Saturday, February 07, 2009

 

Jose Canseco Was Right...

...again! Alex Rodriguez reportedly tested positive for steroids in 2003.

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Piggy, Piggy...

So, exactly how popular are rich people who, in the middle of a tough recession -- which saw another 600,000 jobs lost last month -- flaunt their wealth? You know the type -- the Gucci shoes, great furs, two or three cars (or planes). Indeed, proving that pride goeth before fall, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America's John Thain was forced to resign shortly after it was revealed he redecorated his office to the tune of $1.2 million -- while Merrill was racking up a $15 billion loss in the last quarter. That Thain gave bonuses of $4 billion to his executives at the same time is now the subject of a New York attorney general probe.

In any event, conspicuous consumption never plays well -- but especially not in tough times!

Does that extend to, you know, buying people?

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is putting that to the test. It's not enough that he spent about $150 million combined in his first two runs; it's not enough that he got a compliant city council to overturn term limits that had been approved twice by the public. No, the mayor has to practically guarantee a third term by purchasing the services of consultants previously in the employ of his likely opponents.

The mayor is still popular among the public -- though the term-limits overturning has caused his personal attributes to take a slight hit. On balance, he's done a reasonable job running the city. But at some point, there may be a case of the straw breaking the camel's back. At some point, the power of one man to buy anything -- and anyone -- his heart desires creates righteous envy.

Whether that is something that Bloomberg's possible opponents can tap into -- asking New Yorkers if they feel they are becoming serfs in King Michael's dominion -- will be something to track as this year goes by.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

 

The Benedict Furor

So, let's connect these dots: You're the German leader of a church with, approximately 2 billion followers. Growing up, like many of your mates of the same age, you were part of what has come to be know as "the Hitler youth." The church you lead has long fought the charge that it didn't do as much as it could/should have done to confront Hitler during the Holocaust. And you succeeded a wildly popular leader who went out of his way to smooth centuries-long tensions between Catholics and Jews.

So, now you come up with the bright idea to reinstate/rehabilitate a nutty Nazi-loving bishop whom your aforementioned popular predecessor excommunicated 20 years ago! Oh, for good measure, the guy also is 9/11 "truther" -- i.e., the destruction of the Twin Towers was an inside job giving the United States free rein to go to war with Afghanistan and Iraq.

To clarify the last couple of points: The bishop's excommunication occurred in 1988 because of his involvement in a
breakaway sect that rejected the Second Vatican Council -- part of which included an attempted rapprochement between the Church and Jews. His comments about 9/11, obviously, were in 2001. Thirteen years after being kicked out of the church, this guy is making various conspiracy-minded statements.

But, you, who we'll call Pope Benedict XVI -- since that's your name -- have decided that this bishop is ready to be officially brought back into the Catholic Church!

In the words of David Alan Grier, host of the Comedy Central faux news program, Chocolate News: "Have you lost your damn mind!?!?"

Knowing a public relations nightmare when she sees one, German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- who runs a nation that has grown quite sensitive over Holocaust deniers -- rushed out and denounced the Pope's decision. It was an action that had even members of Germany's opposition parties applauding Merkel. Holocaust denial is a felony in the Federal Republic of Germany. Yes, it's a law that makes some Americans uncomfortable because of the obvious freedom-of-speech implications that it creates. But, hey, given Germany's "special" history, let's agree that they have every right to carve out an exception on freedom of speech in this one area.

Now, "papal infallibility" only extends narrowly to matters of church doctrine. That means Popes can make mistakes. For example, if it turned out he was a football fan and told everyone that he was absolutely positive that the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl ("Cardinals," get it?) and the Steelers won anyway, well, it wouldn't mean that the Church would fall. It just meant that, with respect to things not related to official doctrine, the Pope is allowed to be as clueless as the rest of us.

But, that makes this situation even more embarrassing. Supposedly, Benedict determined that British-born Bishop Richard Williamson and the other members of the SSPX had done enough to be considered for re-admittance. That's certainly under his purview -- whether someone had shown repentance on a matter of church doctrine. However, the Pope isn't just the leader of one denomination of Christianity: He is a head of state, who must recognize that his actions have effects beyond his ecumenical boundaries.

Now faced with an international controversy -- purely of its own making -- the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict insists Williamson
renounce his denial of the Holocaust (deny his denial?). Well, if he wants to become an active Catholic bishop, that is. So now, the Holocaust has been elevated to official church doctrine! The Vatican, officially, states that it was unaware of Williamson's comments until after the de-excommunication. Those people who doubt the word of the Vatican on this, well, considering how well the Holy See plays the PR game, it's not out of the realm of possibility that its research/Googling division might not be that great either.

Blame Oprah, if she wouldn't have so many fake Holocaust memoirists on her show, these bishops wouldn't get confused and start thinking that it never really happened -- and the Pope wouldn't be put in these embarrassing positions.

On the plus side, the Vatican vetting process may have been better than the White House's in one respect: Looks like Bishop Williamson is up to date on his taxes.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

 

Piti-Field of Dreams

Okay, the Super Bowl is over and we have barely two weeks before MLB spring training kicks off. Let's take advantage of this fallow period in sports (for the purposes of this discussion, the NBA and NHL are not considered serious sports; college basketball is "meh" until March Madness begins) -- and think about the importance of names.

In this "new era of responsibility," (you know, what the president spoke about in his inaugural address), let's kick it old school: There's too much temptation and specious opportunity involved in naming stadiums, ballparks and sports centers after corporations and products. The vicissitudes of the market are too powerful; the likelihood of collapse -- either economic, ethical, legal or some combination thereof -- is too likely.

As The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, Citigroup is considering pulling out of its 10 year/$400 million agreement on the New York Mets' brand new stadium. It is to be named "CitiField," per the leasing of naming rights in a contract signed two years ago ($20 million over 20 years). The signage is already up on the entrance to the park. But, Citigroup has received some $45 billion in taxpayer funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program." The bank was pilloried in the press for attempting to continue purchase of a $50 million private jet. Ultimately embarrassed by both media and the political class, Citigroup canceled the jet. Now, the WSJ indicates that the bank is trying to get out of the ballpark deal -- while the Mets say the deal is "legally binding."

It's not like any of this was unforeseeable: Has anyone forgotten "Enron Field" -- home park of baseball's Houston Astros? Following the energy and trading company's fiscal evaporation, it became Minute Maid Park -- reflecting a longer-lasting, more wholesome product.

Of course, Citibank/group was perceived as an equally reliable brand two-and-a-half years ago when the Mets accepted the naming rights; the New York Yankees brand, incidentally, is so strong that the club had no need to license a name for the new Yankee Stadium.

Despite the many stadiums and parks with corporate names, perhaps now's a good time to go back to the old ways: If you can't name sports venues after the teams that play there, instead name it after respected individuals, ideally dead ones who would be less likely to sully their reputation. Sure, that would mean less money coming in for the sports organization. But look at the bright side: There wouldn't be the embarrassment created by a sponsoring organization's stumbling -- or disappearing.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

 

Open Thread

What might be on your mind?

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