Why does anyone still care about Tiger Woods?

Still going strong, at least in terms of ratings. (AP – Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Years ago I was assigned to review a little book about Tiger Woods. At the time Woods was the best golfer in the world and in the running for being considered the greatest of all time. His father spoke of him, without irony, as having been sent by God and as potentially being the most important human ever. Not, as the author of the book noted, “the most important golfer or the most important athlete, but the most important human.” As in, bigger than Jesus.

Woods was young and good-looking and multi-racial and seemed on his way to overturning a lot of the old stereotypes of professional golfers as wealthy white retirees while he was re-writing the record books. But that was all a long time ago. Since then Woods survived a messy divorce, the disintegration of his body (he just recently had his fifth back surgery), and a car crash that fractured his leg. His game, as you might expect, has suffered. But for his surprise victory in the 2019 Masters he hasn’t been great for nearly a decade.

None of this is very surprising. Top athletes usually only stay at the top of their sport for about a decade. Golf is a little more forgiving than professional football, but no one beats Father Time. This makes it all the more surprising to me that whenever Tiger Woods picks up a golf club he is still treated as front-page news.

This weekend was the 86th Masters Tournament and Woods got off to a good start. Which meant that he was the top story not only for sports channels but even for news programming. A writer for USA Today called the story of Woods’s “transcendent game” “much more than a sports headline.” On CNN the Breaking News followed up events in Ukraine with Tiger’s miraculous comeback.

As it turned out, Woods crashed at the Masters, quickly falling out of contention with some disastrous rounds that ranked as his worst ever at the Masters. But that seems not to have diminished him as a draw, with commentators insisting that his performance was must-see viewing.

I can understand some of this, since everyone likes a comeback story and Woods overcoming his long list of injuries is inspiring. But lots of older athletes have had to do the same. The continuing attention given to everything Woods does, so long after his becoming just another golfer, doesn’t make sense to me. Why, on broadcasts of these events, are they even still following him?

The reason this disturbs me is that professional athletics is one of the few public spectacles where you can still count on achievement and ability trumping mere celebrity. It doesn’t matter how famous you are or how much money you make from endorsements if you can’t run faster or jump higher or hit harder than the competition. For years now, however, Tiger Woods has put a lie to that. He is without question the world’s most famous golfer, but is far removed from being the best. And yet the media continue to build him up, with their coverage making him the main focus of interest.

I don’t follow golf, but I am a sports fan. And as a sports fan I feel the same sense of despair at this as when MMA fighter Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather, a publicity stunt that had the second-highest pay-per-view buy rate in boxing history. If this is the future of sport — and Mayweather’s next fight was against YouTuber Logan Paul, which also did over a million buys — where achievement means nothing and we’re just paying to watch famous people perform (and not always perform well) then what’s the point? We might as well be watching Dancing with the Stars.

A conversation on American politics

I only recently heard the sad news of the death of the visual artist Tom Moody, a frequent commenter on my blog here and at Alex on Film. I never met Tom, but we had some great discussions online and I always appreciated getting his unique point of view. We can have a real connection and attachment to people we only interact with online, something that Tom’s death brought home to me.

The last set of posts Tom put up on his blog were responses to things I had written, which he put in the form of a dialogue. Since I don’t know how much longer that material will be kept up, I thought I’d repost a bit of those conversations here with some light editing.

Alex Good (from my review of Michael Sandel’s The Tyranny of Merit): Sandel and [David] Brooks are right in seeing in the myth of meritocracy a mighty engine for the generation of mass resentment. Meritocratic hubris leads to smug self-congratulation among the fortunate and anger among the left behind. “There is reason to think,” Sandel opines, “that popular antipathy toward meritocratic elites played a part in Trump’s election, and in the surprising vote in Britain, earlier that year, to leave the European Union.” People were confused at Trump’s railing against elites when he was himself, at least by his own reporting, a billionaire. But Trump, unlike Hillary Clinton, didn’t talk about merit. He talked about winners and losers. And what Trump’s supporters recognized was that Trump was actually a giant loser: a serial bankrupt, serial divorced male, clinically obese, deeply ashamed of being bald, and acting out his various insecurities in giant rages on the most public of stages. His favourite word with which to tag anyone he hated was “loser.” This, like everything else about him, was pure projection. That loser rage, however, struck a mass chord. His anger – and he was anger incarnate – was a kind of therapy. His fear of being laughed at and humiliated was something everyone suffering from a loss of social esteem could relate to.

