Monthly Archives: April 2012

Conrad Birdie was a Lot Smarter Than We Ever Realized

The Curmudgeon likes show tunes.  There, he admitted it.  Ordinarily that’s not a bad thing, but when you’re a guy in your mid-fifties who’s never been married and people learn that you like show tunes, they often look at you a little sideways.

One of The Curmudgeon’s favorite musicals is “Bye Bye Birdie.”  When he’s feeling a little down he’ll often turn to YouTube for a quick hit of “The Telephone Hour” scene, which always leaves him smiling.  You’d think someone’s go-to song from “Bye Bye Birdie” for a quick smile would be “Put on a Happy Face,” but “The Telephone Hour” puts on an even happier face.  See for yourself here.

Lately, though, he’s been getting an even bigger kick out of the big production surrounding “Got a Lot of Living to Do.”  It’s a great song and a great dance number, nearly eight minutes long but definitely worth your while, as you can see here.  It’s also Ann-Margret at her most appealing.  Truth be told, The Curmudgeon has never found Ann-Margret very appealing at all, much to the chagrin of his father, who practically drools at the very mention of the woman’s name.

But after you watch the scene a few times, the lyrics start to sink in a little.

Birdie:
There are chicks just ripe for some kissing’
And I mean to kiss me a few!
Man those chicks don’t know what they’re missin’,
I got a lot of living to do!

Sizzlin’ steaks all ready for tastin’
And there’s Cadillacs all shiny and new!
Got to move, cause time is a-wastin’,
I got a lot of livin’ to do!

There’s music to play
Places to go, people to see!
Everything for you and me!

Life’s a ball
If only you know it
And it’s all just waiting for you
You’re alive,
So come on and show it
Yeah we got a lot of livin’ to do

Kim:
There are men with childhood behind them
Handsome men
From Yale or Purdue
Older men and I’m gonna find them
I got a lot of living to do

I’m a’gonna have fun
Gonna be wild
Have my own way
I may break—a heart today

Drink champagne
As if it were water
Pink champagne
And after a few
Daddy dear, you won’t know your daughter
She’s got a lot of living to do

Hugo:
Think I’ll be a ring a ding drummer
Make each week a thousand or two
Gorgeous girls will beg for my number
Hey I got a lot of living to do

Yes I’m gonna break out
Gonna take off
Gonna be free
This town is awfully square for a guy like me

Or I’ll be a super jet pilot
Fly me high way out in the blue
Then they’ll see
I’m no shrinking violet
Hey I got a lot of living to do

I got a lot of living to do

Birdie, Hugo, and Kim:
There’s music to play
Places to go, people to see!
Everything
For you and me!

Birdie:
Life’s a ball
If only you know it
Yeah it’s all just waiting for you
Ah you’re alive,
So come on and show it
We got a lot of livin’
Such a lot of livin’

Tonight’s the night we’re gonna fly
Let’s kick this hick town in the hide

I want a taste of everything
Let’s live it up and really swing

All:
Got a lot of living living living to do

Birdie:
Live!

The scene may be playful and flirty and even a little sexist – The Curmudgeon suspects that in this day and age, any man who suggests aloud that there may be “chicks just ripe for some kissin’” probably won’t be on the receiving end of any of that kissin’ anytime soon – but the philosophy seems like a good one.

It may surprise some readers to learn that The Curmudgeon can sometimes be an awfully earnest fellow, what with all that serious leftist reading, the no-alcohol policy (the curmudgeonly girlfriend has sweetly suggested that he may be more in need of a drink than anyone she’s ever met), the aversion to dancing, and his rather grim daily calculation of his fiber intake (and even more gruesome description of what he thinks will happen if he fails to meet his daily quota), but when he listens to this song, he thinks Conrad Birdie was definitely onto something:  there’s places to go, people to see, and a lot of (living living) living to do.

So maybe he just needs to take ol’ Conrad’s advice – at least once in a while.

Maybe we all should.

Mini-Rumination: About Gloria Allred

WTF?

Tsk Tsk, Kathy Griffin

Curmudgeon though he may be, The Curmudgeon has never been fond of comedians whose stock in trade is belittling other people.  He’s never had anything less than contempt, for example, for Don Rickles, and he has no use for some of those people who only seem to work on Comedy Central roasts.  (By the way, when you watched those old Dean Martin roasts, didn’t you always get the impression that the roasters were roasting people they knew – and knew well?  And when you watch a Comedy Central roast, don’t you get the impression that the roasters are roasting people they don’t know and only just met?  And isn’t the latter a whole lot nastier than the former?)

