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?


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  • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On October 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm


  • foureyedcurmudgeon  On October 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Not just any wetware: neural wetware. The Curmudgeon suspects that if he ever used the word “wetware” it would refer to a bathing suit, but then, he would never do that, either. As much as he enjoys assembling little these little bits of fun, The Curmudgeon knows that in a sense they can be unfair, that he can be picking on a single sentence in an otherwise excellent piece. He also lives in dread fear that he’ll write something comparably silly or stupid and that one day, he’ll find himself rereading an old post and stumble upon something that makes him go red in the face with embarrassment over his own words – hoist on his own petard, as they say. Or worse: that a reader will point out one of those monstrosities to him and he’ll just have to hang his head in shame and take his licks.

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