Monthly Archives: January 2012

Mini-Rumination: Rick Santorum’s Daughter

It’s wonderful for Rick Santorum that he and his wife can afford to bundle their sick little three-year-old onto an airplane and take her to an outstanding hospital that’s nowhere near where they live so she can get the best medical care available.  The Curmudgeon’s thoughts are with the Santorums and he hopes little Bella does well.

At the same time, though, The Curmudgeon can’t help but hope that maybe this will lead Mr. Santorum to look a little more kindly on ordinary working people who can’t afford health insurance and who aren’t looking for the best care money can buy even though it’s a plane ride away but only want to be able to take their children to a neighborhood family doctor without breaking into their food or rent money.  As it stands now, Mr. Santorum’s outlook toward access to health care is pretty simple:  if you don’t have the money and you don’t have the insurance, that’s too damn bad.

Mini-Rumination: Poker on TV

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall at the ESPN executive meeting during which they first discussed broadcasting poker tournaments?

Why don’t we broadcast a poker tournament?

Seriously, should we look for some more college basketball?  Or maybe another show that’s all about our on-air anchors and not about the sports they’re supposed to be covering?

I mean it.  Let’s show a poker tournament.

What’ve you been smoking?

I’m not kidding.  We’re ESPN.  We got people to watch women’s figure contests, we got people to watch the X games, we even got people to watch a spelling bee.  Poker’s not that much of a stretch.

You seriously think people will actually watch other people playing cards?

Sure.  They’ll watch anything.

But it’s not sports.  We’re a sports network.

We’re the sports leaders.  If we cover it, by definition it’s sports.

You mean like the spelling bee?

Exactly.

Coming soon, to an ESPN broadcast near you:   the international dominoes championship.  Or maybe full-contact tiddly-winks.  Um, the Yahtzee Classic?

 

The USA Network: What, No “Gilligan’s Island”?

The Curmudgeon still remembers that day in the late 1960s when his father came home with a little gray box that he hooked up to the back of the family’s portable black-and-white television.  He said it was called a “UHF converter,” and with the help of a strange-looking, round antenna that he screwed onto the back of the set right near the rabbit ears, it added three new television stations to the three network stations the family already received (in The Curmudgeon’s family, public broadcasting never really counted).

It wasn’t a great experience.  For starters, the picture on channels 17, 29, and 48 was awful:  fuzzy, snowy, and indistinct in a way that had nothing to do with the aging television on which it played.  The regular stations looked just fine; these new stations looked terrible.

Worse than the picture was the programming.  As soon as the novelty wore off, the family knew it was awful.  Sure, there was an occasional old movie worth watching, but most of the programming consisted of cartoons – a lot of cheap Japanese cartoons, like “Astro Boy” and “Speed Racer;” a little sports  – The Curmudgeon remembers bullfighting (which was pretty horrifying), a lot of wrestling (which he had never seen before), and hockey (you could never see the puck amid all the static and snow); and mostly, overwhelmingly, reruns of old shows.

And oh, those reruns.  Most of them were programs that were never any good even in their heyday:  “Dobie Gillis,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Real McCoys,” “Car 54 Where are You,” and the king of them all, “Gilligan’s Island.”  Now The Curmudgeon has always had a soft spot in his heart for “Gilligan’s Island:”  in second grade, when Miss Silverman asked her class to vote for their favorite television program, The Curmudgeon voted for “Gilligan’s Island” while most of his classmates voted for “Batman” or “The Addams Family.”  Even so, by the time UHF arrived in The Curmudgeon’s household he already knew that “Gilligan’s Island” was truly awful television, and Gilligan came to symbolize the mediocrity of UHF television.  (And in anticipation of the obvious question, the answer is:  Ginger)  UHF television itself symbolized cynical corporate greed:  put up an underpowered transmitter, throw on the cheapest programming you can buy, and rake in advertisers’ money.

