Monthly Archives: June 2013

So Much for Electronic Banking

Electronic banking was supposed to make paying bills easier and faster.

Easier, yes, but faster?  Maybe not so much, or at least not so much anymore.

The Curmudgeon received a call last week from TD Bank, his regular bank as well as the issuer of his sole credit card.  The bank was calling because his credit card payment was four days late.

This struck The Curmudgeon as highly unlikely.  Because his “interest checking” account pays interest of 0.0005 percent (hold on a second:  one, two, three zeroes, that’s right, 0.0005 percent), it doesn’t pay to hold onto bills until right before they’re due, so on whatever night each week The Curmudgeon pays his bills – usually, Monday night – he pays every bill that’s arrived since the last time he paid his bills.

“Wait a second,” The Curmudgeon said, leafing through his checkbook register.  “I paid that bill three days before it was due.”

Not good enough, TD guy informed him.  TD Bank electronic payments, which used to take two or three days, now take at least six days.  At least six days.

Why the change, The Curmudgeon asked.

“We switched to a company that’s considered the best in the business and this is the new standard.”

Well who wouldn’t be much better at their job if someone gave them twice as long to do it?

So let’s compare the mail and electronic bill-paying.

If you write a check, you can reasonably expect it to reach its destination by mail in two or three days.  (Insert wisecrack about mail service here, but you know, deep in your heart, that this is true.)

If you make your payment electronically, however, it takes at least six days.

Why?

And tell us again, banking industry we’ve all come to loathe because of what you did to our economy, how is this an improvement?  How does this make anyone’s life better?  Or is it something you’re doing because the company you now use is cheaper for you (even if it’s worse for your customers) and because you get to hold onto your customers’ cash a few days longer and collect interest on it – and a lot more than that 0.0005 percent (hold on a second:  one, two, three zeroes, that’s right, 0.0005 percent) you pay those customers?

So The Curmudgeon has ordered a new batch of checks.  The banking industry tells us it costs more for banks to process paper checks than electronic payments, so if The Curmudgeon’s bank is going to screw him, he’s going to screw it right back.

Payback can be fun.

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The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: How to Kick Off an Awards Show, Part 1

What better way to start an awards show than with a star(?)-studded production number – in this case, for the 2010 Emmy awards.

 

See it here.

Coffee, Tea, or…WHAT?

USA Today reports that low-frills Spirit Airlines plans to sell wine on its flights.

By the can.

One can will cost you seven bucks, but you can get two for twelve.

Flights are filling fast, so make your reservations now.

Cheers!

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

The Curmudgeon is not a very good sleeper.  Oh, he likes his sleep as much as the next guy and generally gets as much as the average person, but it does not come easily to him.  In hindsight, signs of this problem can be seen going all the way back to when he was two or three years old, but back then, a child who didn’t want to go to sleep wasn’t considered a possible candidate for having a sleep problem.

He was considered a pain in the ass.

Regardless of the cause of The Curmudgeon’s sleep problems – and he has his theories – the quality of the surface on which he sleeps does not appear to be a consideration at all.  Soft beds, firm beds, downright hard beds, it really doesn’t matter.  Back in the days when it was thought that people who experience back problems should sleep on hard beds, The Curmudgeon took to sleeping on hard beds and continues to do so even though modern medicine has disproved the notion that asceticism will reward those suffering from sacroiliac pain.

Over the years The Curmudgeon has found that when the time for sleep is right, firmness – unlike in other aspects of human relations – doesn’t matter.  In fact, back in the days when The Curmudgeon owned a home without central air-conditioning and had just one room with a window unit, he would routinely drag the thin mat from his lawn chair into the house, toss it onto the floor of the room with the window unit, and sleep just as comfortably there as he might on a $2000 mattress in a first-rate hotel.

