Monthly Archives: November 2013

R.I.P.

brian

1999-2013

Someone Hired THIS Woman to Comment on the Appearance of Others

Can you believe that a cable network employs a woman who looks like this to go on television every week and pass judgment on the appearance of others?

osbornekelly-osbourne-4

A Thanksgiving Message

The Curmudgeon would like to take the opportunity, on this day of public thanks, to thank those of you who come to this space on occasion.  He realizes there are many places to go for entertainment like this and appreciates that you make this one of your stops.  He knows he occasionally wanders off in directions that make you question where he’s going and if it’s in search of his lost marbles, but he wants you to know how grateful he is for your visits.

turkeyWriting can sometimes feel like that proverbial tree falling in the forest that we all learned about in sixth grade:  if you write and no one ever reads it, did you really write at all?  Thanks to you, The Curmudgeon is writing.

The Curmudgeon also would like to make a request:  please don’t go Christmas shopping today.  Across the country, working people who barely make more than minimum wage – waiters and busboys, sales clerks and cashiers, parking attendants and security staff and customer service representatives and more – and being forced, at the threat of loss of their jobs, to spend this special day apart from their families, where they belong, because the Snidely Whiplashes of the world, who earn seven figures and who certainly will be spending the day with their own families, think nothing of imposing their will on people who lack the power to say “no” in a silly quest to make a few extra dollars.

01-snidely-whiplashEverything you might buy on Thanksgiving day will still be there tomorrow, and by keeping your credit card in your pocket today, you’ll be telling these selfish executives and business owners to mend their ways using the only language people like that understand:  the power of the purse.

And one more thing:  take it easy on the sweet potatoes.  The leftovers will taste just as good tomorrow.

November News Quiz

  1. President Obama appointed Caroline Kennedy to be U.S. ambassador to Japan because:  a) she has impeccable diplomatic credentials; b) her long-standing involvement in U.S. foreign policy matters; c) her fluency in Japanese and expertise in Japanese culture; or d) payback for Uncle Teddy’s endorsement in 2008?
  2. After months of speculation and accusations, Toronto mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine while in office.  He said he did it because:  a) he needed relief from the pressures of the job; b) drinking like a fish gets pretty boring after a while; c) he was trying to lose weight and heard that smoking crack pretty much destroys your appetite; or d) he couldn’t possibly afford pure cocaine on a mayor’s salary?
  3. A bill in the Pennsylvania state legislature calls for the phrase “in god we trust” to be posted in every public school in the state.  The bill’s sponsors believe this is appropriate because:  a) they’ve never read the constitution; b) they’ve read the constitution but don’t understand it; c) they’ve read the constitution and just don’t care; or d) there’s not a prayer they’ll fund public schools adequately so they think a prayer is pretty much all they have to offer?
  4. Starbucks severed its retail distribution relationship with Kraft Foods because:  a) differences over how to help the business grow; b) now that Kraft did the hard work of opening up retail channels for Starbucks products, Starbucks no longer felt it needed a partner; c) Starbucks didn’t want to share the products’ considerable profits; or d) Starbucks was deeply offended by the Kraft suggestion “How about a new Cheez Whiz-flavored coffee?”
  5. North Korean firing squads recently executed eighty people convicted of watching foreign movies and South Korean television programs and owning bibles while 10,000 people, including children, were forced to watch.  It also is a capital crime in North Korea to:  a) wear white after Labor Day; b) cross against a red light; c) eat green M&Ms; or d) be taller than Kim Jong-un, the country’s 5’6” supreme leader?
  6. The Justice Department approved the proposed merger between US Airways and American Airlines because:  a) approving a merger involving US Airways is always a no-brainer because it has approved US Airways mergers before and found that there are no brains in that company anyway; b) it figures that fewer airlines and less competition will lead to greater convenience and lower prices for consumers; c) it was afraid that if it rejected the merger of any company with the words “U.S.” or “American” in its name, Republicans would accuse the administration of rejecting American exceptionalism; or d) come on, big business always gets its way when it comes to mergers and dealing with the Justice Department, so why should it be any different this time?
  7. On Halloween, trick-or-treaters in one Albuquerque, New Mexico neighborhood received anti-abortion cards along with their candy.  The cards carried messages such as “I am not a clump of cells” and “53 million killed.”  The woman distributing the messages said she did so because:  a) abortion is murder; b) it’s an important message that must be shared and it’s my right to do this; c) everyone knows that Reese’s Cups are a sexual stimulant for the pre-pubescent set and the woman wanted the children to understand the implications of letting their hormones get the better of them; or d) eight-year-olds constitute a powerful constituency in New Mexico and the woman thought this was the perfect opportunity to sway this critical voting bloc?
  8. CNN personality Anderson Cooper criticized actor Alec Baldwin for using a derogatory term for gay people when Baldwin was annoyed by a cameraman attempting to film him coming out of a courthouse.  Cooper spoke out because:  a) he thought the term was wrong and that Baldwin shouldn’t use it; b) he’s gay and is offended by such language; c) he thinks celebrities need to grow up and accept that being followed by paparazzi is part of what you get when you’re a celebrity; or d) criticizing Baldwin is entertaining and attracts attention and Cooper is more committed to being a successful and popular entertainer and attracting attention than he is in being considered a credible newsman?
  9. A Boeing airplane crashed in Russia, killing all fifty people aboard.  Russian officials say the cause of the crash was:  a) pilot error; b) mechanical problems; c) bad weather; or d) an American plot to embarrass Vladimir Putin?
  10. Two major organizations representing heart doctors have announced new standards for the use of prescription medicine to control high cholesterol.  Under the new guidelines, it appears that many more people will be taking these drugs.  The doctors revised the guidelines because:  a) new research said the change would save more lives; b) patients think you’re doing something for them when you write a prescription whether they actually need that prescription or not; c) since the doctors hate Obamacare and that program calls for using fewer prescription drugs, this is their way of thumbing their nose at the president; or d) you can’t beat the kickbacks the pharmaceutical manufacturers pay for prescribing their products?

Paging Willie Sutton

When asked why he robbed banks, the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton famously explained “Because that’s where the money is.”

Maybe Willie should have gone to law school instead.

Why?  Read on.

Once upon a time, Starbucks decided it wanted to be more than the coffee people take to the office and drink awkwardly over first dates; it wanted to be the coffee people drink at home, in an iced variety in their car, and more.  Going retail takes more than a great product, though:  it requires a distribution network, and instead of creating your own network for a limited product line, it makes more sense to hire someone who already has that distribution network to do the distribution and sales for you.

So Starbucks hired Kraft, which helped Starbucks grow a boffo retail business.

At some point, Starbucks decided it wanted to part ways with Kraft, so it filed for divorce.  The tortuous rationale for Starbucks’ decision and Kraft’s counter-arguments read like a season’s worth of episodes of Falcon Crest, and since The Curmudgeon could never follow Falcon Crest and those arguments are not terribly relevant to this particular tale, he will dispense with attempting to recount them.

The point is that a judge recently granted the divorce and established its terms:  Starbucks, which knew from the start it would owe Kraft a great deal of money, must pay Kraft $2.23 billion in damages.

And $527 million for legal fees.

Let that soak in for a moment:  $527 million in legal fees for a dispute that began in November of 2010 and ended three years later.

And now we shall repeat that:  $527 million in legal fees for three years of work.

$527 million – which, by the way, if you’re into breaking down such figures, amounts to more than $480,000 a day for three years, including Sundays and holidays.

What in the world could those lawyers possibly have been doing to justify $527 million in legal bills in just three years?  Are we talking about the law firm made famous by the Marx Brothers?  You know:  Dewey, Cheatum & Howe?

So it turns out Willie Sutton had it all wrong.  If he really wanted to go where the money is, he would have attended law school.

Amazon_rips_you_off.com

In the past, The Curmudgeon has written glowing reviews of his experience using an e-reader – specifically, his Kindle.  He just loves the gizmo, loves reading on it.  He also is generally a very enthusiastic customer of Amazon.com because everything’s there, the prices are good, and the service has always been impeccable.

Still, despite his Kindle love, he rarely purchases e-books from Amazon.  Many of the books he wants to read are not available in e-book form, so he is still heavily invested in regular books, many of which he borrows from the library, purchases at library used book sales, or purchases used.  When he reads books on his e-reader, they are almost always library books.  As avid a reader as he is, he is seldom willing to pay the rather considerable amount of money that a new book costs, so he usually waits for it to come out in paperback, waits to find it used, or waits for it to become available electronically from the library.

But when The Curmudgeon goes on vacation he likes to have something special to read, and this year, that something special, he decided, was to be a new book about inside Washington, D.C. called This Town:  Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital.

Consequently, The Curmudgeon went to Amazon.com to make his purchase.

Now a major part of the premise of e-books, in addition to the convenience of carrying your books around with you in a very small and convenient package, is that e-books always cost less than regular books.  That seems only natural:  there’s no shipping involved, no printing and production, no art work, no bookstores for publishers to bribe for prime shelf space.  E-books are naturally less expensive.

But not in this case.  At the time The Curmudgeon went to make his purchase, the Amazon.com price for the Kindle version of  This Town was $12.74.  For the hardback?  $10.85.  Now the difference is a little less than two dollars – not exactly a great deal of money – but still, it’s the principle of the thing, right?  So The Curmudgeon sent a quick note to Amazon.com customer service, suggesting that the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, go do something that most people agree is anatomically impossible.

This is what happens when one company’s success gives it a virtual corner on the market.  As a long-time user of Apple computers, The Curmudgeon should be accustomed to this kind of corporate arrogance by now, but still, this one was a real shocker:  the e-book cost more than the real book.

Amazon can act all Apple-like now because it helped kill Borders, it helped kill countless mom-and-pop bookstores, and it now apparently has Barnes & Noble on the ropes.  When a company kills off most of the competition and has the field to itself, that’s how you end up with an e-book costing more than a hard-copy version.

Somehow, someone needs to come along and give Amazon some competition, because otherwise, the company’s going to turn its lack of competition into a lack of interest in serving its customers.  For years Amazon’s been killing its customers with kindness while it killed off its competitors, and there are plenty of retail fields left for Amazon to conquer.  If it succeeds, it will no longer feel the need to kill its customers with kindness.  By that point, when it’s the only game in town, it will be able to kill us, too.

Reinventing the Wheel

When you wake up at six a.m. on a Saturday morning and it’s still dark you are annoyed and frustrated and aggravated and pissed off, but when you finally calm down, more than an hour later, you have time to think, and then, to write, so today, a tale hot off the presses, begun at 7:30 and finished at 7:50.

The Curmudgeon recently spent a night out of town for work, and after a mediocre room service dinner, some reading, and a little television, it was time for bed.

Attempting to fall asleep is always an adventure for The Curmudgeon.  He has had trouble falling asleep since about the age of two, and although he knows all the tricks in the book and has mostly overcome this problem, it can occasionally recur.

At home, he sets his clock-radio to play for twenty minutes, hoping the monotonous delivery of local news will help bore him to sleep.  Most nights he’s still awake when the radio goes off, but occasionally he awakens the following morning and realizes he never heard the radio go silent.  He considers this a great moral victory.

But duplicating these conditions isn’t always easy on the road, and it wasn’t helped when he found that the clock-radio in his hotel room didn’t work.  He knows better than to stay at the Harrisburg Crowne Plaza but he did it anyway, and now, he was paying the price.

He then realized that he had his iPod with him; he usually brings it on the road because it contains both his schedule and his address book.  The hotel room had wifi, so he turned on the app – as you can imagine, The Curmudgeon despises words like “app” – to the same Philadelphia radio station he normally plays before bed.  He then cranked up the sound, got under the covers, turned off the light, placed the iPod on his chest, and listened.

Doing all this reminded him of childhood, when he would listen to Phillies games in bed before going to sleep.

And in that moment he realized that he had, albeit indirectly and with slightly different technology, reinvented – the transistor radio!

Can You Believe It’s Been Fifty Years?

The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

jfk

Airlines: Still Hating on Their Customers

When The Curmudgeon needed to fly across the country on very short notice recently, he expected to pay a ridiculous amount of money for his ticket.

And US Airways didn’t disappoint him.

He also expected not to be able to sit next to his sister on any of the four flights they were taking (two on the way, two returning).

And again, US Airways didn’t disappoint him.

And he also expected that both he and his sister would be stuck in middle seats on all four flights.

And yet again, US Airways didn’t disappoint him.

But what he didn’t expect was to go to the US Airways web site the day before traveling, to see if some reservations might have been abandoned and some previously spoken-for seats newly available, and find that he could now get seats together on some of those four flights – for a price.

Which he paid, albeit reluctantly.

And then what he didn’t expect was to get on the flights for which he paid to get adjacent seats – and this included paying extra for middle seats – and discovering that the flights were only two-thirds full and that the airline had essentially blackmailed its customers into paying extra so they could sit together.

That’s right, he said it:  blackmail.

The Curmudgeon has written previously (here and here) about the no-service ethic of American airlines and how, more than any industry, those airlines really seem to hate their customers.  This was another example, with the airline selling for a premium seats that no one wanted and no one would ever otherwise occupy.

So The Curmudgeon will consider it a life lesson, and if and when he needs or chooses to take to the skies again, he’s going to remember how US Airways screwed him over and do his best not to put another dime in that company’s grubby little hands ever again.

US Airways may need a lesson, and so in that spirit, The Curmudgeon would like to offer the following reminders:

  • Eastern Airlines
  • TWA
  • Pan Am
  • Altair Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Frontier
  • National
  • Northeast
  • Northwest
  • Ozark
  • Ransome

These are just a few of the literally hundreds of U.S. airlines that have disappeared over the years, some of them gone bankrupt and others bought out and taken over by more successful companies.  US Airways has struggled mightily in recent years (including two bankruptcies of its own; you know about corporate bankruptcy:  that’s a legal loophole that enables businesses to stiff their creditors and especially their employees) and its continued existence is by no means certain.  After all, there’s no such thing as an airline that’s too big to fail.  The people who run US Airways should give this some thought when they make their next business decision that’s obviously intended to screw the customers they so despise, because that next such decision could end up being their last.

And if you don’t believe that, just ask the folks who used to work for Pam Am.  Or TWA.  Or Eastern.  Or…

Will Ferrell Movies

The Curmudgeon admits that he has no idea what to make of people who like Will Ferrell’s movies.  Can anyone help?