “broadcaster’s closet” personally.

“Don’t give this back to me,” he said.  “Give it to the big shots.”

Pounded out copy as if it were the end of the world. World War III. And the powers that be liked that it seemed to work.  Tony Small Appliances got his damned typewriter back at closing time.  The announcer was a hero. The store exceeded estimates by a huge percentage.  We all went across the highway to Kelly’s Bar and celebrated with the Cro-Magnon members of the Eastern Hockey League Long Island Ducks who won a game against … someone … at the Long Island Arena -- which was a Quonset hut … about half a mile away. 

Lincoln was a hero. But not as big a hero as Irwin, who masterminded this sale of sales. Tony who provided the typewriter

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Comments?  Send ‘em here: wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020

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 ...