Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two Versions

The past couple of years have been tough ones for Tiger Woods for lots of different reasons. I was more than a bit impressed, though, when I heard him give what was essentially a one word answer to the question "What do you see as the chances that you will NEVER get back to where you once were as a player?" Tiger's answer? "Zero." He went on to explain how he viewed his future, but I, who have no first hand knowledge of golf or the mental requirements to play, have to say that he certainly sounded like a winner. Without judging his past mistakes, it seems his gifts are both mental and physical.

Did anyone catch the Wall Street Journal article last week in which a 12-year employee and department manager at Goldman Sachs announced his resignation? Greg Smith became disgusted over the firm's slide away from client focus and service towards client ridicule, mostly for the customers who would frequently buy whatever G.S. was selling. In a rare case of the 1% crowd being exploited by an even more exclusive group, the customers became known as "muppets". We're talking here about individuals and institutions with portfolios in the millions.
But that's not even the whole story. Both the Wall Street Journal and FOX News are owned by the same company - Rupert Murdock's News Corp. But FOX somehow decided that the original story shouldn't be simply accepted as printed, and so they thought of a way to make G.S. seem a little friendlier. Now, a brief aside. Do you recall the sequel to the movie "Wall Street" made a few years ago? Michael Douglas back (after his character served a prison term) as uber shark Gordon Gecko, with a few supporting players and a story that borrowed freely from the excesses of the pre-crash markets of the late 2000's? You can find your own review of the movie, but one scene included a very aggressive shaved head type guy who was only too willing to risk other folks' money in some shaky securities. It wasn't really a major scene, except to show what working at such a firm was like (and no, there was no mention of G.S. in the movie).
Are you still with me? Fox News felt they could change minds by inviting in the actor who played the shaved head guy, who, it turns out, had some investment industry experience, but not at G.S. FOX Newsbabe Megyn Kelly asked questions that helped the guy reassure everyone that G.S. were actually good guys, and that Smith, in turn, was a punk, lashing out at his now-former employers in order to set himself up for a better spot at his next job, as though 12 years of experience wouldn't count for anything. And shaved head guy's current employment? Still acting, a fact that Kelly uncovered, but didn't wonder how this qualified him to refer to Smith at one point as a "bottom level guy".
Folks, I may be both old (just had a birthday similar to the other 62) and wrong from time to time, but I'm never going to just sit back and buy the stuff they spoon feed people at FOX News. If it means analyzing two versions of the same story, I'll take the one that comes from someone else.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Take Your Picks

Our local NPR affiliate is doing something that's new to me. Here's what they are offering, coming up on their regular fund-raising drive: Pay early, they say. If we get enough people signed up early, we'll do something for you. No, no coffee cups or collected smart-aleck wisdom from some well-known author. No recordings of deceased musicians or logo-driven neckties or pajamas. IF we get enough early takers, we promise to go BACK to regular programming a day earlier than usual. "Stop us!' we implore, "before we beg AGAIN!" Sounds like a deal to me.

For the next several weeks, we get the chance to pretend to be experts in college basketball, or at least we may get an excuse (in the form of small wagers) to care about teams from schools that are loved by their alumni, but otherwise pretty obscure. Xavier? VCU? Southern Mississippi? Detroit? Belmont?
Add in Saint Bonaventure, Gonzaga, Creighton, Temple and 59 other teams, then use a semi-scientific form of voodoo to seed them all into four different sections and you have the bookies' paradise, the annual NCAA Basketball tournament, though all bets, you understand, are strictly off the books.
Every year there are upsets, and yet the top seeds seem to dominate as the tournament progresses, and someone is sure to call a sixth-seeded team "Cinderella" if they should make it all the way to the Final Four. Teams are described in ways that don't even seem English. A team with lots of big players, for instance, is called "long". Old fashioned terms: center, forward, guard become numbers, 1 to 5. Even the stripe-shirted officials get commentary: are their calls "tight" or are they "letting them play"?
The commentators have to sometimes dig for things that might hold significance. The coaches from Purdue, for instance, may not know much about St. Mary's, but perhaps there's a connection through an assistant coach, or a common opponent of the two teams, or a similarity of some kind to the style of play of another team in one school's league.
And then, in spite of all the efforts to exploit another team's weakness, it might come down to one or two shots that keep you going to the next round, rather than home. Even so, 68 of the 69 teams involved will have their season end in a loss. Pretty poignant, huh? That's the drama that adds fans at just the right time, to CBS's delight. The tiny crowd out there who know only basketball have their chance with the NBA (that is, professional) finals, which end sometime in June.
But, of course, the self-appointed true fans have a strong tendency to stick to the college game, where the money flows a hundred ways, though NOT to the players. Now, in the meantime, if I could just get hold of some vital tip on the Memphis/St. Louis game...Two schools located in cities on the same (Mississippi) river, but playing Thursday in...Phoenix? Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Elephant Graveyard

To us, today is a day closer to our long trip to daughter Anna's wedding in a few weeks. To the rest of the country, it's the day of the Super Tuesday primaries OR, in realistic terms, one more step on the Death March towards the Romney GOP nomination. If you think the process has already gone on too long, blame the zillionaires who keep Santorum and Gingrich in the race with bags of cash that they have no other use for.

Now, as to this week's title. It refers, not so much to an event, but a phenomena that repeats itself from time to time. What I'm referring to is people of great fame who are caught saying or doing something stupid, which, in turn, wrecks, often with lightening speed, their credibility and reputation.
This is difficult to do in some industries. You have to really step in it to be scorned if you work in Hollywood or Wall Street, where bad conduct is pretty much expected. Big name athletes also are allowed more than one or two screwups, while corporate CEO's have whole staffs of company flacks dedicated to pooh poohing all sorts of violations.
So you can go awhile in the USA as a bad person pretending to be a good one, but when things finally turn around, your rep can go in a heartbeat. Consider the following as examples, in no particular order: Nixon, Bernie Madoff, Bobby Knight, Dan Rather, Magic Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno, Spiro Agnew, John Edwards, Martha Stewart and Jack Abramoff (sp?). The cynical among us might regard holders of elective office as the most likely to join the list, but I don't think they are really more likely to show up than, for instance, the owners of a sneaker factory located in China. Anyway, I hope the idea is clear. It's elephants (people who are widely known) going to the graveyard (when their misdeeds are revealed).
And this week there's a huge candidate for posthumous pachyderm - talk radio king Rush Limbaugh. The big guy's made fortunes getting people to be angry about something, most always someone else. He's gotten away with saying nasty things for decades by pretending (when it's convenient) to not be the emperor of the Republican Party, but just an entertainer who has a load of self-invented nicknames. all proclaiming his devotion to THE TRUTH, which (to him) is that Democrats are scum who deserve every kind of punishment, including capitol, just for being alive.
But this time he may have overplayed his hand. He entered, uninvited, as usual, the debate on the use and payment for birth control products, and in the process referred to a Georgetown University law student who was attempting to testify before an all-male congressional hearing in the nastiest of terms - for three days straight. The nation's response has been one that Limbaugh did not anticipate. The folks who have built his empire - advertising sponsors - have begun to take their money elsewhere. The big guy even felt forced to apologize, although in a fashion that said, in effect, "It's a shame I'm so much smarter than the rest of you, but, if you insist, I will stop calling young college women s___ and p_____ and stop demanding video proof of their shameless behavior."
I don't think there's much question that Limbaugh will end up in the elephant graveyard some day, but he's so rich that it may not be soon. Still, if he doesn't learn anything from this little kerfuffle, he'd better. After all, those college women, who've never listened to AM radio, have parents, and no one can force them to turn on the radio, either.