UHF as we knew it may be gone, but its spirit lives on in the form of the USA Network, one of today’s most cynical of cable television networks.  (Note:  The other is Bravo.  Take heart:  The Curmudgeon will have a few choice words about Bravo in the future.)

Sure, USA has a few original series, but they only seem to run for a few months, and at any given time only one or two of them are actually showing any new programming.  The network has a catch-phrase it likes to promote – “characters welcome” – but the second, unspoken half of that phrase is “plots strictly optional.”  Somewhere along the line, the folks at USA decided that the key to successful programming is likeable, quirky characters (“Monk,” anyone?) but what those characters do once they’re on the air isn’t terribly important.  Go ahead, try to find a plot in an original USA program; The Curmudgeon dares you.

But like its UHF predecessors, the USA Network is really all about reruns:  rerun after rerun after rerun after rerun.  In the name of research, The Curmudgeon visited the USA Network web site and tallied its programming for one business week, January 23 through January 27, from nine o’clock in the morning until eleven at night.  His inspiration had a simple origin:  he had noticed USA Network advertising NCIS marathons approximately 40 of the past 50 weekends – or at least so it seemed.

So here’s what that tally showed.  Those five days have fifteen hour-long slots a day, or 75 slots for the five-day business work.  Of those seventy-five slots in the chosen week, sixty-two of them – eighty-three percent ­– were occupied by just three different series:  “Law and Order,” “NCIS,” and “Burn Notice;” only the latter is a series original to the USA Network.  On Monday, January 23, USA showed eight consecutive episodes – returns – of “Law and Order,” followed by four episodes – reruns – of “NCIS.”  The following day it went for broke:  thirteen consecutive episodes – reruns – of “Law and Order.”  The day after that – Wednesday, January 25 – came eight straight episodes – reruns – of “NCIS.”  And it goes on.

And that much-ballyhooed (as a result of relentless promotion) original USA Network programming?  As far as The Curmudgeon can tell – the network’s web site is sort of fuzzy about this and he had no interest in tuning in to see if it was actually true  – the five-day period had two episodes of new programming:  never-before-seen episodes of “White Collar” and “Royal Pains.”  Two whole new episodes of new programming in an entire week.  That’s not a television network; it’s a table of frayed, used, seen-better-days VHS tapes at a video store going-out-of-business sale.

Cable networks have brought a lot of new and innovative programming to television.  No longer needing the huge audiences required to succeed in the old days when there were three networks, cable can develop bright, interesting, innovative programming geared to smaller, niche audiences.  HBO is the best at this; the USA Network is probably the worst.  The programming on the USA Network is so bad, and so incredibly monotonous, that it can make one long for the days of “Gilligan’s Island.”

Or at least for network executives and programmers who aren’t about as dim-witted as Gilligan.

Mini-Rumination: Ready-Shoot-Aim

Tiger Woods’s former coach will soon be out with a new book, some of which undoubtedly will be about his former pupil, who fired the coach nearly two years ago.

Woods is now criticizing his former coach for writing the book, saying it’s unprofessional and all about money.  (As if doing commercial endorsements isn’t about money, Tiger.)

Of course, the book’s not out yet and Woods hasn’t read it, which means Tiger is criticizing a book he hasn’t read.

And he says he won’t read it, either.

But apparently, not having any idea what he’s talking about isn’t going to deter Tiger from talking about it anyway.

Nice.

Mini-Rumination: A U.S. President Born in a Foreign Country?

Think the argument that President Obama isn’t qualified to serve as President because he was born in another country is unique?

Think again.

It’s happened before.

Chester Alan Arthur came to Washington, D.C. as the ultimate political hack; he had never been elected to any public office and was fired from the one and only government job he ever held amid allegations of corruption.  When President James Garfield lay dying from an assassin’s bullet, many Americans despaired at the thought of Arthur, his Vice President, taking his place.

In her book Destiny of the Republic:  A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard writes that

Enraged by the very idea of Arthur taking over the presidency, Americans across the country readied themselves as if for battle.  Some took a tactical approach, frantically trying to revive the rumor, started during the campaign, that the vice president had been born in Canada, and so was constitutionally prohibited from becoming president.

So it looks like The Donald and all those tea party fools not only were wrong but also weren’t even original.

Small Town, Small Time

The Curmudgeon lives in the town of Marlton, New Jersey, which is about ten miles and fifteen minutes from four different bridges that span the Delaware River and connect Philadelphia to New Jersey.  As towns go, it ain’t much:  population 10,000, no downtown or main street, tons of mostly chain store retail and dining.  Public ball fields are decent, the basketball courts inadequate, and the tennis courts scarce.  The library is about on par with the library at the Philadelphia public high school The Curmudgeon attended (Lincoln ’75, for those of you keeping score).  The municipal building, while nice, is a monument to indifference to environmental and energy consumption concerns while the courtroom/council chamber in that building is a monument to the self-love of public officials.

The people who run things in Marlton are real Ralph Kramden types – always looking for the big score.  Years ago they thought they could keep taxes low by buying a golf course that would generate revenue for the town.  The only thing their scheming produced though, was a budget awash in debt service and higher taxes.

The Democratic boss of an adjacent county bullied Marlton’s mayor and council into letting him build his own personal heliport outside his office despite overwhelming opposition from the town’s residents.  Because the town and the state and the school board and the fire district – yes, the fire district – can’t synchronize their elections, voters are sometimes asked to go to the polls four or five or, The Curmudgeon thinks, maybe even six times a year (local/county primary, state primary, school board, fire district, general election, homecoming queen).  In a tribute to inefficient government, the town is – incredibly – in two separate school districts:  a K-8 district and a separate regional high school district.

Never let anyone tell you that small-town politics is a more civilized version of its big-city counterpart.  Marlton’s current mayor managed his Republican predecessor’s last successful campaign for office and then, demonstrating his grasp of the concepts of friendship and loyalty, switched parties to run against his former boss as a Democrat, beat him, and then turned around and became a Republican again.  In other words, he’s a real man of principle.

Of course, such acts of selfishness rarely occur in isolation.  The mayor works for the Baltimore Ravens NFL football team and somehow managed to hornswoggle the council into declaring a “Baltimore Ravens Day” in a town where 99 percent of the people root for the Philadelphia Eagles and don’t give a damn about the mayor’s employer.  This is the kind of self-centered “it’s all about me” behavior that leads people to dislike politicians so very much.

Small-town life, unfortunately, begets such small-time practices.  Another small-time practice unfolded recently when one of Marlton’s council members was elected to a higher office – few people seem to hold office long here before running for another – and the vacancy on the council needed to be filled.

In Philadelphia, the place The Curmudgeon knows best, they hold special elections to fill such vacancies.  Each party puts someone on the ballot, the two duke it out, and the winner gets the job.  Having parties put candidates directly on the ballot is pretty undemocratic and profoundly bad government, and The Curmudgeon has long been appalled that election law allows party bosses – people who’ve never even been elected dog-catcher – to decide who gets to run.  After all, whom do party bosses typically select?  Other party bosses and their pals, of course.

By comparison, Marlton makes Philadelphia seem like a pillar of participatory democracy.  Since the departing council member was a Republican, The Curmudgeon learned, the Republican party selects his successor.  The public is not invited, Democrats are not invited, and interviews of candidates are closed.  The head of the local Republican party told what passes for the local newspaper that “Candidates were chosen based on their political experience, election experience and their participation in township council meetings…”  In other words, only insiders need apply.  Good people should just stay home.  People they don’t know need not apply.  So whom did the party ultimately choose?  A former council member who is the son of a former council member who served on the council at the same time as the current mayor’s father.

Come to think of it, maybe Marlton’s problem is all this in-breeding.

