Monthly Archives: May 2013

With All the Advances of Modern Medicine…

…why does cough medicine still taste SO BLOODY AWFUL??!!??!!!

May News Quiz

  1. A Pennsylvania woman who disappeared from her home in 2002 and was declared dead in 2009 recently resurfaced 1000 miles away, in Florida.  When asked to explain her eleven-year absence, the woman said:  a) I had to get away from my husband; b) the lines at Disneyworld’s “Space Mountain” ride were unbelievable; c) traffic was a bitch; or d) they always exaggerate when they say your pizza will be ready in twenty minutes?
  2. When confronted with proof that the IRS had targeted conservative and tea party political groups for extra scrutiny, the agency’s director explained that:  a) we feel we had legitimate concerns about whether these groups qualified for the tax exemptions they were applying for; b) we were just trying to help out our boss, the president; c) we were just trying to embarrass our boss, the president; or d) we’re the IRS and we’ll do whatever we damn well please?
  3. It was recently revealed that actor Charlie Sheen’s children by his most recent ex-wife, Brooke Mueller, are being cared for by his previous ex-wife, Denise Richards, while Mueller is being treated for a drug problem.  This step was necessary because:  a) Mueller has a drug problem and clearly isn’t fit to care for her own children; b) Sheen certainly wasn’t going to take care of his own children himself; c) Richards is the only responsible adult with whom Sheen has a relationship; or d) Ashton Kutcher wasn’t available to care for Sheen’s children?
  4. U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) wants to propose a law that would prohibit the federal Centers for Disease Control and Management from participating in campaigns to publicize the negative health effects of any kinds of foods and beverages, claiming that such campaigns attack Americans’ freedom of choice.  In defending his idea, Schock said that:  a) what people don’t know won’t hurt them; b) it’s every American’s god-given right to eat or drink himself to an early death; c) I’ve always eaten and drank whatever I wanted and look how good I turned out; or d) just because the government spends billions of dollars of public money doing research on the potential effects of various foods and beverages doesn’t mean we need to share that information with the public that paid for that research?
  5. The feud between golfers Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia escalated last week when Garcia, when asked if he would get together with Woods during an upcoming tournament, said that “We’ll have him ‘round every night.  We will serve fried chicken.”  Faced with immediate public backlash, Garcia refused to back down, insisting that:  a) I always – always – serve fried chicken when I have company; b) I’ve eaten with Tiger before and he always orders the fried chicken; c) Tiger’s only part black, so obviously this wasn’t intended as a racial slur.  If that had been my intent, I also would have mentioned some food that’s Chinese or Japanese or whatever the hell he is; or d) I’m from Spain and don’t know about any of those ridiculous stereotype comments that Americans make about each other.  Now if Tiger was Portuguese I’d have a lot of great insults for him?
  6.  A few years ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said that jobless residents of his state would rather collect unemployment than look for work.  A few weeks ago he said that jobs in his state go unfilled because companies can’t find prospective workers who can pass drug tests.  Last week he said he had no Latinos on his staff because he couldn’t find a qualified Latino in the entire state.  These assertions demonstrate clearly that Pennsylvania has:  a) a lazy workforce problem; b) a drug-abusing workforce problem; c) an undereducated, unqualified Latino workforce problem; or d) a Governor Tom Corbett problem?
  7. At a recent meeting of McDonald’s shareholders, the company president defended the fast food empire’s marketing to children, saying of Ronald McDonald that “Ronald is not a bad guy.  He’s about fun.  He’s a clown.  I’d urge you all to let your kids have fun, too.”  The executive believes that McDonald’s aggressive marketing of young people is appropriate because:  a) a high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar diet is good for children; b) McDonald’s profits are more important than the health of its customers; c) America is all about freedom of choice and anyone who would try to change that has to be some kind of communist; or d) until we figure out a way to put nicotine in our food, we’ll have to settle for lots of calories, lots of fat, lots of salt, and lots of sugar?
  8. The city council of the town of Nelson, Georgia recently passed a law requiring its residents to own a gun and ammunition to “provide for the emergency management of the city” and “provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.”  The council’s president defended the new law, stating that:  a) the constitution says we’re all required to bear arms, so I don’t understand all the fuss;  b) everyone knows that our god-given right to bear arms is right there in the bible; c) we’ve been having some border clashes lately with our neighbors in Jasper and want to be ready in case it gets serious; or d) when a man goes out drinking on a Friday or Saturday night he’s especially vulnerable to being mugged or robbed, but knowing that he’s armed should give everyone around him a feeling of safety?
  9. A study published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine reported that patients with osteoarthritis of the knee received more pain relief from an injection of what is essentially sugar water than they do from exercise, physical therapy, and other forms of treatment.  The most common reaction to this news has been:  a) outrage from doctors who perform knee surgery; b) outrage from pharmaceutical companies that sell pain-killers; c) disapproval from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who’s upset because Americans already have too much sugar in their diets; or d) inquiries from patients who are wondering if they could get the same benefit if they just eat a lot of chocolate?
  10. Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson dismissed the work of noted economist John Maynard Keynes, suggesting that because Keynes was gay and had no children, he had less of an interest in the future than other people.  Such a statement suggests that:  a) people named Niall must all be stupid; b) because Ferguson was born in Scotland, people from Scotland must all be stupid; c) Ferguson was unduly influenced by his first wife, whose last name is “Ali” and who therefore must be virulently anti-American; or d) Harvard’s not hiring them as smart as it used to, is it?

