Monthly Archives: November 2016

You Get What You Pay For (follow-up)

The Curmudgeon would like to tell you that he’s not the kind of person who says “I told you so” when he makes an argument that time proves to be correct.

He’d like to tell you that but he can’t because he doesn’t like to lie.

More than a year ago he wrote about how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had limited his state’s school districts to paying their superintendents no more than $175,000 a year. While The Curmudgeon had no particular beef with that number, he felt it had been arrived at arbitrarily and without any underlying evidence that such a limit, in the current market, would pose no obstacle to the state’s school districts finding the high caliber of people they need to lead their systems. In an environment in which “the market” is being treated like a god that must be worshiped – especially by Republicans like Christie – no attempt had been made to study that market before the $175,000 figure was declared to be the new limit.

And time has apparently proven The Curmudgeon right.

Thou shalt pay no state employee more than thee pays me.

Thou shalt pay no state employee more than thee pays me.

Governor Christie recently proposed raising the arbitrary $175,000 limit to $191,500 and permitting annual merit increases of two percent and supplemental “stipends” for unspecified purposes. His education secretary acknowledged that the cap had made it hard for larger school districts to recruit good superintendents and was causing a “brain drain” of school leaders in the state.

The Curmudgeon has no idea whether the $191,500 figure has any more basis in reality than the $175,000, but it shows once again the sheer folly of public officials with salary-setting authority setting those salaries so they can be no higher than their own and doing so without any basis for their decisions other than their own instincts about what might constitute a reasonable salary and their own ego in insisting that no one be paid more than them. The Curmudgeon has long seen this on the local level, in Philadelphia, where the city council has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into paying people more money than its members because, well, any idiot who can persuade people to vote for them can get elected to city council but it takes a certain combination of higher education and years of experience to be a health commissioner, water commissioner, police commissioner, or many other public offices that require real, actual, hard skills and not just the ability to glad-hand other politicians and the voting public.

You get what you pay for – as New Jersey’s public schools have learned during the five years of this silliness. One would hope this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again – but then, that kind of hope would be even sillier, wouldn’t it?

When National Politics Has Local Repercussions

By now we’re all familiar with the case of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky molested children on the campus of Penn State both while he was a coach and after, when he was still a frequent and welcome guest on the campus. University officials, including university presidents and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, knew about Sandusky molesting children on their campus but did nothing to stop it because protecting the legacy of Paterno and the huge profits football generated for the university were more important to them than stopping a monster from molesting little boys.

Bad people made bad decisions and let a bad guy do bad things with impunity.

But this isn’t about those people.

The Sandusky matter is still in court, with the child molester insisting he got a raw deal – a raw deal, I tell ya! – and this is about his effort to get a do-over in court.

Last week John Cleland, the judge overseeing Sandusky’s case, withdrew from the proceedings because of charges Sandusky’s lawyers leveled against him.

Justice is taking a beating these days as more and more people ascribe to the notion that the end justifies the means.

Justice is taking a beating these days as more and more people subscribe to the notion that the end justifies the means.

Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer explained the judge’s withdrawal from the case.

Sandusky’s attorneys “have impugned the competence and integrity of essentially everyone associated with the grand jury’s investigation into [his] conduct, [his] trial and conviction and these post-conviction proceedings,” Cleland wrote. “Now they have chosen to impugn the integrity of the court himself.”

Cleland is no ordinary judge. When every single judge in the county where the case was to be heard refused to participate, claiming relationships with Penn State University – and, no doubt, a strong desire not to become pariahs in their own communities because of what they feared they were going to have to do – Cleland was lured out of retirement to oversee the case. Cleland is a straight shooter: eight years ago he chaired a state panel that investigated a scandal in which two judges were suspected of taking bribes to impose harsh sentences on juvenile offenders and sentence them to the juvenile detention center owned by the person paying the bribes. Eventually the two judges were tried, convicted, and sent to jail for a combined 45 years. Authorities eventually reviewed and overturned hundred cases of children harshly and unfairly sentenced for fun and profit.

In recusing himself from the case, Judge Cleland was clear about why he felt doing so was necessary (again, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“In the current national environment in which some have chosen to embroil the courts and judges in controversy for less than honorable motives, the reality is that courts must err on the side of demonstrating fairness,” Cleland wrote in the eight-page filing in Centre County Court. “Counsel have elected to call into question my fairness and impartiality. … It would be imprudent to allow such a cloud to linger and to permit it to cast a shadow of legitimacy on the court, or any decision I would make.”

 And we all know what Cleland is talking about when he writes of “…the current national environment in which some have chosen to embroil courts and judges in controversy for less than honorable motives…”

This judge, for one, appears to be an honorable man. The lawyers who made the baseless charges, and their role models for doing so, appear to be…much less honorable.

It’s a new world and we’d better get used to it – and it’s just starting.

You Know You’re Getting Old When…

…you go to the mailbox and instead of the usual junk mail from lawn care services, restaurants, chiropractors, and Omaha Steaks you find an envelope with “Urgent Cremation Opportunity: Important Information Enclosed – Don’t Delay” splashed over the front.

They Were Wrong

All the guy wanted to do was go the theater.

Instead, he got ambushed by a bunch of self-important actors.

And it wasn’t a spontaneous act, either: those folks sat down, decided to do this, and brought in the guy who wrote Hamilton to write the statement.

penceRight message but wrong time and place. All the guy wanted to do was go to the theater, just like everyone else in the audience. He deserved better.

What’s next? Show up at people’s homes? Protest outside their place of worship? Show up at the funerals of friends and family members? Catch them when they’re at their kids’ (or grandkids’) little league games?

There’s a line, and the theater people crossed it. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Selecting a Cabinet

The Sunday New York Times reported that

Donald J. Trump sits high in Trump Tower in New York, spending hours on the phone with friends, television personalities and donors to ask if they know people to recommend for his cabinet.

So the guy is working hard; good for him.

But…hold on a second.

He’s asking television personalities for cabinet recommendations?

Television personalities?

The mind reels with the possibilities of Trump consulting his past Celebrity Apprentice cast members for ideas.

Is he going to seek Gary Busey’s thoughts on Commerce Secretary? (Does Gary Busey even have thoughts?)

Does he think Boy George might have ideas for Defense Secretary?

A guy with the sensitivity needed to help pick the next press secretary?

A guy with the sensitivity needed to help pick the next press secretary?

Is he consulting Andrew Dice Clay on diplomatic appointments?

Or Star Jones on candidates for White House counsel?

Could he be asking Nadia Comaneci or Gene Simmons about whom he should appoint as ambassadors to their native countries? Or might Dennis Rodman have special insight into whom would be best suited to serve as ambassador to North Korea?

Who better to advise on criminal justice appointments than a recent consumer of criminal justice system services?

Who better to advise on criminal justice appointments than a recent consumer of criminal justice system services?

Or Teresa Giudice on criminal justice system appointments?

Is he really seeking the assistance of Khloe Kardashian?

Advice from Melissa Rivers?

From…from… Snooki????

Consider it:

“Hello, Snooki, Donald Trump here.”

Hello, Mr. Trump. How are you?”

“I’m doing great, Snooki, really fabulous.”

“That’s good, but like I told you four or five times, Mr. Trump, I’m married now and I’m, like, not that kind of girl anymore. I’m flattered, but I’m married with two children now.”

“No, Snooki, that’s not why I’m calling, although my offer stands, you know that. I’m calling because now that I’ve been elected president, I’m looking for help on who to appoint to my cabinet.”

“Elected president?”

“Yes. It was in all the papers and on television. Don’t you subscribe to my Twitter feed?”

“I’m too busy feeding my children, Mr. Trump. But when you say you’ve been elected president, you mean like on TV, right? Not like in real life, right?”

“Yes, Snooki, in real life. Do you have any ideas for who would be good for my cabinet?”

“In that case, yes: Mike Sorrentino.”

“Is he popular? Is he good ratings? Because frankly, if he’s not popular he can’t be any good.”

