Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mini-Rumination: Poison on a Plate

Burger King has a new, limited-time only sandwich:  the BK Chef’s Choice Burgers.  The sandwich consists of a 5.5 ounce hamburger, two slices of melted cheddar cheese, three slices of bacon, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, mayo, and barbecue sauce on a bun.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, it also offers:

  • 820 calories (not a misprint)
  • 56 grams of fat (not a misprint)
  • 135 mg cholesterol (not a misprint)
  • 1800 mg sodium (not a misprint)

Now The Curmudgeon is not one of those people who believes that eating healthy means you can never indulge.  Once every year or two he’ll have a pastrami sandwich; once every few months, some KFC (extra crispy, please); and he regularly allows himself the luxury of ice cream.

But never, ever in his wildest imagination would he consider eating this kind of sandwich.  It’s a hamburger, for pete’s sake, from a fast-food restaurant.

But that’s not all it is:  it’s also poison on a plate.  The numbers – the calories, the fat, the cholesterol, the sodium – are absolutely mind-boggling.  They’re also borderline criminal.

No thanks.

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A Weather Channel? Really?

The Curmudgeon fancies himself something of a news junkie.  Daily, he reads two local newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News; receives daily email headlines from the Washington Post, New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Harrisburg Patriot-News, Tampa Bay Times, several regional business dailies, and about a dozen trade publications; his web browser opens to a newspaper web site; and he ends his workday with a few minutes with Google News.  Every weekend he reads the major Sunday newspapers – the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and a regular rotation of Sunday papers from about 20 different cities.  On a monthly basis he subscribes to about a half-dozen conventional magazines – mostly of the financial and left-wing variety – and receives electronic versions of another twenty or thirty magazines.

In addition, the radio in his bedroom is permanently tuned to a local news station that inexplicably offers constant weather forecasts – about six references to the weather every thirty minutes.  While he could survive with fewer forecasts, he appreciates knowing what the elements have in store for him in the coming hours and days:  he likes being dressed warmly when the weather’s cold, lightly when the temperatures are hot, and with his completely bald skull slathered with a sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 105 when the sun is expected to shine.

But for the life of him, The Curmudgeon does not understand why anyone would be interested in the weather forecast for any part of the country other than where they expect to spend the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

It was in this context that The Curmudgeon recalls breaking out in laughter when visiting the west coast in the early 1980s, spending time in the home of someone who had cable television – cable was still a few years away from arriving in Philadelphia – and discovering, through the miracle of channel-surfing (this was also his first experience with that most remarkable of devices, the remote control), that there was an actual television station devoted entirely to the weather.

A weather channel – The Weather Channel!

What a ridiculous idea it seemed.  It reminded him more than a little of an old Saturday Night Live sketch in which Fred Willard and the late, great Gilda Radner play the proprietors of a mall store that sells only one product:  scotch tape.  John Belushi played their stock boy, and the highlight of the sketch was two teenagers coming into the store and one of them turning to the other and saying “You see?  I told you:  a tape store.”

That was my reaction:  a weather channel?  A WEATHER CHANNEL?

Yes, a weather channel – and it’s been around now for nearly thirty years, much to The Curmudgeon’s surprise.

And much to his surprise, it’s quite popular.  It seems that, contrary to The Curmudgeon’s assumption, there are more than a few people out there who really are interested in the weather forecast for parts of the country they have no plans to visit in the next few days and in which they know no one.  There are Philadelphians interested in the forecast for snowfall in Fargo, San Diegans curious about how much rain Seattle expects, and residents of Palo Alto dying to know whether the temperature in Palm Springs will hit triple figures.

Who would have guessed?

Now The Curmudgeon understands that there are times when the weather, regardless of the location, is news:  floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, sweltering heat, and even the occasional nor’easter.  Similarly, people who are about to hit the road want to know what it will be like when they reach their destination.  But still:  sitting and watching a half-hour of The Weather Channel like you would an episode of NCIS or a rerun of Friends?

