Monday, November 30, 2020

4672 An Evil Machine Conquered


 Is it an Allenwrench? Or an Alanwrench or Allynwrench? Ask Alan, Allan, Allen, or Allyn.

It was on the day Mike Tyson got back in the ring. It was a charity match with Roy Jones, Jr.  Who?  Roy Jones of whom many of us have not heard.  Two guys whose combined age made them a collective 105, fighting gamely and sometimes lamely to raise a few bucks for a self-created but evidently legit charity.


The fight was fun as they go. It ended in a draw.  Two guys -- they seem to like each other -- two belts, the “Frontline,” said the label.


At the same time, there was another fight in the kitchen here.  The householder won.  But it wasn’t easy. No belts, either.


This is the age of disc-less hard drives and phones that do 1,000 things well with making and receiving phone calls not among them.  So it can feel good to take on something mechanical and errant and to win.


Thus, when a chicken bone got caught in the garbage disposal the motor jammed.  The thing about chicken bones is they splinter easily, so easily veterinarians warn against feeding them to dogs or cats.


Garbage grinding machines are more sensitive than Sylvester the cat’s digestive system. 


Once upon a time you fix a Chevy straight- six with a screwdriver, pliers and duct tape. This was like Tyson and Jones in the ring.  Easy pickings.


The motor has a little hole in the bottom.  You insert an allen wrench, wiggle it back and forth. The jam dislodges and the machine gets back to work.  


Except when you’re at an age that getting under the sink is a lot easier than getting back up.  Except when you have to remove half a dozen items to get at the motor in the dark.  Except when your midsize accumulation of tools is scattered over two floors of a three-story house and in no way organized.


And it’s always dark under the sink.


So the fix took maybe 20 seconds.  But the tool-location expedition, the removal of the cabinet items, the getting down, the groping around to find the socket, the bumbling attempts to get the wrench into the socket took forever.


And then there was the spousal disparagement.  A lesson in international diplomacy here.  Ask the spouse to pul-leeeez put the “you are an idiot” stump speech on hold long enough to do the repair and rise from the floor.


Shocker! It worked. She pushed the pause button.  Of course, the underlying smirk that followed was almost audible just not visible from the darkness under the sink. 


The morning after, the shoulders are sore. The knee and back are sore.  The Allen wrench collection has self-organized and been labeled.  But, as always, there are questions… important questions.


--How can one harness the power of the withheld spousal dissing to operate under more than the single instance of the other night?


--Should middle-aged fat former boxing champions take their exhibition match on the road?


And the most important question of all:


--Why are there so many damned ways to spell the name “Allen?”


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

Any Questions?

© WIR 2020


Friday, November 27, 2020

4671 A Holiday Gift from an Insurance Company


It’s nice to be thought of at this time of year.  Even if the thinking comes from an insurance company.  Of course, if they really wanted to give you something, what they’d do is suspend their ridiculous advertising for a week or two.  


Save us from Flo, Jake, Shaq, the Emu. Even the Gecko is wearing out its welcome along with the ever-diminishing entertainment quality of the other ads for the company it represents.


And save us from the endless and overlong Medicare Advantage and Medigap ads.


But no. They won’t do that. And what the health insurance company did was send a gift box of actual stuff.  Two boxes, really, because there are two customers under one roof here. But so far we’ve just opened one of them and redistributed the loot. We’re going to guess that the other one is an identical twin and hold it in reserve for when we run out of trinkets from the first.


The gift boxes are like swag bags from trade shows. Except instead of ballpoint pens, coffee mugs, cosmetic samples, logo baseball caps, movie tickets and the like, they have really useful things.  




The company wants us to protect our health.  They’re on our side. Especially when the state of our health benefits the state of their finances.  Hence, all kinds of healthy stuff.


In ours, there were various trial sizes of hand sanitizer, antibacterial spray, a thermometer (it uses an app, if you don’t have a smartphone, “try this link.” If you don’t have an internet-connected computer, push the on button, put the thing under your tongue and when it beeps, remove it from your mouth and read it) a finger device to measure pulse and oxygen levels (the pulse part is dead wrong, thus calling into question the accuracy of the oxygen detection reading.) Best of all, a mini electric toothbrush.  


Your correspondent has several crowns on implants and two --  count-em-two -- remaining actual live teeth whose main purpose is anchoring the dashingly handsome plastic “temporary appliances” that help display a dazzling smile which usually is as fake as the teeth.


The electric toothbrush works.  And “you can subscribe to a new brush head and batteries, with free shipping for just $5.00 every three months.  Two triple-a batteries and one brush head? Five bucks? Uh… no thanks.  Well… maybe no thanks. The “Quip” brushes and accessories ain’t cheap when you spot them online.