“Oh, he’s, like, very popular.”

“Excellent. So why him?”

“Because I saw in a movie once that there’s a place in the White House called the situation room.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, didn’t you watch Jersey Shore?”

“No, I missed it, it’s on my TIVO, but I heard it was terrific, really terrific. Great ratings, very popular. But what about this Sorrentino?”

“Well, if you watched Jersey Shore you’d know that his nickname is ‘The Situation,’ so I figure he would be great for a job in the situation room.”

“That’s a terrific recommendation, Snooki, you really came through for me bigly, hugely.”

“You’re welcome. So you’re really, like, going to be president?”

“Yes, Snooki, I am.”

“And this is for real, not a TV reality show?”

“Yes.”

“And when you ran, people really took you seriously and didn’t think it was just for TV?”

“They took me very seriously, to be honest.   In fact, 62 million people voted for me.”

“Those are great ratings.”

“The best ratings. Only the best. Thank you, Snooki.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Trump.”

The For-Profit Presidency

Two Sundays ago President-elect Trump and his family were the subject of a 60 Minutes interview. During the interview, First Daughter-to-be Ivanka wore a heavy gold bracelet.

The following day one of Ivanka’s people put out a press release explaining that the bracelet she wore for the interview is one of her favorites and can be purchased for the low-low price of $10,800 on her jewelry web site.

The White House for fun and profit.

Get used to it.

Autobiographies

The Curmudgeon has never been a big fan of autobiographies. For the most part he’s not real keen on biographies, either, mostly because The Curmudgeon in him doesn’t think many people are worth reading about.

The only thing worse than a guy with nothing to say is a guy who writes an 800-page book that says nothing.

The only thing worse than a guy with nothing to say is a guy who writes an 800-page book that says nothing.

In general, autobiographies have struck him as being about two things: bragging about what you’ve done during your life and settling scores with those you think have done you wrong. The last autobiography he read, though – well, started to read, only to throw up his hands in disgust and swear off the genre forever – was actually quite different. That one was written by a man named Clark Clifford, who was an important advisor to Democratic presidents from Truman through Carter. In his book, Clifford did the exact opposite of the usual autobiography, showing such extreme modesty, at least up to the point where The Curmudgeon stopped reading, that even though you knew this guy was at the center of some of the biggest political decisions of the twentieth century you learned absolutely nothing from reading his accounts of them. At the point at which he stopped reading The Curmudgeon couldn’t understand why Clifford even bothered writing a book if he had no intention of saying anything enlightening.

This came to mind recently when The Curmudgeon signed into his online account with the Free Library of Philadelphia in search of e-books to read on his Kindle, looked through the most recently published non-fiction available, and noticed an absolute epidemic of autobiographies.

Now despite his own dislike of the form, The Curmudgeon understands why some people like autobiographies and also understands why some people would be interested in reading about some of the people who’ve written such books recently. He understands why people would be interested in the new autobiography of Bruce Springsteen, or the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (but less so that of Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love, who also recently published an autobiography). And he certainly sees the value of reading about the life of the notorious RBG, Supreme Court super-justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose career has been even more world-shaping than the aforementioned Clark Clifford.

And he’s wiling to give fans of Arnold Palmer and Carol Burnett their due, too, although the only way he’d read their autobiographies was if he had dysentery and those books were the only ones available to help… pass the time.

But autobiographies of athletes Carli Lloyd and Lenny Dykstra?

Abby Wambach? (Do you even know who that is?)

Television reporter Elizabeth Vargas?

Singer Bobby Brown?

Phil Collins?

Seriously?

Seriously?

And while he’s certainly a fine actor, does anyone – ANYONE – really need to know the life story of Bryan Cranston?

Bryan Cranston?

BRYAN CRANSTON, for crying out loud?

Republican Revenge!

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You Know You’re Getting Older When…

…the woman in your life thinks you’re hot not because of your washboard abs, not because of your beautiful green eyes, not because of the gifts you buy her or the restaurants you share with her or the beautiful mind you put on display for her but because you directed her to the area blood lab with the shortest waiting time.