Monthly Archives: February 2012

Mini-Rumination: Two Environmental Queries

Much to his surprise, The Curmudgeon embraced recycling when it arrived in his community in the 1990s.  Today, he’s an absolute model when it comes to ensuring that items that can be recycled don’t fall into the waste stream.

But he has a question – about peanut butter jars.

We all know we’re supposed to recycle plastic jars, and peanut butter comes in plastic jars.  We also know, though, that we’re supposed to rinse out those plastic jars before tossing them into the recycle bin.

But have you ever noticed how much is involved in rinsing out an empty jar of peanut butter?

It takes a lot of water to rinse out a jar; that can’t be good for the environment.

Also, it takes hot water to rinse out that jar – and producing hot water takes energy.

So here’s the question:  in light of how much water and energy are required to rinse a jar of peanut butter so it can be recycled, is it better for the environment to use all that water and all that energy to heat the water or are we better off just tossing the empty peanut butter jar into the trash?

Now, another environmental question.

You are about to, um, heed nature’s call.  Before setting about to do your business, you decide to wipe at a drippy nose and have a soiled tissue.  In light of the activity you are about to undertake, does it make more sense, from an environmental perspective, to toss that soiled tissue into the trash or to flush it down the toilet since you’re going to flush the toilet anyway and there will be room for your tissue.

(By the way:  these are not intended as trick questions.  The Curmudgeon doesn’t know the answers and welcomes informed perspectives on these matters.)

Could He Mean Another Facebook?

While The Curmudgeon is a writer by both vocation and avocation, he has never aspired to be a journalist; reporting never appealed to him as a profession.  Even so, he believes the press is arguably, with the possible exception of the church, the most important institution in the country, and for this reason he reads occasionally about journalism – its history, its exploits, its challenges, its successes, and its failures.

For those same reasons, he has been a reader of the Columbia Journalism Review for more than twenty years.  It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship:  there are times when The Curmudgeon grows unhappy with the magazine and wanders away from it for a few years, but at least so far, he eventually finds his way back.  The Review is currently on probation:  The Curmudgeon is displeased that such a significant portion of each edition is devoted to whining about the state of the newspaper industry.  The whining is so objectionable for two reasons:  first, because it’s unseemly to whine so in print; and second, The Curmudgeon – as his name suggests – is predisposed to do a bit of whining himself and doesn’t need to hear the whining of strangers as well (unless they’re sick, injured, or hungry – and not “when’s dinner, I’m starved?” hungry).

Much of the November/December edition of the Columbia Journalism Review was a paean to itself:  it was the publication’s fiftieth anniversary, so it spent much of the issue congratulating itself.  Here’s hoping the muscle strain they no doubt suffered from patting themselves on the back so vigorously eases soon.  Much of the issue was fairly unreadable, but one article caught The Curmudgeon’s eye:  a piece called “On Facebook and Freedom,” by Justin Peters.

Truth be told, The Curmudgeon is not much of a fan of Facebook.  He understands Facebook’s appeal as a diversion but is not terribly amused by it himself.  He has a Facebook page but views it erratically and has yet to ask anyone to be his “friend.”  Mostly he’s there because, well, all the other kids are doing it.  (And no, if all the other kids were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, The Curmudgeon would not jump, too.)

While The Curmudgeon hardly fancies himself an expert on Facebook, he found some of Mr. Peters’ observations pretty laughable.

How did a frivolous website with few apparent practical applications come to so disproportionately overshadow the American digital economy?  By tapping into the fundamental human need to communicate with other people; by allowing you to stay in touch with everyone you’ve ever known, all at the same time, without having to call them or send them Christmas cards or remember the names of their children.  Facebook utilizes the power of networks to provide the most useful tool for easy sociability in generations.  And, as it does so, it rejects the lessons of the living web.

First of all, The Curmudgeon has no idea what the “living web” is or means and cannot fathom how Facebook “overshadows the American digital economy” when it’s free to use and doesn’t sell anything.  But overlooking these minor assaults on common sense, isn’t it clear how this “frivolous website” has achieved the status it enjoys today?  People like Facebook.  They like playing with Facebook, like visiting Facebook, like rummaging around in Facebook.  It’s a combination of a class reunion, a neighborhood block party, and peering out the window to see what’s coming out of the new neighbors’ moving van.

Mr. Peters notes that

Facebook succeeds by disempowering its users, most of whom did not realize they were ceding powers that they had never actually exercised.