Growing up in Philadelphia and spending his first forty-six years there, The Curmudgeon once thought nothing was dirtier than Philadelphia politics.  Now, though, he knows better:  small-town politics is dirtier by a mile.  In a big city like Philadelphia, at least there’s an active press to keep an eye on things.  Bad things still happen, but they don’t happen in secret; they’re blasted all over the front page of the newspapers and on television so everyone knows about them.  In small-town, small-time Marlton, though, there’s no active press, so these kinds of things – the proclamation, the heliport, the council vacancy – occur all the time and residents typically only learn about them after the fact.  It’s a real air of secrecy:  when The Curmudgeon was new to town and there was a mayoral election, he sent an email to one of the candidates (the current mayor, in fact) through his web site, inquiring about his positions on certain issues.  He was informed in a return email that the candidate did not share such information with voters.

In the end, of course, it’s the public that’s harmed by such a closed-door, undemocratic, insider approach to government.  The Curmudgeon has lived in Marlton for eight years and in that time taxes have nearly doubled even though city workers have taken a hit on their health care benefits and city services have reportedly been cut back.  Actually, The Curmudgeon can’t vouch for this cutback.  He lives in a condominium and has learned that Marlton views condominiums as something best ignored – ignored, that is, except for the enormous profits the township reaps from high property taxes from condo owners who consume very few government services.  The Curmudgeon also can’t vouch for the cutback in city services because he lives on the wrong side of the tracks – in this case, on the wrong side of the main highway that runs through the town.  The side on which he lives happens to be the side that’s generally ignored by township leaders.

When The Curmudgeon moved from the big city to a small town, he hoped it meant that elected officials would have his back.  It turns out that he’s learned that you can’t afford to turn you back on those people.

 

Mini-Rumination: Life is Sometimes Unfair

The Curmudgeon read recently that seventh and final year of the 1970s television series “Adam-12” will be released on DVD in April.

Meanwhile, only two of the seven seasons of “Hill Street Blues” are available on DVD.

Sometimes, life is just not fair.

Mini-Rumination: English Only Spoken Here

In the wake of Newt Gingrich’s television ad belittling Mitt Romney for the apparent crime of being able to speak a second language, The Curmudgeon wishes to assure his readers that he speaks English and only English.  He has no talent for foreign language whatsoever.  Four years of Hebrew school and seven years of studying Latin left him unable to express even a single thought in either language, save his ability to sing the first few lines of Virgil’s Aeneid to the tune of an old Jewish folk song and his inexplicable recollection of the single Latin phrase “Carthago delenda est.”  These words means “Carthage must be destroyed” – which it was, which in turn means that the only thing The Curmudgeon can say in Latin is about a country that was wiped off the face of the earth 2000 years ago.

Consequently, visitors to this site can be assured that in reading The Curmudgeon’s words, they are not engaging in any activity that will be viewed as elitist and are not doing anything that will come back to haunt them later in life.

The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon:  a place where you can be proud to be an educated person.

The Liberal Cell Phone

Sure, you’ve got a great cell phone plan that gives you unlimited dialing, texting, and data for a terrific low price.  And yes, it seldom drops your calls and it can show you how to get to that party at your boss’s house, where to get the best kosher dim sum in town, where to buy blank VHS tapes because you refuse to join the TiVo generation, and what was the top song on the Billboard charts the day you graduated from high school (in The Curmudgeon’s case, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille), but is it a pro-choice cell phone?  Does it care about what’s going in Darfur?  Does it share your contempt for Rush Limbaugh?  Does it drive a Prius?

It does if it’s a Credo Mobile cell phone.

As described in past posts, The Curmudgeon’s politics are pretty far to the left of center, and to feed his interests, he subscribes to a number of leftist publications.  He’s noticed in recent months that a cell phone company – Credo Mobile – advertises in some of those magazines.  The following is part of an advertisement he found in Mother Jones:

Take a close look at your phone company and ask yourself this:  Does my phone company care about industrial pollution, or the assault on women’s rights, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Wall Street crimes, or other pernicious problems of the day?  More importantly, does your phone company fight [italics in original] to help put an end to them?

