October 30, 2008

The Foreign Markets Are on Fire

GOOD MORNING. JAPAN IS UP 10 pc and Hong Kong is up 12 pc. Germany is up 4 pc, while the FTSE and the CAC are both up about 2 pc. Would it be too much to ask for the American markets to also have an up day?

I mean, my goodness. It was so absolutely frustrating to see things humming along yesterday and then -- bang! -- in the last ten minutes, see everything go to hell. This has been happening a lot lately and so I have to suspect hedge funds are behind it: they're the only ones with the risk tolerance and capital to sink a market like that.

What would be cool is if the SEC would do an investigation into this whole matter. Not to do anything about it, of course, but just to find out who's behind it. That way everyone else on Wall Street could gang up on the scoundrels and wipe them out.

On the other hand, as of this writing, the US futures are way up. Dow's up 313, S&P 500's up 29.80. Sweet. Perhaps we could pull out a nice day after all.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Health Insurance Premiums Cheaper for Men

THE NEW YORK TIMES has published a fascinating article looking at the considerable difference between what men and women pay for health coverage on the individual insurance market. As it happens, women pay a lot more -- as in 30 pc to 50 pc more -- for health insurance compared to men. This has perhaps understandably alarmed women's groups, and now people in Congress are looking at it, and the Times accordingly wrings its hands about the whole matter. Indeed, as reporter Robert Pear writes in one line, the new findings "are not easily explained away."

If I wanted your opinion, Bob, I'd have asked for it. But I digress.

Anyway, the insurance companies argue that they charge more for two key reasons: one, women get pregnant and have children, which men cannot do; and two, women use more health care services than men. As one executive told Mr Pear:

“Premiums for our individual health insurance plans reflect claims experience — the use of medical services — which varies by gender and age. Females use more medical services than males, and this difference is most pronounced in young adults. ... Bearing children increases other health risks later in life, such as urinary incontinence, which may require treatment with medication or surgery."

One health insurance actuary was a bit more blunt:

"Under the age of 55, women tend to be higher utilizers of health care than men. I am more conscious of my health than my husband, who will avoid going to the doctor at all costs.”

Based on these quotes, it certainly seems as if the insurance business has its own Industrial Laundry Conundrum. That's the iron rule of economics that says men pay less at the dry cleaners because our orders largely consist of easily-washed button-down shirts, while female customers must ensure their good outfits receive special care and get dry cleaned and what not. Also, generally speaking, men are less fastidious than women and so some may seek to reduce their outlays through austerity measures (see the Looks Clean, Smells Clean Corollary).

Now, I do not have the expertise to say whether this justifies a 50 pc differential in insurance costs. But I do think most women use health care services more than men, if only because men generally hate going to the doctor. For instance, I hate going to the doctor, hate going to the hospital for pretty much any reason, and hate dealing with the paperwork and inefficiency that go along with those things. I daresay men look at the health care system somewhat like this (go about 30 seconds in):

Ren And Stimpy-In The Army | Funny Jokes at JibJab

For instance, just recently I called my GP's office to schedule a checkup -- it has been a while since I have seen the man, and it was time that I did so. So I called the office to schedule a consultation. Why, I was asked, did I want to see my GP? Well, said I, I wanted to go over my treatments for certain continuing health care issues.

This was not enough for the receptionist, who said she couldn't schedule an appointment for me unless she knew exactly why I wanted one. I responded by asking to get penciled in for 15 minutes to discuss my diabetes, among other things. After a bit more back and forth, I got set up for some lab work, after which I would then get an appointment to see my GP. Why this couldn't have been set up at all once, I don't know, but I went in for my lab work yesterday. Perhaps I will get my appointment next week.

The diagnostics lab at my GP's clinic has all the charm of waiting at an airport. Yesterday, as I sat waiting serenely to have my blood drawn, I looked around and saw six or eight people all looking rather annoyed. In the back, people wearing lab coats went about their work, which appeared to require a lot of record-handling. The minutes ticked on, and none of the people waiting were called. An elderly man walked into the lab, clutching a pamphlet about an unpleasant disease. He proceeded to read aloud from it to his companion. The waiting continued. Finally the dam gates burst and people were called in rapid succession. Things proceeded quickly from there, but what should have taken five or ten minutes took closer to thirty. Thank goodness I didn't have to work.

I suppose what bothers me the most about the health care system is that so much of it is inherently infantilizing. It is not, of course, always this way -- I really like my GP, who actually treats me like an adult, and I've had some good doctors that also actually treated me like an adult, but I'm really not into the do-this do-that or else mindset that seems to pervade the lower ranks of the medical establishment. This doesn't work on me. I'm stubborn and I'm cheap. I don't have to do jack shit.

I don't think this mindset is intentional on the staff's part; it's just the culture and that's not something that changes overnight. But it can really be aggravating. I mean, my God, I'm an independent adult and one with not too bad of a brain. Give me facts I can analyze, opinions I can weigh, decisions I can make -- don't launch into a lecture about how I'm not doing something right. Don't you think I know that already? Here's an idea: if I need to eat more vegetables or something, tell me how I can work that into a rather frenetic daily life.

I also don't like this idea that I'm supposed to surrender my life to some stupid medical condition. In my case, one of my medical conditions is that I'm a Type 2 diabetic. Oops. Anyway, as a result of this, I limit my intake of refined sugar and save dessert for special occasions. When I eat, I try to focus on protein and vegetables as opposed to carbohydrates. I take care of my feet. OK, fine.

All that does not mean that I am going to obsess over the fact my body decided it hates my pancreas and will only politely pick at its peace offerings of insulin. This also does not mean I'm going to act like I have something really bad -- like coronary disease or cancer -- and bemoan my state. It's diabetes. It is not like my typing hands got caught in a blender.

Anyway, the point to all this is that the medical establishment could perhaps do a better job at reaching out to its male patients, particularly the young, sullen, angry, passive-aggressive ones with issues. Here's an example of how they can do this:

I mean, if Taco Bell can figure it out, the medical establishment should too. Notice how this ad is extremely direct, extremely quick, proposes a reasonable and cost-effective solution, and then leaves the matter for the consumer to decide. That's what you've got to sell. Given the price of the Taco Bell box meal, you could do the same thing for a prescription of metformin. Have Adam Carolla stand up and declare, "EAT LIKE A DIABETIC!" and mention how eating right and a couple pills each day improves one's mood, improves one's sex life, gives one more energy, and a month's supply of the pills will run you $4. OK, I'm sold.

Which leads me to my last point -- I wonder if one reason women use more health-care services is because the marketers have aimed their messages in a way that is particularly receptive to women. Women are better about talking about these types of things, and more open about discussing them, and as such better at dealing with them. With men, on the other hand -- well, oftentimes we're stubborn and cheap and impatient and not good at dealing with emotions. We are also (perhaps too) confident in our own innate ability to solve health care issues; and marketers hoping to improve men's engagement in terms of their own health care might want to consider such aspects of masculinity when drawing up their campaigns. Part of me wonders if a campaign that simply said, "LOSE WEIGHT -- HAVE BETTER SEX" would do more to solve the obesity epidemic than ten billion spent on pharmaceuticals.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, There's Always Next Year

SO THE LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, my favorite basketball team, started the season in Proud Clipper Fashion this past evening. Not only did they lose to the Los Angeles Lakers, they lost by 38 points.

The Clippers play in Boston on Mar. 23. If this turns out to be a trend, the guys at the TD Banknorth Garden can plan to queue up Gino sometime in the second quarter.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 27, 2008

Don't Look Now, But the AFC North Got a Lot Tougher

UGH. I don't know what's worse -- the Pittsburgh Steelers losing to the New York Giants in a game we could have won, or the New York Giants dismissively laughing at the Steelers' play. Well, actually, I do know -- it is clearly the latter. As a result, I would politely ask the NFC East to light up the New York Giants and stomp all over them, since we won't have a chance for revenge during the regular season. I'm serious. Stomp, gouge, rip and shred.

Grrrr. I am so not in a forgiving mood right now. Also, the New York Giants are moving on The Rant's Football Loyalties chart. You'll now find them under the "Teams I Abhor" section, one spot below the Dallas Cowboys. Giants delenda est. Unless they are playing Baltimore. Or Indianapolis. Or New England.

OK, I feel a little better. Stupid Giants.

One does wonder, though, just what the problem is with Pittsburgh's offense. Pittsburgh's defense, as usual, played very well during yesterday's contest, and holding the Giants to 21 points isn't bad at all. The goal-line stands against their offense were extremely impressive. So you can't pin this loss on the defense. The offense, though -- my God!