Yet people do:  The Curmudgeon often encounters people in his own circle of acquaintances who, during the course of everyday conversation, refer to something they saw on The Weather Channel.  Sometimes, that source is a little too close for comfort:  The Curmudgeon’s father lives in southern California, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks that launch the parade that closes the park every night, and occasionally dad will call and announce “I understand you’re getting a foot of snow tomorrow” or ask “With all that rain, is your place still dry?”

The Curmudgeon can only shake his head and wonder.  He doesn’t get it, doesn’t get it at all, but he guesses that’s why he probably has no future in television programming.  The next thing you know, there’ll be channels devoted to other, similarly narrow subjects – like, say, cooking or fashion or, heaven forbid, golf.

A golf channel?  Now that will never happen.

Mini-Rumination: Not Enough “Aye” for Newt

It’s all over now but the shouting for Newt Gingrich.  The only thing keeping him in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is his love of the sound of his own voice.

But all’s not lost for Newt.  After winning the South Carolina and Georgia primaries and strong showings yesterday in Alabama and Mississippi, it seems clear that should the South ever rise again and seek to leave the federal union, Gingrich would be a strong candidate for president of the revived confederacy.

Watch out, Jefferson Davis!

Mini-Rumination: Red States and Green Money

There’s a scene in the late, great television series The West Wing in which Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet, essentially Bill Clinton without the zipper problem, is debating his challenger for re-election, Florida Governor Rob Ritchie, played by James Brolin channeling W at his disengaged worst.  The debate format allows the participants to ask questions of one another – yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen – and after Ritchie complains about the growth of the federal government, Bartlet responds as follows:

There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs.  And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights.  You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion.  But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year – from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry.  12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion, and I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is:  Can we have it back, please?

(See a clip of this part of the debate here; the debate itself begins around the two-minute mark in the clip.  Find the screenplay here.)

The Curmudgeon thought of this recently when he read a report in Mother Jones magazine that pointed out that despite all their blustering about the growth of the evil federal government, the red states are not shy about taking that evil federal government’s money.  According to the magazine, the fifty states and the District of Columbia receive an average of $1.29 for every dollar they pay in federal taxes (ah, the insidious benefits of deficit spending).

Red states, though, are big winners in this grab for the federal gold:  of the ten biggest winners, half are pretty much red states that enjoy a handsome haul courtesy of the satan-worshipping communists in Washington:  West Virginia ($2.57), Mississippi ($2.47), Alabama ($2.03), Sarah Palin’s Alaskan welfare state ($1.93), Montana ($1.92), and South Carolina ($1.92).

So in the spirit of Jed Bartlet, The Curmudgeon now asks this of the residents of red states:  In light of how you feel about the growth of the federal budget and the federal government, can we have this money back please?

Teachers

This is a tale of teachers we’ve known, teachers we’ve loved, and teachers we’ve loathed.  It’s a tale of Beverly, Sophie, Bill, and Essie.

The Curmudgeon loves teachers.  His sister’s a teacher, his sister in-law’s a teacher, his oldest friend’s wife is a teacher, his favorite classmate from second grade is a teacher.  He’s dated teachers.  He liked many of his teachers.  Thinking back, he’s pretty sure he can tell who was a good teacher and who wasn’t and who really cared about their students and who was just punching the clock.  He’s pretty sure the former far outnumbered the latter.

He also knows that, teaching skills aside, some teachers were more influential in his life than others.

Let’s start with Beverly, his seventh grade English teacher at the Mayfair School in Philadelphia.  Beverly was tough but fun:  she insisted on a full period of grammar every single week, which we hated, yet she talked about basketball a lot, which we liked (although she was a Knicks fan, which we didn’t understand).  Beverly was very organized:  if The Curmudgeon recalls correctly, Monday was spelling and vocabulary, Tuesday grammar, Wednesday reading and literature, Thursday writing, and Friday more reading and literature.

One day, while returning graded writing assignments to the class, Beverly held The Curmudgeon’s composition aloft and declared, “If you’re not a writer when you grow up, you’ll be wasting your life.”  Think that didn’t mean something?  Think that wouldn’t stick with a twelve-year-old?  Well, if it didn’t, The Curmudgeon wouldn’t remember it today, more than forty years later, would he?

Hey look, Mrs. C. – he’s a writer!

Next there’s Sophie, The Curmudgeon’s English teacher for two years at Lincoln High School, also in Philadelphia.  Sophie was considered the best English teacher in the school, and that’s why they assigned her to what the school considered its best class of English students.  In a school where the usual class size was thirty to thirty-five students, this was a class of twelve that took a more independent approach to its work than the typical class.

The first time Sophie graded one of The Curmudgeon’s writing assignments she filled the page with comments – most of them critical.  She then instructed him to create an error sheet, write down every mistake she noted for the rest of the year, and then refer to the error sheet every time he wrote something for class.  Because of the special program, she knew she would have him as a student for at least two years, so she proceeded to address one aspect of The Curmudgeon’s very flawed writing at a time.  When she was satisfied with his progress in that area, she’d move on to another.  Around the second month of the second year, The Curmudgeon finally understood what she was doing and how she was doing it (sometimes, The Curmudgeon can be a bit slow), and after two years under her tutelage he was a much, much better writer.

Sophie influenced The Curmudgeon in another way as well.  In addition to the two books students had to read for classroom discussion and writing assignments every month, we also had to write ten separate book reports a year.  The class had a great deal of latitude to read what it wanted, but after three book reports Sophie pulled The Curmudgeon aside after class one day and told him, “You’re reading junk.  The Curmudgeon can still recall the three books that led to this point – all selections his mother purchased from the Literary Guild.  She handed him a book to read – he doesn’t remember what it was – and told him his next book report would be about that book and that from that day forward, he had to seek her approval before reading any new book for book report purposes – a requirement made of no one else in the class.  For the first few months she rejected as many titles as she approved, but after a while The Curmudgeon got the hang of it:  he could read only “literature.”  While in general The Curmudgeon believes most literature is absolutely wasted on teenagers – seriously, how can a fifteen-year-old boy possibly be expected to appreciate My Antonia? – it launched him onto a path of reading great fiction – literature, if you will – that he continues to follow to this day.  What a wonderful gift.

Thank you, Mrs. P.

Bill was The Curmudgeon’s social studies teacher twice:  during his sophomore and senior years of high school.  He taught the first year like a law school class led by television’s Professor Kingsfield – very high-pressure and very Socratic but with great enthusiasm and passion for his subject and his students.  There was no choice but to learn to read very, very carefully and to be very, very attentive to details, and Bill taught this – essentially, how to read – without directly teaching it.

Equally important, Bill taught The Curmudgeon about well-written history.  This was another very small class, and for it, Bill – head of the school’s social studies department – went out and bought a special, college-level textbook for his students.  The National Experience is an outstanding American history textbook, with each era’s section written by the leading expert on that era.  The Curmudgeon now has his own copy and refers to it often.

But the real lesson Bill taught was that the best history is not found in textbooks, that there are entire books out there devoted to specific, often narrow aspects of history that are every bit as interesting, as well-written, and as compelling as the best novels.  He assigned such readings, and through those assignments, twelve very fortunate students read The American Political Tradition by Richard Hofstadter, Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, and others.  It was a college-level history education in high school – a public high school, no less – but more important, it was an introduction to the study of history, and to reading about history, that has stuck with The Curmudgeon all these years.  He reads history frequently – exceptionally well-written books about interesting and even exciting subjects.  David Halberstam, Robert Caro, Barbara Tuchman (Bill especially sang her praises), Daniel Boorstin, James MacGregor Burns, and many others – and it all began with Bill.

Thank you, Mr. B.

And finally there’s Essie.  The first sentence of this piece mentioned teachers we loathed, and this is a one-teacher category because Essie was without peer.

Back in those days, students of an academic bent at Lincoln High School believed that hard, unpleasant, mean teachers must be great teachers, so Essie had a reputation as a great teacher.  She wasn’t – as every teacher to whom The Curmudgeon has ever described her over the years has insisted.  Just ten years older than her students – yes, the internet helps you learn these things years after the fact – she was fiftyish in her attitudes and demeanor and even, if The Curmudgeon recalls correctly, in her manner of dress.  She was a Little House on the Prairie schoolmarm with a god complex and an apparent obsession with tea.

She wielded her prejudices like weapons.  In a tenth grade writing class she asked if anyone knew anything about speed reading.  When The Curmudgeon raised his hand and said he did, that he had just taken an Evelyn Wood speed-reading course, Essie unloaded on him and in the course of the next few weeks never even attempted to mask her contempt for him.  As recently as just a few weeks ago The Curmudgeon encountered a former classmate who told a similar tale of daring to do something in a manner of which Essie did not approve and feeling the never-ending brunt of the teacher’s wrath as a result.

We didn’t understand this back then, but Essie was really just your garden-variety bully in a prairie skirt.

Fortunately for The Curmudgeon, circumstances not of his own making took him out of that class after a few weeks and, he hoped, out of range of Essie’s weaponry forever.  Those hopes were dashed, though, when he walked into his twelfth grade English class on the first day of school and found a sneering Miss Priss standing at the front of the room.  Though slight in stature, she proved to be like an elephant:  she never forgot.  The sneer never left her face, and after only a month of seeing The Curmudgeon in action she told him he had a juvenile vocabulary and couldn’t write at all.

This was during our senior year of high school, and with SATs looming, Essie made her class an offer:  anyone interested in extra vocabulary work could show up at a certain time and at a certain place and she would work with them.  Mortified by the still-fresh revelation that he apparently had a juvenile vocabulary, The Curmudgeon showed up at the appointed time and place – the only one of his dozen or so classmates to do so.  When a few minutes passed and no one else appeared, Essie grumbled that she couldn’t be bothered with just one student and departed in a huff.

So much for Essie being a great teacher.

So here’s to you, Essie:  Pffffffffffttttttttttttttttttt.  You were living proof that it was indeed possible to fool some of the people some of the time, and you certainly fooled a lot of The Curmudgeon’s classmates, who insisted that mean meant good.  You did not, however, fool The Curmudgeon, and here’s hoping you didn’t damage too many young people with your nasty, bullying approach to teaching.  Somehow, The Curmudgeon survived your attempted abuse and, despite the intellectual shortcomings you were so certain he had and so eager to tell him about, he managed to learn how to string together a few decent sentences without your help and has earned a respectable living doing that for the past thirty years.

Our society doesn’t seem to value teachers very much.  Somehow, people have gotten it into their heads that anyone who knows that six times seven is forty-two can teach third grade math, but that’s not true.  They also think $40,000, $60,000, or $80,000 is too much to pay someone who will shape the future of their children and shape the future of our society.  People, alas, can be pretty stupid at times.  Teaching is at the very least a real skill, and in the hands of its foremost practitioners, an art as well.

The Curmudgeon feels fortunate that he encountered so many artists.

 

Mini-Rumination: Rick Santorum: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News had a great blog entry last week about professional straight man Rick Santorum.  According to the Rick, Penn State University, located in the Alabama-like part of Pennsylvania, is a “liberal icon” and his liberal Penn State professors gave him lower grades than he deserved because they disagreed with his conservative viewpoints.

Like Mr. Bunch, The Curmudgeon is skeptical.  Maybe it’s a case of revisionist history; maybe the guy’s delusional; and maybe it’s the kind of warped thinking that comes after four years of not getting any (Santorum doesn’t believe in sex except when trying to make babies and his youngest was born in 2008).

Mr. Bunch’s blog entry is worth two minutes of your time; read it here.

The Bottom of the Screen

For years The Curmudgeon worried that he was an angry young man.  He wasn’t sure why he seemed angry, other than a deep-seated dislike of authority, but he certainly seemed angry.

As he aged, The Curmudgeon worried that he had become an angry middle-aged man – and again, he wasn’t sure why he was angry, other than his deep-seated dislike of authority, but he certainly seemed angry.