No, this isn’t rhetoric from Act Up, Move On, Occupy Wall Street, or a Keith Olbermann rant.  It’s a sales pitch for a cell phone company.

A cell phone company!

Credo Mobile’s web site prattles on, describing the company as “More than a network.  A movement.”  The way the company works is that one percent of customers’ charges are donated to non-profit organizations selected by customers – groups like Oxfam America, Amnesty International, Jobs With Justice, Friends of the Earth, and many others.  Meanwhile, Credo Mobile’s web site has a link that asks “Does your phone company play on the same team as the Koch brothers?”

The Curmudgeon would think this is cute if it were a high school booster club trying to sell soft pretzels to buy new jocks straps for the football team or new laptops for the computer lab, but for a business, he thinks it’s kind of silly.  And rest assured, Credo Mobile is a profit-seeking business, not a “movement” and not a charitable enterprise.

The Curmudgeon likes and supports liberal causes.  He doesn’t buy gasoline at Exxon for the obvious reason, never did business with a now-defunct bank in Philadelphia called First Pennsylvania because of its reputation for anti-semitism, and never, ever crosses a labor union’s picket line.  In general, though – and there certainly are exceptions – he prefers to select his products based on their merits and then to make his charitable giving decisions separately, based on the causes themselves.  He doesn’t eat any “Newman’s Own” products because he’s yet to find one he finds even remotely palatable – he still can’t figure out how a company can so profoundly botch lemonade and salad dressing – and he’ss never swayed by a company exhibiting a pink ribbon in its advertising or on its products because he knows that’s just a cynical marketing ploy in which the company invests next to nothing, rakes in huge new profits by associating with a popular cause, and then contributes a miniscule portion of those profits to the cause.

No, while The Curmudgeon will remain a card-carrying member of the ACLU, he doesn’t need his cell phone company – or, for that matter, his bookstore, his auto repair shop, his favorite barbecue joint, or his favorite chocolatier (See’s, by the way, a California company) to help him with his charitable giving.  He’s perfectly capable of making those decisions without help.

All he wants from his cell phone company is a reliable, clear signal and a decent price – even if that company isn’t in the right place on matters like a woman’s right to choose, the minimum wage, and prayer in public schools.

(A programming note:  Notwithstanding the views presented above, The Curmudgeon will have a few choice four-letter words about his current cell phone provider in a future post.  Stay tuned.)

Mini-Rumination: Guns and Doses

Wanna pack heat when you’re in the hospital?

Seems like a silly idea, and the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association has expressed its interest in banning guns in hospitals and nursing homes.

Not so fast, says the National Rifle Association.

“NRA would oppose a bill that panders to the anti-gun political agenda of South Florida organizations,” an NRA spokesperson told the Miami Herald.

The Curmudgeon generally thinks the gun nuts are, well, nuts, but to be fair, he can envision a few situations in which people in hospitals might benefit from being armed.

“Doctor, why do you have a 38 strapped to your ankle?”

“Well, when the patient comes out of the anesthesia, if she doesn’t like the way I’ve fixed her nose, she could get violent, so I want to be prepared.”

Or maybe this.

“I think you came through the surgery well, Mr. Harper.  You have a lot of rehab ahead of you, but in a few months you’re going to love your new hip.”

“Thanks, doc, but I’m in a lot of pain now.”

“Well, that’s to be expected after surgery.”

“Do you think you can increase the morphine a little?”

“That’s not a good idea.  I don’t want to encourage any kind of dependence on pain-killers.”

Patient reaches under his pillow and pulls out his gun.

“Let me ask that question again, doc.  Do you think you can increase the morphine a little?”

The Curmudgeon has seen the light:  the NRA is obviously right.  People need their guns in hospitals, and no croissant-eating, loafer-wearing, chardonnay-sipping, BMW-driving, French-speaking pinko liberals have any business suggesting otherwise.