Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weekend Sports Edition: Bowl Me Over

It is that time of year. Somewhere in the last 15 years, January 1st morphed into January 7th. I refer of course to the BCS Championship game, college football's equivalent of the Super Bowl, or at least an attempt to emulate it. The BCS game is a fraud. It is nothing more than a half hearted attempt to achieve the unattainable: a determination of the best team in college football through a combination of performance and computer precision. Writers, fans, and now politicians clamor for a so called playoff system that will leave no doubt about the ultimate winner's right to claim the title of best college football team of the season. To this perennial dream, I say PHOOEY! Devising a sure fire way to bring mathematical certitude to the collegiate gridiron is a chimera, a false dream brought about by the hallucinations of fans and writers who do not appreciate the beast they are trying to tame. The beauty of college football is that its traditions and structure are not suited to an elimination tournament. To do it properly would require a playoff system that started in early November and ended in January. Regional rivalries would be diluted. Conference championships would become meaningless. The debate about the best team would become even more raucous than it is now. I can hear it now. "Why should 10-1 Florida be dissed in place of 12-0 Boise State;" and vice versa. Great teams who have a very real chance of winning it all would never get a chance to compete in the playoff system.
Instead of moving forward, I think college football should take a look in the rear view mirror. There was something glorious about waking up on New Year's Day as a kid. First there was no school, which I hated anyway. Second, my parents would not wake up until 11. At 1, I watched the Cotton Bowl. It was always Texas against someone. I remember Notre Dame playing in that game many times. Rooting for ND was mandatory for me. Not doing so was to face eternal damnation or at least it seemed that way. At 2, it was the Sugar Bowl. Always a team from the South. If the Cotton Bowl was not interesting, I would get off the floor, and manually turn the channel from 10(CBS) to 7(ABC). New Year's dinner was served around 3:30. Around 4, I would turn on the Rose Bowl. I could never understand the pageantry until about 10 years later when we bought a color TV. The Rose Bowl seemed to always feature Ohio State against USC or Stanford. I remember OJ Simpson, Woody Hayes, Jim Plunkett, and Rex Kern. By 8, it was time for the Orange Bowl. It was always a Big Eight team against Penn State, or at least it seemed that way. What I remember is that each of these games was important. The outcome had some direct or indirect ramification for who could later claim title to a mythical national championship. I also remember a few years when there were two champions: an AP one and UPI one. The uncertainty is was made it all so much fun.
Now instead of one day full of four bowl games, we get New Year's Day full of meaningless games and then the meaningful game one week later. To this pathology of certitude, I offer a dissent and say Here's To Yesterday!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunset Boulevard And The Tragedy of Aging Women