For this reason, The Curmudgeon has never been too keen on Kathy Griffin.  He suspects that she could probably be pretty funny but has very limited patience for someone whose humor always seems to come by denigrating others.

Late last week The Curmudgeon was channel-surfing and came upon Ms. Griffin performing the monologue for her new program; only a network like Bravo and a person like Andy Cohen would give this misanthrope her own show.  Anyhow, Ms. Griffin was talking about being at a restaurant where she saw three celebrities dining together:  Denzel Washington, Mekhi Phifer, and Jaleel White; the latter is television’s “Urkel” character.

Ms. Griffin simply could not believe that a big star like Denzel Washington could possibly be socializing with someone of such lower status like White/Urkel.

The Curmudgeon has witnessed this kind of warped thinking before.  In particular, he recalls hearing more than one person ridicule the coupling of Barbra Streisand and James Brolin.  What could a star of the magnitude of Streisand possibly see in a second-rate actor like Brolin, they ask.  Well, aside from Brolin being better-looking than any man has a right to be, what does their talent have to do with their relationship?  Why should Griffin assume that because they operate on different levels within their field of endeavor, Washington and White/Urkel could not possibly have anything in common that would constitute the basis for a friendship?  Might they not come from the same hometown, live in the same community, send their kids to the same schools, support the same causes, attend the same church, or just like hanging out with one another?

Are these critics of the relationships of others suggesting that we should pick our friends or mates based on their talent or their level of accomplishment in their chosen fields?  Maybe The Curmudgeon has had it all wrong all these years, looking for someone with whom he is compatible, someone with whom he shares interests and values, someone who is kind and warm and intelligent and compassionate and good-humored?  Maybe he should have been focusing on people who have roughly the same level of skill in manipulating nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and the occasional preposition or someone who runs around her backhand like The Curmudgeon does or even someone who has a similar figure in box number one on her W-2 form.

Maybe not.  Maybe Kathy Griffin is just an idiot.  Maybe Kathy Griffin should reflect that she probably has friends in the entertainment business and that by her own standards, they are the ones slumming by having a relationship with her.

It probably won’t happen.  People who make a living belittling others probably lack the capacity for self-reflection needed to recognize that conducting themselves this way is simply wrong.  If Kathy Griffin had such a capacity, she probably would have chosen to pursue her career in a manner that doesn’t require her success to come at the expense of others.

Mini Rumination: Presidential Debates

With the Republican presidential debate season (mercifully) over, now is an appropriate time to reflect on this traveling circus and the foolishness it represents.

There’s a technical term for people who decide on their choice for president, or presidential nominee, based on debates.

Nitwit.

Seriously, there must be better ways to pick your favorites.  Debates are tests of, well, what exactly are they a test of?  Debating skill?  Ability to think on your feet?  Articulateness?  None of these qualities suggest that someone would make a good president and none of them are necessary to be a good president.  (True, ability to think on your feet is good, but how often are presidents compelled to make quick, seat-of-the-pants decisions about the affairs of state?)

As much as he disliked the idea of yet another slow-witted Texas governor becoming president, The Curmudgeon admits to feeling bad for Rick Perry.  There were so many excellent reasons to dismiss a Perry candidacy, but poor debating skills shouldn’t have been one of them.

Debates also can be deceiving.  It’s pretty widely accepted that when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon debated in 1960, the question of who won was in many cases based on perception and not performance.  People who watched on television saw a tanned and smiling JFK and a sweating Nixon with a five o’clock shadow and poorly fitted clothing and thought Kennedy won the debate.  Many people who listened to the debate on the radio, though – yes, people once did things like listen to presidential debates on the radio – thought Nixon won.

There are a lot of ways to figure out which candidate works best for the individual.  Unfortunately, presidential debates is not one of them.

Mini-Rumination: Bravo TV Does it Again

Bravo TV has found the formula for success in reality television:  develop a premise – any premise will do, it’s not the premise that really matters – find the most obnoxious people you can, insert the obnoxious people into the premise, and let the fireworks begin.  Ratings success.

The premise is irrelevant; even a monkey could develop the premise.  It appears that the monkey, in this case, is Bravo’s Andy Cohen.  How could he not be the guy in charge?  Who else would put someone like him on television?

