November 27, 2008

A Reflection on Bad Football

SO THE DETROIT LIONS lost again today. The 47-10 beatdown they suffered at the hands of the Tennessee Titans was an awful and painful thing to watch, and it was a performance so wretched one believes the Lovable Losers will do the impossible and go 0-16 this year. They looked that bad. Whether it was the fumble on the second play of the game, or the pick-six that put the Titans up 21-3, Detroit could do nothing right. Nothing.

There were a few flashes of brilliance from the Lions' offense, but the wretched play of the team's defense amazed me. I've seen some bad teams play this year, and I don't think there's any defensive unit in the league worse than that of the Lions. When running backs can sprint for sixty-yard plays without getting touched, and walk into the Lions' end zone without a finger being laid upon them ... well, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Detroit's coach, Rod Marinelli, last week famously challenged a reporter to find better players; well, I have a few in mind. Coach, if you're interested, just let me know.

The Lions' wretchedness has led many football fans around America, who perhaps understandably would like to see quality football on Thanksgiving, to call for the Lions to be stripped of their Turkey Day berth. I do not think this is warranted, although today's game did make me slightly more sympathetic to their argument. I mean, I don't know about you, but unless my team has a commanding lead, I like football games to be competitive beyond the first quarter of play.

Still, I do think there are plenty of reasons why Detroit should keep its Thanksgiving Day game. For one, they've been doing it for nigh on 70 years. That's a lot of tradition and not something that should be thrown away lightly. For another, despite Detroit's present miserable state, many Turkey Day games have been hard-fought and competitive contests, and there is no reason to think they will not be again.

If the main issue is that Detroit isn't very good, this can be easily rectified through doing a better job at scheduling. Next year, for instance, the Lions could play the Cincinnati Bengals. True, that's a game that might not have playoff implications, but at least it would probably go four quarters. Besides, it's not as if the Lions are alone in stinking things up. The Seahawks-Cowboys game is just as grim, and as I write the 2-9 Seahawks are getting their feathers plucked in Texas Stadium.

Plus, who the hell wants to root for the Cowboys? I mean, at least with the Lions, everyone can root for them without feeling guilty or vomiting a little in their throats. Try doing that with the showboating, pompous windbags that make up the Dallas Cowboys. Well, no, don't -- you'll get physically ill if you try -- but you see where I'm going with this. I'd sooner see Dallas lose its Thanksgiving Day privileges than the Lions.

Of course, today's general awfulness was only compounded by bad halftime shows, bad announcing and bad commercials. I don't know about you, but if I hear any of the Toyota Motor Co.'s truck commercials one more time, I'm going to go throw up. Then, I'm going to go find Mr Deep-Voiced Rural-Dwelling Real American and kick him so hard that Toyota might as well use Celine Dion to broadcast the virtues of its pickups. Stick that in your pipes and smoke it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2008

Even in Defeat, Michigan Outclasses Ohio State

SO I IMPRESSED EVEN MYSELF on Saturday with my calm demeanor when the rabble from Ohio State ran roughshod over the Michigan Wolverines in our annual football matchup. I can assure readers that not only did I not openly curse, I managed to maintain a Romeo Crennel-like zen during the game, even as Ohio State started running up the score in the closing moments. Only once did I lose my bearings. As the score hit 35-7, I felt compelled to respond after some of the Ohio backers made fun of my alma mater:

ME: Go flip over a car!
OHIO FAN: What's your license plate?

The folks from the Big Zero did have Michigan beat when it came to the singing of fight songs. After a while, it got like that scene in "On the Beach," when the Australians keep singing "Waltzing Matilda" as Gregory Peck's character is trying to sleep with the girl played by Ava Gardner. But I am proud to report that Michigan once again triumphed in terms of organization and class.

I mean, let's see. Which alumni club arranged for its fans to have nachos and other finger foods? That would be Michigan's. Which alumni club had a special football cake made for the game? That would be Michigan's. What alumni club brought swag for its partisans? Hmmm. Oh, yes, that would be Michigan's. (I got a tote bag and a Michigan-themed stack of post-it notes).

After a while, we Michiganders took pity on our younger brothers and invited them to partake in the bounty of buffalo wings and other goodies on offer. This show of good will was repaid in the third quarter, when the Ohio partisans engaged in a rousing rendition of "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan."

The Ohio State University shows off its organizational skills during its bowl game appearance last year.