The swag box also included a large squeeze bottle of skin goop.  No one should run out of skin goop.  Especially those of us of crepe-skin age.  It’s another one of the many ways we try to ward off aging and death. Baby skin for the octo-set.


One thing they forgot to include was some sort of device to evict the guy who lives in the bathroom medicine cabinet.  Every time while at the sink, this old coot appears in the mirror.  Who the hell is that, anyway?



--If Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliates would consider using what they spend on swag boxes and discount coupons etc., to help lower premiums or hire more customer service operators.

--If insurance adjusters or claims clerks receive rewards if they are really good at rejecting claims.

--If they do, whether those rewards are revoked when a rejected claim is later approved on appeal.

--If there are two “Jakeses” from State Farm, with the one you get to see depending on whether you’re black or white.  

--How they know which “Jake” to show you?

--If “The General” and his commercial writers know that “on line” and “save time” don’t rhyme.

--If Warren Buffett approved the years-long and widely varied advertising campaign for GEICO, which his company owns and which are impossible to avoid.

--If decorator facemasks will become a permanent fashion statement.


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

Any Questions?

© WIR 2020


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

4670 A Thanksgiving Day Seance


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  That’s when all the relatives wedge into someone’s house, have a big, elaborate meal followed by impromptu naps, sometimes fueled by alcohol, boredom or some magic, but all-natural chemical component of the traditional turkey.


This year there’s the Coronavirus.  And that’s going to reduce the wedging.  Many if not most of us who normally would travel over the river and through the woods won’t. (Hmmm. That’s usually a Christmastime activity, but with climate change, we feel freer to redistribute the bromides.)


This can cause problems.  How to visit with relatives, pretend you’re enjoying yourself and then -- nap. 


The most obvious solution is Zoom.  Hey, everyone… let’s get out our computers or smartphones and set up Zoom Thanksgiving.


That’s okay if there aren’t too many technophobics or Luddites.  But there IS another way:


The Thanksgiving Seance.  This is most effective if a majority of attendees are dead.  You haven’t seen Uncle Frank since his funeral, right?  And he wasn’t his usual talkative self even then.  No matter.  You have the right crystal ball and the best Seance meister (look for “seance meisters near me” in Google) and things will go swimmingly.  


Sometimes you have to find and use their websites.  Sometimes they’ll take phone calls.  But the best among them will get your message telepathically.  Just don’t wait too long.  There’s big demand at this time of year.


So, there you have a celebration that is both real and virtual.  And you won’t heat up the house by running the oven all day and then arguing with kibitzers about what cooking temperature to use and for how long.  Plus you won’t have to baste.


Lost recipe? No problem.


Zoom isn’t perfect.  Seances are even iffier.  But think of the money you’ll save on food and wine.  And the cleanup will be much easier than usual.



--There are many in America who may not eat at all tomorrow.  And many of those who do will have nothing that comes close to a traditional holiday dinner unless you ordinarily celebrate with an American Cheese on White and eight ounces of milk.  Maybe a little ketchup. Reagan told us ketchup is a vegetable. 


With whole families out of work, or corona infected and destitute, starvation has become as traditional here as it is in Somalia, just not yet as common.  


Empty larders; empty wallets.


Some seniors have to choose whether to fill their prescriptions or fill part of the empty shelf where they would keep cans of beans, packages of spaghetti and squeeze bottles of those Reaganistic “vegetables.”


America has the tools and resources to fix this.  And fix it, it may once we have a real president and congress comes back from its seemingly endless vacation.


Shame on the government for allowing this to happen, and shame on us for putting in place a government that knows no shame.


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

Any Questions?

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful and covid-free holiday.

© WIR 2020


Monday, November 23, 2020

4669 Import Export


It’s America and we think big.  Especially when it comes to exports.  But are our exports better than our imports?  That’s hard to tell. How about stuff we make to sell domestically?  Also a tough question.


Let’s first talk about big stuff.  Cars, for instance. Imported brand cars for most part have a good reputation here even those assembled here.  You don’t hear a lot of grousing about cars from or of Japan.  


Germany has fallen on harder times.  A lot of their fancy brands are so technically advanced that no one knows how to keep them working and so they don’t keep working.


Sweden?  Only Volvo is left.  They’re made by Geely, a company based in China.  Are they the boring safes-on-wheels they once were?  More or less, yes.  Are they going to spawn a breed of million-plus-mile drivers as in the past?  Doubtful.  Some say they haven’t made a decent car since the mid-1980s.