That experience gave rise to an interesting idea:  that if not for The Curmudgeon’s interest, as a healthy, single adult male, in the prospect of future vo-de-oh-doe-doe (okay, those of you who don’t get this Laverne & Shirley reference, first of all, shame on you, and second, the rest of us will wait while you learn about it here), he could dispose of his bed entirely and sleep on a mat in the smallest bedroom ­– or any other room, for that matter – in whatever home he’s living.  It makes sense, after all:  the owner of the home takes the biggest bedroom and puts, smack dab in the middle of it, something of no use whatsoever during all of his waking hours that takes up more space than any other item in his home.  Why not sleep on a modest mat that you can prop against the wall when you’re not using it and reclaim for better use some prime real estate in your own home?

It’s a good theory, and even seemed doable for a time – except, of course, for the vo-dee-oh-doe-doe problem – so The Curmudgeon tucked it away in the back of his mind.  After years of resting comfortably there, though, the theory of floor-sleeping was put to the test recently in a most unexpected way ­– and encountered an unexpected challenge.

The Curmudgeon recently suffered from an upper respiratory infection that triggered a great deal of coughing, and in that state, he found that sleep came easiest when he tried to sleep propped as upright as possible.  He can’t sleep in a chair, though, and propping up on six pillows can only do so much, so he got the brilliant idea that he should pull out of the closet his floor chair (see below), a device he purchased years ago for the primary purpose of sitting closer to the television while watching the Stanley Cup playoffs on his nineteen-inch set, the largest viewing device he will permit in his home.

And it turned out to be a great idea.  His upper respiratory system loved it and the cough quieted considerably.  He slept for more than forty-five minutes at a time for the first time in three nights.

But eventually he felt nature’s call – what did he expect when he tried to drown his cough with water? – and in responding to that call, he found the fatal flaw in his sleep-on-the-floor plan:  getting up off that floor in the middle of the night.

Have you ever tried sleeping on the floor and then getting up from that floor, either during the night or in the morning?  It is, needless to say, surprisingly difficult.

Especially for a fifty-five-year-old man.  The sleep-on-the-floor plan, except for the vo-dee-oh-doe-doe problem, is really a good plan, but it’s a young man’s plan.  Oh, The Curmudgeon will try it again sometime, but really, that’ll only be because he doesn’t want to give up so easily on what seemed to be such a good idea.  Older people – a category in which The Curmudgeon grudgingly now sometimes includes himself – simply are not made to get up off the floor after awakening from hours of sleep.

As The Curmudgeon’s father occasionally reminds him, “Getting old sucks, son.”

Indeed it does.  At least sometimes.Folding-Floor-Chair-102-

More About That Building Collapse in Philadelphia

Two more thoughts today about last week’s building collapse in Philadelphia.

First, just a few days after charging the crane operator with six counts of involuntary manslaughter and other crimes, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the city’s district attorney has announced that

As of today, I will be convening an investigating grand jury to look into the deadly collapse.

Don’t you think he should have considered convening a grand jury before pressing charges rather than after?

But Mr. D.A. wasn’t done.  According to the Inquirer,

“I know Philadelphians demand action,” he said.  But he added: “Our office will not be part of a rush to judgment.”

The Curmudgeon thinks the we-won’t-rush-to-judgment ship has already sailed.

The second matter The Curmudgeon would like to address just briefly today is that in the aftermath of the building collapse and the six deaths, people are questioning why the city does so little to regulate and monitor building demolitions.

Can anyone get a permit to demolish a building?  Can anyone operate a demolition crane?  Is there any requirement that a demolition company demonstrate that it has the right plan for a given job?  And where were the city’s inspectors?  Why weren’t they on-site to ensure that the work was done in a safe manner?

What people are asking, you realize, is why government doesn’t regulate building demolitions more stringently than it currently does.  People are asking for more regulations.

Let The Curmudgeon repeat that:  people are asking for MORE government regulations.

And they’re going to get them, too:  Philadelphia city officials have already proposed a number of new measures designed to ensure that a tragedy like last week’s never occurs again.

And they’re right, too.  The city does need to do more to ensure that demolitions are completed in a safe manner.  And the people who are constantly complaining about too much government regulation, too much bureaucracy, need to pay attention, because the reality is that there are times when regulation is necessary and when there is a meaningful role for government to play.

Historians tell us that in the years following World War II, you could stand outside City Hall in Philadelphia and smell the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers because they were so polluted.  Legislation and regulations changed that.  That’s right:  sometimes, regulations are good and improve the quality of people’s lives.

And the people who insist that all regulations are bad need to learn that and learn that the constant pressure they exert on public officials to avoid regulations, intended primarily to enrich those trying to avoid being regulated, can end up hurting a lot of people.

Whatever Happened to “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”?

Last week in Philadelphia, a building collapsed during demolition of an adjacent building, killing six people and injuring another thirteen.  It was national news.

In the aftermath of the accident, it was reported that a number of area residents had complained to local authorities about what they viewed as the dangerous manner in which the demolition was being carried out, and that those authorities did nothing.

Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that Sean Benschop, the operator of the demolition crane and a possibly illegal immigrant who has had numerous run-ins with the law (and the immigration people) over the years, was found to have traces of Percocet and marijuana in his system.  He was quickly charged with six counts of involuntary manslaughter, thirteen counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of something called “risking a catastrophe” and was held in jail without bail.

The reaction of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter was extraordinary.  In an interview reported on CNN.com, Nutter

… blamed Benschop’s “reckless and irresponsible behavior” for the building collapse and said Saturday he hopes that Benschop faces “the harshest level of charges … and he is punished accordingly.”

“Justice will only be served if Sean Benschop receives a sentence that buries him in a jailhouse forever, just like his victims were buried on Wednesday,” Nutter said.

Absent in all of the heated rhetoric has been any explanation of how, or if, the crane operator may have been culpable in the building’s collapse.  True, the man had Percocet in his system – but then, a lot of people have Percocet in their system.  And true, he had marijuana in his system, something that is generally not serious for most people but is most certainly serious if you’re operating a crane that’s trying to tear down a building.

But where is any evidence that the crane operator actually did something wrong that led directly to the tragedy?

Do demolition crane operators decide how to tear down buildings on their own?  If they do, this guy may be guilty as hell.

If, however, they take their orders from someone else – a boss, for example, or, heaven forbid, an engineer – then this a much more complicated matter.

Was the demolition plan flawed?  Would the adjacent building have collapsed regardless who was operating the crane?  Or was it the fault of whoever planned the demolition?

Or was the plan sound and did Benschop, perhaps because of the Percocet and marijuana in his system, fail to execute it properly and indeed cause the collapse as a result?

The public’s reaction, its desire to find someone to blame for such a tragedy, is understandable.  Mayor Nutter’s reaction is not.  Yes, he’s emotional, yes, he’s hurt, and yes, he realizes that this whole thing happened in part because Philadelphia’s city government, which he leads, has a very hands-off attitude toward the demolition of non-public properties.

But Nutter’s rush to judgment is disgusting; it’s sheer hysteria.  He has declared the crane operator guilty as charged without sharing a single shred of evidence to suggest that the man did something specific to cause the building’s collapse.  Maybe the mayor knows more than he’s telling, but if he does, he ought to tell it – and tell it now.

We expect some people to rush to judgment on matters like this.  We expect it from someone like a Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow, and certainly from Nancy Grace.  We’ve come to expect that kind of public performance from those circus clowns.  But public officials have a higher responsibility, and Mr. Nutter needs to remember that he swore an oath to uphold the law and that one of the basic principles underlying law in this country is that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  Juries declare people guilty, Mr. Nutter, not mayors.

 

The Curmudgeon Video of the Week: This is What They Mean by “A Mensch”

Paul Simon was performing in Toronto and was about to sing his song “Duncan” when a woman in the audience shouted out that she learned how to play guitar on that song.  So Simon invited her onto the stage and pretty much let her perform the whole song with his band while he stood behind her, whispering instructions in her ear while directing his band.  Simon, long one of The Curmudgeon’s favorites, gave a fan the thrill of a lifetime and proved himself a real mensch.

See it here.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

There’s yet another new dust-up in Washington these days over Obamacare.  With Congress slowly stealing money from Obamacare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently decided to do something unconventional about it:  she started soliciting donations from companies to help pay for things like publicizing the availability of Medicaid services and affordable health insurance under the reform law.

Sebelius shouldn’t be doing this, of course.  There’s no way to rationalize seeking donations from businesses that your federal government department regulations.  It’s a pretty classic conflict of interest, and Congress is absolutely right to call her out on it.

But before Congress gets all gloaty over a rare thumbs-up from The Curmudgeon – yeah, like anyone from Congress reads this crap – it needs to acknowledge that it does the same thing.

Every day.

Members of Congress eagerly solicit political contributions from businesses that fall under the jurisdiction of the committees on which they serve.  Members of defense-related committees routinely solicit contributions from defense contractors – and often don’t even need to bother doing so because defense contractors just as routinely throw buckets of money at them; members of finance-related committees routinely solicit contributions from banks, brokerage firms, and others in the finance field – and often don’t even need to bother doing so because financial interests just as routinely throw buckets of money at them; and members of health care-related committees routinely solicit contributions from doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies – and often don’t even need to bother doing so because health care-related interests just as routinely throw buckets of money at them.

So by all means, Congress, tell Secretary Sebelius that what she’s doing is wrong, is a conflict of interest, and that she shouldn’t do it anymore.  But when you do, don’t tell her – don’t even hint – that what you’re telling her is wrong is something you wouldn’t do, because we all know you do.

And if you’re going to tell her it’s wrong, it’s only right that you also heed your own advice.

Is This What They Meant By “Going Metric”?

Back when The Curmudgeon was in elementary school, a representative of the telephone company visited his class every year.  One of the things the telephone company man always told us was that one day we would all use what he called “picture phones,” which were demonstrated to us with a brief film strip (remember film strips?).  Only it never happened.  Sure, today we can Skype (The Curmudgeon uses that term even though he really has only a vague idea of what it means) or use webcams or other means of seeing one another while we talk, but people do not routinely see one another when speaking on the phone.  It was one of those things we were told was inevitable but never came to pass.

The same is true of the metric system.  The whole world’s going metric, our teachers told us, and soon, the U.S. will, too; that’s why they spent so much time teaching us the intricacies of grams, meters, liters, and more.  Well, a long time has passed and the U.S. still hasn’t gone metric.  Sure, the marquee event in the track competition at the Olympics is the 100-meter dash, not the 100-yard dash, and the next most important event is the 1500 meters, not the mile, but Americans still don’t routinely use the metric system for any purpose.  If you don’t believe that, try going into a paint store some time and asking the guy behind the counter how many gallons of Benjamin Moore sapphire ice you need to paint a bedroom that’s 6.5 by 4.25 meters.  He’ll look at you like you’re from Mars.

Or maybe Marseille.

But some things do change with the times.  Consider, for example, the old jukebox – when, that is, you can find one.  In the mid-1970s, Loudon Wainwright III sang

Bobby give me change for a dollar
I wanna buy some cigarettes
I wanna play some music on the juke box, Bobby
A quarter plays a two-song set.

And later, he had an even worse vision:

I’m sittin’ on this bar stool
I guess that’s where my butt belongs
Dreamin’ about the time
When a quarter could buy you three songs
Bobby, you’re a gamblin’ man
How’d you like to place a little bet?
It won’t be long before
Two bits’ll buy a one-song set.

We’ve also become accustomed to referring to certain products, especially food products, by the units in which we purchase them, but those units have been changing, seldom for the better, over the years.  Hershey’s downsized its chocolate bars; the one-pound can of coffee now holds only thirteen ounces; a box of cereal, which you could always count on to be sixteen ounces, is sometimes only fourteen.

But now they’re hitting The Curmudgeon where he lives:  ice cream.

A bit under the weather last week and of the long-time opinion that in the question of whether one should feed a cold and starve a fever or feed a fever and starve a cold one should always feed anything that takes food, The Curmudgeon decided he wanted – no he needed ­– a sweet treat.  Why feed what ailed him?  First, because your body will tell you, in a clear and emphatic way, when it doesn’t want food; and second, fighting disease takes energy, and calories are, first and foremost, a unit of energy.  It takes energy to fight illness, The Curmudgeon reasons, so since his body was still telling him food was okay (okay, there’s a third reason:  The Curmudgeon likes to eat), he decided to treat himself to some ice cream.

Haagen-Dazs, to be precise.  Chocolate, because The Curmudgeon has never really seen the point of… not chocolate.

So when The Curmudgeon went to the supermarket, he was thinking he’d buy two of those little single-serving containers of chocolate ice cream.  Of course, they’re only single-serving containers for women and children, but he only wanted to whet his whistle, not gorge himself.  He couldn’t find any, though, so he went looking for a pint – his usual container of choice.  He found the Haagen-Dazs, found the chocolate, and picked it up.  It felt…small for a pint, so he took a closer look.

It turns out that a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs is no longer a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs.  It’s fourteen ounces of chocolate Haagen-Dazs – or, to be more precise, seven-eighths of a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs.  87.5 percent of a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs.  Definitely not a pint of chocolate Haagen-Dazs.

The Curmudgeon can live with the disappointment of never speaking on a picture phone, can deal with having no idea what the world record is for the 1500-meter run even though he spent his childhood knowing, for certain, that the world record for the mile at the time was Jim Ryun’s 3:51.1, doesn’t mind that the Hershey bar has shrunk because years before it did he realized Hershey bars aren’t even worth eating, and can even accept the need to purchase his favorite granola cereal more often because its maker devilishly decided to shrink the box rather than raise the price, but this is taking matters too far.

You can’t go around shrinking a boy’s pint of ice cream.  It’s just…wrong!  Go ahead:  don’t fill the coffee can.  Sure – no one will miss two ounces of cereal.  But less ice cream?

Sacrilege!

Or sacre bleu, as they might say in Marseille, where those metric system-using Frenchies probably don’t know anything about pints of ice cream.

Hey, Democrats: Quit Yer Whinin’

More than half a year after the November elections, Democrats continue to point out, ad nauseam, that Democratic candidates received more total votes for House of Representative seats than Republicans yet Republicans won more of those seats and continue to control the House.

This is the result, they say, of gerrymandering:  the process of drawing the boundary lines of congressional districts in a manner that benefits one party’s interests over those of its opponents.

And this is wrong, they tell you!  Absolutely wrong, and unfair!

The term “gerrymander” comes from the name of Elbridge Gerry, a 19th-century governor of Massachusetts (and later, James Madison’s vice president) who history tell us was the first to draw congressional district lines to benefit himself and his political party.  (The word itself is a mixture of Gerry’s name and the word “salamander” because Gerry’s political opponents, the Federalists, insisted that some of the districts he created looked like salamanders.  That tradition, by the way, lives on, as the current map of the city of Philadelphia’s council districts illustrates.  Check out district seven, below:  notice how it starts pretty big and bold in the middle of the map and then snakes northward, practically squeezing between two other districts, stopping in two places, and then resuming without any real connection to the rest of the district.  Now THAT, readers, is gerrymandering!)

After every census, state legislatures redraw legislative districts, and inevitably, the party that controls the legislatures redraws those districts for their own benefit.  Yes, Democrats got more House votes but Republicans still control the House because of how those evil Republicans drew their district boundaries.

Get over it, Democrats.

Is gerrymandering wrong?  Of course it is.  But Democrats do it, too, when they control state legislatures, and let’s not forget that every time Republicans take control of a state legislature away from Democrats, they’ve done it despite Democratic gerrymandering.

So Democrats, stop complaining about gerrymandering and get down to the hard, grass-roots work of winning control of your own state legislatures so you can take matters into your own hands.currentcouncildistrictsweb