And now, Bravo has done it again.  Cohen – or whomever else – has outdone himself this time:  the casts of Million Dollar Listing New York and Shahs of Sunset are replete with some of the most repulsive people ever to appear on television.  Some of these characters make Nene look like a class act; they make Joe Giudice seem like someone you’d like as your neighbor; they make that dweeb Brad from It’s a Brad Brad World seem like someone you’d like to babysit for your kids; they make Jeff Lewis seem like someone you wouldn’t want to bludgeon with a baseball bat; they make Jill Zarin seem like…like… a nice person.

April News Quiz

1.   Eleven Secret Service agents have been accused of visiting prostitutes while in Columbia recently to plan for an upcoming visit by President Obama.  This is a problem because:  a) it’s wrong to pay for sex; b) it will contribute to the U.S. trade imbalance; c) it violates the Obama administration’s “buy American” policy; or d) it’s going to cost the president the all-important prostitute vote in November?

2.   While the late Dick Clark didn’t actually create American Bandstand and was only its second host, not its first, he went on to build a television empire by creating and producing such memorable programs as:  a) um; b) er; c) uh; or d) come to think of it, he never created anything that wasn’t total crap?

3.   The focus of the Chinese government these days is:  a) raising worker productivity at factories so it can continue to sell cheaper and cheaper goods to the U.S. and other countries; b) fighting inflation caused by low unemployment and rising wages; c) enforcing the one-child-to-a-family law; or d) measuring Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea, and Cambodia for drapes?

4.      It’s important to stop Iran from getting the bomb because:  a) it would be a threat to Israel; b) it would be a threat to the rest of the middle east; c) it would be a threat to U.S. interests; or d) we’re all tired of hearing politicians and news anchors struggle to pronounce “Ahmadinejad”?

5.   The “Buffett rule” calls for:  a) rich people to pay more taxes; b) rich people to pay the same tax rates as everyone else; c) rich people to pay less taxes than they do now; or d) limiting customers to only two return trips to the line at Old Country Buffet?

6.   To improve the economy, Mitt Romney will announce his support for:  a) lower taxes, so rich people will have more money to create jobs; b) no change in the current tax structure, because if it works for his family, it should work for everyone else; c) reduced federal spending on safety-net programs like unemployment, food stamps, welfare, reduced-price school lunches, and Medicaid because he doesn’t worry about poor people; or d) anything that the polls tell him will make people want to vote for him?

7.   The Trayvon Martin murder case has proven to be a bonanza for:  a) opponents of  “stand your ground” laws; b) the NRA, which feels vindicated because a good man was able to save his life because he was armed; c) Geraldo Rivera, because it’s been a while since we’ve heard him say something stupid on television; or d) Jesse Jackson, who has been mostly invisible since Barack Obama was elected president because he no longer could claim to be the only person who could speak on behalf of all African-Americans?

8.   “Brangelina” is:  a) getting married; b) Italy’s ambassador to the U.N.; c) an excellent pinot grigio that goes especially well with veal; or d) who cares?

9.   Speaking before an NRA audience last week, gun enthusiast and rock’n’roll has-been Ted Nugent declared that “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”  This statement suggests that:  a) Nugent doesn’t realize that Mr. Obama is already president; b) the cocktail hour was before rather than after the speeches; c) the Secret Service will be knocking on Nugent’s door in the very near future; or d) there’s more to those 1980s “This is your brain.  This is your brain on drugs.  Any questions?” commercials than many of us realized?

10.   The Pulitzer Prize committee did not issue an award for fiction this year because:  a) the members of the selection committee all voted for their own books and refused to consider any others; b) the espresso wasn’t good and the croissants weren’t fresh so the committee adjourned after just a few minutes of deliberations; c) committee members had a book in mind to which to award the prize but because the book isn’t available in a Kindle version they were afraid giving it the prize would stir the wrath of the folks at Amazon.com and jeopardize their own future book sales; or d) there haven’t really been any good novels published since Jacqueline Susann died in 1974?

Mini-Rumination: A Conversation Overheard

While vacationing in St. Pete Beach, Florida last week, The Curmudgeon sat bronzing on the sands, resigned that he could do nothing about the Adonis part, when four boys who appeared to be around sixteen years of age walked past him.  The following is the brief conversation he overhead:

Boy #1:  “That Ursula sure has a great body.”

Boy #2:  “Yeah, but does it make up for how dumb she is?”

It kind of gives you hope for the kids of today, doesn’t it?

The Greatest Tool Ever for People With E-Readers

As described in a previous post, The Curmudgeon loves his Kindle.  Once upon a time, though, he wasn’t sure if he’d enjoy using an e-reader and had no idea which one might be right for him.

He knew he didn’t want a Nook; he’s never heard anything good about Nooks.  Everything he read suggested that a Sony reader was the best device, but they also were the most expensive at the time; at a cool $600, the iPad wasn’t in the contest at all and didn’t rate anything more than a laugh (and still doesn’t).  Cost was a legitimate concern because The Curmudgeon had never tried or even held an e-reader and had no idea if he would like it.  $200 was a lot to spend when it was possible any new acquisition would end up in the Drawer of Discarded Electronics, along with the transistor radio he hid under his pillow when he was a kid so he could listen to Phillies games late at night, his turntable (which doesn’t fit under his pillow), a Sony Walkman (for cassettes), a Sharp Wizard, a Handspring Visor, a cell phone the approximate size and weight of a brick, a silly little poker gizmo, a hand-held baseball game, and his first Palm (the gizmo, not the body part).

The Kindle looked like a good compromise – better than a Nook, less expensive than a Sony.  When the price fell to $119 – yes, a lot more than today, but that was inevitable – The Curmudgeon was about to take the Kindle plunge when he learned of one Kindle challenge he had heretofore heard nothing about:  the Kindle couldn’t read library books.  This was a serious issue:  The Curmudgeon is a library/used book guy, not a toss-out-thirty-bucks-for-a-new-hardback-at-Barnes-and-Noble fellow.

This challenge would discourage many people, but not The Curmudgeon – not so much because of his positive, indomitable, can-do spirit (those of you who know The Curmudgeon can resume reading when you stop laughing) but because he’s used a Mac for more than twenty years and has grown accustomed to being resourceful in doing all the work needed to convert content of all kinds into something he can use.

The problem is that as great as Amazon is – and The Curmudgeon is a big fan – his fondness for the company does not prevent him from seeing that Amazon is every bit as arrogant as Apple.  They want you to buy their products and their products only and they really don’t care if that’s not what their customers want.  They want all of your reading material to be new books you buy from them, not new books you buy from someone else and certainly not books you get from the public library for free.  The challenge, then, was to find a way around Amazon’s corporate piggishness.  So the question was this:  was there a way to translate a (non-Kindle) library book into a form that can be read on a Kindle – despite Amazon’s best effort to make that impossible?

Extensive research – okay, a quick Google search and some brief but serious reading – revealed that there is:  there’s a web site – http://calibre-ebook.com – that offers free software that will translate almost any e-book into whatever form you need to make it readable on your gizmo of choice.

And Calibre works.  In the past year The Curmudgeon has withdrawn and read dozens of free books from the public library, downloading them from the library’s web site (the Free Library of Philadelphia, which is free for all residents of Pennsylvania, not just Philadelphians, and sells non-residents (like The Curmudgeon) a library card and borrowing privileges for $35 a year), running them through Calibre, and then loading them onto his Kindle.  That’s too much work for some people but no big deal for a long-time Mac user like The Curmudgeon.  (Since The Curmudgeon went through all this work, the library has begun offering some books that are Kindle-compatible without all the effort.)

But Calibre is about much, much more than helping you read books that corporate profiteers want to deny you.  It also gives readers extraordinary access to periodicals – hundreds of periodicals – without charge.

What kinds of periodicals?  Newspapers, for starters.  Among the newspapers you can download through Calibre and then load onto any e-reader are the New York Times (excerpts only), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal (excerpts only), Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Detroit News, San Jose Mercury, Hartford Courant, and many more.  The Curmudgeon is a newspaper junkie, and with Calibre, it felt like he had died and gone to heaven.  Every Sunday is newspaper day in his house as he curls up with the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor (if you’ve never read the Monitor, don’t laugh until you’ve at least tried it), Politico, and about ten lesser Sunday papers each week or about forty different Sunday papers a month.

But there’s more than newspapers.  What?  Magazines:  entertainment magazines, political magazines, science magazines, business magazines, professional magazines, magazines that make a magazine-lover like The Curmudgeon a very happy boy.

As a political lefty, The Curmudgeon regularly downloads Mother Jones, the Columbia Journalism Review, American Prospect, The Nation, The Atlantic, and more.  He also reads magazines from the other side, like National Review, offerings from some conservative web sites, and transcripts from television and radio programs hosted by Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and other loony tunes.

For sports there’s Sports Illustrated.  For entertainment there’s Rolling Stone and Variety.  For you science aficionados there’s Discover Magazine, New England Journal of Medicine, Popular Science, Physicsworld, Science News, Scientific American, and others.

For news and general interest information there’s the Catholic News Agency, Business Week, Esquire, Field and Stream (sorry, The Curmudgeon refuses to classify this as sports:  if you win, you get to kill an animal or fish; if the animal or fish wins, it gets to live another day), Forbes, Harper’s, New York Review of Books, Newsweek, Time, The Economist, Politico, The New Yorker, Wired, and many others.  There are magazines about food and cooking, about computers and hobbies, about nature, about medicine, and about much, much more.  Finally, there are internet-only “publications:”  Slate, Salon, Grantland, Teleread, a very cool site called “Watching America,” Pajama Media, and others.  In all, Calibre offers some kind of access to more than 1100 periodicals, more than 400 of them in English, as well as more than 700 others from dozens of other countries and in dozens of other languages.

And did The Curmudgeon mention that this is all free?

How does Calibre do it?  At first that question troubled The Curmudgeon because it seemed like the only way to do get these free periodicals would be to persuade people to “contribute” their paid e-subscription materials and share them with others, which at the least would be highly unethical and at worst would be outright theft.  It turns out, though, that all of the periodical content available on Calibre is material that’s offered free of charge on the web sites from which the materials are drawn.  Calibre’s creator, Kovid Goyal, provides users with what he calls a “recipe” – essentially, a kind of program that is a great deal of work – for going to the web site of a favorite publication and automating the download of free material.  He then encourages people who’ve used his recipe to share their final product with other users of his site.  (The Curmudgeon hasn’t tried to implement a recipe; it looks a little – well, actually, a lot – beyond his technical capabilities).  Hundreds of people have contributed recipes, others report bugs, and all of it is loaded into almost weekly updates of the software.

So how good is the end product?  It varies, but mostly, it’s very good.  Some publications are almost complete; some are incomplete, tailored more to the interests of the person who created the program (for example, when The Curmudgeon first started using Calibre, the program for the Philadelphia Inquirer did not include local news and sports, so The Curmudgeon had to keep his paid subscription; now, the recipe is more complete and that subscription is long gone); and some become worthless over time because when publications revamp their web sites, the recipe no longer works (unless someone writes a new one).

Still, Calibre is an extraordinary tool for someone like The Curmudgeon.  It makes it possible to read library books that the people at Amazon would rather you not read; it enables newspaper junkies to gorge themselves at the buffet table; and it makes it possible for people like The Curmudgeon to eat their fill, and much more, on a regular basis.

The (free) site is calibre-ebook.com, and The Curmudgeon heartily endorses it for those of you who own e-readers and love to read and also for people who are considering getting an e-reader and are not sure whether it would be worth the investment.  Calibre changes the math in calculating whether an e-reader is worth it and for that reason alone is worth a few minutes of your time.

And no, cynics, this is not a paid advertisement.  It’s more like a love letter.

Mini-Rumination: Who’s That Guy in the Blue Hoodie?

Attention, neighborhood watch members:  if you see The Curmudgeon strolling through your neighborhood wearing a blue hoodie, all it means is that there’s a chill in the air and he wants to stay warm.  He poses no threat to your children or your super-duper Bose sound system.  Please – please – do not shoot him.  His unusual headwear, too, signifies nothing more than that he is seeking warmth and has strange tastes in hats; it, too, connotes no threat to your lawn ornaments, your ninety-two-inch plasma, or the $2000 in cash hidden in the drop ceiling in your oldest child’s bedroom.  Again, please do not shoot him; he is armed with nothing more than a soupcon of wit.

Mini-Rumination: Now Boarding at Gate E-17, Southwest Airlines Flight 1943 to Auschwitz

We’ve all seen the sad, grainy films:  large numbers of people, mostly Jews, standing alongside rail lines, passively awaiting the prodding of Nazi guards who will force them onto cattle cars, their destination a concentration camp.  Just thinking about it is heartbreaking.

But think about it The Curmudgeon has, twice in the last week, while flying on Southwest Airlines.  Instead of giving people old-fashioned seat assignments, Southwest employs a helter-skelter, every-man-for-himself seating system in which it compels its passengers to muster around tall sign posts that denote assigned boarding areas.  Once there, passengers are asked to arrange themselves roughly according to their boarding area assignments.  Some passengers look frightened because Southwest’s random method of assigning boarding areas separates mothers and their children – sort of a “Sophie’s Choice” of air travel; others look anxious for a far more mundane reason:  fear of being consigned to the dreaded middle seat for a three-hour flight.

Flying Southwest is generally a better experience than flying other airlines, but the manner in which it boards its flights is appalling.  It’s a terrible way to start a happy trip, a terrible way to end a happy trip, and an awful reminder of something far, far more depressing than a lost suitcase.  Southwest should do better.