Monthly Archives: June 2015

Thanks But No Thanks

J.P. Morgan Chase, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, is about to expand the size of its operations in the Philadelphia area.

The same J.P. Morgan Chase that was at the front of the line advocating repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that led pretty directly to the recession of 2008.

The same J.P. Morgan Chase that developed the credit derivative, which played a major role in that same recession.

The same J.P. Morgan Chase that recently agreed to a $13 billion civil settlement with the federal government in which, in addition to forking over all that money in one of the largest civil settlements ever, the company formally acknowledged knowingly bundling toxic mortgage loans and selling them to unsuspecting buyers.

And the same J.P. Morgan Chase that needed a $25 billion bailout from the federal government as one of those “too big to fail” banks.

So, J.P. Morgan Chase, was it something the Philadelphia area did to lead you to decide you wanted to infest our region? And if we promise not to do it again would you please just go away – and stay away?

 

 

There’s No Smiling in Baseball

Most of us are probably familiar with the scene in the movie A League of Their Own in which Tom Hanks, playing the manager of a women’s baseball team, turns to one of his sobbing players and declares “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Whether or not there’s crying in baseball may or may not be true, but one thing we know for sure is that there’s no smiling in baseball.

Or at least very little smiling.

Think about it: when do you see a baseball player smile during a game?

Maybe – maybe – when he hits a home run. But it’s not much of a smile and it doesn’t last very long. The same is true when a player – almost always an outfielder – makes a great defensive play, but again, it’s not much of a smile and it doesn’t last very long.

Think about a professional football game. When players score touchdowns there’s smiling and laughing and high-fives and hugging and butt-patting, helmet-slapping, dancing, and more. The same is true when a defensive player intercepts a pass or recovers a fumble. The celebrations became so enthusiastic and so protracted and so boisterous that the National Football League, also known by some as the No Fun League, felt compelled to create a penalty for “excessive celebration.”

Imagine that: excessive celebration.

Think about a professional basketball game. When a player makes an exciting dunk there are celebrations all around. When he makes a long shot or a good shot, it’s high-fives for everyone on the court. If a player makes a free throw one or more teammates will come up to him and shake or slap his hand. The Curmudgeon’s own alienation from basketball began when a player slapped hands with a teammate who had missed a free throw. Basketball is all about the celebration.

And think about a professional hockey game. Even though hockey players are the most low-key and down-to-earth of the major professional sports athletes (yes, The Curmudgeon knows, many people don’t consider hockey a major professional sport. Well, he does, and this is his blog), their celebrations are the most exuberant of all – perhaps because teams only score a goal a few times a game. When that happens, every player on the ice raises his stick in jubilation, after which they all gather ‘round and hug and pat one another on the head. The players on their team sitting on the bench also stand and cheer, and when the players on the ice return to the bench after a goal has been scored, they bump (gloved) fists with all of their teammates on the bench.

But baseball is different. Watch a baseball game and look for the smiles: they’re few and far between. When a player gets a hit, a coach may congratulate him and his teammates will show great pleasure but the player himself barely cracks a smile. When a player scores a run, again, lots of hand-shaking and fist-bumping while still on the field but not a whole lot of smiles. When a fielder makes a great defensive play, maybe a little smile; his teammates may go crazy but he most certainly will not. And when a player hits a home run, lots of smiles and congratulations – but only by the home run hitter’s teammates and not by the home run hitter himself. The hitter may smile, but it generally isn’t a big smile and it generally doesn’t last very long.

Celebrations by teammates? Okay. Celebrations by the player responsible for the deed being celebrated? Forbidden.

The truth is that baseball has its own bizarre, unwritten code of conduct in which celebration is pretty expressly discouraged – and punished.

If a batter does something remarkable and smiles too much or expresses too much exuberance, the opposing pitcher will throw at him the next time he comes up to bat – or worse, throw at one of his teammates.

