Friday, February 27, 2009

Vox Populi: The Bidnessman

I stopped by at a local place for breakfast this morning en route to a meeting at the Clinton School for Public Service. At the table behind me were a couple of older men who were talking about all manner of topics. The more rotund of the two was seated by my chair.

Rotund one: I went to the doctor about my indigestion the other day. You know what he said my problem is?

Other guy: No. What?

RO: He said I got alcoholic gastritis. Can you believe that shit?

OG: Yes.

My friend Ann came over with the baby to sit with me while waiting on a girlfriend. It is hard to eavesdrop when an 18 month old girl is sitting across from you doing those things that toddlers do. Eventually they left and shortly thereafter I heard the rotund one's voice again.

RO: Hey! Guess what? We made a profit in the 4th quarter last year.

OG: You did?

RO: Well, we did depending on how you amortize that shit.

I was at the meeting at the Clinton School with the Executive Director of a non-profit on whose Board I serve. She has decided that the latter phrase will be her mantra when it comes to explaining the books at our meetings.

It all depends on how you amortize that shit.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

In times of trouble, it is easy to suspend disbelief and to give credence to those things that one would discount in a calmer climate. My brother John called me Friday night. He wanted to know what I knew, if anything, about the rumor going around that Stanford International Bank was the actual owner of the well known brokerage Pershing LLC. The story was that Pershing's assets had been frozen by the Securities and Exchange Commission as part of the securities fraud enforcement action it brought last week against Robert Allen Stafford pictured above in happier times. This would have been bad news for the family seeing as how the assets in Mother's revocable trust are held and maintained by Pershing.

To bring you up to speed if you have not heard, the SEC brought the aforementioned enforcement against Sir Allen (he was knighted by Antigua and is fatuously referred to as such in Stanford press releases despite his being a Texan) when the 8 billion dollars representing investors' money said to be on deposit in Certificate of Deposits in the Bank of Antigua did not actually seem to exist. The Bank of Antigua, owned by Stanford, was offering rates of 10% for its CDs, a rate of return which should have put the prudent investor on notice.

Actually, there are numerous red flags in the preceding paragraph: 1) a rate of return on CDs wildly out of kilter with rates offered by stateside investment products ) offered by an offshore bank in a part of the world known for banking and insurance fraud 3) owned by a Texan who refers to himself in the honorific. One would think that the prudent investor would steer clear of something that appears to be to good to be true especially if it would require him to deposit money with a bank in an offshore, and hence uninsured, bank. Alas, you would be wrong. Rumor has it that a local businessman, lured by the siren call of the 10% return, deposited ten million dollars with Bank of Antigua. One would also think that if one had that much money one could get by with,say, a 2% return. That is why I suppose that I am merely solvent as opposed to wealthy. I do not think big.

The extent of the losses associated with Stanford International Bank have yet to be completely fixed. However, the loss to investors who put their trust in New York's Bernard L. Madoff, currently stands at some 50 billion dollars. Indeed, the trustee appointed by the Court to go through what passes for the books, has indicated that Madoff had not actually made any investments with the money given him by investors for at least the past 12 years. 12 years! Some have predicted that the Madoff Ponzi scheme may eventually go down as the biggest fraud in the history of finance.

And they say one person can't make a difference.

In my conversations Friday night I learned that more than one person I know had money on account with Stanford or an entity owned by Stanford. Their money is frozen. It's insured but they don't have access to it and nobody seems to know how long this will last. One man called his Congressman who advised him to "get a lawyer." This is not good.

If the last 2 years have taught the American people anything, it is the essential truth of a couple of time worn statements: What goes up must come down. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. And here's one more. The notion that "the market will police itself" has been proven to be a complete falsehood. And thousands of people, innocents and idiots alike, have tasted financial ruin at the hands of imprudent, if not criminal, big talkers like Stanford and Madoff who made millions while the regulators looked the other way.

The truth eventually shook itself out by Saturday. Ray the Magician, our financial guy, left me a message. His voice was that of a man who had been on the phone a lot lately.

"No," he said. " Pershing is not owned by Stanford. Your mother's assets are not frozen. Everything is fine." Turns out that the SEC had frozen money Stanford was running through Pershing. "Running through" being an apt phrase for what I predict will eventually be revealed to be a pretty impressive money laundering operation. But all is well. Mother will not be kicked out of the nursing home.

I read recently that the Talmud makes a distinction between a crook and a thief. A crook pulls a gun on you and takes your wallet. The violation is episodic and limited. However, the thief sets upon while you are unaware, takes everything you have and leaves you destitute. Worse of all, the thief, in his hubris, forgets that God sees everything.

God sees everything.

Tell it to the guy who can't afford to keep his Mom in the nursing home anymore. Or worse, has lost every dime he ever had.

See if it makes him feel any better.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


They recorded 2 shows for "Tales From The South" last week. Mine will be broadcast on KUAR FM 89.0 at 7pm CST on the 4th Thursday in March whatever date that is.

Thank you for the support of this ministry.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

Sometimes when you write stuff, even stuff like this, you just don't know where to begin. So let's just state the obvious: The baseball world was shocked last week by the revelation that golden boy apparent Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003. Well, shocked is too strong a word. Nothing save the revelation that Joe Torre wears women's underwear could shock baseball anymore.

After all, A-Rod told ESPN in his sorta kinda admission, " Back then it was a different culture. It was very loose." No kidding. As Tom Verducci points out in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, " Linked to drugs are two thirds of the MVP winners from 1995 through 2003, five of the top 12 home run hitters of all time and three of the four players ever to smash 50 homers in a season more than twice." Actually, as I type this deathless prose it occurs to me that the drug culture in baseball wasn't "very loose" at all. Drug use was practically the norm.

So how do I feel about this? I am categorically and positively ambivalent about it all by now. I guess. My initial feelings when I heard the report were ones of extreme schadenfreude at the notion that the Yankees signed A-Rod to a 9 year contract extension so as to ensure that the home run record held by fellow juicer suspect Barry Bonds would be broken by another guy in pinstripes. Which may yet happen. So long as the Yankees' fairly inert bats keep runners from contaminating the bases or they continue not to go deep in the playoffs A-Rod can be counted to put them over the wall. And yet, you can bet that they would not have given him the extension had they known this. Now the half-billion dollar payroll they will bring to Spring Training will be overshadowed by this sideshow at a time when the Steinbrenners are trying to get folks to come out to the new Yankee Stadium.

This could not possibly happen to a nicer bunch of guys. A-Rod and the Yankees are made for each other.

Do I feel that his numbers are sufficiently tainted by the years he was juicing that there should be the proverbial asterisk by them? Nah. Drugs or no drugs, Alex Rodriguez is one of the most spectacularly talented players in the history of the game. You have to think that he would have come close to putting up the same numbers during his steroid years as he would have had he abstained. Unlike Bonds, A-Rod turned to steroids while he was on top of his game. Barry Bonds was as agile as a light pole his last three seasons.

Besides, baseball stats are the most impressionistic in professional sports. To discount the home runs during the steroid years you would have to take away the low ERAs of the pitchers in the so-called "high mound" years. You would have to discount the home runs in the "live baseball" years. And you would have to take into account the crackerbox stadiums built in the nineties where checked swings produce shots that reach the warning track in the opposite field.

I guess when it comes down to it, I'm just exhausted by all of this. Exhausted but not surprised. And I know this, it is easy to deride Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens as nickle-plated phonies. They are every inch of that, and in the case of the first two they are despicable human beings, Bonds being the worst of an exceptionally bad lot.

But steroids could not have possibly proliferated in the culture without Major League Baseball and the player's union turning a blind eye to what was obvious to even the casual fan. Indeed, it is alleged that Gene Orza of the union tipped Rodriguez off to when random tests were scheduled. If he did it for A-Rod, and Orza denies it, he did it for others. They were all in it together in a very real sense. Don't believe me? Re-read the quote from Tom Verducci and ponder these things in your heart.

Spring training will be interesting this year. Maybe they will actually talk about baseball some.

Shameless Plug Department: I will read another story for "Tales From The South" which will be broadcast on February 27th on KUAR FM 98 at 7pm CST. It will also be simulcast on the Internet at Tune in if you can. Maybe you will hear something you like.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Vox Populi: The Sportswriter

The Toronto Sun's Gary Loewen on the advent of Spring Training: "Next week the pitchers and catchers and pharmacists report."

Not to mention IRS agents armed with subpoenas.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


They are at it again over at the Ledge. They are not content with debating such weighty matters such as whether to issue proclamations extolling the virtues of Thomas Paine or congratulating Barack Obama on his ascension to the Presidency. They do not pause for rest and succor after struggling with the concept of not criminalizing packing a gun in church. No. Now they are back trying to outlaw so-called "partial birth abortions" in Arkansas.

No matter that it is legally superfluous. There is no evidence that such a procedure was performed in Arkansas last year. Further, such a procedure is already prescribed by federal law. The backers of this proposed legislation want to make it even tougher than its federal counterpart in that it authorizes the State Medical Board to investigate any doctors that perform such procedures and it calls for potential jail time of 6 years as opposed to 2 in the federal version.

The Democrat-Gazette reported that one of the Representatives at the hearing yesterday before the House Public Health, Welfare, and Labor Committee asked the perfectly sensible question of why the bill as written imputes no liability to the mother who authorizes such a procedure.

" We were not trying to criminalize the woman," replied Martha Adcock, the attorney for the Family Council who is pushing this bill.

The other interesting exchange came when the spokesperson for Planned Parenthood excoriated some members of the Committee for leaving when the ACLU was testifying against the measure.

"We owe her (the witness) nothing when it comes to murder," explained Rep. Billy Gaskill of Paragould.

OK. Let's think this through. If a partial birth abortion is indeed murder, why the hell not "criminalize the woman?" Let's assume that the son of a bitch that set the trap for that poor doctor in West Memphis is not the same guy who built it. Of course, this also requires us to assume they are guys and the device that exploded was a home made device like an IED.

By the reasoning of some of the apparent backers of the bill before the Committee, we should then penalize the manufacturer of the device that exploded up there but not the guy who set the trap. Which is manifestly not the way the criminal law works.

So why use such incendiary terms like "murder?" And why not impute liability to the woman as well as the doctor performing the procedure? Because the backers of this bill don't think they could get a more draconian bill passed. Either that or they don't much believe it themselves.

And why even waste time on a measure that is manifestly legally superfluous? Here's why: Fooling around with emotionally charged bullshit that has no practical impact other than to make its proponents seem foolish is a hell of a lot easier than trying to find money for jails, schools and trauma centers. It's a hell of a lot easier than trying to solve real problems. That's why they waste time with stuff like this and packing guns in church.

And we voted to bring these guys back to Little Rock every year? How did that happen?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

It finally hit me toward the end of my 36 hours at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica last week. I have been to Tunica, I don't know, 4 times or so and my mood has typically been one of surrealism, if that counts as a mood, during my other trips there.

I mean, you have these big Taj Mahal structures sucking down untold millions every year stuck smack in the middle of no frigging where in Tunica County, Mississippi. There is a cotton field right next to Hollywood. You don't see that in Vegas.

Inside, nestled in an absolutely noxious cloud of tobacco smoke, people sit, drink alcoholic beverages dispensed for the most part by homely cocktail waitresses and put money into slot machines and other games of chance. They sit. They sip. They pull. For the most part nothing happens. At least nothing profitable. Playing slot machines is a perfect example of Einstein's observation that the definition of madness is to do the same thing repeatedly without success in hopes of eventually obtaining a different result.

The inner Diane Arbus in me has historically been fascinated with these goings ons. But around lunchtime I started feeling a little depressed. And,like I said, then it hit me. The difference between Tunica and,say, Shreveport is that at Tunica there is no escaping the casinos once you are there. Sure, you can go play golf. (Actually, the course I wanted to play was closed until March and I'll be damned if I am going to pay 60 bucks to get on at a dormant Tunica National). But at least there's other stuff to do in Shreveport. My buddy PM grew up there. While he raised his eyebrows at this observation over breakfast today, he concedes the larger general proposition that there is more stuff to do in Shreveport than in Robinsonville, Mississippi. You can go get a pizza in Shreveport. Just try that in Robinsonville.

The noise. The flashing lights. The bad food (There are nice restaurants at these joints. But I refuse to spend over 40 bucks on a meal unless I accompanied by someone in heels. I'm funny that way). And the damn smoke. Everywhere. As my excellent friend J said this morning of the lack of non-smoking facilities in the Magnolia State, " You would think they grow tobacco in Mississippi." You would think.

So it was good to come home, just as it is always good to come home. The drive back was pleasant enough. I thought of the road I was on and how if you take 49 to State Highway 315 (I think) you can save time getting to Oxford. It helps to know these things.

The Delta is kind of pretty at dusk. A couple of friends called me on the cell which helped pass the time. And yes, I use a Bluetooth in order to keep both hand hands affixed to the wheel. There was a high school basketball game going on in Brinkley. If I weren't so tired I might have stopped in. While stopped at a red light down the street from Brinkley High School, I could see a barber in an old weather beaten shop give a customer a shave. I hadn't seen a man get a shave in a barber shop since I was a little boy. I wondered why a man would get a barber shave at 6pm. For some reason visions of a funeral popped into my head.

Maybe I was still suffering some residual Tunica-induced depression.

Even though I enjoyed getting the opportunity to get away from both Little Rock and the office, I was glad to be home. It is always good to get back into your familiar space. While it is good to do different things there is a real comfort level to knowing that there are things back home that never change. A little house with an oak and two spindly dogwoods in the front. A comfortable chair. A cold martini. And another completely idiotic column by Wally Hall.

I about choked on an olive when I read this observation as I caught up with the erroneously named "Like It Is" column in Thursday's sports page: "Let's see if we have the facts here. Barry Bonds is innocent but his attorney argued that urine and blood tests should not be admissible. Hmmm, aren't those the only ways to test for steroids?"


No, as usual we do not have the facts here. Bonds has pleaded not guilty to lying to a grand jury about using steroids. (Basically.) Innocence is not a term of art. One is either guilty or not. The burden is on the state to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Bonds doesn't have to prove that he is "innocent." And just because he claims to be "innocent" is not inconsistent with vigorously testing the evidence sought to be introduced against him contrary to Wally's insinuation to the contrary.

The Feds obviously will attempt to introduce certain forensic evidence to prove Bonds perjured himself. The defense has moved to suppress certain of this evidence for the reason that-as I understand it-they contend that the Feds haven't proven a chain of custody linking the forensics to Bonds.

Get this. Here is the part of the story Wally didn't tell you. According to the AP wire story that I read-and believe you me that is where Wally is getting his information as well-the United States District Judge presiding over the case indicated during a hearing last week that she was likely to suppress the evidence in question. In other words, and when discussing a Wally Hall column one can usually come up with other words fairly quickly, the more interesting part of this story is not that Bonds is a hypocrite as Wally seems to suggest, although he certainly is but not for reasons attached to this issue. It's that some of the sexier evidence-the cotton balls and needles bearing Bonds' DNA hoarded all these years by his "trainer"-may not get in. Which means this case may be blowing up.

So while Bonds may not be "innocent" as Wally suggests as he finds apparent irony in Barry's lawyers putting up a fight. But he may well be acquitted. That's the story irrespective of Wally's snarky thoughts about an "innocent" man putting up a defense.

Ahhhhhhh. It's good to be home. There is comfort in knowing that some things never change. Even if one of those things is that Wally Hall can be counted on for producing such stupid and irrelevant observations about the world of sports. And get paid for it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pat Knight Ejected

I'm sure that his Father will give him a stern talking to about his deportment on the bench. And I'm equally sure that the Commissioner of the Big 12 will suspend after this explosion.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

As anyone but those who live under bridges are bound to know, as I type this, tomorrow is the 43rd edition of that yearly display of wretched sports success known as the Super Bowl. I find the fact that this is the 43rd game in the series remarkable for a couple of reasons: The fact that I remember watching the first game means I am really old. And secondly, I have actually been able to decipher the pretentious Roman numerals that have graced the recent logos.

I am not a huge fan of the product that the National Football League puts out. It is too tightassed and corporate minded when compared to the college version where you have the likes of a Tim Tebow at quarterback. I was mainly interested this year to see how long it would take for Dallas to implode under the weight of Jerry Jones's boundless ego. Answer: About the time brilliant personnel move Adam "Pac Man' Jones got kicked off the team for getting into a fight with his own security guard in a hotel. At least Tank Johnson-another reclamation product-didn't shoot anybody while under Jerry's supervision.

The Saints proved that their Katrina fueled run to the Division finals 2 years ago was a fluke. Oh, the Saints weren't bad. They just weren't much good. And it was truly awe inspiring to see the Detroit Lions go winless in a league which is as much a socialist collective as anything. In a 16 game schedule they couldn't beat anybody?


But I am at best a casual pro football fan. Which makes me avis rara among some people I know. I ran into a college classmate of mine who introduced me to a woman that, as far as I could remember, was not wife # 2. He's gambles big on the NFL. Maybe there's a cause and effect re: his marital status. I would not about these things. I have a buddy in Mississippi who owns stock in the Green Bay Packers which is the only publicly traded franchise in the NFL, if not in sports. He actually went to a stockholders meeting up there a couple of years ago. This is despite the fact the could not buy a ticket to actually see a game at Lambeau Field in a million years.

There a million NFL fans that don't actually attend games. The average fan can't. You could walk up and buy a ticket to see the Arizona Cardinals as recent as 5 years ago. They were that bad. Which makes their presence in tomorrow's game all that much more remarkable. And I suppose if you were an absolute masochist you could have gotten a ticket in Detroit fairly easily this year.

But the pricing structure for seats at NFL games puts the cost of a game well outside the reach for many people. And it is going to get worse. Jerry's billion dollar-you read that right-tribute to himself is set to open next season. Already, lifelong Cowboy fans are being told that they need to up the ante or they won't have a place at the table. Some of these folks are retirees who have had tickets for 25 years. Tough. Cough up or you can watch the games on the big screen at TGI Friday's. The NFL doesn't care. Between the corporate skyboxes, the folks willing to purchase personal seat licenses which merely give them the right to buy the exorbitantly priced tickets, the TV and radio income and the royalties it gets whenever you and I buy a cap or a shirt, the NFL doesn't need to sell the average guy a ticket to make its money.

And yet, this will be the most watched sporting event of the year. More money will be wagered, legally and otherwise, on the Super Bowl than any other sporting event this year. More than the NCAA men's basketball tournament even. It is said that domestic violence spikes during and after the Super Bowl. That one is an urban legend. Which is to say it is utterly false. But tomorrow afternoon will be a good day to play in the streets if you have the notion. Won't be no cars out there after kickoff.

Ambivalent though I may be about the Super Bowl as a sporting event, I will watch the damn thing. Friends will come over. I will have a pot of chili in the crock pot. Drinks will be poured. And most likely it will be over by the 3rd quarter.

Not that I am very good at predicting these things. But I think that the Steelers are just too good defensively to let the Cardinals run around all over the field as they have done to others. But while I think the smart money says that the Steelers win, I like the Cardinals. Kurt Warner is having a career year after taking over for flash-in-the-plan Matt Lienart. Warner's story is remarkable. 15 years or so ago he was sacking groceries. Now he is in the Super Bowl again. I even like his wife now that she has put a zip on her lip. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald may be the most dangerous receiver since Lynn Swann or Jerry Rice. They may make a game of it. We'll see. But Pittsburgh's secondary has hired killers back there. And 4 weeks ago or so, the Cardinals were annihilated by the so-so Patriots. Pittsburgh may have lost 4 games but they didn't get their ass kicked a single time while doing so.

Cardinals Owner Bill Bidwell deserves none of this good fortune. For years the Cardinals organization was the laughing stock of a league that has the Fords, Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones and Al Davis in it. They must be all scratching their heads in amazement.

The Cardinals may make a game of it. After all, that's why they keep score.

But it says here that the Steelers will win. Not that I much care.