Monthly Archives: August 2016

An Olympic Observation: Beach Volleyball

The Curmudgeon has never understood why women wear bikinis while playing competitive and Olympic volleyball.

Well, he understands, but he doesn’t understand.

And what he also doesn’t understand is why, if the women need to wear bikinis to make their sport appealing to potential viewers, the male players don’t play topless and in Speedos.

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Sometimes, Mom Knows Best

Earlier this year The Curmudgeon’s family held a small celebration in honor of The Curmudgeonly Brother’s 57th birthday. The family has long passed the point of giving gifts to adult children on their birthdays but when The Curmudgeon went to a drug store to buy a card for his brother he saw something he couldn’t resist.

A small package of Peeps.

peepsThe Curmudgeon knows his younger brother likes Peeps. It’s strange that he does: The Curmudgeon can’t think of anything else with marshmallow in it that his brother likes, but he unquestionably likes Peeps.

Older brother thought he was being terribly, terribly clever by picking up a package of Peeps, but his bubble was burst when he entered mom’s house for the birthday gathering and there on the coffee table was an array of Peeps in several colors.

Outdone by mom.

But it gets worse.

You see, little brother happens to like his Peeps stale, so they’re crunchy rather than chewy.

And when The Curmudgeon pulled his package of Peeps out of his bag, mom turned to him and asked, “Yes, but are YOURS stale?”

And The Curmudgeon had to admit they were not, and that in this case, mom definitely knew best.

Corruption

A few days ago a reader asked for more pieces about corruption.   Unfortunately we see it all too often and it took less than 48 hours to find a fresh example. Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s district attorney, isn’t going to jail for what you’re about to read but it is a form of corruption nonetheless.

From yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on Monday reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015, a financial windfall he previously omitted from mandatory annual statements of financial interests. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on Monday reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015, a financial windfall he previously omitted from mandatory annual statements of financial interests.

Yes, a lawyer who has spent much of his career in the public sector overlooked $160,000 in “gifts” over a five-year period.

Overlooked.

As Dana Carvey’s “church lady” would say, how conveeeeeeenient.

So, what did Williams receive?

Williams reported receiving a free $45,000 roof repair on his home from a New Jersey builder, cash gifts of $1,500 and $10,000 from friends, and $20,800 in free airfare and lodging for vacations to Key West, Las Vegas, Virginia, and the Dominican Republic.

Williams also received $10,000 in travel expenses for an Eisenhower Fellowship program in Australia and South Africa, $5,000 from the Ministry of Justice of Thailand to travel there to teach leadership classes, and free trips to several state and national prosecutorial forums.

And what did he have to say about this?

I believe that it is very important to provide the citizens of Philadelphia with a greater foundation of trust in their elected officials.

You’d think that kind of trust would come from reporting the gifts the year he received them rather than years after.

Let’s take a closer look at the gifts (again, as reported by the Inquirer):

Roof repairs, windows, and insulation, valued at $45,000, from Mike Palmieri of Lynmar Builders in New Jersey.

 Lodgings valued at $1,000 per visit for four years at a Key West, Fla., house owned by Philadelphia lawyer Richard Hoy.

 Airfare of $1,000 to Key West for each of those visits, paid by Bill Weiss, owner of Woody’s Bar in Center City. Weiss is also listed as giving Williams $1,500 in cash in 2015, paying $2,000 for a 2013 trip to Las Vegas, and paying $2,000 each for 2012 and 2014 trips to San Diego.

 $2,930 in Phillies and 76ers tickets, $1,500 for two trips to Atlantic City, and $1,500 in Visa gift cards from Scott DiClaudio, a high school friend who was elected a Common Pleas Court judge in 2015 with Williams’ support.

A $3,000 trip in 2012 to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, along with a $300 iPad and a $2,700 couch, all paid for by Mohammad N. Ali.

The Curmudgeon finds one gift, and Williams’ explanation for not reporting it, especially entertaining.

Two complimentary all-access sideline passes for the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Eagles seasons. Williams listed that the passes did not include seats and so had “no face value.”

Right, because any fan given free sideline passes for five football seasons would agree they had “no face value.”

Even the district attorney’s attorney found his client’s actions appalling.

Here’s hoping Philadelphia’s voters do, too, the next time they see Williams’ name on the ballot.

The Draft

When you finished your education, whether it was high school, a trade school or apprenticeship, some sort of college, graduate or professional school, or the military, the next thing on your life’s agenda was probably to find a job.

It took effort. You needed to inventory your skills, assess your prospects, identify who or what companies employed people who could do the things you thought you could do, and then start figuring out how to match up what you had to offer with what others were seeking. You needed to consider such things as where you wanted to live and work and how much you thought you should be paid. You may have considered whether moving to a different town or state or part of the country could improve your chances of finding the work you sought or enable you to get paid more than where you were living at the time.

It sounds more complicated than it really is, but the one thing you had going for you was freedom: you could live wherever you wanted to live, pursue whatever kind of work you wanted to pursue, and, if you found people interested in what you had to offer, select whichever of them you wanted to join. Did you want to work for a large company or a small one? One in the city or the suburbs? A union shop or an open shop? In your home town or anywhere but your home town or near the seashore or the mountains or in the midwest or where the weather was warmer or colder? Sure, we all faced some limits, because we had to find someone who wanted us, but we were embarking on a new phase of our lives and probably had more choices at that time than we’ll ever have again.

Four times in recent months groups of highly skilled young men who have a lot to offer prospective employers were denied the same opportunities the rest of us have. All were athletes and all were subject to the “drafts” in their respective sports: the National Football League draft, held on April 28; the major league baseball draft, held on June 9; the National Basketball Association draft, held on June 23; and the National Hockey League draft, held on June 24.

And The Curmudgeon wants to know why.

Why should the professional sports leagues be permitted to limit the freedom of these young people to pursue their vocations wherever they wish? Why shouldn’t these young people, many of whose skills are in great demand, enjoy the same opportunity the rest us theoretically had to sit down with prospective employers, get a sense of what kind of people they are and what they have to offer, and choose where they will ply their trade?

And the answer that it’s hard to feel sorry for these particular young men because so many of them will be making millions of dollars just doesn’t cut it. First of all, most of them won’t be making millions of dollars; most of them, in fact, will never play in a single professional game.

Second, even if it were true, why should they be denied the right to choose to work where they want to work? After all, no one would tolerate Apple, Microsoft, Google, and other technology companies getting together and deciding how to divide this year’s graduating class of engineers without regard for where those engineers want to work and what kind of work they want to do. Why is such a practice considered acceptable in the world of professional sports?

It’s bad enough that all of the professional sports leagues have salary caps – something they imposed on themselves because the rich white men who own the teams can’t stop themselves from overpaying people, so they created rules to limit how many people they can overpay and how much they can overpay them. And it’s bad enough that even when these young men, against their will, subject themselves to these drafts, they are denied the same job mobility that the rest of us have. Don’t like where you’re teaching or hanging drywall or cleaning teeth or processing insurance claims? You always have the freedom to find someone else you’d rather work for and leave – with two weeks’ notice, if you wish, although that’s really not necessary (because if your employer doesn’t want you he or she isn’t going to extend to you the same courtesy). No, in professional sports, young players have almost no mobility, cannot change teams if they are unhappy with their contract, their coach, their team, their team’s owner, or their team’s customers (that is, the fans); most are bound for a period of years from leaving.

The players in all of the major sports (including hockey, which many people don’t consider a major sport but The Curmudgeon does, and this is, after all, his blog) are members of unions, but those unions clearly aren’t interested in the welfare of all of their members. If they were, they would have addressed this issue long ago, if not at the negotiating table then in court. And you know – you know – they would win: no judge is going to deny to these young men the same rights they themselves, and almost all of the rest of us, already have.

Professional sports are already operated like monopolies: new businesses can’t decide on their own to participate, the owners of the franchises that theoretically should be competing negotiate broadcast and merchandise contracts jointly and share profits, and they impose limits on the mobility of their teams. And it’s bad enough that they impose limits on how much their individual teams may pay their players, as if it’s anyone’s business what a company pays its employees, and they also limit the ability of their employees, the players, to change employers if they wish.

But telling young people who want to enter the sports professions where they must work, and in most sports limiting how much those young people can be paid after they are more or less randomly assigned where to work, is just wrong. You had the ability to ply your trade wherever you chose, subject, of course, to finding someone who wanted you, and these young men deserve no less. They are going to work in an environment that is highly competitive – first, just to get jobs in that environment and then to succeed against their opponents. There is no earthly reason why the owners of the team shouldn’t have to compete for the services of these young men just like every other employer in search of highly skilled talent must do. Similarly, there’s no reason that team owners who made their millions and billions by competing successful in whatever field enriched them should suddenly be free from the need to compete with one another to field the most successful teams.

It’s just not right.

What is Facebook Afraid Of?

C'mon: you KNOW you want it.

C’mon: you KNOW you want it.

Why won’t Facebook give users a thumbs-down icon to use when someone we haven’t seen since high school says something positive about Donald Trump and suggests that those of us who don’t agree are somehow defective; when someone we haven’t seen in 20 years posts invitations to sales pitches on our Facebook pages; when we see an ad for a product we think is stupid or irrelevant; or when someone we barely know makes his fourteenth post of the day and nightfall is still two hours off?

What is Facebook afraid of?

Carrying the Olympic Torch

So let’s get this straight: when it comes to selecting someone to carry the Olympic torch, a way of putting our best foot forward for the whole world to see, the U.S. Olympic Committee decides that our best foot is a swimmer who was photographed smoking marijuana at a party; a guy who has been arrested twice for drunk driving, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to probation both times; a guy who was suspended for six months by the organization that administers the U.S. “amateur” swimming program; a guy who has now gone without a drink for a whole 18 months; and a guy who has fathered a child out of wedlock?

The U.S. Olympic Committee's idea of a role model.

The U.S. Olympic Committee’s idea of a role model.

Why not Diana Taurasi, who is only one of the greatest basketball players ever – male or female – and is appearing in her fourth Olympics?

Or Aly Raisman, who won medals at the 2012 Olympics?

Or Katie Ledecky, also a 2012 winner?

What, O.J. Simpson wasn’t available?

Verbification: A Special Olympics Edition

Medaled.

(Or is it medalled?)

medalsAs in “The swimming star has medaled in three events so far.”

Because saying “The swimming star has won three medals so far” is apparently insufficiently descriptive for the “professional” communicators and the very amateurish analysts sitting alongside them who are broadcasting this year’s Olympic games.

The Curmudgeon has shared his dismay about verbification – the act of turning a noun into a verb – on a number of occasions (here, here, here, and here). Despite the passion with which he expresses his objection to these transgressions, they nevertheless continue.

So he will, too.

Medaled.

Yuck.

Going to the Dentist (Part 2 of 2)

One of the rituals of going to the dentist is that at the end of the visit they give you a toothbrush.   When you were a kid that was pretty exciting, but now, well, not so much. The Curmudgeon has never gone to a dentist who doesn’t do that, and it’s always left him wondering: why do so many drug stores have so many toothbrushes for sale when people are all getting them from their dentists?

Which leads to two possible answers: first, maybe there are dentists who don’t give their patients toothbrushes; and second, maybe there are more people out there than The Curmudgeon imagines who just don’t go to dentists. Yuck.

That toothbrush, by the way, will never enter his mouth. He has a power tooth brush that Ella, the hygienist he mentioned yesterday, strongly endorses, singing the praises of what it has done for The Curmudgeon’s mouth. Instead of brushing with the new toothbrush The Curmudgeon will use it to clean grout lines and sliding door tracks and windowsill corners and things like that.

When The Curmudgeon went to drop his new toothbrush into the drawer with the others that have not yet drawn their house-cleaning assignment he took a quick look at the toothbrush and noticed that…

…it has racing stripes.

toothbrushRacing stripes!

Where is it going?

Is speed required?

Why on earth would a toothbrush need racing stripes?

 

Going to the Dentist (Part 1 of 2)

Two weeks ago The Curmudgeon went to the dentist. Usually the hygienist gets all over him about his gums – in this family, we affectionately refer to Ella as “the gum Nazi” – but this time it was the dentist herself: “You’re a little inflamed in the back. You need to do a better job of getting the floss in there.”

The Curmudgeon has heard this a lot over the years. While he may never live up to the standards of these dental professionals he’s much, much better than he used to be and is improving all the time.

But then last week…

Last week we learned that flossing may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

flossThe federal government has been recommending that we floss since 1979 and the American Dental Association has been recommending it for much longer. But when the Associated Press asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture why they recommend flossing, well, those agencies had nothing, nada, so when the federal government issued its latest dietary guidelines earlier this year there was no mention at all of flossing. Federal officials also replied to the Associated Press’s original question and admitted that flossing’s effectiveness has never been proven.

The dental community was outraged, of course, even while admitting that there’s no hard evidence to support its claim that we need to floss. Just because there’s no evidence doesn’t mean flossing doesn’t help protect our dental health, they said, and that may be absolutely true, but the fact remains that no one’s really set out to figure out if flossing’s benefits are real and can be documented. Right now, though, the most the dental authorities can offer is what one dentist with the National Institutes of Health said: “It’s low risk, low cost. We know there’s a possibility that it works, so we feel comfortable telling people to go ahead and do it.”

(Which reminds The Curmudgeon of what is known as “The Wager Argument,” advanced by the philosopher Blaise Pascal, that essentially says that people should act like they believe in god and behave according to god’s laws, even if they’re not sure they believe in god, because if they die and there’s no god they will have led a good and decent life but if they don’t act like they believe and don’t lead a good life and die and then have to account for their lives to a god that actually exists then they are totally screwed. Seriously: that’s one of the things The Curmudgeon learned in philosophy class in college. It turns out Matt Damon was right in Good Will Hunting: The Curmudgeon could have saved all that money on college and instead gotten the same education for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.)

Okay, back to our story.

So you may want to reconsider your flossing practices – or lose the guilt over not flossing or not flossing enough.

As for The Curmudgeon, he’s going to keep flossing because the last thing he wants to hear from Ella when he returns in six months are the questions she asks in her heavy Russian accent whenever she’s displeased with what she’s found in his mouth:

“Do you drink coffee? Do you smoke?”

drillElla knows the answers to those questions because she’s been cleaning The Curmudgeon’s teeth for more than 20 years and has asked those questions many times. The Curmudgeon is always polite and respectful and promises to try to do better because after all, you never, ever want to give any lip to someone who operates sharp, high-speed power tools inside your mouth.

Last Call for the VCR

Do you remember what a big deal it was when you got your first VCR?

Do you remember how great it was when you wanted to watch the latest episode of Dallas, even though you didn’t even like Dallas but felt left out if you didn’t see it because everyone was talking about it, but you didn’t want to be home on a Friday night watching television, or wanted to watch Cheers but the hockey game was still on, or if you hadn’t entirely kicked your General Hospital habit after college and wanted to follow what was going on in Port Charles once in a while and you could just pop a tape into the machine and watch it when it was convenient for you and not just convenient for the network broadcasting it?

Or if you were a hotshot, actually programming the VCR to tape when you weren’t even home?

Well, at least it's not Betamax.

Well, at least it’s not Betamax.

It was cutting-edge technology at the time but it’s been years since the VCR was the best way to manage your television-watching. Now the VCR has suffered the final, cruelest cut of all: the last VCR has rolled off the assembly line.

Even though the manufacturer, the Funai Corporation of Japan, reports that it’s still selling 750,000 VCRs a year, it says it’s getting too hard to find parts to make the machines and that its most recent run of the devices will be its last.

And that’s sort of sad.

As he has noted in the past, The Curmudgeon is not generally an early adopter of technology – a smartass 15-year-old told him not too long ago that he’s an analog guy – and he also can hold onto older technologies longer than he really should. If he could get his hands on a working version of the old Palm Pilot he’d gladly resume using one; he still has large stereo floor speakers in his living room at a time when everyone else seems to be listening to music on wireless, paperback-sized speakers; and not a day passes when he doesn’t regret jettisoning his landline phone and going all-cell, all the time.

So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that The Curmudgeon still has a VCR.

And uses it.

Regularly.

“Regularly” as in four or five times a week.

And in fact, he probably uses his VCR now more than he ever has at any time in his life.

You see, The Curmudgeon rides a stationary bike in his bedroom twice a day at least four times a week. In the morning he rides slowly, just to loosen up for the day, and after work he rides vigorously, to work up a little sweat and keep his aging legs in something vaguely resembling decent physical condition. Riding a stationary bike is incredibly boring, though, so to help pass the time he watches television as he pedals. Finding something worthwhile to watch can be a challenge, though – surely you’ve noticed that having more channels does little to improve your chances of finding anything you’d actually like to watch – so when one day he found himself pedaling and watching a movie he was enjoying, he popped a tape into the VCR when he was done pedaling so he could watch the rest of it while pedaling over the next few days.

Thus an idea was born.

For years The Curmudgeon had been attending library used book sales, and in addition to used books the libraries also sell used VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs, cassettes, and even records. He’s been amassing movies on VHS for years and storing them under his bed in plastic storage boxes, never quite accepting that it’s been years since he’d given up his old practice of settling down at midnight on Friday nights to watch a movie to start his weekend. (A sad commentary on both his social life and his need to turn in much earlier than he did when he was younger.)

Now he’s plowing through that collection at a rate of about a movie a week – and replenishing his stock at additional library sales (brown shopping bags, as many books and movies and anything else you can stuff into them for five dollars a bag).

For The Curmudgeon, his VCR has never been more valuable – and he has no intention of retiring it just because no one’s manufacturing new ones anymore. He figures people will be cleaning old VHS tapes out of their closets for years to come (and it’s easy to record over even a commercial movie video VHS tape, so tape supply won’t be a problem) and the guys who’ve repaired VCRs for years won’t suddenly forget how – they’re still repairing record players, after all – so he intends to continue using his VCR until either he can’t find any more movies on VHS or the VCR breaks and can’t be repaired.

And if it’s the latter, he already has a solution: you see, he actually has two VCRs.

And if the opportunity arises he would consider picking up another if he stumbles upon one. After all, he lives in a part of the world where there are flea markets aplenty. A few weeks ago he needed to find a walker – two of them, actually – for a few people in his life who were suddenly having trouble getting around. He went to one of those flea markets and it took him less than ten minutes to find two walkers for five dollars apiece – one of them brand new, with little flecks of styrofoam still clinging to the legs, and the other in almost perfect condition.

So how hard could it be to find a VCR or two?

And no matter how much you beg and plead, he’s not sharing one with you. Get your own.

While you still can.