Of course, The Curmudgeon’s father is a guy who put the “cur” in curmudgeon, so he often told himself that maybe it was just a matter of the acorn not falling far from the tree.

But somewhere between angry and curmudgeonly he unquestionably was, hence his adoption of “The Curmudgeon” moniker.

Consequently, he has found himself somewhat relieved to discover that he may not be as angry as he long feared.  He owes this revelation, moreover, to reading about news and sports on the internet.

The Curmudgeon is an avid consumer of news:  he wants to know what’s going on around him – both the news and, to a lesser extent, the sports.  While he subscribes to several newspapers, he reads additional news and sports online.

Only a few news organizations have figured out how to make money putting their news on the internet, and the rest of them, while they try to figure out how to do the same, put most of their news on their web sites free of charge and invite readers to comment at the end of news articles.  They are attempting to build what they call “traffic” so that if they ever figure out how to make money on the internet, they will already have a sizable audience of people accustomed to visiting their sites.  If, for example, you read an article on President Obama’s latest remarks about Pakistan, at the end of the article will be comments – sometimes just a few, sometimes a few dozen, and sometimes a few hundred – from readers.

And for the most part they are angry, angry comments.  Typically, the only comments that aren’t angry are comments about all of the angry comments.

You see a lot of things when you read these comments.

You see a lack of reading skills:  people whose comments are based on a complete misreading of the article about which they are opining.

You see faulty logic:  people whose responses to the articles fail to make the point you can (sort of) tell they are trying – unsuccessfully – to make.

You see a lack of education:  people who cannot spell and cannot punctuate, people who routinely misuse words, people unfamiliar with very basic grammar, people with only a passing acquaintance with the English language.

You see ignorance:  people who – differences in opinion aside – are completely, utterly, astonishingly ignorant, people who don’t know the facts, people who don’t know how to distinguish fact from opinion, people who literally make up things to support their arguments without regard for fact or truth.

You see paranoia:  people who believe that almost everything they don’t like that happens in our world is the product of a massive conspiracy.

But most of all, you see anger.  People are angry, and online newspapers have given them an unprecedented and unsurpassed forum for venting their anger and seeing their venting viewed by whomever dares venture to the bottom of the screen.  Newspapers routinely publish letters to the editor – lord knows, The Curmudgeon has had more than his fair share of them published over the years – but the comments section at the bottom of the screen enables angry readers to vent not just occasionally, not just regularly, not even just daily, but many times a day, often about the same article, if they so choose.  Some of the running exchanges between online combatants seem longer than Plato’s dialogues (and a lot less interesting, which is saying a lot, as anyone who has ever tried reading Plato’s dialogues can tell you).

In the eyes of the people who comment on the bottom of the screen, no public official has ever been just plain mistaken or wrong about a position he has taken or a decision he has made.  No, in the eyes of these angry readers, those officials are stupid, or corrupt, or criminal.  In fact, public officials who make decisions or take actions with which these readers disagree are almost always labeled criminal and deserving of imprisonment – preferably, for life.  In fact, according to these readers, almost everyone who operates in the public sphere should wear an orange jump suit for the rest of their lives.

As bad as the comments at the bottom of news articles seem to be, the comments are even worse at the bottom of sports articles.  There, no one’s team has ever lost to a better team.  No, they lost because the officials were incompetent or biased; they lost because the officials have been bribed; or they lost because there is a conspiracy among the people who run sports to have certain teams succeed at the expense of others.

Broadcasters are always – always – biased against the readers’ favorite teams.

As for the players on teams that somehow fail to win their sport’s championship every single season, well, they all stink; they’re overrated; they’re overpaid; they quit playing hard once they signed a big contract; they don’t care; they have no heart; their coaches are no good (apparently, there is not a single competent coach in the entire world of collegiate and professional sports; all of them can be replaced by readers who know far, far more about the fun and games than those paid to coach); and management is not willing to spend the money necessary to field a winning team.

