Monthly Archives: December 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Courtesy of baby sister – but this little cutie is NOT one of her own second-graders.

 

kids

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A Message to Readers

He’s not sure he’s mentioned it in this space, but The Curmudgeon works for a small health care consulting company. It’s a pretty dynamic little outfit, and one of the many things it does for its clients is seek help from government, at both the state and federal levels, for a wide variety of things.

And yes, that sometimes means lobbying.

But no, The Curmudgeon is not a lobbyist. No one in their right mind would ever let him speak to a public official on behalf of a client that’s paying good money for professional assistance: he lacks the patience, the polish, and the temperament for such endeavors. As far as he can recall, the last time he spoke to a public official face to face was in 1990, when he was dragged by one of his bosses to a nearly deserted city hall in Philadelphia the day after Christmas to meet with the mayor as part of preparation to write testimony for Philadelphia’s city treasurer about the extent of the city’s financial crisis at the time. This wasn’t even lobbying, it was a writing assignment, and The Curmudgeon was invited to ask questions – but when he did, Mayor Wilson Goode absolutely blew up at him over the questions he asked, and when the mayor finally calmed down he just sat there, smoldering.

If looks could kill, you wouldn’t be reading this today.

And since then, employers have pretty much kept The Curmudgeon away from public officials – and, for the most part, clients as well. Oh, sure, there was the time when The Curmudgeon was doing some human resources consulting and, in response to a question from the CEO of a small company about why his employees didn’t come to him when a certain sensitive problem arose, The Curmudgeon looked him in the eye and said “Because they’re afraid of you,” much to the horror of the more experienced consultant sitting by his side at the time. The client absolutely loved it and called The Curmudgeon’s boss to tell her so, but she was afraid The Curmudgeon had just gotten lucky and was not about to risk alienating a paying client and made sure to steer him clear of clients from that point forward.

Before he started this blog, The Curmudgeon told his employers what he intended to do and said he would write anonymously, so he wouldn’t risk compromising the business. They liked that idea. A lot. The last thing they wanted was for a relatively low-level employee to poison the waters for a paying client – and The Curmudgeon agreed with them. That’s why he told them about the blog in the first place and proposed writing anonymously.

It made sense. There are people in the public sector for whom The Curmudgeon, in this very space, has expressed, shall we say, less than unvarnished enthusiasm, and there may be times when his colleagues may be asking those very people and their friends and partisans to support a law or a regulation or policy change or position that would benefit one of the company’s clients. The last thing the company needed was a political opponent trying to dig up dirt on the company, visiting its web site, finding The Curmudgeon, putting two and two together, and going to some powerful member of Congress and saying “Hey, look at what this jerk from the lobbying firm is writing about you! I say we screw them!”

And you know what they say about biting the hand that feeds you.

Even though he thinks he’s done a reasonably good job of shielding his identity, his employers recently asked The Curmudgeon to strengthen the firewall between the blog and his true identity. The Curmudgeon thinks that’s a reasonable request. After all, he knows which side his bread is buttered on, as another old saying goes.

But the blog, like the show, must go on.

(Good lord, that’s three clichés in the space of three paragraphs. Quick, someone destroy this monster before it clichés again.)

To enable it to do so while also respecting his employer’s wishes, The Curmudgeon will discontinue announcing upcoming posts on his Facebook page as of the end of the year. For those of you who count on Facebook to tell you when something new has been posted, an alternative is to go to the blog, find the little link on the bottom right-hand side of the screen that says “follow,” and hit that link. When you do, a new screen pops up and asks for your email address. If you enter your address there, you’ll receive an email from WordPress, the folks who host The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon, the morning after he posts something new. The Curmudgeon recently tested this and it works just fine.

Or, if you’d rather not, you know by now that seldom does more than a day or two pass without The Curmudgeon posting something new here.