"There;s Nothing Wrong With Being 50, So Long As You Don't Act Like You Are 25." So said Joe Gillis to Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. So I ask: is there any group more discriminated against in our society than an aging woman? I think not. While we have progressed mightily in social and economic terms to tear down the barriers of prejudice in most all areas of American society, there remains that pitiful group of aging beauty queens, wrinkled faced former princesses whose implants and facelifts have long outgrown their warranties and against whom Hollywood and Madison Avenue have turned a cold shoulder and closed the door of opportunity with a proverbial "Old Ladies Need Not Apply." And for what reason are they ignored and put down? They are old and getting older by the day. A man ages gracefully, the specks of gray hair and leather like skin are held out as assets to which younger women are attracted. Age is equated with maturity, sophistication, and, most important, money. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the one attribute that a women has to snare a man, her beauty, depreciates once she turns 40 like an ice cube in the hot August sun. While Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, and just about any male actor continues to be hired, the same cannot be said of their female counterparts. Kathleen Turner may be the modern equivalent of Norma Desmond, except she is not dumb enough to believe otherwise.
The social ostracization will continue forever. While racial prejudice could be alleviated through economic progress and integration, the problem for older woman is that they are confronted with a force far more powerful: vanity. As long as our society treasures youth as the ultimate symbol of female beauty, the aging woman whose face is dropping to her shoulders and whose bottom resembles dried up flour, life will continue to be ever more miserable.
Of course there is a solution. Unlike Norma Desmond, refuse to play the game. I really think that a plain Jane has the advantage in the long run. South Florida is overpopulated with young twentysomethings for whom physical beauty is a measure of their self worth. And I include not only strippers and models but professionals as well. You seem them everywhere. You can also simultaneously see them twenty five years later. Go to Aventura Mall or Coral Gables on a Saturday night. The aging hotties try gamely to reach back and grab a piece of yesterday despite their made up faces and plastic filled bodies. It must be tragic indeed to look at the younger women in their midst who are competing for the affection of the same men they are and knowing, like some 20 handicapper teeing it up against Tiger Woods, they don't stand a chance. But if a woman was not born with the necessary social graces or beauty to enter the race to begin with, she is in the long run better off . She will have achieved a degree of contentment by the acquisition of a skill that will grow in value as she grows old with it. Not yielding to the temptations of vanity in one's twenties and instead pursuing a less ephemeral goal in life will yield a degree of happiness and solace in one's forties and beyond that her superficial sisters will never experience. In the long run, men get old too. They may go through their fifties popping Viagra and able to feel no different than they did in their twenties but the dark horizon is not far off. That arm candy will be replaced by a colostomy bag sooner than they think and a woman half a man's age is not going to stick around for very long when the highlight of the evening is not wetting the bed. The old geezer will forever regret dumping wife number one.
To every Norma Desmond in the world, I say do not look back but look ahead. Invest not in your body but in your mind. Make your own rules and don't play by those under which you cannot ever win.


I bought the Criterion Collection's latest offering "The Golden Age of Television" this week after reading Terry Teachout's excellent review of it in the Wall Street Journal. I cannot agree more with him that Marty is the most substantive 53 minutes of television acting you will probably ever see. The show centers around Marty, a 36 year old butcher, played by Rod Steiger, who lives in New York City with his elderly mother in the early 50's. He is plain, honest, and to others, boring. His relatives and friends pester him because he is still single. But he is an extremely shy and awkward social specimen for whom approaching women is potentially destructive to his ego, or what little of it he still has. He eventually meets a woman, Nancy Marchand of Sopranos fame, who is a mirror image of him, inside and outside. Despite the hurtful insults of his friends and family, Marty is determined to make her his wife. The show ends with Marty defiantly standing up to his so called friends and proudly announcing that he will one day marry her.
What makes the show a gem is its portrayal of the psychological toll that emotional loneliness and rejection take on the lives of people who are not socially equipped to play the dating/mating game of life. Think of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" writ large on the TV screen in grimy black and white. Not a pretty picture. Humans have a natural need for companionship. The pursuit of love and affection is a two sided coin. The rewards are as egotistically gratifying as are the pitfalls potentially ruinous. Think how it feels to date the most beautiful woman in high school or college. You feel like a million bucks and all of your friends and enemies look upon you with envy. Now imagine desperately wanting a girlfriend and then summoning up the courage to ask her out on a date only to be told "NO." And then having it repeated ad nauseum over the years. Or being a female frumpkin and sitting around a dance hall for two hours while other more seemingly glamorous people look upon you as outcast and even mock you. The effects of this conduct can cause permanent damage to even the strongest person's psyche. What makes the phenomena even worse is that men mask it by pretending it does not exist. Thus they adopt a veneer of "toughness" and cruel humor lest their friends think that they are affected by it all. The scene where Marty calls a woman he met two weeks ago and asks her for a date is like a knife going through one's heart. You can eerily sense that he is putting his manhood and ego on the line by asking her for a date. With each word, the risks are enhanced as his pride gets closer to the edge only to be denied once again. Another poignant scene: Marty takes his new friend home after a dance. He tries to kiss her and it appears that he is getting a bit physical. But it is clearly not malicious. He just has no clue how to act. He has listened to so many other men's exaggerated and made up tales of female conquest that he probably thinks that this is how men are supposed to behave. But in the end, his real self emerges. It is one of those movies that makes you feel good and might make you think twice before ever commenting about someone's else's lack of social grace.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I remember growing up in the early 60's. Catholic and blue collar. Christmas was always the best time of the year. A lot of presents under the tree and plenty of food. Ever since I was 7 or 8, every Christmas morning a nagging feeling of guilt or curiosity overcame me. I guess it happened when I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I always wondered what it would be like to be really poor and wake up with no presents. Especially while everyone else was celebrating. Now my own kids are older. My ex wife got smart and unloaded me a long time ago. So now I spend Christmas by myself in my office and get work done. Tonight I will watch Sunset Boulevard as I do every year, drink a bottle of wine or two, and sleep on my couch. Tomorrow, I will hide in my office, try to work, and listen to Mannheim Steamroller and think back to 1962, when it was cold outside, and I got a sled under the tree and a toy machine gun and cartridge belt. For the next week I killed more Germans than Patton and Zhukov combined. We went to church and my grandparents came over. We ate a big dinner and life just seemed a lot better than it is now. Merry Christmans to all!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Are The Clerk's Filing Fees Unconstitutional?

The clerk of court raised the filing fees for foreclosures based on the amount of the mortgage being sued upon. I think this action violates the Florida constitution. The only way they can be justified is as a user fee. That means there has to be some relationship between the fee charged and service provided. Thus, if you want to use a municipal golf course, you pay a fee. Ditto for the Florida Turnpike, marriage certificates, etc. Governments are given a wide latitude in setting the price for such services and court will rarely quibble with the amounts. But I find the schedule of filing fees for foreclosures to be a different matter. There is absolutely no distinction for filing purposes between a residential mortgage of $100,000.0 and one for $800,00.00. Zilch. None. The procedure is exactly the same and the cost to the clerk is the same. But the clerk charges $1900 for a foreclosure where the mortgage is greater than $200,000.00 and only $401.00 if it is less than $50,000.00. On the other hand if you file a complicated case in circuit court that will take up five files and go on for five years, you pay $401.00. A bread and butter foreclosure that will take four court appearances and a sale date will cost $1900.00. I am surprised an institutional lender has not challenged these fees as a user fee without any rational relationship between the amount charged and service provided. The clerk has simply seen an opportunity to increase revenue by capitalizing on the rise in foreclosures by hitting the banks with what is a tax aimed not to cover additional costs but to raise revenue. I also think these fees are an attempt to dissuade banks from filing foreclosures and work them out in some other way. Regardless, that is not the function of the clerk. Imagine the reaction among the bar if the clerk decided to raise fees for, say, civil rights actions or med mal cases. There would be a suit filed very quickly. But since the nefarious banks are the ones taking it on the chin, no one notices.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Billy Wilder was one of the greatest film directors ever. He had an insight into the American mind that produced some memorable movies. I spent the last three nights watching Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment (a forerunner of Mad Men), and The Fortune Cookie. I did not watch Sunset Boulevard as I save my annual viewing of that movie for Christmas Eve. What made Wilder a fascinating figure was his heritage. A German Jew who emigrated to Paris in the early 1930's from Hitler’s Germany and then to America a few years later before WWII, he arrived here not able to speak a word of English. His first big hit was Double Indemnity in 1944. But what set him apart was his uncanny sense of America as told from the dark side. The film noir genre was popular in the late 40's and into the 50's. It put a heavy emphasis on cynicism and reminded audiences that human beings are by and large not necessarily nice people. I always liked the femme fatale, whether she be Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice or Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy. The American male had to realize that beneath the veneer of domestic bliss, his lovely wife waiting at home at night was just as likely thinking about putting a dagger in his back as she was mixing him a high ball. But what set Wilder apart was his ability to mix tears and laughter. Anyone watching The Apartment or The Fortune Cookie cannot help but feel sorry for the women who end up miserable and taken advantage of. I have watched Some Like It Hot about ten times and between all the laughs always end of crying inside over the way Sugar is mistreated as a sexy bimbo. Ditto with Judi West in The Fortune Cookie. Monroe’s role was a fitting metaphor for her life. Wilder took a slice of the American psyche and weaved a tale of tragicomedy that seemed to reflect something about human nature that was larger than the lives of his characters. The focus was never grand or sweeping: it was the small stuff that made it intriguing. Whether a shyster PI lawyer in The Fortune Cookie, or philandering advertising executives in The Apartment, or a conniving wife in Double Indemnity, there were never overriding social or political issues. Human beings and their inherent moral weaknesses were the focal point of the films. What I could never understand was how a foreigner could so quickly assimilate into our society and acquire such a keen appreciation of American life. His talent was not in understanding the Hollywood hotshots he probably knew best but the mind of average Americans with whom he most likely had very little contact. So here is a salute to Billy Wilder. If you have spare time on your hands for the rest of this year and your wife/kids/girlfriend are not pestering you, go Wild(er).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Dangers of Women

I was perusing some old books yesterday and came upon this classic essay by H.L. Mencken about the most dangerous and ill fated venture that men undertake: the pursuit of women. It reminds me of an old French saying: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose or the more things change the more they remain the same. To every man who has made a complete fool of himself at the altar of love, here is the complete Mencken quote:
The Incomparable Buzzsaw
The chief (and perhaps the only genuine) charm of women is seldom mentioned by the orthodox professors of the sex. I refer to the charm that lies in the dangers they present. The allurement that they hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence enormously fascinating. To the average man, doomed to some banal and sordid drudgery all his life long, they offer the only grand hazard that he ever encounters. Take them away and his existence would be as flat and secure as that of a milch-cow. Even to the unusual man, the adventurous man, the imaginative and romantic man, they offer the adventure of adventures. Civilization tends to dilute and cheapen all other hazards. War itself, once an enterprise stupendously thrilling, has been reduced to mere caution and calculation; already, indeed, it employs as many press-agents, letter-openers, and chautauqua orators as soldiers. On some not distant to-morrow its salient personality may be Potash, and if not Potash, then Perlmutter. But the duel of sex continues to be fought in the Berserker manner. Whoso approaches women still faces the immemorial dangers. Civilization has not made them a bit more safe than they were in Solomon's time; they are still inordinately barbarous and menacing, and hence inordinately provocative, and hence inordinately charming and romantic. . . .
The most disgusting cad in the world is the man who, on grounds of decorum and morality, avoids the game of love. He is one who puts his own ease and security above the most laudable of philanthropies. \ Women have a hard time of it in this world. They are oppressed by man-made laws, man-made social customs, masculine egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority. Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always possible to enslave and torture a man. This feeling is fostered when one makes love to them. One need not be a great beau, a seductive catch, to do it effectively. Any man is better than none. No woman is ever offended by admiration. The wife of a millionaire notes the reverent glance of a head-waiter. To withhold that devotion, to shrink poltroonishly from giving so much happiness at such small expense, to evade the business on the ground that it has hazards—this is the act of a puling and tacky fellow.

Weekend Sports Edition: Tiger Woods And Double Standards

Tiger Woods cheated on his wife multiple times. These affairs were not ones of the heart. Apparently, he was a serial womanizer with a rapacious appetite for casual sex. He is not the first professional athlete to be so afflicted and he certainly will not be the last. He will recover from this scandal and win more tournaments whether or not he gets divorced. But let us delve deeper into the sociological aspects of this story. We know what the public reaction is to Tiger's transgressions. But suppose Tiger's wife had engaged in the same conduct he did? In other words, imagine the reaction if Tiger had woken up at 2 30 am to discover that his wife had been carrying on an affair with some young buck while he was playing golf for the past few years. And then once the story became public, a slew of similarly situated men surfaced to tell their tale of having had casual sex with his wife, each story seemingly more salacious than the other. She would have been roundly denounced as a slut, a whore, and run out of this country, unable to show her face in public. Tiger would have been the object of everyone's sympathy. If you are a man, ask yourself this question: If you found out your wife had had sex with over 100 men in the past three years, including threesomes while you were at work, would you stay with her? Of course not. But when a man engages in that conduct, we roll our eyes, laugh, and wonder about how it will affect his ability to make money. Amazing.