Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Password Is…

Until recently, it was widely thought that the most common password people use for their computers and for password-protected web sites and web services was “Password.”

Now comes news that last year’s Adobe security breach has revealed a new most common password:  “123456.”

The Curmudgeon recalls when he first went online, back in 1995, and signed up for an America Online account (stop snickering; he heard that.  AOL was definitely the right choice for 1995).  It never occurred to him that he’d need a password, so he thought for a moment and decided that the best way to open the magic gate to internet access would be with the password “sesame” – as in (no, not sesame seed bun) “open sesame.”  How can you beat symbolism for originality in such a mundane context?

And he was pretty proud of his clever little thought for about two years, when he read an article about the most common internet passwords.

Naturally, “sesame” was number one.

So much for original thinking.

January News Quiz

  1. An aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is suspected of closing lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge to create a massive traffic jam.  The governor reportedly wanted this so he could:  a) stick it to New Yorkers; b) get political revenge against the mayor of the town in which the bridge’s on-ramp is located; c) remind people who’s boss; or d) clear a path for the quick run he wanted to make to the Krispy Kreme in Manhattan?
  2. The Captain and Tennille have filed for divorce after thirty-nine years of marriage.  The break-up of their marriage has been attributed to:  a) the Captain just wouldn’t take off that silly hat; b) after thirty-nine years, Tennille was frustrated that the Captain couldn’t even get promoted to lieutenant colonel; c) thirty-nine years of finger-pointing over which one of them is to blame for “Muskrat Love;” or d) it turns out that love really couldn’t keep them together?
  3. Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins recently wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal in which he compared the current climate toward rich people to the manner in which the Nazis treated Jews.  Perkins feels this way because:  a) the government forced him and other wealthy people to wear armbands so hostile citizens could identify them as rich and abuse them without fear of penalty or prosecution; b) the government took away his home and all his money, possessions, and assets; c) police knocked on his door in the middle of the night, bashed in his teeth with the butt of their rifles, and dragged him and his entire family to jail; or d) his family was exterminated in a gas chamber for the crime of being born into wealth?
  4. Less than two months after a member of the cast of the television program Duck Dynasty made inflammatory remarks about gays and blacks, another member of the cast was invited by Louisiana Republican Congressman Vance McAllister to attend President Obama’s state of the union address.  McAllister issued the invitation because:  a) they’re lovers and McAllister is proud and out and wants to share it with the world; b) he believes Congress shouldn’t discriminate against racist homophobes; c) he never wants to miss an opportunity to thumb his nose at the president; or d) he hopes this will attract political contributions from Louisiana’s all-important redneck constituency?
  5. Walmart announced that it will lay off 2300 Sam’s Club employees because:  a) all Walmart operations are known for being heavily staffed and it was time to slim down; b) minimum wage increases in some states are expected to put a dent in the company’s bottom line; c) raising rank-and-file store employee pay from $9.05 to $9.15 an hour made them fat, complacent, and lazy; or d) the corporation only made $17 billion in profits last year so heads obviously had to roll?
  6. A Russian research ship and its seventy-four passengers were recently freed from ice in Antarctica.  The ship steered a wrong course and ended up where it didn’t belong because:  a) Russians are lousy sailors; b) Google Maps missed a key buoy 200 miles south of Cape Horn; c) no one was at the wheel because the captain thought he heard show tunes coming from the galley and ordered the entire crew to begin searching for a suspected homosexual; or d) when the ship reached a crucial juncture during its journey it mistakenly tacked right instead of left because anyone who moves toward the left in Putin’s Russia ends up in jail?
  7. In a recent speech, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said that Democrats’ insistence on coverage for birth control pills in Obamacare-approved health insurance plans is proof that the Democrats want to make women dependent on government to control their libido.  These remarks demonstrate that:  a) Huckabee is disappointed that Republicans have let up in their war on women and is now anxious to get the whole thing rolling again; b) Huckabee is testing a major campaign theme in anticipation of running for the Republican presidential nomination; c) Huckabee next plans to call for an end to insurance coverage for vasectomies because he doesn’t want men to become dependent on insurance to help them control the consequences of their libido; or d) Mrs. Huckabee needs to buy a nice nightie and show her husband a good time because it sounds like he clearly needs it really bad?
  8. After J.P. Morgan paid $20 billion in penalties to the federal government and to settle claims filed by investors, the company:  a) apologized and said it would conform to all laws and standards of business practice in the future; b) fired the people responsible for the inappropriate and illegal actions; c) introduced a new company code of ethics to ensure that such a thing could never happen again; or d) gave its CEO a seventy-four percent raise in pay?
  9. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced that medical marijuana will be sold in his state by this summer.  The governor said he is moving forward with legalizing medical marijuana because:  a) it can alleviate the pain and suffering of people with a wide variety of medical problems; b) it is now becoming the norm; c) the state could use the revenue that taxes on marijuana sales would generate; or d) when you’re standing in the surf with water around your ankles and a wave rolls past you and then rolls back out to sea and you look down at your feet and it seems like you’re moving backwards and you’ve had a toke or two, the feeling’s totally gnarly?
  10. Former American Idol star and singer Clay Aiken is considering running for Congress representing a district in his home state of North Carolina.  The biggest challenge he faces in this quest is:  a) people can’t vote by text message; b) being gay in a redneck state; c) the campaign schedule may conflict with Aiken’s planned appearance on the new Dr. Drew reality show Celebrity Has-Been Rehab; or d) uncontrollable laughter among the state’s voters?

