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The Chosen One

[ 0 ] November 29, 2009 |

The Tiger Woods incident provides an interesting glimpse into the world of celebrity image making, and the corporate and media interests that enable it. Woods got into a minor car accident early Friday morning after he was apparently attacked by his enraged wife. She seems to have smashed in the back window of his SUV with a couple of golf clubs as he tried to flee their home at 2:30 AM. Woods was found lying in the street drifting in and out of consciousness and suffering from facial lacerations, raising questions regarding whether the window was the only thing his wife connected with. Woods is refusing to talk to the police, which isn’t surprising, given that a truthful account of the proceedings would probably require his wife to be charged with committing domestic violence.

He did however release this statement on his website, which is a kind of negative masterpiece of botched public relations.

Absurdly, Woods is issuing a fulsome apology to the world in general, while at the same time claiming all that happened is that he got into a fender bender just beyond his driveway. Even more ineptly, he addresses the “many false, malicious and unfounded rumors that are circulating” about him. By doing so, he’s practically requiring the mainstream media to report on, and ask him about, a National Enquirer story claiming that he is having an affair — a story that to this point the more respectable media have refused to even mention, let alone question him about.

The most ridiculous feature of the statement is his whining plea for “privacy.” Tiger Woods has become a billionaire by marketing himself so assidiously that he’s now the most recognizable athlete, and indeed one of the most recognizable people, in the world. His vast wealth (less than 10% of which has been earned directly through his athletic achievements) is a product of making himself into a kind of human logo, that corporations pay him immense amounts to attach to their products. They find it profitable to do so because of the preposterous yet very widespread idea that athletic excellence somehow reflects well on a person’s character and general value as a human being. Tiger Woods alleged adultery has nothing to do with his ability to excel on the golf course, but has everything to do with his ability to market himself as some kind of exemplary person, whose putative preferences in regard to cars and accounting firms and watches should influence your view of these products, and the corporations that produce them.

On one level I do feel sorry for Woods, in that his father was a certifiable lunatic, whose ambitions in regard to his son went far beyond turning him into the greatest golfer in the world. Consider this quote from Earl Woods, from a 1996 Sports Illustrated profile, written when Woods was all of 21 years old, and had yet to win a major golf tournament, let alone transform the course of human history:

Tiger will win because of God’s mind. Can’t you see the pattern? Earl Woods asks. Can’t you see the signs? “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” Earl says.

Sports history, Mr. Woods? Do you mean more than Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson, more than Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe? “More than any of them because he’s more charismatic, more educated, more prepared for this than anyone.”

Anyone, Mr. Woods? Your son will have more impact than Nelson Mandela, more than Gandhi, more than Buddha?

“Yes, because he has a larger forum than any of them. Because he’s playing a sport that’s international. Because he’s qualified through his ethnicity to accomplish miracles. He’s the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don’t know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power.”

The craziest part of all this is that Eldrick “Tiger” Woods probably on some level believes it — and very little in his life experience within a media-saturated and celebrity-crazed culture has contradicted this belief.


[ 0 ] November 28, 2009 |

Dave linked to this outburst below. It’s worth noting that when American Thinker Robin from Berkeley describes what she calls the “wilding of Sarah Palin,” she fails to mention that the original “wilding” — the infamous rape of the Central Park jogger in 1989, resulted in the wrongful convictions of six teenage boys, who collectively ended up spending several decades in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

There’s a bathroom on the right

[ 0 ] November 25, 2009 |

A few years ago I ran into the concept of a mondegreen, which is usually defined as a mis-heard line in a song. The most commonly cited examples include “there’s a bathroom on the right,” as a mis-hearing of CCR’s “there’s a bad moon on the rise” and “s’cuse me while I kiss this guy” rather than Jimi Hendrix’s original “s’cuse me while I kiss the sky.”

Thanks to the wonders of wikipedia, I’ve learned that the original definition, formulated by Sylvia Wright, is actually narrower and more interesting: “The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original“.

It doesn’t seem to me that either of the common examples given above qualify. I humbly submit the following as instances from from my own personal history of mis-hearing song lyrics:

Rod Stewart, Maggie Mae:

I suppose I could collect my books and go back to school
Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool.

The correct lyric is “fool.” “Pool” deploys a clever pun, and a much more arresting image of the feckless yet suddenly intriguing father.

[Correction: Jim in comments points out that in fact "pool" is the real lyric, and that my subsequent interpretation is the actual mondogreen, except it wouldn't be one by the original definition. As Emily Litella used to say . . . never mind].

