Monthly Archives: June 2014

June News Quiz

  1. The World Cup is: a) a celebration of soccer; b) the greatest soccer tournament in the world; c) a combination of the Olympics of soccer, the World Series of soccer, and the Super Bowl of soccer; or d) the hard plastic object placed inside the World Jockstrap?
  2. The Obama administration is sending “military advisors” to Iraq because: a) Iraq is slowly falling back into the hands of the wrong people; b) it needs someone to finish the work started by the Bush administration and that the Obama administration failed to finish before withdrawing American troops; c) idle and bored members of the armed services were clamoring for some action; or d) sending “military advisors” worked so well for the U.S. in Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s?
  3. Members of the “Open Carry” movement in Texas are walking into stores and restaurants – places like the International House of Pancakes – carrying guns and rifles because: a) in Texas, they have “open carry” laws that permit such behavior; b) this is America and people have a right to act stupid, it’s right there in the constitution; c) they’re looking to pick a fight with gun control advocates and intend to be better armed than those people when the fighting begins; or d) IHOP raised the price of its “Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity” special fifty cents and they are pretty darn steamed about it?
  4. The leaders of Russia and Ukraine met in Normandy on the 70th anniversary of D-day. They met on that day in Normandy because: a) they wanted to meet at a place that symbolized an important step toward peace; b) they were already there at the same time with many other world leaders, so it made sense to get together; c) great weekend rates and free continental breakfast at the Normandy Comfort Inn; or d) Putin wanted to make it clear to Ukrainian leaders that if he didn’t get his way in their country, the Russian invasion of the Crimea would make the Allies’ storming of the beach at Normandy look like a day in the park?
  5. Pro football hall of famer Dan Marino joined a lawsuit against the National Football League over its cover-up of the harm caused by concussions to football players and then promptly asked to have his name removed from the suit. Marino’s change of heart was attributed to: a) a mix-up over whether he was supposed to be part of the suit at all; b) too many hits to the head – he didn’t remember that he signed up to be part of the suit; c) he’s been wearing his Isotoner gloves on his head and they cut off the flow of blood to his brain; or d) his realization that as a broadcaster of pro football, he was biting the hand that feeds him and probably would have lost his lucrative job and then would have needed to work for a living?
  6. The Alabama organization Life Savers Ministries rented a billboard that featured five smiling children beneath a quote from Adolph Hitler from a 1935 speech on the Nazi youth movement: “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” The group posted this message because: a) it was the quote that was important, not its source; b) it was certain that no one would be offended that it quoted Hitler; c) even though Hitler was a bad guy, that doesn’t mean everything he did, said, or thought was totally wrong; or d) what’s so bad about Hitler?
  7. House Speaker John Boehner recently said he intends to sue President Obama for failing to faithfully execute the laws of the land. In response, President Obama said that: a) have too, have too; b) I may just have to get Michelle to kick his ass; c) how can you take something seriously when it’s coming from a guy who’s orange; or d) if he wants to see some executing, I can arrange for some Capitol punishment for the Speaker right here in Washington, D.C.?
  8. Scientists believe that the brains of rats are sufficiently developed that rats can experience feelings of regret. They learned this by: a) interviewing lots of rats; b) attaching electrodes to their brains; c) watching their behavior in carefully controlled situations; or d) asking Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning if they ever had any regrets?
  9. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court said that the police must almost always obtain a search warrant before searching cell phones seized during arrests. In response to this ruling, the National Security Agency (NSA) declared that: a) yes, we knew about this decision three days before it was announced; b) we don’t arrest people, so we don’t care; c) Supreme Court decisions and laws passed by Congress don’t apply to the NSA, so it’s not really a consideration for us; or d) the decision really doesn’t affect us because we already know what’s on everyone’s cell phone?
  10. A group is suing Chobani, the makers of Greek yogurt, claiming there’s nothing Greek about the yogurt. The plaintiffs also are planning to sue the makers of: a) Bonomo Turkish Taffy; b) Thomas’s English Muffins; c) Canadian bacon; or d) anyone who’s ever claimed to French kiss?

Probably Not as Advertised

While driving along the White Horse Pike in Hammonton, New Jersey recently, The Curmudgeon passed a landmark (as opposed to an iconic) women’s clothing store that’s now deep, deep, deep into its off-season.  Eager to unload some of its inventory, the store has put a sign by the side of the road that advertises

Wedding gown special:  $99

While The Curmudgeon knows as little about women’s fashion as it’s possible not to know, he’s pretty sure – no, make that practically certain – that there’s absolutely nothing at all special about those $99 gowns.

World Cup Fever!

world cupGot it?

Didn’t think so.

In Really Big Sports News…

As you may know, the National Football League labels its Super Bowl extravaganzas in Roman numerals: there was Super Bowl IV (the intravenous Super Bowl), Super Bowl XXX (girls! girls! girls!), Super Bowl XL (super-sized), etc.

But the league just announced that in 2016, the fiftieth anniversary of the event, it will refer to the Super Bowl as “Super Bowl 50.”

Why?

As reported by ESPN.com, an NFL official explained that

When we developed the Super Bowl XL logo, that was the first time we looked at the letter L,” Weston said. “Up until that point, we had only worked with X’s, V’s and I’s. And, at that moment, that’s when we started to wonder: What will happen when we get to 50?”

So why change? As ESPN.com reports,

It’s a one-year break, said Jaime Weston, the league’s vice president of brand and creative, because the “L” isn’t as pleasing to the eye.

Not…pleasing…to…the eye.

But how did they know that?

Again, from ESPN.com:

Weston said her team has been working on the Super Bowl 50 logo since April 2013, having gone through 73 versions. At some point along the way, it was concluded that having the “L” stand alone didn’t work.

73 versions. The people who run the National Football League tried to write/type/draw/create the letter “L” 73 different ways before concluding that “L” just didn’t work and that they would need to resort to the numeral “50” instead.

Talk about overthinking.

 

The Branding Iron

Are you as tired as The Curmudgeon is of hearing businesses and even individuals being referred to as “brands”? Do you share his belief that this is marketing overkill and business school jargon taken to an extreme?

We’re all familiar with the concept of brands. We’ve always used different “brands” of products. Some of us, for example, brush our teeth with Crest toothpaste; others with Colgate, others with Gleem, others with Aquafresh, some with Sensodyne, the crunchy granolas among us with Tom’s of Maine, and others with others. They’re all brands – brands of toothpaste.

Nowadays, though, everything is about a brand. Companies, we’re now incessantly told, have brands, communities have brands, even people have brands. It’s gone much too far, and The Curmudgeon has taken it upon himself to collect a few examples of this silliness.

In a Philadelphia Inquirer about whether people should include photos on their LinkedIn page, the reporter wrote that “Caldwell says start with something as simple as using a professional picture in which you are smiling. Too often, people think they need to use pictures that make them look serious. But employees want to see an image that reflects personal brands and values.” Really? Ordinary people have brands? Really?

Even fictitious people can apparently have brands, as noted in an article about actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her cable television program Veep: “Veep, HBO’s wickedly delicious comedy about a vice president vainly trying to advance her brand…”

Oh, so that’s what the show’s about: the character advancing her brand!

Cory Booker was the mayor of Newark, New Jersey before he was elected to the Senate. While Booker never did a great deal to help Newark – sorry, Booker fans, but not being corrupt in public office, while novel for Newark, is not an achievement – he quickly became become a darling of the press. How? The Philadelphia Inquirer asked a New Jersey state senator that very question. “In many respects, I both admire him and am jealous of him,” Lesniak said of Booker. “That’s life. … Cory went out and he did this and he established his brand.

But apparently you don’t need to be a celebrity, or even a fictitious character, to have a brand, or so suggests a headhunter, er, “human capital consultant,” in the July/August 2013 edition of the Columbia Journalism Review. When asked about how recruiting has changed in the digital age, the headhunter explained that “The level of data on candidates is significantly greater than even a few years ago. This can be invaluable if candidates want to promote their personal brand.”

Their personal brand! As opposed to someone else’s brand! So you, too, can become a brand – you’re Wheaties, you’re Green Giant, you’re…you’re…you’re Kotex!

In a rather insipid Philadelphia Business Journal article about dressing for success – The Curmudgeon is confident that any article that needs to advise people not to wear bunny slippers to work can safely be labeled insipid – the writer, identified as a “career expert,” poses a question to someone she’s advising: “What do you want your brand to be?”

The Curmudgeon’s not the only one to mock the whole brand concept. In the book This Town, about behind-the-scenes life in Washington, D.C., writer Mark Leibovich described a scene at the funeral of Tim Russert, where the Washington elite are gathered not so much to mourn Russert’s death as to see and be seen – and to be seen because they’ve been summoned to the invitation-only funeral.

“Punditry has replaced reporting as journalism’s highest calling,” Leibovich writes, “accompanied by a mad dash of ‘self-branding,’ to borrow a term that had now fully infested the city: everyone now hell-bent on branding themselves in the marketplace, like Cheetos (Russert was the local Coca-Cola). They gather, all the brands, at these self-reverential festivals.”

Drexel University, trying to assert itself in the shadow of its better-known Philadelphia neighbor, the University of Pennsylvania, erected an enormous billboard announcing its presence along a major city highway. Why? “It’s a fun way to create brand awareness,” gushed a Drexel spokeswoman, according to Philadelphia magazine.

Yes – very fun. Billboards are always fun, aren’t they?

ESPN spent more than a year working with PBS on a documentary to air on PBS’s Frontline series about brain injuries and NFL players. When ESPN executives saw a trailer for the documentary, however, they decided it was too sensational and withdrew ESPN’s name from the partnership.

It was brand protection time. First, the NFL – ESPN’s business partner – demanded that ESPN “protect the NFL brand,” the ESPN ombudsman (yes, ESPN has an ombudsman) wrote on the ESPN web site. Next, it was ESPN’s turn to protect itself: ESPN’s president decided to “remove the brand because we did not control the content.”

Back we go to the Philadelphia Business Journal and, in this case, an interview with a consultant who helps companies develop brands for themselves and their products. Said consultant, however, gets a bit carried away with himself, and when asked, “When you meet someone, what is the first thing you notice about them?” he replies, “I often see how radiant or not their personality is, along with their personal brand.”

Yes, their personal brand – like maybe a logo in the middle of their forehead? Or maybe a brand burned onto their hindquarters, like in the cattle industry? The title of the article was “CEO: I really dislike being boring,” but apparently, that hasn’t stopped this CEO from being a colossal boor. Or bore. Maybe both.

Apparently, even political parties have, or are, brands. In a rather silly piece that attempts to make the case for Republicans having inflicted terrible, terrible damage to themselves through the already-forgotten fall shutdown of the federal government – did you even notice that shutdown? – American Prospect magazine big-mouth Robert Kuttner wrote in the magazine’s November/December issue that “Based on the cost to the Republican brand and the pressure from corporate elites…”

So now Republicans aren’t a party anymore; they’re a brand. Congratulations, Republicans!

The cable network CNN is known for its news coverage and struggles to attract viewers when there are no sensational stories to cover. It has diversified its series offerings, so it was reassuring – or was it? – that the company president, Jeff Zucker, told USA Today that “CNN is not and never will abandon our first and fundamental brand equity, which is news and breaking news.”

Not only brand, but brand equity!

We all know Jon Gosselin, the beleaguered half of the “Jon and Kate” of Jon and Kate Plus Eight fame. Jon’s fall from fame has been hard, but at least he’s got one thing still going for him: his brand.

Yes, his brand.

Jon told a Philadelphia magazine reporter, “I started to think about my brand,” and then he went on to explain his work as the host at an obscure suburban restaurant by noting that “How can you get people in the door? It’s not the entertainment industry, but it’s the food industry. Cross-brand marketing right there.”

Demonstrating ample room in his mouth despite the presence of his foot, Jon continued that “The main thing the tabloids did was separate me from my brand. My brand was Jon & Kate Plus 8. Now that I’m divorced? My new brand, because of the tabloids, is Jon Gosselin.”

So there.

Everyone knows Kobe Bryant, the basketball player.   Most of us remember the inconvenient little problem he had in Colorado, when he was arrested for sexual assault. So when those charges were settled and life went on, what did Bryant worry about? His marriage? The embarrassment his parents felt? His reputation? Here’s how he explained it in a New Yorker article:

“So I’m sitting there thinking, what am I going to do now? My vision was to build a brand and do all these things.”

Staying momentarily in the world of sports, here’s an ESPN.com headline: “Canucks fire GM Gillis to save brand.” (Note: The Canucks are a professional hockey team and not, in this case, a derogatory way of referring to the people of an entire nation.) The Curmudgeon has to confess: even though he’s a pretty big hockey fan he has no idea whatsoever what this meant.

The NAACP has been around for 105 years. The Curmudgeon has always thought of it as a cause, but apparently not everyone sees it in such narrow terms. Currently in Philadelphia, there’s a dispute over how some money donated to the local NAACP was used, and the national office of the NAACP had to step in and try to restore order by suspending the people involved while it conducted an inquiry into how the money was spent. Among those suspended was the chapter’s president, a man who’s been a very high profile figure in Philadelphia for nearly thirty years. His reaction? He said he had been “careful” about publicly discussing the dispute “out of concern for the image and brand of the NAACP.”

That’s right: he was concerned about the brand. Not the cause. The brand.

The broadcaster Robin Roberts seems to be America’s darling: from college basketball star to ESPN sportscaster to co-host of ABC’s Good Morning America, her brave fight against cancer has endeared her to viewers and made her an inspiration to many. The New York Times, though, has a much more crass way of describing Roberts’s medical ordeal, noting that it “…boosted her brand, making her even more relatable, more sympathetic.”

Somehow, The Curmudgeon suspects that Ms. Roberts would just as soon not have undertaken this particular branding journey.

Tsk Tsk, Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz is a doctor who became a star.  Stardom, though, seems more important than doctoring to Dr. Oz these days, and the evidence mounts that his pursuit of fame has overwhelmed his judgment and left him as someone whose words need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Make that a lot of grains of salt.

Last year, The New Yorker laid out in pretty serious detail the degree to which Dr. Oz lets his quest for fame and his desire to be loved compromise his judgment and lead him to make foolish assertions about products and services he either knows or should know are somewhere between dubious and bogus.  The article included interviews with friends, people who respect his medical skills, who seemed sad about what has become of their old pal.

But it’s not just the doctors who are onto Dr. Oz’s game.

Last week, Dr. Oz testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.  Oz no doubt thought he was there to deliver celebrity testimony, but instead, he got spanked but good by Senator Claire McCaskill, who all but called him a snake oil salesman.

It’s sad when the lust for fame and the desire to be loved outstrips one’s integrity, but Dr. Oz has been going down this path for a while now and it looks as if he’s going to face increasing public scrutiny in the future.  He has a choice to make, and it’ll be interesting to see what he chooses.

Tsk Tsk, Hillary

In 2008, The Curmudgeon happily voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary in which her opponent was Barack Obama, her eventual conqueror.  Hillary is contemplating running again in 2016, and while The Curmudgeon thinks she’s too old now to be president, he admits that he may have no choice but to vote for her again, depending on who else throws their hat in the ring.  (Paging Elizabeth Warren:  step forward please, Professor Warren.)

When Hill and Bill were getting ready to leave the White House and she was preparing to run for the Senate in a state in which she never even lived, she made what she called a “listening tour” of New York, giving her an opportunity to meet the people and scope out what kinds of challenges she might face, what with her husband being a serial philanderer and all and her being a carpetbagger.  Now, she’s on another listening tour, although this one will be more profitable:  she’s going around the country signing copies of her new book, in essence getting paid for her latest listening tour.

Even though she’s almost always the smartest person in the room, Hillary hasn’t been everyday people in a long time – she recently admitted that she hasn’t been behind the wheel of a car since 1996 – and like a lot of the Republicans she and her fellow Democrats regularly roast for the high crime of being financially successful, she can be a little out of touch with real people and real issues.

Recently, she’s observed that when she and Bill left the White House, they were, in her words, “Broke.”  Yes, they had mountain of debt in the form of enormous legal bills in the wake of the ridiculous campaign to impeach Bill because he lied about screwing around with a White House intern, because he’s the only man in history who ever lied when caught fooling around behind his wife’s back, but she knew, they knew, that they had major, major income potential just ahead of them – books, speeches, board of director positions, and much, much more.

But still, Hillary said they were “broke.”

But if they were so broke, The Curmudgeon wonders, how is it that the Clintons managed to buy a $1.7 million house in Chappaqua, New York during the months leading up to their departure from the White House?

$1.7 million for a house.

When they were broke.

The Curmudgeon knows a lot of people who would like to be broke like that.

Many of us like you, Hillary, but you better learn to be real, girlfriend, if you want to be elected president.

 

Getting Drunk Without Drinking

There’s an episode of the old television series The West Wing in which the president’s second inauguration is coming soon and his speechwriter is suffering from severe writer’s block while working on the inaugural address: he’s glum, morose, depressed – totally lost. He’s literally putting a cigarette lighter to his drafts and burning them. He’s introduced to a new writer, someone who’s been sent to help him, and after confessing his problem to the new guy – a pretty surprising act for the speechwriter, who is far from the warm, fuzzy, sharing type – the new guy tells him, “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a night in Atlantic City.”

A few years back, The Curmudgeon was briefly dating someone who was waaaay out of his league and thought her boyfriend was a bit, shall we say, buttoned down. Once, sharing his fluency in Sorkin, she told him that “I’ve never met a man in greater need of a drink.”

Now that was a problem because The Curmudgeon is a complete teetotaler: no hard liquor, no wine, no beer, no wine coolers, no frozen sweet drinks in which the alcohol is barely discernible. Nothing. He didn’t drink the ceremonial wine at his own bar mitzvah, didn’t drink the toast at his own brother’s wedding.

Mind you, he has no moral problems with alcohol. Oh, he can’t stand to be around someone who’s drunk, but really, who can? No, this is just a matter of taste. When confronted with people who can’t comprehend or just refuse to believe it’s just a matter of taste, he asks them, “Do you like liver?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer is a vehement “no,” accompanied by a disgusted look, to which The Curmudgeon responds, “Well, alcohol is my liver.”

They usually understand, although to be honest, The Curmudgeon suspects that many of them don’t entirely accept his answer. They seem certain, he believes, that there’s more to it, and that the “more” is a moral judgment.

The Curmudgeon remembers well his first encounter with alcohol. It was at a holiday dinner at his grandparents house, he was probably around seven or eight years old, and in mid-meal he needed to excuse himself to go to the bathroom because, well, that’s what little boys do. It was a tiny house, and he’s sure at least three or four people had to get up and move to let him out because he can picture the table as if it were yesterday and he was unquestionably in the seat least accessible to exiting in any direction; sometimes, adults have surprisingly little imagination about such things. In hindsight, the grown-ups should have suggested that he just crawl under the table – can you imagine a seven or eight-year-old who wouldn’t be delighted by such a suggestion, especially coming directly from his parents? When he returned, he took a swig of his orange soda – his grandparents were the only people he’s ever encountered who served orange soda – and immediately spit it out because it didn’t taste right. Everyone laughed: the “fun uncle” had spiked it with whatever alcohol was on the table.

That was a harbinger of things to come, though, because ever since, The Curmudgeon’s barely been able to hold any alcohol in his mouth, let alone swallow it. Does it taste good? Taste bad? He has no idea: all he knows is that it burns. He went through a period of years in his early twenties, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was rare to encounter people who didn’t drink – today, we’re awash in them – and it seemed as if everyone he encountered, and especially the women he encountered, were certain, absolutely, positively certain, that they knew the one drink, the one wine, the one cocktail that was going to change his mind and change his life.

They were all wrong. He’d try to beg off but eventually would give in, take a sip – and it would just burn. No taste, just burn.

These events came to mind recently when The Curmudgeon was in bed, listening to news on the radio and hoping it would bore him to sleep, which is entirely the point of listening to news on the radio at that time of night, when he heard a report about a new product, a powdered alcohol, that’s being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. Actually, it’s not the powdered alcohol itself that’s being reviewed: the government is evaluating how the product’s manufacturer intends to label it.

Imagine: powdered alcohol. The mind buzzes with the possibilities.

Does it have any flavor? Would it burn? Could The Curmudgeon finally experience the effects of alcohol without the taste and the burn? Could he get good and drunk on it? Could he dissolve it in his morning oatmeal or put it in his morning chocolate milk (in addition to not drinking alcohol, he also doesn’t drink coffee)? Or maybe put it in what’s become, in recent months, his after-dinner cocktail: pineapple juice in a rocks glass?

Or…

Could he…snort it?

The possibilities seem endless! Bring on the powdered alcohol!

The Latest Bobblehead

(With apologies to non-Philadelphians and non-sports fans but, well, it’s Sunday, and this site has even fewer visitors on Sundays than it does the rest of the week.)

 The local (Philadelphia) sports talk radio station, that bastion of narrow-mindedness and incivility, is promoting its latest product:  the Angelo Cataldi bobblehead, in honor of its loudest and most narrow-minded and uncivil host.  The station is boasting that “a portion of the proceeds” of the sale of the bobbleheads will go to a charity, but when someone boasts of “a portion” and doesn’t say what that portion is, you can be pretty sure it’s miniscule.

Anyhow, The Curmudgeon has seen these bobbleheads, and the first thing that struck him when he picked one up was how much lighter it is than most of the other bobbleheads he’s seen.

And then he realized why.

Like the blowhard who modeled for it, the head is hollow.

Oh, To Be a Fly on the Wall

The Curmudgeon would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the board room at ARAMARK, the Philadelphia-based provider of institutional food and other services, when its board and senior-level management, sitting around in their $800 suits and with their Ivy League MBA diplomas hanging on the walls behind them, discussed, debated, and finally decided to rebrand their company from its current name, “ARAMARK,” to…

“aramark.”

Once again, corporate America digs deep, plumbs the depths of its creativity, and comes out with an absolutely brilliant, inspired idea.

aramark littleOh, ARAMARK (whoops, make that “Oh, aramark”)!