Admittedly, we did have extra buffalo wings because only about two dozen Michigan alumni showed up for the Big Game, and there were roughly five times as many attendees from Overturned Subaru. And only a few Michigan partisans -- myself included! -- stuck around for the entire thing, but hey. The important thing was that Michigan's alumni club (of which I am not a member) had the cash and the forethought to make this happen.

As for the class issue, I thought Michigan was far more classy than our rivals from Ohio State, as one might expect. OK, so I broke out the dance moves when Michigan intercepted the ball on Ohio State's opening drive, but that was more of a celebratory dance than an actual taunt. It's not like I unleashed the moonwalk. Although I was planning to unleash the moonwalk if Michigan took the lead, that didn't come about, so I didn't.

But I congratulate the Ohio Staters on their success. It was an impressive victory for them, and one I know that mattered a lot, what with their inferiority complex and all.

Also, to the one lady from Ohio who admonished her friend for feeling bad for the Michigan Wolverines ("Don't feel bad for them!"), let me just say that I understand. Really. I do. When Michigan next defeats Ohio State -- God willing, next year! -- I won't feel bad at all. Not only won't I feel bad, I hope we do it when you're 11-0 and have a national championship on the line.

We will have our revenge. And you will fall. That's all there is to it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 21, 2008

And the Towels Are Kinda Scratchy

CLERK: We've got one room left -- but I doubt you'll want it.
CLERK: It's a dead zone. Can't get your calls, your precious e-mails -- it's like you don't even exist.
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: But I've got the Verizon network.
VERIZON GUY: You're good! We're tapping into your account right now!
CLERK: Oh! Well.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A Bit of Proper Mortification

OVER THE PAST WEEK, there was a lot of discussion over the state dinner held for leaders at the G20 meeting, and a lot of caterwauling about the supposedly luxurious food and wine served at this occasion. Based on media accounts of the whole affair, it appears the American People are once again outraged with their Government, this time because the Government had the audacity to serve one decent wine during the dinner.

The Rant, as one might expect, takes a contrarian view of this whole matter. Namely, we've got twenty heads of state on hand for one of the most important financial summits in modern history, and we only served one decent wine during the occasion. Well, that's just great. All the other heads of state, after politely offering their goodbyes for the evening, must have come away thinking, "Jesus Christ, the Americans can't even put on a proper state dinner, and they're going to lecture us about economics?" At least, that's how I would have taken it.

Now look. As a taxpayer, and one who sends thousands of dollars to the national fisc each year, I expect my Government to forcefully remind the other nations of the world that the United States remains rich, prosperous, powerful and able to outfox and outmuscle any of them. The Government does not remind the world of its imperium maius by acting like Andrew frickin' Jackson. It also does not remind the world of its economic supremacy by serving blah wine. Have we no Lafite Rothschild in the White House's wine cellar? And if not, couldn't that have been arranged for one dinner?

I mean, I'm sorry, but we look cheap when we do things like that. Consider: the wine to start the meal went for about $40 a bottle, while the dessert wine went for about $30 a bottle. Are you kidding me? Why don't we send out to the Olive Garden while we're at it? Hey, here's an even better idea: why don't we have Pizza Hut prepare the pasta, and see how our invited heads of state react on hidden camera? God!

But why stop with complaining about the wine? Let's complain about the food too, while we're at it. Our invited heads of state got treated to a four-course dinner, which consisted of: a quail starter, a lamb main course, an endive salad and a pear torte. I don't know about you, but I think we were a bit light. No soup? No fish? No amuses?

I mean, come on. If the Russians had held a state dinner everyone would have eaten for five hours straight, gone back to their rooms, slept for ten hours and then would have been able to work for three full days based on the strength of that one meal alone. I mean, say what you will about the Russian Government, but the Russians are no slouches when it comes to putting on a fancy meal. It's no wonder we didn't accomplish anything at the summit.

Now, I know there are those who would consider it abhorrent and wretched were the Government to actually spend a lot of money on a fancy state dinner, but I do not think these arguments should be given much weight. After all, when you think about how rare state dinners actually are, they're not all that much money, and spending more on them could be easily accomplished if our lawmakers would hold off on spending, say, half a million bucks to renovate Lawrence Welk's boyhood home. So it is difficult to argue the Government ought act with austerity here when it spends money like drunken sailors on innumerable projects of absolutely no utility.


After the jump: the state dinner we should have held, and would have if I had been Maximum Leader.