Speaking of which, The Kinks, Father Christmas:

When I was small I believed in Santa
Though I knew there was no dad.

Instead of the canonical “though I knew it was my dad.” The mis-hearing adds a level of wistful pathos to the proceedings.

Next up, Neil Young, Helpless:

There is a town in north Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare

The correct line is “With dream comfort memory despair.”

I’m of two minds about this one, as the correct version is more disturbingly surreal, while the mis-hearing has a certain homey charm.

Anyway, I like Wright’s original definition much more than the contemporary (mis)understanding of what she had in mind, which is rather ironic as Alanis Morrisette did not observe.

Obama’s war

[ 0 ] November 24, 2009 |

An unfortunate aspect of the nature of politics is that principled opposition to disastrous and/or immoral policies tends to either disappear or at least lose much of its intensity when such policies are adopted by politicians one supports.

Certainly over the last year we’ve seen this among what passes for the political left in this country, in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s true that Obama inherited these wars. He was elected to end them.

Yet today it’s being reported that, after nearly doubling the US military presence in Afghanistan earlier this year, he has decided to increase that number by 50%, at a direct cost of one million dollars per soldier. The indirect costs are incalcuable.

The administration’s plan contains “off-ramps,” points starting next June at which Obama could decide to continue the flow of troops, halt the deployments and adopt a more limited strategy or “begin looking very quickly at exiting” the country, depending on political and military progress, one defense official said.

“We have to start showing progress within six months on the political side or military side or that’s it,” the U.S. defense official said.

In short, the next six months will be crucial.

If you haven’t yet seen this recent Frontline program on the current situation in that country it’s worth your time.

Gatsby on Madison Avenue

[ 0 ] November 17, 2009 |

My wife and I started watching Mad Men on DVD about three weeks ago, and are now thoroughly addicted. We’re about midway through the second season, and just viewed the episode that features Mr. and Mrs. Donald Draper on a family picnic, during which Don tosses a beer can into the woods and Betsy cleans off the blanket on which they ate by simply tossing all the wrappers, napkins etc. onto the grass.

This scene reminded me of how when I was a child in the late 60s and early 70s there was what in retrospect seems like an intense anti-littering campaign, featuring among other things this famous PSA, that everyone of a certain age remembers.

I don’t know anything about the genesis or ultimate efficacy of that campaign, but if a scene from a period piece TV show counts as compelling evidence, it seems to have worked.

Seriously, did lots of Americans — including privileged people highly conscious of what was considered socially correct upper class public behavior — just use the outdoors as a wastebasket 50 years ago? Anyone know of any studies of the issue?

This is teh awesome

[ 0 ] November 16, 2009 |

From the Jacksonville-Jets game:

“It included a Jets defense trying to allow a touchdown to give Jacksonville the lead and the Jaguars refusing to score it. And it had nothing to do with either team trying to lose.

Jaguars running Maurice Jones-Drew, one of the stars of the game, intentionally dropped to his knee before the end zone after a 9-yard gain to set up the winning field goal.

Mindful of what some fans care about most, Jones-Drew said, “Tell my fantasy owners I’m sorry.”

He did it to run down the clock because the Jets had no timeouts and the Jaguars did not want the Jets to get the ball back after what was to be a 21-yard field goal by Josh Scobee.

Jones-Drew already had one touchdown and 123 rushing yards. Another score by him would have meant valuable points to fans who drafted him for their fantasy leagues.

“I’d rather take a win any day,” Jones-Drew said.

But when he was told not to score, Jones-Drew said he was surprised at first. “I’m like, a knee? What do you mean?” he said. “I took a deep breath and took a knee.”

What made it even stranger was the play before that. On first-and-10 from the Jets’ 14 with two minutes left, Jets Coach Rex Ryan told his defenders to let Jacksonville score. Ryan figured it would give the Jaguars a 6-point lead but leave his team time to take the ensuing kickoff and drive the field for a game-winning touchdown.

Because not all of his defenders got the message, Jones-Drew was tackled at the 10 by Marques Douglas and Sione Pouha after a 4-yard run.

“We couldn’t even get that right,” Ryan said.

That forced Ryan to use his last timeout. Jones-Drew dropped to a knee at the 1-yard line on the next play, and after that quarterback David Garrard knelt on the next two downs to waste more time and set up the winning kick.”

Meanwhile in related news professional moron Andy Reid kicks a field goal on fourth and one from the San Diego one while down 14-0, and then another one on fourth and one from the San Diego seven while down 21-6.

