Monday, October 31, 2011

The Real Problem With CL&P


It stands to reason that if a private corporation is charged with providing what should be a public service, services will perforce suffer. And so it is with CL&P (and its owner, Northeast Utilities).

I've probably been as big an apologist for CL&P as anyone. I just didn't see how the company could have been any more efficient in its response to Hurricane Irene two months ago. And, indeed, I have CL&P to thank that I'm one of a minority of its customers with power on this Halloween night.

However, when people smarter than I note that CL&P is grievously understaffed and so simply cannot react to any extraordinary circumstances, I have to wonder about how the state of Connecticut (and the rest of the country) has allowed a setup like this to occur.

It goes without saying that any public company's first obligation is to its shareholders. As a result, it must make as much profit as it can, and if this means retaining a skeleton staff, so be it.

For the second time in two months, the Constitution State is seeing how that capitalist notion can play out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Restaurants


I see there's a new enterprise in my old stamping grounds, as Jon
Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, opened the doors to what he hopes might be the first of several Soul Kitchens [in Red Bank, NJ].

The idea is this: There are no prices on the menu, which features such items as Garden State Gumbo, with chicken, pork sausage and Jersey fresh kale and a BBQ grilled salmon filet with soul seasonings, sweet potato mash and sautéed greens. Diners who are able to pay should leave more than the suggested minimum donation; Diners who can't afford to pay can volunteer to work at the Soul Kitchen to cover their meals. The restaurant will be open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and for Sunday brunch.
I certainly wish the erstwhile Mr. Bongiovi all the best in this benevolent project. Unfortunately, however, it certainly looks like eateries like The Soul Kitchen will become more and more necessary as
Friendly’s, the fast-casual dining chain that was home to so many post-little league sundaes and clamorous birthday parties, is filing for bankruptcy.
But Josh Ozersky of Time avers that Friendly's situation is hardly unique:
Every day seems to reveal another national chain, which had weathered everything from the OPEC boycott to the Bush recession, to be on the brink of extinction. Fuddruckers, Sbarro and the owner of the biggest Mexican restaurant chains in the U.S. (El Torito, Chevys Fresh Mex and Acapulco Mexican Restaurant) just declared bankruptcy as well, joining the ranks of Bennigan’s (2008), Don Pablo’s (2007), and Black Angus Steakhouse (twice, in 2004 and 2009). The incredible shrinking Tony Roma’s is down to just 45 units, and the Ground Round to 25, which I think officially qualifies it as an endangered species. There are only 141 Big Boys. Big Boys! Almost everywhere you look in chain restaurant land, the news is grim. Even the once omnipotent Olive Garden is struggling ...

[And] the reason the chains are shrinking is that they were the great commissary of the American middle class, and the middle class is itself a besieged and crippled entity. There are more proximate causes: high food prices, for example. But in the natural order of things, the chains would just respond by raising prices or shrinking portions. They can’t really do the latter because big portions are to chain restaurants what drunken co-eds are to the nation’s pay-per-view industry. The economy is hurting generally, that’s true. But the QSR sector, as it’s called by the industry (quick service restaurants, or fast food to you) is doing great. And the reason it’s doing great is because families that were eating fajita quesadilla platters for dinner are now eating less expensive fare like Hardee’s Thickburgers instead.
Needless to say, the US probably had too many of these casual refectories for a while, but it's still sad to see so many of them go belly up—especially in the case of Friendly's, which managed to weather the Great Depression in its 76-year history.

But all this is just symptomatic of a society that has become so diverse that the only restaurant choices are becoming The Four Seasons or McDonald's.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Baseball's Latest Drug Problems


This business about the Sox imbibing is getting curiouser and curiouser.
The Red Sox emphatically disputed a television report that some of their starting pitchers drank beer in the dugout during games this season.

The staunch denial included statements from pitchers Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, as well as club president/CEO Larry Lucchino and former manager Terry Francona.

It came a day after Lester was candid in admitting that reports were true of Sox starters drinking beer in the clubhouse during games they weren't pitching in.

In a statement released Tuesday, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett denied reports they drank beer in the dugout.

"The accusation that we were drinking in the dugout during games is completely false," Lester said on Tuesday night. "Anonymous sources are continuing to provide exaggerated and, in this case, inaccurate information to the media."

The report of pitchers drinking beer out of cups in the dugout came from WHDH-TV (Channel 7) in Boston early Tuesday evening. The station cited two team employees as sources.
As a recovering serious imbiber, I can say that this really doesn't look good. And Jon Lester's admitted culpability is especially bothersome. It's not as if he's been a paragon of health.

Meanwhile, to demonstrate that they really have their heads where the sun doesn't shine, four sanctimonious US Democratic Senators (one of whom is from Connecticut and sadly isn't named Lieberman) are
trying to save the children by urging Major League Baseball to ban chewing tobacco during baseball games. From the AP:

“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example,” the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner. The letter was signed by Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and fellow Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa.

The senators noted that millions of people will tune in to watch the World Series, including children.

Maybe someone should point out that baseball games start late enough on school nights that kids rarely see much spitting. Also, baseball’s ratings are so awful that there are statistically only about two or three dozen impressionable children watching at any given time.
With an absolutely unwatchable St. Louis-Texas Series about to begin, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011



Two incidents of cheating on standardized tests have been in the news recently, one in Connecticut:
A reading teacher accused of helping mastermind massive cheating on the 2011 Connecticut Mastery Test at Waterbury's Hopeville Elementary School submitted retirement papers Friday.
Of course, the principal is up to her eyebrows in this also; we'll see how long she lasts.

The truth of the matter is that when (especially urban) schools are held to impossible standards, things like this are bound to occur. Sometimes the workaround works, and sometimes it doesn't.

And in a demonstration of life imitating art (cf. "Suits"),
Samuel Eshaghoff, a 19-year-old sophomore at Emory University, was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly accepting money to take the SAT for six Long Island high school students. Testing officials said it was an isolated event, but school officials and prosecutors disagree, and a continuing investigation is focusing on other schools and students.

Local Long Island officials have begun discussing ways to combat future violations of the system, including a requirement that all students sit for the exam at their own school, where impersonation would be a near impossibility.
I'm always amused by inanity like this.
Local officials and school administrators alike have agreed that the standardized testing system is flawed, and that students, pressured by extreme competition in college admissions, are increasingly tempted to cheat,
but that's not going to stop them from imposing Draconian standards to ensure that the real Joe Smith takes the SAT.

The days of the implanted computer chip aren't far away.