Would someone kindly explain to me why our offense fell apart? I mean, is it too much to ask that our offense -- particularly our coaches who specialize in that field* -- figure out the NFC East is brutal in terms of its pass rush and attack on a quarterback, and adjust accordingly? It was one thing to have the Eagles stomp us into tiny bits; that could be dismissed as a one-off. But now that it's happened twice, one can't just say, "Oh, well, they outplayed us." No. We have to figure this out. So if that means we have to put an extra guy on the line, or run the ball 90 pc of the time, or whatever -- then do it.

Annoyingly, this comes just as the AFC North got a lot tougher. Oh, sure, Cincinnati is 0-8, but Cleveland is 3-4 and Baltimore is 4-3 and both these teams look angry. We can only hope Cleveland beats Baltimore next week, allowing us to rise two games above both, but I hate having to rely on the Brownies for anything. Plus, if Cleveland gets too good, they could conceivably threaten us, and that would be bad. It would be even better if Cincinnati would manage a win against Cleveland or Baltimore. True, that's just a hope and a prayer at their point,but who knows? The Bengals are "efforting," according to the team, so maybe they'll do Pittsburgh a favor.

No, I did not make that up. That's what the headline said. "Efforting." Without the quotes. Crikey, even the Bengals' writers are incompetent.

* As a fan, I have to say I find Bruce Arians maddening, if only because he's inconsistent. Some weeks, he looks like an absolute genius who can do no wrong. Other weeks -- to borrow from a comment I saw on M Go Blog this week -- Arians looks like a 15 on a scale of 1 to stupid.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2008

Michigan: Yeah, That's Familiar

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Rant Congratulates Michigan State

THE RANT WOULD like to congratulate the Michigan State Spartans on their victory today over the Michigan Wolverines. I realize this game was important to Spartan fans everywhere, and I applaud the squad from East Lansing for not folding like a cheap suit as they usually do about this time of the year. For those of us who went to Michigan, and others who root for the Michigan Wolverines, we should all pause and reflect on some important words that will help us put this game into proper perspective.

If those words are not properly soothing, I would simply note the ancient text of Ecclesiastes 1:9. In this verse, the Teacher said:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

In other words, one win in seven years does not a dynasty make. (Helpful hint for Michigan State students: Ecclesiastes is a "book" of the "Bible," which you may dimly recall). Also, just as a reminder, readers may find this inspiring:

I'm just pointing it out, that's all.

I realize those readers without Michigan roots or a Michigan connection may not realize just how important the Michigan-Michigan State game is to the Great Lakes State, but Detroit News writer Bob Wojnowski has once again put his finger on the matter:

This is the week everyone in our state loves, and by loves, I mean hates. It's the week when tired stereotypes get tossed around, when Michigan fans pompously accuse Michigan State fans of being simple, insecure, beer-guzzling louts. And Michigan State fans counter by asking what "lout" means, then accuse Michigan fans of being snotty, obnoxious jerks (no clarification needed). It's counterproductive but sort of fun, even if no one else in the country cares about our precious rivalry.

Mr Wojnowski continues:

College football rivalries are supposed to be competitive, respectful and fun, just like sibling rivalries. The Michigan-Michigan State tiff fits that description perfectly, except for the "competitive," "respectful" and "fun" parts. To be fair, the games usually are viciously contested until the very end, when Michigan usually has more points.

This year, sadly, we did not have more points, despite getting pretty much all the breaks during the first three quarters. The Spartans' field goal unit was completely inept, our defensive line played quite well, our special teams were outstanding and we even managed to get a touchdown thanks to a peculiar interpretation of the rules of football. (Thanks, replay booth officials!). Although to be fair, it apparently depends on which rule you examine; I saw one rule that seemed to indicate it should not have been a touchdown, but another one that indicated the play was indeed worth six points. And in the end it did not matter. Unfortunately. That would really have been cool -- to defeat the East Lansing barbarians again thanks to the intricacies of the code of collegiate football.

Of course, losing to Michigan State is prima facie evidence Michigan's season this year has been a complete disaster. The blame for this, of course, can be directly laid at the feet of Lloyd Carr and the former coaching staff, who apparently forgot to recruit this past year. Given the play of Michigan's squad, it is apparent this is the outfit we would have largely had if ol' Lloyd had stuck around. Thus, none of the blame can be placed upon the head of our new coach, Rich Rodriguez, or his assistants, who are making the best of a hand that -- even after all the draws -- adds up to a pair of fives with a jack kicker.

It is also important to note that Coach Rodriguez has already lined up some excellent recruits for 2009, including new quarterbacks. These will prove a blessing next year, as it will allow us to send Steven Threet somewhere more suited to his talents, such as ... oh, Grand Valley State. Although I do not hold any grudge against Mr Threet -- after all, he was the best we could do and he's better than backup Nick Sheridan, who is even worse -- his play has been quite disappointing this year. Mr Threet's three interceptions today did not help us.

True, if we were 6-2 right now, we'd be calling him "Steven Threat." But we're not. So at 2-6, it makes sense we're just calling for him to ... oh, transfer. Retire. Take up needlepoint. 'Cause football is not his thing. I'm sorry, but it ain't. Just the way it goes sometimes. Near the end of this game, when Mr Threet threw a pass into double coverage and it was impossible for his intended receiver to catch it, one could see Mr Rodriguez on the sidelines vociferously wondering aloud just what his quarterback were thinking. We all thought what Mr Rodriguez said, but which the microphones fortunately did not pick up.

But there is always next year -- and that's something we have to think about, because it is clear Michigan's chances of even having a .500 season and a consequent bowl berth are somewhere between slim to none. In the meantime, we should have our players focus on spoiling everyone else's season if possible, up to and including evil Ohio State. Also, it might be a good idea for Michigan's equipment manager to go find the Brown Jug and dust it off for the stupid Golden Gophers, who are apparently pretty good this year. It's back near all those file cabinets with the paperwork from Bump Elliot's reign.

Speaking of trophies, Michigan State fans might have noticed -- but failed to pick up the significance of -- some film that appeared prior to the game today. Michigan's equipment manager apparently had to put the Paul Bunyan Trophy, awarded to the winner of our annual contest, back together again. That's right -- thanks to our six-year winning streak, we actually had the thing in storage.

But do enjoy having it. You did earn it. Just remember we have no intention of letting you keep it for long, so do try not to damage the thing while you are borrowing it. Oh, there's one more thing. This year, you will be eligible for a post-season contest known as a "bowl game." Don't lose it, please. For if there's anything worse than losing to the Spartans, it's having the Spartans then lose to the SEC in the Outback Bowl.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2008

Evil Baltimore Ravens Put Bounty on Hines Ward

OH, IT'S ON. Word has come that Terrell Suggs, a linebacker for the evil Baltimore Ravens, told a radio station the evil Ravens have placed a bounty on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. The team had tried but failed to get Mr Ward during their game last month, according to Mr Suggs, but this time around, Mr Suggs warned the evil Ravens "got something in store for him" during their matchup in December. Even more amazing, according to published reports, Mr Suggs said the Ravens -- who are evil -- had a bounty on Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh's running back, who was knocked out for the season during the Steelers-Ravens game last month.

Mr Suggs is now denying the team has a bounty on Ward, which conveniently comes as the NFL is investigating. Doesn't matter. It's too late. The cat's out of the bag.

Besides, even if the evil Ravens don't have a bounty on Ward, Mr Suggs' comments will make the Steelers think that they do, which means the Steelers are going to open an industrial-sized can of whoopass in Baltimore on Dec. 14. As a prelude to this, the Steelers have already come out and said they do not care if the evil Ravens had established a bounty, because Hines Ward does not care if you establish financial incentives to tackle him hard, and Hines Ward will knock you silly anyway. That is what Hines Ward does. But they do care, of course -- they'll just play that much harder. For now it is personal.

That said, how stupid could the evil Ravens be to tilt their hand like this? Honestly. Now the officials will flag them for even tiny offenses, and the league will examine their play with a fine-tooth comb. Plus, all the other teams will be especially angry with them, and make a point of beating them. Good decision there!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 23, 2008

The Free Market Has a Solution for Everything

IF THERE'S ONE THING we can take from our present economic crisis, it's that every cloud has a silver lining -- even when it's a funnel cloud. I fully admit this optimism may seem a bit misplaced in our current situation, when the equity markets are in free fall, real-estate values have plummeted, our credit markets are logjammed and it seems as if no one will be able to retire until they're 90. But panic does no one any good; instead, it is important to seek out opportunities for profit where they exist, and position oneself as best one can for the inevitable recovery.