UPDATE [by SL]: On the other hand, Belichick’s disdain for the conventional wisdom on punting has served him well, but (with all respect for Manning and granting that they got screwed on the call) that seemed to be pushing it to an indefensible extreme.

Politics as punting on fourth and one

[ 0 ] November 9, 2009 |

One explanation for why people who advocate transparently idiotic policies that result in national disasters (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our current health care system, our drug laws, our prisons, our current financial crisis) generally don’t lose their pundit credentials is that what gets you fired isn’t being wrong: it’s being perceived to be wrong while bucking the conventional wisdom. Indeed being wrong while repeating the conventional wisdom is generally more profitable than being right while resisting it.

That’s why football coaches punt on fourth and one. It’s idiotic and loses lots of games, but what gets them fired is doing something unconventional that doesn’t work 100% of the time. And since nothing works 100% of the time they generally prefer to “manage by the book” as the baseball expression goes.

In American politics today, managing by the book means always being “strong on defense,” which in turn means spending insane sums of money on wars and the weapons to fight them, and “tough on crime,” which means throwing millions of people in prison at immense cost, often for behavior which in a more rational society wouldn’t even be illegal, let alone grounds for incarceration. It also means doing nothing that would upset the economic status quo; hence bankers must receive immense bonuses 15 minutes after their firms were saved from extinction by the timely transfer of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. (This is known as “letting the market reward success.”).

The conventional wisdom is the conventional wisdom because the establishment deems it to be simply the truth, and therefore not subject to question by serious people, such as themselves. This is why failed football coaches and baseball managers keep getting re-hired; this is why Bill Kristol now writes a column for the Washington Post, and Iraq war advocates aren’t immediately laughed out of the room when they give their opinions on what “we” should do next in Afghanistan.

Of course eventually things get too ridiculous, and the Red Sox hire Bill James. I don’t think Obama is Bill James. At best he might be Brian Cashman. Lets hope he doesn’t end up working with a hard salary cap. (What brings this whole post together, which to less discerning eyes might appear to consist of a disjointed ramble of mixed metaphors, is that Christina Romer is David Romer’s wife.)

What percentage of abortion costs are reimbursed by insurance companies?

[ 0 ] November 8, 2009 |

It turns out this is a difficult question to answer. Two recent studies came to quite different conclusions in regard to the related issue of how many employer-based private insurance plans offer coverage for abortion. The first study concluded that 87% of “typical” employer-based insurance plans cover abortion. The second concluded that 46% of covered workers had abortion coverage.

Obviously part of the explanation for the difference may be that the two questions aren’t identical. The first study tried to determine what was offered by typical plans, and increasingly workers are being pushed into high-deductible/limited coverge plans that don’t offer the same benefits as the supposedly “typical” plan. The second study surveyed HR people, who often may have not been familiar with their employers’ insurance coverage at this level of detail.

Of course the question of whether abortion is theoretically a reimbursable medical expense is different from the question of how much reimbursement takes place. A 2003 study found that in 2001 the costs of 13% of abortions were directly billed to private insurance companies. This number reflects, among other things, that lots of people are uninsured or under-insured, that some state Medicaid programs cover abortion, and that it’s likely a significant percentage of women who are covered by private insurance plans that reimburse abortion expenses choose not to seek reimbursement.

Relatedly, the median cost of an abortion in the U.S. is around $400, which itself indicates that private insurance plays a limited role. By way of comparison, simple outpatient procedures that are usually reinbursed by private insurance, such as ear tubes and tonsil removal, are billed out at thousands of dollars per surgery.

Savage nation

[ 0 ] November 6, 2009 |

I was stuck in a traffic jam yesterday afternoon and I happened onto the local right-wing talk radio station. Out of morbid curiosity I ended up spending about half an hour listening to Michael Savage, who advertises himself as the nation’s third most-popular radio talk show host.

It’s difficult to describe the flavor of the broadcast — I suppose it’s one of those things you have to experience yourself in order to appreciate. It’s true that many of Savage’s individual claims, such as that the leadership of the “Democrat” party is to Democratic voters as the leadership of Al Qaeda is to Islam, were laughably unhinged. But the really notable aspect of the thing was the air of apparently genuine paranoia that enveloped both Savage himself and his callers.

To listen to Savage is to enter a world in which the enemies of America are everywhere, and most especially at the center of our governmental, educational, and media institutions, which they control almost completely. These “mandarins” as Savage called them, are destroying the country by imposing their “psychotic” ideology on the American people, and implementing a program that is in the process of dismantling capitalism, disarming the populace, and eliminating America as we know it.

Yesterday Savage was obsessing on how nobody was going to be allowed to say that the army base shooter, Nidal Hasan, was an Islamic terrorist. He was particularly enraged with Fox News’s Shepard Smith, who had just reported that Hasan’s cousin had said that Hasan had been teased as a child for being of Middle Eastern ancestry. To Savage (and a couple of his callers), such a report was a typical exercise in PC rationalization, which requires blaming America for being a racist country that drives people like Hasan to commit terrorist acts.

The upshot of Hasan’s attack, Savage predicted, would be more required sensitivity training courses for Army personnel, more pressure for diversity hiring throughout the military in particular and the country in general, and more calls for “understanding” the terrorists’ perspective.

Again it’s hard to capture the flavor of this stuff, but it was the political equivalent of hardcore pornography — a kind of shameless wallowing in hatred, fear, and resentment. It was disgusting, and if you haven’t listened to anything like this lately (I hadn’t) I recommend doing so. Savage has by his own account a couple of million daily listeners — this isn’t some guy in a basement in Idaho with a web site that gets 12 visitors a week.

An interesting sidelight of the experience was listening to the ads run during the broadcast. A significant portion were for bankruptcy and other debt relief services. (There were also a couple for tattoo removal). The current outburst of right-wing populist rage is being channeled away from the Lords of Capital and towards all the usual suspects — the minorities and the illegals and the feminazis who took your job and don’t want to fight The Terrorists even assuming they don’t actually sympathize with them which of course they do because they think America is a racist nation. (Savage had a long riff about how our cities are now full of firefighters who can’t lift a hose, and San Francisco has a girl police chief who has destroyed the department’s morale etc etc.)

Anyway if you want to dip a toe in this cesspool you can listen to Dr. Savage here.

Claude Levi-Strauss

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |


An anecdote from The Raw and the Cooked: During World War II, when the US Army approached the caves in which Roquefort cheese is fermented, they assumed the smell was of rotting corpses, and destroyed the contents with flamethrowers.

Market failure NFL-style

[ 0 ] November 3, 2009 |

Last night’s NFL game featured the following situation: New Orleans takes over on downs at midfield with 1:37 left and an 11-point lead. Atlanta has one time out. This means that if New Orleans simply kneels down four times Atlanta will get the ball back with approximately seven seconds left (each down consumes roughly 45 seconds between snaps if the team with the ball does nothing but kneel in the victory formation, and the clock stops after a change of possession).

If New Orleans doesn’t want to turn the ball back over with seven seconds left, they can just run around a bit on the fourth down snap, and/or take a little extra time off on each kneel down play by having Drew Brees retreat five yards, and the clock will be at zero. In any case turning the ball over with seven seconds left and an 11-point lead makes it completely impossible for Atlanta to score 11 points.

So here’s what they do: They run the ball up the middle on first down and their center gets injured. By rule, this means the clock stops and New Orleans is charged with a time out (this rule is in place to stop teams from faking injuries to stop the clock). They run another rushing play on second down and Atlanta uses its final time out. They run again on third down and fumble. Atlanta takes over with 1:20 left. Atlanta takes 50 seconds to get into FG range. They kick the FG to make it a one-score game. They then recover the onside kick. They have the ball at midfield with 25 seconds left and non-trivial chance to send the game into overtime.

Through all of this none of the three announcers, who include a very highly regarded former and future NFL coach and a former NFL quarterback, note that the game would have been over long before if New Orleans’ coaching staff, with a combined salary several million dollars a year, had any understanding of the relevant rules.

Stuff like this happens every week.

Serious question: Why? It’s not because coaches are too stupid to understand the application of rules that are comprehensible to an intelligent 12-year-old. Football is a complex game on a variety of levels, and the average fan (like me) is completely unqualified to construct a functioning offensive game plan or a capable defense, let alone teach proper technique to players etc. But I’m qualified to add 45 to 45, get 90, subtract it from 97, and draw the appropriate conclusion.

In other words, this kind of thing would seem to pose something of a problem for adherents even the mildest versions of efficient market theory. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business. Coaches are paid millions of dollars to win games. And yet they continue to fail to take whatever simple structural steps it would take (like employing someone to tell them what to do in these situations) to maximize their chances of winnning.

On a related note, see this.

What exactly does Joe Lieberman have to do to get sanctioned?

[ 0 ] October 30, 2009 |

Inquiring minds want to know.

Recall that after, if I may be permitted to reach for le mot juste, thoroughly ratfucking the Dems last November, Lieberman was threatened with the loss of his committee chairmanship, but kept it after promising to be a good boy from here on out.

I guess he has just too much integrity to keep his promises.

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