The Curmudgeon – no, for once, let’s say “I” – I appreciate your visits to this page and hope we can continue to get together online occasionally for as long as I can think of things to write about and for as long as you’re willing to put up with some pretty far out there views. It’s a pretty big world, though, so running out of things to write about seems pretty unlikely.

And by the way, if you ever want to use this space to get something off your own chest, feel free to let me know and we can arrange a “guest column” for you.

Finally, just to be sure his vast readership gets this message – just so you know, The Curmudgeon considers any day his total number of visitors reaches double digits to be an excellent day – he will repeat this message every weekend between now and the end of the year.

Again, thanks for your patience and continued support. I enjoy writing for you.

The Tab For That Whopper Will be…

…$1.2 billion.

Now THAT’S a Whopper!

As The Curmudgeon wrote recently, the latest development in big businesses sticking it to the little guy (other than Congress’s foolish repeal last week of some of the legal protections implemented to protect the little guy from the kinds of abuses we saw a few years ago from the big guys that did such profound damage to the U.S. economy) is American companies buying foreign companies and then relocating their own corporate headquarters to where their acquisition is based to avoid paying some U.S. taxes. This practice is known as “inversion.”

Although what it really amounts to is “perversion.”

In this case, Burger King, a company worth nearly $13 billion and with more than 13,000 restaurants and 3.6 million employees, purchased Tim Horton, a donut chain with 4500 stores (mostly in Canada) and 96,000 employees.

And decided that it just had to relocate its headquarters to Canada.

Oh, Canada!

Why? To escape the tax man – to the tune of $1.2 billion over the first three years of the move.

That’s $1.2 billion that the U.S. will need to make up in tax collections because of the middle finger Burger King has shown its American customers.

Or $1.2 billion added to the national debt, for which your children will no doubt thank you.

So the next time you need a quick lunch and are considering going to Burger King, keep in mind that you’d be eating one VERY expensive burger.

Or you could just go elsewhere.

Bon appetit!

Tenure, Freedom of Expression, and the Disturbing Disposability of People

The Curmudgeon thinks tenure for teachers isn’t a very good idea; actually, he thinks it’s more an outdated idea. He used this space to go into that issue in detail more than two years ago and doesn’t want to reiterate that entire argument today so he’ll just hit the highlights: people who are good at their jobs have nothing to worry about but tenure was once very important back in the days when public school teaching jobs in many places were essentially political patronage positions, with one crew of teachers replacing another every time someone from a different political party or faction won a local election. Today, tenure for public school teachers seem unnecessary because teachers have their unions to protect them and often, local civil service regulations as well.

Recently, though, we saw an example of another aspect tenure – an aspect that isn’t nearly as outdated.

Last week, Penn State University president Eric Barron participated in one of those “die-in” protests sweeping the country in the wake of the questionable treatment by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York. A lot of people like Barron are participating in such protests, but what distinguishes Barron from many of those others is that Penn State is a public university, funded in part by the state of Pennsylvania.

And as anyone could have predicted, some of the people responsible for deciding how much money the state gives Penn State were not happy.

Pennsylvania state representative Jerry Knowles declared that

As a former member of the law enforcement community, I believe Penn State President Eric Barron’s recent actions at a protest on campus were disrespectful, and as a result, I believe he should either issue a public apology to law enforcement officials, or step down as president of the university.

Yes, Knowles is a “former member of the law enforcement community” ­– a police officer in the 1970s in the town of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania – population 7003, 94.4 percent of them white and 0.5 percent African-American (thirty-nine whole people).

Which makes him a real expert on maintaining the public safety in a diverse community.

Speaking of the hands-up gesture Barron used in the protest, Knowles added that

I know what it means, and it’s a slap in the face to law enforcement, regardless of race, regardless of creed, regardless of color.

Knowles concluded by noting that

Barron was photographed among student protesters in the ‘hands up’ position, and as a former police officer, I know I am not alone in taking offense to such a gesture. I think it is unbelievable that the president of the university would show such disrespect to police officers…

But this isn’t about the protest; it’s about the reaction to the protest, because you know – you just know – that Knowles and some of his colleagues are going to make a thing of this next year when Barron goes before the state legislature to discuss Penn State’s annual appropriation from the state government. He’s going to rant and he’s going to rave and somewhere along the line he’s going to demand an apology or some other pound of flesh lest he unleash his wrath over the actions of one person at the expense of the university’s 35,000 students and 44,000 employees (the latter, incredibly, is not a typo).

But even though Eric Barron isn’t a teacher, this is a good example of a different aspect of the concept of tenure.

Knowles may or may not be serious about wanting Barron’s resignation, but this kind of thing is a sad part of our history: attempting to punish or fire teachers – we’re mostly (but not entirely) talking about college professors now – for their political beliefs, for their political actions, and in some cases even for the subjects they teach. In the 1950s, for example, teachers all over the country were required to take loyalty oaths that essentially asserted that they weren’t communists. It was required of history professors and political science professors but it also was required of chemistry professors and geology professors and math professors because heaven forbid some radical might try to teach a communist version of calculus.

Our society has paid a price – a fearsome price, in fact – for punishing some people who study and teach subjects that are unpopular in some circles. During the McCarthy era, experts and analysts who worked for the U.S. State Department and whose areas of specialization were Asian cultures and Asian history and politics were routinely labeled communists or “communist sympathizers” and drummed out of the government. As a result, when the U.S. started to get involved in Vietnam, all of the people who knew Vietnam – knew the people, knew the culture, knew the history, and, most important, knew that the Vietnamese would never, ever stop fighting until there were none of them left to fight – had been publicly discredited. The result was that as we considered getting deeper into that quagmire, there was no one left in government who knew much of anything about Vietnam, knew enough to say “Hey, this can’t work, we shouldn’t be doing this,” so we went ahead and did it, with tragic consequences.

So that’s the other facet of tenure for teachers in higher education: in theory, it protects them from people who think that people who study what they study or have the beliefs they express should be exiled from higher education. In The Curmudgeon’s mind this is nowhere near reason enough for tenure to exist, but even in recent years we’ve seen both liberal professors persecuted by the political right and conservatives teachers made miserable by liberals who are appalled – appalled! – that someone is teaching a perspective they don’t share.

Imagine that: trying to share perspectives that some students haven’t previously been exposed to in an environment that’s supposed to be about learning new things.

We need to be less sensitive about people who disagree with us and people who commit one wrong act or exercise poor judgment one time. A person with what we think is a bad idea is a person with a bad idea, not necessarily a bad person; a person who does something we don’t like is not necessarily unfit for whatever role he or she is currently playing.

Should Penn State’s president really resign because a backwater state legislator is angry over his display of his convictions? Did the TV Land cable network really need to take The Cosby Show off the air because it’s looking more and more like Bill Cosby is some kind of rapist or sexual predator? Did the Food Network really need to take Paula Deen off the air because her language reflects the times and culture in which she was raised, as opposed to waiting to see if people stopped watching her? Did a New York City council analyst really need to be fired because he cited (unrefuted) statistics that contradicted those offered by the city’s near-legendary police commissioner? Should the commissioner of the National Football League really resign because he handled a serious and sensitive issue in 2014 the same way he did in 2013, when he received relatively little public criticism, but failed to recognize the major, almost overnight shift in how much of the public now wants such matters handled? Must an elected official really resign if it is revealed that he (or she) had, or is having, an extra-marital affair?

The Curmudgeon thinks not, at least in many of these cases – although these are all situations about which reasonable people may disagree. He thinks the public official with the gripe about Penn State’s president should have gotten on the phone, called Penn State’s president, and suggested that they sit down and talk about his concerns rather than go public with his demand and mount a public soapbox.

People disagree or disapprove – this happens every day. Why does it seem that every disagreement or disapproval these days now seems to be accompanied by a demand that the object of the disagreement or disapproval disappear from the face of the earth – or at least from the life or lives of the offended?

Why have we suddenly come to see people as so…so…easily disposable?

Fast Delivery, Slow Delivery

If Amazon.com can routinely put an order in your hands within a week, even without expedited delivery, how come it still takes two or three months for a new magazine subscription to show up in your mailbox?

Is Amazon that much smarter than the magazine people or are the magazine people just that dumb?

Life Imitating Art

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report detailing the degree to which the CIA used torture and other abuses to attempt – almost always unsuccessfully – to get vital information from prisoners called to mind an episode of the television series The West Wing in which the president and his staff are considering assassinating the defense minister of another country whom they know, for certain, is directing terrorism against the U.S. The president is hesitant; he knows it’s necessary and he’s working toward giving the assassination his final approval, but he also knows it’s wrong.

The president (Bartlet) then has this exchange (from 34:15 to 35:15, although this is the best episode in the series’ seven-year run and well worth your time, if you’re so inclined) with his chief of staff (Leo), who is pressing for his final approval.

BARTLET

I recognize that there’s evil in the world.

LEO

What is your objection exactly, sir?

BARTLET

Doesn’t this mean we join the league of ordinary nations?

Sort of like the U.S. after the release of the report on the CIA’s abuses.

Suddenly, and sadly, we find ourselves a member of the league of ordinary nations.

Sometimes, Homemade is Best

Not for the usual reason, The Curmudgeon is under a doctor’s orders to eat a high-fiber diet. For some people that’s easy, but not for him: other than fruit, there’s probably not a single high-fiber food that he finds palatable. He doesn’t like whole wheat bread or avocados or, heaven forbid, beans, which alone can almost single-handedly enable a soul to meet their daily fiber quota.

This has been a way of life for The Curmudgeon for nearly ten years and he’s become a real pro at it. He’s learned how to make some of those unpalatable foods palatable, mostly by coating them in some kind of glop, and makes judicious use of supplements that you either can eat directly or put into your food. He tried – and managed to find tolerable – butternut squash. He learned to eat potato skins (okay, after crisping them up a bit in a sauté pan). A former girlfriend introduced him to edamame, which, when eaten cold in a salad, manages to squeak just past his hypothetical Threshold of Inedibility. He learned that if you put that really high-fiber cereal – you know, the stuff they put in buckshot – into enough yogurt, you keep the crunch and the fiber but lose the nasty taste. He only draws the line at brown rice: he can’t stand the stuff and it doesn’t have enough fiber to make it worth the sacrifice.

One of his tricks is to use fiber powder in his cooking. It’s tasteless and dissolves completely and can give a real fiber boost, and you always get to decide how much. He puts it in muffins and homemade granola and rice and soups and sweet potato pie. He even sneaks it into brownies, waffles, homemade iced tea, and corn fritters. The only limits are your own imagination. The idea is a simple one: when life sticks you with lemons, make lemonade. (And you can put it in that lemonade, too, for that matter).

During this past decade more products boasting high-fiber content have hit grocery store shelves, and The Curmudgeon tries them all. His newest favorite is Fiber One wraps – eight grams of fiber and only eighty calories; he can’t find them anywhere in south Jersey but has located a willing supplier on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River (thanks, mom!). Some of these new-fangled fiber products are good, some are not, but when he learns of a new product, he’ll definitely seek it out – unless it’s made by Kellogg’s. Those folks have never even come close.

The Curmudgeon did some seeking out recently when came across an ad in the weekly CVS flyer for a product called the “Meta Health Bar” that boasted a high fiber content. Most of these high-fiber bars are a disaster: they don’t resemble actual, you know, food, either in taste or in appearance. But they sure are chewy: you chew and chew and chew and chew and wonder if the stuff is ever going to break down into something you might risk attempting to swallow.

So he went to CVS, found the bar, and bought one: the cranberry lemon drizzle. It was actually quite tasty but lacked enough fiber to justify either the price or the calories. He’ll have it again, but it’ll never become a staple in his diet. Eventually he’ll figure out how to make it himself, only with twice the fiber and at less than half the cost, because the cranberry/lemon combination really worked for him.

While he was there, though, he came across another high-fiber product on an adjacent shelf: a high-fiber chocolate.

NOW we’re talking, The Curmudgeon thought.

That’s because chocolate just so happens to be his favorite of the major food groups. The “Active D’Lites” chocolates came in three flavors: chocolate mint, chocolate almond, and chocolate caramel. The Curmudgeon chose the chocolate mint, took it home, and dug in.

Not bad, he thought. Way too expensive, not great, not awful, but somewhere right in the middle, just north of okay.

But not as good as his own creation, because The Chocolatier Curmudgeon has his own chocolate creation: he goes to Trader Joe’s (five minutes from his house), buys the one-pound chocolate bar, melts it in the microwave (half of the bar at a time), stirs in fiber powder by hand until it dissolves and then whips it with an immersion blender until it’s light and airy, pours the hot mixture into a silicone candy mold (occasionally dropping in a few dried cranberries or dried cherries, which he keeps around the house to make otherwise inedible oatmeal at least a little palatable), pops the filled mold into the fridge, and an hour later removes one-ounce pieces of chocolate, each with five grams of fiber, and puts them in a plastic bag and into the freezer for future consumption.

And they’re…excellent!

Sometimes, homemade is just better.

Thank You, Jimmy Rollins

(With apologies to non-sports fans)

Jimmy Rollins played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies for fifteen years. He was always a good guy: good with the fans, active in the community, enthusiastic about playing, and nearly always with a smile on his face.

He also was very, very good – the best shortstop in the team’s history: the best offensive shortstop, the best defensive shortstop, the best base-running shortstop. His tenure with the team was the third longest of any athlete in Philadelphia during The Curmudgeon’s lifetime, and he was the second- or at the very least the third-best non-pitcher The Curmudgeon has seen play for his hometown team. Whether he will earn entry into baseball’s hall of fame is unclear, but he is unquestionably a legitimate candidate for such an honor.

rollinsFor at least the past decade and possibly longer, Jimmy was indisputably the most important player on the team. When he played well, the team played well – and this was often. When he didn’t play well, or when he was injured and didn’t play at all, the team faltered. He was what Reggie Jackson inaccurately said about himself: the straw that stirs the drink.

Jimmy is moving along now because, well, that’s how it goes in baseball. He’s been so good for so long that he became a very expensive player, and bad teams like the Phillies have little need for expensive players; they will be content to lose less expensively in the coming year or two. Even though he’s now getting along in years and not quite the player he once was, he’s still one of the best at what he does and well-suited to help a good team try to reach the proverbial next level.

The Curmudgeon, for one, will miss him. Jimmy played with a skill and an enthusiasm that’s rare in professional sports – when you watched him play, he truly looked like he enjoyed playing.

Imagine that: a professional athlete who looks like he actually enjoys playing. Playing. And imagine the pleasure of watching someone play at his level of excellence, with so much skill and so much enthusiasm and so much grace for so long. The Curmudgeon, though, doesn’t need to imagine it: he experienced it.

Thank you, Jimmy Rollins.

 

A Message to Readers

He’s not sure he’s mentioned it in this space, but The Curmudgeon works for a small health care consulting company. It’s a pretty dynamic little outfit, and one of the many things it does for its clients is seek help from government, at both the state and federal levels, for a wide variety of things.

And yes, that sometimes means lobbying.

But no, The Curmudgeon is not a lobbyist. No one in their right mind would ever let him speak to a public official on behalf of a client that’s paying good money for professional assistance: he lacks the patience, the polish, and the temperament for such endeavors. As far as he can recall, the last time he spoke to a public official face to face was in 1990, when he was dragged by one of his bosses to a nearly deserted city hall in Philadelphia the day after Christmas to meet with the mayor as part of preparation to write testimony for Philadelphia’s city treasurer about the extent of the city’s financial crisis at the time. This wasn’t even lobbying, it was a writing assignment, and The Curmudgeon was invited to ask questions – but when he did, Mayor Wilson Goode absolutely blew up at him over the questions he asked, and when the mayor finally calmed down he just sat there, smoldering.

If looks could kill, you wouldn’t be reading this today.

And since then, employers have pretty much kept The Curmudgeon away from public officials – and, for the most part, clients as well. Oh, sure, there was the time when The Curmudgeon was doing some human resources consulting and, in response to a question from the CEO of a small company about why his employees didn’t come to him when a certain sensitive problem arose, The Curmudgeon looked him in the eye and said “Because they’re afraid of you,” much to the horror of the more experienced consultant sitting by his side at the time. The client absolutely loved it and called The Curmudgeon’s boss to tell her so, but she was afraid The Curmudgeon had just gotten lucky and was not about to risk alienating a paying client and made sure to steer him clear of clients from that point forward.

Before he started this blog, The Curmudgeon told his employers what he intended to do and said he would write anonymously, so he wouldn’t risk compromising the business. They liked that idea. A lot. The last thing they wanted was for a relatively low-level employee to poison the waters for a paying client – and The Curmudgeon agreed with them. That’s why he told them about the blog in the first place and proposed writing anonymously.

It made sense. There are people in the public sector for whom The Curmudgeon, in this very space, has expressed, shall we say, less than unvarnished enthusiasm, and there may be times when his colleagues may be asking those very people and their friends and partisans to support a law or a regulation or policy change or position that would benefit one of the company’s clients. The last thing the company needed was a political opponent trying to dig up dirt on the company, visiting its web site, finding The Curmudgeon, putting two and two together, and going to some powerful member of Congress and saying “Hey, look at what this jerk from the lobbying firm is writing about you! I say we screw them!”

And you know what they say about biting the hand that feeds you.

Even though he thinks he’s done a reasonably good job of shielding his identity, his employers recently asked The Curmudgeon to strengthen the firewall between the blog and his true identity. The Curmudgeon thinks that’s a reasonable request. After all, he knows which side his bread is buttered on, as another old saying goes.

But the blog, like the show, must go on.

(Good lord, that’s three clichés in the space of three paragraphs. Quick, someone destroy this monster before it clichés again.)

To enable it to do so while also respecting his employer’s wishes, The Curmudgeon will discontinue announcing upcoming posts on his Facebook page as of the end of the year. For those of you who count on Facebook to tell you when something new has been posted, an alternative is to go to the blog, find the little link on the bottom right-hand side of the screen that says “follow,” and hit that link. When you do, a new screen pops up and asks for your email address. If you enter your address there, you’ll receive an email from WordPress, the folks who host The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon, the morning after he posts something new. The Curmudgeon recently tested this and it works just fine.

Or, if you’d rather not, you know by now that seldom does more than a day or two pass without The Curmudgeon posting something new here.

The Curmudgeon – no, for once, let’s say “I” – I appreciate your visits to this page and hope we can continue to get together online occasionally for as long as I can think of things to write about and for as long as you’re willing to put up with some pretty far out there views. It’s a pretty big world, though, so running out of things to write about seems pretty unlikely.

And by the way, if you ever want to use this space to get something off your own chest, feel free to let me know and we can arrange a “guest column” for you.

Finally, just to be sure his vast readership gets this message – just so you know, The Curmudgeon considers any day his total number of visitors reaches double digits to be an excellent day – he will repeat this message every weekend between now and the end of the year.

Again, thanks for your patience and continued support. I enjoy writing for you.

Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue…

The folks at Amazon.com now believe they know their customers so well, according to published reports, that they think they can predict what we will want to purchase and ship that merchandise to us before we even place our orders.

Since that’s the case, Amazon, make The Curmudgeon’s about five feet eight inches tall, a college graduate, a little on the busty and slightly chubby side, and with any kids at least of college age. Jewish would be nice but not required.

The Curmudgeon will be waiting. Ship “no signature required.”