White House Menu for the Dinner
for the Summit on Financial Markets
and the World Economy

(Revised as if Benjamin Kepple was Maximum Leader)


Royal Baerii Caviar (Fla.) and accoutrements
1996 Bollinger Grande Annee Prestige Cuvee

choice of:

She-Crab Soup (S.C.)
Fish Consomme (New England)


Broiled Maine lobster tails
with potatoes and vinaigrette



Filet mignon (the Plains)
with mixed vegetables or spinach sauteed in olive oil


Michigan salad


Creme brulee


A selection of fine American cheeses



NOTES: This meal plan is clearly superior to the White House's G20 summit meal for several reasons. Most notably, it recognizes state dinners can be used to send subtle hints to our friends and allies, plus nations we're somewhat annoyed with but with whom circumstances require we deal.

Take the starter, for instance. This should impress pretty much everyone and make them feel at home, and send a signal that we are honored to have them present, and care deeply about their ideas on how to solve the economic crisis. It will also send a signal to the Russians that we can produce caviar that's just as good as their sevruga and we would not care if the supply of Russian caviar suddenly dried up. And if we can produce caviar, maybe we can produce oil too. Try us, you bolshy scoundrels.

The soup course, with its choice of two soups, is a clear homage to proper service a la russe and should thus mollify the Russians after we started off the meal with the diplomatic equivalent of a kick under the table.

The fish course signifies that we do lobster better than anyone. It will also tell the Canadians we remain willing to argue over aquaculture just because we can, so don't oppose us just because you can, please.

The intermezzo -- a sorbet or something -- will impress stodgy foreigners *cough* Gordon Brown *cough*.

The beef course should please the South Americans and hopefully make them temporarily overlook the various excursions in their territories we've undertaken in the name of the Monroe Doctrine.

The salad is a classic Michigan staple, which should send a message to the Japanese that we do care deeply about our domestic auto industry and we'd appreciate it if they'd lay off a bit.

The pudding is a sop to Sarkozy. A clever protocol director would sit Sarkozy next to Berlusconi, just because everyone else at the dinner would want to see how Sarko responded to Berlusconi's inevitable outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease. By the time the cheese course came around, Sarkozy should be about ready to strangle Silvio, and the resulting diplomatic fireworks would divert attention from the fact we would probably fail to accomplish anything at the summit.

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November 17, 2008

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL FRIDAY, NOV. 21, because The Rant has been VERY busy. It's a long story -- but we'll see you then. In the meantime, I am glad the Steelers go to eleven, so to speak.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 11, 2008

I Have Finally Joined Facebook

IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD as we know it, but I feel fine.

You see, I have finally joined Facebook, despite my well-known aversion to social-networking sites. Much to my surprise and delight, however, I have found the site is actually really cool. Based on the number of people I know on it, the company has apparently managed to convince roughly half the United States to join. Its interface is easy to use and its graphics are uncluttered, yet it is powerful enough for a user to customize one's profile with as many bells and whistles as one wants.

Still, I wonder: now that I have finally joined Facebook, what can one draw from that? I mean, the way I see it, it means one of two things. Either Facebook is on its way to complete domination of the social networking field, or it has fully and completely jumped the shark. Only time will tell which outcome will result, but I am hoping it's the former. After all, if I signed up for it and liked it, I think that's a pretty powerful statement. It shows that Facebook has broken through one of the technology field's great barriers: convincing normal, technology-resistant Americans (like me) to sign up and become active users. It may also show that Facebook missed the boat and should have held its IPO two years ago, but we'll see.

Another interesting thing I discovered upon joining Facebook is that there are other people in the world named Benjamin Kepple, which was really cool yet somewhat disconcerting.

Sure, I can take comfort in a few things, such as the fact I've Got the Domain Name and that none of the other Benjamin Kepples are cynical journalists. Thus, there's no likelihood of confusion between us. But I must admit I had privately enjoyed what I had thought was my name's uniqueness.

Having studied my family history, I know my last name is rare enough in the United States so that others with it are, if not close family, often (but certainly not always) distant relations. And up until now the only other Benjamin Kepples I knew were close relatives. But learning there are other Benjamin Kepples who are not family is ... I don't know, it's just rather mindblowing, that's all. Particularly since one of the other Benjamin Kepples has a goatee.

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November 07, 2008

Cleveland Stoic

Knock wood, I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face.

-- Romeo Crennel
Head Coach, Cleveland Browns
on quarterback Brady Quinn's first start

I HAVE ONLY SEEN Romeo Crennel smile once. This was when Mr Crennel was introduced as a special guest at the Cleveland Gladiators' game in June against the Dallas Desperados. The thousands of fans who had filled the Quicken Loans Arena for the arena football game cheered as their hero, who had led the Browns to a 10-6 season the prior year, smiled broadly as he was introduced.