It’s Creepy

Early last Sunday afternoon The Curmudgeon was doing some writing and needed the correct spelling of “Caribbean;” as he wrote recently, he’s a good speller, but one of the reasons he’s a good speller is that he knows what he can’t spell and always looks up those words, and in this case, he can never remember whether it’s one R and two Bs or two Rs and one B.

A few minutes later, he opened his browser (Firefox; he’s not a Chrome fan), which is set to open at the philly.com home page.  There, he saw a headline about Leonardo DiCaprio “surprising” Jonah Hill on the air while Hill was hosting Saturday Night Live.   The Curmudgeon watched the clip.  (It obviously wasn’t a surprise; it was a well-rehearsed bit).

Two hours later, The Curmudgeon went to his Facebook page and there, in the upper right-hand corner, where they place the ads, was an ad for Royal Caribbean cruises and a blurb about DiCaprio and Hill on Saturday Night Live.

Oh, those Facebook people (and others):  they know when you’ve been sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know when you’ve been bad or good…

The whole thing is just creepy.

A Really Weird Comparison

The lefty magazine Mother Jones, one of The Curmudgeon’s favorites, recently published an extensive report on U.S. defense spending.  To give readers a sense of the size and scope of the Pentagon’s mission, the article listed how much it spends on certain categories of items.  For example, totally aside from spending on, you know, guns and bullets and warheads and all those weapons of mass destruction that we’re allowed to have but other countries that fear us are forbidden to have, upon threat of annihilation, it spends $4 billion a year on dairy and eggs; $1.2 billion on meat, poultry, and fish; $738 million on bakery and cereal products (surely we all understand feeding our troops their Wheaties for breakfast); and $294 million on sugar, confections, and nuts.  And of course, the magazine reports that the U.S. spends more than the combined total of the next ten biggest-spending countries when it comes to national defense.

But at least one of the article’s analogies falls seriously, profoundly short:  Mother Jones reports that the $137 million cost of one F-35 fighter plane is the equivalent of forty-two million cupcakes.

That’s right, cupcakes.

The magazine notes that it assumes, for the sake of this comparison, that cupcakes cost $3.25.

Now The Curmudgeon considers himself a bit of an expert when it comes to baked goods, but still, he wonders:  $3.25 for a cupcake?  A cupcake?

That must be one fantastic cupcake to be worth $3.25.

And The Curmudgeon would love to know where he can find a cupcake worth that kind of money.

The Ten Best Sitcoms

People seem to love lists.  Many web sites feature them, often accompanied by the inevitable slide show.  Even on this blog, two of the most popular posts ever have been lists of the best albums and best songs you’ve never heard.  Published more than a year ago, they both continue to receive visitors almost every week.

So if you can’t beat’em, join’em.  Here, after a few notes of explanation (but without a slide show), is a list of The Curmudgeon’s all-time favorite television sitcoms.

Before presenting them, he’ll note that the list includes only programs he saw during their original run, which rules out I Love Lucy (which certainly would have qualified) and The Honeymooners (which certainly would not).  He’d like to point out, though, that it’s easy to watch Lucy today and think “Well, that’s not so funny; I’ve seen that a hundred times,” but you need to remember:  Lucy did it first and Lucy did it best.

