Archive for February, 2009

Brother, can you spare some wisdom?

I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. – Umberto Eco

Where the fuck is my wisdom?

Seriously, wisdom was supposed to part of the deal, the salve that soothes amidst aging’s unceasing, unending parade of insults and torments. I am now well into my 36th year – my hair is thinning, my back is creaking, my sex drive is waning.

Wisdom should be accumulating, dammit.

I should know more about who I am, what I want to do, and why I’m here on this Earth. I should know more about how the world operates, more about love and relationships, more about politics and economics, more about morality and religion, more about culture and art.

I should know more.

And yet I feel at least as uncertain and confused about life as I’ve ever felt.

It’s not like I haven’t tried finding wisdom. I’m always searching for it. I am at least wise enough to know that more gray hairs don’t automatically translate into more gray matter. So I listen, I observe, I travel, I read, I muse, I cogitate, I study, I analyze. And yet the answers are as elusive as ever.

(I blog as well, obviously, though that’s a process I’ve come to see as mainly an attempt to convince others you have wisdom. Faking wisdom is of course a mighty poor substitute for having wisdom, but in a world populated mostly by fools, it will at least likely get you through the days.)

It’s scary how little I know and how contradictory my beliefs are. When it comes to religion, I’m an incredibly superstitious agnostic who prays when danger nears. When it comes to love, I’m a romantic who doesn’t quite believe in monogamy. When it comes to politics, I’m a bleeding-heart libertarian who has done nothing to change the world for the better other than exercise a wildly underappreciated right to vote.

Most days, I don’t even know who I am. What makes me happy? What is my purpose? Will having a family fulfill me or stultify me? Am I wasting my days away?

When will the wisdom come?

Sometimes I feel I’m right on the edge of being struck by some tremendous, life-changing insight. It’s hard to explain but I literally can feel wisdom’s presence hovering around me, just outside my grasp, like that of a pleasant, long-forgotten memory which I just can’t quite summon for recall.

My biggest fear is that one day very late in my life, I will finally grasp that elusive wisdom – the clouds will lift, the light bulb will go off, the angels will sing – only to find in the very next moment, before I can even share my hard-earned pearl with anyone, aging will exact its cruelest trick, and I won’t be able to remember what was so wise in the first place.

Nationalize Now …

I am going to try and keep this as short as possible because I’m off on a biz trip tomorrow (expect a lot less blog activity from me for about a week) and have things I need to get done before then.

But I just had to comment on the statement released jointly this afternoon by the Treasury, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Fed.

In the statement, which discusses the upcoming ‘stress test’ process all large banks will be undergoing starting Wednesday, the government in essence reaffirmed its preference that the banking system remain in private hands, saying in part:

“Because our economy functions better when financial institutions are well managed in the private sector, the strong presumption of the Capital Assistance Program is that banks should remain in private hands.”

For the past several weeks, I have maintained that we need to address our financial crisis in a significant and comprehensive way if we expect the other aspects of our recovery plan, such as our stimulus package, to have any kind of lasting impact.

I have argued that the banking system is so poorly capitalized that we will eventually need to nationalize significant swaths of our banking system, and that I’d rather get there sooner than later before we throw away hundreds of billions of dollars trying to put band-aids on a mortal wound.

I have heard several objections to the idea of nationalizing our banking system over the past several weeks. I will go through them quickly.

1) Do you really expect the government to run a bank effectively?

No, I don’t. And the mandate will have to be for the government to clean up any nationalized institution and get it back into private hands as quickly as possible (though perhaps in a different, less unwieldy form, i.e. turning a conglomerate like BofA into a bunch of smaller institutions based on region or function).

However, it’s not like we’re going to be putting lifelong bureaucrats and politicians in charge of running the day-to-day operations of nationalized institutions. Except for maybe the top tier of management, the vast majority of bank personnel would remain in their current positions, and I assume that respected, qualified individuals who have always worked in finance would make most of the major decisions.

More importantly, I find it deliciously ironic when people pursue this line of argument, because as bad as government will likely be at running banks, how can they possibly do any worse than our vaunted private system, which obviously got us into the current mess in the first place.

2) Nationalizing the banks will throw the system into chaos.

The system is already in chaos. The question is would nationalization cause the kind of systemic collapse that some people argued almost happened when Lehman Bros. was allowed to fail. Opponents fear a situation where all lending would shut down and people would start running to their banks to pull out money, creating a financial panic that we’ve largely avoided so far.

I don’t think this would happen at all. Perhaps the automobile manufacturers can make a rational case that if they were forced to declare bankruptcy, consumers would be much less likely to buy their cars because of concerns about car quality, or warranties being honored. But I think if anything, when it comes to their finances, consumers would feel more confident knowing their money was in the hands of the government. Corporations and other healthier banks I think would also perhaps be more willing to do business with nationalized institutions.

After all, this would be a nationalization, not a bankruptcy where assets would have to be sold immediately and at any price; once the uncertainty of the banks’ survival was removed, the government could take its time in figuring out the best way to handle the toxic asset situation and eventual reprivatization process.

3) Nationalization would call into question the very essence of our capitalist system.

I think this could happen. Confidence in the integrity of the system is a key prerequisite for a healthy, functioning capitalist economy. It’s why large and widespread examples of fraud and abuse, like we’ve seen with Enron and Madoff, create so much long-term damage.

Equity and especially bond holders who see their investments, contracts and covenants basically voided by the federal government would no doubt wonder about the very essence of private markets and private property, and whether they could feel confident that they truly owned any of their other investments.

However, I think we can mitigate these concerns by structuring the process and the language we use to make it clear that any nationalization plan would be both limited in scope and temporary in nature.

Unfortunately, we are facing an emergency situation and extreme measures are sometimes needed at those times. We can deal with the economic philosophizing later.

There are other arguments people have made against nationalization. Some argue that while nationalization may have worked for Sweden and Norway, it will be too expensive here. Others say that if we just tried to value these toxic assets accurately and dropped arcane accounting techniques like mark-to-market, nationalization wouldn’t even be necessary.

I think the critics of nationalization are all swimming in denial. Nationalization won’t be easy and painless. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made throughout the process. Certain investors would obviously lose everything. It’s merely the best of a bunch of bad choices. And whether we like it or not, it’s already happening: We already have basically nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG, and could own 40% of Citigroup if a current capital infusion plan being negotiated is implemented.

The question is whether we continue to engage in a form of Chinese water torture by trying to fix the situation in a piecemeal, haphazard manner or finally come to grips with the magnitude of our current crisis by devising a plan that deals with the situation once and for all.

The dagbuzz for 2/22/09: (Slumdog, the Oscars and a Happy Ending I Can Live With)

I usually hate happy endings in movies. They may be fine for movies like Rudy, but for many films, happy endings often ring false and feel like cheap cop-outs. Yet for reasons I explain in the video below, I actually enjoyed the ultra-gooey finale of Slumdog Millionaire.  And I’m totally thrilled that the movie won the Best Picture award at Sunday’s Oscars.

Perhaps because America’s economic story and outlook has become almost as depressing as the childhood of Slumdog protaganist Jamal Malik, it’s somehow fitting that we allowed ourselves to be gloriously deluded by inspiring, well-earned Hollywood ending bullshit.

After all, isn’t that on some level what our faith in Barack Obama is all about – the ability to believe in happy endings despite the overwhelming obstacles in our way and the sheer absurdity of such beliefs.

Other Best Picture nominees this year have displayed some strikingly relevant themes for our time, but no film fits the current zeitgeist better than Slumdog Millionaire.  So I’m thrilled that the movie got its own happy ending by winning the Best Picture award.

Official: Obama plans to slash deficit in half (AP)

Stuffing the Oscar Ballot: The Populist Take on the Odds

Michael Phelps may have been onto something (pun intended) …

I can’t stop stewing over the fact that the South Carolina sheriff decided to investigate Michael Phelps’ notorious bong hit, with an eye toward possible prosecution.

Phelps may be onto something!

Phelps may be onto something!

I know, I know, the sheriff dropped the investigation earlier this week after deciding there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Phelps, who wisely did not admit to smoking the funny weed but merely apologized for using ‘bad judgment.’

But still, the fact that we had even the beginnings of an investigation is an outright travesty. I actually thought it was a joke until I read that the sheriff arrested eight students after his posse stormed the house where the party was held and found trace amounts of marijuana.

All around us, this country seems to be going to hell, and with state unemployment at 9.5%,  South Carolina seems to be going through some particularly dark times. There just has gotta be something more pressing on the South Carolina police force agenda than going after a U.S. Olympic champion who decided to let loose one night and get stoned.

In fact, why is this country still not having a serious discussion about legalizing marijuana?? Even 500 leading economists, including the great Milton Friedman, believe the societal benefits of legalization would far outweigh the costs. Sure, $13 billion in tax revenue and cost savings may not sound like a lot when you’re looking at trillion-dollar deficits, but you gotta start somewhere (and in some states like California, those kind of dollars could actually make a dent).

Marijuana is the easiest argument to make for legalization because few people can argue that it is more dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes. And the successful medical marijuana state initatives have at least paved the way for us to begin a reasonable discussion about the issue.

But frankly, if I had my way I wouldn’t stop with marijuana. I’d legalize all drugs, and then tax the shit out of them. And then I’d move on to prostitution and do the exact same thing.

I’m not about to argue that legalizing drugs and prostitution would limit their occurrence in our society by making them more expensive or perhaps less ‘cool’ among the younger kids. On that front, legalization has had a mixed record in countries where it’s been tried.

However, I don’t think legalization would dramatically raise the levels of occurrence either, or burden our already strained health care system.

And these are areas where the government could actually do some good through taxation and regulation, filling in state revenue gaps (without going into more debt) and helping to combat contaminated drugs in the black market or the spread of STDs and violence in the sex worker industry.

We are wasting so many resources – in our police stations and our courts and our jails – to fight these silly wars which can’t be won, and which are funding terrorist organizations and hostile governments throughout the world.

Laws already exist on the books to guard against drug- or prostitution-related crimes, such as driving under the influence, or forced enslavement. I strongly believe we have the right to do whatever we want to our bodies as long as we are not harming others in the process. That to me is one of the core principles of what it means to be an American.

And could there possibly be a better example of an American hero than Michael Phelps? He brings home the gold and then possibly shows us one way to help solve our economic woes … Awesome!!

The buzz for 2/18/09: Cars and Houses and Chimps, Oh My!

I’m starting to feel the economy is like the chimp gone mad yesterday in Connecticut. You know, the one who ripped off the face of his owner’s friend.

“It’s eating us!! Listen to me, you have to shoot it!!”

Today’s economic damage tally:

$22 billion more for the car companies, 50,000+ expected jobs lost anyway.

$75 billion in mortgage relief for irresponsible homebuyers. (BTW, just got done reading through the details of the mortgage relief plan, and it actually looks fairly sensible on first blush. Bravo!)

Thanks again to Yahoo! buzz:

911 tape captures chimp owner’s horror

GM, Chrysler seek billions more, to cut more jobs (AP)

Image: $75 billion mortgage plan

$75 billion mortgage plan

Image: Recession will be worst since 1930s: Greenspan      (Reuters)

Recession will be worst since 1930s: Greenspan (Reuters)

The Buzz for 2/17/09: (Obama’s New New Deal?)

So Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law in Denver this afternoon. I’ve heard several pundits calling the $787 billion stimulus package the beginning of Obama’s New Deal. In today’s dagbuzz, I discuss why that comparison is foolish, and why we probably couldn’t even afford a new New Deal even if we desperately needed one.

I know Obama isn’t done with today’s bill. Homeowner and banking rescue plans are in the works and coming soon, but everything I’ve heard so far suggests that what the administration is trying to accomplish falls far short of the broad scope and scale of FDR’s New Deal plan.

The reason for our somewhat modest response may be partly that as bad as things are today, they’re not nearly as bad as they were when FDR took office (total shutdown of banking system, 25% unemployment), or maybe partly because of Obama’s more tenuous political situation (FDR got Congress to grant every single one of his ‘First 100 Days’ requests), but I worry that it’s mostly because we couldn’t begin to afford such a series of initiatives without totally jeopardizing the country’s long-term economic health and standing.

Image: Obama poised to sign stimulus into law      (AP)

Obama poised to sign stimulus into law (AP)

The dagBuzz for 2/12/09: (Darwin, Lincoln, and the new MOFT)

Exciting news, daggers (well, it’s at least exciting for Deadman)!! I have bought a snazzy new hi-res Webcam, and the videos should now end up being much, much clearer. However, the bad news is that not only do you now get to see all of Deadman’s defects in full glory, but I kind of liked the way the old dark and grainy images fit the Deadman persona.

All hope is not lost, though, as the new webcam can do some very cool things, some of which could help solve my persona dilemma.

The actual dagBuzz portion of the video today is brief, but please daggers watch the video all the way through to the end so you can see what the camera can do, and let me know what you think. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed, it’s pretty cool stuff – The Logitech 9000 Pro Webcam has been immediately anointed as My One Favorite Thing of the week – and as a bonus, I embarrass myself to the fullest throughout the proceedings.

Here are the Yahoo Buzz! stories:

Op-Ed Contributor: The Origin of Darwin

Obama looks to Lincoln while launching presidency      (AP)

Obama looks to Lincoln while launching presidency (AP)

The Buzz for 2/11/09: (Dogs, Immigrants and The First Lady)

You daggers are in for a real treat today, as you get to virtually meet Deadman’s world-famous dog, Oliver (aka Ollie, The Monk, and when I’m real mad at him, Oliver Jacob or O.J.), whose’s debut appearance is in honor of the 133rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and its best in show winner, the 10-year-old Sussex spaniel Spunk.

Unfortunately, today’s video is even more off-the-cuff and with more face scratching than usual because I had very limited time, and besides, Ollie wasn’t about to indulge me in multiple takes.

Also, you may notice that I’ve changed the name of these posts as I just can’t committ to doing them daily, although I will try. I’m going with DagBuzz but if you can think of a better name, I’d love to hear it.

Here are the Yahoo! Buzz stories I run down:

Sussex Spaniel, Stump, Wins Westminster Dog Show 2009

Sussex Spaniel, Stump, Wins Westminster Dog Show 2009

Op-Ed Columnist: The Open-Door Bailout

First lady Michelle Obama is Vogue cover model      (AP)

First lady Michelle Obama is Vogue cover model (AP)

The Buzz for 2/9/09: (Obama, Gaza, Octuplets, Grammies, Tiger)

OK, I don’t know how many people actually listened to my first attempt at the Daily Buzz, but two people commented they liked it (with reservations), and that’s all the encouragement the vain Deadman needed to continue the process. I think I solved the sunglass glare issue, and for whatever reason the slow-motion issue seems absent this time (tho the quality of the video is still atrocious and very dark – perhaps that’s appropriate for the deadman, tho!), and alas the length is still too long at just under 6 minutes, though at least 20 seconds of the video is dedicated to showing off my new Snuggie.

Here are the Yahoo buzz! stories I run down: (The video is below)

Obama to push stimulus at rally      (Reuters)

Obama to push stimulus at rally (Reuters)

Israeli aircraft hit 2 militant targets in Gaza      (AP)

Israeli aircraft hit 2 militant targets in Gaza (AP)

Octuplets’ grandmother criticizes daughter

51st Annual Grammy Award Winners Announced!

Tiger’s son Charlie arrives, already favored at ’26 Masters

Questions: Stimulate Me

OK, so Obama’s tough talking apparently worked.

The administration got three moderate Republican senators to agree to support the stimulus package and prevent a filibuster. In return, some $100 billion in spending from the package was removed while some Republican proposals for tax cuts and credits were adopted (most notably a $15,000 credit for homebuyers).

Of course, the compromise has pissed off some politicians on the left, but likely not enough to jeopardize a Yea vote.  The bill will pass the Senate soon, and then move to a committee where the House and Senate will negotiate on the final bill.

I just spent about an hour or so scanning through the revised stimulus bill, all 736 pages, and there’s plenty of good news (assuming you like the idea of the government spending $827 billion to try and stimulate the economy).

Despite the compromises, this is still clearly a Democratic bill. While there is certainly a fair amount of money going to the military and national security, the biggest sums are reserved for the areas that most liberals care about – education, health care, environment and green technology development, public housing and the homeless, public transit and other infrastructure.

For me, the good news is that the bill is pretty explicit about how the government will track the effectiveness of the money being spent, including the creation of a consumer-facing Web site that will have great detail on every dollar (aside from potential national security issues).

This is all hugely important because if I were someone without scruples, I’d be reading through this bill and just thinking about all the ways I could get my share of what could easily become a fraud-ridden boondoggle.

So what’s the questions part of this column, you ask?

Well, I am going to list below two (or more) of the programs or projects that are currently slated to receive more than $1 billion in government money, and I want you to tell me which one you think is more important and why? Any you’d get rid of?? (This is not a comprehensive list of the billion-dollar initiatives, and there were literally dozens more falling just short of ten figures).

1) $1.2 billion for aviation security vs. $1.2 billion for youth activities (incl. summer employment, state grants) vs $1.5 bln for state and local law enforcement?

2) $9 billion for federal building funds (including $6 bln to make them green) vs $9 billion for broadband expansion initiatives vs $8.4 bln for public transit?

3) $1 billion for dislocated worker training vs $1 billion for Head Start?

4) $1,35 billion for the National institute of Health vs. $1.2 billion for research at the National Science Foundation?

5) $13.5 billion for special education programs vs $13.869 in student financial assistance vs. $13.0 bln for elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 (incl. school improvement)?

6) $17.5 billion for CDC screening and immunization vs. $14.398 for renewable energy development?

7) $2 billion for advanced battery grants (incl. vehicles) vs. $2 billion for high-speed rail corridor program?

8)$2.25 billion for redevelopment of abandoned/foreclosed housing vs. $1.5 bln for homeless prevention?

9) $4.5 bln for electricity delivery and energy reliability vs $5.5 for surface transportation (i.e. highway/bridges) vs. $5 billion for health information technology investments?

10) $1 bln for nuclear weapons program vs. $1 bln for prisons?

The Daily Buzz (An Experiment in Multimedia)

Ok, so I am totally going to risk extreme personal embarrassment by doing this, but I decided to experiment with a little video rundown of some of the day’s top stories as indicated by Yahoo Buzz!, which is a Digg-like service at I basically put on my Unabomber/Deadman outfit, recap the top articles that interested me, and throw in a little commentary for good measure.

As you will quickly see, it is totally off-the-cuff with no script so frankly, it’s not that professional (Alas, I do have another job that pays the bills so I have to throw it up there, warts and all). But I have to admit, it was fun to do so if people like watching it, I may keep doing it. Be happy to take any of your suggestions for improvement (I know the glare of the sunglasses is distracting, but I’m not yet ready to totally drop my anonymity yet).

Here are the stories I run down: (The video is underneath)

Obama calls stimulus bill delay ‘inexcusable’ (AP)

Simpson Gets Into Bizarre Crying Fit At Concert

Christian Bale Apologizes for F-Word Filled Tirade

Christian Bale Apologizes for F-Word Filled Tirade

USA Swimming Suspends Phelps for Three Months

USA Swimming Suspends Phelps for Three Months

MOFT: Episode 8 (Reddi-Wip)

The first time I remember seeing a Reddi-wip can was on a camping trip during a high school summer when some of my friends tried to get high by snorting the nitrous oxide gas inside it. Even back then, a ‘whippit’ sure looked like a stupid, only mildly effective, thing to do.

But now almost 20 years later, Reddi-Wip is indeed getting me high on a regular basis — through sheer creamy goodness. I’m telling you, I am using this shit in and on everything. Hot cocoa, coffee, peanut butter sandwiches, cereal, cookies. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful invention (and not surprisingly, it was a St. Louisan, Aaron ‘Bunny’ Lapin, who made it all happen some 60 years ago). Congrats, Reddi-Wip, you are easily My One Favorite Thing of the week.

The best part is the regular stuff has only 15 calories and 1 gram of fat, and the fat-free variety is only 5 calories and basically just as good. (It also comes in Chocolate, which is awesome, and Extra Creamy, which just sounds way too sinfully decadent to try even though it only has a mere 20 calories a serving).

Want a really delicious, relatively healthy snack? Try a couple of Stella D’oro Almond Toast cookies (100 calories, 2g fat, 0 saturated) and then cover them with some Redi-Whip … hmmm-mmm…

I frankly just don’t understand how the caloric content can be so low. Now zero calories in diet soda and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray, that I understand, because those things taste like the chemical crap they are, but Reddi-Wip is so creamalicious, it’s like taking a drink straight from a cow’s teat.

And as if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Reddi-Wip is also a great accessory for naughty sex play. Certainly much better than chocolate body paint, which by the time you get anywhere good, you’re already in a hypoglycemic diabetic shock.

There is only one small caveat when it comes to Reddi-Wip enjoyment. For your own good, do not accept offers for Reddi-Wip when you’re at someone else’s house as it is effing impossible to resist the temptation to use one’s mouth to clean off the top of the can after spraying it. not to mention, there may be punk teenagers in the house who try and snort the damn thing when mom and dad aren’t around. So just do what I do and bring a can of Reddi-Wip with you wherever you go.

(P.S. I am amazed that ‘Reddi-Wip’ is how you spell the product. If someone would have asked me before writing this, i would have gotten both parts of the hyphenate wrong. It’s much easier to write Nature’s Perfect Food anyway).

Stimulus vs. Spending and the need for Recessions

Over on dagblog, one of our writers DF posted an interesting post on the latest drama in our economic crisis called ‘Macroeconomics 101: Spending versus Stimulus, or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love recession.” It basically discussed how silly some of the recent political commentary has been, particularly the claim by many Republican lawmakers that Obama’s stimulus package was full of programs that would do little to stimulate the economy. This is my response. I encourage everyone to read DF’s original post as there is also a fair amount of continued dialogue in the comment section.

So DF did a stellar job of getting to the heart of our economic crisis and the current debate over Obama’s planned stimulus package and spelling it out simply and effectively. I do, however, have some issues with his thesis.

Unlike DF, I believe there IS a difference between stimulus and pure spending, although where and how you draw that line is admittedly a subjective process. Stimulus is government spending that then encourages corporations and/or individuals to spend money of their own as well. Government spending by itself will certainly add to GDP, but without a stimulative component, it will have very little notable impact (the Consumer ‘C’ in GDP is almost 2/3ds of the total in the US) and certainly will be unlikely to reverse a recession.

Now you can have a legitimate debate about what types of policies are more stimulative than others, and that’s where things get subjective (for instance, giving people money, or tax refunds, would seem by its nature to be stimulative but that stimulus package last year ended up being nothing more than an ineffective short-term stopgap with most of the money going to shore up corroded balance sheets – not the worst thing in the world but not very stimulative).

And where I really disagree with you is that you seem to think government is in a better position to spend than consumers or corporations. With consumers, maybe you could argue the point, given how badly household balance sheets have gotten, but aside from the financial industry, corporate balance sheets are actually in very good health and they could probably invest a lot more capital in the system if they had confidence (and arguably lower tax rates).

Of course, any significant corporate investment also requires a free flowing credit system, which has been dramatically impaired because of our financial crisis. Resolving our toxic asset problem is at least as important as the passage of any stimulus package because not only would it allow credit to flow again (although hopefully in a more rational manner) it would also restore a bit of the confidence that is a necessary prerequisite for any lasting spending by consumers OR corporations.

But getting back to the government and its ability to help us spend our way out of this mess …. they’re in the worst shape of anybody to do the work! Obviously, the government CAN spend the money since they control the printing press, but that won’t mean it’s a good idea. At $1.2 trillion dollars (prior to any stimulus plan being passed), this year’s U.S. deficit alone equates to over $4000 per person in this country, and that exceeds the average credit card household debt of $3,235 (which you can easily argue is too high as well).

Increasing the deficit will only place a bigger burden on this country’s future generations – at some point, guess what, the Chinese and other foreign governments will stop wanting our debt because they’ll wake up and notice the crappy state of the balance sheet, and at that point, you will see and feel pain like you’ve never experienced.

If we are spending money on things that are needed, like long-decaying infrastructure or intriguing alternative energy technologies, then perhaps the additional onus on the country’s balance sheet will make sense. But I am very skeptical that we’ll be able to spend $800 billion without seeing much of it going to waste.

I guess when you get down to it, I have a problem with your main thesis

First, we all have to agree that a recession is what I’ve stated it is above and that this is an undesirable condition in which we all have a vested interest of avoiding.

Recessions are necessary parts of the free market business cycle. Sure, we’d love to avoid or shorten them, but it’s my belief that without them you can’t have the good times. The key in my opinion is to pursue policies and regulations that limit the extremes on both sides of the cycles, but unfortunately, we threw ourselves one big consumption and credit orgy over the past decade, and we must pay the piper.

We need to be very careful we don’t throw good money after bad, and make the problem even worse by sapping oomph from any eventual recovery or setting us up for a bigger, more painful fall later.

Super Bowl Special: Who are you rooting for? The psychology of fan loyalty …

Tomorrow evening, the football franchise I grew up with, the franchise I lived and died with and rushed home from Hebrew school every Sunday to watch play, will be competing – after decades punctuated almost entirely by failure and futility – for its first world championship. And I really don’t give a damn.

In fact, under normal circumstances, I’d probably be rooting against the Cardinals, sipping on some of that sweet schadenfreude soup, just like I’ve done in the 20-plus years since the franchise bolted from my hometown of St. Louis.

But oddly enough, I will actually be pulling for the Cardinals tomorrow, partly because I have a lot of Cardinals players on my postseason fantasy squad, but mainly because the Cardinals have Kurt Warner as their starting quarterback, the guy with the inspiring backstory who once led the St. Louis Rams, the team I now cheer for, to its own Super Bowl victory nine years ago.

I find the dynamics of fan loyalty fascinating. Sport gets its very meaning from the support of large and loyal fan bases, but what exactly makes us root for (or against) a team?

I mean, I totally understand the appeal of actually participating in athletics and sports, the thrill of competition and personal triumph, but why do we become fans? Why do we root for teams at all?

When you really think about it, it’s rather silly that we get enjoyment – not to even talk about the extreme behavior sports fans like me often engage in, the emotional highs and lows we go through – from watching the successes of a bunch of guys we don’t know, who usually didn’t grow up in the city where they now compete, and who will often switch teams for the allure of a few more dollars. We’ve accomplished nothing when the teams we root for win, and failed at nothing when those same teams lose, but you wouldn’t know that by the reactions from diehard fans. Being a fan is fulfilling and frustrating in ways I don’t even begin to understand.

When the Cardinals left St. Louis, I was bitter. I thought the owner Bill Bidwill was a greedy prick who had no legitimate rationale for abandoning a town that showed a tremendous amount of loyalty, especially considering the team’s rather dismal on-field track record. I thought the move was a lousy thing to do, and I found myself taking delight in the Cardinals’ continued failures – all the losing seasons, the awful draft picks, the half-filled stadiums that still haunted the franchise in Arizona.

And I eagerly and immediately embraced the Rams when they moved to St. Louis, even though that franchise did basically the same thing to LA fans that the Cardinals owner did to us. I started rooting for a team that I had never seen play live, rarely watched on TV, and whose history I knew basically nothing about.

In fact, I was already in college and not even spending much of my time in St. Louis when the Rams made their move. And even if I still lived in St. Louis, why exactly did I automatically get excited about a local sports teams with which I had no real other connection? I have some fond feelings of St. Louis, and who knows, I may one day move back (don’t tell the folks … or the girlfriend!), but it’s not like I’m bursting with civic pride.

And what does a successful sports franchise say about the city where it competes anyway? The answer, of course, is nothing meaningful.

I can kind of understand rooting for one’s countrymen in the Olympics because their successes or failures can say something about the strength or talents of the nation at large. The same goes for teams from one’s chosen schools and colleges.

But in general, fandom is a rather odd phenomenon. Is it just passed on from parent to child, imprinted on our brains at a very young age so that it becomes nearly impossible to view our allegiances rationally? Does it stem from something primal – the need to bond to something larger than oneself, to form communities beyond our families, the same need that drives us to join churches and synagogues, fraternities and sororities, or dare I say, cults?

And what about you? What teams do you root for and why? Do you have any unusual allegiances? Or notable allegiance switches? Discuss…

February 2009
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