Now for our big stuff overseas.  Is a Ford built in or sent to China any more reliable than the one you bought down the street last month?  There’s no easily accessed data.  They’re probably about the same.


Little stuff:  that’s what you can call most of what we import. Small appliances, shoes, clothing.  What comes in from China and India and Indonesia and Honduras is usually decent.  And cheap because people in those countries have never had a chance to even dream of an income in or anywhere close to USD-three figures. 


Plus, not much can go wrong with a t-shirt or a toaster.


But the big question hovering under all this is: Do our exports hold up well overseas?  And yes, in the world of trade and finance in general, hover-under can happen.


Most of what we sell abroad we sell to governments and royal families.  And much of it is weaponry.  One example: the White House wants to sell Lockheed- Martin F-35 Stealth Fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, a country with a little more than the population of New York City if you include Nassau or Westchester or Bergen Counties.


We’re not in a position to assess whether they need sophisticated war planes over there.  But we can at least ask if they’ll work as well as the ones our Navy and Marine Corps own. 


Say you’re in Dubai. You call customer service because your F-35 won’t start when the temperature drops to a typical December low of 80 degrees.


How tall is the phone tree of items the caller must wade through to get to speak with a live body?


“Due to the Coronavirus we’re experiencing a heavier than usual call volume…”


“You have reached the F-35 Customer Care Helpline.  Our offices are open Monday through Friday from 6 am to midnight, Pacific Standard Time. Please call back during regular business hours.  Thank you for choosing Lockheed-Martin.”


I’m sure -- sorta sure -- it wouldn’t be like that. But just imagine if it could be.  The folks in the UAE would instantly be looking on the internet for their nearest Russian MIG dealer.


The Russian defense contractors may have longer hours in more convenient time zones.  But you have to wonder if their Customer Satisfaction Specialists know which way is up when you have your hand on the throttle. At least in Fort Worth where they build the F-35, the customer service person can say “Push the stick toward the window and you should gain altitude.”


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

Any Questions?  Your email is very important to us…

© WIR 2020


Friday, November 20, 2020

4668 Exclusive Clubs


 This is a “best of” from December 28, 2005 before we started a numbering system and had to use the kind of clunky apparatus pictured here. We are running some still-current oldies while trying to disengage from trump and his side effects.


We used to be “users” or “buyers.” Then we became “customers.” After that it was “consumers,” and now, “members.”

Users and Buyers were okay. Customer was okay. Consumer was almost okay.


It’s hard to “consume” an insurance policy or an automobile, though you can eat one and set fire to either. But most of the time “consumers” was alright.


But member?


Members belong to clubs and associations and societies.

Then, one of the Charge Card companies (American Express?) started calling users of its services “members.”


It caught on. Soon, all cards got rid of all their users, buyers, customers and consumers, and we all became “card members” or “card-members” or “cardmembers.”


Now, come the stores. We have “wholesale clubs” like “B.J.’s” (where did they get THAT name?) and Costco and Sam’s Club.

And the TV shopping channels are playing right along. You can be a “member” of QVC, simply by asking. Probably HSN and all the others, too.

And there are benefits, galore, the first (and most important) being you get much more advertising than you used to. Mailings, e-mail, even phone solicitation in an opt-out era. (Yes, it’s legal if you initiate business with them. Not that that matters to the legions of telephone spamming.)


Another benefit? At the shopping clubs – the concrete ones – you get to buy large sized items which often expire before you can use half of whatever it is, unless you’re running a summer camp, a daycare center (which has members, too) or a family with two dozen kids.


Big saving, that one.


At some branches, the “clubs” will sell you gasoline at a couple of cents off the average neighborhood price. For this privilege, you pay between 40 and 70 dollars a year.


Another big saving.


The TV shopping services will ask you for your membership number and up will pop your name, address, e-mail and credit card data.


How convenient. Makes it easy to load up on those ab toners, Cubic Zirconia rings, and that wonderful wristwatch with the ten interchangeable bands. Things you really need.


The competition for “members” is so fierce these days that you now get “rewards” for joining and participating.


Free pen and pencil sets (all you pay is postage.) Upgraded shipping and handling. (The 15 dollar ground delivery fee is waived, or you get extra speedy delivery for the regular price. Which makes you wonder what they actually do when they “handle” something.)

Frequent flyer miles (some of which expire before you’re wheels down on that “member-special” flight from LaGuardia to Moote Pointe International, Dover NJ, or other highly desirable travel destinations.)


But it’s not all bad.


There’s a sense of community. The guy in the airplane seat next to you may also be a member of the frequent flyer program.