I was so stunned at seeing Mr Crennel smile that it remains one of my most vivid memories of that game. Normally, Mr Crennel does not smile. Normally, during the NFL season, Mr Crennel stands on the sidelines at Cleveland Browns Stadium and stoically watches as the Browns somehow manage to screw things up. Braylon Edwards drops a pass? Stoic. Derek Anderson throws an interception? Stoic. The defense plays like the defense normally does? Stoic, stoic, stoic.

I daresay Mr Crennel is the most stoic coach in the league. Mike Tomlin, who coaches the Pittsburgh Steelers, is close in this regard, but with Mr Tomlin you can see flashes of anger whenever someone fails. For instance, during a game, you can see Mr Tomlin angrily demand to know just who got called for a penalty, or just who did something else stupid, and you know they're in trouble. But when the television cameras turn to Mr Crennel, there is none of that. Mr Crennel's emotions are kept tightly under wraps.

This is part of the reason why I like him so much. Also, I feel bad for the guy. It's not as if it's his fault the Browns have generally played craptacular this year.

Still, what you see on television is one thing, and reality is another. I do wonder how Mr Crennel privately reacted to the Browns' Incredible Sports Choke against the Denver Broncos. After all, the 34-30 loss is the second Major Choke in all of two weeks for the team. I also don't know, given the quote noted above, how sold he was on the idea of Mr Quinn debuting against the Denver Broncos. For Cleveland hates the Broncos -- not as much as the Steelers, but they're definitely second on the list -- and I can imagine Mr Crennel probably would have preferred Derek Anderson to start.

But I do think it would be unfair to blame this loss on the offense. True, the offense went into the game with a big advantage -- most notably, the fact they were playing Denver, which stinks. But the fact Denver stinks -- on both sides of the ball -- means the defense must bear the brunt of this loss. Consider: Cleveland gave up a 93 yard passing touchdown. Consider: Denver had no running backs in the second half. Consider: it's Denver, which on paper should not have come anywhere close to beating Cleveland at home.

In light of these things, it's worth noting Mr Crennel's statement after the game:

''A 93-yard touchdown pass should never happen, ever. Missed tackles, letting them throw balls over our head, tight ends in the middle of coverage. We didn't make any plays. It's unfortunate, it really is.''

I think one of the mistakes the team made this year was hiring from within in terms of their defensive staff. They fired their defensive coordinator after last year, and they replaced the guy through promoting from the ranks. But the subordinates clearly aren't doing the job. For that matter, the players aren't doing the job. It would probably be wise for the powers that be in Cleveland to start reminding players and coaches that there are plenty of other hungry players and coaches out there who would be glad to take their places. Perhaps they have already done so, but that didn't translate into victory tonight.

Of course, the loss leaves the Browns 3-6. Their season is very much in peril, and the fans aren't happy. As the game ended, one could hear the boos raining down on the field from aggravated Cleveland partisans, and I do wonder how long the fans' patience can last. It is Cleveland, and so they have much more patience than fans of other teams, but this is starting to get ridiculous.

Along those lines, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to all Cleveland fans everywhere. I am not trying to be condescending, insulting, gleeful or a scoundrel -- I do sincerely hope the Browns, my second team, get better and get better soon. Cleveland needs and deserves a winning team, and I am sorry this did not come to pass tonight.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2008

Activision Blizzard Inc. Winner on Monday Night Football

I NEVER REALLY FIGURED out the whole hoopla over the "Guitar Hero" franchise of video games, but it's worth noting this reaction to one of its commercials aired late in the broadcast of "Monday Night Football," from none other than the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dan Gigler:

As duly noted by our commenters, the second airing of the Guitar Hero ad did not go unnoticed; yours truly and the entire sports department were held in rapt attention. All night no one shuts up back here then, for 30 seconds, total mouth agape silence.

Yep. Heidi Klum does that.

Oh, also there was a football game. A game in which the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, despite reeling under an initial ferocious assault from the Washington Redskins, turned things around and kicked Washington's ass. This 23-6 victory against Washington was a testament to Pittsburgh's defense, which completely and utterly destroyed the Redskins' offense. When you consider the Steelers shut out Washington for three quarters, and three of Washington's six points were scored because we got clever and tried an onside kick to start the game, that's really an amazing performance.