Tom Moody: This is an interesting take on Trump but omits his smart mouth that appealed to many Americans. Trump heckled loser Jeb about his sainted mother — who was actually a battle-ax and mediocre dynasty-builder, much kidded by Dems in the Bush years for talking about her “beautiful mind” that would not be cluttered with Iraq war details. While Jeb was waxing sentimental about her during the Republican debates Trump wisecracked that “she should be running” (as a candidate herself, annoying the clearly-not-ready-for-prime-time Jeb).

Calling Bush Jr.’s Iraq war a mistake based on lies, on the national debate stage, is something the media would expect from a Jesse Ventura or Mike Gravel or Ron Paul but here it was being voiced by a juggernaut candidate on his way to the presidency (though no one knew that yet). The US public wasn’t just thrilled to hear the Iraq truth spoken aloud because they identified with Trump as a “fellow loser,” as Alex Good suggests, but rather because it was true and no establishment debater or media figure up to then had the courage to speak it. Later, as President, Trump wanted to know what could possibly justify the U.S. presence in Syria post-ISIS. (Fighting a dirty war on behalf of some sleazy U.S. “allies”? Or was it the instantly-manufactured defense of “the Kurds! the Kurds!”? it depended on the politics of who answered.) Eventually Trump’s handlers reeled him back in and he made his laughable claim that the US was there to “protect the oil” (that is, Syrian oil in the ground coveted by other countries).

If Bush Jr were still president, the “left” would have applauded all these “outrageous” Trump statements. With the onset of Trump Derangement Syndrome in 2016 (a term borrowed from Bush Jr.), the antiwar faction immediately discounted Trump’s few sensible/courageous statements simply because he was Orange Hitler. The MAGA crowd was paying attention, though, including many families of maimed veterans, and appreciated hearing those occasional, inconsistent truth bombs from the mouth of their chosen “loser.” If you want to understand the election, understand that at least — it wasn’t all about bullying and “racism.” It was straight talk people forgotten could be spoken.

Tom Moody: One thought on why the US succeeded postwar and began failing after Reagan’s election. It was actually due in part to a system the US Republicans would say was the opposite of merit: the US Civil Service.

In order to execute the New Deal programs you needed a dedicated, mostly not corrupt caste of worker bees. These people weren’t paid super-well but had good pensions and benefits.

The US Republicans spread the propaganda meme of “lazy government workers” in order to justify dismantling and privatization of Civil Service positions, carnage that is still ongoing. As government gets noticeably less competent, this justifies further cuts.

Alex Good: Agree completely. What the Republicans stand for more than anything today is hatred of the government. The more old-school “conservatives” will describe this as “limited government” but what it really amounts to is what Sarah Kendzior refers to as stripping the state down and selling it off as spare parts/scrap. Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk is a popular take on this, but it’s really everywhere. Big Government is now so evil that it can’t even be trusted to handle things like rolling out a vaccine. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of tearing down the government has always been there (Grover Nyquist’s line about shrinking government to the point where it can be drowned in the bathtub), but it’s been taken to a new level, and new seriousness, with the program of people like Bannon, who talk explicitly and enthusiastically about destroying the state.

My own theory here is that the Republicans are basically looking at what happened to post-Soviet Russia as a model to be followed. Single-party rule, one state-owned media outlet, and control of the economy by a group of oligarchs who represent a government-business partnership. It’s not far removed from China either. It’s something that a lot of the old Cold Warriors seem to be missing. These guys aren’t the commies any longer, with a godless, evil system that’s a rival of or threat to capitalism. They have a better system of capitalism that America’s oligarchs want to emulate.

Tom Moody: Post-Soviet Russia had a lot of interference from Milton Friedman types in the US. That stopped under Putin and Russia seems to be evolving its own hybrid system. China has a better safety net than the US and actively funds its rural areas under Xi. Both countries are autocratic but seem to be run by a government as opposed to a handful of private corporations and CEOs.

I mentioned the US Civil Service in response to Michael Sandel’s statement “Over the past four decades, meritocratic elites have not governed very well. The elites who governed the United States from 1940 to 1980 were far more successful.” The 1940-1980 elites created the social programs but left them for non-elites to run. I haven’t read Sandel’s book so I don’t know if he makes that distinction.

