The Rockets’ Red Glare

Let us hope that Agent Orange didn’t order the air strike on Syria only after seeing a story about Syria’s use of chemical weapons on television.

The next national security advisor?

Because if he did, it may only be a matter of time before he needs yet another national security advisor – after the current holder of the job, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, realizes he’s working for a lunatic, throws up his arms in disgust, and runs screaming from the asylum.

“Unsubscribe”

This has almost certainly happened to you:  you make a purchase from a non-Amazon web site, and sometimes even before your purchase arrives, but certainly after it has arrived, you’re deluged with emails from the company.  Those emails say something to the effect of “We’re sending this to you because you subscribed” but of course you never subscribed.  They take your purchase as an implicit subscription, or maybe it’s buried somewhere in the fine print, but before you know it you’re getting emails:  maybe weekly, maybe two or three times a week, maybe even daily.

So you unsubscribe – which a few years ago wasn’t even a word – and when you do they’re polite about it, even though they may ask why you’ve chosen to forsake them, which of course is none of their business, but your action comes with an explanation/warning:  that unsubscribing takes ten days to two weeks and in that time you may continue to receive emails.

And you wonder:  how is it that they could take your money and get your merchandise to you in three or four days and start burying you with emails as soon as you hit the “purchase” button but it takes two weeks to delete your name from a mailing list?

 

 

 

 

 

Dawn Staley

Philadelphia’s own

(Last Sunday the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship.  The team’s coach is Dawn Staley.  It just so happens that The Curmudgeon wrote about Staley three years ago in a piece that was really only marginally about basketball.  In honor of her victory, and because he feels that what he wrote three years ago is even more relevant today – the circumstances are different but the sentiment remains the same – he offers an encore presentation of that piece below.)

 *     *     *

A New Coach?

The Philadelphia 76ers basketball team is in the market for a new coach after its old coach decided he was no longer up to the challenge of leading a talent-starved team.  (And before you non-sports fans stop reading here, please bear with us; this is not really a piece about basketball.)

All of the usual suspects are lining up for the job – mostly, people who were fired from other head coaching jobs and others who have been assistant coaches whom no one has seriously considered putting in the top slot.

But The Curmudgeon has his own idea about who should coach the team.

Might the 76ers be interested in someone who was a star player in college and whose college team went to the NCAA tournament four times in four years, including three “final four” games and one national championship game?

Someone who played in the Olympics three times, won three gold medals, and carried the country’s flag during the games’ opening ceremonies?

Someone who had a highly successful six-year professional career, making the all-star team all six years?

Someone who has been coaching college basketball now for thirteen years, including eight years in Philadelphia, and whose teams have been to the NCAA tournament eight of those thirteen years?

And someone who is from Philadelphia – something that merits attention because a very bad team will have trouble drawing fans?

Well, then, The Curmudgeon has the perfect candidate for head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dawn Staley.

You see?  The Curmudgeon told you this wasn’t really about basketball.

 

Everybody Knows…

… that you eat the vanilla side of these cookies before you eat the chocolate side.

A Mixed Message From Chris Christie

The Curmudgeon thinks Chris Christie was a good choice to lead the Trump administration’s commission to look at ways to address the opioid crisis.  After Christie returned to New Jersey following his failed bid for the presidency and spent a few months understandably feeling sorry for himself, he threw himself into the opioid crisis with a vigor and apparent purpose that were surprising – but most welcome.  As his term of office draws to a close – he’s in his last year as governor and cannot run again – he seems to view addressing the opioid problem as something on which he can build his legacy, and you don’t have to be a Christie fan – which The Curmudgeon is not – to wish him well.

When Christie appeared at a news conference with the president last week to announce creation of the commission with Christie as its head, Christie said

He [President Trump] and I are both pro-life.  We’re pro-life for the whole life.  Not just for the nine months in the womb, but for the whole life.  Every life is an individual gift from God and is precious. And no life is irredeemable.

And therein lies the mixed message, because as a proponent of the death penalty, Christie has declared some lives beyond redemption.

In 2015, he told the New York Times that

I’ve always believed that the death penalty is appropriate, and the reason it’s appropriate is because it’s an act of self-defense.

In 2011, Christie supported a bill in the New Jersey legislature that would have reinstated the death penalty in the state; that bill failed.

To be fair, Christie’s support of capital punishment seems lukewarm, as if it’s something expected of him because he’s a former prosecutor who wants to be seen as a real tough guy and he’s a Republican and it’s so incredibly, incredibly important for Republicans to convince people they’re tough on crime.

But in the end, his comment about “no life is irredeemable” seems hollow as long as he’s perfectly willing to declare some people irredeemable by sentencing them to death for their crimes.

A Bold (and Foolish) Statement of Priorities

Eight years ago, many of us were repulsed when Senate minority leader (then; now he’s majority leader) Mitch McConnell declared his number one priority to be ensuring that recently inaugurated president Barack Obama served only one term in office.

Not help the country.

Not pass needed legislation.

Not even “work in a bipartisan manner.”

No, his top goal was pure politics:  take control of the federal government away from the other guys – any way you can.

A lot of people were offended by that, even Republicans, and you would have thought politicians would learn a lesson from McConnell’s offensive declaration that politics is more important than country.

You would have thought.

But now Paul Ryan, so widely considered one of the smartest guys in the room, has made the same dumb mistake.

As reported by the Reuters news service (and many others), Ryan went on the CBS morning program last week and offered a variation of McConnell’s nonsense of eight years ago:

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country’s health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare.

In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.

“I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan said, referring to Trump’s offer to work with Democrats.

The object of government, at least theoretically, is to serve the needs of the people.  The object of the current health care reform effort, theoretically, is to find a better way to structure government’s role in paying for and delivering care than we employ today.

This is the Ryan smirk that one mild-mannered person The Curmudgeon knows says makes her want to smack him in the face.

Other than Paul Ryan, who apparently wants not only a better way but also full credit for coming up with it, does anyone else think it matters whose ideas we ultimately employ if the end result is the better way we all say we want?

For the second time in two weeks, Ryan blew it – blew it big time.  In so doing, he as revealed himself to be the very kind of politician he always claimed not to be.  It’s sad and disappointing – and disgraceful.

 

Not Letting the Facts Get in the Way: They Just Don’t Care

Two weeks ago, Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, defended his office’s recommendation to reduce federal support for state spending on “Meals on Wheels” programs by saying that

…we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.

While the program may show compassion for Meals recipients, he said he wants to show compassion for the taxpayers who pay for the meals.  The cut is justified, Mulvaney insisted, because Meals on Wheels doesn’t show any results.

Before moving into showing that Meals on Wheels DOES show results, The Curmudgeon would like to offer two observations.

First, it is EVER a bad idea to feed people who are hungry and can’t feed themselves?

And second, the administration is being awfully selective about demanding proof of the value of its expenditures, isn’t it?  After all, if we accept the argument that having a nuclear arsenal is a deterrent against attacks by foreign countries, where’s the proof that we need, say, 1000 nuclear warheads?  Might not 500 suffice?  100?  The administration wants to increase the national defense budget $54 billion?  Where’s the proof that $54 billion is the right number?  That $20 billion wouldn’t do the trick?  That any increase at all can be justified?  That this year’s national defense budget of $587.2 billion isn’t actually $54 billion MORE than we need to spend?  For that matter, where’s the proof that the wall the president wants to build will prevent people from crossing from Mexico into the U.S.?  And to take it one step further, where’s the proof that there’s been any increase in border crossings in, say, the past five years?

You get the point:  that the new administration is selectively applying a standard demanding proof for spending it doesn’t like while exempting spending it does want to undertake from meeting a similar standard.

But back to feeding poor people, starting with the elderly poor people served by Meals on Wheels.

As reported by the Washington Post,

Meals on Wheels is a nonprofit group that receives funding from the federal government, state and local governments and private donors. “We serve more than 2.4 million seniors from 60 to 100+ years old each year,” the organization writes. “They are primarily older than 60 and because of physical limitations or financial reasons, have difficulty shopping for or preparing meals for themselves.”

If that doesn’t clear the bar for “results,” as Mulvaney put it, there’s also been a fair amount of peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of the program.

A 2013 review of studies, for instance, found that home-delivered meal programs for seniors “significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.”

Not only that, the programs offer good bang-for-your-buck: “These programs are also aligned with the federal cost-containment policy to rebalance long-term care away from nursing homes to home- and community-based services by helping older adults maintain independence and remain in their homes and communities as their health and functioning decline.”

In other words, the programs help seniors stay at home and out of costly nursing facilities. If you’re interested in keeping a lid on health-care costs, the importance of this finding can’t be overstated.

“The average cost of a one-month nursing home stay is equivalent to providing home-delivered meals five days a week for approximately seven years,” one of the studies in the analysis found. How’s that for “results”?

And there’s more.

Also on the cost-containment front, a 2013 study by researchers at Brown University found that in most states, increasing Meals on Wheels enrollment would result in a net savings from decreased Medicaid costs for nursing home care.

More recently, those same researchers conducted a random controlled trial of Meals on Wheels efficacy. The study, which was funded by AARP, enrolled hundreds of seniors on food waiting lists across the United States. Some received daily meal deliveries, others got weekly bulk frozen food deliveries, and some simply remained on waiting lists.

“What we found is that there were statistically significant differences in health benefits among the three groups,” lead researcher Kali Thomas said, “with the highest gains recognized among participants living alone who had face-to-face contact via daily deliveries.”

Those receiving daily meals also experienced fewer falls and hospitalizations, the study found.

Sounds like results to The Curmudgeon.

But hungry seniors weren’t Mulvaney’s only target; he had a few choice words for hungry kids who are fed at school, too, as reported by UPI:

“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? I mean, that’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school,” Mulvaney said. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better in school… And we can’t prove that that’s happening.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) suggests otherwise:

  • Student participation in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) School Breakfast Program (SBP) is associated with increased academic grades and standardized test scores, reduced absenteeism, and improved cognitive performance (e.g., memory).
  • Skipping breakfast is associated with decreased cognitive performance (e.g., alertness, attention, memory, processing of complex visual display, problem solving) among students.
  • Lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits, vegetables, or dairy products, is associated with lower grades among students.
  • Deficits of specific nutrients (i.e., vitamins A, B6, B12, C, folate, iron, zinc, and calcium) are associated with lower grades and higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness among students.
  • Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students.

And the National Education Association offers this:

  • Missing meals and experiencing hunger impair children’s development and achievement. Studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry document the negative effects of hunger on children’s academic performance and behavior in school. Hungry children have lower math scores. They are also are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely.
  • Eating breakfast at school helps children perform better. Studies published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that academic achievement among students who eat school breakfasts tends to rise, especially in math. 
  • Students who eat breakfast at school have better attendance records and exhibit fewer behavior problems. In studies of school breakfast programs in Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, scientists have found that students who eat breakfast at school have better attendance records, are less likely to be tardy, and exhibit fewer behavioral and psychological problems. Schools report that offering all students free breakfast improves behavior and increases attentiveness.

And there’s this from Time magazine.

“Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report on health and academic achievement, which also noted that inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients has been associated with similar results.

According to the American Psychological Association, hungry children are ” significantly more likely to receive special education services, to have repeated a grade in school and to have received mental health counseling than at-risk-for-hunger or not-hungry children.” The same study also found that hungry children were more likely than their not-hungry peers to have behavioral problems, including fighting or not listening.

Now playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge is White House OMB director Mick Mulvaney

The Trump administration is in charge now, and it has the right to propose cutting any government programs it wants to propose cutting.  But when it makes such proposals, it shouldn’t trot out Mick Mulvaney to lie about why it wants to cut programs.  It should just tell the truth.

And in this case, the truth is that this administration has no interest in feeding hungry people.

Considering all of the blunt talk coming out of the White House these days, why won’t they just show the courage of their convictions and say so?

A New Explanation for Global Warming

Body heat.

Seriously.

There’s a story here, of course.

When Pennsylvania state senator Scott Wagner met last week with advocates of natural gas drilling – fracking, that is – it seemed only natural that he at least mention the issue of global warming (or climate change, if you insist; The Curmudgeon doesn’t).

What was not so natural, though, is what Wagner chose to blame for global warming.

Body heat and the Earth moving closer to the sun.

Seriously:  he said that.

Aloud.

In front of actual people.

Speaking of his sun migration theory, he told his audience that

I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the Earth moves closer to the sun every year – you know, the rotation of the Earth.  We’re moving closer to the sun.

Make that “Hasn’t been in a science class in a looooooooonnnnnng time.”

Well, at least he’s not like those pro basketball players who now insist the earth is flat

And what he said is just not true.  In fact, according to an analysis performed in 2004, the Earth is actually moving farther from the sun at a most unalarming rate of 5.75 inches a year.

But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say he just got his facts wrong.

Okay, seriously wrong.

Wagner also told his audience that

We have more people – you know, humans have warm bodies.  So is heat coming off?

So Wagner thinks body heat is causing global warming.

Seriously.

The guy’s a loon.

But here’s the thing:  Pennsylvania will hold a gubernatorial election in 2018 and the incumbent Democrat is underwhelming and vulnerable.  And if the election were held today, he’d probably lose to the most likely Republican candidate.

You guessed it:  state senator Scott Wagner.

Good luck with that, Pennsylvania.

 

A Study That Says Eating Fatty Foods Will Make You Drowsy?

The Curmudgeon didn’t need a study to tell him that. Why not? Because he proved that theory to his own satisfaction through his own little personal study just a few years ago.

As he has written in the past, The Curmudgeon works at home – a great arrangement, by the way. Occasionally, though, his presence is requested in the home office so he rises early, drives to the train station, and then takes a leisurely ninety-minute ride ((accompanied by a homemade muffin, iPod, ear buds, and a Kindle with the morning paper and a book) to a station that leaves him about a ten-minute walk from his employer’s Harrisburg, Pennsylvania office. For a period of about five months during the fall/winter seasons of 2012 and 2013 he traveled to Harrisburg almost every other Wednesday to attend a two-hour meeting with clients with whom his employer was undertaking a new project. Joining him at all of these meetings was the company’s owner and at some of them another of his bosses. The meetings were from ten o’clock until noon, and working for a company where many of his co-workers treat noon as a sacred time for lunch and abandon their desks with all the gusto of Fred Flintstone ‘s “yabo-daba-doo!” at the end of the work day, the delegation to these meetings didn’t bother walking the whole two blocks back to the office before departing for lunch: we went directly to a restaurant.

Now if you don’t know Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it’s not a bad town but not exactly ground zero for fine dining, either. The town has some decent restaurants – far, far more than it did in the early 1990s, when The Curmudgeon had his first extended experience in the city – but still, lunchtime choices within walking distance are limited and many of them are restaurants in bars, which means that for the most part they’re reheating food delivered by a Sysco truck.

LOTS of french fries

And the hallmark of such places, and certainly the case in Harrisburg, is that almost no matter what you order for your entrée the side dish is french fries – lots of french fries. The Curmudgeon isn’t a huge fan of french fries and, in fact, generally tries to stay away from deep-fried foods – although he does love him some KFC once ever year or two and recognizes that at least some of that Chinese food he eats is fried – but overall, he doesn’t eat much of it. Still, if it’s on his plate and he’s hungry he’s not going to be able to resist.

The beginning of the end of these day trips to Harrisburg is when The Curmudgeon gets on the 4:30 train back to Philadelphia. During this period of frequent trips he noticed that he felt drowsy during the afternoon and then exhausted by the time he took his seat on the train.

Now there’s something you need to know about The Curmudgeon: he never, ever gets sleepy during the day. Since the time he was oh, about three years old, he’s never taken a nap without a fever of at least 102. He’s not saying that’s good and he’s not saying that’s bad, he’s just saying that’s the way it is with him.

He responded to this uncharacteristic sleepiness first by attempting to drink more water during the afternoon – not always a smart idea when you’re going to be on a train for ninety minutes and prefer to stay away from Amtrak bathrooms (seriously: peeing while standing on a moving vehicle could be an interesting Olympic sport) – and then, by making sure to have a snack on the afternoon train home.

It’s generally not hard to persuade The Curmudgeon to have a snack, especially if chocolate is involved.

It almost – but not quite – came to this

These little attempts to address this uncharacteristic afternoon drowsiness helped, but only a little, so The Curmudgeon decided that it must originate with the beginning of the trip: to get to the train station in Philadelphia to make the trip to Harrisburg he was waking up at 5:15, and since his normal wake-up time is 7:00 and he is neither a morning person nor a person who can go to sleep early the night before to help compensate for the lost sleep, he decided he was tired because he hadn’t gotten enough sleep and there was nothing he could do about that and the afternoon yawns were something he was just going to have to learn to live with.

About three-quarters of the way through these five months of bi-monthly trips to Harrisburg his boss needed to go back to the office after the client meeting before going out to lunch; he said he needed to make a phone call. (He wasn’t kidding anyone:   The Curmudgeon knew he needed to use the bathroom.) Even though the walk was only two blocks it put us in an entirely different restaurant orbit and we decided to go to an Irish pub, where The Curmudgeon ordered shepherd’s pie. Since there already are potatoes in shepherd’s pie, he had no fries that day.

The Curmudgeon was about halfway home on the train that day when he realized that he hadn’t experienced his usual afternoon fatigue.

And then, for reasons he still can’t explain, the light bulb went on: it was the french fries. He might’ve been getting zonked by the french fries.

So he set up an experiment. The next time he went out to lunch at home, on a weekend, he made a point of ordering french fries – something he never does. Lo and behold, he got tired in the afternoon. The time after that when he went out to lunch on a weekend he made a point of not eating french fries. The result: no unusual fatigue.

Then, as the bi-monthly trips to Harrisburg drew to a close, he decided to test his thesis for real, this time with the added factor of the extra-early awakening and night of less-than-usual sleep. That day, he summoned all of his will to resist the call of the french fries. The result: no fatigue.

Mystery solved, and now, all that’s left is to wonder how much money the Australian government spent to produce the results of that study that were published in the journal Nutrients.

And also to wonder why they didn’t just call The Curmudgeon.

 

 

 

An Unfortunate Mental Picture

With a weak Democratic incumbent holding the office and an environment in which people want to “throw out the rascals” regardless of whether they’re actually rascals, Republicans in Pennsylvania are oozing out of the woodwork to express interest in running for governor next year.  The latest among them is a western Pennsylvania businessman whose candidacy The Curmudgeon learned about this week through this headline in the online newsletter Politics PA:

Mango Tells GOP Officials He’s Running for Gov

And when he read this headline The Curmudgeon couldn’t help but conjure an unfortunate mental image of a candidate who is almost certainly destined to disappear as quietly as his namesake.