Prickly though he may be, even The Curmudgeon finds himself depressed when he reads the bottom of the screen.  It is, in truth, far worse than talk radio because so many more people have the opportunity to air their misguided, ignorant, and angry views.  Of course, The Curmudgeon fancies himself a problem-solver, and he has found a solution to this particular problem:  STOP READING THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN.

The one good thing to come out of this is that it has given The Curmudgeon a new perspective on the question of whether he really was an angry young man who had grown into an angry middle-aged man.  By comparison, his anger actually seems pretty tame.  In fact, it doesn’t even seem to be anger at all:  he’s just curmudgeonly.  He is a curmudgeon – The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon, to be precise – and all things considered, there are many worse things in life.

Mini-Rumination: Oil Companies Can be Dumb, Too

Most of us have oil companies pegged as essentially greedy and evil, but now comes evidence that they can be pretty dumb, too.

Sunoco is an oil company that’s been around since 1886.  Its founders included a member of the Pew family – you know, Pew as in the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the most important philanthropic foundations in the country.  Over the years the company has explored and drilled for oil, refined oil, and sold oil on a retail basis at thousands of gasoline stations.  It also operates nasty little convenience stores as appendages to many of its gas stations because, you know, greedy companies never want to pass up an opportunity to separate people from more of their money by selling them quality products like cigarettes.

But Sunoco is apparently falling on hard times and is closing a major refinery outside Philadelphia.  According to the company, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunoco says it has lost $1 billion over the last three years in its oil refining business.

Let’s take a closer look at the environment in which Sunoco is closing its refinery:  demand for oil remains strong, prices are through-the-roof high, and we keep hearing (okay, mostly from congressional Republicans, so we need to take this with a grain of salt) about how lack of refining capacity is what’s keeping gasoline prices so high.  Yet here we have a company that, despite strong demand and record-high gasoline prices, has managed to lose $1 billion in the past three years refining oil.

This raises an obvious question:  How incompetent do you have to be to lose a billion dollars refining oil in the current environment?

Mini-Rumination: A Sure Sign of Aging

You know you’re getting up there in years if you can remember back to when Joan Rivers was funny.

The Eunuch Presidency

Like so many people on the left, The Curmudgeon often finds himself disappointed with the presidency of Barack Obama.  While he was never as enthusiastic about Mr. Obama as many of his supporters were – The Curmudgeon cast his own Democratic primary vote for Hillary Clinton – he was optimistic that an Obama administration could bring many good things.

And in fairness to Mr. Obama, his performance has been nowhere near as lackluster as so many on the left suggest it’s been.  The expectations of many were never even remotely realistic, and consequently, their disappointment is all out of proportion to reality.  That skewed perception is fueled largely, The Curmudgeon believes, by the underperforming economy, which has not recovered to the degree that most people, both on the left and on the right, had hoped (actually, once Mr. Obama was elected, the right was pretty much pulling for a deeper depression and willing to do almost anything to nudge it in that direction).

The reality is that despite so many people in Washington whose virtually every moment seems to be devoted to ensuring Mr. Obama’s failure, he has achieved some rather noteworthy successes.  The $900 billion stimulus bill, although not as large as it needed to be to have the positive effect on the economy that most people desired, was an impressive achievement in light of the inability of many in Washington to understand that with people not spending money because they feared for their jobs and businesses not spending money because their customers weren’t spending money, the only way to stimulate the economy was with public sector spending.  Some of the new regulation of Wall Street, too, is impressive – again, it did not go far enough, but it never really could when so many members of Congress are led around by the scrotum by Wall Street.

The rescue of the American auto industry also is impressive inasmuch as the right, which hates working-class people (while demonizing those who don’t work), was more than willing to let the auto industry die so long as it took its unionized workforce down with it.  In fact, the federal government may actually make a profit on its financial support for General Motors and Chrysler.

There’s also the health care reform law:  again, not the ideal plan, laden with too many compromises, but a considerable achievement that will almost certainly end up improving the American health care system.

Finally, there are Mr. Obama’s overseas successes:  finding and killing bin Laden, helping to engineer Khadafi’s demise, and apparently applying just the right touch needed to help facilitate the Arab Spring.