Alex Good: The private sector in Russia and China is very much subordinate to the government. But I think that’s actually the system that the right wants in the U.S. because it’s not a communist or socialist government but one where a bunch of rich families and oligarchs own everything, whether they’re members of the (only) party or friends of people who are. Putin is reportedly the richest man in the world for being czar of what is not a wealthy country. What politician wouldn’t want a slice of that? Think of how much money can be made from dismantling the American state.

I think the endgame the Republicans, or Western elites more generally, seem to be aiming for is something very similar to these formerly communist countries: control the media, get rid of democracy and replace it with one-party rule by a class of oligarchs who control the government, and then work together with the private sector to enrich themselves.

Tom Moody: Trump and Bannon (I know we don’t agree on this) are bugbears for the real villains: the “liberals” that internalized Chicago School talking points about budget-balancing and the free market. There is almost no space between Bill Clinton and Paul Ryan on the issue of so-called entitlements. They think social spending threatens to drain the country and they don’t care at all about the cost of military spending. (There is actually a video somewhere of Clinton and Ryan having a tête-à-tête backstage at some event, where Clinton is assuring Ryan that on the “next vote” — whatever that was — they would have support for the cuts Ryan wanted.) Of course the right believes in “markets” but the Dems have actually been able to turn this ideology into policy. I would say on the “need” to cut Social Security and Medicare, Clinton, Obama, and the hated Trump are in near-complete agreement. Biden currently has an appointee inside Medicare (Elizabeth Fowler) who is working to privatize the system as much as possible.

Alex Good: I’d agree with that, but what I think the Trump phenomenon revealed to the Republicans (and elites more generally) was that they could go a step further. For example, as bad as Clinton and the neoliberal Dems were (and are) I don’t think they believe in getting rid of democracy entirely and turning the U.S. into an authoritarian state run by the Party, with all other parties being deemed illegitimate. After Trump I think the Republicans saw that this was possible and it’s what they’re working toward. As for Trump himself, I don’t think he has any political ideology at all, or goals beyond using the office to get attention, make money, and stay out of jail. But he’s been useful for pushing things along in this direction faster and further than anyone thought possible. Or at least that I thought possible.

Tom Moody: The Republicans (Trumpist and otherwise) and Democrats all benefit from the appearance of a working two-party system as cover for the orgy of looting by the oligarchs (tech, Wall Street, Pharma, etc) who back both parties. Trump’s flaw was “he gave the game away” with his flaky outspokenness (Iraq was a mistake, we’re in Syria for the oil, CNN is fake news — the latter of which is certainly true, as evident from their “Russian aggression” narratives concerning Ukraine). All those truth bombs meant Trump had to go — hence the Russiagate propaganda blitz and weak cases for impeachment.

Hitler/Trump comparisons never persuaded me — Hitler was a fanatic and control freak; Trump likes his golf and luxury. The MAGA hat rallies apparently scare people outside the US. These are conservative people who fear change and Modernity (not without reason) — there may be brownshirts at the rallies but it’s mostly about solidarity among the working class and rural population.

Alex Good: Yes, Trump is no Hitler. As one historian pointed out a couple of years back (I can’t remember his name), Trump is what the German conservatives wanted Hitler to be: a demagogue buffoon who would get people to vote for him but who would have no interest in actually governing. Instead he (Hitler) turned out to be something more dangerous. Trump, on the other hand, really is a moron just trotted out to play to the rubes, with no political platform at all. The tax cuts and stacking the judiciary were things he didn’t understand or care about, though he’d brag about them all the same. That was all Ryan and McConnell.

I agree that fear of change is a big part of his appeal, especially among older voters. I think we have a difference of opinion on Russia. As far as I can tell Trump’s only real business for the last twenty years or so has been money laundering for Russians. I actually thought he did enough to get impeached the first time, and the second time should have been a slam dunk. The Ukraine phone call really was a hundred times worse than Watergate.

Tom Moody: I don’t think Trump was trotted out — I think he trotted himself out in a wild-card year of working class rebellions. We started 2016 with the depressing news that the media had decided the election was going to be Jeb vs Hillary — two utterly mediocre dynasties — and ended 2016 with the certainty that both those fools were gone from the world stage. I found this uplifting but by that point most of nt friends were far gone into Trump Derangement Syndrome and couldn’t share my joy.

The news outside the CNN bubble is the world is realigning to a tri-polar situation after 30 years of US control. If de-dollarization continues the US will have to act less like The Hegemon bully to other countries and will have to get its own house in order. Riots, COVID, woke destruction of standards, offshoring, etc.