And no, at the risk of spilling a few beans, Me and the Chimp, Hello Larry, Camp Runamuck, and The Montefuscos (and for that matter, Mr. Bean) did not make the list.

Nor did a few programs you probably expect to see.

The Curmudgeon could not – could not – could not – tolerate Seinfeld.  Unlikeable characters and an unwatchable lead actor.  The Curmudgeon could never even make it through an entire episode.  Yes, he knows about the soup Nazi, knows about the master of his own domain, has seen Elaine dance, and understands that they are real and that yes, they are spectacular, but even those episodes left him scrambling for the remote.  Yes, he knows:  you think he’s an idiot.

He doesn’t care.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t subscribe to any premium cable channels so he can’t speak to its comedies.  He did see enough of Larry David, though, while on the road for work and in other people’s homes, to know that it was easy to curb any and all enthusiasm for David’s monstrosity; if you want to know why, see the Seinfeld explanation, above.

Now, to the “honorable mention” category.

Let’s start with M*A*S*H and Cosby, neither of which crack the top ten.  The problem with both of them is that they were on the air too long and their guiding forces, Alan Alda and Bill Cosby, spent their final years focusing on teaching us lessons they felt viewers needed to learn.  In the case of both series, the ratio of funny years to unfunny years was too weak.

Also not on the list, which could come as a surprise, is the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Originally it was on the list, and rationalizing this omission is theoretically a stretch because structurally, The Mary Tyler Moore Show may have been perfect.  Everything worked, everything was in proportion, everything was just right.  Great cast, perfectly crafted episodes, memorable characters.  Even so, The Curmudgeon just never found it that funny, never found himself thinking, “Hey, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is on tonight, I can’t wait.”  He spoke to a number of people, hoping to find someone who would tell him he was wrong.  He didn’t, so it’s out.

The final omission that pains The Curmudgeon, but only a little, is SoapSoap was laugh-out-loud funny.  Silly, yes, but funny – so funny that even Billy Crystal didn’t stand out.  Thirty-two years after it went off the air, the character Maggie from the HBO series The Newsroom tried to make herself invisible by making the same gesture that Richard Mulligan used on Soap.  Just thinking about Mulligan trying to make himself invisible brings a smile to The Curmudgeon’s face; nothing Maggie does brings such a smile.  The only reason Soap didn’t make the list is that there were better, funnier shows; if anyone broadcast Soap in reruns, The Curmudgeon would definitely watch.

That’s quite enough ado, so now, in no particular order, The Curmudgeon’s all-time, gotta love’em, most favoritest television situation comedies of all time are:

  • All in the Family
  • Green Acres
  • Friends
  • The Odd Couple
  • Taxi
  • Barney Miller
  • Get Smart
  • 30 Rock
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister

Now, let’s look at the winners.

All in the Family may be the best and most important program in television history, and while Norman Lear had a lot to say, he never forgot to bring the funny (like Roseanne and unlike Alan Alda and Bill Cosby).  Lear also had the good sense, after Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers left, and then, a year later, when Jean Stapleton departed, to change the program’s concept, and even its name, to avoid the bad ratio of funny to unfunny years that ruined Cosby and M*A*S*H.  As a result, All in the Family clearly deserves The Curmudgeon’s designation as the greatest situation comedy in the history of American television (the modern era).

The inclusion of Green Acres surprises you; you may even be a bit appalled.  Chill out:  it’s just plain funny.  Great characters, great cast, funny premises, funny execution.  Try it:  you’ll laugh out loud – and don’t be embarrassed when you do.  You’re not a kid anymore and don’t need to avoid things that are uncool, which Green Acres most decidedly is.

Get Smart falls into the same category:  silly and definitely unsophisticated and unfashionable.  Like Green Acres, it could be pretty stupid, but it made you laugh – even out loud, on occasion.  Great characters, great gags – the cone of silence, the shoe phone, Agent 13 in the mailbox, Bernie Kopell’s Siegfried, and more – made for a lot of laughs.

Friends is funny.  Really funny.  For some reason, Friends became to Seinfeld what Paul became to John and what Micky became to Davy:  people felt compelled to line up behind one or the other.  If you wanted to laugh, you lined up behind Friends.  If you wanted to be cool, if you were the kind of person who found David Letterman amusing, you lined up behind Seinfeld and laughed less.

Taxi and Barney Miller go together:  strong ensemble casts consisting mostly of relative unknowns, good acting, great writing, never terribly popular, but watch them even today and you’ll laugh.  Like the best of them, they used very few sets (and the Barney Miller set was ugly and crude, like something borrowed from the drama department of a high school in a very poor school district), but it didn’t matter.  Funny is funny.

The Curmudgeon came late to 30 Rock, mostly because he could never find it, but it was funny and smart.  Very smart, very sharp in a way that if you watched it while multi-tasking you probably missed something.  Good casting too, except for Tina Fey, who is talented and smart and adorable and a major talent and the closest The Curmudgeon has ever had to a celebrity crush but who should work mostly behind the camera and not on it, which he understands is entirely unrealistic.

The Odd Couple wasn’t originally on this list, but one of The Curmudgeon’s project consultants – okay, his sister – made a strong argument for Felix and Oscar, so The Curmudgeon went home and unwrapped the DVDs she had given him a few years earlier, put them into the machine, and laughed.  She was right, and unlike a lot of these other shows, this one was really about just its two stars.  The supporting cast was weak, so the stars really had to carry the show themselves.  And they did.

So never let it be said that The Curmudgeon can’t be won over by a persuasive argument.

Next is The Big Bang Theory, which is living proof that the old expression about never getting a second chance to make a first impression doesn’t always hold true.  The Curmudgeon liked the premise of the program enough to watch its debut, yet he was so displeased by what he saw that when episode number one went to its first commercial, The Curmudgeon concluded that he had seen quite enough, thank you.  It took two years, and the need to kill fifteen minutes between periods of a hockey game, for him to return, and he discovered that the program had somehow found its footing.  It’s very, very good, very, very funny, and unlike most programs that try to fight getting long in the tooth by adding characters that don’t work, it’s managed to add characters that add a great deal to the funny.  Watch and laugh.  This is another instance in which The Curmudgeon’s sister’s influence proved crucial:  Big Bang was not on the original list and she made a persuasive case for its inclusion.

Last but not least are two programs you may never have heard of:  the British comedies Yes, Minister and its successor, Yes, Prime Minister.  The premise of Yes, Minister is that a dunce of a member of Britain’s Parliament finds himself appointed to the worst cabinet position in the country’s government:  minister of administrative affairs – essentially, head of the bureaucracy.  The pompous oaf has great plans for his new job but is constantly thwarted by the much smarter civil servant who really runs the department.  It’s as static a program as you’ll ever see:  most of every episode consists of the two talking across their desks while a wise-cracking (male) secretary chimes in on occasion.  Another series of improbable events then catapult this dolt of an elected official to the office of Prime Minister, and coincidentally, the top civil servant who’s been the bane of his existence comes along with him; this is the spin-off series Yes, Prime Minister.  This is a comedy version of The West Wing, possibly even smarter, and if The Curmudgeon were exiled to that proverbial deserted island and was permitted to take the DVDs of just one television comedy with him – although what use they’d be is questionable when you consider that a deserted island is unlikely to have any power source to enable the playing of DVDs – it would be the combination of Yes, Minster and Yes, Prime Minister.

So there’s no Seinfeld, no Lucy, no Honeymooners, nobody loves Raymond, and, despite the strong temptation, no Gilligan’s Island, but there are a lot of lot of laughs.

Let the disagreeing begin.

Words of Wisdom

Desperate to put off his major planned chore yesterday – rewiring all of his computer equipment and peripherals (a task that, once he started it, ended up taking a whole twenty minutes to complete, leaving him feeling like a fool for putting this off for weeks) – The Curmudgeon immersed himself in more mundane household tasks and cleaning and, exhausted and just a bit sweaty, sat down for a moment to rest and turned on the television.  His clicker finger stopped on the “E” channel, always a mistake yet sometimes strangely rewarding, and something called Rich Kids of Beverly Hills.

During his ninety or so seconds there, he observed a conversation between a young woman (in her twenties, probably, although The Curmudgeon is a terrible judge of age) and her mother in which they were talking about the young woman’s boyfriend.  The mother suggested that the young man was still deciding how he felt about the daughter.

The daughter had an interesting perspective on the question of the boyfriend’s interest.

“I wear a double D bra and have a twenty-four inch waist.  What’s for him to think about?”

And that, boys and girls, is why “E” – and rich kids from Beverly Hills – are best avoided.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

The Curmudgeon realizes that the music industry has fallen on hard times in recent years, with file-sharing eroding sales, and that U2 hasn’t had a hit in two decades, but he was still startled to run across the following headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week:

Corbett nominates Bono to be Montco sheriff

These rock stars should really put away a few dollars for their later years.bono

Refreshing (Yet Obnoxious) Honesty

The not-so-good folks at LinkedIn are constantly sending The Curmudgeon notices about jobs that would not interest him unless he was uncertain of the source of his next meal or for which he is not remotely qualified.  Surely they have their reasons, but The Curmudgeon suspects that something is seriously wrong with whatever algorithms they employ that lead to these profoundly misdirected missives.

Job descriptions are written by headhunters, and headhunters are people who are not at all shy about attempting to mislead people if it will help them get what they want.  They’re full of fluff, emphasizing the positive, the optimistic, often at the expense of the truth.

That’s why The Curmudgeon found it almost heartening recently to read one of the job descriptions LinkedIn sent him from a company called IMS Health.  Among other things, this job description said that

We don’t simply think about careers, we think about contributions.

No fluff there, no attempt to gild the lily.  What IMS Health is saying, The Curmudgeon believes, is “We’re interested in what you can do for us, not in what we can do for you.”

Based on this tidbit of information The Curmudgeon suspects that IMS Health would probably not be a very good place to work but he at least gives the folks there points for honesty.

Sometimes, the Bad Guys Win

Readers who know Philadelphia know that the area known as Old City is one of the most appealing parts of town.  Old houses, narrow streets – some with cobblestones – real history, decent shopping and restaurants – it’s just a nice place to spend a few hours walking around on a sunny weekend afternoon or evening and maybe daydreaming about what it might be like to live there.  It’s also located close to some of the city’s major roads, bridges, and the Delaware River and is within walking distance of the city’s downtown area.

One of the challenges that such areas inevitably face is that their economic vitality, location close to major infrastructure, and overall popularity make them a frequent target for attempts by government to introduce “improvements” and by developers to find a way to make a buck.  It’s a delicate balancing act, trying to weigh the needs of the community versus the interests of the city, and seldom does it turn out that everyone’s happy with whatever ultimately happens.

Government and developers spend big bucks advocating their interests, but in a place like Old City, the job of advocating the community’s interests falls to the residents themselves, who banded together many years ago to create the Old City Civic Association.  If there’s a public improvement that the community disapproves of, or a proposed development it considers distasteful, it has traditionally fallen to the association to represent the community’s interests.  Elected officials, alas, cannot always be counted on to advocate their constituents’ interests because developers make big political contributions and row home owners, well, not so much.

And the association proved to be a formidable advocate of its interests over the years – maybe even too formidable for its own good.  Instead of being viewed as a nuisance, as so many community groups are, the association has come to be respected and even feared, especially by developers.  Feared so much, in fact, that developers started doing what it is that developers usually do when communities and cities don’t roll over and give them their way:  they sued.  And sued and sued and sued.  Currently the association is on the receiving end of three large lawsuits, and the legal fees have been piling up.  Insurers’ fees, too:  in fact, liability insurance to protect the association and its leaders has become so expensive that the little group can no longer afford it.

So in the end, the association’s leaders announced that they’ll do the only thing left to do:  disband.  Developers have deep pockets and they don’t, so essentially, they’ve been sued out of existence – even when they don’t lose the lawsuits.  Suing takes money, and defending yourselves from lawsuits takes money, too, and a little community group doesn’t stand a chance against deep-pocketed developers.

We all love stories where David slays Goliath, but at the same time, we understand that when such confrontations occur, it’s usually David who’s going to get his butt kicked.

And that’s exactly what happened to this particular David.

The Martin Luther King Day of…

Public service?

No.  Guess again.

How about the “Martin Luther King Day of…NBA basketball”?

That’s right:  five – count ‘em, five – afternoon basketball games in the NBA, on a weekday.

Hey, there’s money to be made off all those people who aren’t working that day and if there’s anyone who knows how to milk an opportunity, it’s the folks who run the NBA.