Everyone you meet in Costco is a member of that same tightly knit, smarter-than-the-average-shopper fraternity.


Let’s not restrict “membership” to the Moose Lodge and the shopping club.


Think of the fun you can have as a “member” of, say, your mobile phone carrier, instead of a mere user, buyer, customer or consumer.


It’s nice to belong.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.™

Any Questions?

© WIR 2005, 2020


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

4667 Writers Crimp


Computerized remote learning is only one way to make college tough on students and faculty alike. But roadblocks have always been common.  Here’s one we first looked at in November of 2010.


Maybe it's necessary, but maybe not.  Two self appointed agencies have become the writing police for today's college students.  After four years of the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association putting prose in a vise or straight jacket, it's no wonder today's grads can't write.  If they could beforehand, they can't now.


These are the enforcers, the knee-cappers, knuckle dragging, neck-less guys in black suits and when a real writer sees them coming, he or she will quiver and acquiesce if he's looking to get a decent grade in a college course.  


Okay, there are some things that need enforcement and conformity.   Like the way a writer uses references, and the way one uses quotations and the way he structures a paper or paragraph.  After that stuff, who cares?  Let's look at some of the stupidest of the stupid.


THE CULT OF THE ACTIVE VOICE:   Cornell Professor Will Strunk started it at a time when American English was more florid and confusing than clear.  His teachings included using small and common words, simple declarative sentences and deflated phrases. That's still good general advice, as it was then.  


Later, E.B. White played St. Paul to Strunk's Jesus and began spreading and enlarging The Word via “The Elements of Style.”  The Associated Press, United Press and, particularly International News Service (now the "I" in "UPI,") became the missionaries. 


 Active voice now is the APA and MLA law.  But when the object of a sentence is more important than the subject, the passive voice is appropriate.  In cases like this, the active voice is forced, distracting and irrelevant.  Try to tell that to your professor.


RUN-ONS AND FRAGMENTS:  An artful writer can produce an effective run-on sentence or a sentence fragment.  Either "violation" can break the numbing monotony of the academic template.  If you don't think it's possible, check out Jimmy Breslin or Hemingway.


CONJUNCTIONS: Another major no-no is starting a sentence with a conjunction.  But that's how we talk. (Please note the sentence starts with a conjunction.) 


 Contractions, say the automated APA computerized paper-reading programs, are "inappropriate to academic writing."   But sprinkling some contractions in a paper can help a reader's comprehension.  And it humanizes the text.


ME MYSELF AND I: And then, there's writing in the first person, advocated by both enforcement groups. Both branches of the Word Police suggest it over the third person.  If you're Warren Buffet talking about stocks or Charles Schumer talking about legislation or Stephen Hawking talking about cosmology, sure.  But if you aren't, first person-isms are somewhere on the scale between pretentious and gauche.   


Who cares what "I" think -- and who should?


It's impossible to know for sure, but it's likely Strunk didn't want his work cryogenized.  But even if he and others like him did (George Orwell, Edwin Newman and William Safire for examples,) he might look at the silly robotizing and homogenization the Word Police have imposed, urge caution and decreased zealousness and conformity that distracts both from writing and reading.  Weave a straitjacket on the writer and both he or she and the reader are, well, straitjacketed.


Can you imagine if this stuff got carried over into real life?  Here's a cop talking to a motorist he pulled over:  "Ma’am, may I see your driver’s license, registration and insurance information as stated in State Law 3502 B of 1967, paragraph 23.601, subsection 672D?"  Motorist:  "Yes, sir, but first you are to be cautioned that as reported by myself, Jezebel. M. Motorist, there is a 9mm Glock in the glove compartment where the insurance card is situated, along with a carry permit for the weapon.  As recommended by Police Procedure Code 23,123, I suggest that you open the passenger side door.  And then it can be fished out by yourself."  The cop replies "Ma’am, I am citing you for using the passive voice and starting a sentence with a conjunction."


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

Any Questions?

© WIR 2020


Monday, November 16, 2020

4666 Dear trumpets


Psudopresident trump, L, could those be elevator shoes?

4666 Dear trumpets,


An open letter to Biden from this space the other day didn’t do much good.  This one won’t, either.  But maybe there are some real men and women among you and maybe, if you're among the supporters but not among the cult followers of the pseudopresident, you haven’t lost your senses or some heft with your friends and family members who have swallowed the trump-aid.


The squishy cowards who comprise the cult took to the streets over the weekend and set up a collective whine and howl about how their guy lost but only because the other 70-something million stole victory from you, somehow.


What a caper that must have been. How’d we do that? 


Someone lost an election.  Happens every time we hold one.  Real men and women treat their wounds and move on.  