Alex Good: I agree with you that Trump wasn’t initially trotted out. He was seen as a party crasher. I think Republicans hated him from the start, and from all the reporting I’ve read they still do. Even the ones who kiss his ass the most.

But despite that hate they find him a useful idiot for the reasons I mentioned: he fires up the base and has no interest whatsoever in actually governing, giving the party establishment a free hand to do pretty much whatever they want. Some may grumble about trade wars and the rest, but when push comes to shove — and that was the tax cut bill — they drew a hard line in the sand. The donors were insisting on that. And after tax cuts and stacking the judiciary there really wasn’t much else on the agenda. The Republicans are a party without a platform. Building a wall, infrastructure, a big beautiful new healthcare bill . . . these were things they didn’t even attempt. It got to the point where they finally didn’t even bother publishing a platform for Trump’s second nomination. I don’t think so much because they were just deferring to “whatever Trump says” as that they didn’t have much they really wanted.

Ah, we do part ways on Russia. I am not in the NeoCon camp and think Russia had plenty of legitimate grievances with NATO expansion etc. Nor do I think Trump is a Manchurian candidate figure. I do, however, think Putin thinks of him as (again) a useful idiot to have in the White House (he publicly stated he wanted Trump to win), and I don’t think there’s any denying that Russia did intervene in the election to help Trump. I don’t know how big a part that played in the election (Clinton was probably the very worst candidate the Dems could have put forward), but it was an issue. I’m disturbed by writing off the connections that were made as a hoax or a fraud. The two sides were meeting. They were working together. They were trying to keep it secret. We don’t know how much of it they did keep secret.

Boyhood crush revealed!

The wreck of the Endurance has been discovered 3000 meters beneath the Weddell Sea.

The story of the doomed Endurance expedition, headed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, is considered (at least by Wikipedia) “to be the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.” As it turned out, Shackleton never even set foot on the continent. The Endurance got stuck in and then crushed by ice, leading to heroic efforts made by the crew to survive.

Arctic and Antarctic exploration has always fascinated me. I remember reading every book there was about these expeditions when I was a kid. It was big news for me when the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror were found in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Because of where they sank, these wrecks are in remarkably good condition today. The pictures are amazing and only add to the romance.

Blowing bubbles

(Getty Images – Anatolii Stepanov)

On February 24 Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. This was a mistake, but an even greater crime. According to the judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Few events in recent times have had such moral clarity, and the invasion has been met with near-universal condemnation.

Intelligence leading up the outbreak of war was good and (a bit surprisingly) much of it was made public. Still, when the invasion came it took many people by surprise. I think mainly because it seemed to make no sense. It was often repeated by the talking heads and experts featured in various media that the only person who knew what was going on was Russian president Vladimir Putin, who seemed to be behaving erratically as of late.

This isn’t hard to understand. With all our talk of privilege — white, male, or whatever — the master privilege of those who are wealthy and powerful has always been the ability to create and live within their own alternate realities. These bubbles are never impermeable. Illness, in particular, has a way of breaking in, like the Red Death crashing Prince Prospero’s party. But while the bubble lasts, and they can last up until the end, they’re both a nice place to visit and to live.

A bubble’s biggest weakness, however, is the denial of reality that is their whole reason for being. Within the court of Prince Prospero, nary will be heard a discouraging word. The wealthy and powerful, surrounded by courtiers, yes-men, flunkies, and flatterers, come to believe not only that all their jokes are funny but that they have an invincible destiny.

I wrote about the effect this can have in my review of Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir What Happened. Clinton should not have run for president in 2016 but by that point ClintonWorld, as it had come to be known, was a bubble swollen to bursting. Critics and detractors had been weeded out of an inner circle where, in her words, loyalty was “prized most among human traits.” Trump, in turn, was no different, prizing loyalty just as highly and making sure that everyone around him was an obsequious toady. And while today his bubble has shrunk to Mar-a-Lago and fringe news outlets, it is still being maintained.

Another example of the bubble phenomenon, bearing perhaps even more directly on the Ukraine invasion, was Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa. The German high command wanted nothing to do with the folly of launching a war against Russia, but by that point Hitler was in such control and had been proven right so often that no one dared speak out against his decision.

It’s quite natural to want to shape reality to one’s own desires and push contradiction (or “negativity”) to the side. Natural, but dangerous. Of course, you may still get away with it. It’s been often remarked, for example, how J. K. Rowling badly needed an editor on the final Harry Potter books, someone to tell her that things were going wrong, but who would have done that? And why? By that point nothing was going to hurt her sales anyway.