Simply put, this situation is not all bad. Lost amidst the turmoil is the pleasing fact that oil prices have crashed over the past several months. As of this writing, crude oil is trading for "just" $67.75 per barrel, a stunning collapse from its July 11 peak of $147.27 per barrel. That's a drop of roughly 54 pc -- and in pure dollar terms, a drop of nearly $80 per barrel.

That's nearly $80 per barrel not going to the Governments of Iran and Venezuela and plenty of other Governments who are easy not to like, a situation that reminds one of Fred Schwed Jr's old quip about financial panics: would you really want all those people who had money to have it again? The situation is so bad that on Friday, the OPEC cartel will meet in an attempt to shore up the price of crude; an endeavor that will likely prove difficult for the cartel to pull off. After all, as much as the Iranians and Venezuelans might want to chisel the West, every producing country will want to sell as much oil as they can in an attempt to maximize their revenues -- particularly non-OPEC countries such as Equatorial Guinea. You think Equatorial Guinea cares about what the Iranians want to do?

As oil prices have fallen, of course, so have gasoline prices -- providing joy and relief to the oppressed American people. Here in New Hampshire, for instance, prices have fallen sharply. In my own city, Manchester, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded is $2.81. That's down from $3.53 a month ago and down from $4.02 at its peak on July 15.

As of this writing, it seems further price declines -- at least in the near term -- are quite likely.

I think most people, given the severe price swings of the past couple years and consequent media attention on these matters, know their local filling stations do not profit when prices are high. Since the gasoline market is hyper-competitive, most gas stations make just a few pennies -- if that -- on each gallon of gasoline they sell. If they are lucky they can get a dime per gallon, which is still quite reasonable if you ask me.

This also prevents gas station owners from profiting greatly when prices suddenly decline. Even though there may be individual days where they're able to take advantage of an increase in the spread between their wholesale costs and their local market's prevailing retail price, the highly competitive nature of gasoline sales limits their upside: the guys down the street will lower their prices as soon as they can in an attempt to draw business their way. As such, there's an impetus for prices to keep falling. (Gas station owners like low prices, by the by, because their margins are better and their capital costs are lower. For instance, 10,000 gallons at $1.50 will cost a gas station $15,000; a nickel profit on each gallon works out to $500, or 3.33 pc; 10,000 gallons at $3.50 will cost a station $35,000, and the $500 profit earned from a nickel per gallon margin works out to just 1.4 pc. This is why gas stations these days have convenience stores).

If you want to know why gasoline prices move the way they do, you have to look two places -- first, at the refining and distribution level, and second, at the gasoline futures market. Generally speaking, there's usually a 60 to 75 cent differential between the next month's futures price and the cost at the pump. Let's look at some past prices to see how this worked out:

On July 7, for instance, the average retail gas price in America was $4.14 per gallon. On the same day, the price for the August New York Harbor Reformulated RBOB Regular Gasoline Future contract was about $3.48 -- a 66 cent price differential. Going back a bit, on Feb. 5, 2007, the average retail price for gasoline was $2.22 per gallon; the futures price was $1.56, a difference of ... 66 cents. Wow, and I just picked those dates at random, too. Crazy.

Anyway, as I write, the futures contract for gasoline is trading at $1.58 a gallon. If the past is any guide, this suggests gas prices will eventually fall to an average of $2.18 to $2.33 on a nationwide basis. (Your local price, of course, will vary due to environmental laws, state taxes, how close you are to refining operations and shipping terminals, local competition and other factors. There are places in New Hampshire, for instance, that are a good 30 cents cheaper than what I pay in Manchester).

According to AAA, gasoline is today retailing for $2.82 per gallon nationally. One may wonder why the spread is now $1.24 per gallon, but remember two things: it takes time for product to move through the system, and falling prices give everyone in the system a chance to make a bit of profit they couldn't make when prices were skyrocketing. So an increased spread is not prima facie evidence of unfair profiteering, but rather a chance for profit in a market that traditionally offers little room for it. If nothing major changes, prices should keep falling and we'll get closer to a more traditional spread -- the competitive nature of the market will force this to happen. And looking out over the next few months, RBOB futures prices are holding stable around that $1.50 and change mark.

Of course, the rub here is "if nothing major changes," and I do not have a crystal ball. But what if one could guard against higher prices at the pump? After all, large companies do this, many quite well -- Southwest Airlines is perhaps the best example. Its clever hedging strategy for jet fuel, which although recently backfired due to the sudden drop in oil prices, kept it profitable even as its competitors were having heart attacks when they examined their fuel bills.

Thanks to a clever site called Petrofix, consumers can do just that. Unlike traditional gasoline pre-buy programs, where customers buy hundreds of gallons of gasoline at a set price and then draw down those cheap gallons when prices go higher, Petrofix offers consumers a pure financial hedge against higher gas prices.

Generally speaking, Petrofix charges about 20 cents a gallon for its hedge. So let's say you use about 40 gallons of gasoline a month. Over a one-year period, that works out to 480 gallons. As such, a Midwesterner would pay $96 to hedge against higher fuel prices for a year. It's slightly more elsewhere. (Of course, one does not have to go whole hog -- you could hedge half your fuel consumption, or a quarter, or whatever you think works best, and pay less accordingly).

Now, if prices fall and stay lower for the entire year, you're obviously out of luck. You can take this one of two ways -- you can either get angry at guessing wrong (this can be cathartic) or you can rationalize the $96 spent as buying yourself some peace of mind (which can also be cathartic). But let's say prices go higher. Petrofix will pay you the difference on a monthly basis. Let's say you locked in a retail price of $2. If retail prices suddenly go to $3 the next day and stay there, you would save $384 over the year ($480 gross - $96 cost of hedge).

Think of the benefits that would offer. You would amaze your friends and confound your enemies. Not only could you live large on your savings, you could do so in a way that would make you seem really clever at cocktail parties. If you are a young man, you could use this to impress beautiful girls at get-togethers, and frustrate the ambitions of that guy with the conspicuous jewelry, fancy sport-utility vehicle and dog-eared guide to picking up women. It would be great on so many levels.

Of course, the trick is to buy when prices are low. If they are especially low, then hedge for as long as possible, in order to maximize your potential gain. This means you should put Petrofix in your favorites and not forget about it, and be ready to strike when you think fuel prices are at or near a low. Maybe you think conditions will change soon, and our present situation is just a breather -- then buy soon accordingly. If you think prices will keep falling, you would wait until you think they won't fall anymore, and then hedge about that point, or on the next significant uptick.

I must emphasize that I do not have a crystal ball and that oil prices, gasoline prices, futures prices, and the various other prices I've quoted here can and do change quickly, so I would caution readers of the need to do their own research and come to their own conclusions about what the oil markets may do. Additionally, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and so the historical examples I've noted may not hold in the future. In other words, don't blame me if things go to hell in three weeks. It's not my fault.

I would also caution that one must make sure to read Petrofix's terms and conditions and understand how things work before entering into any deal with them. But I would congratulate the company for making this offering available to everyday consumers, as I think it could offer people a nice weapon in their arsenal for the continued fight against high fuel prices.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 22, 2008

Police Arrest Pensioner After She Refuses to Return Kids' Football

89-Year-Old Mrs Edna Jester
Faces Charge of Petty Theft

Pathetic Neighbors Call Police After Mrs Jester
Invokes Age-Old Right of Elderly Homeowners

Bengals Make Mrs Jester Job Offer

The Sporting Rant

CINCINNATI -- Police in the Cincinnati suburb of Blue Ash arrested an 89-year-old woman after she refused to return a football belonging to a neighborhood child, according to published reports.

Authorities have said the law gave them no leeway in the matter, particularly after Mrs Edna Jester refused to sign a citation promising she would appear in court to answer to a petty theft charge. Their account of the dispute, along with their request that city residents figure out a way to resolve such issues without bothering police, can be found here.

The dispute erupted on Oct. 16. Authorities said Mr Paul Tanis, a resident of the Myrtle Avenue area in Blue Ash, had contacted police after Mrs Jester took his son's football, which had landed in Mrs Jester's yard, and would not return it. Officers responding to the scene had hoped to arrange an orderly transfer of the property in question, but were unsuccessful in doing so. Mrs Jester now faces a November court date to answer to the charge, while the football remains under police custody.

In related news, the Cincinnati Bengals announced Mrs Jester would be offered a position on the Bengals' coaching staff, with owner Mike Brown saying "it was the least he could do."