The First TV Program of the Fall Season to be Canceled Will Be…

…NBC’s incredibly ill-advised remake of Ironside, starring Blair Underwood.

Just one question:  Why?

Why on earth would anyone want to remake Ironside?  Don’t get The Curmudgeon wrong:  he loved the old Ironside.  But the premise is such a stretch to begin with, so why rehash it?  Have the major television networks so completely lost the ability to show anything even remotely resembling creativity?  Or are they so incredibly risk-averse that even a sure-to-be-mediocre remake of an old, good, but never highly successful series is better than trying, heaven forbid, something new?

Ironside?  Really?

It’ll never make it to Thanksgiving.  Columbus Day may even be a stretch.

A Sequestration Lamentation

Two years ago, Congress stumbled upon what it thought would be a great way to ensure that it did something about the federal budget deficit:  it passed a bill with so many future spending cuts, a bill that was so thoroughly obnoxious, a bill that would hurt so many people, that everyone knew they’d have to go back and fix it before the law took effect.

Well, it turns out that nothing is too obnoxious for the United States Congress, so earlier this year, cuts known as “sequestration” went into effect.  Essentially, with a few exceptions, almost every part of the U.S. budget has to be cut two percent.  That’s why there was all that fuss about air traffic controllers a few weeks ago, and you’ll be hearing more mini-fusses just like it in the near future because Congress is currently showing very little interest in undoing its own obnoxiousness.

But you just knew, you had to know, that some people and institutions that feed off the public teat weren’t even going to wait for the cuts to take effect to whine about them.  Demonstrating that a high degree of education is no protection against making an ass of oneself in public, one of the whiners is a fellow named Jonathan Chernoff, who goes by the title of “chief scientific officer” for the Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia.

According to Dr. Whiner, er, Dr. Chernoff, Fox Chase – and the world – will be horribly, irrevocably damaged by cutting federal funding of medical research an earth-shattering two percent.

Yes, a whole two percent.

In an extended whine to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chernoff bleated about research labs that will have to reduce their staffing, brilliant PhD research scientists who will have trouble finding work, and the prospect that this tiny blip on the radar will end up “driving a bunch of young people out of science.”

Really?  He’s whining before his institution has been deprived of even a single thin dime?  And he thinks that people who’ve spent their entire lives preparing to work in medical research will walk away to become what, a Starbucks barista, the first time they fail to land their dream job?

Really?  Or is this just a case of premature lamentation?

Here’s another perspective.

The young scientists who lose their jobs will be the bottom two percent of the young people pursuing careers in science.  Science will survive their loss.

The research projects that go unfunded will be the bottom two percent of all those that request federal support.  Science will survive their loss, too.

In recent years, a lot of people and a lot of institutions have had to find ways to do more with less, or to do the same with less.  There’s no reason the Fox Chase Cancer Center should be any different.  It’s a run-of-the-mill institution that’s not even the best at what it does in the city in which it’s located and recently had to find a bigger and more successful institution to rescue it from its own shortcomings.  Now, its leaders need to do what the rest of us have been doing all along:  suck it up and figure out how to do their job without all the whining.

And if Dr. Chernoff isn’t smart enough to figure out how to do that, maybe Fox Chase could save a few bucks on his salary and find someone else who can.

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Star-struck

Just because you won an Academy Award a few hours earlier doesn’t mean a girl still can’t be star-struck, as Jennifer Lawrence demonstrates in this post-Oscars clip that The Curmudgeon finds utterly charming.


See it here.

Apple, Congress, and Taxes

Of course the people at Apple are horrendous corporate citizens for the despicable manner in which they shield their profits from the tax collector.  They’re far from alone, but the attention comes with the territory:  when you’re the biggest guy in a room full of bad guys, it’s only natural that the light shines harshest on you.

And of course Congress is right to be outraged – outraged! – over the tax evasion successes of Apple and others like it.

But seriously, Congress, who writes the tax code?  YOU write the tax code.  If you don’t like it, don’t like what Apple and companies like it are doing, the solution isn’t to grill Apple executives about their lawful, if somewhat immoral, evasions.  That’s nothing more than pompous bloviating.

No, Congress, the appropriate response, if you don’t like it, is to DO something about it.  Apple and the others like it are only playing by the rules YOU wrote.  After all, Congress, YOU write the tax code and YOU have the power to change it if you don’t like it.

But maybe it’s just easier for people who’ve spent ten or twenty or thirty years in Congress to complain about a problem than it is to do something about it.

Actually, Ford Doesn’t Have a Better Idea

The Curmudgeon came late to the idea that foreign cars are infinitely better than their American-made counterparts.  In hindsight, this isn’t much of a surprise; The Curmudgeon has never been an early adopter.

He recalls that in early 1982 he was still in his first post-college job, working in Levittown, Pennsylvania (well, technically it was Tullytown, but the company preferred the far more prestigious Levittown address).  Levittown and Tullytown are very close to Fairless Hills, a steel company town that at the time was dying a slow and painful death marked by gruesome lay-off after gruesome lay-off at the mill.  After one particularly painful furlough of hundreds of people, angry, newly unemployed workers announced that they would rally against, well, no one in particular, just their sad fate, and employees where The Curmudgeon worked at the time were advised not to drive their foreign cars to work that day.  Switch cars with a friend or relative, employees were told, because your foreign car may not be safe in the company parking lot.  The Curmudgeon was in the clear:  he was driving a Ford Pinto at the time (okay, he saw your smirk when you read that, so knock it off right now) that would eventually be passed from one person to another in his family for more than a decade and never have anything even remotely approaching engine trouble.

After the Pinto came a Dodge Charger that The Curmudgeon enjoyed very much even though in the seven years he owned the car it never – not once – started on the first try.  It always started, never left him stranded, but when it came time to replace the Charger, he decided it was time to join the rest of the thinking world and buy a Japanese car.

The Curmudgeon’s first Toyota was an excellent ten-year Camry and was succeeded by a Honda Accord that was another excellent car even though it wasn’t much fun to drive.  In family lore, the Accord is now known as the Accordion because The Curmudgeon was in an accident in which the car was totaled both in the front and rear (see photos below) in a smash-up that was not The Curmudgeon’s fault and in which everyone involved – the police, the rescue squad, the tow truck people, the firemen, and several know-it-all passersby – could not believe that the Accord’s driver escaped unscathed as he did.

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To digress just briefly, The Curmudgeon is not much of a car person.  He still recalls that sometime around 1976, a co-worker asked him what he thought of the new Hondas.  “I don’t like motorcycles,” replied The Curmudgeon, clueless that there were Honda cars as well as Honda motorcycles.  In general, a car is just a car to The Curmudgeon.  He doesn’t care what it looks like, doesn’t care if it’s a popular or prestigious model (and if you don’t believe that, consider that he loved the look of the old AMC Gremlin), and doesn’t care how long it takes a car to go from zero to sixty because first, that feat is seldom required, and second, he knows of few places where going from zero to sixty will not incur the wrath of a peace officer.

When the Accord was declared totaled and The Curmudgeon needed to find a new car, he felt obligated to give a fair chance to an American car even though the two Japanese cars that interested him the most, the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, are 100 percent made in America and were considered far, far superior to anything GM, Ford, or Chrysler could offer.  It was just a nagging feeling, no doubt fueled by a combination of liberal and Jewish guilt, that he should at least give an American car a try.

The American car most like the Accord and the Camry at the time was the Ford Taurus, so on a snowy Saturday morning, The Curmudgeon set off to take a look at a Taurus.  It turned out not to be much of a look:  he visited a Ford showroom in Philadelphia (on Frankford Avenue, for you Philadelphia readers), and even though there was not even a single other shopper in the building, he was completely ignored by the dealership’s sales staff.  After ten minutes of such non-treatment he shrugged his shoulders and left.  A few days later he became the proud owner of his second Camry.

Six years ago, The Curmudgeon was on vacation and reserved a compact rental for a week.  When he arrived at the car rental counter, however, he was informed that the company had no compacts on the premises but would be happy to rent him a mid-sized car at a compact car price.  He agreed, and the next thing he knew he pulled his rolling suitcase up to a Ford Taurus that was the spitting image of his Camry:  same color exterior, same color interior, and of course, all these mid-sized cars look alike to him on the outside.

The Curmudgeon got into the car and started driving, and before he even left the airport’s access roads he could see and feel how inferior the Taurus was to his Camry in every way, and he says this from the perspective of someone who normally just furrows his brow in ignorance and amusement when people talk about how one car handles in comparison to another.  For the first time in his life, he had an idea of what those people were talking about.

The Curmudgeon is telling you this because he recently returned from another vacation and another car rental.  This time the rental company did have a compact on site, so The Curmudgeon drove away from the airport in a Ford Focus hatchback, which he understood to be a popular and highly regarded car.

And for the life of him he cannot understand why.

From a balky engine to a transmission that had trouble shifting gears to the worst visibility he has ever encountered when using a rear-view mirror to a radio so complex that he never did figure it out how to work it to an air-conditioner so complex that he never did figure out how to work that, either, to a dashboard that had more buttons and dials on it than an airplane cockpit to windshield wipers that went back and forth in a most disconcerting and non-synchronous manner, The Curmudgeon found the Focus to be the sorriest excuse for a car he has ever encountered (and this coming from someone whose family very briefly had a Chevy Corvair when he was grow up).

The Curmudgeon’s current Toyota is ten years old, and because he works at home, it does not have a great deal of mileage on it.  His thinking du jour is that he’s inclined to replace it in the spring of 2014, and when he does, he thinks it’s highly unlikely that he’ll again feel any moral obligation to at least try an American car.  He doesn’t know what the American car-makers have been doing all these years, but in Ford’s case, it appears that at least one thing they’ve not been doing is trying to figure out how to design and build a better car.

American car-makers like to claim that they’ve learned their lesson, that they’ve closed the quality gap, and that the only thing that now distinguishes them from their Japanese counterparts is reputation.

They can claim that all they want, but based on these experiences, we’d be damn fools to believe it.

The Curmudgeon’s New Favorite College

Three cheers are in order for Spelman College, the historically black women’s college in Atlanta.

Last year the school’s leaders decided to drop all intercollegiate sports.  That’s right:  no tennis team, no lacrosse team, no soccer team, no nothing.  Instead, Spelman will stop spending nearly a million dollars a year on intercollegiate sports that served about eighty young women and instead spend just a portion of that money on new physical fitness and activity programs for all of the college’s 2100 students.

At first people on campus were shocked by the announcement, but now they seem to like the idea.

Count The Curmudgeon among the enthusiasts.  In this space in the past he questioned why intercollegiate sports even exist, and now, it looks like at least one college asked the same question and reached the same conclusion:  they shouldn’t.

Hurrah Spelman!


Health Care Privacy Laws and Gun Violence

When you go to a doctor’s office these days, some of them have these new-fangled sign-in sheets that prevent you from seeing the names of the other patients who also have signed in at the office.  You can still see those other patients sitting right there in front of you, in the waiting room, and as you walk from the waiting room to an examination room, but a decision was made that your privacy needs protecting and the new-fangled sign-in sheets are designed to do exactly that.  Of course, it might be reasonable to ask what kind of privacy is being protected when other patients can still see you, plain as day, in the waiting room of your doctor’s office.  Also, it’s not as if you sign in with something along the lines of “J.S., burns during urination, may be syphilis.”

Your doctors are only doing what their lawyers are telling them to do – and yes, The Curmudgeon knows, doctors and lawyers together can be a pretty nasty combination.  Their actions are driven by the 1996 passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which most of us know by its acronym of HIPAA.  You may not remember it, but at one time or another over the past dozen or so years all of your doctors have required you to sign a document that informs you of your HIPAA rights.  The only one of those rights that most of us encounter first-hand, though, is the right to prevent your proctologist’s 3:15 appointment from trying to guess why you’re there to see him at 3:00 – as if that would be hard to guess.

The Curmudgeon’s had HIPAA on his mind ever since that nut-job stormed into a Newtown, Connecticut school and killed twenty people.  In addition to all of the renewed cries for tighter gun restrictions, this latest mass murder has led to calls to get the mental health community more involved in flagging people who might be predisposed, in light of their emotional problems, to commit acts like those committed in recent years in Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, Oak Creek, and elsewhere.

Assuming there are ways for mental health professionals to anticipate the possibility of mass mayhem by one of their patients – The Curmudgeon doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of the mental health community, although he’s receptive to the idea that in this particular area he could be totally full of you-know-what ­– this idea actually makes sense and offers some potential for helping to prevent the next mass murder.  At worst, it’s probably more likely to be productive than any future attempt to prevent the next mass murderer from gaining access to the weapons he needs to do his thing.  (The Curmudgeon normally would write “he or she needs to do his or her thing” in the previous sentence, but it seems grossly unfair in this case because along with refusing to ask for directions, painting their torsos green at football games, and thinking belching is entertainment, men seem to have pretty much cornered the market on this particular type of behavior.)

The only thing is, this latest idea is almost certain to fail, thanks to HIPAA.  If we’re interpreting patients’ right to privacy so narrowly that we can’t even see the name of the person who signed in before us at the dentist’s office, what are the chances that a mental health professional is going to task the risk of picking up the phone one day, calling the police, and saying, “I just got finished a session with a patient.  He hates his mother, listens to too many Marilyn Manson albums, and kicks his dog when the poor pooch misses the paper.  I’m afraid that one day if he goes into McDonalds and thinks there aren’t enough pickles on his Big Mac he’ll go out to his car, get his AK-47, and mow down everything that moves”?  It might be took much of a stretch to expect a health care professional who has to guard his sign-in sheet with all sorts of devious new tools to take the risk of violating a patient’s HIPAA rights in such an extreme way.

The idea of getting mental health professionals involved in identifying prospective mass murderers isn’t necessarily a bad one, but in the end, it’s probably unworkable.  If we have laws designed to protect women with swollen bellies from having other patients at their obstetrician’s office suspect that they might be pregnant, we certainly can’t expect mental health professionals to put their lives, their livelihoods, and their reputations on the line every time they think they have a patient with a nasty temper who might have more than just a nasty temper.


The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Sorkinisms

As a sometime-writer of fiction, The Curmudgeon sometimes worries that he revisits some themes or ideas too often and repeats similar language and grammatical constructions more often than he should.  Whenever he starts thinking along these lines he reminds himself that his favorite writer, Aaron Sorkin, frequently does the same, and that even though you recognize a certain phrase from the past – Sorkin never even made it past the first scene of the first act in the first episode of his HBO series The Newsroom without pulling out his oft-used West Wing line “reach for stars” – if it works, if it fits, if it says what you want it to say, then you shouldn’t sweat it.

In the West Wing episode “20 Hours in America, Part II,” the daughter of the White House chief of staff compliments a White House speech writer on a particular phrase in a speech the president has just delivered.  The writer (played by Rob Lowe) explains, “I think I stole that from Camelot.”  When the woman questions him, the writer elaborates:  “Good writers borrow from other writers.  Great writers steal from them outright.”

So who better to steal from than yourself?

So The Curmudgeon thinks it’s just fine if he steals from his own past work and he especially thinks it’s just fine if Aaron Sorkin steals from his own past work as well.

Now, someone with much too much time on his hands (as if a blogger with about twelve readers should talk) has spliced together a video showcasing some of the language and constructions that Sorkin has used more than once.  It’s entertaining and worth a few minutes of your time if you’re a fan.  See it here.