I’ve heard it said that Warren Buffett has an advisor on the payroll whose only job is to argue against every decision he makes. He has to do this because he knows that otherwise nobody would speak out against him. I think this shows how smart a guy Buffett is.

My own hunch is that Putin fell into this same trap. Russia has no opposition party or critical press. Putin enjoys unchallenged political power and enormous wealth. Watching his televised meeting with his security council in his throne room I was reminded of when Trump made everyone in his cabinet humiliate themselves by going around the table and forcing them to debase themselves before their Dear Leader. The difference being that Putin has even more control over his bubble, and his flunkies were almost fainting in terror. Trump was only ever a wannabe dictator, not on that level at all.

A piece in Slate by Ben Judah fleshed out some of my thoughts on how this works, describing Russia today in political-science terms as a “personalist dictatorship, where the whims of one man, and one man only, determine policy”:

Americans tend to see the world in much the same way as President Joe Biden frames it in his speeches, divided neatly between “democracies” and “autocracies.” But the reality is that authoritarian states exist on a political spectrum depending on how much power is exercised by a single individual—and where states land on this spectrum has a big impact on matters of war and peace. At one end, you have civilian-run regimes, like Hu Jintao’s China or Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, where political power is checked and shared within a ruling party. At the other, you have personalist dictatorships like that of, say, Saddam Hussein, where rivals are purged, loyalists are rewarded, cults of personality flourish, and all authority runs through the glorious leader.

As Judah goes on to observe, “A key reason that many wise foreign policy hands thought Russia was bluffing about an invasion was that they assumed Putin wasn’t making his decisions alone. . . . But the world is now realizing that the Putin regime is really just Vladimir Putin. And he is apparently no longer worried about what war will mean for Russia’s rich, much less its masses.”

I don’t think this is all that’s going on, but I do think that a big part of why Putin invaded Ukraine is that there was nobody left within his bubble to tell him that it was a stupid idea. There’s a line about celebrities going bad when they start believing their own press. For politicians it’s changed to believing their own propaganda. It comes to the same thing. Living in a bubble must be great most of the time, but you have to be conscious of the fact that none of it is real. If you imagine that it is then you may be heading for a fall.

End of the road?

(Bloomberg – David Kawai)

Well, it looks like the Freedom Convoy is over now. They’re just clearing the last of it away. What, if anything, did it all mean?

(1) It was great political theatre. This was a story that got major media play not just in Canada but in the U.S. and Europe too. I can’t think of the last time that happened with a Canadian news story.

(2) It didn’t make a lot of sense. Indeed, I said when it started that it was born of a certain lack of seriousness. The ostensible point was to protest vaccine mandates which required Canadian truckers to show proof of vaccination to enter back into Canada from the U.S. Without such proof they were required to quarantine for two weeks. Since they already had to show proof of vaccination to enter the U.S. from Canada this seemed like reciprocity. Also, apparently 85% of truckers were vaccinated. But then they were against all vaccine mandates (passports) and perhaps even more against Justin Trudeau. And it’s still an open question as to how many of the protesters were even truckers.

(3) If they’d stuck to just having a quick demonstration I think they could have called it a huge success. But they kept hanging around in Ottawa and Windsor, with no clear idea what for, and that started to irritate people. Rule for protests: Don’t be too annoying! Though given how Ottawa is a Liberal stronghold they probably figured they had nothing to lose there.

(4) As it is, the whole thing might still be considered a success by those involved in that it provoked the government into an overreaction with their invoking the Emergencies Act to clamp down. I don’t think this was necessary, and the business of going after funding, most of which was domestic, strikes me as particularly problematic. This was not “Canada’s January 6,” or anything even close, though both sides were certainly channeling the energy and iconography from that event.

(5) That said, it might also have been successful in firing up an American-style culture war, one that had both sides calling the other Nazis. (An aside: Will we ever be free of this tired and misleading rhetoric? The threat of authoritarianism in our time isn’t Nazism, or Communism, but something new.) Who gains the most from this polarization? The results will probably take a while to tally, but I’m inclined to think Trudeau was one of the losers, as he came across as both weak and sanctimonious, qualities that have become his most readily distinguishable and least admirable trademarks. On the other hand, the convoy was pushing the Conservatives further than I think many of them wanted to go. What began as farce might still end as tragedy.

The football news

Terry Bradshaw. Love me, love me, say that you love me.