"Mrs Jester is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law," Mr Brown said, "and even if she is found guilty, that would not be a reason to deny her the second chance she would deserve as a result of her conviction. Along with that, I believe Mrs Jester can impress upon the team the importance of holding on to the ball, even in extreme circumstances. We have been lacking in terms of time of possession this year, and I believe Mrs Jester can reinforce the importance of this crucial statistic."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2008

Pittsburgh Triumphant, Chick Ludwig Insane

SO THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers ran roughshod over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, racking up 38 points in a game that started out somewhat tenuous for the Black and Gold, but quickly turned into a rout in the second half. It appeared as if the Bengals would stay in the game, not surprising given their decent performances against teams like the New York Giants, but they finally gave up the ghost once Pittsburgh's offense started firing on all cylinders.

Also, Hines Ward broke a man's jaw.

I still can't believe that. It was one of those freak things, really -- Mr Ward is a hard blocker and in the course of clearing the field for Pittsburgh tight end Matt Spaeth, Mr Ward blocked Keith Rivers, a rookie linebacker for Cincinnati. It is not clear whether the force of the block or Mr Rivers' impact with the turf actually caused the fracture, but the end result was that Mr Rivers' season was done and Mr Ward found himself in an unenviable position. No one wants to injure another player in football, but the game isn't needlepoint either. It should be noted the hit was clean, that Mr Ward was not penalized, and that the hit took place in the course of play, and not after the whistle blew.

It should also be noted that these factors matter nothing to Bengals partisans. This is perhaps no surprise, for fans of other teams do not like Mr Ward. My friend Chris Weinkopf, who roots for the Patriots, teases me in occasionally saying Mr Ward is a "mediocre" talent in the league, while a certain passionate Cleveland Browns fan I know unfairly refers to Mr Ward as "Dirty Hit Hines." Such opinions are clearly false and unwarranted, but Mr Ward's powerful blocking and skill as a wide receiver clearly provoke strong feelings among those whose teams face him on the gridiron.

Perhaps the best example of this can be found in the deranged ranting of Mr Chick Ludwig, a columnist for the Dayton Daily News and a passionate Cincinnati Bengals fan. Mr Ludwig, whose grasp on reality appears to weaken further with each successive Bengals loss, wrote an embarrassing blog post following Cincinnati's loss in which he accuses Mr Ward of making a dirty hit.

As Mr Ludwig appears to be new to the Internet, I would like to introduce Mr Ludwig to what is known as a fisk, a bit of slang referring to a line-by-line refutation of someone else's work. It is similar to how thinkers, in the old days, would write nasty comments in the margins of books they had read. I quote Mr Ludwig in italics, while my responses are in plain text.

Anyway, Mr Ludwig writes:

Now that the verdict is in and Cincinnati Bengals rookie outside linebacker Keith Rivers has a broken jaw and is out for the season, the question is: Was it a dirty hit by Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward? I believe it was. Absolutely & positively. Dirty with a capital “D.” Just like Kimo von Oelhoffen’s lunging hit on quarterback Carson Palmer’s left knee on Jan. 8, 2006.

Lunging hit my eye. I remember that play pretty well, and if Mr Ludwig goes back and looks at the videotape, he'll see Mr von Oelhoffen was down on the ground and was being propelled forward due to his attempts to beat his blocker. He just happened to roll into Mr Palmer at the end of the play, as opposed to spearing the guy's knee.

Mr von Oelhoffen simply had the bad luck to roll up in such a way that it knocked Mr Palmer out of the game. Unfortunate, but it's football. It happens. Get over it. As for whether Mr Ward's hit was dirty, the answer is clearly No. There was no flag. It happened in the course of play. Also, last time I checked, football players block their opponents. It's part of the game, although one with which Bengals fans are undoubtedly unfamiliar.

Personally, I felt Ward should’ve been thrown out of the game by NFL Referee And Resident Face Man Ed Hochuli. But Ed, whose ego is large enough to fill the Rotunda, didn’t have the guts to do it because it didn’t involve a quarterback. ...

Personally, I feel like having some ice cream, but we don't get everything we want, now do we? I am sorry for Mr Ludwig that the game did not go the way he wanted, that the referees did not act the way he wanted, that the Bengals' season is not going the way he wanted, and that the Bengals suck. But that's just the way it is. If players got thrown out of games because they hit their opponents hard, there would be no players left at the end of a game to take the field.

...Rivers was injured on a devastating and vicious block from Ward at 13:19 of the first quarter in Pittsburgh’s 38-10 victory in front of 65,860 spectators, half of whom were Pittsburgh fans twirling their “Terrible Towels” down the stretch of an ugly, 3-hour game. ...

That's right. It's important, I think, to note here that Pittsburgh fans routinely travel to follow the Black and Gold as they venture into hostile territory. Bengals fans, meanwhile, can't be bothered to show up at their own stadium to root their team on against a hated enemy. If the Cleveland Browns were 0-6, and Pittsburgh was on the docket for that week, the Browns fans would pack the house and demand blood.

... As Rivers approached the action, away from the play, he got blindsided by Ward, who has a reputation for being one of the most physical wide receivers in the league.

Play was stopped for several minutes as doctors and trainers attended to Rivers, who walked off the field under his own power.

“Anytime your teammate goes down, it’s not a good thing,” middle linebacker Dhani Jones said.

“Keith is an intricate part of our team, not to mention a good friend,” added Brandon Johnson, who replaced Rivers. “You hate to see a guy go down like that, but it’s part of the game. We all understand the risk. My prayers and heart go out to him and hope he can come back as soon as possible.”

You know, it's pretty pathetic when Mr Ludwig -- who is a credentialed member of the news media, and as such has access to the locker room and what not -- can't find any players on the Bengals squad to accuse Mr Ward of making an unfair hit, but rather have them back up Mr Ward's position that unfortunate things happen. I mean, if one is going to accuse Mr Ward of making a dirty hit, one would think player comments would make up an integral part of one's argument. But hey.

Also, what's all this about Mr Rivers "approaching the action?" What does Mr Ludwig think he was going to do when he got there? Offer Matt Spaeth tea and crumpets? He was approaching the action -- undoubtedly at a high rate of speed -- because that's what linebackers do. They find receivers with the ball and crush them.

It certainly won’t be this year and that’s what burns linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald, who thought the hit was uncalled for because it happened away from the play.

“We’ll take a look at it (on film), but that guy 86 (Ward) has been known to do that,” FitzGerald said. “That’s his deal, and that’s bullshit as far as I’m concerned. (Blocking) around the pile — that’s the kind of game he likes to play.

“It hurts us. There’s no doubt about it. Keith’s a marquee player for us, a guy that’s growing and developing, doing a lot of good things and really coming along, and now his year’s done.”

The linebackers coach? That's the best Mr Ludwig can do? Of course Mr FitzGerald thought it was uncalled for. If one was uncharitable, one might also suggest that Mr FitzGerald is annoyed that a wide receiver -- of all players -- just knocked out one of his top linebackers. It's supposed to be the other way around.

Naturally, Ward said he didn’t do anything wrong. That the hit was above board. That it was a clean shot. What else would we or should we expect him to say?

But the fact that it happened near the pile and away from the play made it unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and disturbing.

“I’m not doing anything illegal,” Ward said. “It was a clean hit. I didn’t stand over the guy or anything. I just celebrated the same as a guy does when he gets a sack. I’m not going to change my ways. If they’re going to keep fining me for that, then I’m going to get fined all year.

“I don’t know if I hurt him or not, but that wasn’t my intention. I saw he was hurt, said a little prayer for him, and that was it. I’ve been playing like that for 11 years. I guess I don’t know what people are griping about.”

Neither do I, Mr Ward. Neither do I. Let me assure you that as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I want you to keep playing hard, physical, tough football -- no matter what your opponents, and lame-o sports writers like Mr Chick Ludwig -- demand because they're in a snit about their teams' crappy seasons. I also don't see how a legal and clean block on the field of play can be considered "unnecessary, unsportsmanlike and disturbing," but that's because I appreciate the physical aspects of the game of football.

Ward’s teammates love him because he’s so tough and talented.

Opponents hate him because he has a way of getting under your skin and making you angry with his big talent and bigger mouth.

He sure got under Bengals free safety Dexter Jackson’s skin.

Jackson made no apology for his 15-yard personal foul penalty after Ward’s 16-yard TD catch from Byron Leftwich with 1:54 to go.

Jackson shoved Ward, who was celebrating in the end zone.

“Why are you going to celebrate in our end zone? That’s taunting,” Jackson said. “You don’t celebrate and taunt like that. Yeah, I pushed him. He over-exaggerated, but that’s what he does.” ...

What? Dude. Mr Ward didn't have time to celebrate. He took all of three steps in the endzone before Mr Jackson gave him a shove. True, perhaps I should be charitable -- it undoubtedly annoyed Mr Jackson that Hines Ward, Pittsburgh's favorite wide receiver, had extended the Steelers' lead to four touchdowns over the hapless Bengals. So perhaps it was understandable Mr Jackson would give him a nasty push. But Mr Jackson should be happy Mr Ward celebrated. Celebration implies one has something worth celebrating about. Quite frankly, the way things were going, and given the craptacular play of the Bengals, not celebrating would have been more appropriate -- and a powerful insult to boot.