Squishy cowards with the squishiest and the most cowardly of the leading the herd.  


Like ball games, elections can be won or lost. Unlike most ballgames, there’s usually no overtime though you can’t blame the current crop from trying to have one.  Like most sports, these days, there are instant replays. You can play this video over and over and the result is the same. Someone won and someone else lost.  


The thing to do now is get back into the locker room, shower, put on your street clothes and schedule some strategy sessions that’ll help you not-lose the next game.


You have four years to do that.  Your candidate will be bigger and squishier, and 78 years old.  Only a few years ago, that would be an unthinkable age to run for president.  Well, the next officeholder will be almost that age when he takes office.


So maybe it’ll be unthinkable. But it won’t be undoable. 


Heaven forbid.


But in the meantime, cult followers -- that’s a mighty big cult -- think about what it is to be an American.  You can whine.  You can participate in what may be the largest collective wound-licking of all time.  Or you can stand up for what you believe in and work toward your goal: White supremacy, a world in which the poor die on the roadside from malnutrition or lack of access to medical care, who conceal-carry their .38s but not their bad intentions.


Or you can emerge from the Kool-Aid bender you’ve been on and say “well maybe he wasn’t the best choice in the first place.”



--It’s time to reconsider the way federal aid is distributed to states. How about this: States that get more than they contribute to the federal government get back only what they pay in, plus interest but minus the cost of doing the paperwork and making the transfers. Money in motion isn’t real money, but we’ve all made it work.  Somehow.


--The current election was not a vote on reparations, even those cloaked in achievement and accomplishment. It was a road that eventually can lead to real equality. 


But that -- as we’ve said since our equal rights demonstration days -- is not something electing more people of color or passing new anti-discrimination laws can do on their own.  It’s up to us who need to… to adjust our attitudes, neighborhoods, back yards and employment rosters.


What’s in your heart has to start in your head.  And of that, you are in charge.


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

Any questions?

© WIR 2020


Friday, November 13, 2020

4665 The Search for Reason on Friday the 13th

The cat hasn’t crossed your path yet, but by the time you finish reading, it may have.


Friday, the 13th. It’s supposed to be a bad luck day.  Don’t let a black cat cross your path.  Watch out for down-pointing horseshoes falling off a wall. Don’t point at a rainbow in Navajo Country.  And don’t walk under a ladder, as the exponential power of the 13th to worsen things will make the piano falling from the roof fall fast enough to flatten you.


Stupid stuff, all of it.  Unreasonable. Irrational.  We don’t believe in stuff like that, right? Of COURSE we don’t.  Instead we look for the scientific, the mathematical, the rational.


Instead of meandering black cats and falling pianos, we rely upon statements from our leadership.  The COVID virus will magically disappear by Summer. Er, by Autumn. By election day. By...Er, soon.


The earth is not self destructing because you drive a Chevy with a hole in the exhaust system, use too much water, burn coal, burn piles of leaves and raise fart-happy cattle. In fact, it’s not self-destructing at all.


You are a man or woman of reason! 


The junk that passes for reasoning these days sends us searching for sanity in the works of Lewis Carroll or L. Frank Baum or Tom Lehrer or Harry Potter.  It makes us view Dali paintings of melting watches or a Jesus on the cross in agony and say “yeah, that makes sense.  I get that. It’s reality.”


We see the MAGA-maniacs and question our own sanity, not theirs.  Keep telling us the world is flat. Enough of us will soon believe it so firmly that Lester Holt and Wolf Blitzer will give it equal time on the Nightly News or Wolfworld Primetime.


Well… both sides have their points, don’t they?


No they don’t.


That thinking is how half of us got to believe Obama was born in Kenya, Hillary caused Benghazi after arranging the murder of Vince Foster and by the way was that before or after she made a killing with Whitewater?  Also: angels are real and Bic Pens “write the first time and every time.”


It’s how we learned to believe that “some very fine people” shave their heads and wear swastikas tattooed on their arms and others have a secret stash of ready to wear sheets and matching hoods because it’s, well, tradition.

The Thousandair President, as Gail Collins once called him, has kidnapped our time and our minds and successfully held them prisoner for almost five years, with more to come no matter the final outcome of the 2020 election.  He’s imprisoned us and doesn’t even have to pay a staff of corrections officers to keep us in line. We volunteer.


Quote of the Day: “After two years in the Senate, I often long for the realism and sincerity of Hollywood.” -- Fred Dalton Thompson (1942-2015) Actor, US Senator, lawyer, lobbyist, radio personality and columnist.


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

Any Questions?

© 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 ...