Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fighting For Your Job

I get a lot of questions over email and the girlie chat about how things are going with my job, and I thought I would end our last weekday before the beginning of the BBT4 by writing a little bit about that. After my immediate world had escaped relatively unscathed so far here from the putrid labor market, the nice lady who works across the hall from me got laid off yesterday morning. I already knew my company has been sloughing off thousands (literally) of underutilized staff over the past few months, but seeing it hit this close to home is more than a little unnerving. In many ways, I pat myself on the back to have even kept this job as long as I have.

Although the economy has gotten about a hundred times worse since I started here late last summer, overall I would say that my job security has remained about the same. Without a doubt, my employer was way, way overstaffed by last summer, and still doubtless is right now today. I work on a team with roughly 20 other lawyers all doing essentially the same thing as me, with the 20 of us basically splitting up the pie of all the contract negotiation work in our area for the entire company. Thing is, a year ago there were only 18 of us doing, say, 3000 deals over the year, and this year there are now 20 of us to divvy up that pie amongst. The problem is that the total pie, which last year was, say, 3000 deals, this year will probably only be 2000 deals. So in 2008 my group managed to run some 3000 deals among just 18 people, and this year we are 20 people, but only doing 2000 deals. So it's a hideous situation with senior management breaking their backs to cut costs, and knowing that my group did far more work with far fewer resources in the recent past.

That said, I have done everything I possibly could to try to keep this job. I am working longer hours than I want, and I have worked later into the evenings in the past six months more often than any time since I was in the big law firm when I was first out of law school. I don't turn down any deals or other assignments no matter how much I have on my plate at the time. I try to volunteer to get involved inthe workings and administration of my group as much as I can. In six months here, I feel like I have made about as good of inroads as I could have as far as making myself seem "indispensable", at least to the extent that anybody is truly indispensable in a 20-person team where everyone basically is qualified to do everyone else's deals.

What is absolutely amazing to me is that the other people I work with are not all taking the same approach as me. In fact, it seems to be the most recent hires (before me of course) who are taking their job responsibilities very lightly, at least in my view, in a very heavy time. The guy next to me comes in around 10 and leaves at right around 5 on the nose every single day. In front of everybody. What's more, two or three of the more recently-hired lawyers here regualrly turn down work when it is assigned to them. These guys actually tell our assigning people "no" when a new deal is sent their way! I can't believe it. And these are people who desperately need this job, believe me. Guys with family, young kids, pregnant wives, etc. I don't do any of that. I take everything they give me, because when the time comes for the people in charge to make some tough decisions, I want them to think of me as that guy who comes through for them every single time they need help from someone to close out a new deal. I don't want them thinking of me as that guy with a relatively short leash as far as how much work I can manage at one time, or as the guy who works from home three days a week, or the guy who traipses in here late and leaves while it's still light out every day of the week.

There really isn't much more I can do than this to help keep my job as secure as I can make it at this point, and as I said above I actually think I've made some decent headway in that respect over the short time I've been with my new employer so far. As I've said many times, getting out of my former company before the place collapsed was a huge move for me, but starting here as the newest member of a 20-lawyer team where we're all basically fungible assets, in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, was not a good situation and there's no way to turn that into a positive. But the stress level of having worked in a failing investment bank through all of 2008, and now this in the following year, feeling very much at risk all the way through, is immense, which is something I have only come to terms with over the past few months as the economic picture seems to march inexorably lower. It's amazing how much havoc constant stress can wreak on a body if allowed to work its magic on you for months and months and months on end.

I'll end this rambling discussion today by recanting a story that Hammer Wife tells me she and her mommy friends talk about all the time. All the moms at school agree, they're used to bugging their husbands all day long to come home, to get back as early as they can to help with the kids, etc. They've spent the better part of the last several years calling their husbands at the office and trying all kinds of tricks and peer pressure to get their husbands to come home early. Now, all the moms say that they still call their husbands all the time at work. But whereas they used to call to tell them to come home, now they call to tell them to stay, stay as late as you want, as late as you need to make sure you keep your boss(es) happy. I just think that's a very interesting bit of anecdotal evidence that shows just how much the jobs crisis is weighing on the minds of Americans, and not just those who are toiling away hard at work in their offices or other places of business, but the millions and millions of others who are affected by those workers as well.

OK everyone, have a great weekend, have sweet dreams knowing that the same government that just oversaw $120 billion in losses out of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG over the past three months is now in position to be a 36% majority owner of Citigroup as well. Delicious. And don't forget the BBT4, starting off with this Sunday night's Big Game at 9pm ET on full tilt (password is "donkey"). Not sure if I will be in that or not. But yeah, I'll be there :).

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Friday, February 27, 2009

AIG is a POS

With all the talk about "nationalization" of the largest financial institutions in this country, I thought I would point out a piece of news from earlier this week that I just don't think got enough attention in the financial or major news media. Earlier this week, insurance giant AIG pre-announced its plans to report an all-time record loss (for any company, ever) of $60 billion for just the fourth quarter when it announces its quarterly earnings this coming Monday. Yeah, you read that right: 60 billion dollars of losses, just in one quarter. So that is what, a $20 billion loss in every month, or close to a billion dollars lost on every single business day in the month. How sick. And you know what the worst part of all with this news is?

The government already owns 80% of AIG, as of last September's emergency bailout of the world's largest insurance company. So for the entirety of the fourth quarter, our government was already constructively "in charge" at AIG. This is the closest thing to a "nationalized" entity we have in this country right now, combined with mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which were taken over by the government in August of 2008. So for those of you who, like me, are concerned about the ability of the government to effectively run a financial services business, we've got a full quarter's evidence now at each of Fannie, Freddie and AIG. And you know what? Fannie reported quarterly losses of $29 billion in November 2008, Freddie lost $25 billion, and now this $60 billion for AIG.

$114 billion in losses for the three truly nationalized public companies out there right now in the financial sector, in just the first quarter that each of them was managed by the government? I think that tells you all you need to know right there about our government's ability to effectively nationalize our leaders in this space.

And I love this especially much -- take a look at today's latest plan coming out of AIG. Basically, AIG has been trying to sell several lines of business as a way to raise the capital to pay back the $150 billion in emergency loans it accepted from the government late last year, and it is finally accepting that it simply cannot get the prices and the terms for those sales that it thinks it deserves. So the new plan from the new AIG CEO installed by the government in November? Instead of AIG paying us back the $150 billion it owes us, the new idea is just to sell those business lines directly to the U.S. government in-kind.

I mean, isn't it bad enough that we would loan out $150 billion in cash to AIG, and receive in return not cash of an equal amount plus interest, but rather ownership of former AIG business lines which AIG has been flat-out unable to find any buyers at for any reasonable price, but which AIG claims it believes are worth $150 billion? But then, looking at its track record, can you imagine the results of our government trying to run these three insurance businesses going forward? If we accept AIG's latest proposal, that will represent an absolute abuse of us by AIG's current and former leadership, borrowing huge sums of money without an actual ability to repay us taxpayers what they borrowed. One can only hope that Barack Obama figures out that the financial crisis is already bad enough already without the government agreeing to run AIG's global insurance businesses in exchange for forgiveness of the 12-figure debt we advanced to AIG to keep them afloat just four months ago.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Battle of the Blonkaments

Man, everywhere I look these days there is another post about the upcoming BBT4. I laugh because half of those posting about how much they are looking forward to playing in the series are the exact same people who were acting like tantruming children a year ago the last time we "got together" to do a BBT series. And believe me, if anyone knows about children having tantrums, it's me.

So let's see, this is four events per week from March 1 through May 31, plus three Big Games as well for good measure. That's thirteen weeks, four events per week for 52 tournaments, plus the three Big Games will make for 55 events total in BBT4, with buyins ranging from $5 to $75.

55 tournaments over three months. And with a whole lot at stake, as full tilt has once again come through in a big way with two Main Event seats to the World Series of Poker (typically these have come as $12k prize packages in the past) plus five WSOP preliminary event packages, which are worth $2k apiece. Al has indicated that there are likely more prizes to come (maybe those of us who finished in the top 20 in the BBT3 will be given the opportunity to "win" our FTP jerseys back again this time around?), but 34 grand is already quite a package for full tilt to be putting up just for a bunch of blonkeys to get together and play some pokah. So it's not like this is chump change here by a long shot. And, I have made no secret of my intention to make it back to Las Vegas this summer to play once again in the WSOP. Although we're not quite officially set in stone yet, the frontrunning weekend right now for the Hoy 2009 Vegas trip is looking like the weekend of June 27-28. Actually if all goes according to plan, I will be arriving in Vegas on Thursday or Friday, June 25 or 26, and staying until sometime early the following week. And there just happens to be a $1500 no-limit holdem tournament as part of the World Series that plays on Saturday the 27th at 12pm local time, which I definitely intend to be in on. So clearly, the money and prizes available in the BBT4 are much more than enough to capture my attention.

That said, I haven't exactly been playing a lot of blogger tournaments lately, have I? Sure, once in a while I will drop in if I've got nothing else going on, but in general I have really gotten away from regularly playing these things over the past year or so, really since the BBT3 ended. My god do you remember that bullshit from the BBT3? Talk about bringing out the ugliest, most pathetic sides of some people. It's a sad thing to have witnessed, in my case from the inside as I formerly hosted a tournament in the first three BBT series, but whereas I found the first BBT to be good, clean fun for the most part, I think the newness wore off on that somewhere along the way. By the time we got to the second and finally the third BBT series, several of the bloggers involved were pretty much regularly acting like assholes. Is it any wonder that attendance at blonkaments overall is what, down by 2/3 from a year or two or three ago?

So, the question is, will I be able to stay away from the BBT4? For a guy who has barely missed a single tournament in the first three BBT series, what's the over-under on the number of BBT4 tournaments will I end up playing in?