Anyway, after a bit more maundering and pointing out just how bad the Bengals' season has gone, Mr Ludwig prepares his coup de grace, as follows:

Here’s what I wish:

That a member of the Bengals would have made a statement with a punishing block on Ward. But the Queen City Kitties are too soft & cuddly, too meek & mild for that.

I am surprised they didn't, but I don't think it would have mattered much. Hines Ward does not care if you deliver a rough block against him, because Hines Ward will fight you down as you try. But this is, I guess, indicative of how the Bengals play -- they have mentally checked out this season and are focused on 2009.

That Ward gets a hefty fine — and perhaps a suspension — for his intimidating tactics.

Ooooooooooh. He's intimidating. Does Mr Ludwig want Mr Ward to present his opponents with a tray of cucumber sandwiches during games?

That Hochuli gets reprimanded by the NFL for not flagging Ward 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s the LEAST that should have happened.

What is wrong with you, Chick? The game doesn't go the way you want and boo-hoo-hoo, it's time to beat up on Ed Hochuli? He's the referee, for Pete's sake -- he's way at the other end of the play. There are plenty of officials who could have thrown a flag if the hit had been dirty. But -- oh, that's right. It wasn't. Gee, that's too bad.

In addition to wrecking Rivers’ rookie season, Ward offered further proof that the Pittsburgh Steelers are, without a doubt, the dirtiest team in the National Football League.

Wow. That's a pretty bold statement, there. Not one that, you know, actual facts could support, nor one that stands up when one compares the Steelers to certain other teams -- *cough* Oakland *cough* -- but I guess I can see where Mr Ludwig is coming from. After all, how dare Pittsburgh go out and, you know, win all those games? How dare Pittsburgh have five Super Bowls to its credit? How dare Pittsburgh come into the Bengals' house and crush the lovable but incompetent Bengals on their own turf? It's shocking, it really is.

And, sadly, unfortunately, one of the best.

And don't you forget it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 18, 2008

Well, At Least I Didn't Go to Michigan State

THE RANT WOULD LIKE to offer its heartfelt congratulations to the Penn State Nittany Lions for their well-earned and well-deserved victory over the Michigan Wolverines today in Happy Valley. Although I was pleased with how Michigan played in the first half, Penn State just steamrolled over the Wolverines in the second half and their dominance soon became clear. So I do not begrudge the good people of State College their victory, particularly if they defeat Ohio State next week. Oh, and also if they don't make it a habit. Over the past decade, Michigan is 9-1 against the Nittany Lions, and I'd love for those winning ways to continue.

I must admit surprise, however, at Michigan's collapse in the second half. This is not the first time we have royally blown it in the second half of play -- our loss to Illinois was a similar disaster -- but to see it happen when we had played so well, and so well against the third-best team in America, was just crushing. But so much went wrong that one can't point to one thing as the straw that broke the camel's back.

Of course, it could be worse. Ohio State handed Michigan State's heads to them, and the hapless Spartans couldn't give their fans much of anything to cheer about. At least Wolverines fans had a half! I just hope Michigan is angrier than Michigan State next week, because the cowschoolers will come into Ann Arbor with a chip on their shoulder the size of Sheboygan. Could it be that Michigan State will finally throw off its traditional losing ways -- start strong, then collapse -- with next week's big game? I hope not!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fish Out of Water

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- SO TODAY I figured I would take a break from my usual Saturday routine, which involves work, and head over to the Seacoast to take in what was left of the fall scenery and get some good seafood. Although I usually approach ventures like this with a degree of regimentation -- I like to know what I'm doing -- I simply hit the road this time around, and after about an hour of driving found myself in downtown Portsmouth.

Downtown Portsmouth, I think, is where New Hampshire's hipsters hang out, to the extent that we have any up here. The colonial section has some impressive old architecture and draws plenty of locals and tourists alike. It also has plenty of shops, selling goods ranging from specialty foods to objets d'art. It was only natural, then, that I would spend my time in the colonial section looking for a cheap lunch.

MARKET SQUARE, Portsmouth -- Members of the upper-middle class take in the bourgeoisity on a Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Benjamin Kepple)

This quest, as I found, was not in vain. However, it certainly seemed futile at times. Initially, my plan was to get some cheap fried seafood at some seafood shack, and I figured there would be at least one in the immediate area. After all, it's Portsmouth. As such, it's a port. A port on, you know, the Atlantic Ocean. So I was sure I could find some place offering this type of lunch in the Market Square area.

Unfortunately, my assumption was faulty. When I asked a nice lady at an information booth where one could find a good seafood restaurant within a few blocks, I was told there were few such places. However, she then offered two recommendations. The first I discounted immediately because, although only a quarter-mile or so away, it was in Maine. I'm sorry, but I was in no mood to hike across a bridge only for the privilege of spending my hard-earned in Maine, a state all can agree is godforsaken and wretched. The second, which sounded promising, ended up being closed -- it was only serving dinner. So this led me to wander around for a bit looking for some place to eat.

Many of the restaurants I stumbled upon, despite being jammed into every nook and cranny down by the water, were only serving dinner. Although I must admit I don't know if I would have eaten at them if they had been open; the prices were simply out of my league. I'm sorry, but I am but a poor writer and given the economic climate, I cannot justify paying $8 for a bowl of clam chowder -- as I saw on one menu -- or $16 for an entree at some place selling fusion cuisine. $8 for a bowl of clam chowder! That reminded me of this:

What's that, you said? "But Ben? You hate Miller?" OK, so I'm not a fan. But that's not the point. The point was I felt like a fish out of water down there, among the coffee shops and art stores and people who clearly had no interest in college football. The whole experience was just strange, as I normally move well in such circles, but it had absolutely no draw for me whatsoever.

But anyway. I did finally "find" a place -- "The Rusty Hammer" -- that sold a decent and cheap lunch. I say "find" because it was the first restaurant at which I had considered eating, but on which I had taken a pass, trying to find a place devoted to cheap seafood. Oh, if only I had heeded its sign proclaiming its generous value for the dollar in the first place! They weren't kidding, either.

Anyway, annoyed at my failure to find a cheap seafood place, I sprang for a bowl of clam chowder, which was about $6. For my $6, I was astonished to find the bowl held roughly half the contents of the kitchen's soup tureen. It was an amazing amount of chowder and enough for a whole meal. I had also ordered a Caesar salad, which was all right, but it ended up being too much food. All told, the final bill came to about $15, not including tip, and it was a quite satisfying lunch. The only minor quibble I had was the programming on the bar televisions -- one was tuned to golf -- golf, for God's sake -- and the other was tuned to some professional football preview. That's fine on Sunday, but Saturday? Put on some ESPN!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2008

Guess Who's Going 0-7?

YOU KNOW, IT'S A BAD SIGN for a football team when the mayor of their city tells people they should support the squad, and the mayor's earnest call is met with ... well, laughter. The Cincinnati Enquirer has the full story, which I paraphrase here:

MAYOR MARK MALLORY: It is very important that we continue to support the Bengals, even when they are having tough times. They need our support more than ever. So I don’t know why you guys are giggling and laughing --

REPORTERS: *snicker* *guffaw*

MALLORY: I’m very serious, OK? I support our sports teams. We have to support our sports teams.

REPORTER: You realize there will probably be more Pittsburgh Steelers fans there than Bengals fans.

MALLORY: You know what? What did you just say? You said there will probably be more Pittsburgh Steelers fans at the game than Bengals fans. What does that say? It says that Pittsburgh fans continue to support their team. We’ve got to support our team. We absolutely have to support our team. There is just no doubt in my mind about that. No room for negotiation as far as I’m concerned.

Boy, I can't wait for this Sunday -- if only to see how many Pittsburgh Steelers fans crowd into Paul Brown Stadium and cheer on the Black and Gold to their fifth victory of the season. Sadly, this will mean Cincinnati shall fall to 0-7, a fate that for a football fan is worse than death and arguably equivalent to getting hit in the head with a two-by-four every week. A two-by-four with a nail in it.

Of course, Mayor Mallory is right -- one must support one's team, no matter how badly they do, and eventually the Bungles are going to win a game. They just won't do it this weekend. Already the fans are bailing ship -- to the point where desperate fans are unloading their tickets at below face value. That's kind of pathetic. Some tickets are reportedly going for as little as $24. I've paid more for tickets to a Continental Indoor Football League game.

