Monthly Archives: April 2015

April News Quiz

  1. Brian Williams may not return to his job as anchor of the NBC nightly news because: a) reporters in the network’s Washington bureau strongly oppose it; b) investigators are exploring at least ten other possible lies Williams may have told; c) Williams is mulling an offer to be Sally Struthers’ co-host on the new daily morning program Wake Up, Waco; or d) investigators recently learned that his real name is Shabbaz al-Hamaid and NBC is afraid that would be a ratings disaster?
  2.  The National Football League has hired its first full-time, on-the-field female game official because: a) it wanted to break the gender barrier; b) she was the most qualified person for the job; c) it wanted to distract people from the continuing problem of football players beating up on their wives, girlfriends, and children; or d) it can pay her less?
  3.  After the Food and Drug Administration lowered its recommendation for how much fluoride should be in drinking water: a) people who for years insisted that adding fluoride to water was a communist plot claimed vindication; b) some people said it was a plot to weaken people’s teeth and create more work for dentists; c) some people said it was a plot by toothpaste companies to scare people into brushing more often because they could no longer count on fluoride in the water to protect them from cavities; or d) Jenny McCarthy declared that not enough fluoride in water causes autism?
  4.  Tennessee has a new law that bans local governments from preventing people with gun permits from bringing their guns into parks. The law was necessary because: a) the people of Tennessee believe that if you have a permit to carry a gun it means you should be able to carry that gun everywhere; b) it made for good politics; c) the NRA paid a lot of money for that law; or d) those toddlers playing in the sandbox can get pretty damn rowdy?
  5.  At last weekend’s White House correspondents’ dinner, President Obama described his relationship with Vice President Joe Biden as: a) warm and friendly; b) respectful and supportive; c) distant and strained; or d) so close that there are pizza places in Indiana that won’t serve them?
  6.  This year’s Masters golf tournament was won by: a) Tiger Woods; b) Arnold Palmer; c) Happy Gilmore; or d) is there anyone left who can name ten professional golfers?
  7.  The Democrats are likely to nominate Hillary Clinton to run for president because: a) she’s the most qualified person for the job; b) people think that if they vote for her they get a two-fer: vote for Hill and get Bill, too; c) like Henry Clay back in 1838, Elizabeth Warren would rather be right than be president; or d) Mother Democrats’ cupboard is seriously, seriously bare?
  8.  A poll of Britons has found that if Kate Middleton delivers a baby girl, people want her to be named: a) Diana; b) Alice; c) Charlotte; or d) Oh God, Not Another Spoiled Welfare Queen We Have to Support?
  9.  The investigation that concluded that Rolling Stone magazine botched its story about gang rape at the University of Virginia proves that: a) writing phony stories can be a real team effort; b) there’s actually no problem at all with violence against women on college campuses; c) women cry “rape” just for the attention because who doesn’t want to be viewed as a victim of rape; or d) maybe Rolling Stone should stick to album reviews and ads for head shops?
  10.  Violent protests over police mistreatment of minorities have broken out across the country over the past nine months because of: a) police mistreatment of minorities; b) frustration; c) the hidden agenda of some radical community leaders; or d) the sad realization that unless the protests are violent, authorities don’t take them seriously?

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

The unsigned column in the Philadelphia Daily News was titled “TV proves its irrelevancy.” Why? Because CNN and MSNBC provided extensive coverage of the White House correspondents’ dinner while search and rescue missions were under way in Nepal and Baltimore Orioles fans were being asked to remain in the stadium when the game ended because of an angry protest outside over the death of Freddie Gray.

According to the writer, this demonstrated that ‘’… thanks to Twitter and information sharing on blogs and social media, big mainstream media such as CNN and the cable networks have been dying the slow death of irrelevancy for years.”

A reasonable argument can be made that CNN should have provided more coverage of Nepal and Baltimore; at worst, it may have been questionable news judgment – or a decision driven by ratings (or access, in the case of Nepal) rather than newsworthiness. The Curmudgeon has no idea why the writer thinks MSNBC should have been covering those events rather than the dinner.

But what really struck The Curmudgeon were three other things.

First, that the newspaper that published this complaint about news outlets broadcasting entertainment when real news was taking place didn’t even have its own reporter in Baltimore to cover the story. If the story was so important, why didn’t the Daily News have someone there?

Second, that a newspaper, part of a dying industry, would refer to television, which has never been more prosperous, as dying.

And third, that the source of the complaint about television’s lack of immediacy on this occasion, a newspaper column, was published on Monday, April 27 – two days after the events that inspired the column.

Talk about irrelevance.

Do Women Really Talk Like This?

The Curmudgeon has explained in the past that when it comes to television, it’s anything goes for him when he’s riding his stationary bike before work on weekdays between 8:00 and 8:30. He’ll surf by the network morning shows, which are pretty awful, and even Jerry Springer, the Bravo network, and E are in the mix as he seeks something to make the fifteen minutes of pedaling at least somewhat bearable. Music, alas, doesn’t do the job.

Often that just means channel-surfing: flicking from one channel to another up and down the dial (okay, there hasn’t been a dial for thirty years, but you know what The Curmudgeon means).

In this context, three times last week he saw an ad for Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York in which the women were arguing (you thought maybe Bravo was going to promote the show by airing an excerpt from the women discussing whether Mario Vargas Llosa or Isabelle Allende is more representative of contemporary South American fiction?) and that ray of sunshine, Bethenny Frankel, turned to one of the women with whom she was doing verbal battle and declared “Blow me.”

Now The Curmudgeon is no prude. He’s heard this phrase before – but always spoken by men to men. He’s never heard a woman say it and he’s never heard anyone say it to a woman.

Is he mistaken? When women are angry with one another and arguing do they really use the expression “blow me” or is this just another case of the ever-charming Ms. Frankel demonstrating once again that you can take the girl out of the trailer park but you can’t take the trailer park out of the girl?

Big Brother is Alive and Living in New Jersey

As someone who grew up in a city, The Curmudgeon is familiar with the sight of trash trucks parked outside of bars in the middle of the day. Anyone who’s had such an experience has felt at least a momentary sense of outrage over the possibility that a city employee – someone being paid with their tax money – is drinking during working hours.

And never even considered that the trash workers might just be peeing during working hours (because where else can they do that?).

Apparently the state of New Jersey has such concerns as well, but instead of just sitting and stewing over these concerns, state officials are doing something about them.

They’re bugging their employees’ cell phones.

As reported recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

The State of New Jersey tracks more than 400 workers by bugging their phones so supervisors know when they clock in, where they are at any given moment, what route they take to get there, how fast they drive, and whether they make unauthorized stops.

big brotherState officials offer a number of explanations for bugging their workers’ state-owned cell phones – nonsense like helping them respond to emergencies, improving productivity, and reducing insurance rates – but you know this is all about lack of trust and lack of respect for their employees.

The technology for the practice comes from Verizon, the corporate personification of evil, and according to the Inquirer it’s already being used in Detroit, Chicago, and elsewhere and is being considered for use in Philadelphia – presumably, to stop those trash men from peeing in bars on the public’s dime.

Is it legal? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes again. If you can’t trust your employees, you shouldn’t continue employing them. Treat them like this and you will reap what you have sown.

You Get What You Pay For

Newspapers reported this week that the Internal Revenue Services’ phone system, deluged with calls from taxpayers seeking help with their income tax returns, has dropped eight million of those calls.

That’s eight million.

As in 8,000,000.

Since 2010, Congress has cut the IRS’s budget $1.2 billion – more than ten percent. As a result, the IRS has reduced its payroll by 13,000 people in that time.

Less money. Worse customer service.

Could the two possibly be related?

Don’t Spend it All in One Place

The headline on the web site of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News read

A small victory for fliers: summer domestic fares fall $2.01

Isn’t that swell? With that $2.01 you can buy what, a pack of gum at an airport store?

Well, maybe if you kick in a little pocket change.

Really, Really Bad Succession Planning

schumerIf the Democrats’ idea of their next generation of leaders is Hillary Clinton in the White House and Chuck Schumer as Senate minority (or even majority) leader, we might as well hand the keys to the country over to Wall Street right now and make its ownership official because it’s so clear that financial interests have Clinton and Schumer tucked neatly, safely, and impotently in their back pockets.

The Myth That Public Transportation Must be Self-Supporting

There have always been three major challenges to the introduction of more and better mass transit and public transportation.

The first is that because of geography, only some people can benefit much from public transportation and mass transit. You need a critical mass of people who are trying to get from one general area to another to run a bus line or more, and in some places, that critical mass just doesn’t exist.

busThe second is that because some people live in places where they can’t personally benefit from public transportation, they don’t want their tax dollars used to support transportation for others. Never mind that childless adults and seniors see their tax dollars spent on public education, that people who don’t read have their tax money spent on libraries, that people who have no beef with overseas governments have their tax money spent on guns and fighter-planes and soldiers, and that those fortunate enough never to see their homes and offices broken into or aflame see their tax dollars spent on those silly police and fire departments. No, those things are okay but they draw a line at anyone spending their money on public transportation. If people want to go somewhere, they insist, let them buy a car and drive like the rest of us. Or walk, if they must. Environmental concerns seem to be putting a little dent in this argument, although only a little one, as is the recognition that if you can get some of those cars off the road people who must be in their cars can get to where they want to go a little faster and with a little less traffic.

The third major challenge is the perception among many, including those who don’t benefit personally from public transportation and those of a certain market-oriented and conservative political bent, that government shouldn’t subsidize public transportation and mass transit and that the fares such services charge must be enough to cover their costs and that if they can’t, they should be abandoned. Let the market decide whether there should be public transportation – and let the private market invest in that transportation if there’s really money to be made doing it.

On the surface, that third argument makes sense. After all, if the 88 bus that runs through parts of northeast Philadelphia to the Market-Frankford El and its terminal from which about a dozen different buses fan out for other parts of the city doesn’t have enough riders to cover its costs, why should taxpayers subsidize the 88? If the supply of riders doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the route’s costs, what’s the rationale for keeping it? Why not just discontinue the 88?

Yes, that makes some sense – but it’s not a fair argument because it’s only applied to public transportation and mass transit. It’s never used as an argument against building and maintaining roads.

That’s right: roads. We certainly want more and better roads and we want those potholes fixed and an occasional repaving, but did you know that gasoline taxes and tolls account for only about a third of road construction and maintenance costs? When you look at it that way, public transportation doesn’t seem so out of line with fares accounting for a little more than twenty percent of its costs.

And of course, the amount of money we spend to subsidize roads dwarfs what we spend subsidizing mass transit.

amtrakAnd the one thing that really tickles The Curmudgeon is when you apply this kind of reasoning to Amtrak, the quasi-governmental rail line that’s heavily subsidized not by local or regional taxpayers but by all taxpayers. It seems as if every year some congressional numbskull whose political party begins with the letter R mounts his soapbox and rails against the national rails, insisting that he’s sick and tired of taxpayers subsidizing such a money-losing operation.

The facts, though, tell a different story: while fares cover about twenty percent of public transportation costs and taxes and tolls cover about thirty-three percent of road construction and maintenance costs, Amtrak fares cover sixty-nine percent of Amtrak’s operating and capital costs.

So Amtrak actually produces a bigger bang for the public buck than any other kind of ground transportation and the political hacks who complain about it are, as usual, talking out of their…well, you know.

Public transportation is a good thing. The Curmudgeon used that 88 bus to get to high school for four years – unlike a lot of places, Philadelphia doesn’t extend yellow school bus service to high schoolers; he rode that same 88 bus, or the 20, to the Market-Frankford El to college for five-and-a-half years (yes, he was slow) and then rode the same combination to work for the first fifteen years after he finished college. Lots of people use public transportation, and it enables people to get to jobs they couldn’t otherwise hold, to stores and attractions they could never otherwise visit, to airports and sports stadiums and parades and flower shows and many other things that might struggle to survive if they had to rely solely on people in cars or within walking distance to fill their seats and their cash registers.

At the same time, public transportation unquestionably is a very expensive proposition, and it’s appropriate to scrutinize major investments in new systems very carefully. But the argument that it’s never worth doing if the fares it generates don’t cover 100 percent of its costs is both bogus and dishonest because if we held roads and bridges to that standard we’d be driving our gas-guzzling SUVs on dirt roads and never, ever crossing any rivers.

And we certainly wouldn’t stand for allowing that to happen.

The Cost of Medicine

The Curmudgeon has had a chronic skin problem since his college days and in recent years it briefly took a turn for the worse. One day his dermatologist asked him if he had a good prescription drug plan.

“Why?” The Curmudgeon asked.

“Because without one, the stuff I want to prescribe costs $275 a tube.”

Fortunately The Curmudgeon did have a good plan, so for a few years the drug cost him $40 a tube, which isn’t chicken feed but is certainly better than $275 a tube, and now that the drug has gone generic, the cost is only $8.

Recently he’s developed a very, very minor eye issue that can easily be addressed with simple, over-the-counter eye drops.

Which cost $8.

So you have a $275 tube of cream that took really, really smart people years to develop and a half-ounce of barely altered water and they cost the same thing.

Yet another aspect of the health care system that makes no sense.

Observed at a Hospital

While visiting his sister in the hospital a few weeks ago after her acquisition of a new, store-bought knee, nurses asked The Curmudgeon to step of the room for a few minutes so they could do some things with their patient that big brothers really don’t need to see.

He spent nearly a half-hour just standing in the hallway, and at one point he saw a man walking purposefully down the hall in a very self-important manner that made it clear to everyone what he was.

Doctor.

He slowed as he reached his destination: a nursing station. There sat six people, five of them seemingly nurses or nursing assistants or allied health professionals of some sort, talking or entering information into computers. All female.

The sixth person at the nursing station was a man, also sitting and entering information into a computer. Again, by the demeanor, you could tell.

Doctor.

And when the walking doctor reached the nursing station, he greeted the other doctor.

And ignored the five women.

There’s a lot more wrong with the health care system than the $2000 they bill your insurer for a simple CAT scan.