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Lows, and Psychology With the Major Indices

Well, I haven't had to do one of these posts in a while. On Monday, the U.S. stock market plunged to fresh lows for this bear market, to the point that all three leading U.S. indices finished the day at their lowest marks since 1997. This now means that we have moved lower than the lowest that the market ever got during the entire bursting of the dot-com bubble, and the aftermath, including a mini-recession, following the terrorist attacks in September 2001. At this point, the S&P 500 index of the 500 largest stocks in the market has now dropped 52.5% from its highs in October 2007 on a closing bases, once again confirming this to be the worst bear market since the Great Depression, and if we manage to sink just another two percent or so on the S&P, that will make this officially the worst slide in the broad index since the bear that began with Black Monday and the crash of 1929.

With the market's latest slide to fresh 12-year lows, it begs the question once again: how much longer can this bear market realistically last, and how much further can it drop?

Let's go in reverse order, starting with the magnitude question. Remember the chart I have posted here on a few occasions over the past several months:

S&P Composite Price Index Bull and Bear Markets 1914-2008

Market TopIndex High% IncreaseMarket BottomIndex Bottom% Decrease
10/9/2007 1565.15 101.5% 12/203/2009 743.33 -52.5%
03/24/2000 1527.46 59.6% 10/9/2002 776.76 -49.2%
07/17/1998 1190.58 304.3% 10/08/1998 957.28 -19.6%
07/16/1990 369.78 67.1% 10/17/1990 294.51 -20.4%
08/25/1987 337.89 233.1% 12/04/1987 221.24 -34.5%
11/28/1980 140.52 61.7% 08/12/1982 101.44 -27.8%
09/21/1976 107.83 73.1% 03/06/1978 86.90 -19.4%
01/05/1973 119.87 73.0% 10/03/1974 62.28 -48.0%
11/29/1968 108.37 48.0% 05/26/1970 69.29 -36.1%
02/09/1966 94.06 79.8% 10/07/1966 73.20 -22.2%
12/12/1961 72.64 86.4% 06/26/1962 52.32 -28.0%
08/02/1956 49.75 267.2% 10/22/1957 38.98 -21.6%
05/29/1946 19.25 157.7% 06/13/1949 13.55 -29.6%
11/09/1938 13.79 62.2% 04/28/1942 7.47 -45.8%
03/10/1937 18.68 131.8% 03/31/1938 8.50 -54.5%
07/18/1933 12.20 120.6% 03/14/1935 8.06 -33.9%
09/07/1932 9.31 111.1% 02/27/1933 5.53 -40.6%
09/07/1929 31.86 408.9% 07/08/1932 4.41 -86.2%
07/16/1919 9.64 60.7% 08/24/1921 6.26 -35.1%
11/20/1916 10.55 59.1% 12/19/1917 6.00 -43.1%

Having updated the top line of this chart for this week's unsavory market action, you can see how this has now clearly eclipsed anything we've seen since the late 1930s in terms of the drop from peak to trough in the S&P 500 index. Unfortunately, this leaves us in a bit of uncharted waters as far as predicting how much more weakness there could be from here. In 1937-38, after a 131% runup from the 1935 lows, the broad market tumbled 54.5%, just a shade above what we have experienced so far on Wall Street. And of course, there was the original crash that is commonly thought to have begun the Great Depression, where stocks ran up a sick 408% from 1921 through 1929, only to plunge by an inconceivable 86.2% over the following three years.

For starters, let's just think the unthinkable for a minute here. What if the S&P or the Dow dropped 86.2% again from the highs, top-to-bottom, this time around? That would leave the S&P 500 index at 215.99. And the Dow, which peaked at just over 14,000 in October 2007, would be left at right around 1,940. Those numbers are so ugly to think of, that I'm simply not going to. The Great Depression occurred after a confluence of a number of events, much of which involved our government more or less turning a blind eye to the nation's troubles and simultaneously increasing protectionism at a time when our economy was far too fragile to handle such moves. Although a deaf, dumb and blind man could easily call into question the quality of the governmental response to the crisis this time around, the fact remains that we are far from turning a blind eye to the issues. And with globalization already a reality, a significant increase in protectionism like we saw in the 20s and 30s is unlikely to occur at this point or perhaps ever again for this country. So I believe that a drop of 86% like we saw in the Great Depression is not called for given what we know so far about the current situation. Things are terrible for sure, but we've already dropped 52.5% at this point, so the badness has been factored in to a historically very significant degree already.

Looking at the chart, as I have pointed out before, the best predictor we have of the magnitude of the drop from the highs seems to be the magnitude of the runup leading up to that market top. As I wrote about last year, leading up to this 86.2% drop in the S&P from 1929-1932, we had an unprecedented 408.9% surge from the lows of the previous cycle in 1921. Leading up to the 54.5% decline in the S&P from 1937-38 was a 131.8% spike from March 1935 to March 1937. From August 1982 through August 1987, the S&P 500 jumped over 233%, but two months later was the single worst day in the history of the market in percentage terms as the S&P lost around 20% of its value in just one day. Although this pattern is far from perfect throughout the years, generally speaking it is fair to say that the smaller trough-to-peak runups have led to smaller peak-to-trough selloffs following those runups.

Using these figures as a guide, the run from the October 2002 bottom for the S&P to the October 2007 top was 101.5%. This is a big spike in historical terms, but in looking at the chart it only represents the 10th-largest trough-to-peak gain for the S&P in the past 100 years. This seems to suggest that, with stocks now showing the third-worst bear market drop in history, it is unlikely that we see a huge further drop from current levels. Now of course a whole lot more goes into this equation than just how low the S&P had gotten in 2002 and how high in 2007, but as I said above there is not a lot of evidence to suggest that we are going to see a drop of anything even remotely close to the magnitude of the Great Depression here. At this point I would be a bit surprised to see us make fresh 12-year lows on the major indices for exactly one day and then not drop any further, but I am thinking maybe another 5-10% or so from here would fit in very nicely on the chart above as the bear market lows for this cycle. Let's all hope I am right about that.

Now, let's move on to the question of the likely length of this bear market, which I find to be the more interesting of the two aspects to consider. I've had this theory for a long time, and yet it's not something I have really ever heard or read anywhere else that I can recall. It's a theory relating to the technical aspects of investing, and the psychological underpinnings of major indices like the Dow Jones Industrials Average which are known, followed and focused on by millions of investors not just in the United States but all around the world. Using this theory led me to make a seemingly incongruous prediction around the turn of the millennium ten years ago, but the more crap we go through with this market and with the DJIA, the more I find myself turning back to this theory and thinking there might really be something to it.

The theory I am talking about posits that the DJIA, easily the single most followed and known major market index on the planet, has major problems whenever it first reaches and surpassed major psychological milestone levels. Now, with the Dow only being around for about 110 years, and with there not being many major psychological levels to pass during that time, there are admittedly not a lot of data points to work from with the Dow, but take a look at this, a chart showing the history of the Dow Jones Industrials Average since 1900:

As you can see, the DJIA crossed the 100 mark for the first time in late 1916. I view this as the first of the psychologically important breakthroughs for the world's most widely-followed index, the first move into triple digits. Although the market was in a sustained uptrend at that time, you will note that the index bounced right off of the triple digit mark as soon as it touched there in 1916, and it took another three years or so to get back to retest that 100 level. The thing I tend to focus on, though, is not how long it took the market to plow consistently through this important psychological point, but rather how long it was until 100 was passed on the upside for the last time, not the next time. So, in other words, the Dow first hit 100 in 1916. I want to know how long did it take before the Dow moved back above the key 100 for the last time, i.e., for good? And the answer? In late 1942, with World War II looming, the Dow bottomed at 92 and change, before rallying furiously to over 200 by shortly after the end of the war and the beginning of what we today refer to as the Baby Boom. So that is 26 years from the first time the Dow touched 100, to the very last time it touched 100 and left that level in the dust, never to be thought of again. In my view it took 26 years for the Dow to officially "break through" the key triple-digit level from the very beginning to the very end. 26 years. That is an entire generation of investors dealing with the reality of the 100 level on the Dow.

Now let's move on to the next key psychological barrier -- quadruple digits. The Dow first touched 1000 on an intraday basis in early 1966. In fact, the DJIA four times crossed the 1000 mark in the mid 60s, on all four occasions failing to climb above 1001 before falling and closing below the key 4-digit mark. In fact, take a look at that chart up there at the period starting in 1966 when the major index first touched 100, and you will see at least five separate tops where the market rallied back to right around the 4-digit mark before failing and dropping back below as investors struggled to get their minds comfortable with the DJIA being at a 4-digit number. From the chart I would even go so far as to say that this stands out as the most prolonged period of plateau in the Dow in the entire history of the index. After a big drop during the 1981-82 recession, the Dow finally crossed the 1000 level on the upside for the last time in late 1982. So how long was it from the first touch of this key level on the Dow -- early 1966 -- to the time that the Dow flew past 1000 for the last time, finally disposing of the psychological barrier that is a four-digit Dow? 16 years.

So, it took 26 years for the investing public to get psychologically comfortable with the DJIA in three digits, and it took another 16 years to get comfortable with four digits. So what's the next big psychological milestone for the Dow? Yep -- 10,000.

The Dow first crossed the 10,000 mark on March 12, 1999, in what turned out to be the absolute height of the dot-com bubble. I remember it like it was yesterday. Me and a bunch of fellow clowns decided to skip our classes in law school that day and just sit home, get hammered and watch as the Dow first crossed this key level, at the time thought to be indicative of just how far the U.S. had come, and how we had enabled technology to lift us to new heights, financially speaking. As we saw with the first touch of 100 and of 1000, there was some immediate pullback from that point, but unlike what we saw with 100 and 1000, the market took it pretty well in stride right away this time, consistently closing above 10,000 within a month or so of first touch. Soon after, however, the market topped as the internet bubble burst in a big way, and the market spent the better part of 2000-2001 dillydallying right above 10k before finally dropping below it in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks which closed Wall Street down for a week. The Dow then proceeded to drop as low as 7286 during the recession of 2001-2002, before resuming a huge rally that carried the world's most widely-followed index to a stunning high of just over 14,000 in October 2007, actually making me rethink my psychological barrier theory as the index threatened to leave 10,000 in the dust after just a few short years.

But never fear, psychology always seems to win out in the end, and here we are with the Dow languishing once again in the low 7000s, nowhere near 10k and certainly not having left 10k in the dust as I had been hoping just a couple of years ago. Now to be sure, I'm not at all trying to say that the only reason the market is down now is psychology related to the Dow 10,000 level. That would be preposterous and would deny the very real financial and economic problems impacting our country right now. But that's the same story with the Dow's stallout at the 100 level -- the Great Depression hit, the worst unemployment and economic times in our country's history -- and again with the problems the Dow had with the 1000 level, which saw the oil crisis and the stagflation of the 1970s. But, I can't help but notice it nonetheless. I mean, can you deny the parallels?

So how much longer could this bear market last? Well, it took the Dow 26 years from the first time it crossed 100 to the last time. It took 16 years from the first time it crossed 1000 to the last time. And now we crossed 10,000 for the first time in early 1999. Let's just take an average of the first two psychological barriers -- 21 years. That would mean it would be 2020 before the Dow is finally finished with 10,000 for the last and final time. This doesn't mean that the market couldn't have several powerful rallies and make investors billions of dollars between now and then. It just means that, if the theory holds true, we could be dealing with Dow 10,000 plus or minus, say, 30%, for still another decade-plus, and it would not be out of the norm from a historical perspective.

And while Dow 10k in 2020 probably sounds vomitous to many of you out there (and it should), you have to note that at least that would mark a 40% up move from here.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Wait....There's No Lying in Baseball!

Being in New York and being obsessed with sports, I have been forced over the past two weeks to listen to Alex Rodriguez point out at least three or four dozen times that he is "clean now" and that "his years with the Yankees have been drug-free". A-Roid keeps talking about how history, and major league baseball writers, historians and hall of fame voters will have ample opportunity by the end of his career to judge his performance sans performance-enhancing drugs.

Which, of course, is a load of horseshit.

At least from 2001-2003, A-Roid admits that he took Primabolin combined with testosterone in a calculated attempt to gain lean muscle mass without the usual bulk that comes along with ingestion of just anabolic steroids. His muscles changed. His body changed. Over three years, A-Roid found muscles he didn't know he had, and bulked up others that he would never have been able to build up without the use of performance enhancers. And this is just the stuff he has admitted to taking so far.

I sat and listened to caller after caller after caller into New York sports radio over the past week, telling of either their own stories or those of acquaintances of theirs who have used steroids. The general theme of the calls was that these people took steroids for a few years like ten years ago, then they were off the juice for several years, and yet to this day when they go the gym they still can automatically bench press 450 pounds or otherwise still feel the effects of the steroids they took many years ago. That once you bulk up certain muscles in the ways that many steroids can help you to do, you just don't "lose" them when you stop taking those substances in the future. That is not to say that it would be impossible to lose those bulked-up muscles through overuse or other abuse of one's body, but rather that it is simply a pure falsehood for anyone to suggest, "Hey, I took steroids years ago, but I haven't now for several years, so I'm clean and my numbers are all legit now."

So, A-Roid, I'm gonna have to call bullshit again on you today, you lousy turd. Number one, I don't believe you only took banned substances between 2001-2003 anyways; I would bet money that you used HGH while with the Yankees and Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi in 2007. And number two, I don't care if it's true anyways -- your numbers, at least since when you admitted you started taking steroids in 2001, are forever tainted, and they mean nothing to me. I would guess that you will probably hit 250-300 home runs more with your steroided-up body than you ever would have in your career if you had never taken the "bolee" and the testosterone in the first place.

So, A-Roid, talk to me when you hit 1000 home runs for your career, then maybe you are getting close to Babe Ruth's real 715 career home runs.

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Friday, February 20, 2009


Breakdown. It's the best word to describe what happened on Thursday in the stock market. On Tuesday, I might have mentioned here that we happened to close on the Dow at precisely the previous 6-year closing low which was reached in late November of last year, and how key Wednesday's trading action was going to be in terms of whether the previous low holds, or breaks down just like the September lows did all through October, and like the October lows did in November. Wednesday ended up surprising everyone by finishing almost exactly where we started the day, the Dow gaining just 3 points and change, still sitting essentially right on top of the November 21 low of 7552.20, and basically setting up Thursday as the next real test of that level. Heading into the action on Thursday, after finishing modestly higher on Wednesday in the face of that major market retest, I hoped there might be some optimism out there for another successful retest, being that this is the same week as the Obama administration announced its revamped and expanded bank bailout program, and a nearly $800 billion economic stimulus package was signed by the president, a bill that received exactly three republican votes in the Congress. Yum.

Well so much for that theory.

Instead, on Thursday the Dow went and dropped nearly 90 points or 1.2%, making a fresh 6-year closing low, and now we're kind of in no-mans land until probably the 7250 range, which is where the Dow bottomed during the mini-recession that followed the terrorist attacks of 2001. The broader S&P 500 index has yet to confirm the breakthrough of its late November lows, but as of Friday morning's open the S&P sits just 26 points -- around 3.5% -- above its closing low level of 752 and change, which if you recall already marked a more than 51% decline from its highs in October of 2007.

The reason I bring this up today is that it's a pretty good bet what happens in the market on Friday given the recent action on Wall Street. After a breakdown like that on Thursday, from a purely technical and psychological perspective here on a Friday, with options expiring as well, there is a strong likelihood of increased selling throughout the day. The market making new lows here not even a month into the Obama administration is a literal nightmare for the new administration and for all of us who were hoping that a change in President would bring new fortunes for the American people. It is wayyyyyy too early to fairly judge any new president's term -- especially one with as little political experience as this one -- but so far the first month has not started off nearly the way mostly all of our country wanted, that is for sure. Now it is highly likely that we will have to sit and watch the market probe for new lows, a new bottom from which to hopefully find support and start the long climb back.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

A-Rod At It Again

So Alex Rodriquez is back at it again this week, giving a press conference to the New York media for the first time since the reveltation that he took steroids some years ago. He made his statements in front of several Yankee teammates, co-own Hal Steinbrenner and team GM Brian Cashman earlier this week, once again opening himself up to an entire wave of speculation about his lack of true candor with respect to his steroid use. All I can say is, here in the New York market, we are going now on two straight weeks of basically constant A-Rod talk on the sports talk radio shows.

Here is a transcript of A-Rod's prepared remarks, which he read from five pieces of paper for the first several minutes of his press conference:

"First, bear with me. I'm a little nervous, or a lot nervous, so bear with me a little bit.

"Let me start by thanking the Yankees, my teammates, our fans, for your support over the last couple weeks. The fact that you're sitting with me here today means the world to me. The last couple weeks have been difficult and emotional.

"On the one hand, it's extremely tough to admit mistakes. But on the other hand, it feels great to be moving forward. I know that I'm in a position where I have to earn my trust back, and over time I am confident that at the end of my career, people will see this for what it is: a stupid mistake and a lesson learned for a guy with a lot of baseball to play.

"Last Monday, I began the first step in the process of earning back trust when I sat down with Peter Gammons. I did so to accomplish two things: to tell the truth and to apologize to my teammates and baseball fans everywhere. Now the next step is to address the media about what I took and where it came from.

"On reflection, here's what I remember:

"As I discussed with Peter Gammons, in the year 2001, 2002 and 2003, I experimented with a banned substance that eventually triggered a positive test. In September 2004, I had a meeting with Gene Orza. During that meeting, he explained to me that I had been among the players from which people might conclude that I tested positive. That was as specific as Gene could be, because Gene stated to me that there were a number of players on that list who might not have actually tested positive.

"I think it is important to know that the tests that were taken in 2003 were requested and voted by players to determine the extent of the drug problem in Major League Baseball.

"Going back to 2001, my cousin started telling me about a substance that you can purchase over-the-counter in DR know as, in the streets, known as boli or bole. It was his understanding that it would give me a dramatic energy boost and otherwise harmless. My cousin and I, one more ignorant than the other, decided it was a good idea to start taking it. My cousin would administer it to me, but neither of us knew how to use it problem, providing (sic) just how ignorant we both were.

"It was at this point, we decided to take it twice a month for about six months during the 2001, 2002 and 2003 season. We consulted no one and had no good reason to base that decision. It was pretty evident that we didn't know what we're doing.

"We did everything we could to keep it between us, and my cousin did not provide any other players with it. I stopped taking it in 2003 and haven't take it since.

"I stopped taking the substance for several reasons. In 2003, I had a serious neck injury and it scared me half to death. I was scared for my career and truly my career after baseball -- my life after baseball. Secondly, after our voluntary test, all the players voted for a major league drug policy. At that time, it became evident to me how serious this all was, and I decided to stop then.

"Since that time, I've been tested regularly. I've taken urine tests consistent with Major League Baseball and blood tests for the World Baseball Classic. Before I walked here today, I took a test as part of my physical, and I'll take another blood test next week for the Classic.

"In the days ahead, I know that a lot of people are going to debate my past with various opinions. People are going to talk about my future as though it's already been determined, however, I realize that these opinions are out of my control. What is within my control is going out and doing the job that I am blessed to do. Spring training represents a new start for me and a chance to win a championship, two opportunities I'm very excited about.

"It isn't lost on me the good fortune I've received from playing baseball. When I entered the pros, I was a young kid -- the major leagues. I was 18 years old, right out of high school. I thought I knew everything, and I clearly didn't. Like everyone else, I've made a lot of mistakes in my life. The only way I know how to handle them is to learn from them and move forward. One thing I know is for sure that baseball is a lot bigger than Alex Rodriguez.

"And to my teammates -- (37-second pause)

"Thank you."

The first thing that struck me right away upon hearing this speech is how prepared it sounded, how orchestrated. I knew A-Rod was just going through the motions as he read it -- the proof is right there in the transcript, in the one line where A-Rod says "My cousin would administer it to me, but neither of us knew how to use it problem, providing just how ignorant we both were." The word isn't supposed to be "providing" -- it's supposed to be "proving", since that proves just how ignorant both Alex and his alleged cousin were being. My point is, A-Rod wasn't meaning, or even hearing, these words as they came out of his mouth on Tuesday. He was simply reading from a prepared statement, not even listening to the actual words as they came out of his mouth. Real sincere.

Furthermore, the statement itself, which is startlingly short on some details, miraculously happens to contain a surprisingly strong recollection of certain other details like who actually purchased the drug, where it was purchased, who administered the drug, etc. Why would A-Rod use a prepared statement to take such great pains to clarify all of these seemingly minor details in this story? Because, I say it's just that -- a story. This thing is made up, plain and simple. Here's what I think really happened.

When A-Rod finally got to sit down with his agent, superagent and also lawyer Scott Boras, A-Rod told Boras he just wants one thing and one thing alone from all this mess -- he wants to put it behind him. A-Rod has said as much time and time again in the week since Sports Illustrated first broke the news that he had tested positive for testosterone and Primabolin in 2003. Now, seeing what has happened to Miguel Tejada, and watching the Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds prosecutions progressing, with talks about indictments, serious offenses and even jail time being discussed, A-Rod also wants to make sure he is going to keep his freedom and remain able to do the things he wants to do in his life. He tells this all to Scott Boras as he pours out his feelings, and Boras begins to hatch an idea. He asks A-Rod if A-Rod would be willing to lie in his statement to the New York media. When A-Rod asks if he can be prosecuted if they catch him in the lie, Boras assures him that no, a press release is not legal proceedings, he is not under oath and therefore not subject to perjury or any other form of prosecution if he is later found not to have been truthful, other than in the court of public opinion. Alex says he can live with lying then, if it will help him to move beyond this and get himself out of any further steroids-related trouble, in particular with the long arm of the law.

So here's the story that Boras concocts, putting on his lawyer hat here for a minute.

First, the drug itself. In 1989, the Food and Drug Administration banned Primobolan from the United States, saying still today that there are no approved uses for the hormone replacement product. So naturally Alex's story is that the drug was purchased outside of this country, raising questions right off the bat of the applicability of U.S. laws to the purchase. No illegal drugs were purchased in the U.S., so no U.S. laws about purchasing of controlled substances have been violated.

So now let's look if there is a crime committed in the country where the Primobolan was purchased. A-Rod says the drug was purchased in the Dominican Republic, where "boli" or "bolee" is allegedly legal. So, no crime committed in buying this illegal drug in the U.S., and conveniently, no crime was committed in the jurisdiction where the drug was allegedly obtained, either, because A-Rod says it was legal there in 2001.

What about getting this substance, legal in DR but illegal in the U.S., into America to begin with? Isn't that a crime in the U.S.? Hells yeah it is. But A-Rod never mentioned in his prepared statement above how the drug found its way to America for A-Rod and his unnamed cousin to take twice a month for six months each year from 2001-2003. It must have been here, because if A-Rod took it all during the baseball season, it's not like he was flying down to DR every other week for a shot. But that's where the cousin comes in.

It's a tricky question as to whether or not A-Rod could be compelled to out the cousin. So far, mum is the word on the actual identity of this mysterious cousin, who just popped up out of nowhere in time for Tuesday's press conference. The cousin allegedly has not committed any crime, and A-Rod never explicitly stated that it was the cousin who smuggled the Primobolan into the U.S. But in any event, the clear impression left by A-Rod story to the New York media is that he did not purchase the drug, it was purchased by an unnamed someone in A-Rod's family -- not a father or a brother or someone that would be easily trackable like that, but a "cousin" -- and that it was not A-Rod who brought it illegally into the United States.

Also worth noting is that in some jurisdictions and under certain federal codes, mere possession of needles with the intent to inject an illegal substance in the U.S. can be classified as a crime. But don't worry, fans and media of New York, because A-Rod's prepared statement -- again I have to remind you, prepared by a team of lawyers no doubt -- was very clear that he himself did not do the injecting. Nope. Twice a month every month for six months, three consecutive years, all injecting into his body, but A-Rod never once touched the needles. How convenient.

Lastly, I have to note that I heard on the radio this week that the statute of limitations in federal cases like this is five years. This means that the government may only bring a case against someone for violation of the substance-related laws of the United States for up to five years after the infraction occurred. Conveniently, A-Rod only admits to having used illegal substances for three years starting in 2001. Convenient in that this means that he last took steroids in 2003, and wouldya lookie there, now it's 2009 so these actions are not prosecutable by the government anyways, even if they found additional corroborative evidence at some point in the future. Very clever.

So here's what A-Roid came to New York with earlier in the week. Despite none of this coming up in his previous interview at all, and none of it turning up in the Sports Illustrated story last week either, we were suddenly told that the real truth is that the illegal substance was not actually illegal where purchased, that A-Rod had nothing to do with bringing it into this country, where it is illegal, and he never had possession of the needles or other paraphenalia either. And, it's been more than five years anyways since all this happened, so A-Rod can't be touched in any event. Uh huh. Like I said, how picture-perfect convenient, for everybody on the A-Roid team.

In addition to going out there and reading a statement, prepared by his lawyers, that just happens to involve Alex skirting around every possible loophole in every possible law in connection with his steroid use, but A-Rod also managed to once again dodge any comments about the effects of the drug on his performance.

“I’m not sure what the benefit was,” Rodriqeuz said. “I will say this: when you take any substance, especially in baseball, it’s half mental and half physical. If you take this glass of water and say you’re going to be a better baseball player, if you believe it, you probably will be. I certainly felt more energy, but it’s hard to say.”

Right. It's hard to say. 47, 52 and 57 home runs in three years he admits he was on steroids. Under 40 home runs in out of 5 years since then, when he claims to have stopped taking the juice. Yeah, I'm sure the effect is just mental. Riiiiiiiight.

Another of my favorite weasel moments for A-Rod during this press conference was when he was asked why he stopped using the substance in 2003. Rodriquez responded that his awakening moment was after suffering a neck injury in spring training of 2003, which made A-Rod open his eyes and say, What am I doing with myself? "Thank God that I realized after my neck injury that I was being silly and irresponsible," Rodriguez said, "and I decided to stop." So, to be clear for the fans and the eventual hall of fame voters out there some day, A-Rod did not do steroids right up until he learned there would be testing for the substances in 2004, and then stop out of fear of getting caught, after already getting caught once in the diagnostic tests in 2003. No, his decision to quit the juice in 2003 had nothing to do with him getting caught then and in the future, but rather he figured out himself how silly he was being. God that must be great.

A-Rod also reiterated several times in his speech how he and his cousin were being "amateurs", how the cousin obtained the drug and how A-Rod did not even know what he was putting into his body. "We knew they weren't tic-tacs," A-Rod said, but he did not know they were steroids. But then consider this -- A-Rod has long been known as someone who considers his body to be like his temple, as well as someone who consults with a team of advisers before his every move. And he had just signed a 10-year, $252 millino contract with the Texas Rangers. To think that he took this substance for three years and never once knew what it was, strains all possible credibility in my view. Plus, Primabolin is apparently known as an ultra-expensive steroid designed to increase lean muscle mass, and according to steroid experts, steroid users often use Primobolan in conjunction with testosterone because the combination builds strength but doesn't add extreme bulk, a process known in body building circles as "stacking". This suggests that whoever was helping A-Rod administer the drugs clearly knew what they were doing.

The last bit of fakery I will mention about the A-Rod press conference the other day was the ridiculous 37-second pause at the end prior to thanking his teammates. I don't know about you -- go check out the video if you haven't already -- but I sure as hell think that entire thing seems quite contrived. A-Rod has long been known as someone who choreographs his words and actions, and I don't see how you can't question the legitimacy of that emotional display toward his teammates. Just watch what he does during it. He looks around, he makes some faces, he looks down to his left, he drinks some water, he faces his teammates a couple of times, and then -- finally -- he thanks them.

This entire thing came off to me and it seems to most of the people in the room with A-Rod as one big phony bit of bullshit. I say A-Rod is lying through his teeth, and I challenge anybody who says they think the have reason to believe anything that comes out of A-Rod's mouth at this point. I bet he got the drugs himself, I bet he got them in the U.S., I bet A-Rod injected himself, and I bet he worked with someone loosely associated with baseball who knew all the details of how best to use these drugs to combine to give A-Roid the illegal and unfair cheating edge he sought. I can only hope that someone will uncover the truth and A-Roid will have to go through this all over again, only much, much worse.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Automakers Back at the Trough

Well, back in December the Big Three U.S. automakers -- mostly just GM and Chrysler -- told the Congress that they needed billions of dollars to be able to survive the current economic crisis, and the Congress didn't buy it. After much fierce debate, Republican Senators managed to defeat the bill to provide these struggling companies with billions of emergency aid without any real plan for becoming viable, profitable businesses. But never fear, our then-president George W. Bush stepped in and provided GM and Chrysler upwards of $15 billion in emergency funds out of the government's TARP package approved last fall. Right when it happened I mentioned here that all this really was, was Bush deciding that he did not want his legacy to include the bankruptcy of America's auto industry and whatever fallout that would entail, so he decided to blink in his showdown with Congress and just come up with enough money to hold these companies over until Bush was back home in Texas, until a day he knew with 100% certitude would come soon but when this would no longer be his problem to deal with.

Folks, that day is today.

On Tuesday evening, GM and Chrysler filed their restructuring plans with the Obama administration, as required by the conditions of the emergency loans provided to these companies by President Bush just two months ago. And guess what? All the money we gave GM and Chrysler back in mid-December -- $15.4 billion, mind you -- is now gone, burnt through in just a few months of run rate at two companies that are losing money billion by billion just running their business in this economy.

And guess what else? Apparently, things have worsened in the beleaguered auto industry just since the last round of free billions in December. I know -- shocker, huh? Now, Chrysler says it will need more than another $5 billion to survive, over 40% more than expected based on the December plans, and troubled GM has determined that it requires another $16 billion to make it! That was some use we got out of that $15 billion in December, huh? Things are so bad with GM, the nation's largest automaker, and it is so lost in terms of figuring out a way to be profitable, that CEO Rick Wagoner (somebody please tell me how the funk this guy is still in charge at GM?!) said the company would run out of money by March without $2 billion in new funds, and that it needs another $2.6 billion to fund April's operations. So we're supposed to just keep coming up with more than $3 billion a month for these companies to lose?

Is anybody really surprised by any of this? I mean, what's the end game here, guys? Someone makes a product that is universally adjudged to be inferior to those of its competitors, they lose $3 billion a month running a huge operation to manufacture and distribute these inferior goods, and the government is just supposed to keep paying for it? Why? Until when?

I just don't get it. It must be me.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lost Season V

Lost Season V. We're through what, a quarter of the season now, right? The way I see it, it's around this time where you can legitimately start forming an opinion on how the season as a whole is going. To be honest, my girly chat friends know this already but I have had some misgivings ever since this season began, which I will get in to below. But I wanted to wait to see a decent part of the season before I started making judgments, and I'm happy to admit that my original unease has tempered a bit as the season has worn on.

First and foremost, I do have to say that, ever since the whole time traveling thing began, I have liked Lost that much less. And it's not like I have some problem with time travel as a concept -- nobody loved Back to the Future, Terminator, Butterfly Effect, etc. more than me. Shit, I even dug on Star Trek VI. That's right, the ghey one with the humpback whales. And one of my all-time favorite books, called "Replay" by a guy named Ken Grimwood, is about time travel in a way. So it's not like I just hate science fiction and can't stand stories about time travel, I actually kinda dig it. But just not in this story. As I watch the island jumping from the past to the present to the future in a very random and yet plot-convenient way, it just makes part of me long for the old days of Seasons 1 and 2, when tour castaways were just discovering all the wonders of the island. The hatch, the numbers, the Others, the smoke monster. These days, the show has really become something totally different from what it started out to be. Five years ago we were watching a story of a bunch of plane crash survivors roughing it in the South Pacific somewhere, learning all the strange and crazy things about the island they found themselves shipwrecked on, and we were learning all about the surviving members of the plane crash via their individual backstories as well. Now, we're watching a show that this season has morphed into a multiple-strings travel through time as those still on the island fight to survive, while those off the island are struggling to get back for a reason I still do not fully understand. And that's not to say that different is automatically bad; my personal opinion is that the show is just not as good these days as when it was in its heyday some several seasons ago. Really, it's no different from what I think about 24 and Gray's Anatomy and many other popular network shows nowadays. These things are basically all written just to "make it" in their rookie season; the creators generally put their all into the plot for the first season, and figure they will worry about future seasons if and when the opportunity presents itself. I think that shows with Lost just like it does with 24, Desperate Housewives and most of the other popular shows out there today.

Now, as I mentioned above, I am happy to say that this general malaise about where Lost has gone here in Season V has been waning steadily since the season began, with this past week's most recent episode definitely scoring to me as the most interesting and overall best episode so far of the season. They are really drawing us in as only the writers of Lost can. But this leads to my other concern with the path they have taken the show down now: I believe explaining their way out of this whole mess is going to be much more complicated and difficult than most people realize, and that the writers of Lost have gotten themselves into a situation where they risk ending the show in a way that will alienate a number of their longtime viewers because it will require a highly complex explanation that is bound to be hard to follow. If what I think is going on with the island is what's actually going on, the rest of the show will be far more about time travel than about the actual island and its other mysteries.

Which brings me to my theory of what's really going on with this island. One of the absolute best things about Lost working its way towards a final conclusion in just 28 more episodes is that, here in Season V, I feel like I am finally getting to the point where I can start to string together a theory about what might be happening here at the island, based on actual fact instead of just silly conjecture like most such theories have based on over the past few years. Here's my view of things -- keep in mind this is purely just a theory and is based on no actual knowledge whatsoever, I don't ever read spoilers and what I am about to say can and likely will be proven completely wrong in short order. But here's what I think is going on with this island:

Somehow, the Others formed on the island, probably as some split off from the original Dharma Initiative that first came to the island in the 1950s, which we have now seen this season included Ellie and Charles Widmore as visitors, and of course the ever-present and ever-eye-shadow-wearing Richard Alpert. Ben once referred to a "black box" on the island in a previous episode, telling Locke it could be used to bring anyone from the world to the island. My guess is that this black box, one of the great mysteries of this series so far, is likely some sort of time machine, one which the Others have developed by figuring out how to harness the incredible energy source located under the Orchid station. In fact, my guess from the Marvin Candle sighting earlier this season is that the Dharma Initiative was originally working on harnessing the power of this energy source as well, but that the Others somehow split away from Dharma, maybe due to some dispute over the time machine, how to develop it or what it should be used for, and at this point it appears that the Others, led by Ben, orchestrated a mass killing of the remaining Dharma Initiative workers in the past as we have seen in previous episodes. This has left the Others in control of the island's time-travel capabilities for some time now since they got rid of the rest of Dharma.

Because of what I imagine we will see happened back in the 1950s, Richard and Ben et al are well aware that Charles Widmore is desperate to return to the island, probably generally to complete the work he started while there in the '50s, or more specifically to regain control of the time machine he discovered back then (I expect to see more of this later in this season) so he can use it for his own purposes, be they nefarious, greed-based or personal. As a result of Widmore's lifelong search for the island ever since he was banished for some reason sixty years ago, Ben and Richard found a way to use the island's time-altering capabilities to move the entire island into the past at some point recently, perhaps as recently as when Rousseau's team traveled to the island in 1988, or even later than that (but prior to 2004 when the show began). At least as likely is that the Others found a way within the recent past to use the island's energy source to "freeze" the island in whatever time it was back then, while time around the rest of the world has continued to move on since then. It may be that the Others have figured out how to create a "time bubble" around the entire island, so that the surrounding space is still in the current time, but the island itself has been moved to or frozen in a time in the recent past, all to avoid detection by Widmore and his gang of baddies.

[As an aside, the theory is also that the Black Rock, that old boat stuck in the middle of the island, somehow crashed into the island some time ago, creating the "hole" in this time bubble surrounding the island through which the freighter people flew their helicopter and through which the raft could float between the freighter and the island. This would explain why Charles Widmore was so hell-bent on obtaining the Black Rock's log at the auction we saw a year or two ago -- Widmore knows that with that log, he can learn the exact coordinates through which the Black Rock sailed to get to the island, duplicating their exact route and thus enabling Widmore's people to pass through to the island via the same hole in whatever "time bubble" exists that was created by the Black Rock.]

So, my theory is that the island as we know it from Lost is actually situated in the recent past, say ten years ago, while the survivors of flight 815 were in 2004 before the plane crash detailed in the pilot episode of the series. The thought is that, when Desmond turned the key to enact the failsafe in the Swan station, the thing that turned the sky purple and ultimately caused the crash of flight 815, the survivors crash-landed on the island, but they landed on the island in the mid-1990s, the year when time had been "frozen" on the island, not in 2004 as it had been when they boarded the plane a few hours earlier. So it is, say, 1995 or something when all the events on the island took place as we have seen them.

This is a key point of my theory, because I no longer believe that the island has these "magical" healing properties such that a guy like Locke can be a quadriplegic when he boards his plane but then be able to walk perfectly upon crashing on the island. Rather, I believe the reason that Locke can walk on the island is that he had not yet been pushed out the window by his father back in 1995, the time it currently is on the island as soon as they crash-landed. Similarly, Rose's cancer has dissipated on the island, but in my view not because the island can cure cancer so much as because the island has taken Rose back in time to a point shortly before when she developed the cancer.

The only other major theme of this working theory I have deals with fate, and I believe that fate will prove to play a large role in where the writers are taking Lost here in the final two seasons. I think the writers have given us a couple of key tidbits here in Season V to piece together the fate part of my theory, which is that, as Daniel told Sawyer very matter-of-factly earlier this season, you cannot change the future by going back in the past. This concept goes against most of what you see in other time-travel movies, books and shows in our day, but the theory being put forth on Lost seems to be just that -- that you can maybe change a minor thing here or there, but that fate will not permit you to materially change the future by going back in the past. And the vibe I am getting so far from the Lost writers this year is that they might be setting up "fate" to be a real entity, a force, that physically acts out its will on anyone who tries to alter the natural course of things. Although I had been entertaining the thought that the smoke monster could be fate's agent to make sure that things changed in the past get righted before moving to the future, smokey's grab of Rousseau's team seems to cut against that theory so I am backing off on that part of it. But I still think that a central theme of the time travel aspect of Lost will be that fate will find a way to make things as they should in the right time.

Taking this theory to its conclusion, for example, my thought is that, as I mentioned above, Locke can walk on the island because, in the time that it currently is on the island, he has not been pushed out the window yet by his father. He can walk perfectly in 1995, so he can walk perfectly when the plane crash-lands on the island back in 1995-time. My thought, however, is that if Locke were to stay on the island for long enough, say 9 years or so until 2004, then fate would find a way to maim his legs in some other way on the island, because fate has already determined that in 2002 or whenever his father pushed him, he becomes paralyzed from the waist down. Similarly, I think that if Rose were to remain on the island for long enough, her cancer would develop at the exact same time as it developed back on the earth in her "original" life. So I don't think the island is eliminating these maladies for Locke, Rose and others, but rather just moving the players back in time some small number of years to before those maladies existed, but that they would come back and exhibit themselves in the same way at the time already pre-determined by fate.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying that fate would ensure that Locke would get pushed out of a window somewhere on the island if he remained there until the time when he originally got pushed out the window by his assholic father. I get the feeling that fate is concerned with ensuring the results it has worked out for everyone, but not at all the means by which those results are obtained. Fate doesn't care if Locke is pushed out of a window or if some heavy piece of machinery falls on his legs. The only thing fate would see to is that, somehow, some way, Locke's legs would become -- will become, in a few years of island-time -- incapacitated. I believe this theory is supported by what we saw go down at the very end of last week's episode -- Locke is preparing to fix the wheel that moved the island and send himself back to the world, where he plans to convince all of the Oceanic 6 to return to the island to finish their "work" there. But when Locke goes back to the real world, he will be jumping from 1995-ish, when the Others froze time on the island to better hide from Charles Widmore, back to 2007 or whatever the present time is in our flash-forwards in Los Angeles. But in 2007, Locke's legs have already been destroyed by his father. So what happens as Locke is on his way down to the wheel to jump back to the future? The island flashes, the well disappears when Locke is halfway down, and he falls the rest of the way. You saw that disgusting bone protruding a good two inches from his leg when he fell, right? There's no way an injury like that is going to be reparable by modern medicine, methinks. I think that was the island's way of ensuring that Locke, who is about to go back to the present, is once again a quadriplegic as fate has lain out for him in that time.

Lastly, I should also mention that there is one way in my theory that the Lost writers believe you can change history somewhat in the past. If you, alive in the current day, go back into the past and are killed, can you still exist in the present day? This of course is one of the great conundrums of time travel lovers over time, and it seems that every book, every tv show, and every movie that addresses these issues seems to handle it differently. On Lost, I think they have their own way of dealing with this issue -- if you go into the past and die, then you can still exist in the future, but only as kind of a half-existence. You can exist in spirit only, but not in body. This is what I think Christian Shepard is, which is why I think they made the point of Christian saying that he could not help injured Locke make his way over to the frozen wheel. Because Christian Shepard died already in Australia just before Jack got on flight 815 to bury him (and I think we will learn that Christian somehow got involved with the island's time machine before that death), I think Christian has been relegated to just a spirit on the island, such that if Locke tried to grab Christian's arm, he would just grab at nothing and fall right through the air. Similarly, I also think that Jacob is the spirit of someone who was on the island, went back in time, and was eventually killed in the past, such that Jacob exists now only in spirit on the island. I believe Claire, who Locke also saw in Jacob's cabin with Christian late last season, probably is also dead at this point, existing only in spirit on the island. And this could go a long way towards explaining who Jacob is, and why nobody ever gets to see him but he still gets to speak and apparently exercise a fair amount of control over the island's original inhabitants.

That's basically it for my Lost theory. I've spared you the bit about Locke having to have part of his foot amputated in connection with stabilizing the infection from that redonkulous leg injury he just suffered before returning back to Los Angeles in 2007, resulting in the loss of one of his toes, and then returning to the island eventually as Jacob, in spirit only because he dies in Los Angeles, and eventually being the guy whose foot is immortalized by the island's inhabitants as part of the giant four-toed statue they showed us a couple of years ago. Stuff like that is just too in doubt and too involved to really spend much time thinking about here at this point. But what I would say is, in case you didn't quite get my point about how complicated they have now turned this show into with all the time-travel stuff, go back and read my last ten paragraphs or so. That's why I think the Lost writers might have passed the point of no return and gotten themselves into a situation where only a too-complex-to-be-accepted explanation will suffice to cover everything that's happened to the island and its inhabitants over the past five seasons of brilliant, exhilarating television.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Brett Favre: Calling it a Career

Here's a good sports question to ask at a bar:

Where does Brett Favre fit in in terms of the all-time quarterbacks in the NFL?

Here's the cases for and against, the way I see it:


Brett Favre retired this week as the only 3-time MVP in the history of the NFL. In fact, he won the MVP in three consecutive seasons, from 1995-1997, including a superbowl win in 1995 over the Drew Bledsoe-led New England Patriots, presumably pre-cheating. Favre's two best years were pretty clearly that superbowl year and the one following, when he put up some lofty numbers that almost any of today's quarterbacks would jump at:

1995: 359-570, 63.0% completions, 4413 yards, 38 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, QB rating of 99.5
1996: 325-543, 59.9% completions, 3899 yards, 39 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, QB rating of 95.8

It is hard to argue with those two seasons. 39 tds and 13 picks. Now that's hall of fame material right there.

More than those two spectacular seasons, his superbowl win and the three league MVP awards, Favre's career stats include some of the sickest numbers for any quarterback, ever. Brett Favre retires as the all-time leader among quarterbacks in wins, consecutive starts, yards, touchdowns and completions, in addition to the most 3000-yard seasons with 17 consecutive:

Most Wins (Starting QBs)
1. Brett Favre 169
2. John Elway 148
3. Dan Marino 147

Most Consecutive Starts (QB)
1. Brett Favre 269
2. Peyton Manning 176
3. Ron Jaworski 116

Most Career Passing Yards
1. Brett Favre 65,127
2. Dan Marino 61,361
3. John Elway 51,475

Most Career TD Passes
1. Brett Favre 464
2. Dan Marino 420
3. Fran Tarkenton 342

Most Career Completions
1. Brett Favre 5,720
2. Dan Marino 4,967
3. John Elway 4,123

Favre's regular season record is 169-100. That's like going 10-6 every year for 16 consecutive seasons. All these incredible career numbers, combined with his penchant for coming from behind and leading his team to victory late in games, and his unbelievable toughness as evidence by the never-to-be-broken 269 consecutive starts at quarterback, easily place Favre in the top 10 quarterbacks of all time. But how high on the top 10?


OK, so Favre is obviously an awesome, awesome quarterback in career terms, one of the best ever. But at just 1-1 in career superbowls, let's look at some of the other all-time greats and compare them with Favre.

Joe Montana won four superbowls in four tries with the 49ers. John Elway captured two superbowls in three appearances for the Broncos. Tom Brady won three superbowls in three appearances, I believe winning the superbowl MVP in all three. Troy Aikman won three superbowls in three appearances in the 1990s. I may be biased, having grown up watching these guys, but I can't help but give a whole lot of credence to anyone who has won multiple superbowls and was a great player in doing so, and all four of the above-mentioned names fit the bill. Plus there is Terry Bradshaw, who won four superbowls in four appearances in the 1970s.

Now, Roger Staubach also won two championships in the '70s, and Bart Starr won the first two superbowls in the late 1960s, and even Ben Roethlisberger now has two superbowl wins as of his beating of the Cardinals just a few weeks ago. But none of those guys is anywhere near Favre on the career lists of any of the major passing stats, so in my view Favre comes in ahead of those players with just one more superbowl victory than he and career stats not even approaching Favre's. But I have a really hard time putting Favre ahead of anyone with two superbowl wins and comparable career numbers (Elway), or anybody else with three or more champion victories who was dominant during their championship runs. So that leaves Bradshaw, Brady, Montana, Aikman and Elway ahead of Favre in my book, based just on career stats and superbowls.

The other major strike against Brett Favre is the fact that he truly played about five seasons too long. As I mentioned above, this is a guy whose prime was clearly in the 1995-1996 seasons, and here we are in frigging 2009 when the guy is finally retiring. Since the last time Favre threw 30 touchdown passes in a season (30 in 2004), he has thrown 88 touchdowns and 84 interceptions in four years, for an average of 22 tds and 21 picks a year. That is not such a great stretch over four years for a top-10 all-time quarterback. Moreover, Favre threw for more than 30 tds for five straight seasons, from 1994-1998, but then in 10 seasons since, he only bested 30 touchdowns three times.

In particular, the biggest issue with Favre has long been the interceptions. From a career standpoint, Favre retires as far and away the career leader in this statistic, leading the league in at least two seasons:

Most Career Interceptions
1. Brett Favre 310
2. George Blanda 277
3. John Hadl 268

Despite winning the superbowl in 1995, Favre also failed to distinguish himself in the postseason overall, ending 12-10 in career playoff games, with most of those wins coming in the first half of his career. Brett ended his career going 3-7 in his last ten playoff games, spanning over the last decade of Favre's time in the NFL. In his final 12 playoff games, Favre's passer rating was a respectable-at-best77.8, hardly befitting of a best-ever type of passer over 12 clutch games. In his last five wildcard games, Favre finished 2-3 with seven touchdowns and nine picks. Taking it a step further, in Favre's last three divisional playoff games, he went 1-2 with seven touchdowns and seven picks. Compare these postseason numbers to the likes of Brady, Bradshaw, Montana or the others I mentioned above and you will see where the debate comes from as to Favre's true place in history among quarterbacks. More than that, it is hard for many fans to forget Favre's role in two of the worst overtime playoff losses in NFL history, after he threw a pick in overtime to the Eagles' Brian Dawkins in the 2003 playoffs -- literally while Hammer Wife and I were getting married -- and then another to the Giants' Corey Webster to end the Packers' 2007 campaign in frustration. ESPN pointed out that Favre is the only quarterback in league history to throw overtime interceptions in two different playoff games. And I skipped over the 2001-2002 divisional playoff game against the St. Louis Rams, when Favre threw for 281 yards in a 45-17 loss, tying a playoff record by tossing six interceptions, three of them pick-6s to give his team no shot to win. In his last nine playoff games, Favre threw 18 interceptions, and in 22 total playoff efforts, Favre threw 28 interceptions. Despite the Packers amassing a 13-0 home playoff record at Lambeau Field from 1931 through 2002, Favre turned that record on its head, eliminating much of the cache from the Frozen Tundra in going 2-3 at home since 2002, including home playoff eliminations at the hands of Michael Vick, Daunte Culpepper and Eli Manning. Not exactly a who's who list of quarterbacks there.

So, in sum, Favre's career stats clearly warrant a top-10 all-time position among NFL quarterbacks in my view. You just can't diss on the guy who leads the entire league in career wins, touchdowns, yards, completions, 3000-yard seasons, and of course the incredible iron man stat with the 269 consecutive starts at quarterback. But I would argue that Favre's questionable postseason stats, combined with the noticeable dropoff in his regular season performance following the mid-1990s prime of his career, leave him somewhere around the bottom of the all-time top 10.

Anybody out there from Wisconsin who wants to say differently?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Death of Baseball

Quick! What's the current single-season home run record in Major League Baseball? Barry Bonds holds it, but what's the number? Seriously. Do you know it?

It's 73, set in 2001, not coincidentally the same year that A-Rod claims to have begun doping. And while we're at it, do you know the career home run record? Once again it's held by Barry Bonds, but do you know how many dingers he hit over his 22-year career in the majors? Think it over, and let's see if you know the answer.

The correct answer is 762 home runs. I will admit that I got both of these numbers wrong when I first tried to remember them. And that right there is the crime of all the steroided-up players over the past 15 years or so in Major League Baseball. These guys have literally ruined the tradition of the game, the game with far and away the best tradition of all four major sports in this country. Baseball has always been the most traditional, the most historic and the most statistic-laden of the sports in America, and now these cheating a-holes have ruined that. Forever.

Try in your mind to go back 15 years or so, to the early 1990s. Did you know then what the single-season home run record was? Of course you did. Everyone did. 61 homers by Roger Maris, besting Babe Ruth's previous record of 60 homers. And let's see...did you know the career home run record? Of course! 755, Hank Aaron. 715, Babe Ruth. 660, Willie Mays. Everybody knew these hallowed numbers, the stuff of legends, literally. How could you not know these things, growing up as a baseball fan in this country? Those records were real, and they were everything. The fact that you know the best average in the past 80 years is Ted Williams' .406 in 1941, or the 61 homers hit by Roger Maris, or the 755 home runs hit by Hank Aaron in his career, that's precisely what has made baseball America's pasttime, and exactly what set it apart from all other sports in this country.

Now, all that is gone. If I don't even know Barry Bonds' 762 home run total, then lord knows that kids today won't be growing up knowing it either. Shit, when it's time I will be teaching my girls that Hank Aaron is the home run king, with 755 home runs, before a bunch of cheating losers came along and defiled the game and the richest history of any sport widely played in America. So the days of growing up with these numbers etched into our minds are dead and gone forever. All because of a bunch of tiny-dicks (literally) and their unstoppable need to cheat and to push things further into excess than they ever needed to go.

It's sad, really, how similar this all sounds to what led us to the massive financial crisis we are facing right now as a country as well, isn't it? People's greed, their insatiable appetite for excess, has led us to do innumerable stupid things in countless aspects of our existence over the past generation, from our Presidents chasing blowies from fat Jewish chicks instead of Osama Bin Laden, right down to the average joe who takes out the $350,000 "liar loan" adjustable-rate mortgage that he can't possibly afford in realistic terms. The people of this country, and the world at large, have been treated over the past 10-20 years to an absolute clinic on what unbridled, unregulated greed and excess leads to if left unchecked for long enough. One can only hope that this is a lesson that we as a people will figure out how to stop repeating in the future.

Before I go for the day, is there anybody in America (outside of Raleigh-Durham) who does not flat-out love watching Duke lose a college basketball game, any game at all? I've got plenty of people who I wouldn't talk to if we were on a plane together that was going down, but I'll be damned if Duke losing for the fourth straight time to UNC at home doesn't bring warmth to the heart and shared smiles to even the bitterest of enemies. My college basketball team may suck balls this year, but the NCAAs will always be fun and interesting for me when there are the hated Dookies and their dorkass coach to root against.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Burning Down the Markets

The stock market on Tuesday after the announcement of the revised bank bailout plan by the Great Tax Evader was pretty much the worst case of deja vu I can recall in quite some time. Either there is a serious glitch in the Matrix going on, or I have already lived through our leaders botching press announcements and sending the stock market in a historic tailspin enough times in the past six months to last me for sixty years. Tim Geithner's bank bailout announcement was excuted about as badly as is humanly possible. Somebody please tell me, why would Barack Obama spend all last week talking very publicly about the new bank bailout that was going to be announced on Monday morning? Why publicize this thing with your PR machine so hard, for several days, only to have to put the announcement off on a Monday morning even after an entire weekend to work out the details? And then on top of that, why send your new head of Treasury out there on Tuesday, still without any real details?

Ask yourself this, President Obama and Secretary Geithner, how would you expect the market to react to this turn of events? You tell us all week that Monday is the day when we will all get to find out your administration's plan to save the nation's banking system from critical insolvency, that just the minor details are still being worked out. You broadcast it everywhere and make sure we know to look for the new bank bailout news on Monday. Then early on Monday the announcement gets postponed to Tuesday, for a reason that is actually completely unrelated to any bank bailouts and makes no sense to anyone who hears it. Then on Tuesday you come out with basically four general points of strategy for the revised bank bailout -- now called the Financial Stability Plan instead of the now-tarnished TARP moniker -- and essentially no real details of how the strategies would be carried out.

Particularly troubling was the lack of detail surrounding the "bad bank" concept that Secretary Geithner described as a sharing between public and private funds to invest in purchasing the troubled assets off the books of this country's banks. But the plan as Geithner announced on Tuesday provides almost no detail on how the assets would be priced -- the major stumbling block with the whole "bad bank" concept from the beginning, even back in the Henry Paulson days -- offering up only that pricing of the assets would be left to the private sector to determine. Huh? Right now there is no market in the private sector for these kinds of derivatives and mortgage-backed securities. People see these things and run the other way. Pricing the bad assets is and always has been the key challenge with an aggregator bank concept, because pricing them at current market rates would force banks to take hunreds of billions of dollars more in crushing writedowns, while pricing them too high would put over a trillion dollars of taxpayers' funds at risk of never regaining their value.

Plus, in addition to the problem of valuing the banks' crap assets, or perhaps partially as a result of that problem, it is very hard to know how readily private sector buyers will even be able to be found for all these trillions of dollars of shit on the books of America's big banks, even with federal loan backing to support such purchases. Right now, the last thing almost any hedge fund or mutual fund in the world wants to buy is distressed bank assets. I mean, sure you're going to be able to find someone to buy some percentage of the assets, if the price is right, but there is real concern that it may not be nearly as easy as the government seems to perceive to sell all of these troubled and securitized assets into the private sector.

One other particularly frowned-upon provision of the revised bank bailout plan that Geithner mentioned was his plan to put all banks with more than $100 billion in assets through a "stress test" to determine whether they can handle the losses that could come from an extended economic downturn, and are thus worthy of receiving additional cash infusions from the Treasury to be used specifically for lending. As with the "bad bank" concept, there is real potential with this notion of stress testing American's banks to find out which are the long-term players and which cannot surive in the current environment, but as with the former example, Secretary Geithner's Tuesday announcement was almost completely devoid of any details around how the stress tests would work, or why this hasn't been done already by the nation's banking regulators. What exactly would be tested with these banks? No answers. When would these tests occur? No answers. What would happen if a bank fails the test? They are not eligiable for government bailout funds, but will they be closed down or taken over by the government? Who knows. Could they get a retest at some later date? Nothing. What if one or more of the major U.S. banks fails a stress test? What happens then? Your guess is as good as mine. If a bank fails a stress test, aren't people going to want to withdraw their money in a big ol' hurry? One never knows. What if a bank disputes a negative result in a stress test? It is just question after question after question with this thing, and simply none of it appears to have been thought through at all yet by the new president or Treasury Secretary.

I am still trying to figure out where the hell the lesson went awry and got un-learned by our executives that the market hates fear, and the market hates uncertainty more than anything else. Until eight or nine years ago, that was just an understood fact of life, by everyone, certainly everyone at the high end of our government. But our last president and our most recent Treasury Secretary treated us to a number of enjoyable television appearances and official speeches proclaiming that the sky was falling and talking about how this brilliant idea to give $350 billion cash money to the heads of the banks of this country with little to no strings attached or restrictions for how the money be used was going to work, how it was going to save our country from the economic abyss. How totally and completely screwed we all were if we did not get that bailout working right away. I prayed for months for that man's presidency to end so we could get someone else in here who understands the way that the fragile psyche of the investing public needs to be taken care of. How you need to nurture it. How it needs to be caressed, coddled. Now we have a new president in town, and he's doing the exact same stuff, talking daily including on prime time television about the urgent need for his redonkulously costly stimulus plan and the dire irreversible spiral of hell our country will surely slip in to if he does not get what he wants. His Treasury Secretary is coming to the public with more doomsday talk if his plan is not enacted, plus some vague rhetoric and almost no details and really no clue how to re-seed American banks' totally depleted coffers. Am I the only one that this sounds familiar to?

And I ask again: how would you expect the market to react to this turn of events? When it is made obvious right in all of our faces that our government, the new administration Promising A Change, hasn't got even the first clue how to solve the crisis facing the banks of our country right now. That they had to delay a meeting even after a weekend to work through, and then the announcement they finally came up with contained almost no new or novel ideas and next to no details about how the new bailout plan would all work. What message do you think that sends to investors in this country? That you are unprepared, that you needed extra time and are still unprepared, that you spent all week hyping this thing, took extra time and are still unprepared? That you clearly haven't a clue how to fix the problem?

Right now, the U.S. stock market is at a serious crossroads. Right now. As you're reading this. Tuesday's close marks the lowest close for the major indices since November 20 of last year, and sitting just some 4% or so above the recent closing low of around 7500 on the Dow. Either the administration figures out a way to shape things up with this totally botched bank rescue, or we're going to retest the November 27 lows. Many would be in favor of a re-test of those levels (Dow 7500, S&P 750 or so) so we can bounce back up and provide further confirmation that those were indeed the lowest the indices will reach. But if Barack Obama and his leadership team aren't careful, they might learn the bad lesson about stock market re-tests: sometimes, the lows fail to hold.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More on A-Fraud

Yesterday, I noted that I did not expect to talk much further about the A-Rod topic, since the news was related to a drug test which he would never have agreed to take if there was any chance that the results could ever become public. But now, A-Rod has opened the whole mess up himself to the public by doing what I think was definitely the right thing on Monday afternoon, sitting down with ESPN's Peter Gammons and giving the following interview where among other things he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003:

It's worth watching the entire clip I think, if you have the time and the inclination. And now that A-Rod has decided to go public about this story, I feel a little better in talking some more about my opinion on this whole thing.

My reaction to this interview is mixed at best. I mean, for starters, A-Rod is clearly very broken up about this whole issue. At one point in the middle of this interview, you can see the pink splotches form under his eyes, and it actually looks like Rodriguez might cry. He pulls himself together and recovers, and by the end of the interview those prominent pink areas are gone from his face, but he almost loses it there in the middle. But, try as I might, I simply do not believe that A-Rod is broken up about the poor role model he is for children, or for cheating the game that he loves, or for the fact that he simply did something he knew was wrong. No. I think A-Rod is all upset because he got caught, and he knows that now all of the great records he will amass in his career will and should be asterisked just like those of fellow cheater Barry Bonds, and that his entire legacy is tarnished beyond repair, among current fans and in the record books over time.

There were a lot of things about this interview that rubbed me the wrong way. First and foremost, the first few minutes of A-Rod's answers sound like a speech that has been written by someone with experience deflecting scandals, and like A-Rod is just going through the motions repeating what he's been told to say. In fact, I'm sure that's exactly what it was, as his agent furiously worked with him over the weekend to plan a response, and this is what they came up with. Just tell 'em it was many years ago, and keep saying how sorry you are. No matter what happens, keep emphasizing how sorry you feel for the whole thing.

But is he really sorry?

"Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time."

"Back then". I love it. Rodriguez makes it sound like this is the 1880s we're talking about here, or at least the 1980s. "I was young, I was stupid, I was naive." You were young, Alex? We're talking about five years ago here. Not 15, or 25, and not when A-Rod was a young boy of 7 years old or something. It's not exactly accurate or fair to talk about how young he was when he made this decision. It was this decade. Well into this decade in fact. The guy hasn't aged all that much since then. I just don't buy it.

"I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful."

Wow! Very sorry and deeply regretful! That's like saying I'm a pompous ass and an arrogant prick. I mean, doesn't it just sound like these are his talking points, and he is trying to focus on how sorry he is over and over and over again, saying it as many different ways as he possibly can? I just really get the feeling that A-Rod thinks he can just come out and apologize for what he did, and that it will go away.

"Again, it was such a loosey-goosey era. I'm guilty for a lot of things. I'm guilty for being negligent, naive, not asking all the right questions. And to be quite honest, I don't know exactly what substance I was guilty of using."

To me this one really strains all credibility. I get the feeling that A-Rod and his people somehow think it makes him seem less guilty if he claims not to even know what substance he was taking. I don't buy that for even half a second. This guy had just signed a $250 million contract, he works out hard every day, he feels all this pressure to perform as he admits himself in the interview, and yet he ingests things that he doesn't even know what they are? You know what, I don't believe that for a second, and more than that, I simply don't think it makes him look any better even if it were true.

"I am sorry for my Texas years. I apologize to the fans of Texas."

Again, it's just not that simple. I really think A-Rod thinks he can just say over and over again how sorry he is, and that's all he needs to do.

Gammons then went on to ask about A-Rod's years as a Yankee (since 2004), and A-Rod assured Gammons that those years "have been clean."

"I've played the best baseball of my career since. I've won two MVPs since and I've never felt better in my career. Of that I'm very proud of."

Is that so? A-Rod has played the best baseball of his career since 2004, huh? Let's take a look at some of the numbers on that one, because living in New York and having to live with the puss that is A-Rod for these past few years, I can only say that most of us baseball fans in New York don't think he's been all that in his time here. So let's take a look at A-Rod's career numbers, by season, keeping in mind that he admits to having used performance enhancing drugs just during the three years from 2001-2003:

1994 Sea 17 54     0  2    .204
1995 Sea 48 142  5  19  .232
1996 Sea 146 601 36 123 .358
1997 Sea 141 587 23 84 .300
1998 Sea 161 686 42 124 .310
1999 Sea 129 502 42 111 .285
2000 Sea 148 554 41 132 .316
2001 Tex 162 632 52 135 .318
2002 Tex 162 624 57 142 .300
2003 Tex 161 607 47 118 .298
2004 NYY 155 601 36 106 .286
2005 NYY 162 605 48 130 .321
2006 NYY 154 572 35 121 .290
2007 NYY 158 583 54 156 .314
2008 NYY 138 510 35 103 .302
Total -- 2042 7860 553 1606 .306

OK so you can see it for yourself -- I don't see how there is any conclusion other than that the peak of A-Rod's statistical career was 2001-2002, smack in the middle of the period when A-Rod admits to using steroids. I mean, yes, 2007 was a great year with the Yankees for sure, but he hit more homers and had a higher average in 2002 with the Rangers, and 2001 also saw him hit more than 50 home runs for the only other time in his career.

It seems pretty obvious to me what went on with this guy and the steroids. He started taking them in 2001, and watched himself break his previous personal best for home runs by a full 10 dingers when he hit 52 in 2001. He loaded up again on the roids in 2002, and hit 57 home runs for the best season of his career. Then in 2003, the rumors about the steroid testing started, and at some point during the season I would bet that A-Rod either lightened up on the performance-enhancing drugs, or possibly stopped entirely in an attempt not to test positive during the coming diagnostic tests, and it hurt his results, with him hitting 47 homers -- his lowest output since 2000 -- and 118 RBIs, his lowest run production since 1999. So I can't really explain how or why 2007 was such a great statistical year for Rodriguez -- for all we know, maybe he got in to HGH for a while then, who knows -- but what I do know from those numbers is that "the best baseball of his career" was surely 2001-2002, again right smack in the middle of his anabolic steroid days. So nice try Alex, but I'm gonna have to call bullshit on that one. The best years of the man's career were surely right while he was taking the performance-enhancing drugs, end of story,right there in black and white.

Another element of the Gammons interview that I thought was interesting and telling was when A-Rod was asked what he thought the steroids did for his performance. All A-Rod could say was "I can't say, I don't know, it's so hard to tell." Yeah right. So let's see. 1998? 42 homers and 124 RBIs. 1999? 42 homers and 111 RBIs. 2000? 41 homers and 132 RBIs. Then cue the steroids. Now in 2001? 52 homers, 135 RBIs, both career highs at that point in time. 2002? 57 homers, 142 RBIs, again both career highs. But he can't say what the steroids did for his performance, huh? Nice try, Alex.

Taking this a step further, let's look at what happened in 2004, the year after Rodriguez stopped taking the steroids as the league implemented its performance-enhancing drugs policy. 36 home runs and 106 RBIs -- both his lowest since 1997. In fact, both of those numbers sound relatively average among strong hitters. Phillies fans out there will recognize them basically as Pat Burrell stats. Certainly not where A-Rod wants to be, and not even close to his output at the plate in his previous two steroid-fueled seasons. Over the following two seasons in 2005-2006, A-Rod would average 41 homers and 125 RBIs; better numbers than in 2004, but still not close to his 2001-2002 form. Not even close. I mean, over the three seasons when A-Rod admits to having used steroids, he averaged 50 home runs a year. Since 2003 when he got off the juice, he has hit under 40 home runs three out of five times.

And again, who knows what A-Rod might have been taking in 2007 when he busted out with that 54-homer, 156-RBI season for the Yankees in nabbing his third MVP. One of the most interesting answers given in his interview with Gammons is something you barely see written about anywhere. This was when Gammons asked A-Rod if his performance-enhancing drugs use took place only from 2001 through 2003. Rodriguez responded, "That's pretty accurate, yes." Now, no one made him use the word "pretty" there. That was solely by A-Rod's own choice, and I would say it belies the fact that he knows -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that he has used other performance-enhancers at other times in his career. I mean, if the guy felt all that pressure coming to Texas in 2000 and that's the reason he turned to roids back then, lord knows he felt immense pressure coming to New York and playing for the Yankees in the mid 2000s. And you have to admit, those numbers in 2007 kinda came out of nowhere, yknow? And he's playing there in the Bronx with Jason Giambi, a known, admitted steroid user, and Roger Clemens, who we all basically know used PEDs, and Andy Pettitte who has since admitted to using "the clear" and "the cream" to rehab from injuries. So to suggest that anyone is sure that A-Rod was clean in 2007, or in 2004 or 1999 for that matter, is absurd.

When Gammons asked A-Rod for the best evidence that he's been clean since 2004, Rodriguez kind of dodged the question in a way, and responded instead by pointing out that he has gained only 15 pounds from when he came in the league in 1994 until now, from 210 pounds then to 225 today. Now, for starters, I have no actual idea what he actually weighs today, nor do I know what he actually weighed then. And more than that, I believe him that he did not use any PEDs in 2008, a year that saw him play the fewest games, hit the fewest home runs and by far knock in the fewest runs in any season since he became an everyday player. So what's to say that he didn't lose 10 or 20 pounds of bulk since a couple of years ago? I just find that answer to really miss the point of how we know he's been clean since 2004. We don't know that, we don't know it at all, and there is no good evidence to demonstrate something that may very well not be true in the least.

To me, A-Rod does sound in the Peter Gammons interview like he is truly sorry. Sorry that this whole story came out, angry at the reporter who worked hard to get the scoop, sorry that his union effed him so hard to let these results become public. Sorry that he got busted and now has to sit on national tv with Peter Gammons and talk about the performance-enhancing drugs he used. Sorry about what he's going to face from the fans even in Yankee stadium and certainly on the road for the foreseeable future. Sorry at the thought of what the Philadelphia fans will do to him when he dares show his face in that park during inter-league play. But is A-Rod actually sorry about taking the performance-enhancing drugs to begin with, for what he did to the game, and what he did to his fans? I just don't see it.

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