Who is to blame for this? Well, I think the Bengals' owner, Mike Brown, deserves much of the blame -- he is clearly the worst owner in the NFL (worse than the Fords!) and clearly incapable of running a major-league franchise. If he was capable, Cincinnati would have made the playoffs more than once over the past 18 years. But everyone, except the Bungles' long-suffering fans, deserves a share of the blame for this awful, miserable, craptacular football team: the players, the coaches, everyone involved with the whole rotten organization. It is true there is always next year, but that's a heck of a thing to say halfway through the current football season.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2008

The Humbling of the Patriots

I ACTUALLY FELT a little bad for Bill Belichick last night. Here the New England Patriots are on national television, and the San Diego Chargers are kicking the Patriots' asses up and down the field, and Belichick had this look on his face the entire game as if to say, "Jesus Christ. This can't be happening." At one point, when the camera was focused on the coach after a stupid personal foul, one was able to read his lips and it appeared as if Belichick said, "A personal foul? You've got to be kidding me."

For a football coach, it was not a good day. It was not a good day for the Patriots, either. Like many observers, I was stunned at the San Diego Chargers' performance and just how well they played. Their 30-10 stomping of the Patriots was ... well, powerful is a good word to describe it. The Bolts were firing on all cylinders and they looked strong -- not only on offense, for which the team is well noted, but especially on defense. It could be the Chargers, as they seem to do every year, are picking up steam as they get their bearings and could well make it into the playoffs.

Of course, the rest of the country didn't mind seeing the Patriots lose. Neither did I, for that matter -- as a Steelers fan, I fear the Patriots and don't want them anywhere near the playoffs, where they could face the Black and Gold and ruin our quest to secure a sixth Super Bowl ring. But I heard two comments from non-Patriots fans that I thought were indicative of how the rest of the country sees the team. The first was a suggestion the Patriots get out their video cameras. The second was that we'll see just how smart Evil Genius Hobo Coach is now that he is without the league's top quarterback.

In other football news, I have come to realize that I'm starting to have Issues (with a capital I) when it comes to Baltimore Ravens fans. For instance, when Mr and Mrs Kepple were in town last weekend, we went out for Sunday brunch prior to the day's football. At the restaurant's omelette station, I went to place my order and discovered to my horror the cook was a Ravens fan. I couldn't help myself, and blurted out, "The Ravens!" as if I was a homeowner who discovered Dutch Elm disease in his backyard. Although I fortunately was able to recover, and didn't let on that I was a Steelers fan, I was shaken by the whole experience.

Then, yesterday, at Billy's, a friendly group from out of town arrived to watch football, and I asked which game they wanted to watch. The Ravens game, they said cheerfully, not paying attention to my Steelers cap. I offered a friendly greeting but the look on my face must have said something, because they went to a different table. Then again, perhaps I'm just being a bit oversensitive -- but I fear I'm ending up like a Browns fan or something.

Fortunately, though, the Indianapolis Colts just smoked the Ravens yesterday. Now that was fun to watch! Even though I had to root for Laser Rocket Arm, it still felt good. In fact, except for Miami's loss to the Houston Texans yesterday, everything pretty much went the way I had hoped. Oh, and Detroit got robbed.

God. The Minnesota Vikings-Detroit Lions game was actually given top billing in the back room at Billy's Sports Bar yesterday, as a group of Vikings fans turned out for the game. They were not happy. One fan, a regular who has the Vikings logo tattooed on his arm, spent good portions of the game on his mobile phone complaining about Brad Childress, the Vikings' head coach, and repeatedly calling for Childress to be cashiered. The Vikings fans also considered a questionable pass interference call against Detroit late in the game -- a call that essentially cost the Lions their first victory -- divine providence.

On the other hand, it was fantastic to see the Dallas Cowboys lose. Wow. What a game that turned out to be! I am happy for the Arizona Cardinals -- to a point -- but more glad the Cowboys lost. A couple more good losses and their locker room will fall apart and their fans will wail and gnash their teeth and that will be the end of everything. They can't take losing down there and every time Dallas loses an angel gets its wings.

Sorry, Miami. But keep at it. Remember, the goal is to defeat the Patriots. Also, I applaud the New York Jets for their win. Remember, the goal is to defeat the Patriots.

As for the Cincinnati Bengals ... oooh. 0-6. You know, it's time to like fire everyone and start over, 'cause your season is toast. T-O-S-T toast. I am not inclined to be cordial to Bengals fans at the moment, as a certain Bengals fan sent me a note professing shock over Michigan's loss to Toledo on Saturday. I would simply note that back in February, I predicted the Bengals would go 3-13 this year, and it would appear that I was on to something. Although the Bengals aren't bad for an 0-6 team.

As for tonight -- ooooh. Well, I would like to think the Browns could shock the world and cut off the New York Giants' heads, but I'm not all that confident. Neither are the Browns fans I know. But it would really be cool if the Browns could come out and win -- at 1-3, they are little threat to the Steelers at this point, and I wouldn't begrudge the Browns a win. They need one. The city of Cleveland needs one. The whole bloody state of Ohio needs one. So go out there and take the Giants down a peg tonight!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2008

Things Fall Apart

WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS the sorrow and anguish I feel over the Michigan Wolverines' loss to the University of Toledo Rockets on Saturday. It is as stinging a defeat as the Fall of Constantinople -- or, it would be, if the ancient city had been conquered by a company of goatherds, stable boys and trumpeters, and not the grand armies and super-cannons of the marauding Turks.

My God! Toledo! A team that's not even a good team in the Mid-American Conference! A team that last won over the pathetic Eastern Michigan Eagles! A team that lost to Florida International! How the devil could we possibly have lost this game? It was a tragedy of errors and capped off with the biggest error of all -- Michigan's kicker, K.C. Lopata, missed a 26-yard field goal. 26 yards! Even a high school player should be able to complete a 26-yard field goal.

I still don't believe our loss is the fault of Coach Rodriguez, though. He came into the situation given these cards, and now he has to play them the best he can. Once he is able to start recruiting, Michigan will rise again, like the phoenix from its ashes. We just have to get through this year. Once that happens, we can rebuild.

Now for the rest of the Saturday recap:

No. 6 Penn State 48, Wisconsin 7. OK, Penn State is scary good this year, all right? Scary. Good. Scary good Penn State plays Michigan next. Maybe Michigan can have the team bus suffer a convenient flat tire on the road to Happy Valley. Yeah. That's an idea. If that doesn't work, Michigan could suffer from a convenient case of "food poisoning." Or just have the team suddenly become "very sick." I'm sorry, but I don't want to see Penn State -- which hasn't beaten Michigan since 1998 -- take its revenge out on the Wolverines when we're down.

It is worth noting that this game featured two of the worst advertisements I've ever seen -- both for the schools themselves. *cough* SPACE. *cough*

No. 11 Florida 51, No. 4 LSU 21. Didn't see that one coming. I am sorry for the LSU Tigers. Although I have no special love for the team, I greatly dislike Florida, so I am sorry to see LSU humbled at the hands of the Gators, who are gauche and classless.

No. 17 Okla. State 28, No. 3 Missouri 23. Oops. So much for vaunted Missouri.

Mississippi State 17, No. 13 Vanderbilt 14. You would think a school that takes pride in being filled with nerds would recognize a trap game when it presents itself. I was quite sorry to see Vandy go down, as they have been the fun story to watch in the SEC this year.

Arkansas 25, No. 20 Auburn 22. Back during the 2004 presidential primary, I was -- for my day job -- at the Manchester headquarters of the Wesley Clark campaign for a story, when all of a sudden I heard guttural yelling from a back room. "What the hell was THAT?" I said, rather unnerved. Well, as it happened, it was a group of Clark volunteers engaged in the "Wooooo, Pig! Sooooie!" shout beloved among Arkansas partisans. They had just completed some important project and were celebrating. Well, woo pig. Or something.

No. 23 Michigan State 37, Northwestern 20. Uh-oh.

On the bright side of things, though, next week IS another week. So after a brief period of mourning, Wolverines fans can regroup and prepare ... well, OK, let's just hope for the best. In the meantime, we can take pride knowing that Michigan alumni rule. As evidence of this, I would note that Michigan alumni successfully indoctrinated thousands upon thousands of schoolchildren via educational television programs to have a subconscious bias towards the Wolverines. Yeah. Hail.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2008

Non NFL/NCAA Football Update

The Pittsburgh Steelers
have a bye date this Sunday --
now what do I do?

Like the cold desert
gray before the sun rises
the weekend looks bleak.

