Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sexism Rears its Ugly Head in a Most Unlikely Place

New Hampshire has a female governor and two female U.S. senators and both of its members of the U.S. House of Representatives are women. Women of both parties have made it big in New Hampshire politics and it certainly seems that the barriers to higher office have fallen in that state.

But not all of the barriers. There’s still one barrier left.

The stupidity barrier.

Today, that stupidity barrier has a name: it’s Steve Vaillancourt, a state representative who for some reason thinks that misogyny is the way to go in a state that continually chooses women as its leaders.

In his blog, Vaillancourt took out his crayons and wrote the following about one of the state’s incumbent U.S. House members, Ann Kuster, and her opponent, Marilinda Garcia:

How attractive is Marilinda Garcia?  You know how opposition ad makers usually go out of their way to find a photo of the opponent not looking his or her best.  Well…Democrats and Annie Kuster supporters can’t seem to find a photo of Marilinda Garcia looking bad at all.

As for Annie….oh as for Annie…and before I continue, I offer that caution, caution, caution, again.

Let’s be honest.  Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin?  And I hope I haven’t offended sin.

Ms. Garcia immediately disavowed the comments and so did the chair of the state’s Republican party – another woman – but anyone expecting a sincere apology from the knuckle-scraping state representative shouldn’t hold his breath: during a debate on voter identification laws a few years ago Vaillancourt on three occasions declared “sieg heil,” and no one bought the obviously insincere apology he reluctantly offered when it was demanded of him.

The people of New Hampshire seem to know what they’re doing, though, so The Curmudgeon suspects they will soon inform Vaillancourt that his service in public office is no longer required.

October News Quiz

  1. The biggest threat to public health in the coming year will be: a) Ebola; b) Entovirus D68; c) the latest strain of the flu virus; or d) a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate?
  2. The lesson to be learned from celebrities having their private nude photos revealed on the internet with neither their permission nor their knowledge is: a) nothing stored in the cloud is truly private; b) nothing people exchange via email or text is truly private; c) the only way to ensure that nude photos of you don’t show up on the internet is not to take nude photos; or d) Jennifer Lawrence is waaaay hotter than anyone realized?
  3. The organization Greenpeace has reported that one of its two-man submarines on an environmental mission in the Bering Sea was attacked by giant squid. The submarines fought off the attacking squid by: a) harpooning them; b) calling for help from Sarah Palin, who’s vigilantly watching from her front porch; c) playing raucous heavy metal rock music in an attempt to scare them away; or d) displaying a deep fryer and marinara sauce in the submarine window to let the squid know that if they didn’t go away, the crew intended to have calamari for dinner that night?
  4. New York Knicks basketball player Amar’e Stoudemire takes baths in red wine as treatment for two surgically repaired knees. Stoudemire bathes in red wine because: a) the grape polyphenols in red wine fight free radicals, which cause eighty percent of skin aging; b) the red wine improves the circulation of his red blood cells; c) no need to run out for refreshments; or d) bathing in white wine would be absolutely classless?
  5. A gunman killed a soldier and then was shot to death while trying to storm Canada’s Parliament building. According to investigators: a) he was a terrorist; b) he was jealous of all the attention given to the man who raced past Secret Service guards and entered the White House; c) he wanted the Parliament to pass a resolution demanding Kennedy Center honors for Robert Goulet; or d) he was angry because they wouldn’t change the name of the country’s national anthem from “Oh, Canada” to “Eh, Canada”?
  6. Florida governor Rick Scott briefly refused to step onto the stage to debate his opponent, Charlie Crist, because Crist had what Scott called an “illegal electronic fan” under his podium. Scott was afraid that: a) the fan would keep Crist cool, thereby making him a more effective debater; b) the fan would drown out Crist’s words, so Scott wouldn’t be able to hear what his opponent was saying; c) the fan would blow Democrat cooties toward him; or d) the fan would feed Crist good lines to use in the debate?
  7. Actor Stephen Collins refers to his sexual desire for children as: a) a preference; b) a sickness; c) greatly overrated; or d) seventh heaven?
  8. The National Football League fined San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick $10,000 for wearing Beats by Dre headphones during a new conference. The problem was that: a) Bose is the official headphones of the NFL, not Dre, and the NFL takes that kind of thing very seriously; b) players shouldn’t be wearing headphones when they’re supposed to be listening and responding to reporters’ questions; c) the headphones clashed with Kaepernick’s outfit; or d) everyone could hear that he was listening to Barry Manilow?
  9. New Jersey Senate candidate Jeff Bell explains that he is unpopular among women voters because he has stated that single pregnant women automatically become Democrats because they are dependent on government aid. He defends this statement because: a) it’s so obviously true; b) this kind of strategy worked so well for Mitt Romney; c) he sees no similarities between pregnant women who receive government services and companies that wouldn’t survive without federal subsidies and contracts and tax breaks; or d) he’s running against Cory Booker, so it’s not like anyone is listening to anything he’s saying anyway?
  10. Leon Panetta, who served as President Obama’s CIA director and defense secretary, published a book critical of his old boss’s performance while that old boss was still in office because: a) he wanted to set the record straight about some things; b) he wanted people to know that he opposed all the bad decisions; c) he felt he could sell more books and make more money by getting the book out sooner rather than later; or d) he knows all about what the U.S. should or shouldn’t do but doesn’t know the meaning of the word “loyalty”?

Corporate Welfare for Walmart

Walmart has decided to slow down the growth of its retail stores and focus more on building its online presence so it can do battle with Amazon. To execute that strategy, the company needs warehouses around the country so it can ship merchandise quickly to its customers.

Recently, the state of Pennsylvania announced that Walmart, already planning one facility in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will build another in the same town – a combined investment of $96 million.

To facilitate this investment, Pennsylvania is giving Walmart $6.3 million worth of tax credits – that is, a discount of $6.3 million on its state tax bill over the next ten years.

Isn’t it awfully nice of Pennsylvania taxpayers to lend a helping hand to a company that last year had $473 billion – that’s billion – in sales and turned a profit of more than $30 billion – that’s billion?

So it took more than 2000 years, but it looks like another miracle has taken place in Bethlehem – this time, a miracle that brings together the charitable spirit of a state government that’s obviously flush with cash and a beleaguered company that can barely stagger forward from year to year.

Chris Christie and the Minimum Wage

While campaigning last week for a congressional candidate in the district in which The Curmudgeon lives, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he was “tired” of hearing about the minimum wage and the desire of some people to raise it.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he also said that

I’m going to be very clear, and I’ll say it again: I do not think parents in this country are sitting around the kitchen table saying to themselves that their lives would be better if their children could only make a higher minimum wage.

The problem here is that Christie doesn’t understand who is paid the minimum wage.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, three-quarters of those who earn minimum wage are twenty years of age or older. Seventy-five percent. That means many or even most are supporting themselves and, in many cases, helping to support or entirely supporting a family.

In other words, the people who earn minimum age aren’t just teenagers working for a little cash to buy iTunes downloads and blue Gatorade.

In addition, thirty-five million people – twenty-six percent of the U.S. workforce – earns less than $10.55 an hour.

So raising the minimum wage to $10.90 an hour, which would only restore it to its spending power of forty years ago and not help people get ahead even a little, would affect not just those currently earning minimum wage but more than thirty-five million people.

That’s a lot of people.

christieIf Chris Christie understood this, understood that adults in his state with families and homes and medical bills were trying to live on a minimum wage that doesn’t even buy what minimum wage bought forty years ago, maybe he would be more interested in the issue.

And at the very least, he wouldn’t complain that he was “tired” of hearing about it.

 

Unnecessarily Stoking Ebola Fears

As if Ebola wasn’t already scary enough, some public officials seem to be making it worse with inappropriate and unnecessary comments and actions.

In Pennsylvania right now, no one has Ebola. Not a single person. No one currently in the state is even being watched for Ebola. But that didn’t stop Governor Tom Corbett from gathering the press together last week for a convoluted explanation that three people who recently left the state – they left the state, they didn’t enter it – are being watched for Ebola for the next three weeks. And then, for good measure, Corbett added, “Should they decide to return to Pennsylvania, we are going to look and see what we can do to get them back here safely into Pennsylvania, so that we can continue to monitor them very closely.”

Huh?

But that pales in comparison to what’s going on in the small New Jersey town of Maple Shade, just a few minutes’ drive from where The Curmudgeon lives. There, a memo from a school nurse to the staff of her school noted that the following Monday the school would have two new students – from Rwanda. Somehow, this memo got into the hands of parents and a mini-panic ensued. The school district’s superintendent then intervened, posting the following notice on the school’s web site:

The Maple Shade School District takes the health of all students and staff very seriously.  As many of you are aware, we have students who have spent time in the eastern portion of Africa that were scheduled to start in our schools on Monday.  This area of Africa has been unaffected by the Ebola virus.  Despite the fact that the students are symptom-free and not from an affected area, the parents have elected to keep their children home past the 21 day waiting period.  The family is looking forward to joining the Maple Shade Schools the following week. 

Maybe the school nurse shares Sarah Palin’s ignorance of geography and thinks Africa is just a single, not especially large country. Rwanda, she clearly didn’t know, is more than 2700 miles from Liberia, the center of the Ebola epidemic, and has never experienced even a single case of Ebola.

Not one.

So maybe Governor Corbett should spend his time helping Pennsylvania hospitals prepare for the Ebola cases that may be coming their way and not worry about people who aren’t even in his state.

And maybe, considering that the U.S. now has four confirmed cases of Ebola and Rwanda has had none and the distance between Rwanda and Liberia, which is the heart of the epidemic, is about the same as the distance between Maple Shade and Los Angeles, the school superintendent should invite the two Rwandan children to school right away, order all of the rest of the children in the K-2 school to stay home for the next three weeks, and sentence the school nurse to visit the home of every child in the school, taking temperatures and checking for symptoms.

 

No Go on BOGO

As you might imagine, The Curmudgeon is not at all happy about some of the things that are happening to the English language. He still hasn’t adjusted to LOL, although he does get a kick out of LOLMAO, because if you’re going to LOL, why not L long enough and loudly enough and enthusiastically enough to LYAO?

He’s also not thrilled with YOLO and BOGO. Even so, he’d like to see a little more consistency in their use – especially with BOGO.

bogoAs The Curmudgeon understands it, BOGO stands for “Buy one, get one,” implying “Buy one, get one free.” Now, though, he’s seeing advertisements that use BOGO and announce “Buy one, get one half off.”

Stop the madness! This is not right. It’s a perversion of the already-perverse BOGO, and The Curmudgeon doesn’t want to see a perversion of a perversion because YOLO and you want to know that what the terms mean today-o they also will mean tomorrow-o.

And he also thinks terms like LOLMAO and BOGO and YOLO need a graphic symbol of some sort.

You know: a logo.

Outbossing The Boss

If you’re not familiar with the Kennedy Center honors, you’re missing an event that’s really quite special.

Every year the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. honors people in the performing arts for their special achievements and contribution to American culture. Among the honorees are actors and comedians and movie-makers, but the stars of the events and the television broadcasts that present them are the musicians. After a brief narrative of the honoree’s career, performers come on stage to recreate some of the featured artist’s most beloved work.

If you want a good cry, listen to (and watch) Garth Brooks sing Billy Joel’s “Goodnight, Saigon.” Also great: watch Steven Tyler sing “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” or watch how thrilled Paul McCartney is when James Taylor is introduced to sing “Let it Be” or watch what The Curmudgeon finds to be the astonishing spectacle of the great soprano Martina Arroyo mouthing the words to Joel’s “New York State of Mind” or see Robert Plant get all moist in the eyes as Heart does surprising justice to “Stairway to Heaven,” a song no one else should even try. There’s a treasure trove of rewarding viewing on the Kennedy Center’s own YouTube channel, which you can find here. If you’re like The Curmudgeon, you’ll enjoy them and find yourself watching some of the clips over and over again as you reflect on some of the great music those of us of a certain age have been privileged to enjoy.

In 2009 the Kennedy Center honored Bruce Springsteen. Melissa Etheridge does justice to “Born to Run,” another one of those songs that no one else should try to sing, but for The Curmudgeon’s money, the highlight of the event was a surprise: John Mellencamp singing “Born in the USA.” Springsteen has always regretted how that song has been misinterpreted and used by others to make statements he never intended, but Mellencamp comes onto the stage with that cocky little strut of his and rights that wrong: he’s listened to the song, embraced its core, and performs it in a way that makes it all clear and unambiguous – especially the first 2:25. In so doing, he outbosses the Boss. Even Bruce seems moved as Mellencamp totally nails it: watch him reach back for his wife’s hand. See for yourself: it’s here.

Enjoy!

Vice is Nice (and Apparently, Pretty Profitable, Too)

The December 2013 edition of Money magazine reported that a mutual fund called the Vice Fund, which invests entirely in, well, vice – alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and military hardware companies – has outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 by ten percentage points over the past five years.

So while alcohol, gambling, tobacco, and war may not be very good for the soul, they’re apparently very good for the purse.

Silly Things We Read, Volume 2

Ever find yourself reading a newspaper or magazine and coming upon something that makes you roll your eyes? The Curmudgeon does, and when that happens, he collects them to share with you. Volume 1 can be found here; this is Volume 2.

The Columbia Journalism Review, a magazine favored by the decidedly non-journalist Curmudgeon (but on thin ice these days), has a regular feature called “Darts and Laurels.” “Darts” are intended for reporters, publications, and programming that don’t pursue their journalism in an appropriate manner; “laurels” are a journalistic “attaboy.”

Now, though, The Curmudgeon would like to present two darts to the Columbia Journalism Review itself. First, in a March/April 2014 feature called “Our enduring obsession with the ‘intrepid female journalist,’” it cites nine whole examples from movies and television spanning a period of more than seventy years. Nine whole examples suggest an “obsession”? Sounds more like “clear disinterest” than an obsession to The Curmudgeon.

Second, while in its self-celebratory reverie, the Review noted that “Whenever films and TV shows feature a strong-willed, plucky woman, she is almost always a journalist.” Actually, almost any time films and television shows feature strong-willed, plucky women, you can be pretty sure she’s not a journalist. Surely we’re not including Mary Tyler Moore’s “Mary Richards” in this category. Mary was an administrative assistant at most, not a journalist, and after seven seasons she was still calling her boss “Mr. Grant.” Despite the whole “You’ve got spunk, Mary. I hate spunk” speech, Mary was damn near spineless. And speaking of Lou Grant, even his plucky female reporter, the lovely Billie Newman, wasn’t that plucky.

Two darts, for silliness.

USA Today published an article about the heads of large companies who are unusually honest in their annual letters to shareholders. One such honest person is gazillionaire Warren Buffett, who admitted to his shareholders that some of the people who make investment decisions at his company made better decisions than he did last year. As USA Today put it,

Although his letters are jam-packed with promising news and folksy, anecdotal advice to investors, this year’s letter was humbled with his admittance that even the master of the investing universe can make mistakes.

Okay, The Curmudgeon has two problems with this tortured sentence – aside from the phrase “jam-packed,” which sounds more like something you’d expect from a junior high school newspaper, or an advertising agency, than from a national newspaper. First of all, a letter can’t be humbled. Most of the time when you read these days about people saying they are humbled by some type of recognition, they are seriously misusing “humbled,” but to say a letter was humbled is just plain silly.

But even sillier, The Curmudgeon believes, is the suggestion that the letter was humbled by Buffett’s “admittance” that even the master of the investing universe can make mistakes.

His “admittance”? Seriously?

We all know by now about the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, the indiscreet comments he made, and the attempt by the National Basketball Association to disassociate itself with the fellow. USA Today had the right idea but used the wrong words when it ran a headline that read “Donald Sterling signed moral, ethical contracts with NBA.” One would hope that contracts are moral and ethical, but the newspaper was trying to say that Sterling signed contracts that had ethics provisions, not ethical provisions. There’s a difference.

USA was AWOL on that one, folks.

The Comcast Sportsnet web site recently featured an article about a baseball player whose major league debut was a nightmare: he dropped a routine fly ball in his first game and was essentially fired, although in baseball parlance they call it “designated for assignment,” which means “We never, ever want to see you again.”

But the article retelling this tale began “For a player making his major league debut, it was a forgetful four days last July for outfielder Steve Susdorf.”

Well, The Curmudgeon suspects that those four days, being in possession of neither a brain nor a soul, did not forget themselves. No, the days weren’t forgetful but may have been forgettable – not that poor Mr. Susdorf is ever going to forget them.

The May/June edition of Mother Jones, The Curmudgeon’s favorite lefty magazine, featured a positive profile of the web site “Funny or Die.” Noting that the site generally leans toward the left, the article mentioned that the site’s operators, comedian Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, often take up various causes. In the cause cited in this particular piece, it noted that “But when the crew heard some kid was rotting in jail for doing what they do every day [note: posting a video parodying actions of the government of the United Arab Emirates], they felt compelled to act. Ferrell and McKay rounded up celebs, including comedian Patton Oswald and Veep star Tony Hale, and launched a ‘Free Shez’ campaign to raise money for Cassim’s defense.”

Now The Curmudgeon isn’t always up on the latest in celebrity developments, but he suspects that if the best someone can do is enlist the support of “celebs” Patton Oswalt and Tony Hale, the cause is in deep, deep trouble.

The same edition of Mother Jones had an article about the degree to which technology is tying people to their jobs even when they’re not in their offices and offered an excellent example: a memo from a partner of the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to subordinates that stated “Unless you have a very good reason not to (for example, when you are asleep, in court or in a tunnel), you should be checking your emails every hour.”

Remind The Curmudgeon not to go to work for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan if he ever does something really stupid like go to law school.

The local news radio station in Philadelphia has a web site that runs many of its stories – as well as many stories that are days and weeks out of date. One recent headline read “Study: Cell Phone Use Could Negatively Impact Male Fertility.” The Curmudgeon’s not certain if those cell phones are “negatively impacting” male fertility – unless, that is, there’s an epidemic of men awakening to find that while they were asleep someone implanted a cell phone in a spot that blocks their vas deferens ­– but they’re certainly having an impact on the station’s ability to write a headline that’s not a disgrace to the English language.

In an article titled “101 Ways to Build Wealth” – because 100 ways is apparently insufficient and 102 would be totally pretentious – the May 2014 edition of Fortune magazine ran the subtitle “To achieve a serious net worth over a lifetime, you’ll want a blueprint to follow.”

Really? Is that what we’re doing when we save – we’re attempting to “achieve a serious net worth”? Does anyone actually think that way?

Politically connected people getting their parking tickets fixed is nothing new, at least not in Philadelphia, but when the fixers get caught, some poor prosecutor is forced to sacrifice his or her career by pissing off the very politicians he or she needs to get elected to public office someday. When such a trial was held recently in Philadelphia, a Philadelphia Daily News reporter, trying to describe a high-ranking official in the court system who’s not a judge, couldn’t come up with the right term to describe the person. She either never thought of, or didn’t like, “high-ranking official,” “executive,” “administrator,” or any of a half-dozen other possible descriptors, so she plumbed the depths of her journalism training and her thesaurus and came up with “higher-up,” as in “A former Philadelphia Traffic Court higher-up acknowledged yesterday that he now considers ticket-fixing to be wrong, but didn’t previously because it was part of the everyday culture.”

The next time The Curmudgeon writes a business proposal for his company he could try describing the managing partners of his firm as “higher-ups,” but then, he likes being employed, so maybe he won’t.

We next return to Warren Buffett, a subject of endless fascination for the business press. The June 2014 edition of Money magazine featured a lengthy and pedantic article about academics trying to figure out Buffett’s superior stock-picking (hint: he’s waaaaaay smarter than other stock-pickers) by using data and attempting to reduce his investing decisions to formulas. At one point the article concedes that these academics “can only hope to say what it looks like Buffett did. They can’t describe how his neural wetware figured it all out.”

His neural netware? Neural netware?

Oh. The doofus who wrote that sentence was referring to Buffett’s brain.

A recent headline, on the Philadelphia Business Journal web site asked “Could female mayor give Philadelphia tech an estrogen shot?”

Unfortunately, this headline did not appear on April 1, so someone wrote it and someone approved it and someone posted it and apparently no one stopped to ask “Doesn’t this headline this make us look like morons?”

A May 2014 Philadelphia magazine profile of one of the most influential (and apparently, quite decent) politicians in Pennsylvania noted that he had not wandered far from his family’s root and had never left the old neighborhood: “He and his wife still live here today, just a few meters from his father and the house where Pileggi grew up.”

Excuse The Curmudgeon, but “meters”? Seriously? Maybe if the article had appeared in London magazine, but what was the writer trying to prove by describing the distance in meters in Philadelphia magazine?

Finally, staying with Philadelphia magazine, one of its restaurant reviewers had this to say about a new establishment in the city: “Beddia [note: the chef/owner] makes a mellow cheese pie, a seriously angry arraabbiata blasted with bird’s-eye chillies, and an ever-changing wild-card pie. (My favorite so far is a white pie channeling roasted creminis and rosemary into an intoxicatingly heady mushroom puree.)”

Even with the word “pie” there twice, did you have any idea this was about…pizza?

 

And Again, From The Progressive

As he noted yesterday, while The Progressive isn’t a very good magazine, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally uncover some real gems – like this one:

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, on June 5 sympathized with a baker who lost in court when he tried to refuse service to customers who ordered cakes to celebrate their same-sex marriages. Said Perkins: ‘I’m beginning to think, are reeducation camps next? When are they going to start rolling out boxcars to start hauling off Christians?

Mr. Perkins is right, of course: after all, being forced to bake cakes for homosexuals who are more than willing to pay for those cakes is EXACTLY like being loaded into boxcars at gunpoint and being carted off to a place where you are subjected to poisonous gas until you die.