Monthly Archives: November 2015

November News Quiz

 1.   A gunman killed three people and injured nine more at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs because:

a) IHOP raised the price of its “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity” pancakes twenty-five cents;

b) he heard the Boomtown Rats song that goes “I don’t like Mondays, I want to shoo-oo-ooo-ooot the whole day down” and thought it said “I don’t like Fridays”;

c) he was exercising his 2nd amendment right to possess a handgun and shoot whomever he wishes; or

d) he wanted to convey his opposition to Planned Parenthood’s role in helping women obtain abortions through a public demonstration of his belief in the sanctity of life?

2.   The Republican National Committee suspended its agreement with NBC to televise a presidential debate next year because:

a) the candidates grew sick and tired of being asked “gotcha” questions;

b) the candidates grew sick and tired of being asked challenging questions;

c) NBC rejected their request that Jimmy Fallon serve as debate moderator; or

d) the candidates are just looking for a way to get out of debating because they’re tired of getting the snot kicked out of them by Donald Trump every time they step onto a stage with him?

3.   The president of France has refused to have a wine-free dinner with the president of Iran at an upcoming diplomatic function because:

a) like all Frenchmen, he’s an alcoholic;

b) France doesn’t really give a damn if the Iranian request for an alcohol-free meal is grounded in religious beliefs;

c) he figured there’s no way he can get through a meal with that nut-job without a little liquid lubrication; or

d) it’s the French being the French, which means being jackasses, right?

4.   Pennsylvania’s state senate passed a resolution calling for a ban on Syrian refugees in the state because:

a) fear they’re ISIS infiltrators who pose a serious threat to the entire state;

b) fear they’ll become citizens and register to vote as Democrats;

c) concern that ISIS infiltrators will go after high-value, high-profile, strategic Pennsylvania targets like Altoona, Possum Hollow, and Scranton; or

d) they’re not white?

5.   The Texas state board of education rejected a proposal to have university experts check the facts in textbooks used in public schools because:

a) people who’ve made a career out of studying specific subjects don’t necessarily know more about those subjects than anyone else;

b) facts are greatly overrated;

c) facts are what the school board says are facts; or

d) the only way to ensure that kids grow up thinking the way Texas public officials want them to think is to indoctrinate them while they’re young and they can’t afford to let anything like the facts get in the way of that indoctrination?

6.   A man ejected by police from a University of Wisconsin football game sent 240 donuts to police headquarters two days later because:

a) he thought it would be a nice gesture for a job well done;

b) he thought the police officers who ejected him looked undernourished;

c) he was mocking them because police officers spend so much time at donut shops; or

d) he didn’t have enough money to send 340 donuts?

7.   Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet because:

a) the Turks felt threatened that Russian fighter jets were anywhere near their country;

b) the Russians flew over Turkish air space and ignored warnings to leave;

c) the beleaguered government wanted to distract the Turkish people from domestic turmoil; or

d) the Turks never stopped to think that they were engaging in an act of war against a country that could wipe them off the face of the earth in less than a week?

8.   Celebrity trash Kim Kardashian revealed that her unborn baby:

a) is breech and therefore may be a difficult delivery;

b) will have a $2.5 million endorsement deal with Toys R Us and her own reality show on the “E” network;

c) will do a nude centerfold for Highlights magazine; or

d) has virtually no chance of being a normal, intelligent, unspoiled child?

9.   As part of new plan to compete with lower-cost airlines, American Airlines will introduce new “less frills” fares in 2016 that will feature:

a) World War II-era planes that were taken out of service in the 1970s and used for spare parts that are now being restored by Alabama high school students as part of a shop class project;

b) no free beverages, magazines, or flight attendant service and no air masks in the event of an in-flight emergency;

c) pay toilets and no access to overhead storage bins; or

d) seat-sharing: two “less frills” passengers will be assigned to each seat and they will be required to take turns sitting on each other’s lap during flights?

10.   In voting for a bill to make it easier for ride-sharing services to operate in Pennsylvania, a member of the state legislature declared that “I should vote for this bill because number one, my constituents want it. People in Pennsylvania want it. People in Philadelphia want it.” That legislator has never been as responsive to his constituents when they said they wanted:

a) a new state budget, now five months overdue, the absence of which has left local school districts and human services organizations without funding and scrambling to stay open;

b) an end to state-operated liquor stores;

c) lower taxes; or

d) no pay raises for state legislators?

Taking Care of Business (chapter 36)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

The first Monday of every month, the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia appeared on a program broadcast on an AM radio station. During the two-hour show the cardinal chatted amiably with a host who acted like a journalist but who was, in fact, a popular former local television reporter employed by a public relations firm. The low-key program focused on spiritual matters, with an occasional diversion from callers asking for their holy leader’s prayers for the Philadelphia Eagles football team.

The Friday before each Monday broadcast, the archdiocese put out a press release inviting the public to tune into the program. Every month it issued the exact same news release, changing only the date. This notice also was posted on the doors and bulletin boards of the region’s many Catholic churches as well as on the archdiocese’s web site so that parishioners would be reminded of the opportunity to spend two hours with their local spiritual leader.

This month’s release, though, for the first time that anyone could recall, included an additional sentence that was underlined for emphasis: “During the program, Cardinal Brannigan will offer a brief commentary on a civic matter of great importance to the Church.”

This, too, was unusual. The cardinal was widely regarded as the second-most influential person in the region, after only Philadelphia’s mayor – and in light of the area’s enormous Catholic population, many felt he was even more influential than the mayor – and it was a distinction that cardinals past and present did not take lightly or abuse. Unlike Philadelphia’s black Protestant clergy, which acted like an arm of the Democratic party, complete with opportunities to gain official endorsements in exchange for contributions and jobs, Philadelphia’s Catholic church rarely became involved in local politics, distancing itself from such mundane matters in favor of operating on a more spiritual plane. Because the President had recently nominated to the Supreme Court a federal judge who in the past had affirmed women’s right to an abortion, those who bothered to read the notice about the cardinal’s next radio broadcast assumed that he would ask the members of his flock to write to their U.S. senators and urge them to reject the President’s nominee.

The cardinal began his program with a ten-minute talk about a reinterpretation of the biblical story about the loaves and the fishes. He then spent fifteen minutes taking calls from listeners. The calls were serious and respectful, the cardinal’s responses sober and thoughtful.

After one call, the cardinal announced that “I would like to take a few minutes this evening to address a matter that has gained a great deal of public attention in recent weeks.

“As you have no doubt observed, our region is currently immersed in the spectacle of an individual of exceedingly low character spreading scurrilous information about prominent members of our community for his own personal benefit. While this individual is to be condemned both for the life he has led and the manner in which he is now conducting himself, we would be naïve to ignore the information presented to us. In most of these situations, all we can do is sit back and observe how society treats some of the people involved who have been leading less-than-exemplary lives.

“There is one situation, though, in which good people of conscience like you and I are in a position to do more than sit back and let events take their natural course.

“As many of you undoubtedly know, one of the men who reportedly has been involved in this immoral behavior is a prominent elected official. I find his actions to be the ultimate betrayal of the public trust. Our elected leaders have a moral obligation to rise above such behavior and above such temptation. While we may disagree with them on some of the issues of the day, there can be no disagreement with the assertion that these men and women must be role models for our community. That this man is Catholic, and from what I am told a regular participant in Mass, makes his transgressions all the more serious. The church simply cannot abide by his behavior.

“This man is now running for re-election to public office. It is inconceivable to me that we can even consider returning such an individual to a position of public trust when he has so flagrantly betrayed that trust. I do not know this man and I do not know his opponents or even if he has any opponents in this election. Regardless of these considerations, I urge all of the members of my flock to send a message to all public officeholders by denying him your vote. If he has opponents, vote for one of his opponents; if he has none, cast no ballot. This matter is of the utmost importance to the church, and I encourage you to consider my words carefully.”

A few miles from the studio from which the cardinal spoke, Mayor James Norbert turned off his radio and looked across his desk, where Jon Ravelsky sat looking at him. Ravelsky had called late in the afternoon to tell Norbert that he had heard, through his usual unnamed but unimpeachable sources – in this case, an employee of the same public relations firm that supplied the moderator for the cardinal’s program – that Brannigan was going to address the turmoil surrounding the prostitution scandal.

Ravelsky’s source, though, had not even hinted at the attack on Michael Ianucci, and Ravelsky had not imagined such an attack himself – not from a cardinal with no history of political activity in a diocese with no history of political involvement by its leaders.

“I’m astonished,” Ravelsky declared. “I never would have conceived of such a thing.”

“That makes two of us,” Norbert replied. “I’m not sure what’s endangered more by what we just heard: Michael’s chances of getting re-elected or my chances of getting our state aid fully restored. My budget is in deep, deep trouble.”

“As is Michael,” Ravelsky said.

(more next Sunday)

 

 

The Mind Plays Tricks

It’s not right and it’s not fair and it’s certainly not intentional, but every time The Curmudgeon hears the name “Bernie Sanders” the mental image it conjures in his mind is

sanders

Racism!

Black Friday?

So you mean now we’re blaming African-American folks for heavy traffic near shopping areas and long lines in retail stores?

So racist!

A Thanksgiving Short Story

thanksgiving - closed(Two years ago The Curmudgeon used this space to express his dismay over the proliferation of stores that are open on Thanksgiving and their insistence that their employees spend this day standing behind cash registers serving customers instead of sitting at dining room tables serving turkey and stuffing. He is pleased that this situation appears to be receiving more attention, and while it is at least a little encouraging that some stores are making a big fuss over not being open, their numbers continue to dwindle and he suspects they are fighting a losing battle.

The Curmudgeon thinks about this often; as you know by now, he has much too much free time on his hands. He used some of that free time to explore another way to approach this issue: through fiction and a short story about a couple for whom the work-Thanksgiving-or-else ultimatum becomes all too real. He posted this story on Thanksgiving last year and, like yesterday’s message, believes it is worth sharing again.  Enjoy – and have a good Thanksgiving.)

 

“Squeezed”

 

Danny and Colleen McBride were sitting at their dining room table, eating dinner with their three children, when the telephone rang. Colleen rose to answer it, going quickly into the kitchen.

Danny noticed the look on his wife’s face when she returned.

“What?” he asked.

“It was Marion,” she replied. Marion was the owner of Sissy’s, the girls clothing store where Colleen had worked part-time for the past four years.

“What did she want?” Danny asked.

“She said she needs me to work on Thursday from twelve to eight.”

“What?” Danny asked.

“You heard me.”

“Since when is she open on Thanksgiving?”

“That’s what I asked. She said she had just decided, that Walmart and Target and Macy’s and Kohl’s and a lot of the others were going to be open and she felt that she needed to be open, too, that if people are going to go Christmas shopping and spend money on Thanksgiving that she couldn’t afford not to compete for their business.”

“Of all the stupid ideas,” Danny said. “So you said no, right?”

“Well, I started to, but…”

“Col…”

“And she said it wasn’t a request, that I had to work it.”

“Or?”

“Or I wouldn’t have a job anymore. She apologized, but she said she couldn’t do it to her full-time girls, that in the end, it was more important for her to keep them happy than it is to keep me happy.”

“Why that piece of…” Danny started saying.

“Danny!” Colleen interrupted, moving her head and eyes almost imperceptibly from side to side to indicate that he needed to watch his words in front of the children.

“So what did you tell her?”

“I said I’d be there. Oh, Danny, what choice do we have?”

Working at Sissy’s was Colleen’s second job; she worked one or two three-hour shifts on weeknights and a six-hour shift on alternating Saturdays and Sundays. This was in addition to her full-time job, as a billing clerk for a small group of orthopedists.

“We need to talk about this,” Danny said. “It’s Thanksgiving, for pete’s sake. We’re expecting how many?”

“Sixteen,” Colleen replied.

“I can handle that with our sisters’ help, but that’s not the point. It’s Thanksgiving. Who works on Thanksgiving?”

“I know.”

Danny, too, worked two jobs. He was a butcher for a local supermarket, and after work every Friday night he headed across town to the food distribution center, where he worked an overnight shift breaking down carcasses for early morning delivery to many of the butcher shops in the city’s bustling Italian Market, where Saturday was by far their busiest day of the week.

Even with the four jobs the McBrides were barely making ends meet. Between tuition for Danny Junior and Kathleen and day care for two-year-old Amy and the mortgage and the health insurance, they seldom found themselves with two spare nickels to rub together. When the transmission in Colleen’s car went over Labor Day weekend and the shop said it would cost $800 to repair, they scrapped the car and Danny started taking two buses to work. Every Friday afternoon Colleen would pick him up at work, drive home, and then Danny would take the car across town to his second job and then hurry home the following morning so Colleen could get to work on time when her Saturday shift at Sissy’s started at ten o’clock. Ever since Danny started taking the bus and it took him longer to get home from work, Danny’s widowed father, who lived three blocks from them, would come to the house on the nights Colleen worked in case Danny didn’t make it home before Colleen needed to leave for the store. At times they talked about asking Jimmy to move in with them, it would be so much easier with him around to help with the kids and the bills and they knew how lonely he was since Danny’s mother had passed away three years ago, but the house was so small, just three bedrooms, one of which was more like a large closet, and only one bathroom, and it seemed impossible to squeeze in another person and they were already concerned about what would happen when Amy was finally potty-trained and needed to use the bathroom, too. They had been talking about adding a powder room in the unfinished basement and even started saving just a little money for that, but it was only a little and they thought it was so important that they had agreed not to raid the bathroom kitty to help pay for the transmission – not that what they had saved so far would have put much of a dent in the $800 cost of making the car run again, especially after they had raided the powder room fund the month before when the eye doctor told them Danny Junior needed glasses.

Two hours later the children were in bed and Danny and Colleen were in their living room, Danny with a bottle of beer in his hand as he sat on the recliner and Colleen on the sofa, occasionally sipping from a cup of decaf. The only light in the room came from the television. When the program they were watching went to a commercial, Danny spoke.

“What if you said no?” he asked.

“What?”

thanksgiving - work“What if you called Marion tomorrow and told her no, you won’t work on Thanksgiving, that it’s a terrible idea to begin with and to do it with two days’ notice is especially unfair.”

“She said she’d fire me.”

“And if she did?”

“You know the numbers, Danny.”

Danny and Colleen were far from poor. The both made about $30,000 a year from their main jobs, and together they brought home another $7500 a year from their part-time work. If someone had told them on their wedding day that together they’d be making nearly $70,000 in ten years they would have smiled and thought they’d be living it up on easy street, it seemed like such a huge amount of money, but time had shown them that a house and three children made easy street part of a far more costly neighborhood than they ever would have imagined.

“Tell me.”

Danny didn’t know the numbers as well as Colleen; she was the partner with the bookkeeping skills. She paid the bills, kept an eye on the checking account balance, and maintained a constantly updated index card with a list of every major expense for which she thought she’d need to write a check in the next three months. Too often, she found herself adding unexpected expenses to that card.

“It’s Thanksgiving, Danny, and that means Christmas is a month away. We could scale back, sure, but we can’t eliminate it entirely, so that means the credit card bill will be higher than most other months. A St. Matthew’s bill, too: two tuition payments due January 10. I put some money aside for that every month so we have most of it, but not all of it, not yet. Plus it’s getting colder, so the gas bill will go up. That reminds me, I need to call the gas company and ask them to put us on a budget. And if I leave Sissy’s, I lose my discount on the girls’ clothes. With some work I can make up for that, probably by going to my sister’s house and using her computer to shop on the internet. It’s not terrible, but it’s not pretty, either.”

“Yeah, I’m hearing that,” Danny said. “This is just so…wrong. Even at the supermarket we close at two on Thanksgiving so everyone can go home, and the people who work that day all knew months ago and only after they finished asking for volunteers. This is such shit.”

“I know. But I can’t quit. We need the money.”

“You can’t find ways to cut corners, save a little money?”

“I can always find little ways to save a little money here and there but the thing about cutting back little things is that no matter how much you do, little things never add up to much. I think we’re stuck.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just pissed, that’s all. We all belong together on Thursday.

“After the new year, though, I want you to start looking for a new part-time job, and when you find one, I want you to go into that Marion and tell her to go fuck herself.”

Colleen sighed.

“What?” Danny asked.

“First of all, you know I’m not going to say that. Second of all, get what other job? Stores opening on Thanksgiving’s been going on for a few years now, so getting a job at Walmart or Target or Macy’s or Kohl’s won’t be any better. Marion’s open because they’re open, it’s self-defense, you know it’s not her and not something she wants to do.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“Come on, Danny. I’m going to be in the store on Thanksgiving and she’s going to be there, too, the whole day, and you know she’s got four kids of her own and eighteen grandkids and the store’s the last place she wants to be on Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah, I guess. But still…”

“But what?”

“It’s those people who run the Walmarts and Targets, Col. They’re not working on Thursday, that’s for sure, and they put their feet on the throats of people like us because they can, because they know we need them, and because they think if we won’t do it they can pull someone in off the street who will.”

“I know. A few of my friends are in the same position.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Karen Reilly. Suzie Leonard. A few others.”

“These people don’t quit. They just keep squeezing us and squeezing us. Sooner or later there’s not gonna be anything left to squeeze.”

“Tell me about it. Remember, I’m the one who does the checkbook.”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know, maybe I can look for something that’s not in a store.”

“Like?”

“I don’t know, but I can look. Maybe some kind of call center job or another doctor’s office at night, or maybe night housekeeping in an office building or waiting tables somewhere.”

“No to those last two. I don’t want you doing that.” Danny got up from his chair and sat close to Colleen on the couch; he put his hand on her thigh. “You do enough cleaning up and waiting on people around here without doing it for other people, too.

“This just isn’t the way I thought things would be. We’re doing better than a lot of our friends, but it never ends. Whether it’s the supermarket making us kick in more for the medical or your boss deciding he wants to extend his office hours an extra half-hour without paying you any more or tuition going up or our kids getting bigger and eating more food and needing new clothes, the pressure never ends. I don’t remember it being like this for my folks.”

“I don’t think it was for mine, either. My mom didn’t work and my dad didn’t make that much, but it was always enough.

“And it never ends. The kids want cable, the school wants them to have a computer at home, and Kathleen’s second teeth are coming in so crooked…”

“Stop. Let’s just get through this one and we’ll worry about the next one when the next one happens,” Danny suggested.

“Yeah, I guess. But when we do it that way, we never have a chance to get ahead.”

“I know, Col, I know.”

A Thanksgiving Message

(This is a repeat (or, in television terms, an “encore presentation”) of a Thanksgiving message The Curmudgeon posted two years ago.  He thinks it’s a message worth repeating.)

The Curmudgeon would like to take the opportunity, on this day of public thanks, to thank those of you who come to this space on occasion.  He realizes there are many places to go for entertainment like this and appreciates that you make this one of your stops.  He knows he occasionally wanders off in directions that make you question where he’s going and if it’s in search of his lost marbles, but he wants you to know how grateful he is for your visits.

turkeyWriting can sometimes feel like that proverbial tree falling in the forest that we all learned about in sixth grade:  if you write and no one ever reads it, did you really write at all?  Thanks to you, The Curmudgeon is writing.

The Curmudgeon also would like to make a request:  please don’t go Christmas shopping today.  Across the country, working people who barely make more than minimum wage – waiters and busboys, sales clerks and cashiers, parking attendants and security staff and customer service representatives and more – and being forced, at the threat of loss of their jobs, to spend this special day apart from their families, where they belong, because the Snidely Whiplashes of the world, who earn seven figures and who certainly will be spending the day with their own families, think nothing of imposing their will on people who lack the power to say “no” in a silly quest to make a few extra dollars.

01-snidely-whiplashEverything you might buy on Thanksgiving day will still be there tomorrow, and by keeping your credit card in your pocket today, you’ll be telling these selfish executives and business owners to mend their ways using the only language people like that understand:  the power of the purse.

And one more thing:  take it easy on the sweet potatoes.  The leftovers will taste just as good tomorrow.

A Customer Service Quiz

What do you call a company that leases its customers equipment that’s so inferior that it’s constantly breaking down and in need of replacement?

What do you call a company that reduces the hours of the stores where you get replacements for that cheap equipment?

What do you call a company that makes those stores bigger and nicer but also makes them less efficient by requiring employees to walk long distances to retrieve that replacement equipment instead of turning around and grabbing it off a shelf, as they did in the past?

What do you call a company that develops such a bad reputation for customer service that it decides to change its name to escape that self-imposed but well-deserved stigma?

The Curmudgeon doesn’t know what YOU call and he knows what THEY want us to call it but HE calls it Comcast.comcast2

 

More Silly Things We Read

Anyone who ever observed The Curmudgeon while he was reading – in a doctor’s waiting room, for example, or on a train or plane – might come away with the mistaken idea that he is, how shall we say this, slightly…out of his mind.

Why? Because sometimes he laughs when he reads. Out loud, too. He reads a lot of silly things – or at least things he finds silly – and as long as people keep writing silly things, he’ll keep sharing them with you (as he has done previously here, here, and here).

A Time magazine writer offering a downright effusive review of Taylor Swift’s latest album – can we still call them albums? – got a little carried away when he wrote that “Though Swift is skilled with melody, her deadliest weapon is a superhuman knack for tight, evocative images…” Oh, where shall we begin? “Deadliest weapon”? It’s pop music, for pete’s sake, not nuclear armaments. And “superhuman knack”? “Superhuman”? Really?

A Philadelphia Inquirer article titled “Do’s and Don’ts to Reduce Paper Use at Home or Work” advises readers “DO track your use of paper to see where wastage can be lessened.” Putting aside the use of the passive voice, what about the waste of a perfectly unnecessary “age”? “Waste” works just fine there; “wastage” is superfluous. The addition of unneeded “-age” is a particular bugaboo of The Curmudgeonly Sister, who used to howl during hockey games when the announcers would refer to a “stoppage in play instead of simply a “stop in play” and refer to the next “droppage of the puck” instead of the simpler “drop of the puck.” For a while, just for fun, sister and brother would take turns adding unnecessary “age” to all manner of verbs.

We are a very, very fun family.

The philly.com headline read “U.S. border agents on the look for destructive insects.”

On the look? Wassat?

The release of the movie The Interview, about a plot to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, elicited an (understandably) angry response from the North Koreans, who apparently don’t understand that any movie starring Seth Rogen shouldn’t be taken seriously, and the movie studio decided to limit some of the usually relentless promotion that comes with a new movie. One reader on the Philly.com web site thought this was cowardly, writing that “Pathetic how they cow tail to that fat little punk in North Korea.”

cowtailYeah, don’t you just hate it when someone cow tails?

While grocery shopping recently, The Curmudgeon picked up the store brand of a sauce labeled “Asian Style Teriyaki sauce.” Presumably, that’s to differentiate it from all those non-Asian Teriyaki sauces.

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an obituary of Richard C. Hottelet, a long-retired CBS news reporter and one of the last protégés of Edward R. Murrow. Hottelet was ninety-seven years old at the time of his passing, and the obituary noted that “No cause of death was given.”

Um – Hottelet was ninety-seven. Isn’t that reason enough?

Outside of Philadelphia, a man troubled by demons that may nor may not have involved his brief deployment in Afghanistan turned a gun on his family, killing six and seriously wounding a seventh. After a search of nearly two days he was found dead in the wood – killed himself, according to a camera-hogging district attorney, with a knife. Hogwash, the coroner said, noting that the killer’s only external wound was a relatively minor knife puncture. With an as-yet unsolved mystery of who or what killed the killer, a Philadelphia Daily News headline declared, “Stone still dead, but more questions pop up.”

“Still dead”? Is this a headline out of the Generalissimo Francisco Franco School of Journalism?

An October 2014 article about Temple University president Neil Theobald had a couple observations that tickled The Curmudgeon’s funny bone.

“The news hit the scholar-athletes gathered in Temple University’s Student Pavilion on December 6th of last year like a brick to the gut: The sports teams they’d been recruited for, trained for, worked for, played for, were being eliminated.”

What teams? Men’s rowing, men’s crew, women’s rowing, softball, baseball, men’s gymnastics, and men’s indoor and outdoor track and field.

Excuse The Curmudgeon, but “scholar-athletes”? Really? Student-athletes, absolutely, but unless the writer has met them all and performed some kind of screen, referring to them collectively as “scholar-athletes” is probably not only inaccurate but almost certainly an offense to real scholars.

The same article quotes Theobald saying

“The biggest problem in our society…is the level of student debt.”

Really? A bigger problem than people who don’t have enough to eat, don’t have a roof over their heads, can’t read, can’t afford a doctor when they’re sick? Perhaps the biggest problem in Mr. Theobald’s little corner of society, but the biggest problem in “our” society? The Curmudgeon thinks not.

The Philadelphia Inquirer headline read “Atlantic City versus Detroit: Who is better off?” Well, The Curmudgeon can’t say for sure which city is in worse shape, but he can say who is worse off: people who care about grammar and understand that because Atlantic City and Detroit are not people, the headline should have said “Atlantic City versus Detroit: Which is worse off”? Of course, to get really technical, the headline also shouldn’t have ended a preposition with.

But The Curmudgeon can’t fight every battle.

librarianThe Philadelphia Inquirer headline read “School cuts have decimated librarians.” The Curmudgeon may be mistaken, but either there are a lot of dead librarians on the roadside or the paper was referring to employment for school librarians or the ranks of school librarians.

Not too far from where The Curmudgeon lives is a town called Haddonfield. It’s a very expensive, high-end town populated mostly by WASPy types who think they’re better than everyone else. The town has long been dry, but a recently passed New Jersey state law creates opportunities for establishments to serve wines made from grapes grown in the state – believe it or not, a lot of grapes are grown and wine produced and bottled in New Jersey – on a very limited basis with a special state permit. Of course, the town’s dining establishments are jumping at the opportunity, and one restaurant owner told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “You can buy wine in Haddonfield. It’s been dry so long, when they hear you can buy wine in Haddonfield, they almost don’t believe it. It’s kind of like a myth, an urban legend.”

Well, actually, it’s not. It was true for a very long time and therefore not a myth, and there’s absolutely nothing urban, and for that matter nothing legendary, about that town.

The Associated Press reports that an Ohio man called the police to report a theft: his wife stole his cocaine. The police didn’t help him find coke but they did find him in possession of drug paraphernalia, brought him in on outstanding warrants, and, to add insult to injury, charged him with abusing the 911 emergency system.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s restaurant reviewer didn’t have many good things to say about a new establishment called Juniper Commons and one reader thought he understood the problem:

BAD MOVE TO NAME A DINER AFTER A PLANET LOOK WHAT HAPPENED TO PLANET HOLLYWOOD

Where does one even start?

Philadelphia magazine opened a review of a new restaurant by observing “Everyone knows that opening a restaurant is the surest path to an empty checking account…” The Curmudgeon, however, suspects that anyone who can’t think of a better way to empty a checking account is sorely lacking in imagination.

The web site espn.com featured an article about the firing of a major league baseball manager. It noted that the team’s general manager – the man who picks the players and hires and fires managers – tended to be aggressive about both types of decisions and so firing his team’s manager shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

“It’s on brand for him to be aggressive in making a managerial change.”

This is a real two-fer fer The Curmudgeon: both because it’s a silly way to say this on the face of it and also because the subject of brands and branding is near and dear to his heart, as you have read previously in this space.

ferretThe School District of Philadelphia hired an administrator with a dubious past, according to the Inquirer; among his past misdeeds was that he was “forced to resign after a series of missteps that included underestimating the rainy day fund by $15 million and using a public school bus to ferret around friends and loved ones.”

Ferret out? Were those furry rodents hiding?

In a Washington Monthly article titled “How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin,” the writer – writing for a fairly liberal audience – apparently felt that he needed to engage, or really, lower himself, to name-calling. He referred to Palin as “St. Joan of the Tundra” and “LaPasionaria of the Permafrost.” This is one of those instances where, even for a liberal like The Curmudgeon, liberals can be as bad as those Fox News conservatives. The name-calling just isn’t necessary and it lowers the quality of the discourse. Sarah Palin’s accomplishments, and lack thereof, speak for themselves; no one needs the name-calling.

The editor of a web site featuring news about the city told Philadelphia magazine that one of the candidates for mayor “…has been very focused on the user experience of the city.”

Really. The “user experience of the city”?

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the uncertain future facing a Jersey shore theater after an auction failed to net enough to cover the facility’s debts. The bidders, the article noted, had several plans for the facility, and those plans “ran the gambit from those wanting to continue using it as a theater, another who wanted to operate a bed and breakfast on the site, and those wanting to develop the property for residential or commercial use…”

They probably ran the gamut of those ideas, too.

A Philadelphia Inquirer crime story began, “Philadelphia police are asking for the public’s help in finding the men who attacked and killed a transgender woman in Logan in the wee hours of the morning Tuesday.”

The “wee hours”? Really?

A Time magazine article about Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird sequel, laments the sad news that the previously heroic Atticus Finch is just as much a racist as anyone else by observing that “In the context of current anxieties over the apparent lack of justice in racially charged cases, it seems too much. We need heroes in our fiction, at least.”

Really? We need heroes in our fiction? Don’t you think learning that Atticus Finch isn’t entirely one of those heroes has inspired more discussion and interest than just another heroic act ever could?

In an article about how to make it easier for people to make wise investments with their 401k money, Time magazine declared that “By now, we know that beating the market is impossible and we should steer people toward the things we can control – diversification, low costs and good savings behavior over long periods of time, through many market cycles.”

Nonsense: while it’s absolutely true that most people can’t beat the market, some absolutely, positively do.

More sometime in the future.

Taking Care of Business (chapter 35)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

The mayor’s staff wanted to resolve its remaining budget differences with council so that council could pass the city budget, so one afternoon, the mayor’s chief of staff, Wilma O’Neill, met in her office with Roberta Belkin, chief of staff for council budget committee chairwoman Mary Amordella. The two women had a good working relationship, and over the course of nearly two hours they sat across from one another and, with no aides in the room and as they had on several other occasions in recent days, discussed and resolved more than a dozen of the specific complaints council had about the mayor’s proposed budget. This was a new list of council demands – the third such new list, actually. Every time the mayor and his staff thought they had satisfied council’s latest demands, council turned around and delivered an entirely new set of requirements that it insisted must be addressed before it could possibly act on the budget. Still more needed to be done but Belkin had another meeting to attend, so they agreed to resume work together the following morning.

As Belkin began gathering her papers, they continued talking.

“This went well,” O’Neill said. “I don’t see anything left on the list that strikes me as an insurmountable obstacle. We’ll need what, another two or three hours, but after that, I think we’ll be done.”

“For the issues on the list, yes, and assuming we can somehow get our money from the state,” Belkin replied.

“The mayor’s still confident.”

“Even without Ianucci to help?”

“He says he thinks the delegation will rise to the challenge, that there are several very capable people representing the city in the capital who’ve been waiting for an opportunity to show what they can do and now see this as their chance to shine.”

“Capable people in our Harrisburg delegation?” Belkin asked. Since when?”

O’Neill laughed.

“That’s what he says. Anyhow, we’ll be done soon, I think, and then council can vote on the budget.”

“Oh, come on, Wilma.”

“What?” O’Neill asked.

“You and I have been working on these individual budget issues for about eight hours now over three meetings and you’ve never once mentioned the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

“What’re you talking about, Roberta?”

“Shaniqua Watson. I’m not saying that the stuff we’re working on isn’t important, because it is, but it’s the easy stuff. This delay is all about Shaniqua Watson, and until they work that out, the rest is all just window-dressing.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not. Council wants her head, and I don’t think they’re going to pass a budget until they get it.”

“For real?”

“I think.”

“Roberta, she’s doing a great job. You’ve spent your entire career in the public sector. Have you ever, in all those years, seen a performance that even remotely approaches what she’s achieved in less than five months with our streets department?”

“Never.”

“She saves money, she improves performance, the public loves her, the press loves her, and even her workers and the unions love her. Everyone loves her.” 

“Not council. They hate her.”

“Why?”

“Come on, they’ve been telling you and the mayor why for months now. They feel undermined. Calls and letters requesting constituent service are down fifty percent. They’re afraid voters are going to see them as irrelevant.”

“Because we’ve cut out the middle man and deliver services better than ever?”

“Exactly.”

“That’s insane.”

“Don’t tell me, Wilma. You’re preaching to the choir. Her performance totally blows me away. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Then…?”

“Look, I’m a budget person, not a political person. If it were up to me I’d clone her, but the politicians hate her. Council members hate her, and they spend half the day on the phone with ward leaders and other political types who’re complaining about her.”

“You would think they’d appreciate having the burden of the little stuff lifted off their shoulders so they could focus on the big picture of the city’s future.”

“You’re being naive, Wilma. These people are all politicians. They have nothing to offer Philadelphia. Can you think of even one person on council who has the capacity to address the big picture, to think through the city’s issues and help develop solutions to its problems? Can you think of even one time – just one time – when a member of council proposed something that didn’t seem, first and foremost, designed to get their name in the newspaper?”

O’Neill was silent.

“Of course you can’t, because it’s never happened, because council members like that don’t exist. Every single one of them is a small-time politician who got to where they are by taking care of business and outhustling other small-time politicians. It’s the only thing they ever, ever think about. They don’t care about tax policy; they care when their constituents complain to them about taxes. They don’t care about the flow of traffic in center city; they care about the lack of cheap parking because their constituents talk about that all the time. They don’t care about whether the hall for the orchestra is under-endowed; they care about whether they’ll get enough tickets to satisfy their constituents’ demand for tickets to free concerts in the park featuring washed-up R&B acts that practically need walkers and oxygen to get onto the stage.

“They only run for office once every four years and for ward leader once every two years. The only thing they have to keep score by and tell how they’re doing between elections is their constituent service numbers, and those numbers look worse than they’ve ever been and they all know it’s because of Shaniqua Watson. In almost any other department in city government she would be your biggest strength, but in the streets department, where most of the action is when it comes to constituent services, she’s your biggest political liability.”

“Unbelievable,” O’Neill said.

“But true.”

“I sit with them all the time. Why don’t they talk to me about this?”

“They see you as a policy person, a manager, like me, and not a political person. They talk about it to Larry and Ed all the time, and I know those guys tell the mayor about it. I also know that he laughs about it when they do. But if he doesn’t stop laughing and do something about Shaniqua Watson, he’s not going to be laughing when the budget doesn’t pass and city government grinds to a halt because he no longer has any legal authority to spend money to pay the city’s bills.”

(more next Sunday)

 

The Difference Between the Real Deal and the Pretenders

obamaWhile many of the Republican presidential candidates and a growing number of Republican governors debate whether the U.S. should admit Syrian refugees – the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia has suggested imprisoning them in internment camps, the way the U.S. imprisoned some of its own citizens during World War II – President Obama gave them a lesson this week in leadership and what it means to be American when he said:

When I hear folks say that: ‘Well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims,’ when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.