If a batter hits a tremendous home run and pauses for a moment to admire it, the same thing: either the batter himself or a teammate will be the target of attempted retribution by the opposing pitcher.

If a batter hits a home run and, in the estimation of the opposing team, takes too long to circle the bases, either he or one of his teammates will be targeted for retribution with a fastball aimed at his temple.

If a pitcher manages to strike out an opposing hitter at a critical point in the game and responds with a show of exuberance, he is considered a hot dog and one of his teammates can expect to be on the receiving end of an attempt to re-educate the hot dog on the rules of baseball.

Take a look at this YouTube clip. In it, a man named Randy Johnson hits a home run. Johnson was one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, but like most pitchers, he was a terrible, terrible hitter. In his twenty-two-year career he batted nearly 700 times and failed exactly seven out of eight attempts, giving him a truly awful career batting average of .125. This was the only home run he ever hit and it came when he was thirty-nine years old.

Look at Johnson. Does he seem pleased? Does he look like he’s experiencing anything more pleasant than, say, a root canal? No, he looks miserable, and it’s no mystery why: he was one of the foremost practitioners of the code of no celebration, and during his career he hit more batters with pitched balls than all but one other pitcher in all of the twentieth century. Johnson knew the code, knew the cost of violating it, and therefore permitted what should have been one of the happiest moments of his career to have all of the joy of a prostate exam. It was perfectly acceptable under baseball’s unwritten rules for Johnson’s teammates to celebrate his accomplishment but he was clearly having none of it himself.

One of the most popular baseball players in Philadelphia over the past thirty years has been a man named Chase Utley. Whether Utley enjoys playing baseball we’ll never know, but we do know that he looks utterly miserable on the field: grim, determined, stoic, completely joyless. He looks forever like a man who would benefit from a handful of prunes. Contrast this with his former teammate, Jimmy Rollins, a highly accomplished player who did smile, who did exhibit real joy while playing baseball. Both were outstanding players for many years and by any reasonable criteria Rollins was far more accomplished, yet the pleasure he displayed while playing earned him a reputation for being lazy and not as competitive and determined as his stone-faced teammate.

One of the things you often read about baseball is that it’s losing its appeal among children, that they grow up wanting to play basketball or even, heaven forbid, soccer, and not baseball. This is especially true in cities and especially true among African-Americans. Well, when kids watch a baseball game, who can blame them? The players look miserable. Why would kids want to play a game where it looks like nobody’s having any fun? Playing baseball is supposed to be fun, and The Curmudgeon can think of few things he could have more fun doing than playing baseball or few things he’s rather do than play baseball. Even though he’s fifty-seven years old, he’d still love to play baseball for a living.

But if he did, he’d have to lose the smile.

Truer Words Have Seldom Been Spoken

When announcing his candidacy for the presidency on Monday, Jeb Bush declared that “America deserves better.”

If only he had been looking in the mirror when he said it.

Florida Bans Climate Change

climate changeNo, not the problem; the term.

According to published reports, the governor and the head of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection do not accept that climate change is caused by human activity. Consequently, state environmental officials have been instructed not to use terms like “climate change,” “sustainability,” and “global warming” – not in official communication, not in reports, and not even in emails.

Well, that’s one way to deal with a problem: just pretend it doesn’t exist.

On the Campaign Trail (mid-June)

Time to look in on the presidential campaign trail – a trail, by the way, that’s getting so congested it may soon need traffic signals. Some of the expected candidates have announced that they’re running since the last time we visited and some are still doing the “I’m still exploring my options” dance while raising money and barnstorming through Iowa and New Hampshire and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

But first, we have a few new contestants in our game. Let’s take a look.

Rick Perry? Didn’t we just finish giggling about his 2012 run?

George Pataki? In what alternative universe does George Pataki believe there’s even a passing interest in seeing him as president of the United States except perhaps – perhaps – in the Pataki family?

buckinghamRick Santorum? (Laughing…too…hard…to…type…)

John Kasich? (Actually, The Curmudgeon is rather fond of Kasich even though he thinks the guy is dead wrong on virtually every issue.)

Lindsey Graham? How do you run for president when ninety-seven percent of the electorate has no idea who you are?

Now let’s look at some of the more entertaining things that have happened on the campaign trail since our last look.

Ted Cruz

Never one to back away from doing something that’s colossally stupid just to prove he’s his own man, the Cruz missile introduced a bill in the Senate to overturn a new Washington, D.C. law that would protect people from being fired for their reproductive rights choices, such as such as a decision to use birth control, get an abortion, or use in vitro fertilization. In the World According to Ted, a woman could be fired for having an abortion or a guy for having a ten-year-old condom in his wallet.

Because it turns out that some Republicans only want to keep government out of your life some of the time and not all of the time – and especially, not when your values aren’t in lock-step with theirs.

When police officers in Texas killed two gunmen who were widely thought to be inspired by the Islamic State, Cruz declared “We saw the ugly face of Islamic terrorism in my home state of Texas, in Garland where two jihadists came to commit murder. Thankfully one police officer helped them meet their virgins.”

So at a time when we’re all a little sensitive about police use of deadly force, Cruz is urging them on.

Way to keep your finger on the public’s pulse, Ted.

Poor Bobby Jindal

jindalPoor Bobby continues to struggle to find a way not so much to remain relevant as just to get a very little attention, so when commenting on the same incident in Garland, he explained that it probably wasn’t a good idea for the Muslims to try to pull off an attack in the south, where people take their guns more seriously, because “In our states, we think of gun control – we think that means hitting your target.”

Very enlightened and always a crowd-pleaser.

Poor Bobby’s official announcement of his candidacy is scheduled for June 24, and we can expect even more fun from him thereafter.

Mike Huckabee

Doesn’t it often seem as if Mike Huckabee is running to be the head of some church rather than president of the United States? Maybe that’s why he’s not real big on, you know, facts and policy; too busy pointing out our spiritual shortcomings. In announcing his candidacy, Huckabee offered a few of those “what the Huck?” moments Americans have come to expect of him.

Like pointing out that 93.9 million Americans don’t have jobs. What he didn’t say was that his figure includes people like The Curmudgeon’s eighty-year-old mother; a regular visitor to this blog’s two pre-school grandchildren (one of whom still isn’t potty-trained, which can be a real barrier to employment); and as far as The Curmudgeon can tell, Huckabee’s own wife.

In announcing his candidacy, Huckabee boasted of engineering ninety-four tax cuts while governor of Arkansas. What he didn’t say was that he also raised taxes twenty-one times – something to which The Curmudgeon doesn’t specifically object (the raising of the taxes, not the failure to mention that he did so).

huckabeeWhile a guest on Face the Nation, Huckabee was asked about diet supplements he once endorsed, saying they could reverse diabetes.

“I don’t have to defend everything that I’ve ever done,” Huckabee said.

Actually, Huck, when you’re running for president, you do.

Like fellow candidate Ben Carson, Huckabee isn’t a fan of the Supreme Court. He told one gathering that he “…cringes whenever he hears people call a court decision ‘the law of the land.’ ”

You see, Huck believes the bible – his bible and not the constitution – should be the law of the land.

Ben Carson

Carson’s candidacy is so utterly ridiculous that it probably shouldn’t even be mentioned, but the guy is just so…so…fun.

Recently, Carson raised the possibility that he wasn’t paying attention during social studies class in school when he questioned whether the president must obey the Supreme Court.

“It is an open question. It needs to be discussed,” Carson told Fox News. Even Chris Wallace, the reluctant apologist for the Fox empire, was taken aback.

Chris Christie

Christie has lost a great deal of weight since his 2013 lap band surgery but his pre-surgery appetite became news recently when it was reported that he spent $82,594 – $82,594! – at the concession stands at Met Life Stadium while watching Giants and Jets football games during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

That, needless to say, is one helluva lot of corn dogs and cheese-slathered nachos.

Jeb Bush

There seems to be a perception that Jeb Bush’s candidacy is in trouble but The Curmudgeon isn’t buying it. That view seems to be based largely on Bush’s failure to scare every other candidate out of the race, but clearly, you can’t scare off people who are too dumb to recognize reality when it hits them smack dab in the face (and yes, The Curmudgeon is talking to you, George Pataki).

They say that those who fail to learn history’s lessons are doomed to repeat them, but Jeb seems not to buy into that theory at all. Even though his father lost his bid for re-election just a year after winning a war and his brother lost the respect of much of the American public for leading his country into not one but two failed wars, Jeb continues to press the war button, telling a gathering in Germany about the threat from Russia that “There are things that we could do given the scale of our military to send a strong signal that we’re on the side of Poland, the Baltics and the countries that truly feel threatened by the ‘little green men’, this new cyber warfare and these other tactics that Russia now is using. I think we ought to consider putting troops there for sure.”

So there you have it: Jeb Bush wants to put American troops along the Russian border.

World War III, anyone?

Bush also ran into trouble back home when, as part of an address about health care, he said the new Apple Watch – a gizmo The Curmudgeon wrote about recently – could be part of an alternative to Obamacare.

Fellow Floridian Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a member of Congress and chair of the Democratic National Committee, was having none of it.

“I had cancer,” Wasserman Schultz declared. “There’s no app for that.”

Amen to that, sister.

Marco Rubio

Rubio ran into some problems recently over his personal finances. He’s been in public service for a while so his income has been somewhat limited – limited in a rich person’s way, not a normal person’s way, that is, because U.S. senators currently are paid $174,000 a year (The Curmudgeon continues to refuse to say U.S. senators “earn” $174,000 a year). Rubio also reportedly has a sugar daddy in Florida used car salesman (and former Philadelphia Eagles owner) Norman Braman.

Still, Rubio’s inability to manage his personal finances is pretty striking. Last fall Rubio cleaned out a $68,000 retirement account (and took the tax hit for doing so) to address some household needs. We can all understand dipping into savings for something important on occasion, although it’s hard to understand his needing to do so just two years after receiving an $800,000 advance from a publisher to write a book – an $800,000 advance – and one of the things Rubio did with that money was to replace his home’s air conditioning unit.

Something else he did with that money is a little harder to explain – but Rubio tried anyway, noting that “…my refrigerator broke down. That was $3,000.”

$3000 – for a refrigerator? A refrigerator? A guy with financial problems spends $3000 for a refrigerator? (Really, anyone spends $3000 for a refrigerator? And what, exactly, does a $3000 refrigerator do to make it worth $3000?)

One suspects that a Rubio presidency would mark the return of the $600 Navy ball peen hammer.

Rick Santorum

Unlike so many cynics and skeptics, The Curmudgeon is delighted to welcome Rick Santorum to this presidential circus because he is a sideshow unto himself.

And he got his under-the-big-top act in gear recently by telling the pope to mind his own beeswax on the subject of climate change.

“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focus on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality. And I think when we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible.”

Now if only we could get Santorum, whose three degrees include none in science, to do that very thing: leave science to the scientists.

The Curmudgeon isn’t holding his breath.

The Donald

trumpDonald Trump has announced that he will make a “dramatic announcement” on June 16. Since today is June 15, all The Curmudgeon can say is that the suspense is killing him. While he’s pretty sure Trump is waaaay too gutless to run and actually put himself on the line, The Curmudgeon hopes he’s wrong because every three-ring circus needs a ringmaster and Trump would certainly add to the campaign’s entertainment value.

Why the hair alone…

Taking Care of Business (chapters 5 and 6)

(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.)

Chapter Five

Three days later, McDougal’s committee met with him over roast beef sandwiches and beer at a bar owned by one of the few Democratic ward leaders who did not earn his living on the public payroll. There, committee members reported that they could find no “dirt” on Watson: no political scandals, no obvious personal or professional failures, no apparent skeletons in her closet.

In light of such disheartening findings – they clearly were surprised and disappointed to discover a public official of integrity and ability – committee members recommended a three-part approach to discrediting this dangerous woman.

First, the committee suggested that the chairman lead a delegation to meet with Mayor Norbert and press their case for the immediate termination of Watson’s offensive program – and, ideally, of Watson herself. This, committee members agreed, would be the best solution, rendering its other recommendations superfluous and completely solving their problem.

Second, the committee proposed that city council turn this year’s budget hearing for the streets department, which would take place in just a few weeks, into a broader inquiry into the department’s performance, its spending, and its leader. The committee cited several potentially embarrassing issues council members might raise during such a hearing, including several major failures in the department’s performance in the past. When McDougal pointed out that the incidents in question preceded Watson’s arrival, committee members failed to see the relevance of his observation and blinked in confusion.

Third, the committee recommended attempting to undermine Watson through the local newspapers. Party leaders had excellent relationships with newspaper reporters and had found over the years that the easiest way to get something into the newspaper was to give a story, in its entirety and without need for any additional reporting, directly to a reporter – local government reporters being inherently unenterprising individuals who rarely pursued any story not handed to them by a source or through a news release. The tabloid Post, in particular, eagerly invited unsubstantiated stories by creating a weekly political gossip column, essentially giving anyone with an axe to grind a forum for all manner of fabrication while at the same time giving the feature’s contributing writers license to publish such fabrications without guilt and without the need to verify whether there was any truth to them by clearly labeling such items “gossip.”

The chairman agreed to the strategy, ordered another round of beer for his guests, and decided that he would call the mayor’s office first thing in the morning to request an appointment.

Chapter Six

Shortly after two o’clock the next afternoon, Democratic party chairman Denny McDougal, ward leader Charlie DiMaio – who had failed to sign himself out properly from his office at the parking authority and was frantically being sought by his secretary (he refused either to carry a pager or to give her his cell phone number, even though she was also his sister in-law, maintaining that there was no such thing as a ‘parking emergency’ and therefore no possible justification for disturbing him when he was out of the office) – city councilman James Barber, and two other ward leaders were ushered into the office of mayor James Norbert. After they exchanged greetings and selected soft drinks, McDougal came straight to the point.

“Mayor, we want to talk to you about Shaniqua Watson,” McDougal said.

The mayor smiled.

“Can you believe her?” he asked, leaning forward. “I mean, I was told that she was a ball of fire and creative as hell, but I had no idea she would be this innovative and energetic. She’s almost single-handedly transforming the worst department in city government.”

“That’s not quite how we see it, Mr. Mayor,” McDougal replied.

“Oh?”

“I have sixty-six ward leaders, all backed by fifty to sixty committeemen, who want her gone yesterday. Or at least that program of hers.”

“Why?” the mayor asked.

“Because she’s undermining our role in the political process.”

“She’s what?”

“Potholes and street lights are what we do. That’s how we turn out votes.”

“Now Denny, I’ve yet to see a Democratic committeeman with a shovel full of hot asphalt or seventy-five feet up in the air in a cherry-picker.”

“You know that’s not what I mean, Jim. You also know how it works, and how it’s supposed to work: when people need something done for them by the city, they call us not you. We arrange to get it done, and then, come election time, we ask them to return our large favor with a very small one.”

“I agree that that’s how it currently works, Denny,” Norbert responded, “but I don’t accept that that’s how it’s supposed to be. When people need something from their government they should be able to go directly to that government to get it. Philadelphia has been a miserable failure on that score for decades, and as far as I can tell, Shaniqua is the first person to come along and challenge the status quo. I think it’s great.”

“So then what’s left for us?” McDougal asked.

“Your job: turn out the vote,” the mayor replied.

“Based on what?”

“What’re you talking about?”

“How do you think we turn out the vote, Jim?”

“You tell me.”

“We win the loyalty of our neighborhoods, block by block and house by house, by solving problems and delivering services. We do a favor for them, they do a favor for us.”

“So?”

“So if your new commissioner starts providing public services without us getting the credit, how can we earn voters’ loyalty and take care of business?”

The mayor looked puzzled; McDougal thought the argument was so self-evident that he asked himself if the mayor might possibly be putting him on.

“Look, Mr. Mayor, I understand that you didn’t come up through the party ranks, so you may not appreciate what goes on in the streets and what’s involved in getting candidates elected and keeping them in office.”

“I seemed to get elected easily enough without that help,” Norbert said. “Listen, maybe we’re talking about a process that’s obsolete, Denny. If having committeemen working on your behalf is so important to getting elected, how was I was able to win a primary against a party-endorsed candidate who had virtually 100 percent name recognition and a well-funded campaign?”

Norbert felt bad as soon as he said that because Councilman Barber, seated across from him, had been one of the four candidates he had easily beaten in the Democratic primary for mayor, and he knew the man still was hurt by that defeat. Norbert genuinely liked Barber and thought he was one of the few members of council who managed not to embarrass himself, his constituents, and his city every time he opened his mouth.

Still, outwardly, Norbert laughed. Years ago he had launched a small business and turned it into an international giant. Over the years he had funded numerous local projects, and then, with his own money, had purchased the city’s professional basketball team, hired a new coach and new management, signed new players, and saw the team win a championship in just his third year as owner. He was a much-loved figure who had barely needed to campaign at all to gain office.

“That’s easy enough for you to say,” McDougal argued. “But if you want to get things done in this town, you can’t do them all by yourself. You need the support of city council and strong delegations looking out for the city’s interests in Harrisburg and Washington, and it’s the party and our committeemen who get you the people you need to do those jobs, not your basketball team.”

The mayor smiled.

“So your people can use improved government as their selling point.”

“What?”

“When they knock on doors, instead of reminding people about getting potholes filled, they can tell them that it was their party that made city government so responsive to their needs. How can you argue against good government?”

McDougal shook his head.

“It doesn’t work that way, Mr. Mayor. Come election day, the voters want to know ‘What’s in it for me?’ That ‘me’ means ‘me, personally,’ not ‘me’ as in ‘me, a citizen of Philadelphia.’”

“So you’re telling me that improving city government by making it more responsive to the needs of taxpayers is bad politics?”

“Very bad politics, yes,” McDougal replied. “The worst possible politics. There are many things you can do as mayor to improve the city that would be good politics as well, even great politics, but enabling the public to contact city agencies directly when they need help and eliminating committeemen, ward leaders, and councilmen as the middlemen between the people and those agencies and the services they provide isn’t one of them.”

“That’s ridiculous, Denny.”

“No, it’s not ridiculous. Believe me, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I know.”

The mayor paused for a moment.

“We had a deal, Denny. We agreed that I’d run the city and you’d stay out of my way and you’d run the party and I’d stay out of yours. I set up a small unit in my office to take care of your service requests and my understanding is that they’ve done a great job so far. Have they failed you even once yet?”

“No.”

“And has Commissioner Watson? I know all your ward leaders were given her email address and cell phone number.”

“No.”

“And I expect them all to continue to do great work. And while we’re doing all that for you, have I asked you to find even a single job for any of my supporters?”

“No.”

“And have any of my people come to you for that?”

“No.”

“Then please, let’s continue to live up to our deal. Shaniqua is doing a great job and I have no intention of slowing her down or stopping her. If you want, I’ll arrange for you to sit down with her, and I’ll even join you if you want, but my only concern right now is how to find more leaders like her with the same level of commitment, energy, and creativity.”

The delegation – its leader and the four others who had spoken not a word to the mayor – departed disappointed. During his walk back to party headquarters, McDougal decided that his next step should be to have a talk with Fred Gilliam, president of the city’s blue-collar workers’ union. Gilliam and his union were a powerful behind-the-scenes force in running much of Philadelphia’s government, and nowhere was their influence greater than in the streets department. Maybe Gilliam can help with this problem, McDougal told himself optimistically.

 

Thought for the Day

Courtesy of the Curmudgeonly Sister.

juggler

Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice…

Dear CVS,

The Curmudgeon has been buying your store-brand vitamins for about ten years. At some point he realized that you ran sales on them constantly: buy one, get one free. He likes that, so he’s been a loyal customer.

Your ads were always clear. Sometimes the offer was for all of your store-brand vitamins, sometimes just for your multi-vitamins, and sometimes only for your other vitamins. It was always clear which vitamins were on sale.

Recently, though, you changed your approach: the ads now say “buy one, get one free” for “selected” store-brand vitamins.

So when The Curmudgeon found himself running low on his multi-vitamin the weekly ad was of no use so he went to the store to see if the multi-vitamin was on sale.

It wasn’t, so he went home disappointed.

And he went back the next week, when a new sale was advertised – and went home disappointed yet again when his multi-vitamin again was not on sale.

So last Sunday he returned to the store yet again because the circular you thoughtfully send him every week advertised yet another new sale on your store-brand vitamins – the same deal: buy one, get one free on selected vitamins. New day, old result: his multi-vitamin again was not on sale.

But as he walked toward his car he noticed the Rite Aid directly across the street and the proverbial light bulb went on over his head: why not walk across the street – not even drive – and see what Rite Aid can offer?

And he did, and found the same multi-vitamin at the same price and with the same buy one-get one free offer.

Sold!

cvsSo, CVS, how many times did you think you could lure him into the store with your deception? How big a sucker did you think The Curmudgeon would be? After all, in addition to the Rite Aid across the street, there are plenty of alternatives: Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and a bunch of independent drug stores.

It’s clear that the manner in which you changed your advertising was a deliberate attempt to draw him into your store. And it worked for a few weeks – until it didn’t work and until a simple stroll across the street produced the desired vitamins, because really, you’re all selling more or less the same things for more or less the same prices.

Oh, and that trip across the street? The Curmudgeon bought other things while he was in there. Isn’t that why you have sales in the first place – in the hope that while customers are in your store to pick up the item on sale they’ll buy something else as well?

Well, the tactic worked – for your competitor.

As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman to the sales lady at the store who rejected her when she looked like a streetwalker and returned as a streetwalker wearing a four-figure outfit purchased by her john, “BIG mistake. Big. Huge.”

Sincerely,

The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon, a new Rite Aid shopper

You Get What You Pay For

Many people don’t respect educators. This isn’t news.

Many people, The Curmudgeon has explained to many a teacher he’s heard complain about what they are paid, believe that anyone who can DO third-grade arithmetic therefore can TEACH third-grade arithmetic and there’s no reason to pay such people well because they’re easily replaced because, after all, pretty much everyone can do third-grade arithmetic.

The people who think this are fools, of course, but The Curmudgeon is only explaining, not agreeing.

There’s also the envy of teachers’ benefits, which are better than what many of us, including The Curmudgeon, receive at their own jobs – but jobs they chose to pursue, of their own free will, instead of teaching.

And many public officials feel the same way about teachers.

Many public officials have an equally disdainful attitude toward public school administrators. They believe administrators are seriously overpaid because they apparently think anyone can do those jobs, too. Public officials tend to be especially unhappy about paying anyone more than what they themselves are paid. What they fail to realize, of course, is that anyone, in theory, can be a member of a town council or a state legislature; there are no substantive requirements, generally just age and residency requirements. Teachers and administrators, on the other hand, must have certain training and specific professional certifications – things for which they had to study and work hard.

Politicians understand the public’s dislike of educators, so they love to mount their soapbox – imagine, people on a soapbox! – and criticize educators.

And sometimes, they do more than criticize: they do stuff.

Dumb stuff.

Like in New Jersey, which means our friend Governor Chris Christie.

Several years ago, claiming he could save his state’s taxpayers nearly $10 million a year, Christie decided that no school superintendent should be paid more than he’s paid, even though, again, anyone can theoretically be elected governor but not anyone can be a school superintendent. That meant that no New Jersey school superintendent could be paid more than $175,000 a year.

Where did the $175,000 figure come from? Certainly not from any attempt to ascertain what the going rate is for a quality school superintendent. No, it was an arbitrary figure linked solely to the equally arbitrary figure of what the governor of New Jersey is paid.

Now don’t get The Curmudgeon wrong: he knows $175,000 is a lot of money – certainly a lot more money than he’s ever going to make in a single year. He also knows that New Jersey, like pretty much every state, has far too many public school districts and therefore far too many school superintendents: 21 counties, 604 school districts, and 2505 public schools. Without question, the state needs to pursue a major consolidation of its school districts so it’s left with fewer high-paid superintendents who exercise a lot more responsibility for a lot more schools in exchange for those big paychecks than they do today.

But why address this challenge the right way, by leading a movement to consolidate school districts, when you can take the path of least resistance and score some cheap political points in the process by vilifying highly educated people who are well-paid for doing an important and hard job?

But now, back to those public officials – and especially, to the conservatives and Republicans among them. Whenever government attempts to get involved in business matters, all they talk about is “the market.” Government shouldn’t interfere in this or that, they insist; “the market” should decide. Government shouldn’t do anything to reduce oil prices, raise wages, or interfere with, say, how home loans are made; let “the market” decide these and other such things. Government shouldn’t even attempt to prevent pollution; let “the market” address the problem.

But did they give a moment’s consideration to what “the market” might be saying about school superintendents and what “the market” is saying you need to pay to get a good one?

No.

So what was “the market” saying about school superintendents? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer,

About 70 percent of the superintendents in New Jersey earned more than the cap before it was implemented…

That’s the kind of figure that defines the market, not what a politician says in the hope of winning favor among voters.

But now a Republican governor was both interfering with and ignoring the market. No one did any research that showed that limiting school superintendent pay to $175,000 a year would pose no obstacle to the state’s 604 school districts getting their man or woman for the job. That’s apparently because no one did any research, period. “The market,” that hallowed institution of the right, was ignored.

So were there consequences?

(Well, if there weren’t, The Curmudgeon wouldn’t be writing about it, would he?)

To be fair, the jury’s still out and since it’s only been four years the evidence is mostly anecdotal, but it appears it’s not going well.

The Inquirer reported that

Of the 219 districts that reported a change in superintendents since the salary limit took effect, 97, or 44 percent, cited the cap as the reason the administrator left the district, according to the association’s [note: the New Jersey School Boards Association, admittedly not an impartial voice on this subject] survey last year.

Further, the Inquirer reports,

In Camden County, 64 percent of the 25 districts that participated in the survey said their superintendents left because of the salary cap.

 So what does it mean?

It means a governor – and to be fair yet again, he wasn’t acting alone – took the easy way to address a hard problem and now, the schools he claims to support and the kids he claims to value could very well end up being hurt because he’s banned New Jersey school districts from paying what the market seems to be saying is the going rate for quality school superintendents. He and his pals scored a few cheap political points and saved a modest amount of money at the expense of kids just trying to get an education.

Hmm, politicians acting in their own-self interest instead of the interests of those they were elected to serve.

In other words, politics as usual.

Hey, Amazon.com

Think you can find an even bigger box for The Curmudgeon’s next order like this?

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