Monthly Archives: July 2014

July News Quiz

  1. Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin attributed the fast driving that recently earned her a speeding ticket to: a) she was racing a moose; b) she needed to hurry to the library before it closed to pick up a few books for her weekend reading; c) she needed to return to her front porch so she could keep an eye on Russia; or d) she was just being mavericky? 
  2. Marvel Comics announced that its popular character “Thor” will soon become a woman. Marvel is doing this because: a) women can be superheroes, too; b) it wants to attract more female comic book readers and thinks this is a good way to do it; c) more marketing opportunities for products that appeal to girls; or d) transgender is the new black?
  3. The Republican Party announced that it will hold its 2016 convention in Cleveland because: a) Ohio is always an important electoral state and they hope holding the convention there might give them a much-needed edge in the presidential election; b) hometown of Dukes of Hazzard star Catherine Bach; c) it’s hoping for an endorsement from LeBron James; or d) doesn’t everyone build their convention plans around a trip to Cleveland?
  4. The “Crumbs” chain of cupcake bakeries went out of business in July because: a) not enough customers; b) not enough sales; c) inferior product; or d) people would come in, point, ask “Four dollars for a cupcake – really?” – and then leave while still laughing hysterically?
  5. When a Philadelphia court ruled that the city could not apply its amusement tax to lap dances, the lawyer for the strip clubs fighting the tax declared that: a) justice has been served; b) it was always an outrage that the city sought to categorize the services of these fine young women as an amusement; c) this verdict means that hard-working women can continue to earn an honest living taking off their clothes and won’t need to turn to a life of prostitution; or d) the case had a happy ending?
  6. Jersey Shore alumna Snooki chose to hold a Gatsby-themed bridal shower to celebrate her upcoming wedding because: a) it was held on Long Island, so it seemed only appropriate; b) she and her friends tan so much that she thought they’d all look great together in white; c) she liked the costumes in the movie; or d) someone told her “Gatsby” was a new brand of tequila?
  7. Louisiana congressman Vance McAllister, who said he would not run for re-election after he was caught on video kissing a young member of his staff, has changed his mind and announced that he’ll run for re-election after all because: a) if it’s okay with my wife, it’s okay with me; b) cheating on your spouse is a Louisiana tradition, so I think this whole thing actually shows how well-suited I am to represent my constituents in Congress; c) I’m the best and the brightest of my party in this district so it’s my responsibility to run; or d) this job pays $174,000 a year and if you think I’m gonna give that up without a fight and go back to pumping gas for a living you’re out of your mind?
  8. Eighteen-year-old Kendall Jenner posed nude for a magazine because: a) mama Kris said she should; b) she wanted to prove once and for all that she’s prettier than daddy Bruce; c) it’s part of the family’s formula for making money without getting an education or developing a skill or using your brain in any way; or d) if this doesn’t work, she’s going to have to do it the old-fashioned Kardashian way: with a sex tape?
  9. Internet real estate web site Zillow announced that it will buy internet real estate web site Trulia for $3.5 billion. The only matters that remain before completing the sale are: a) a mold inspection in the crawl space at Trulia headquarters; b) pre-qualification to see if Zillow can actually afford a $3.5 billion purchase; c) they have to decide whether to call their new, combined company “Zulia” or “Trillow;” or d) grumbling about how the broker for the deal gets a six percent commission for doing absolutely nothing?
  10. Former Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum told C-SPAN that the U.S. founding fathers “…limited the people who could vote in an election… Now you could say that’s horrible, that’s terrible. Well, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But it was a decision that was made to make sure that there was some continuity and stability within the government that was consistent with the values that the government was founded upon.” Santorum feels this way because: a) he longs for the days when women, people of color, and poor people weren’t allowed to vote; b) he believes that he and people who think like him would be better off if women, people of color, and poor people weren’t allowed to vote; c) if he’s elected president, he’ll do everything he can to prevent women, people of color, and poor people from voting; or d) he is, in the end, the same old Rick Santorum? 

When in Doubt: Sue

Almost anywhere you look, Republican office-holders and Republican candidates for public office complain about lawsuits and what they consider to be abuses of the legal system. It’s too easy to sue, they insist; something – something! – must be done. Even when there aren’t too many lawsuits, or when the number of suits declines, it’s still a favorite Republican lament: stop turning to the courts to solve your problems. Elected officials, they insist, not the courts, should decide the issues of the day.

(The unspoken part: people who don’t support us politically are suing the people who do, and those political friends, supporters, and contributors are giving us really, really good money to help get you people off their backs.)

But now it looks like suing is going to become a new page in the Republican political playbook.

That’s because House Speaker John Boehner, he of the orange skin and lachrymose mien, has decided that since he and his Republican counterpart in the Senate can’t run their chambers effectively and pass legislation defining what the president can and cannot do, he’ll sue the president instead.

It’s weak. The House keeps passing bills abolishing Obamacare even though it knows the Senate won’t even consider them, and for Republicans in the House, that passes for “action.” Boehner could stop those pointless votes but he doesn’t. Boehner could introduce legislation that addresses specific aspects of Obamacare that bother him and his colleagues, but he doesn’t. No, it’s easier for the most powerful Republican in the country to admit that he can’t do anything with the House of Representatives he ostensibly runs and settle for doing what he and his colleagues constantly say they hate: suing.

What’s even funnier about the suit Boehner reportedly is planning is that he wants to sue the president for (among other things) delaying implementation of some aspects of Obamacare because the administration isn’t ready to implement them. So let’s go through this: the House keeps passing bills to abolish Obamacare, but at the same time, the leader of the House wants to sue the president for failing to implement the very bill he and his colleagues really want to abolish.

What’s wrong with this logic?

Republicans Run “Nanny States” Too

Any time a legislative body passes a law or a regulatory agency issues a requirement that appears to show concern for the welfare of people, you can pretty much count on some Republican declaring that the law or regulation is a sign of a “nanny state” – liberal government coddling its citizens instead of letting them sink or swim on their own merits. (And because heaven forbid government actually care about the people.)

The Curmudgeon got to thinking about this recently when his brother, who lives in the same condo development as his older sibling, lamented how much he missed grilling in his yard.

In the condo development in which the brothers reside, grilling is not prohibited. The rule is that people may operate charcoal grills or electric grills but must situate their grill at the far end of their driveway, closest to the street, with a visible fire extinguisher present at all times. Gas grills are prohibited.

Pretty strict condo development, huh?

Well, no, not exactly.

It turns out that the rule isn’t a rule: it’s a law – a nanny state requirement if ever there was one in a town that has a Republican mayor and an all-Republican council and has been dominated by Republicans for more than generation except for one person who was elected mayor as a Democrat – and then promptly changed his registration to Republican, proving once again that you can, indeed, fool most of the people at least some of the time. (And for the record: this isn’t about The Curmudgeon being unhappy about the limits on his own grilling. He may be the only native-born American male ever who has no interest in cooking on a grill.)

So Marlton, New Jersey, owned and operated by Republicans, has its own nanny state requirements. It could trust people to exercise reasonable judgment about their grilling practices, but instead, it chooses to treat them like third-graders and impose highly prescriptive rules upon them.

So the next time you hear a Republican complain about Democrats trying to turn America into a nanny state…

A New Use for an Old Tactic

mccarthy“I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy in the State Department.”

With these words in 1950 – or an approximation thereof, since the words, and especially the number cited, have long been in dispute and almost certainly always will be – Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an era that would come to bear his name. Most notable about that first statement that led to one of the most shameful periods in American history, though, is that McCarthy never offered a shred of evidence to support his claim about even one of the however many names were on his list.

Something similar happened in Philadelphia recently.

In 2010, Philadelphia Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for their ten-part series about how members of the Philadelphia police department’s narcotics division lied on search warrants and stole from bodega owners during raids. They also wrote that one officer committed sexual assaults during the raids.

That was five years ago, but a few weeks ago, the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police – the police officers’ union – held a press conference at which, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he said that

…there were credible allegations that two of the newspaper’s reporters paid for utility bills, food, diapers, and other gifts to a woman whose story was told in their Pulitzer Prize-winning series on police misconduct.

The head of the FOP also said he had “sound evidence” to support this allegation.

What evidence? He wouldn’t say.

But he did say that “they intentionally fabricated parts of their story.”

What parts? He wouldn’t say.

Later that day, the city’s police commissioner, according to the Inquirer,

…raised similar criticisms of the reporters, saying that if the allegations were true, the reporters crossed a line.

And what evidence did the commissioner have? He wouldn’t say.

What DID they have to say? The commissioner and FOP head said the Inquirer or the Daily News should investigate the situation themselves and that maybe the Pulitzer board should look into it as well.

The police union chief and commissioner presented no evidence to support their claim – a claim that, even if true, would not necessarily taint the reporters’ findings. The Curmudgeon finds their suggestion that the newspaper investigate itself pretty funny: if it did, and if it eventually announced that it found nothing untoward, don’t you think the commish and FOP guy would accuse the paper of a whitewash?

It’s an old tactic and it’s a bad one that shows a complete lack of integrity. It’s ignorant but possibly understandable for the FOP guy to do it because he’s an advocate for his officers and the rhetoric around that kind of advocacy has a tendency to get irrational, but the police commissioner? It’s disgraceful.

But now, The Curmudgeon has a question for these two gentlemen: When did you stop beating your wife?



It’s Really Sort of Sad

Tracy McGrady was a professional basketball player. For much of the fifteen years he played he was one of the best players in the game: twice he led the National Basketball Association in scoring, seven times he made the all-star team, and overall he earned an astounding $163 million running up and down a hardwood floor while wearing oversized shorts and a colored wife-beater. Professional sports careers are notoriously brief, though, and McGrady hung up his jock strap in 2012 at the age of thirty-two.

But his interest in being a professional athlete was not sated so McGrady, who played high school baseball, decided he wanted to try his hand at professional baseball.

So McGrady became a pitcher for the Sugar Land Skeeters, a team in the Atlantic League. The Atlantic League is what is known as an independent league, which means its teams have no affiliation with major league baseball and its players are so lightly regarded that no major league baseball team has any interest in them.

He pitched just four times and it did not go well, but his celebrity status earned him an invitation to the league’s all-star game. When he finished his all-star work he left the pitcher’s mound to the applause of the fans and announced his immediate retirement.

After the game, reports, McGrady said that

“I got a little emotional coming off the mound,” McGrady admitted. “It feels good to be celebrated again.”

Maybe it’s more a reflection of The Curmudgeon’s own aversion to attention, which can be a bit extreme, but that statement strikes him as pretty sad. McGrady was near the center of his professional universe for about eight of the fifteen years he played basketball, yet here he is, just a few years after retiring and with $163 million in the bank, still craving the attention and feeling “good to be celebrated again.”

What Does it Say About Us…

…that investors were willing to pony up somewhere between $75 million and $100 million to launch the internet-only “Paula Deen Network” in the belief that $7.99-a-month subscriptions would enable them to earn a reasonable return on their enormous investment from people who still can’t get enough of the (more than one time) disgraced television fry cook?

The Latest in the “Truly Bad Taste” Department

That would be the E Network’s Botched, a series that follows two plastic surgeons who’ve now sold their souls to the devil twice – first by becoming plastic surgeons and second by becoming TV plastic surgeons – as they set off on a mission to repair all the botched (hence the series’ title) plastic surgery being performed all around them.  (Actually, there’s a third way, too:  both of these surgeons are spouses of self-absorbed alumni of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise, apparently desperate to claim a similar level of fame to their wives despite having outstanding careers of their own.  Oh, the lust for fame…)

So whom do these doctors help?  Children born with cleft palates?  Burn victims?

Noooooooooo.  That would not make for good television.

Try the woman whose botched breast augmentation left her with a “uniboob.”

Or the woman whose nose has essentially disappeared – caved in, really – after six surgeries.

And the young man who designs his own surgical procedures – calf implants, pec implants, bicep implants, butt enhancers, and so many surgeries on his face that Mattel would find a doll that looked like him too freakish to court Barbie ­– and, like a surviving 1957 Edsel (or, come to think of it, a woman The Curmudgeon dated a few years back), has no remaining original equipment even though he’s still in his early thirties.

And a surprising number of women whose facelifts have left them looking, well, rather… feline.

Because don’t all women want to look like Tony the Tiger?

Botched is truly an exercise in really, really bad taste.  As if it’s not bad enough that there are people who want these procedures and doctors who throw away all that good medical training – including, it should be noted, a significant investment of taxpayer money – to perform them (money is a powerful incentive), the people at E, who demonstrate on almost a daily basis that there is no threshold so low that they can’t find a way to crawl under it, have once again set a new standard and exceeded it.

Or whatever the opposite of “exceed” is.



The Silly Things We Read

Read enough and you’re bound to come across some pretty silly things. The Curmudgeon has been collecting some of them, and now, he shares.

In a Money magazine article titled “Nice Nest Egg. Now Simplify It,” the writer told her readers

Face it, once you reach retirement, you’ll want to spend time traveling or volunteering…

The Curmudgeon will ignore the “face it” part because it’s just plain stupid, but “traveling or volunteering”? Really? Yes, that’s why we retire: to travel and do volunteer work on those unlimited resources most of us expect to have when we retire, during the little time we have between doctors’ appointments, and with all that energy we’ll still have when we’re old and stooped and arthritic.

In the November 3 edition of Forbes, a consultant wrote extensively about how he single-handedly saved General Motors. He had a good relationship with the company’s CEO and wrote that

It is not unusual for a CEO to lose his job when his company is forced into bankruptcy and a major restructuring.

Nor should it be!

Fantasy football, The Curmudgeon acknowledges, is its own little world – not quite real football, not quite true fantasy. Maybe the lingo is more different than The Curmudgeon realizes, as he found in a December 17 Philadelphia Inquirer article singing the praises of Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles in which the Inquirer writer noted that

Now you can bet your skid-marked Raiders fanny that all three of Charles’ fantasy squads are heading for a title match next weekend, thanks to Charles’ extraordinary five-touchdown, 215-combined-yards romp.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t know who deserves greater blame: the person who wrote this or the editor who read it and said, “Sure, I’ll put that in tomorrow’s paper.”

And then there was the December 17 Philadelphia Business Journal headline that read “Urban Outfitters pulls religiously insensitive socks.”

What – did they have little images of the baby Jesus on the toes?

In a Philadelphia Inquirer article about the Duck Dynasty/bestiality brouhaha, a reporter used another reporter as a source – never a good idea – but then compounded his mistake by describing that source as “Marc Malkin, one of E! News’ most respected reporters…”  Two silly things here:  first, that anyone on E! could be considered a reporter; and second, that anyone who presents news or information on E! could possibly be respected.

Late last year, singer/celebrity Selena Gomez announced that she was canceling a tour of the Far East.  Why?  She explained that after “many years of putting my work first, I need to spend some time on myself.”

After “many years”?  The singer, of course, is only twenty-two years old.

The Christian Science Monitor, not normally given to hyperbole, ran a headline that read “Microsoft:  Ballmer replacement won’t be selected until 2014.”  It ran this headline on December 17, so what it was saying, in effect, is that Microsoft wouldn’t be hiring a new CEO in the next two weeks.  Not exactly news.

The November/December 2013 issue of the liberal magazine American Prospect included a review of a book about soul food, which the reviewer takes great pains to make clear refers to the food of African-Americans that goes back to their African roots – although in a few cases he seems to be on shaky ground in demonstrating that those roots actually exist. At one point the reviewer writes that

I wouldn’t advocate for culinary justice if African American heritage foods were not being constantly remixed by white hipster chefs and others and re-spun as pan-‘Southern’ cuisine brought into the 21st century.

First, one general observation: What the hell is he jabbering about?

Second, regular visitors to this space realize by now that The Curmudgeon’s politics swing pretty far to the left, but this is going waaaay, waaaaay too far. “Culinary justice?” What the hell is that? It sort of comes across like he wants African Americans to get a royalty for every piece of extra crispy that the Colonel sells.

Well The Curmudgeon, for one, ain’t payin’ no royalty on his extra crispy.

In a New Yorker article about attempts by New York City and New York state to tax Airbnb, the short-term home rental company that for some reason hotels seem to feel so threatened by, the article consults a certain Ms. Joie Reinstein, whom it describes as “a professional trend forecaster…” Excuse The Curmudgeon but…professional trend forecaster? Seriously? This is an actual job?

Well, maybe it is for someone whose first name is “Joie.”

A New York Times article described the growing interest of major political donors in taking a more active role in the formulation of the strategies their money is underwriting. The article holds up as an example the work of the notorious Koch brothers, who provide enormous amounts of money to very conservative causes and require accountability for how that money is spent and the results it produces. A hedge fund manager describing the Koch brothers and their approach told the Times that

It’s adaptive, data-driven, and they are the most propitious capital allocators in political activism.

“Propitious capital allocators”?

Oh, now we see: they’re the biggest donors. Why couldn’t the guy just say that?

The instructions on the bag of edamame tell the consumer that “Defrostness is unnecessary…”

Thank goodness; who wants to hassle with defrostness?

A ridiculous article in the March/April/May edition of The Washington Monthly about how having a grandchild would be to Hillary Clinton’s political advantage states of Mrs. Clinton that “In nearly all polls over the last four years, Democratic voters have found her competent, strong, intelligent, and imminently electable.” While a (very tortuous) case might be made that the author actually meant “imminently electable,” it’s far, far, far more likely that she meant “eminently electable,” don’t you think?

One of the rationales for things like government stimulus spending during a recession is that the economy can’t recover unless there’s spending and if no one else is willing to spend, then government must. It’s a basic principle of Keynesian economics, and even conservative economist Milton Friedman (side note: this is the second time in less than a week that Milton Friedman’s name has appeared in this space, so The Curmudgeon may need to do some rethinking about how he approaches these pieces) once joked that as a last resort, the Federal Reserve could just drop money out of helicopters. Apparently Ben Bernanke, just a few years before he became Federal Reserve chairman, referred to that concept in a 2002 speech, leading the March/April/May edition of The Washington Monthly to observe that doing so earned Bernanke “the persistent nickname of ‘Helicopter Ben.’”

Really? Have you ever, under any circumstances, heard anyone ever refer to Ben Bernanke as “Helicopter Ben”? Do you think you know of anyone, under any circumstances, who has ever heard anyone refer to Ben Bernanke as “Helicopter Ben”?

Of course you haven’t. The observation’s absurd; it’s just some magazine writer trying to show what an insider he is. Well, he doesn’t come across like an insider; instead, he comes across as a boob.

A Philadelphia Inquirer article about a Pennsylvania state senator indicted for using her legislative staff to plan a political fund-raising event attempted to explain how those events are organized but went a little too far when it described the annual fund-raising event for one elected official as “one of the hottest tickets in town.”

A political fund-raising event a “hot ticket”? Hardly. A “hot ticket” is a ticket that’s hard to get, but when it comes to political fund-raising events, anyone who can afford a ticket can get one. Hell, if Osama bin-Laden had been willing to fork over the $500 he would have been welcomed at the event with open birkas.

In another Inquirer article, the paper reported on a wrongful death suit filed against a hospital over the death of local radio personality E. Steven Collins. In the report, the Inquirer notes that Collins was known as “the unofficial mayor of Philadelphia.”

Maybe around the Collins family dinner table, or perhaps on his radio show, but allow this curmudgeonly Philadelphian of fifty-six years to assure you that nowhere else was the late Mr. Collins ever known as the unofficial mayor of Philadelphia.

This isn’t so much silly as it seems ridiculous. The Curmudgeon is a regular reader of The New Yorker – and you should be, too – and that magazine has extensive cultural listings. Those listings are really just for people who live in New York, to let them know what’s going on around town, but occasionally The Curmudgeon just skims them. That perusal bore fruit recently when he read a listing in the “Dance” section titled “Rocio Molina/’Affectos’” that began

Molina is one the most intriguing new figures in flamenco…

The Curmudgeon finds this funny for two reasons: first, that there are “intriguing new figures in flamenco” and second that there’s someone out there who follows such things and then writes about them.

(The Curmudgeon also realizes that this may be a matter of the pot calling the kettle black, considering some of the rather obscure things about which he chooses to write.)

The March/April 2014 edition of The American Prospect refers to McKinsey & Co., the ultra-brainy consulting firm, as a “blue-chip consulting firm.” “Blue chip,” of course, describes a type of stock and McKinsey is owned by its partners and is not a publicly traded stock. But that’s what you get from a liberal magazine that doesn’t understand money and financial matters and that assumes that anyone who does is evil.

Philadelphia magazine revels in belittling those who aren’t as cool as the cooler-than-cool semi-journalists who provide copy to sit between the publication’s glossy ads. It did so with its usual aplomb in April with a looking-down-my-nose-at-the-rest-of-you piece by a numbskull whose column is titled “The Gastronaut” in which the “author” writes “Assuming you’re a normal sort of person who eats out a couple of times a week…” Really? Is that what all the normal people are doing these days?

Finally, The New Yorker recently featured a piece on the creator of the Under Armour company. The article seemed mostly designed to make the guy look like a jerk, and one of that founder’s co-workers certainly contributed to the cause when, describing the company’s growing business among boys, she said “You’ve got ‘Under Armour’ popping out, you’ve got the basketball short – it’s so attitudey, it’s got swagger.”

That’s right: it’s “attitudey”!




Turnabout is Fair Play

For years Democratic candidates for public office (and their supporters) have been criticizing some of their Republican opponents for being wealthy and out of touch – witness how Democrats treated Mitt Romney and John McCain before him. Republicans have always bridled at the accusation, insisting it was untrue…

…but apparently are not above using the same tactic when the wingtip’s on the other foot. That’s what’s happening in Pennsylvania right now, where the Republican governor, Tom Corbett, has taken to calling his Democratic opponent “millionaire Tom Wolf.”

It reeks of hypocrisy yet only seems fair in light of the degree to which Democrats have used the tactic over the years.

And by the way, apropos of absolutely nothing, The Curmudgeon can’t help it but every time he hears the name of Pennsylvania’s governor he immediately thinks of the man Mrs. Livingston referred to as “Mr. Eddie’s father.”


Customer Service Hell

In general, people seem to hate their cable television carrier.  In particular, they seem to hate Comcast, the biggest and baddest of the cable carriers.

The Curmudgeon is among those who have a beef with Comcast, although it’s not serious.  The internet signal he receives, and to a lesser extent the television signal, is very weak, resulting in frequent but usually brief service interruptions.  When he calls about interruptions Comcast customer service personnel always inform The Curmudgeon that the lines through which he receives service were purchased from another carrier and not laid by Comcast – as if this should matter to a customer.  Because the signal is weak, it really won’t accommodate a high-quality cable modem, so The Curmudgeon has to settle for Comcast’s own cheap modems, which generally last no more than eighteen months.  This means frequent trips to the Comcast store to swap modems:  trade in the old, cheap modem and leave the store with a new, cheap modem.

And to be fair, The Curmudgeon has had a few recent and spectacular conversations with Comcast customer service employees in which they quickly diagnosed complex problems he explained to them and then talked him through detailed, step-by-step instructions to fix those problems.  The Curmudgeon was impressed – very impressed.  (And by the way:  on the first of those two problems the customer service person was in India and on the second she was in the Philippines.  The moral of this part of the story seems to be that you’ll get much better service from the overseas staff.)

But sometimes something happens that can destroy the kind of goodwill such excellent service can engender, and that very kind of disaster went viral last week when a poor Comcast customer had the audacity to attempt to cancel his service and was hassled and tormented by a Comcast customer service representative for an amazing eight minutes.  If you haven’t heard this, clear a few minutes from your busy schedule and listen here (scroll down and hit the white arrow inside the red circle; make sure the sound on your device is on).

Now THAT’S customer service hell.