Really?  The Curmudgeon has been disempowered because he ceded powers he never knew he had?  What does that mean – that someone stole his cape and sprayed him with liquid kryptonite?  The nerve of those Facebook people!

But he continues.

Daunted by and suspicious of a decentralized communications medium that gave them unlimited choices, these new web viewers found themselves willing to swap freedom for a more coherent online experience; more than willing to accept Facebook’s limitations and reductive emotional grammar, because the site is free, usable, and everyone else is already there.

Please give The Curmudgeon a moment; he felt a wave of nausea when he read about Facebook’s “reductive emotional grammar.”

Thanks, that’s better.

Daunted, perhaps, but suspicious?  Really?  And suspicious of “a decentralized communications medium”?  Again – really?  Yes, that’s it:  The Curmudgeon wanted to surf the web but said to himself, “Damn, I’m starting to wonder about this decentralized communications medium.”  As for “swapping freedom” – please, give us a break.  It’s a web site, not an agreement to waive the bill of rights.  Also, doesn’t this assertion assume that all Facebook users don’t do anything else on the web except play with Facebook?

And then Mr. Peters gets sillier.

Though the company might not define itself as such, its users have certainly come to think of Facebook as a news source – a place they come to get data and information of external and personal import.

Again, The Curmudgeon asks, “Really?”  People think of Facebook as a news source?  A news source?  The Curmudgeon cannot claim to know what everyone thinks, but he finds the notion that anyone – anyone – thinks of Facebook as a “news” source as utterly ridiculous.

Maybe this is a matter of semantics and what constitutes “news” to most people.  True, Facebook has proven useful as a central clearinghouse for information during some recent events like the Arab Spring, but The Curmudgeon has trouble picturing someone coming home after a hard day’s work and hollering to his wife, “I’ll be down in a few minutes, honey.  I want to log onto Facebook to see what’s going on in the world today.”  Does anyone think Facebook is a substitute for thirty minutes with Brian Williams – or even Jon Stewart (or even, heaven forbid, a newspaper)?  The only “news” most people want from Facebook is whether Uncle Rick’s knee surgery went well or whether their favorite niece is going to the prom with that new boy she likes.  Is that “news”?  If it is, The Curmudgeon is all wrong about this – but he thinks it’s not, and he’s not.

Occupy Wall Street, at least among the people in my circle, gets a lot of attention and support on Facebook.  It coordinates many of its events using Facebook.  And it is a metaphor for the flaws inherent in Facebook.

Well, at least in your circle, Mr. Peters, but can we agree that out of hundreds of millions of Facebook users, that’s an awfully small circle?

And – a metaphor?  Really?  How so?

Facebook is raising awareness of news like Occupy Wall Street is raising awareness of issues, insofar as they’re both raising awareness that (some) issues exist.  The difference is that Facebook itself is in prime position to be an informational leader.  It would not be impossible for Facebook to program a function that would let its users identify the most trusted, most-verifiable updates on any given topic from any given source; it would not be difficult for Facebook to let interested users do this work for them.  But Facebook has shown little interest in anything other than being all things to everyone; little interest in empowering its everyday users to participate in the news in any way other than ‘Like.”  Link.  Comment. Click.

Sorry, but except in isolated instances – Occupy Wall Street is a good example – Facebook isn’t raising awareness of news; it’s showing that the cute girl from high school appears to be sporting a mustache these days and serving as a gathering place for sharing dismay over the latest antics of some (very un)real housewives.  And yes, Facebook is very interested in being all things to all people – it’s a business, and popularity is a great way to make money.  Why on earth would Facebook jeopardize that by seeking to “empower” people who just want to share their vacation photos?

The notion that Facebook would allow its users to identify trustworthy sources for anything, let alone news, also seems far-fetched.  Facebook doesn’t really “allow” its users to decide much of anything; the company seems to consist of utter control freaks intent on telling users what’s good for them and imposing their will on their customers.  It has proven absolutely tone deaf about its users’ interests; it succeeds because it’s an absolutely irresistible idea for many, not because anyone trusts the people behind it.  Does anyone, for example, trust Facebook on privacy issues?  Are there people out there who really believe Facebook isn’t doing things with their data that we don’t know about and wouldn’t like if we did know about them?  Facebook is going to trust people to make decisions regarding news sources?  People are going to trust Facebook with the same?  Not a chance.

While Facebook may be in “prime position to be an informational leader,” is there any reason to believe it aspires to be an “informational leader”?  It’s one thing to criticize an entity for failing to live up to its promises but quite another to blame it for failing to achieve something it never set out to do.

It’s hard to see this vision of social news as any sort of informational evolution for which we should eagerly prepare ourselves.  It’s not leading to greater precision or better data or more widespread understanding.  And if specific understanding isn’t your goal, then, in the end, you’re just standing on the banks of the commons, spitting into the river of news.  The social function of news is to give people things to talk about.  The civic function of news is to make its users better citizens.  Facebook excels at the first and fails, miserably, at the second.  It will lead to a more informed public.  But there’s no reason to think that it’ll lead to a better-informed public.

Where to start?  Facebook as a tool for greater precision of information and data?  Why on earth would anyone look at Facebook as a source for such things?  If, as Mr. Peters suggests, Facebook is failing to make its users better citizens, it’s certainly failing at something to which it has never aspired.  Is it even fair to call that failure?  Again, The Curmudgeon thinks not.

So is Mr. Peters suggesting that anyone who comes to Facebook for anything other than “specific understanding” is wasting their time (or “spitting into the river of news, as he rather nauseatingly describes it)?  People aren’t allowed to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, Mr. Peters?  Enjoying, say, baseball is a lot of fun and a lot of people enjoy it, but it certainly isn’t a pursuit of “specific understanding.”  Does that make it a waste of time?  Are all baseball lovers nitwits?  Are we wasting our time and essentially bad citizens if our every moment isn’t devoted to pursuing “specific understanding?”  What a joyless life you must lead, sir.

But primarily, Facebook and news organizations have few common values.

Did anyone ever think, suspect, or suggest that they did?

Mark Zuckerberg also wants to change the world – and the evidence indicates that he wants to change it into a blander, more homogeneous place, where people express themselves within limits and are reduced to their affinities and preferences; where stories double as market-research reports; where everybody knows something about one another; and where Facebook knows everything about everyone and uses that knowledge to enrich itself in manifold uncomfortable ways.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to change the world?  Really?  Wouldn’t it be more accurate, and more realistic, to suggest that Mr. Zuckerberg wants to change the world into one great big market for his product and go on to lead a very successful business and make buckets of money?

The Curmudgeon thinks some people are taking Facebook waaaaaaay too seriously.  Facebook is part toy – think wiffle balls and jacks – and part party line – think the telephone hour scene from “Bye Bye Birdie” (“Hello Mrs. Miller, this is Harvey Johnson, can I speak to Debra Sue?”).  It’s a way to send messages and pictures and more to all your friends and family without the need to type in their email addresses and upload those photos.  It’s a way for the whole family to see photos of cousin Sarah’s newborn twins down in Florida.  It’s Barbie, not a real baby, an Easy Bake Oven, not a Kenmore.  Facebook is a toy, something to play with, and anyone who takes Facebook more seriously – other than as an investment or an advertising medium – will inevitably be disappointed by it.  Their disappointment, though, will be based on their own expectations, not on anything reasonable people believe and not on anything even the most disingenuous people at Facebook may try to tell us or sell to us.

It’s just…Facebook.

Mini-Rumination: Deciphering Rick Santorum

Trying to understand how someone’s mind works can be a fool’s game, but The Curmudgeon relishes a challenge.

And he thinks he’s had a revelation about Rick Santorum.

Like most conservatives, Mr. Santorum wants the government out of people’s lives.  Fair enough.

On the other hand, he opposes abortion.

He opposes prenatal testing becauses he fears it leads to abortion.

He opposes birth control.

He opposes pre-marital sex.

He opposes non-marital sex.

He opposes non-procreative sex, even in a committed, monogamous marriage.

He opposes homosexuality.

He opposes gay marriage.

It’s suddenly clear: Santorum wants the government out of our lives so there’ll be room for the Catholic Church to take over our lives.

And the approximately 225 million Americans who aren’t Catholic?

The Curmudgeon guesses that’s just too bad for them.

Mini-Rumination: NASCAR

The Curmudgeon has to admit that he just doesn’t get NASCAR – or any kind of auto racing, for that matter.

Of course, a college-educated, big-city liberal Jew is not exactly NASCAR’s market, so maybe he’s not supposed to get NASCAR.  Still, he doesn’t quite see the point of wedging men (and, in a few cases, women) into souped-up cars and having them race around and around a track.

The Curmudgeon’s not the only one who doesn’t get NASCAR.  He has a favorite ventriloquist – doesn’t everyone have a favorite ventriloquist? – and would like to share the perspective of that favorite ventriloquist, Jeff Dunham, on NASCAR.  See Dunham and his one of his (pretty offensive) dummies, “Sweet Daddy D,” discuss NASCAR here.

 

 

 

Saving the Post Office

In his December 16, 2011 post, The Curmudgeon wrote about the woes of the U.S. Postal Service:  its revenue is shrinking, its costs are climbing, and there’s no relief in sight.  Congress, living up to its reputation, is making it even harder than it should be for the post office to climb out of hole that Congress itself dug for it.

But The Curmudgeon has a possible solution:  a way to increase post office revenue at no cost to taxpayers.

Anyone who has ever purchased a magazine has had the frustration of dealing with blow cards:  those annoying postage-paid inserts that readers are supposed to use to subscribe to the magazine in their hands.  Never mind that about ninety-five percent of all magazines sold in the U.S. today are sold by  subscription, which means the postcards seeking new subscribers are primarily reaching people who already subscribe.  Despite the obvious folly of asking people to pay twice for the same magazine (although The Curmudgeon has often been intrigued by the idea of one copy of a magazine for the living room and another for the bathroom), the typical magazine comes complete with anywhere from two to six or eight of these blow cards (so called because they are literally blown into the magazines by a machine).  They’re annoying:  they fall all over your floor, they make it awkward to leave a magazine open to the page you were last reading, and they’re a constant reminder that the magazine publisher has no respect for its readers.

But those little cards are money in the bank for the post office.  Postage for a postcard is twenty-nine cents.  When the post office delivers a postage-paid postcard to the magazine, though, it collects an additional fee, above and beyond the twenty-nine cents, for the service of delivering the card.

So here’s the idea:  collect all those postcards, keep them in a nice, neat pile, and every time you accumulate a certain amount – say, 100 of them – walk them down to your corner mailbox and dump them in (and don’t forget to jiggle).

It’ll be ka-ching!!! for the post office – major new revenue, more work for postal employees.  If we all work together, we can show our true American spirit and join forces to save the post office.  We can do it!

The Curmudgeon has already been doing this – for years.  Why?  Because, well, he’s curmudgeonly and because it’s not enough to mutter under his breath every time he discovers the sixth or seventh card to fall out of this week’s edition of The New Yorker now littering his bathroom floor.  He must admit, though, that the idea is not his own:  it came from one of the Freedman sisters, either Ann Landers or Dear Abby, many years ago.  It so happens that The Curmudgeon has always thought they were both seriously stupid women, and Dear Abby’s daughter, who inherited her mother’s column like a bad piece of furniture, is probably even dumber than her mom.  Even so, he must give credit where credit is due:  it’s an absolutely inspired idea and one worth adopting nation-wide.

So now, everyone:  Collect those postcards.  Create a pile, walk them down to the corner mailbox, and walk home proud in the knowledge that instead of standing on the sidelines and waiting for others to solve this problem, you have yourself become a problem-solver and are contributing to the preservation of one of the most important institutions in our country:  the U.S. Postal Service.

Start today!

Mini-Rumination: Santorum=McGovern

Rick Santorum=George McGovern.

Really.

Look at how many times Democrats managed to nominate presidential candidates who had virtually no chance of winning the general election.  What was the secret to their non-success?  They held primaries with multiple candidates who distinguished themselves by moving to the left.  Sure, it helped those candidates win the nomination, but it also killed any chance they had to win in November.

Think about it.

George McGovern:  waaaaaay too liberal.

Walter Mondale:  too liberal.

Michael Dukakis:  too liberal.

John Kerry:  too liberal.

The Curmudgeon would argue that Jimmy Carter was too liberal, too, but that the public was so fed up with Republicans in the years immediately following Watergate that almost any Democrat with a pulse would have gotten elected.

Republicans learned their lesson in 1964 when they nominated Barry Goldwater, a guy so far out of the mainstream that he literally scared people.  Even Ronald Reagan, revered by Republicans today, wasn’t extremely conservative, nor were the Bushes.  Bob Dole and John McCain were mainstream Republicans who fought off more conservative challengers.

Normally, Republicans do things the smart, pragmatic way, but they’re on the verge of joining Democrats in the pantheon of stupid politics with their current infatuation with Rick Santorum.  Santorum is just like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry:  a guy who is pursuing the nomination by appealing to the extreme element in his party and who is being embraced by that extreme element without regard to his electability when he has to stand for election before, you know, real people and real Americans and not just the lunatic fringe.

The Curmudgeon suspects that Republicans will eventually come to their senses and dismiss Santorum just as they dismissed the other flavors of the week during this campaign:  Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, and Mitch Daniels.

If they don’t, they will be committing the equivalent of Democrats nominating George McGovern in 1972:  political suicide.

Mini-Rumination: Fat Jokes at Christie’s Expense on MSN.com?

Yesterday – but apparently just for a few minutes – msn.com offered an account of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s displeasure with gazillionaire Warren Buffett.  The source of Christie’s pique was Buffett’s oft-repeated contention that wealthier Americans are undertaxed and can afford to pay more.

Christie, of course, dislikes damn near everyone, so Buffett should wear Christie’s disdain like a badge of honor.

But what makes the msn.com piece so interesting was the original headline:

NJ guv:  Buffet should pay up

Of course, “Buffet” is a misspelling, and in the two minutes it took The Curmudgeon to check out the headline after a reader informed him about it, msn.com had already corrected it.

But was it really a typo?  Or was it a headline writer offering a sly but obvious commentary about Christie, easily deniable as an honest mistake, and taking advantage of the play on words laid so perfectly at his (or her) feet?

Because we all know that while Christie may dislike Buffett, he certainly likes buffet.

Oh, what a difference a “t” makes.

Sure Beats a Student Loan

Can’t find a date who can afford to buy you a decent meal?  Having trouble coming up with next semester’s tuition payment?  Now you can kill two birds with one stone with the help of the web site seekingarrangement.com, which bills itself as “The Elite Sugar Daddy Dating Site for those Seeking Mutually Beneficial Relationships.”

Really.

Women have been looking for sugar daddies since before the invention of the push-up bra, but the founder of seekingarrangement.com reports a new twist on an old practice.

“With the economy doing so badly, people are taking matters into their own hands, trying to figure out the best way to pay for college without creating a huge amount of debt,” site founder Brandon Wade told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Wade’s site writes of “the modern sugar daddy” that “You are always respectful and generous.  You only live once, and you want to date the best.  Some call you a mentor, sponsor, or benefactor.”

A “sponsor,” eh?  Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

The site goes on to describe those seeking, er, sponsors as “Attractive, intelligent, ambitious and goal oriented.  Sugar babies are students, actresses, models or girls & guys next door.  You know you deserve to date someone who will pamper you, empower you, and help you mentally, emotionally and financially.”

Ah, yes, financially.

So what’s involved in the pursuit of a sugar daddy?

Well, the Inquirer reports that “Each woman’s account requires some basic information (name, location, age) and one piece that’s a little more personal:  how much money she expects to receive per date.  Prices range from less than $1000 to more than $20,000.”

Can’t you just feel the romance in the air?

“And what do the men want?” the Inquirer inquired.  “Well, it doesn’t take a diploma from MIT to figure that out,” the reporter replies to his own question.

“People throw the term ‘prostitution’ around a lot,” site owner Wade told the Inquirer, choosing to be the first to throw out the term.  “In reality,” he elaborates, “what we’re doing is not prostitution.  These girls are not obligated to sleep with everyone who pays them.”

Of course they’re not.  Their charming company is no doubt sufficient reward in itself for men who want to date only the very best.

Somehow, The Curmudgeon doesn’t see seekingarrangement.com being the inspiration for a  romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan.  Or Jennifer Anniston.  Or Reese Witherspoon.

But maybe Kim Kardashian.

Mini-Rumination: Dr. Drew Pinsky is a Putz

The Curmudgeon has long had an exceedingly low opinion of Dr. Drew Pinsky, the Hollywood shrink.  From his days on MTV’s “Loveline” to his repugnant program in which he broadcasts celebrities going through drug rehab, he has long represented the absolute worst that TV has to offer.  He is a fame whore in a lab coat and designer eyeglasses, willing to do pretty much anything that brings him attention and fame.  The Curmudgeon thought it would be impossible for Dr. Drew to do anything that would lower his opinion of this repulsive personality any further than it already was.

The Curmudgeon thought wrong.

While channel-surfing on Monday night, The Curmudgeon spotted Dr. Drew on CNN, speculating about whether the daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown might be predisposed to addictive behavior.

Just when you thought someone had gone as low as they could possibly go, they prove you wrong and go even lower.  The Curmudgeon cannot imagine what kind of craven impulse would lead someone to do such a thing.

Truly despicable, Dr. Pinsky.  Truly despicable.

Mini-Rumination: Newt’s Great Ideas

The Curmudgeon keeps hearing about how Newt Gingrich has all these great ideas.

Can someone please share two of them?

One?

Okay, one that doesn’t elicit laughter?