Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: Words and Language

Loyal Four-Eyed Curmudgeon Miss Kate shared this week’s video of the week with The Curmudgeon and he thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s about words and language and grammar and people who are so focused on the rules and what’s right and wrong that they forget that language is a tool, first and foremost, for communicating.

The Curmudgeon admits that he’s guilty of some of the crimes described therein, but no curmudgeon truly worthy of such a title would ever apologize for that guilt.  Instead, The Curmudgeon recommends this piece both for its message and the distinct and fascinating way it conveys it.

Find it here.

Enjoy.

But Aren’t There Any Metered Spaces?

A parking space in the garage of a condo building in San Francisco recently sold for $82,000, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

As a point of reference, The Curmudgeon sold his house in Philadelphia – three bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, finished basement – for the same price in 2003.

Parking was free in his garage, his driveway, and on the street.

June News Quiz

  1. Twinkies snack cakes will return to store shelves next month after a year-long absence when Hostess Brands, which manufactured the treats, went out of business.  The cakes’ return will be celebrated by:  a) people who love Twinkies; b) moms who know that putting Twinkies in their kids’ and husbands’ lunch boxes will make them happy; c) grocers hoping for an increase in snack cake sales; or d) pharmaceutical companies that make insulin?
  2. Actor Michael Douglas recently explained that he believes that performing oral sex caused his throat cancer.  This has resulted in:  a) a whole new perspective on throat cancer; b) a whole new perspective on Michael Douglas; c) a whole new perspective on Catherine Zeta-Jones; or d) a whole new perspective on the perpetual smile on the faces of women whose husbands have survived throat cancer?
  3. Pope Francis recently confirmed that there is an active “gay lobby” within the Vatican.  That gay lobby’s number one interest appears to be:  a) redesigning the papal robes; b) redecorating the Vatican; b) legalizing pedophilia; or d) organizing a Village People reunion concert at the Colosseum?
  4. Members of the U.S. Senate want to raise interest rates on student loans because:  a) lending money at high interest rates shouldn’t be reserved for greedy banks; b) they reject the notion that students deserve a lower interest rate than anyone else; c) they think that burdening college students with $100,000 or more of high-interest debt upon graduation is a great way to create a positive work incentive; or d) giving young people low-cost college loans is yet another example of the nanny state as well as being redistributive and a sign of creeping socialism?
  5. Celebrity-for-no-particular-reason Kim Kardashian gave birth to a baby girl.  The child came out:  a) ass first, in honor of her mother having such a big ass: b) ass first, in honor of baby daddy Kanye West being such a big ass; c) to the sound of two photographers clicking away because Grandma Pimp, er, Kris, had sold the rights to delivery room photos of the new baby for $1.5 million; or d) with a contract to star in a new reality series on the E network, to debut this fall?
  6. Instagram recently announced that users can now post short videos and not just photos.  It’s doing this because:  a) it’s what its users want; b) photos-only is so 2012; c) it has the technology, it has the know-how; or d) what’s Instagram?
  7. Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz is:  a) every Texan’s dream; b) every tea party member’s dream; c) every liberal’s dream; or d) all of the above?
  8. Media critic Howard Kurtz, formerly of the Washington Post and the Daily Beast and still host of the CNN program Reliable Sources, announced that he will be moving next month to Fox News in the wake of revelations of serious mistakes in some of his reporting.  Kurtz is moving to Fox News because:  a) he needs a job; b) the people at the National Enquirer said thanks but no thanks; c) Fox made him a better offer; or d) Fox wants to become the new go-to place for journalists who’ve lost their credibility and are mad at the world about it?
  9. Profits are down at Olive Garden restaurants because:  a) people finally realized that every town has plenty of Italian restaurants and there’s no reason to eat at a bland chain place; b) negative publicity surrounding the company’s announcement that it would cut employees’ hours so it wouldn’t have to pay for their health insurance; c) unlimited breadsticks made people realize how bad those breadsticks actually are; or d) customers rebelled at listening to the all-Dean Martin soundtrack and never want to hear about the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie again?
  10. Researchers believe that men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer may be less likely to see their cancer spread if they eat a diet high in vegetable fats, such as olive oil and nuts.  As a result of this finding:  a) men are eating more vegetable fats, like olive oil and nuts; b) Italian and Greek men are feeling very good about themselves; c) men who are eating diets high in vegetable fats aren’t seeing their prostate cancer spread but are seeing their cholesterol count skyrocket; or d) it’s now clear that eating lots of nuts is good for a man’s nuts?

About That New Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy Movie

Good lord, even the commercials for the movie aren’t funny.

Oh, Texas!

Those rascals in Texas are at it again, determined to give their children the kind of education that has very little to do with learning anything with any basis in reality.

The Curmudgeon has written before about public education in Texas, so not to beat a dead horse – well, actually, he’d like to beat this particular dead horse a little more, just because it’s so damned entertaining – but there’s always something new to delight and appall.

Consider this:  according to one of The Curmudgeon’s favorite magazines, Mother Jones,

In Texas public schools, children learn that the Bible provides scientific proof that Earth is 6,000 years old, that the origins of racial diversity trace back to a curse placed on Noah’s son, and that astronauts have discovered “a day missing in space” that corroborates biblical stories of the sun standing still.

And there’s more.  In a suburban Houston school district, they teach that the bible was written under god’s direction; in Brenham, a central Texas school district, they teach that “Christ’s resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space—that it was, in reality, historical and not mythological.” (emphasis in original); and in Amarillo, they teach their young’uns that “it’s possible to identify which of Noah’s three sons begat various racial and ethnic groups.”

All this and more can be found in the Texas Freedom Network report “Reading, Writing and Religion II,” which you can find here.

City to Citizens: Please Smoke and Drink More

The city of Philadelphia has a revenue problem – or, to be more precise, a not-enough-revenue problem.  Its school district faces a deficit of more than $300 million, and while city officials hope to get most of that money from their state government – which, technically, runs the city’s schools and, in withholding money, is failing to fulfill a responsibility it strong-armed away from the city more than a decade ago – they understand that before the state will help them, they’ll first need to demonstrate that the city is prepared to do its part, too.

Enter sin taxes – you know, extra taxes governments levy on things that are supposed to be bad for us.

Just a few years ago, Philadelphia’s mayor, facing a budget shortfall of his own – the city and school district are separate – proposed a tax on soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.  He said such beverages harm people and that the tax could both discourage their use and help pay for programs to encourage people to cut down on their, well, on their sinning.  He failed:  people saw right through his silly attempt at gimmicky governing.

Now the mayor is targeting a whole new set of sins, proposing a new tax of two dollars on every pack of cigarettes sold in the city, with all of the new tax revenue going directly to the school district.  He also wants to increase from ten to fifteen percent the current tax on every glass of alcohol sold at local bars and restaurants.

Let us set aside, for the sake of discussion, the very real possibility that the sinners, faced with these new taxes, will simply choose to make their sinful purchases outside the city limits.  Let us also set aside the problem of labeling as “sins” products that are legal.  If they were that bad, wouldn’t their use be against the law?  (The Curmudgeon would love to argue that they should, in fact, be against the law, but that’s an entirely different subject.)

Part of the dubious premise of sin taxes is that there’s no proof they work – no proof, that is, that making people pay an extra fee to engage in their dubious consumption will actually curb that dubious consumption.

But an even bigger part of the dubious premise is the possibility that one day, a sin tax might actually work – and work well.

Work too well.

Consider this:  Philadelphia city officials estimate that their cigarette and booze tax would raise about $65 million for city schools.  But what if it doesn’t?  What if people who drink at bars and restaurants and smoke cigarettes find the taxes so onerous – remember, Philadelphia has a pretty large population of low-income residents – that they curb their evil ways and reduce their consumption of these sinful products?

That would be a humdinger of a problem for city officials, wouldn’t it?  After all, they’re betting on their new sin taxes raising $65 million a year, and if the taxes work and reduce consumption, they won’t raise what’s needed and city officials will be back at square one, looking up at a big school budget deficit.

So where does that leave the city today?  it leaves the city of Philadelphia in the business of depending on its residents’ smoking and drinking habits for its financial health.  It is, in fact, now in the ridiculous position of needing to encourage people to smoke and drink – and maybe, even smoke and drink more than they ever have.

Ultimately, this is about bad government – really, about government with neither courage nor vision.  It’s about politicians for whom the end goal is gaining (and retaining) office, not achieving something once they do.  Philadelphia, for example, has an infrastructure that was essentially designed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the city’s population was a half-million greater than it is today.  As a result, it has too many schools, too many playgrounds, too many libraries, too many swimming pools, and too many city employees for such a scaled-down population, but the easiest way to turn a politician into a frightened demagogue is to threaten to close a facility in a favored neighborhood.  Somewhere in the depths of city government is the money to run the schools, but it would take someone with real intestinal fortitude to go get it.  Today, the city’s government is led mostly by people sadly lacking in such fortitude.

And that leaves governing with gimmicks – gimmicks that make the city’s government the equivalent of Joe Camel, the Dos Equis guy, and the National Football League:  pimps for the tobacco industry and pimps for the beer and wine and hard liquor industries.

So what are these, pardon the expression, leaders telling the people they are supposed to be leading?    The are telling them to become chain-smoking, beer-drinking, wine-gulping idiots so the extra taxes they pay will help prop up the city’s financially beleaguered schools and benefit the 150,000 children who attend those schools.

That’s right:  drink more, smoke more.

Do it – for the kids!

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: How to Kick Off an Awards Show, Part 2

Last week The Curmudgeon presented one way to launch an awards show:  a production number.  Here’s another ways:  two very funny ladies.

See it here.

Still on the Subject of TV Weather Forecasts…

Take a look at the photo below, which The Curmudgeon clipped from a magazine and scanned using his new, handy-dandy Brother DS mobile 600 scanner.

Any guesses for what the picture is advertising?

Maybe The Real Housewives of Philadelphia?

A new Bravo series about rich, gorgeous, women who’re spoiled silly, to join Bravo’s eight or nine other series featuring rich, gorgeous women who’re spoiled silly?

An ad for a strip joint?

Or a Nevada brothel?

Okay, time’s up, and your guesses were all wrong.

This photo features the weather forecasters for Action News, the local ABC affiliate in Philadelphia.

And what do you think the folks at Action News are selling by employing these three highly distinguished meteorologists, dressing and posing them in this manner, and then plastering them on the inside cover of a prominent local magazine?

Yes, that’s right.  Good for you.weather girls 1

Tinkering With the Electoral College

Some lawmakers in Pennsylvania are talking about changing the way the state apportions its electoral votes in presidential elections.  Instead of winner-take-all, they’d like to distribute the votes proportionally, based on the percentage of votes the candidates receive.

Now The Curmudgeon has never been much of a fan of the electoral college.  Truth be told, he’s always been suspicious of any college that doesn’t have a good library and a pompous blowhard as its president.  Still, as much as this liberal hates to admit it, these conservative legislators seem to have a pretty good idea.

But only on the surface.  They’re on the right track, but their pretty good idea actually turns out to be a pretty awful one.

The electoral college, for those of you who had the good sense to zone out when your teachers tried to explain this preposterous concept to you, was a poorly crafted compromise between the desire of some of the founders to have Congress select the president – the founding fathers, for all their virtues, had little confidence in the common man – and the desire of others to let those same common men (remember:  women didn’t vote back then) do the selecting.  The compromise was to let the states do the choosing, hence, the electoral college.

The clumsy electoral college is mystifying to most of us.  The Curmudgeon – one of those kids who actually did pay attention in school – cannot remember any of his teachers satisfactorily explaining why it was preferable to the approach employed in every other election:  that he (or she) who gets the most votes wins the election.

But that’s the way it is, and it’s no wonder that Republican leaders in Pennsylvania don’t like it:  Democrats keep winning the popular vote in the state, but not always by overwhelming margins, and then that winning Democrat gets every single one of the state’s electoral votes.  Of course they’re unhappy and want to change it.  The Curmudgeon can’t say he blames them.  There’s a degree to which they’re just being sore losers, of course, but there’s also, unquestionably, a good deal of merit to what they’re saying and what they’re proposing.

Only it would be a terrible, terrible idea.

If every state made the same change it would be a great idea.  Of course, if every state made the same change, there’d be no point to keeping the electoral college at all.  It would make more sense just to abolish it.

But as long as the electoral college exists, making Pennsylvania’s electoral votes proportional to the ballots cast would only marginalize the state in an unmistakable way.  Pennsylvania would become the most irrelevant state in all of presidential politics.

Why?  Think about it:  last year, Pennsylvania had twenty electoral votes – fifth highest among the states.  Candidates want those twenty votes – a lot.  They’re willing to work hard to get them because they could make a difference in the outcome of an election.  Working hard, in this case, means establishing serious campaign organizations in the state, coming to make speeches and participate in rallies, and advertising heavily on television and radio.  Pennsylvania is an important piece of political real estate, and a piece worth fighting for (damn, The Curmudgeon hates to end a sentence a preposition with).

But if Pennsylvania awards its electoral votes on a proportional basis, it may never see another presidential candidate again.  Why?  Because the state’s electoral votes wouldn’t be worth fighting for anymore.  If, for example, one candidate won sixty percent of the state’s votes – a genuine landslide – he would receive just twelve of the state’s twenty electoral votes on a proportional basis.  That’s only four more than his opponent would receive – eight votes – for winning forty percent of the votes.

So the net benefit to the victorious candidate in Pennsylvania would be just four electoral votes.

Do you think presidential candidates are going to spend vast sums of money competing for four electoral votes?  Do you think that with four electoral votes at stake, they’d ever even set foot in Pennsylvania again?

And if you’re a Pennsylvanian, how do you like the idea of your large industrial state having as much influence on the outcome of presidential elections as those political powerhouse states of Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, with their four electoral votes, and only one more electoral vote than Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming, all proud owners of three whole electoral votes?

And if an election in the state is relatively close – as has been the case in eleven of the past dozen presidential elections – the winning party would receive only eleven electoral votes, to its opponent’s nine, making Pennsylvania the least valuable electoral territory in the entire country.

So if the Republican officials in Pennsylvania who’ve come up with this idea care about their state and want its voice heard, they’ve really hit upon a profoundly bad way to do that.

But if, on the other hand, they’ve given up completely on the idea of a Republican ever winning the state again and just want to do what they can to hurt Democrats, then they’ve found a great way to do it:  by making the votes their state casts irrelevant and preventing their states’ voters from having the same voice in the selection of presidents as the voters in every other state.

Come to think of it, this could work even better for Pennsylvania Republicans than their (temporarily) sidetracked attempt to prevent poor people and minorities from registering to vote.  Sure, they’ll let them vote, but they just won’t count those votes the way they always did.  With a little effort, they can apply that philosophy to the entire state.

Only in Pennsylvania.

 

Derecho!

Fifty-five years old, probably forty-five of them watching weather reports on television, and last week The Curmudgeon heard for the very first time the word “derecho” used in a forecast.

As The Curmudgeon has written in the past, the television weather people will do anything they can to try to scare us into watching their broadcasts.  The latest is introducing a new word that seems to have been used for the sole purpose of creating alarm.

Anything to try scare us into watching those clowns.