April 07, 2010

Tiger in Augusta

sa·ty·ria·sis (sāt′ə rī′ə sis, sat′-). noun. abnormal and uncontrollable desire by a man for sexual intercourse. Etymology: LL <>

It is good at times to take a break from such weighty subjects as sovereign debt default and Barack Obama's adoption of the Bush/Cheney approach to civil liberties and talk about something fun for a change. And what could be more fun than seeing Tiger Woods striding down the lush green fairways at Augusta National, just like old times. Good to have you back, man!

For what did Tiger really do that was so terrible? Predictably, Gloria Allred got involved, looking for a quick kill for one of Tiger's "victims?" Here's the first question I would ask: was Tiger accused of rape? No? Then can we assume that all of this sexual activity he engaged in with women other than his wife was consensual, that the women said "yes," in one way or another? That's what I thought. Which leaves the other angle on Tiger's dread calumny: he "deceived" them or even "defrauded" them.

Those of us who have spent a little too much time around legal ways of thinking understand how the law of fraud works. We call these things "elements" of a tort. For fraud you need (a) a lie, (b) reliance on the lie, (c) a finding that the reliance was "reasonable, and...whoa. Wait a minute. Stop right there. Are we to assume that any of these women, these pole dancers and porn stars and "hospitality workers" actually, reasonably believed that Tiger was going to make any one of them the center of his personal existence? Tiger Woods? For one thing, weren't they aware Tiger was a dedicated family man? Leaving that aside for the moment, it seems to me that every last one of them was aware they were in the "relationship" for the same reason Tiger was, for fun and giggles, and for the more ambitious, a book deal or a stint as one of Gloria Allred's clients.

What is truly dismaying is the extent that men have joined in the condemnation. James Moore, who wrote Bush's Brain (about Karl Rove), and generally an estimable fellow (one of those guys I think of as part of the Texas Algonquin Round Table, along with Jim Hightower and the late, great Molly Ivins) wrote, right off the bat, that Tiger's career was over, and that he ought to start...I don't know what he thought Tiger should be doing. This struck me as nonsense then, and I still think it's nonsense. Tiger Woods quit golf? Yeah, right. What Moore's reaction reflects is his buy-in to the double standard that governs any celebrity man's fall from favor. When Madonna or Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton tramp it up, are they asked to retire from public life? Don't think so. Indeed, that is the actual basis of their celebrity. But if Tiger does it, suddenly he is assailed by Gloria Allred and by the Sensitive New Age Guy (SNAG) brigade to spend the rest of his life in penance.

Most men do not attack him for it, truth be told, because they are capable of insight into their own less than pure tendencies. Nor, for that matter, do men attack women such as Paris Hilton for whatever she wants to do or to film herself doing it. There is an important reason for this, of course, relating to evolutionary biology and the male species: men don't want to discourage this kind of enlightened behavior by the female of the species. Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry discovers that the woman across the street likes to walk around her apartment naked, and Kramer discovers it and decides "to put a stop to it?" And Jerry grabs him by the lapels and screams, "Are you crazy?!" That's it right there, in microcosm. I'm not sure what "abnormal" and "uncontrollable" is even supposed to mean. Tiger just has advantages, that's all, and he took advantage of them. Pathologize it if you want, but Freud would just describe it as a form of putter envy.

One should always quote my favorite movie, "Dr. Strangelove," whenever possible, so here we go. I don't know if General Buck Turgidson suffered from satyriasis or not, though I doubt it. But here's what he was thinking about as the world ended:


Well, that would not be necessary Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. [Slams down left fist. Right arm rises in stiff Nazi salute. Arrrrr! Restrains right arm with left.] Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years.



Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?


Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

On the important question of whether Barack is a good jock

I did see the game of H-O-R-S-E between President Obama and Clark Kellogg during Saturday's Final Four games. Obama won the game with nothin' but net on a left-angle 3-pointer. It was a thrilling game (they were actually spelling out POTUS instead of HORSE), since the Prez had to come back from P-O-T-U to nothing in order to win. As a result, some have wondered whether Special K went in the tank. Obama himself said something to this effect at the conclusion of the game, but he's notoriously good-natured about such things. Remember how he laughed off his 37 score in bowling (which actually was stopped early at 7 frames - I assume his handlers threw in the drying towel).

Here's a nasty take on Obama's athleticism from some anti-Obama blogger at the Sundries Shack:

Yesterday, a mighty horde of conservative bloggers had a good chuckle overPresident Obama’s sad attempt to throw an opening day first pitch. Okay, I admit it was funny to watch the President we’ve been told is a top-notch athlete lob a dying quail that came down somewhere in the general vicinity of home plate, but it leads me to wonder if the President’s storied athletic ability hasn’t been just the teeniestbit exaggerated.

The guy who posted this snark looks as though he broke into the sundries (or sundaes) shack in the dead of night and ate everything he could find. Still, as an aging ex-jock, I take the whole subject of athleticism seriously, far more seriously than I should, in fact. Ex-jocks are too quick to assign too much importance to athletics and athleticism, in my opinion. Whether or not Van Cliburn would have done as well against Special K as the Prez does not mean Van couldn't play the piano, but there is some unconscious connection, in the minds of male jocks, between general competence in sports and leadership or Presidentialness. I suppose at an atavistic level it computes: whom do you choose to round out the mastodon hunting party, a lithe, quick, natural-born killer like Barack, or a corpulent sack o' guts like the guy who writes on "Sundries Shack?"

But burrowing a little deeper: here's what I think might be going on, to the extent this has any importance at all, which it probably doesn't. Barack does look funny throwing a baseball. On the other hand, he's pretty natural at shooting a basketball, although he has an odd, inside-out, twisting release on his 3-point set shot (mistakenly called a "jump shot" often by TV news pundits, but what do they know? Most of them are wussy non-jocks and thus incompetent at their work). One can deduce from Barack's specialization that he's mostly a basketball player and not a "general" kind of athlete who grew up in a jocky household in a neighborhood full of kids playing pick-up games, or he would probably throw a baseball better and bowl a game at a score higher than one normally associates with birthday parties for girls just turning six years old.

George W. Bush looked quite natural throwing out the first pitch. In general, however, he looked and acted like a klutz and was famous for dumb moves like falling off his bike while riding over level ground in broad daylight (even at one point plowing into a Scottish policeman and seriously injuring him). Yet I imagine his years in West Texas, particularly as a not-serious student, meant that W played lots and lots of baseball and every other sport, and it shows. On the other hand, I never saw Bush attempt a three-pointer. Wish I could have seen that.

I bowled my first game at about age ten and rolled a 64; then again, the circumstances of my upbringing meant that, in order to survive in my household and in my neighborhood, it was necessary to play every sport there was, beginning at a young age. Thus, football, basketball, baseball, as absolute requirements, and then anything else that came along, such as bowling, tennis, ping pong, water skiing, whatever the course of life threw at us. You tried it, learned the rudiments. The President, I sense, was raised in his peculiar circumstances as more of a hothouse orchid, stage-managed and guided by a highly attentive mother who valued scholastics above all else. Nevertheless, he needed rounding out and basketball was his outlet (he's also a very good body surfer, as video has shown). Since this was the primary pastime permitted him, he took full advantage of it and developed his game, including an impressive knack for knocking down long-range set shots. Nevertheless, the action photo taken above, which shows Barack driving the left lane against North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, demonstrates that Barack has the natural instincts of a player trying to avoid eating the pumpkin. He missed this shot, but still...

Therefore, contrary to the uninformed blathering of the lipoid-challenged blatherer eating his way through the Sundaes Shack, I conclude that Barack is, indeed, a good athlete who did not become a great player, like Special K (who scored 51 points, an Ohio state record, in the state championship game when he was a senior in high school), primarily because that was not his main focus, but channeled his natural athletic ability into (a) general basketball proficiency and (b) a gym rat knack for knocking down threes. He does throw a baseball like a girl, but it could have been otherwise if he had grown up playing baseball.

And yes, Special K definitely tanked.

April 04, 2010

Der Brotteig ist auferstanden

The advantage of some foreign languages is that the nouns have gender; therefore, if I substitute the pronoun "he" in the above German phrase, I have "He is risen," thus giving me a holiday-appropriate title.

The problem is I have no real subject. I do know something about bread dough, as it happens, and even a little about the basic process involved in dough rising. I mean, I've done it, kneaded flour mixed with molasses-infused water and waited for the yeast to work its peculiar magic. By analogy, the American economy is looking for its own type of yeast to cause various asset classes to inflate, particularly housing (transition: off and running!).

I saw Alan Greenspan on "This Week" this Easter morning, and he was "confronted" (in the usual obsequious way) with the Op-Ed by Michael Burry, of The Big Short fItalicame, who wrote a scathing piece in the the New York Times about the failure of Greenspan and the Federal Reserve to detect the housing bubble before it became obvious to everyone, in 2007, that it was going to pop. In essence, Sir Alan said that there were three groups of people in Washington circles during that run-up period between 2001 and 2007. Those who did not see the bubble forming, those who guessed right based on "luck," and those (very few) who had been "right." Greenspan put himself in the first category, and insinuated earlier (though not today) that Burry had benefited from statistical "illusions" (thus making him "lucky," I guess).

One idea that immediately occurs to me is that Greenspan should simply stop appearing on TV shows. He doesn't look at all well (a little bit too much like a George Lucas character who speaks in phrases that sound inverted, sort of like German), and he doesn't make any sense whatsoever. How would you see the housing bubble based on "luck?" That doesn't even compute. Burry saw it because he did tons of grunt-level research, reading through prospectuses for mortgage-backed bonds (which must have been unbelievably dull work) and finding the bonds that were backed by the lousiest mortgages (interest only, negative amortization, subject to big re-set in interest rate, borrowers with the worst FICO scores). There was no luck at all. He knew he was right and bet millions, putting his investors' money (and his own) where his mouth was. His only concern was whether the crooks on Wall Street would be good for the resulting pay-offs, and his suspicions were justified. They tried to weasel out, hating the idea (as Greenspan does) of being shown up by one very diligent researcher in a small office in Cupertino who proved more accurate and savvy than all of them put together, and who did not succumb to the mindless groupthink that is so completely characteristic of official policy makers these days. Burry diversified his marks (counter-parties on the other side of his credit default swaps) so he was not dependent just on bankrupt outfits like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers (which he avoided like the plague they were). He was also aware that some of his bets would be helped along because the Treasury Department and the Fed would bail out their close friends in some big investment banks who were carrying all that shitty paper, and he was prescient in that as well. But his main concern was that the feds would bail out the distressed homeowners themselves, thus "curing" all those bad subprime loans and spoiling his big play, but there he just wasn't cynical enough. Help the little guy? Hah!! All in all, Burry saw it all, and his only missed call was in thinking that friends of Wall Street like Sir Alan would ever give a shit about the actual struggling homeowners going under.

Don't ask me why Greenspan "missed it," but it is amazing how often the excuse that "no one else saw it" is used to justify every monumental failure of management and oversight in Washington, D.C. The same exact rationale was used to excuse the failure to understand that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, and it was equally false. Lots of people said, before March, 2003, that Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction (including Saddam, of course, but also Hans Blix, who was there looking for them on a full-time basis). Anyway, since when do you evaluate the opinions of people whose sole occupation is to manage such matters (the housing bubble, finding weapons of mass destruction) on the basis of what "everybody else" thinks? Isn't that why we have highly-paid experts in the government whose job is to do nothing else but focus their attentions on these issues? Why can they resort to the opinions of the guy sitting on the next bar stool to justify their profound ignorance and incompetence?

So shut up, please, Mr. Greenspan. It's obvious your enormous ego took a pounding once you realized that deriving your economic philosophy from a third-rate, addle-brained novelist was not a good idea when managing the largest economy on Planet Earth. When Atlas Shrugged, he threw the whole country into a ditch.