I HAVE A love-hate relationship with the bye week in American football. There is no denying the bye week has its advantages; after all, it allows teams that have been beaten up in the weeks beforehand to recover from their injuries, and allows them to prepare for the hard weeks ahead. For fans, it also offers them a respite – as one colleague at the office said, it does relieve the pressure a bit from rooting for one's team; one can sit back and watch whatever games one wants without having a stake in the outcome. On the other hand, though, the bye week has its disadvantages too.

For instance, the bye week reduces the number of football games being played each weekend over several weeks of the football season. This consequently reduces the chance one will be able to watch quality football on television. Even worse, if the games are good, they will almost certainly involve teams one hates. This has put me in a situation where tomorrow, I have to ... I have to ... God! I have to root for Peyton Manning!

Bleah! Bleah! Bleah! I can't believe I have to root for Rocket Arm and his gang of idiots! But I must, because they're playing the one team in the league I despise even more than the Indianapolis Colts – the Baltimore Ravens. But since that thought is too disturbing to contemplate further – and the morons had best win, or I shall be quite cross – I thought of the perfect way to get around thinking about this until tomorrow afternoon.

Namely, I figured I'd write a post about all the other goings on in football – but football that's a level or two (or three) down the professional league pyramid. After all, up in Canada, the season is still going on strong and no one down here even knows it. (It might have helped if the Canadians had managed to secure a decent television deal, but that is neither here nor there). And although arena football will not start again until next spring, it's not like nothing is going on. There's even news a bit further down the league pyramid. Although I may be one of the few people in America taking note of this during the month of October, hey, someone has to do so. So why not me?

CFL UPDATE. You thought we had parity in the NFL. Boy.

OK, so dig this. There are eight teams in the CFL, right? FIVE OF THEM have nine wins – and five or six losses, depending if they've played so far this weekend. With records like that, it's understandable that these are the best teams in the league. But here's the real amazing thing – ALL FOUR teams in the Western Division have nine wins! All four!

Fortunately my team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, are one of the 9-5 teams, and are tied for first place in the division. Also, because of the CFL's “crossover rule” -- which is what happens when you have eight teams in a league – all four teams in the Western Division are almost certain to make the playoffs, barring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers going on a super hot streak and one of the western teams completely collapsing. We'll see if the Riders can gain an edge on Monday when they play the Calgary Stampeders. The Rant will be listening to the game at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time via CKRM-AM. The Rant would also like to take this opportunity to wish all of our Canadian readers a Happy Thanksgiving, which for some reason you celebrate in October. OK.

AFL UPDATE. There's little going on in the Arena Football League at this point. OK, there's nothing going on in the AFL. That's not unusual at this time of year. Keep an eye out for free agency, trades and other fun stuff coming up soon. Barring an absolute disaster, The Rant WILL go back home to Michigan yet again this spring to watch the Grand Rapids Rampage play.

AF2 UPDATE. I always find the off-season for the af2 more interesting. In part, this is because the af2, being a minor league, is a bit more fluid than the AFL. Not only do players get promoted (in some cases, all the way to the NFL) and relegated (usually out of football), there are sometimes team changes as well, as the league expands and contracts.

The af2 really is a fascinating case study for people interested in the business of sport. You can really see what makes teams succeed and fail by looking at how they run their operations. The Manchester Wolves, for instance, got profiled in Forbes a while back for their success. The Spokane Shock have also done fantastically well, as have the Iowa Barnstormers.

Anyway, the news so far is that we'll have at least one new team – the Milwaukee Iron – and perhaps more: a team in Buffalo could start this year as well. The league lost three teams at the end of 2008: in Daytona Beach, Fla., Lubbock, Tex., and Austin, Tex. This will make for some interesting times come spring, as I'm thinking the league will make divisional realignments as a result of team changes. But we'll see.

INDOOR FOOTBALL. I'm guessing we have a new contender for the league most worthy of the “af3” sobriquet. A merger of the United Indoor Football league and the Intense Football League, and the addition of some teams formerly in the Continental Indoor Football League, has created the new Indoor Football League. I love it. It's modern-era football with an old-time Twenties feel to it. It's so much fun to go to games like this – where players are striving for the big time, where local crowds turn out to support local teams, where families can actually see games without breaking the bank. It is nice to see a strong indoor league emerge in the nation's football-mad heartland.

Folks, here's what you need to know. 24 teams – most of these in Texas and the Great Plains, but also in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. Two teams in Alaska. Alaska. I love it! Two teams that have the same nickname – the (Alaska) Wild and the (Witchita) Wild. One team named the Ruff Riders – they're in Abilene. I'd buy a season ticket just knowing all that, especially if I could see a wild Wild-Wild matchup. It'll be interesting to see how this all turns out but I certainly wish these folks all the best.

THE BIG CONCLUSION. If you got this far, you get a reward! (Provided you're a man ages 18-34).

You see, as I close, I think it's important to turn our attention to ... well, this. Go on, give it a look! Unless you're at work. In that case, make a note of it for later. For those of you who are at work and can't click on the link ... well, it's the Lingerie Football League.

No, I am not joking. It is real. Articles on it have appeared in reputable news outlets. Games will reportedly air on cable television next year – and cleverly, on Friday nights, when no other football worth watching is aired.

Readers are correct in surmising this football league will consist of the following:

* pretty girls
* pretty girls playing football
* pretty girls playing football while not wearing much of anything

When the league launches – as it appears it will – it will be interesting to see how they handle things. For instance, I would think you would have to play in spring and summer, if only because there are teams in Chicago and New England, and as much as I like the idea of bad-weather football, that would be particularly uncomfortable for the players. I can't imagine the league would ruin things by playing indoors – that's just not football – but we shall see.

I am confident the league will realize the importance of quality football to win over fans. Yes, you may think I am joking, but look. I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The team I root for famously fired its cheerleaders. Not only that, Pittsburgh fired its cheerleaders after one of them asked the team if the squad could wear racier outfits. So let's not underestimate the importance of smash-mouth blue-collar football played in really bad weather, because that's what the game is all about – no matter if the players happen to be pretty model-types.

That said, if they're playing games when the only thing else on television is baseball, and I'm single and not in a relationship, I'd be open to watching a game or two.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 09, 2008

Next Week's Market Forecast

WELL. THAT WAS A TOUGH DAY. Now that the market is in complete freefall mode, and we're all due to be ruined shortly, I got to thinking about how to handle the future.

I must confess to a moment of wickedness here. Given these tough times, I should have consulted the Bible and its divine wisdom for inspiration. After all, does not the LORD say to us (Mt. 6:24-34):

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you: take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or, 'What shall we drink?' or, 'Wherewithal shall we be clothed?' For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Yes, He does.

Actually, that's really good advice, given the situation in which we find ourselves. The only trouble is that when I started this entry, I wasn't in the right frame of mind to take it -- and I'm still not. So for the moment, I'm going to stick with my original plan, which is trying to figure out how the market will turn out next week. To do this, I consulted the I Ching, or Book of Changes, the ancient Chinese divination text.

The Book of Changes plays a major role in Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle," perhaps the science-fiction author's best-known work. In the book -- which examines a world in which the Nazis and Japanese won World War II -- most of the major characters turn to the I Ching for guidance. All one has to do is ask it a question, and it spits out an answer after the divination takes place. The real trick comes in interpreting the book's answer -- which, like the Oracle at Delphi, can be mysterious.

Since actually using the I Ching for divination purposes is really hard and time-consuming, I cheated and used a fancy on-line automatic I Ching diviner, which does all the calculations after one asks a question. The question I asked was, "How will the market do next week?" Let's see what the I Ching has to say:

The present is embodied in Hexagram 44 (Coupling). We see a female who is bold and strong. It will not be good to marry such a female. The fourth line, undivided, shows its subject with his wallet, but no fish in it. This will give rise to evil. The situation is evolving slowly, and Yin is gaining ground.

You're damn right it will give rise to evil. I have no fish in my wallet, which means I can't buy fish at the sushi place I like, and that is clearly evil. Verily, I am wroth. Everything I've worked for over the past decade is slowly dissipating and at the rate things are going, I will be broke and begging for alms within a matter of weeks. And although I guess I should be happy with a hexagram with the title "Coupling," that has nothing to do with the question I asked, so I am entirely out of luck. (And I like bold and strong women).

Yin is gaining ground. Hmmmm. Well, according to Wikipedia -- and how could that be wrong? -- "Yin is usually characterized as slow, soft, insubstantial, cold, wet, and tranquil. It is generally associated with the feminine, and with night."

So if Yin is gaining ground, it must mean that we have entered a period of darkness and being insubstantial -- we're already there, I guess -- but it is also slow and tranquil. That must also mean conditions are now ripe for the panic to end sometime soon.

The future is embodied in Hexagram 57 (Ground). There will be some little attainment and progress. There will be advantage in movement onward in whatever direction. It will be advantageous to see the great man.

Hmmm. That sounds better! Some little attainment and progress. Well, that could mean stocks will go up slightly next week and people will start to relax. Even better is that line about there being "advantage in movement in either direction." If the market goes down, then that will put everyone in a better position to buy. If the market goes up, that will have an obvious advantage. But who is the great man?

Gee, that's troublesome. Maybe this means that Secretary Paulson or Chairman Bernanke will appear on television and say something important. Maybe Warren Buffett will do something. Maybe another great man, one I haven't yet considered, will pull our chestnuts out of the fire. Still, this would seem to signal better times ahead, and so maybe this will work!

Then again, the Asian markets are down -- by a LOT. Just in case, I'm going to do some more Bible reading.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 07, 2008

The Buy High, Sell Low Theory of Investing

I MUST SAY I was flabbergasted when I heard that Jim Cramer, the excitable host of "Mad Money" on CNBC, said on television that average investors ought take out money they'll need for the next FIVE years from the stock market. It was not so much that this advice was not sensible -- more on that in a bit -- but that Mr Cramer delivered the advice a day late and a dollar short.

Now, I fully appreciate that hindsight is 20-20. But one must ask: why did Mr Cramer not suggest this course of action when the market was going up? That way, the average investor could have actually capitalized on his gains back when the market was in full swing. What the hell good does selling now do? Oh, sure, it COULD end up saving people a lot of money if the market completely goes in the sewer and we're all left fighting for Government food rations. But since the danger of that actually happening is quite low, and it is far more likely that stocks will eventually recover, it is more likely that people will commit the cardinal sin of buying high and selling low -- and when capital disappears for good, you're out of luck.

It is important to note that Mr Cramer did advise people continue contributing to their retirement funds, and that long-term investments aren't subject to his argument. But if people really needed the money, they ought not have invested it in the stock market in the first place. There are safer places to put money that one might actually need -- bank CDs, or government bonds, or really really conservative mutual funds, or what not, rather than throwing it all into shares of PimentoLoaf.com.

Now, I don't know about you, but being a young person, I do not have five years' worth of cash anywhere, much less five years of cash now in the stock market. But on the other hand, I don't need five years of cash. I am single, have no children, don't have any college expenses to pay, don't have any major purchases upcoming, don't have any major medical bills and don't have any desire to buy a '57 Chevy or a sailboat. That's not to say I have no cash at all -- I do have a bit stashed away in an emergency fund -- but it would not last me forever if the unthinkable were to happen. At this point in my life, that's a risk I think I should take.

And if the worst does come to pass, I'll have learned a valuable lesson. But for now, I don't see any reason to sell low when I bought high, and I don't see any reason to panic. If you're panicking at the thought of loss, then don't invest, because you'll always get whipsawed when things turn sour, only to buy in again when things are sweet.

This financial crisis has taught me a few valuable lessons, though. One, if it seems like there's real froth in the market, it's better to book a gain than hold out hope for a really spectacular gain -- unless tax consequences or other considerations make selling a bad proposition. Two, don't panic -- no matter what -- because panic will send one down the road to oblivion. And third, cash is king. We now know cash will always be king. I just wish I had a lot of capital at the ready to jump when I think the time is right. When that might be, I can't say -- my crystal ball is broken, just like everyone else's, but I've learned my lesson. The next time we have some sort of stupid financial disaster, I'll be ready to strike. This time around, though -- well, God help us all.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Mr Kepple is not a financial planner, adviser or specialist, and does not even hold a degree in finance. Not only that, his crystal ball is broken. For that matter, Mr Kepple's last big financial win happened back in 2005, when he told everyone in the office to buy gasoline before the prices went up due to Hurricane Katrina. As such, realize that investing involves risk and that you may lose money -- we ain't just whistling Dixie -- and you should talk anything over with a financial planner before you invest, as opposed to acting on the opinion of some blog.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 06, 2008

Remember, It Could Always Be Worse

THERE IS A NICE COMMERCIAL for Rolex watches in which various accomplished figures -- such as Roger Federer, the tennis player -- are shown performing great and incredible feats in their disciplines, with video of these accomplishments interspered with video showcasing Rolex SA's watches.

If Sage Rosenfels ever dreamed he could someday appear in one of the firm's commercials, I have some advice for him. Such as: don't wait by the phone for them to call. Also, don't even hint at asking them about it, because they'll be washing their hair. All weekend. You rotten wretched incompetent bum.

You see, Mr Rosenfels is completely responsible for the Houston Texans' stunning 31-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts today. Not only did Mr Rosenfels fumble the ball -- twice! -- he threw an interception after those two fumbles. All told, his actions not only cost the Texans the 17 point lead they had built by the middle of the fourth quarter, they gave the Colts the desperate hope they required to actually pull off one of professional football's most amazing comebacks. Ever.

Rosenfels, you incompetent bum.

Yes, I have heard the explanations -- oh, he was trying to make plays, he was trying too hard, and so on. These would be acceptable excuses if Mr Rosenfels was a rookie one step removed from his days at Iowa State. But Mr Rosenfels has been in the league FOR EIGHT YEARS.

Now, I don't know about you, but if I was a backup quarterback in the NFL, and I had EIGHT YEARS of experience at the top echelon of the game, I wouldn't try to hurdle a platoon of angry Indianapolis defenders for an extra yard or two. Particularly because Houston's lead at this stage of the game was SEVENTEEN POINTS. All the man had to do was fall down and the game would have practically been over. Instead, he fumbled the ball after rocketing into the air, and the Colts picked it up and ran it sixty-some yards for a touchdown. This sparked a chain of events that resulted in Rocket Arm -- who had sucked for much of the game -- turning on the jets and leading the Colts to victory. As Houston defender Mario Williams told the AP:

"I've never seen anything in my life like that. For that to happen, I can't even remember seeing anything like that growing up. It's just devastating."

It is devastating -- particularly for those football fans, like me, who detest the Colts and want nothing more than to see them out of the playoffs this year. Instead of having the Colts be tied for last place with a 1-3 record, they're now 2-2 and in second place in the AFC South. That one game could well make a difference in a few months, and I'm not happy that Houston -- well, actually, just Mr Rosenfels -- blew it. The bum. The rotten wretched insipid incompetent bum.



I am glad I turned off the Michigan-Illinois game when Illinois extended its lead to 17 points at the start of the fourth quarter. For one thing, I went out to dinner with my folks, and that was a heck of a lot more pleasant than watching the Fighting Zooks kick Michigan's asses all over our own turf. For another, I probably would have put my foot through the television. 45-20? Are you kidding me? My God.

Now, I have to admit that I am taking this a lot better than I would normally. That's because Michigan is in what football fans refer to as a "rebuilding year." Or years. This is apparently because the previous coaching staff forgot to recruit, leaving our present coaching staff with players about as competent as a gang of scrappy youngsters in a summer camping movie, but who are not nearly as lovable. Even Michigan's defense, which is light-years better compared to its atrocious offense, falls apart -- although that is not really their fault. Unless the offense can, you know, do something, the defense won't have a chance in the world.

It would be nice if Michigan could manage to get to a bowl game this year. That's about all I want at this point. But after Saturday's debacle, I do wonder if spending three hours of my day off work watching the Wolverines was really the best use of my time.


THANK GOD THE BYE WEEK is here for Pittsburgh. Good Lord.

I do realize many readers may not follow the Pittsburgh Steelers as close as I do -- most undoubtedly have their own teams for which they root -- but Loyal Rant Readers should know everyone on the Steelers is hurt, injured, or out for the season due to injury. For instance, our star running back, Fast Willie Parker, was out with a knee sprain. His backup, Rashard Mendenhall, is out for the year with an injury. Fullback Carey Davis was questionable, leaving us with third-stringer Mewelde Moore as our starter, once-and-future-Steeler Najeh Davenport as an alternate, and practice squad promotion Gary Russell as an additional alternate. Heck, at the rate things were going, I would have a shot at making the Steelers' practice squad as an RB.

But I am impressed the Steelers actually managed to pull out a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday night. I mean, my God. Our offense actually showed up -- well, at least for more than half the game -- and managed to make plays, even in the clutch. Our defense stepped up too, and prevented evil Jacksonville from pulling off their wily Jacksonville tricks to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Of course, the Jaguars were banged up themselves, but a win is a win and I will take it. Now that Pittsburgh is 2 1/2 games ahead of Baltimore, which is in second place in the division, I am hopeful the Steelers will be able to quickly rack up enough of a lead so that we'll secure the division title for our own. Then, we can prepare for the playoffs.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack