Monthly Archives: March 2015

Political Integrity

Yes, yes, The Curmudgeon knows: “political integrity” is one of those fun oxymorons, like “military intelligence,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “McDonalds food.”

For four years, from 2011 through 2014, Pennsylvania had a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled state legislature. Together they could do anything they wanted and all the Democrats could do was stand by and whine like the losers they are.

One of the things those Republicans wanted to do was what they called “pension reform”: welsh on the financial commitments they voluntarily made over the years to state employees and public school teachers.

But even though the Republican governor and Republican legislature could do anything they wanted to do and all the Democrats could have done was stand by and whine like the losers they are, the Republicans did nothing. Every year they talked about pension reform, every year they tried to do something, but every year they couldn’t agree on any solution so they gave up, shrugged their shoulders, and moved on to other things.

While Pennsylvania still has a Republican-controlled state legislature it now has a Democratic governor, and lo and behold, Republicans have seen the light when it comes to pension reform and have informed the new Democratic governor that they absolutely will not pass a state budget without it. “We are not doing a budget without it,” declared the Republicans’ senate majority leader. He plans to propose a legislative solution to the pension problem – pretty much the same solution he, his fellow Republicans in the legislature, and their own party’s governor were perfectly comfortable rejecting over the past four years.

Political integrity:   MIA in PA.

 

March News Quiz

  1. The world leader most likely to do something stupid that launches World War III is: a) Vladimir Putin; b) North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un; c) ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; or d) Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
  2. When the U.S. Department of the Interior recently proposed new rules to regulate fracking, twenty-seven Republican senators immediately proposed legislation to block the new rules because: a) if the Obama administration is for it then they’re against it and it doesn’t even matter what “it” is; b) nature doesn’t vote; c) the companies that do the fracking make huge campaign contributions; or d) they’re fracking idiots?
  3. Enrollment at the University of Phoenix is down fifty percent over the past five years because:   a) crummy dorms; b) no football team; c) it turns out that the heat in Arizona is insufferable even without the humidity; or d) people are finally starting to realize that the odds of leaving a for-profit college with anything other than massive student debt are minimal?
  4. An Idaho state representative asked a witness at a legislative hearing if women could swallow cameras so doctors could perform a remote gynecologic examination because: a) he thought he could inspire a ground-breaking new approach to telemedicine; b) he couldn’t resist the temptation to talk about lady parts in public when the opportunity presented itself; c) he didn’t realize the vagina isn’t part of the digestive system; or d) they grow them really, really dumb in Idaho?
  5. Astronauts took several space walks recently outside the International Space Station to lay cables because: a) the cables will connect antennas to facilitate future communication between the space station and Earth; b) the astronauts insisted on better cable reception so they could see Suzanne Somers in this season’s Dancing With the Stars; c) Comcast demanded exclusive rights to all cable broadcasts in outer space as a consolation prize after it didn’t get its way in the “net neutrality” ruling; or d) even cables deserve to get laid once in a while?
  6. Former Jon and Kate Plus Eight star Jon Gosselin is considering running for a seat in the Pennsylvania state legislature because: a) after years of being a self-entitled taker he now wants to give back; b) he believes his life as a D-list celebrity gives him something special to offer the people of Pennsylvania; c) politics would be a walk in the park for anyone who managed to live with Kate for ten years; or d) no one’s more qualified than he is for a job that requires no special skills and minimal intelligence?
  7. Utah state officials are considering using firing squads to administer capital punishment because: a) they’re having trouble getting the poison they usually use to kill prisoners; b) they think it’s more humane; c) they think they can generate new revenue by televising the shootings on pay per view; or d) Mormons enjoy a good government-sponsored murder as much as anyone else?
  8. The University of Pennsylvania announced that tuition and room and board for undergraduates will be $63,000 next year because: a) it’s a great way to weed out minorities and kids from working-class families without directly discriminating; b) it needs to hire more non-teaching administrators with six-figure salaries and this is the only way to raise that kind of money; c) it’s still living off a reputation that’s thirty years out of date; or d) because P.T. Barnum was right?
  9. A German pilot crashed an airliner carrying 150 passengers into the French Alps because: a) his girl friend had just dumped him; b) while in a delusional state he thought he was the Red Baron and needed to take evasive measures to escape Snoopy, who was in hot pursuit; c) damned wiener schnitzel again for the in-flight meal!; or d) the airline is about to make lederhosen part of its official pilot uniform?
  10. Amazon.com is requiring its temporary warehouse workers to sign eighteen-month non-compete contracts because: a) it doesn’t want its competitors to benefit from the many minutes of training it invests in those employees; b) it doesn’t want competitors to know its trade secrets for pulling merchandise off shelves and packing it into boxes; c) it gets a kick out of abusing the leverage it has because these people hope eventually to move into full-time jobs; or d) it believes paying people eight dollars an hour gives it the right to demand their absolute loyalty in return for such lucrative employment?

Labels on Apples

applesMaybe The Curmudgeon is over-estimating the intelligence of the American people but he’s pretty sure that most of us can tell that a certain piece of fruit is an apple without the help of a label.

Bravo TV Announces That Bethenny Frankel Returns to “Real Housewives of New York”

Because an attention-whore not getting any attention is just a plain old…

bethenny

Not Exactly a Profile in Courage

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia’s mayor presented his proposed budget to the city council. That budget calls for a nine percent increase in the city’s property tax, most of the proceeds of which would go to support the city’s financially beleaguered and chronically underfunded public school system. (And just so you know, Philadelphia’s property taxes are extremely low because the city gets a lot of its revenue from a wage tax. Owning a home in Philadelphia is a great deal, especially for retirees. Once The Curmudgeon retires he’s definitely moving back.)

Anyhow…

The proposal of the budget signals the start of weeks of budget hearings as the city council goes through the budget and questions the commissioners of various city departments and the heads of various city agencies about what they’ve done with the money they’ve been given in the past and how they propose using the money they’re now seeking. Budget hearings can be quite contentious, especially with television cameras on and council members eager to prove to their constituents that they are bringing home the bacon on their behalf.

Although the budget hearings start shortly after the budget is proposed, the city council hasn’t scheduled a hearing to discuss the proposed property tax increase until late May.

Why wait so long?

Because on May 19 there will be a primary election for all seventeen seats on Philadelphia’s city council and fifteen of those seats are being sought by the people who currently occupy them.

And the last thing council members want to do is be seen having an honest discussion about the need for a tax increase days or weeks before the election. They’d much rather sweep that issue under the rug and put off that discussion because, after all, they consider getting re-elected to be much more important than doing the job for which they were elected.

But that’s Philadelphia’s city council: never unwilling to avoid addressing the important issues.

Not Gaga for Gaga

The Curmudgeon is a pretty serious music fan – not just classical and classic but contemporary as well. He takes in at least three or four hours of alternative rock a week, maybe more. Still, he realizes that even with his alternative FM radio station and his alternative Pandora broadcasts there are a lot of new things he’s missing, plus he’s pretty immune to almost everything associated with rap and hip-hop, which he accepts without guilt because he understands that rap and hip-hop performers are not exactly doing their thing for fifty-seven-year-old white guys.

As a result, there are a lot of current performers The Curmudgeon is reasonably familiar with but also a bunch he has little or no passing knowledge of. No station or Pandora broadcast he listens to plays Taylor Swift, and he wants to rectify that shortcoming in his musical knowledge. He knows nothing about Eminem or Kanye West or Jay Z or Ed Sheeran, and while he suspects he’s heard something from Katy Perry, even if inadvertently, he certainly couldn’t name a single song she’s performed or hum any of her tunes if his life depended on it. The only time he’s ever heard anything by Iggy Azalea it was being performed, gloriously but unrecognizably, by Jimmy Fallon and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

And another performer he’s completely missed is Lady Gaga.

gagaCompletely missed, other than the press clippings about silly costumes and sillier behavior.

Still, he’s asked around about her, as he does occasionally about performers he doesn’t know, among people who are familiar with her work, and when he asks, he usually asks one simple question: Is she the real deal?

And people he respects assure him she is.

Well, The Curmudgeon recently had an opportunity to see, for the second time, the PBS special on which Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga sing old standards and The Curmudgeon was shocked – shocked! – by what he saw. He suspected it the first time he saw it and the second viewing just confirmed it.

Gaga’s just not a very good singer. Her voice is nothing special.

The Curmudgeon appreciates her respect for the old songs – although in the near future he’s going to have some things to say about the so-called “American Songbook” – and was positively touched by her visible affection and respect for Tony Bennett, but the lady just isn’t a very good singer. In fact, she struck The Curmudgeon as, well, a poor man’s Liza Minnelli (back in the days when Liza could really sing and wasn’t just a ridiculous caricature of herself).

Gaga got a second chance with The Curmudgeon through her recent appearance at the Academy Awards, during which she sang a medley of songs from The Sound of Music. (The Curmudgeon didn’t see the broadcast live: he doesn’t see the point of watching when he hasn’t seen at least a decent portion of the nominated movies, and in the past year he’s only seen two movies at all: the multi-nominated Birdman and Whiplash, both of which he enthusiastically recommends.) After reading about the medley and the high praise it received, including from people The Curmudgeon respects, he made a point of finding it and giving it a listen.

But again he was not impressed, which again seems to find him in a distinct minority (of course, he’s been in that kind of minority all of his life). Her singing voice just isn’t rich enough to do such music justice, it’s more suited to other kinds of music. Changing keys or dropping half an octave because the notes coming up are too high to hit is something you might expect of, say, a certain fifty-seven-year-old guy who tries to sing the score to West Side Story while in the shower and not from someone who earns her living making music.

So the conclusion, as the title states, is that The Curmudgeon is not gaga for Gaga. He recognizes that she may be an excellent entertainer but that’s very different from being an excellent singer.

And They Call This a “Service” Provider?

In the “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes” department, USA Today reports that as part of AT&T’s “GigaPower” plan to bring a fiber optic network directly into customers’ homes for television, internet, and telephone service, it is offering customers an interesting optional service:

For $29 a month, AT&T won’t sell your browser and search history information to advertisers and other such vultures.

Isn’t that awfully nice of the folks at AT&T?

Or… is it just blackmail?

Some Serious High-Tech Medical Equipment

Last week The Curmudgeon made his semi-annual visit to the ophthalmologist – yes, his eyesight is so bad he needs to go twice a year – and discovered a new tool the staff uses for eye exams.
eye examHe gets a formal refraction and vision exam once a year and the other visit is devoted to exploring various eye health issues. During the non-refraction, non-vision exam visit, before the doctor arrives a technician does a brief, informal vision exam, just to make sure nothing drastic has happened.

For part of that exam you read an eye chart while wearing your glasses. So that you read with just one eye, they put…

…are you ready for this?

..white correction tape over the lens over the eye they want to cover.

All that high-tech equipment in that office – and The Curmudgeon is often astounded at how much of that equipment they use on him – and the tool they use as part of an eye exam is…correction tape.

Unbelievable.

Bad Guys Running Governments in New Jersey

Maybe it’s something in the water, but it looks like there’s an epidemic in New Jersey of people who think the only way to run a government is to act like a complete jackass.

By now we’re all familiar with a major part of the modus operandi of New Jersey’s number one jackass, governor Chris Christie. He attends a town hall meeting at which he knows there will be people eager to engage him about current issues or past decisions he’s made with which they disagree. He calls on these people and then, with the same degree of premeditation as a guy entering a bank with a gun in his hand and a stocking pulled down over his face, Christie berates them for daring to disagree with him. He’s even told people to sit down and shut up. Often, local or state police escort the questioner out of the room because it’s one thing to attend a town hall meeting at which you’re invited to talk about issues that matter to you but quite another to have the audacity to express that disagreement with a governor who believes that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot and also believes it’s part of his job to tell such people he believes they’re idiots.

When Christie attends these meetings his entourage includes camera operators who, on cue, turn on their machines at the moment of confrontation – sort of like an episode of Cheaters – and then post that video on the internet as yet another example of courageous Chris Christie answering the tough questions and giving it back to anyone who dares disagree with him. It makes for great viewing and has especially played well outside the New Jersey area, where people don’t understand the context in which the confrontations are taking place. This approach has created a nation-wide cult following for the governor. Every few months The Curmudgeon’s late father, from his vantage point 3000 miles away in California, would say to his son, “Hey, you’ve got a really tough governor there, don’t you?” “No, dad,” his son would explain, “we have a jackass for a governor,” but dad was seeing all this on Fox News and there was no convincing him otherwise because after all, if it’s on Fox News it has to be fair and balanced and true, right?

Christie is now in his second term as governor and there won’t be a third because of term limits, and one of the people interested in succeeding him is Randy Brown, mayor of Evesham Township, where The Curmudgeon lives. How do we know Mayor Randy is interested in running for governor? Because the day after he won re-election last November he declared that interest, implying that he no longer had much interest in the job to which he’d just been re-elected.

So much for respecting his constituents.

The Curmudgeon has written about Marlton – that’s what everyone calls Evesham Township – in the past. If you’re interested, you can check it out here, here, and here.

Perhaps learning a lesson from the political benefits Chris Christie has reaped from his combativeness with people who dare disagree with him, Mayor Randy is taking a combative stance of his own – but in a very different way. Instead of getting in the face of people who want to ask him questions or disagree with him about something, he’s chosen – very publicly and rather defiantly – to ignore them.

The story, as told by the Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Mayor Randy had a confrontation with a resident at the town council’s December meeting about a tax abatement issue during the portion of the regular council meeting during which residents of the town are invited to ask questions of their elected officials. According to the report, the mayor became irate and started shouting and ended up pointing out that he had just won re-election so whatever he’s doing is fine with the public; he then refused to address the question the resident asked. The following month, the Inquirer reports, “…Brown made it clear that future council meetings would be different. Residents would not be permitted to question council members during public meetings, he said. Instead, they could ‘make comments only.’” When questioned by a reporter, Mayor Randy said that the only people who question him during council meetings are his political enemies and that people can question him when they see him around town. [Note: The Curmudgeon has lived in that small town for more than eleven years and has never, ever seen Mayor Randy outside of the municipal building since he became Mayor Randy.]

Mayor Randy made good on his promise at the next town council meeting, according to the Inquirer, and “…barely made eye contact with residents who came to the lectern to speak on topics including a leak in the public library ceiling. He said nothing to them, and a few times got up and started a conversation with a councilman two seats away.” When it appeared there were no more people interested in making comments or asking questions, Brown said “Anybody else? Go ahead. I’m rolling.” When no one replied, Brown added “Good.”

The latest chapter in this bizarre tale was written last week, when an unusual number of Marltonians – Marltonites? Eveshammers? – turned out for the monthly town council meeting to see what Mayor Randy might do next. What he did, for starters, was reverse his “no questions” policy – something he probably regretted, because shortly thereafter, Mayor Randy – who surrounded himself on the grandiose stage town officials erected for themselves with weird little tribal figures that he kept repositioning to hide his face or turn in the direction of the gathered – was back on the defensive about a property in the town that he sold to a developer and that was promptly given a tax abatement. Mayor Randy pointed out that he had recused himself from the vote on the abatement, as if that matters, and people clearly thought something was rotten in the state of New Jersey. Eventually Mayor Randy lashed out at his subjects, maintaining that the comments offered were all politically motivated and calling his critics cowardly because they didn’t run for public office themselves. Apparently, in Mayor Randy’s little part world, if you’re not an elected official you have no right to say anything. Then, to show their support for the guy who signs their paychecks, Marlton police officers escorted out of the room one of the people who dared challenge Mayor Randy’s ethics.

This story has tickled more than a few funny bones. A quick web search found that it has been reported in newspapers as far away as Washington, D.C. and Detroit. It’s not exactly something that’s going to earn him a segment on The O’Reilly Factor anytime soon but it’s not a bad start for a guy apparently trying to cultivate a reputation as a real political bad ass.

A few observations here.

First, this strikes The Curmudgeon as the antithesis of small town government. Aren’t people in small towns all supposed to be neighbors and isn’t this a textbook example of downright un-neighborly behavior?

Second, while this is a far cry from Christie’s approach, it’s no better; it’s highly combative in its refusal to tolerate confrontation at all. Apparently it’s a tradition in this town, and many others, to permit residents to come to town council meetings and ask questions. Mayor Randy’s decided to dispense with a tradition that he himself apparently honored throughout his first eight years in office, ostensibly because now that he’s been re-elected he’s certain he has the ultimate in mandates and no longer needs to suffer anyone questioning him. He’s especially intolerant of those he views as his enemies because among those who try to ask questions are a Republican who didn’t endorse him, a Democrat who ran against some of his running mates, and a school board candidate who had the audacity to run against one of the candidates Mayor Randy endorsed. That’s a pretty broad definition of what constitutes an enemy and suggests that Mayor Randy has some seriously thin skin and some even more seriously flawed judgment.

(Wait: an…enemies list? Could this be Richard Nixon reincarnated?)

Third, it suggests that Mayor Randy probably isn’t very well-suited for higher office. If he can’t handle the heat in a township of 40,000 there’s little reason to believe he can do better in a state of nine million – especially a state with those north Jersey people and their New York-infected personalities who would probably chew him up and spit him out. He’s demonstrating that he’s a small-town guy with a small-time mindset who is not, to borrow an expression from another sphere of endeavor, ready for prime time.

And fourth and last, it looks like it’s going to be a long four years for the residents of Marlton who have any interest in how their town is governed. Have a complaint? Tell it to someone who cares. Have a question? Too bad.

(Insert Your Own Caption Here)

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(courtesy of the curmudgeonly sister)