But then, there's that whole matter of Pittsburgh's alleged offense -- by which I mean, the offensive line that ONCE AGAIN nearly wrecked the thing. I mean, come on. The defense, folks, can't hold the ship together forever. As we saw in our games against Philadelphia and New York, the defense does a hell of a job, but that's problematic if the offense can't do anything when it goes on the field. It just has to improve or we're not going to go all the way.

Still, we can deal with that next week. Let's talk about next week. Let's talk about how Laser Rocket Arm has to play in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Let's talk about what Pittsburgh's defense is going to do to Laser Rocket Arm and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts. Let's talk about how everyone outside of Indiana, who is sick of Laser Rocket Arm, is going to enjoy the game immensely. I mean, if Pittsburgh can sack Jason Campbell seven times, Pittsburgh should be able to separate Rocket Arm's head from Rocket Arm's neck. It's on at 4:15, so everybody watch!

It'll be great. Watch as Rocket Arm flails about as the pocket collapses around him; watch as he blames his offensive line for his failures; watch as he screams "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" in slow motion as LaMarr Woodley runs over him.

It shall be glorious.

This was the one bright spot in a tough football weekend for yours truly. Michigan, for instance, lost to Purdue, a game I didn't get to watch but was a game I'd prefer not to talk about. Then, on Sunday, the evil Baltimore Ravens managed to beat the Cleveland Browns, despite being down two touchdowns at one point. Ugh. It really would have helped Pittsburgh out if the Browns had managed to win, but no, we couldn't have had that, now could we?

Of course, Browns fans were QUITE unhappy about the loss. I know this because I watched the game at Billy's Sports Bar in the presence of Browns Fan Rick, who watches the games each week with extreme interest.

Like all Browns fans, Rick hates the Pittsburgh Steelers and detests all of their fans. Thus, he was naturally suspicious when I was rooting for his team, and then only half-jokingly asked if I would cheer for the Browns at another spot in the room. Other fans might take offense at such a suggestion, but I did not; for my own brother is a Browns fan, and I know how he reacts to the Steelers and their fans.

Simply put, you must understand that although I consider Cleveland my "second" team, such an affiliation is anathema to the true Browns fan. No true Browns fan would ever root for the Steelers under any circumstances, and can't understand why any Steelers fan would root for the Browns. This hatred is so deep, I can assure you that fans at a Cleveland Gladiators arena football game last year chanted "Pittsburgh sucks!" -- even though Pittsburgh does not have an arenaball team.

Anyway, Braylon dropped the ball *cough* again *cough* and Derek threw a dumb interception and the Browns blew it. I offered my condolences to Rick. He said nothing. I offered them again a short while later. He said nothing. I understood. Being a sports fan can really hurt sometimes. However, Cleveland still has hope -- they are only 3-5 and with a good winning streak they can get back into Wild Card contention soon enough.

It seems unlikely, however, they can win the division. After all, Pittsburgh is now 6-2 -- and with just eight games to go, we're in second place in the AFC. That is hugely important and if we make it into the playoffs, keeping second place (or even moving into first) will be a major advantage. But with three teams tied at 5-3 and two more tied at 4-4, though, we're not far enough ahead of the pack to rest easy. We've got to press on -- and if we do, well, there might just be no stopping us.

Unless we have to play the Giants again. Dammit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 03:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 02, 2008

Daylight Saving Time: The Silent Killer

IN THE LATEST PROOF that Daylight Saving Time is an evil monstrosity -- a wretched, dastardly scheme our political masters have devised to rob God-fearing Americans of their freedom -- researchers have found that "springing forward" leads to an increase in heart attacks.

No wonder. Every year in spring, the American people are rousted out of bed an hour early, and for what? There are no conclusive benefits to changing the time every year. Daylight Saving Time actually leads to greater electricity consumption, increases gasoline consumption and causes losses on the stock markets. Don't just take my word for it; click on the link; all these things are proven and documented.

This does not even begin to address the human cost of Daylight Saving Time -- the grumpiness, the lost productivity, the confusion as to just what time it is elsewhere. It will be bad enough figuring out just how many hours London is ahead or Tokyo is behind, but it does not stop there, of course. My Midwestern readers do not need reminding that for decades, no one had any idea just what time it was in the entire state of Indiana, including the poor Indianans. (In some cases, they still don't!) And now we know Daylight Saving Time actually kills.

So how long must we bow to Washington's tyranny? Are we not free men? Do we not enjoy God-given rights, including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and sleeping in if we please? You just bet we do!

Clearly we must demand the Government put an end to this wretched, evil scheme -- or at least limit it to circumstances when Daylight Saving Time might actually prove useful.

Of course, there is only one circumstance under which Daylight Saving Time may reasonably be used. That's during an epic, cataclysmic struggle between civilizations. Then we can call it War Time and use it to constantly remind the American people that our enemies must be destroyed. Plus, it's an extra incentive to destroy our enemies, as the American people will get to sleep in an extra hour once that's accomplished.

But unless the very existence of our polity is at stake, the Government must reject Daylight Saving Time in all its forms and return to pleasing, right-thinking Standard Time -- which here at The Rant is known as God's Time. The American people deserve nothing less than to live on God's Time all year, every year, and people who would argue otherwise clearly hate freedom, democracy, capitalism, hard work, Protestantism, football, motherhood and apple pie. Well, that, or they're mutants who can somehow internalize such clock changes without spending a week in a sluggish, unproductive haze. Either way, they're not on our side.

Also: while I'm thinking of it -- Loyal Rant Readers should check their smoke detectors to make sure they're in good working order.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


ALTHOUGH I AM NOT an automobile enthusiast, I must say that if I ever find myself in the position to purchase a luxury automobile, I'll give strong consideration to buying one of Porsche AG's fine machines. After this crazy week -- in which parent firm Porsche SE pulled off one of the most audacious, clever, astounding, fantastic maneuvers to take place in high finance in the past half-century -- it is the least I can do.

You see, Porsche SE pulled off the financial equivalent of The Play this week, and did it in such stunning fashion that it has become the talk of the business world. It was such an incredible move that it deserves to be talked about as if Porsche had amazingly outmaneuvered its rivals, ran the ball in for a touchdown despite the enemy's band being on the field, and then knocked over the trombone player. "THE BULLS!" one can imagine Joe Starkey saying. "THE BULLS! THE BULLS HAVE WON! Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending... exciting, thrilling finish in the history of finance!"

So what did Porsche do? Well, you should know that shares of Volkswagen AG, the German automaker, had been subjected to a rash of short-selling before this past week. This was because hedge funds, rightly believing the world's auto industry would suffer setbacks as a result of the global economic downturn, found Volkswagen a tempting target for their machinations.

Now, when one "shorts" a stock, one borrows shares of a company and then sells them, with the proviso he has to eventually buy the shares back. The idea is that a speculator can buy back the shares for less than what he received when he borrowed and sold them, with the difference being his profit.. The practice adds liquidity to the market -- it makes it easier for everyone to buy shares -- but at the same time people can't stand it. That's because when people short a stock, the borrowed shares are immediately sold, helping push down the price of the stock, creating losses among traditional (or "long") investors who just want their stocks to go up. As such, traditional investors view short sellers as rotten scheming bastards who should have their heads impaled on pikes.

Anyway, all these hedge funds had shorted Volkswagen shares, figuring the company was going to be in for a rough ride. However, as all the hedgies went after the company, Porsche secretly arranged to buy call options on Volkswagen shares with several German banks. Porsche, which already owned 42 pc of Volkswagen, then innocently announced it had arranged to boost its stake in Volkswagen to 75 pc. As 20 pc of VW is owned by a German state government, it effectively meant that only 5 pc of Volkswagen's shares were on the market -- and the hedgies had sold 12 pc of the firm's shares short.


The end result was that Porsche had cornered the market in Volkswagen shares, leaving the hedge funds exposed to incredible losses. The share price skyrocketed from 200 euros to 1,000 euros as the hedge funds desperately tried to close out their positions. When all was said and done, the hedge funds lost the equivalent of THIRTY EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS.

The Rant would sum up its reaction in one word: wow.

Of course, the cleverness of this scheme has led the hedge funds in London and elsewhere to cry foul, and demand the German authorities conduct an investigation. Heh. Good luck with that. In the meantime, the rest of us can indulge in heaping helpings of schadenfreude, as more than 100 hedge funds may have lost money in the whole affair. Not only will the rotten investors in such vehicles get burned, the funds' managers could get burned as well.

That's because hedge funds usually calculate their famed 20 pc shares of the profit against a "high-water mark," meaning that any future losses make it that much more difficult to book huge gains. Plus, since those profits are often invested back into the funds, they could really lose out when all is said and done. And although I am traditionally sympathetic to the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, I'm not exactly discouraged at the idea that when the tide goes out, all the fancy yachts are getting pulled out with it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack