Monthly Archives: April 2014

Their Students Don’t Stand a Chance

The Curmudgeon saw this “help wanted” ad in last Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

teachersjpgThe kids don’t stand a chance, do they?

Competing By Being…Less Competitive?

Have you visited a revamped Rite Aid or CVS lately?

One thing that’s very clear to the naked eye is that these stores are carrying fewer products.  Go into one of them looking for a few things you normally buy there and you’ll inevitably find that they no longer stock one or more of those things.

It looks like CVS and Rite Aid have responded to competition from the likes of Walmart and Target and Amazon by deciding that if you can’t beat them…don’t even try.

April News Quiz

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action because: a) it believes affirmative action is unnecessary; b) it believes it’s unfair; c) it believes it’s unconstitutional; or d) it saw the effect a single Clarence Thomas could have on an otherwise distinguished group?
  2. The National Basketball Association revealed that it is considering putting the names of sponsors on players’ uniforms. It may do this because: a) it wants the NBA experience to seem even more amateurish than it already is; b) the league is so starved for revenue; c) the players love the idea of wearing the names of sponsors on their backs; or d) why would the league’s best player want his jersey to say “LeBron James” when it could say “Preparation H” instead?
  3. A new academic journal, published by a professor of cultural studies at England’s Middlesex College, is dedicated to enhancing understanding of pornography. The purpose of the journal is to: a) shed new light on the subject; b) help the school recruit more students; c) put the “sex” back in Middlesex College; or d) give horny, middle-aged college professors an excuse to cruise internet porn web sites?
  4. Reince Priebus is: a) the new captain of the Starship Enterprise in the next “Star Trek” movie; b) a new internet virus; c) a particularly nasty strain of syphilis; or d) the chairman of the Republican National Committee?
  5. General Motors admitted knowing about a faulty switch in 2.5 million of its cars for years before coming forward, acknowledging that the flaw resulted in a dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries, and recalling the cars for repairs. Company officials said they delayed acting because: a) they thought no one had noticed and certainly had no intention of blowing the whistle on themselves; b) the problem only affected GM’s small cars and the company didn’t really want to waste time and energy worrying about people who buy the company’s least expensive, least profitable cars; c) replacement switches cost fifty-seven cents apiece and the company thought that was outrageous and unaffordable; or d) the compensation of the people who decide on voluntary recalls is tied to the price of the company’s stock, which would have tumbled had the company announced a major recall?
  6. A new study has found the purpose of zebras’ stripes is to ward off parasitic flies. Previous theories suggested that zebras had stripes: a) because of a genetic fluke; b) to serve as camouflage and protect them from predators; c) to help them attract mates; or d) because zebras have really, really bad fashion sense?
  7. Kim Kardashian took to Twitter to urge her fans to help save an Armenian village in Syria that’s been taken over by rebel forces. She asked her Twitter followers to help “get this trending” because: a) after she launches her own line of feminine hygiene products (“introducing the Kim Kardashian couture douche bag”), she aspires to negotiate peace in the middle east; b) she assumes that important public officials follow her on Twitter; c) she believes “getting something trending” and therefore mentioned on E Entertainment News constitutes real action because America turns to Ryan Seacrest for all the really important news; or d) she admires Condoleezza Rice so much that the former secretary of state is now her second-favorite role model, after Zsa Zsa Gabor?
  8. An orthopedic surgeon in Syracuse has been accused of slapping the behinds of patients under anesthesia. Confronted with the accusation, the doctor said: a) not true, not true; b) it’s how I test to make sure my patients are really under before I start operating; c) it’s how I start the process of bringing my patients out of anesthesia; or d) it’s just like in football – slapping my patients on the backside is a form of encouragement and camaraderie?
  9. As the Archie Comic Books brings its “Archie” series to an end after more than seventy years, it has revealed that in the final edition, it will kill off Archie. The cause of death will be: a) murder – Jughead kills him; b) asphyxiation: members of the football team stuff him in his locker and he runs out of air; c) diabetes – all those milkshakes at the malt shop; or d) AIDS – it turns out Veronica really got around and infected half their class?
  10. Nike recently announced that it is raising the price of its least expensive NFL replica jerseys from $135 to $150. Nike said it is raising the price because: a) its CEO wants a new Gulfstream jet; b) market research shows that people are willing to pay more for the jerseys; c) the cost of the materials that the jerseys are made of has risen; or d) rising labor costs: it recently raised the salaries of the fourteen-year-old Chinese girls who make the jerseys from 20 cents an hour to 21 cents an hour?

Scary Is…

…when you read an article of no particular significance on a news web site at two o’clock and then three hours later, you log onto Facebook and a notice you never signed up for includes an article about the same subject.mark_zuckerberg-devil

And it’s the third time in the past week that kind of thing has happened.

Big Brother is watching.

Once Again, in the “Warped Values” Department…

The New Yorker recently ran an interesting article about the state of West Virginia’s utter indifference to environmental issues.

No, The Curmudgeon isn’t talking about tree-hugging, left-wing, pie-in-the-sky, long-term environmental issues like climate change or global warming or endangered species.  Instead, the article described matters of greater immediacy, such as the state’s non-responses to things like chemical leaks that poison drinking water, coal mine safety, and things like that.

The article noted that the infamous Koch Brothers, underwriters of the tea party who are, when you think about it, trying to overthrow the U.S. government so they can make more money because you can’t really expect the two guys to continue scraping by on only $50 billion, funded research at the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia that resulted in a report written by an actual college professor (proof, as you’ll see, that college professors are probably best kept from entering the real world because it’s hard to know anything about anything when you’ve never set foot outside a classroom) titled “Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It” that offered the following example of truly warped thinking.

In the words of The New Yorker,

The book argued against mine-safety regulations, on the ground that “improved safety conditions result in lower money wages for workers,” and asked, “Are workers really better off being safer but making less income?”

Really?  That’s interesting, because the last time The Curmudgeon looked, underpaid was a whole lot better than, well, than dead.

The Curmudgeon has had a few choice words for economists in the past, but this is really a gem.

It Takes a Special Skill to be Such a Huge Loser

Josh Harris is a very rich man. Estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, he had at least enough mad money to be the lead moneybags in a group that spent nearly $300 million to buy a professional basketball team.

And to think, The Curmudgeon’s idea of splurging is to buy a season parking pass at his favorite beach destination instead of driving up and down the streets looking for a vacant space within hiking distance of the sands.

Unlike some people with comparable wealth, Harris didn’t inherit his – or even, apparently, a stake toward building it. He did well in really great schools, got really great jobs, and built a really, really huge personal fortune. He earned his wealth.

The rich boy’s latest toy, the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, just ended one of the worst seasons in both team history and professional basketball history. They won just 19 games, they lost 63, and along the way they managed to tie a professional basketball record for most consecutive losses.

Despite this, just days after the season ended last week, Harris managed to swallow either his honesty or his integrity and told reporters, apparently with a straight face, that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

Why? Because all that losing didn’t just happen by itself. No, it was the result of hard, focused effort. It’s almost impossible to lose so spectacularly by accident. If you want results like that, you need to make them happen.

Contrary to how it usually works in the world of sports, the 76ers actually set out on a quest to be as awful as they were, so from Harris’s perspective, the season could borrow the George W. Bush motto of “Mission accomplished.”

If you care to follow this warped reasoning, the 76ers aspired to lose as many games as possible as part of a strategy to position themselves to acquire better players. In professional sports, you see, the worst teams get the first choice of the best amateur players seeking to become professionals. Basketball teams only field five players at a time, so one superior player can have a huge impact. This, in turn, creates a powerful incentive to lose intentionally, and other than boxing and horse racing, in no professional sport will you find more intentional losing than the National Basketball Association. In the case of the NBA, though, players don’t play poorly to help their teams lose. Instead, organizations just purposely, and with malice aforethought, field teams with lousy players.

This year, the 76ers were far from alone in having such low aspirations: several teams proudly competed with them for the distinction of being the least competitive team in professional basketball. The 76ers, though, were real achievers, and they almost achieved ultimate success: they were the second-worst team in basketball.

The secrets to their success?

Well, for starters, even before the season began they traded away their best player for a untested young man, fresh out of college, who was so badly injured that they knew he wouldn’t play the entire season. Actually, his inability to play appears to have been a major part of his appeal.

Then, in the middle of the season, the 76ers traded – actually, pretty much gave way – two of their only four decent players.

Whereupon nearly two months passed before they won another game. In all, they lost 23 games in a row – more than a quarter of the season.

Yet when the season was over, the team’s owner told the press that “I think this season has been a huge success for us.”

And it probably was, too, because while the very smart, very rich owner was very dumb to admit such a thing publicly, he proved yet again that the people who have the money always find ways to make more – even if it means screwing their customers. The Curmudgeon suggests this because despite trying not to win, despite trying not to be good, despite trying not to be entertaining, despite employing player after player who would have been much better off finishing his college degree and preparing to get a real job because he has no future as a professional athlete, and despite deliberately setting out to field a team of historic awfulness, the 76ers still managed to attract 568,632 fans to see them play.

More than a half-million suckers forked over perfectly good money to see a team that was showing them the proverbial middle finger. This was the second worst attendance in all of professional basketball – and the worst if you look at it from the perspective of percentage of seats filled.

But the rich guy who said the really stupid thing is probably laughing all the way to the bank – and laughing at those more than 500,000 people who gave him their hard-earned money for the disgraceful product he offered them and the utter disdain with which he offered it.

“I think this season has been a huge success for us,” he told them.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Refried beans.

Twice-baked potatoes.

Born-again Christians.

Can’t anybody just get it right the first time?

Paranoia at Fox News

The Curmudgeon was under the weather this past weekend, and when that happens, the first thing that goes is his concentration:  he finds it hard to read or write or do much of anything for more than a few minutes at a time.  Television is very useful at such times, and even more useful than the television itself is its remote control, which gives a user with a limited attention span an easy way to shift that attention with the single movement of his finger.

s-FAIR-BALANCED-largeSunday morning The Curmudgeon’s concentration was so weak that he wandered down to the far end of his cable channel range, where he landed briefly on Fox News.  Much to his surprise, they were talking about the recent announcement that Chelsea Clinton is with child.

And even more to his surprise, they were complaining that all of the attention this blessed event has received is proof – proof, they tell you! – of media bias toward the Clintons and against the political right because when George W. Bush was president and one of his daughters was pregnant it didn’t receive nearly as much attention.

If that’s not an example of paranoia run amok, The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what is.

Rape Charges an “Unneeded Distraction”?

By now we all know well the story of the sex abuse scandals at Penn State University: the football coach, and then former football coach, being given run of the university to satisfy his appetite for little boys. As we now know, everybody apparently knew but nobody said or, heaven forbid, actually did anything about it lest they besmirch or damage a successful football program – because that is, after all, what matters most at many universities, right? Through what seems like almost accidental justice, the child molester is now in jail, the university president, athletic director, legendary football coach, and others lost their jobs, some of those involved face criminal and civil charges, and the university’s reputation has been sullied.

It’s taken more than a year to find a permanent replacement for the university’s president, and that replacement comes from Florida State University. That’s worth noting because Florida State experienced its own sexual assault scandal last year when the school’s star quarterback was accused of sexual assault. As the episode unfolded, it appeared to be another case of neither university officials nor local law enforcement showing any meaningful interest in investigating the charge – or even taking it seriously –even though there apparently was a good deal of physical evidence, including DNA, witnesses, and a video.

On Sunday the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a column about this unfortunate situation – the school with indifference to sexual assault hiring as its new president a man who apparently shares that indifference when it comes to star football players. It was a good column, probing and questioning. The problem The Curmudgeon had with it was its headline:

Florida State case unneeded distraction for Penn State

Now The Curmudgeon knows that columnists don’t write their own headlines, and it’s clear that the headline writer didn’t read the column, but it does make one wonder.

Do you think the Florida rape victim views the charges she attempted to file as a “needless distraction?”




Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1927-2014

 Author of One Hundred Years of Solitude – only, in The Curmudgeon’s eyes, the greatest novel ever written.  He always keeps a few extra copies around the house to give away.  It’s not the easiest book to read, but it’s well worth the effort.