Monthly Archives: July 2012

Mini-Rumination: Women’s Olympic Beach Volleyball

Wouldn’t you love to know what happens to the TV ratings for Olympic women’s beach volleyball when the weather’s too cool for the women to wear their itty bitty bikinis and they choose to wear t-shirts or long sleeves and regular shorts or long pants instead?

July News Quiz

  1. Earlier this month, Mitt Romney’s wife hinted that her husband is considering selecting a woman to be his running mate.  The likeliest choice is:  a) Condoleezza Rice, because Romney has no foreign policy experience and having Rice on his ticket would go a long way toward reminding people of the foreign policy successes she engineered during the administration of George W. Bush; b) New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, because after the last election, Democrats can’t argue that she has too little experience to run for national office; c) Michele Bachmann, because America would be in good hands with her just a heartbeat away; or d) Sarah Palin, because it worked so well four years ago?
  2. Comedian Fred Willard was arrested for allegedly performing a lewd act outside a porn theater in Hollywood.  Willard’s response to the arrest was to say that:  a) I didn’t do it; b) I was making the gesture they accused me of making but wasn’t actually doing or touching anything; c) it was performance art – my tribute to Pee-Wee Herman; or d) you people have been watching me perform for more than forty years and you’re surprised by this?
  3. Minnesota congresswoman and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has accused Huma Abedin, a long-time aide of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood group that now rules Egypt.  Bachmann bases this claim on:  a) what her husband told her; b) past relationships between Muslim Brotherhood members and Abedin’s father, who has been dead for twenty years; c) a message that god sent her while she was watching a rerun of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; or d) well, she certainly looks like one of them, doesn’t she?
  4. The killing of twelve people and wounding of another fifty-nine by a gunman in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight showing of the premiere of the Batman movie Dark Knight Rises has authorities thinking:  a) no more midnight movie screenings; b) time to install metal detectors at movie theaters; c) time to ban violent movies; or d) they’d better come up with a damn good security plan for next month’s release of the new comedy starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones?
  5. Nearly two dozen people suffered second- and third-degree burns when they walked across hot coals during a Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” seminar in San Jose.  The Robbins people explained that:  a) thousands of people made the same walk without injury, so a few people getting burned isn’t really that big a deal; b) suffering damaging, debilitating burns builds character; c) the people who were burned lacked confidence, so it was really their own fault; or d) maybe the people who were injured unleashed too much of the power within?
  6. Physicists believe they have found the long-discussed but never seen Higgs Boson particle.  These subatomic particles are:  a) also known as the “god particle” because they are believed to be one of the fundamental building blocks of matter; b) have existed in theory for years, but until now, no one could ever find them; c) will lead to new and brilliant discoveries that will greatly enhance mankind’s understanding of its creation and environment; or d) will really clog up your vacuum if you’re not very, very careful?
  7. Earlier this month, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that mermaids do not exist.  This comes as:  a) the result of a ten-year, $565 million research project; b) an appalling sign of waste in government that the agency would even address such a thing; c) a blow to imaginations everywhere; or d) disappointing news to Darryl Hannah fans?
  8. The Supreme Court decision in the Arizona immigration case was considered noteworthy by legal scholars and political pundits because it did not use the terms “illegal immigrants” and “illegal aliens,” both of which are considered offensive by many people.  Instead, it referred to people who reside illegally in the U.S. as:  a) undocumented residents; b) neighbors without papers; c) George Lopez’s cousins; or d) the lawn guys?
  9. Authorities in London halted a joint performance by Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney because:  a) they were enforcing a curfew; b) the crowd was too large and they wanted to disperse it in a quiet and peaceful manner; c) it was past McCartney’s bedtime; or d) they were afraid Springsteen fans would riot if McCartney tried to sing “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”?
  10. Scientists have created an artificial jellyfish, which they call “Medusoid,” using rat heart cells.  This is good news for:  a) people who sell dead rat hearts; b) scientists who are pursuing pointless research but are afraid no one will fund their work; c) people who are tired of using grape jelly in their PB&J sandwiches and are looking for a little variety; or d) real jellyfish that aren’t married and are tired of looking at the same old faces at jellyfish singles bars?
  11. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler have both quit as American Idol judges.  Mariah Carey will replace Lopez next season and the leading candidate to replace Tyler as judge is:  a) Judge Judy; b) Judge Wapner; c) Judge Reinhold; or d) Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Mini-Rumination: Olympic Badminton

Really?

Badminton?  In the Olympics?

Really?

Badminton?

Mini-Rumination: Another Dunce Cap for Bobby Jindal

At the very beginning of the Obama administration, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, considered a rising star on the national political scene, gave the Republican response to the president’s state-of-the-union speech.  To say it did not go well is an understatement.  It was a disaster, and Jindal found himself the object of nation-wide derision.  See for yourself here.

Jindal was in the news again last month when he complained about Congress’s attempt to require Americans to purchase health insurance and wondered – aloud, no less – whether Congress would next require people to eat tofu.  The Curmudgeon wrote about that here.

Now Jindal is back in the news with his decision to eliminate all of his state government’s financial support for public libraries:  nearly $1 million a year.

It’s not like libraries are a luxury in a state with exceedingly low educational achievement:  according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, Louisiana ranks forty-ninth (out of fifty-one, including the District of Columbia) in educational achievement for the K-12 years. (See those rankings here.)  The money – less than $1 million for the entire state – isn’t a lot, but its elimination speaks volumes about both the governor’s values and his aspirations for the people of his state.

Way to go, Governor Bobby.  That’s three strikes:  you’re out!

Have You Heard the One About the Election That was Stolen?

No?

That’s because no one can recall the last time an election was stolen in this country (except perhaps by the Supreme Court, in 2000).  The truth is that election fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.  Even rarer still is vote fraud:  the specific act of unqualified voters illegally casting ballots at polling places.

The way some people are acting, though, you’d think election fraud in general, and vote fraud in particular, was running wild and undermining the very foundation of American democracy.  That’s the only reasonable conclusion to draw in light of the heated passion and sense of urgency with which some state legislatures across the country are frantically passing new laws to combat vote fraud.

They’re determined to stop fraud at the ballot box – even if there’s no such fraud.

Their solution:  require people to present a photo ID when they show up at the polls to vote.

That’s bad news for people who don’t have any kind of photo ID.

Who doesn’t have photo ID?  Poor people who don’t drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

Also without photo IDs are older people who no longer drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

And then there are people who live in cities who, because public transportation is all the transportation they need, never learn to drive and also don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

See a trend here?

Of course you do:  all of the kinds of people who are most likely to lack the kind of photo ID required by these new laws also are more likely to be registered Democratic than Republican.  And the state legislatures passing the new photo ID laws?  They’re all led – surprise, surprise – by Republicans.

This is not a coincidence.

Although proponents of such laws claim they will affect very few people, not everyone is buying this claim.  An analysis performed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, found that nearly ten percent of Pennsylvania’s qualified voters do not have a state-issued photo ID card (whether a driver’s license or a non-driver’s license photo ID that’s also available).  The Inquirer launched its investigation after Pennsylvania state officials pegged the ID-less rate state-wide at about one percent of registered voters.  The U.S. Justice Department, sensing something amiss – you can’t get anything by those keen-eyed legal eagles – is now investigating.

Some numbers support the assertion that photo ID laws will be especially disadvantageous to minorities and the poor.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, twenty-five percent of African-Americans lack valid photo ID cards; twenty percent of Asians also don’t have them, along with twenty percent of seniors, eighteen percent of Latinos, and fifteen percent of people who earn less than $35,000 a year.

Whites?  Only eight percent don’t have valid photo IDs.  (By the way:  that’s still an awful lot of potentially disenfranchised voters.)

The truth is that very, very few people have even been charged with vote fraud in recent years and convictions are extremely rare.  Even if you were going to try to fix an election, sending people to the polls to impersonate registered voters is the last thing you’d try and the absolutely dumbest way to go about it.

Why?

Because it’s the hardest way to change an election’s outcome.

Think about it.  To change an election’s outcome, you’d have to convince hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people – how many depends on the election you’re trying to fix – to commit crimes in front of a bunch of witnesses.  Who’s going to do that?  No, the way you rig an election is to tinker with the voting machines or get your own people involved in the vote-counting process so they can miscount or misreport votes in your candidate’s favor.

What some people call “vote fraud” usually involves someone who moved and failed to register at his new address voting instead at his old polling place.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No.  It’s also someone who hasn’t voted in six years showing up at a polling place, being told there’s no record of his registration, insisting that he voted just last year, swearing before a judge or magistrate that he voted last year, and being permitted to vote.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No again.

Some more numbers support the notion that vote fraud at the polls is a fabrication (courtesy of Mother Jones magazine.  See the sources for these figures here; The Curmudgeon knows better than to ask skeptical readers to trust Mother Jones):

  • Federal convictions for election fraud from 2002 to 2005, after the Bush administration – yes, the same Bush administration that urged its U.S. Attorneys to crack down on such crimes ­– added up to eighteen convictions for voting while ineligible, five for voting multiple times, and three for registration fraud – nation-wide!
  • When the state of Indiana was hauled before the Supreme Court to defend its photo ID law, the state’s lawyer couldn’t point to a single case of someone impersonating a registered voter – in the state’s 200-plus year history.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, 649 million votes were cast in American elections at the local, state, and federal levels.  During that time, 441 Americans were killed by lightning.  Credible cases of in-person voter impersonation?  Thirteen.

The reality is that there’s very little individual vote fraud at polling places.  The best way to steal an election is to attempt to subvert the counting or reporting of votes cast and the most publicized forms of vote fraud involve absentee ballots and voter registration fraud.  Compelling people to present valid photo IDs so they can vote won’t prevent people from subverting the counting or reporting of votes cast, tinkering with absentee ballots, or fraudulent registration.

So really, why all the fuss?  Why all the new laws?

A Republican leader of Pennsylvania’s state legislature recently put it best when he told an audience that his state’s voter ID law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  See it for yourself here.

Early in his professional life, The Curmudgeon spent six years working for the Committee of Seventy, a prominent, non-partisan, highly respected election watchdog organization in Philadelphia.  In the City of Brotherly Love, allegations of election fraud are common – some of them as recent as just last week, in fact.  Virtually none of it is actual fraud.  Why are people so fixated on election fraud?  The Committee of Seventy’s executive director during The Curmudgeon’s tenure there always had a ready answer:  because to the candidates, he would explain, “No one ever lost an election.  It was always stolen from them.”

Well, if there’s one thing that’s not happening in Philadelphia, or anywhere else in the U.S., it’s elections being stolen from anyone because of vote fraud.

With so many important issues on the public policy agenda that need serious consideration and attention from elected officials, it’s unfortunate that those officials are wasting their time on this even though it’s clear that vote fraud is non-existent in anything even remotely approaching meaningful numbers.  Public officials need to ensure that the election process has integrity and inspires confidence in the legitimacy of the final tally, but at the same time, they should be tearing down barriers to voter participation, not erecting new ones.

Mini-Rumination: “E” and Aurora

So the “E” entertainment channel has dispatched a reporter to Aurora, Colorado to – you should pardon the expression – “cover” the mass shooting at a movie theater Friday night.

Why?

Because the shooting just so happened to take place in a movie theater and therefore falls within the “E” sphere of interest?

It’s absurd.  What’s next?  Ryan Seacrest with that shit-eating grin of his trying to act all serious while introducing a report “from the field?”  Joan Rivers critiquing the clothing of the local prosecutor?  Giuliana Rancic interviewing public officials as they make their way to the courthouse?  A guest appearance by Khloe and Lamar?

Go home, E.  Go back to what you do best:  presenting non-news about non-sense.

Celebrities and Their Privacy

When the press reports that people like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, or Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, or any other celebrity couple is having marital problems or getting a divorce, publicists for those celebrities almost always issue a statement asking the public and press to respect their privacy under these difficult circumstances.

Likewise, when celebrities like John Travolta and Kelly Preston lose a child, their “people” ask for the same thing:  please respect our privacy under these very trying conditions.

The Curmudgeon says nuts to that.

To be clear, The Curmudgeon has no interest at all in these people – or others like them – nor is he using them as anything other than examples.  Of the six of them, he appreciates only one, John Travolta, as a performer, and on the other end of the spectrum, he has no idea what Ms. Holmes has ever done to gain her fame beyond marrying Tom Cruise.  The Curmudgeon makes a fairly serious effort to avoid reading or learning about the comings and goings and doings of celebrities, and what he does know comes mostly by osmosis:  in our modern, media-centered society, it’s almost impossible to avoid this kind of nonsense.

All of these people, and the many others like them, make their living in the public arena.  Whether their work is brilliant or bad, no one will ever see it, know about it, idolize them, or pay them outlandish sums of money unless they go to extraordinary lengths to draw attention to themselves and their work.  After priming the publicity pump as diligently and relentlessly as the overwhelming majority of them do, it’s simply unreasonable of them to seek to turn off that pump whenever the spirit so moves them.

The Curmudgeon has been thinking about such matters ever since Michael Jackson started bleating his insipid song “Leave Me Alone” back in 1987.  All those things reported about Jackson that he wanted people to stop talking about?  Sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber?  Frolicking with chimpanzees?  The guy lived on a huge, heavily guarded estate that reporters couldn’t possibly breach, which means the only way the press learned about those things was that Jackson’s public relations people told them those things.  Leave him alone?  To the contrary, he was crying out for their attention, demanding their attention, spending vast amounts of money to get their attention ­– and then had the nerve to complain when he got it.  (The Curmudgeon would suggest that he had the balls to complain, but, well…)

What comes to mind when you think of Tom Cruise these days?  His infamous sofa-jumping visit with Oprah?  Or maybe his obnoxious performance during his Today Show interview with Matt Lauer?  Why was he there?  In both cases, he submitted to those interviews to seek publicity for his latest movie.  He put himself on display on widely viewed television programs for the professional and financial benefits he would gain from talking publicly about his private life.

So now, how does he find the audacity to ask us to mind our own business when he’s done so much to make his life our business?

At least Cruise has something worth promoting – his movies – and in theory, he has the choice to promote them or not.  Someone like Kim Kardashian, on the hand, has no choice:  she’s the product of publicity, the creation of publicity, she lives and dies by her publicity, she owes her very existence in the public eye to publicity that publicizes, well, exactly what it publicizes The Curmudgeon has never quite understood because he still can’t figure out what she and the others in her three-ring circus of a family actually do.

There’s an old saying that goes “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”  For better or worse, celebrities enjoy a special status in our society – a status that brings with it fame, adulation, and enormous amounts of money.  Some have even earned it.  Aside from the occasional accidental celebrity, like the pilot who landed his damaged plane on the Hudson River, none of these celebrities backed into this special status.  They all sought it, craved it, and worked hard to achieve it.  That earning involves exposing vast parts of their private lives to us as part of selling themselves and their work to us.  They do so eagerly, willingly, and in many cases even greedily, and in so doing, they forfeit any reasonable right to the ordinary kind of privacy that most of us take for granted every day.  They can try to be selective about what they share, but once they’ve crossed a certain line, we have every right to keep expecting from them the same level of information and detail, no matter how inappropriate it might’ve been, that they foisted on us during their path to fame.  For them to expect us to back off falls somewhere between ridiculous and offensive.  People with good manners will back off, because that’s what people with good manners do, but as long as there’s a market for the kind of nonsense these people themselves have worked so hard to cultivate and feed, the press certainly isn’t going to back off, nor should it.  These celebrities, who’ve learned to live with, enjoy, and exult in the benefits of all the fame, all the adulation, and all the money, will just have to learn to live with the few down-sides of all those up-sides.

Mini-Rumination: Bethenny Frankel and When Good Things Happen for Bad People

Let’s take a quick inventory of Bethenny Frankel’s qualities.

She’s not nice.

She’s not bright.

She’s not articulate.

She’s not warm.

She’s not empathetic.

She’s not engaging.

She’s not interesting.

She doesn’t listen when people talk to her.

She’s mean.

And she now has her own television talk show.

Go figure.

Is The Curmudgeon an Illegal Immigrant?

Not quite – but it runs in his family.

Illegal immigration is one of the big problems that plagues this country today, right?  Illegal immigrants take jobs from real Americans, right?  After all, Americans are lining up to mow lawns for landscaping companies, bus tables for chain restaurants, and clean the toilets of middle-class homeowners, right?  Meanwhile, these illegal immigrants are sending their kids to our schools so they don’t go through life illiterate, seeking medical care when they’re sick or injured, and once in a while even taking legitimate, above-the-table jobs and paying taxes.

Leeches – leeches, all of them!

Right?

Well, no, not really.  While illegal immigration is a major issue, and possibly a major problem, it’s also been, until very recently, one of the most interesting issues on the public policy front:  interesting because until recently none of the large, conventional political groups – liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats – had a single, unified position on the issue.  This fascinating situation was destroyed late last year by the Tea Party, whose virulent members inspired a stampede among the Republican candidates for president to prove who could propose the harshest, least tolerant “solution” to the problem of illegal immigration.  In their sheer hatred for anyone who doesn’t look, act, and think exactly like they do (especially the guy who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.), Tea Party members successfully forced their warped perspective on every candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination.  It may be years before some semblance of reason can be restored to the public discourse on this issue, but that healing will probably begin on November 7, the day after President Obama is re-elected and Republicans realize they need to go back to the drawing board on this (and possibly other) issues.  Until this recent upheaval, though, it was pretty interesting to see people of all political stripes, unaccustomed to doing their own thinking, having to puzzle out matters for themselves for once because their political parties and factions hadn’t formed a single, unified position on the issue.

It will be interesting to see what these non-thinkers come up with – and when they do think, their thinking will probably be informed by their personal experiences and perspectives.

The Curmudgeon, of course, has a such a personal perspective:  if not for illegal immigration, he might be 7630 kilometers away (4740 miles, for you American readers) lamenting the recent election of Vladimir Putin.

You see, The Curmudgeon’s grandfather was an illegal immigrant.

The Curmudgeon didn’t know this growing up.  He learned it while he was in college, when he took a course in the sociology of childhood and was assigned to interview his oldest living relative and learn and write about how that person was raised.  What he learned was eye-opening.

The Curmudgeon’s grandfather was raised in the village of Samhoudorek (the spelling is approximate; The Curmudgeon has had a difficult time finding the town), near Kiev.  When the communists took over they made life miserable for Jews – not that it had been a bed of roses before – until one day, fed up, grandfather Abe’s father put him and his cousin into the back of the family wagon, hitched up the horse, drove his son to the border, gave him some money, told him to go to America, kissed him, and turned around and went home.  During the course of his travels Abe lied about his age so many times that everyone lost track of how old he really was.  The flight from the Soviet Union appears to have taken place in 1922 or 1923; Abe said he was born in 1904, which would have made him eighteen or nineteen, but his cousin always insisted that he was born in 1899, which would have made him twenty-three or twenty-four.  His cousin claimed Abe lied about his age because it was thought to be easier to get into the U.S. if you were under twenty-one.

When Abe finished traversing Europe and arrived at Ellis Island he received bad news:  the annual quota of immigrating Jews had been reached and he couldn’t enter the country.  So informed, he went to Canada, eventually settling in Montreal.  After a few years he snuck into the U.S., settled somewhere in New York – where is not clear, although anecdotal evidence points to Brooklyn – and arranged to marry a Russian woman who had legally been admitted to the U.S.  It’s not clear whether Abe feigned love so he could become a legal resident or whether it was a marriage arranged within his community, but somewhere between the decision to marry and the wedding itself, the federal government sent a notice to Abe’s last address in Montreal that he had been approved for admission to the U.S.  Someone got that notice down to him in New York, he broke the engagement, snuck back into Canada, and crossed back into the U.S. legally.  He eventually married The Curmudgeon’s grandmother, who begat The Curmudgeon’s mother, who begat The Curmudgeon.

All of this leaves The Curmudgeon with mixed feelings about the illegal immigration issue.

For starters, he has no problem with the term “illegal immigrants.”  The term that some people – mostly liberals – prefer is “undocumented residents,” but The Curmudgeon thinks that’s a rather namby-pamby way to avoid calling a spade a spade.  “Illegal immigrants” is precise and it’s accurate:  they are immigrants and they are here illegally.  “Undocumented residents” sounds like there’s just some missing paperwork and therefore is too soft a term to satisfy The Curmudgeon.  Should we negotiate the issue?  By all means.  Still, let’s be adults and call it what it is.

Beyond that, The Curmudgeon thinks the country’s southern border need to be guarded closely, but at the same time, we need to recognize that you can’t guard it completely and people are still going to find ways to cross.  (And isn’t it interesting how no one seems to worry about our northern border?  Maybe that’s because Canadians are mostly white and the people who are so terribly worried about illegal immigration apparently are far less worried about white people sneaking illegally into the U.S. than they are about brown people sneaking illegally into the U.S.)

The Curmudgeon thinks any illegal immigrant who commits a crime, no matter what the crime, should be deported.  He does not think an illegal immigrant who enrolls a child in school or who calls the police when there’s a problem or who seeks help in a hospital emergency room should be deported.  When it comes to punishing that crime, some people are afraid of breaking up families through deportation.  Here, The Curmudgeon is a bit hard-hearted:  it should be up to the family of the deportee:  they can leave the country with their loved one or stay here.  There are consequences to our actions, and this is one of those times when people need to pay some of those consequences.

Absent a specific decision to attempt to round up and deport every illegal, however, The Curmudgeon thinks we’d be better off getting these folks more heavily invested in this country by creating some reasonable path to citizenship for those among them – the vast majority – who are already here and already abiding by all of our laws except those that hold their presence here to be illegal.

And when that day comes, a lot of other people’s grandfathers can become legal, too.

Mini-Rumination: Casinos at Racetracks

Casinos at racetracks?  Really?

Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer reports that construction has begun on a new casino to be located at the Pocono Downs racetrack.  This is something Pennsylvania does:  it puts casinos at racetracks.

Is there something about the honesty and integrity of the horse racing industry that’s supposed to assure us that table games at racetrack-based casinos won’t be fixed?

After all, we’re all pretty confident that horse racing is an honest industry, right?

Right?