So then what’s the problem?

The Curmudgeon believes the problem is that Mr. Obama never gives the impression that he’s standing up and fighting for something – for anything.   That perception is all the more troubling in light of the many others in Washington who clearly are fighters.

Harry Reid is a fighter.  The Curmudgeon can’t stand Mr. Reid and thinks he’s a mediocre man, but say what you will about Mr. Reid, he’s a fighter and he fought successfully to shepherd Mr. Obama’s programs through the Senate.  He deserves a good deal of the credit for Mr. Obama’s legislative successes.

Harry Reid, in other words, has balls.

Nancy Pelosi has balls, too.  She is one of the most maligned people in Washington, a condition exacerbated by her gender and the custom that secretaries of state are immune from that kind of partisan sniping, forcing Hillary Clinton to take temporary leave from her long-time position atop Maligned Mountain.  Ms. Pelosi is probably even more responsible for Mr. Obama’s successes than Harry Reid, and at the heart of that success is that she is a fighter.  Nancy Pelosi, too, has balls – probably the biggest balls in all of Washington.

Republicans in Congress have balls, too – almost all of them do.  They may be wrong about virtually every issue and conduct themselves in a manner that is, when you think about it, pretty un-American, but they’re fighters.  Republicans in Congress definitely have balls.

Barack Obama does not appear to have balls.

This, in the end, is perhaps the biggest frustration for those on the left:  not so much the lack of accomplishments, because he’s accomplished a great deal, but the perception that Mr. Obama doesn’t have very much fight in him.  He never comes across as angry, as driven, as passionate, as willing to roll up his sleeves and fight for what he believes in.  (Of course, one of The Curmudgeon’s most trusted political advisors, when presented this thesis, suggested that Americans never would have elected the kind of black man who had this kind of public temperament.  She’s probably right, as she usually is.)

Instead, he’s constantly talking about bipartisanship, but that’s not bipartisanship he’s pursuing:  it’s non-partisanship.  He acts too often in a non-partisan manner in what may very well be the most partisan environment in the world, in a town where a lot of elected officials will reject anything he says or does – not because they necessarily disagree with him but because they view it as their mission in life to defeat him even when he has something good in mind.

Remember Mitch McConnell?  He’s the guy who publicly declared that the objective of his party – defeating Mr. Obama – took precedence over serving the American people.  Humongous balls, that Mitch; his pale only in comparison to Ms. Pelosi’s.  The truth is, if Mr. Obama held a press conference and announced that once he moved into the White House he had set up a small laboratory in the basement and had developed a cure for cancer in his spare time, Mitch McConnell would reject the cure and accuse the president of shortchanging the American people by spending time in his laboratory when he should have been working to address the economy.

In addition, for all his ballyhooed oratorical skills, Mr. Obama is a poor communicator.  Time after time he has utterly failed to communicate his vision and his objectives to the public.  This frustrates his supporters, who recognize that many people who seem to oppose the president might actually support him if he only managed to convey to them what he was trying to do, and at the same time it empowers and emboldens his opponents.

But most of all, Mr. Obama has failed to convey a willingness or a resolve to fight for anything.  What does he believe in?  Sometimes, it’s pretty hard to tell.  (Although it was certainly heartening to see his willingness to get in the face of Arizona’s silly governor on an airport tarmac recently.  There may be hope for him yet.  This contrasts sadly with his unwillingness to fight for the nomination of Elizabeth Warren to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  She would have been great, but getting her required a battle Mr. Obama was unwilling to wage.)

Of course, all we see is the public president.  For all we know, he could be a fierce and dedicated fighter in private and behind the scenes.  Maybe, when no one’s looking – it’s not as if there’s a White House press corps that does any actual reporting – he discreetly summons misbehaving members of Congress to the Oval Office and dresses them down until they’re on the verge of drowning in a puddle of their own tears.

But in public?  He’s cool, distant, almost neutral.

No balls.

It’s a eunuch presidency.