The days leading up to the Super Bowl (this would be LVI) haven’t been full of good news for the National Football League. In particular, a lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins Brian Flores coach alleged all sorts of misconduct by various teams. But it was a couple of other NFL-related news stories that caught my eye this past week.

The first story had to do with a documentary on the Tuck Rule, a controversial call made in a playoff game in 2001 involving the now newly-retired quarterback Tom Brady. Jay Busbee, writing for Yahoo Sports, introduces us to it:

Farewell, Tom Brady the football player. Hello, Tom Brady the Image Builder.

This weekend, ESPN will debut “The Tuck Rule,” a “documentary” in the sense that it’s a series of real people discussing, dissecting and squabbling over a real historical event — the fateful play in a 2001 season AFC divisional round game between the New England Patriots and then-Oakland Raiders.

In a more accurate sense, though, “The Tuck Rule” is the first step in the construction of the post-NFL Tom Brady. Co-produced by 199 Productions — which just happens to be the production company of one Tom Brady — it’s a carefully curated version of the truth, one that just happens to break Brady’s way at every turn.

Busbee is right to be suspicious. What’s happening here is something I’ve written about several times before, most recently with regard to the dust-up over tennis star Naomi Osaka’s picking and choosing what media she would do. Osaka was lionized in the press, but I had my doubts about the way she was being allowed to play the reporters whose job it was to cover the story:

I want to express my concern at the way a widespread anger at and distrust of the media has become cover for those in positions of wealth and power who want to take control of the way they’re presented. To ask the obvious question: Who wouldn’t “much rather tell their own stories than let reporters do it for them”? How brave is Osaka in ditching press conferences for social media platforms where, as Jones puts it, “she can control the conversation without risk to herself”?

Everyone wants that kind of control. But who has that privilege? Only the most powerful. Billionaires. Those with “massive social-media followings.” Celebrities who own their own media companies.

Celebrities who own their own media companies. Would that be Tom Brady? Why, yes it would. And to these alternative-reality bubble-blowers we might add celebrities with leverage over mainstream media companies. Like Michael Jordan, who was given editorial control over the 10-part ESPN documentary The Last Dance, which wasn’t exactly a warts-and-all portrait of the superstar basketball player. Or we might think of LeBron James, whose Space Jam 2: A New Legacy was nothing if not an exercise in personal-corporate branding. These athletes are immensely talented in their field, but also smart enough to know how much money can be made as a brand. They are Image Builders, in Busbee’s phrase.

I wrote about this in a post several years ago that I’ve since updated a few times. But it’s worth repeating: a celebrity, or really any individual in a position of wealth and power, will manage their public profile very carefully. Which means that representations of these people, whether in the form of interviews, documentaries, official/authorized biographies, or anything else like that, are pretty much worthless. They are only advertisements for a brand.

Of course the chief reason they do this is to make money. But it’s not all about the money. This was brought home to me in the second bit of NFL news I wanted to talk about. In an interview for ESPN former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback and long-time Fox Sports commentator Terry Bradshaw was asked about any regrets he might have looking back on his career. His response was surprising:

“If there’s one thing in my life I do wish I had . . . I wish I was loved and respected. . . . And I understand, I know I don’t deserve this, I just wish I had it. Like [Tom] Brady, and like Peyton [Manning], Roger Staubach . . . ”

At least it was surprising for a moment. But then I thought of Brett Favre, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers who left that team under something of a cloud, apparently because he didn’t like the fact that the organization was moving on without him (his successor would find himself in a similar position a decade later). It was even reported that Favre might have talked to the manager of an opposing team to give them some inside scoop on the Packers out of spite. It’s hard to tell if this was really what was going on, but it sounded right. I mean, in more recent NFL news the quarterback Tom Brady retired and made a lengthy statement that didn’t even mention the team he’d played on for twenty years and that he only left at the end of his career in order to make another Super Bowl run.

It would be easy to write Favre and Brady off as just a pair of divas. But as Bradshaw’s interview suggests I think it goes deeper than that. All three of these quarterbacks were idolized not just in their home markets but nationwide. They achieved the most that anyone could achieve in their sport: Super Bowl rings and entry into the Hall of Fame (not yet for Brady, but a foregone conclusion for the player many consider to be the greatest of all time). They of course became fabulously rich, and in the case of Bradshaw and Favre went on to become film and television figures who could also cash in on how well liked they were. Indeed, according to Wikipedia: “Among U.S. consumers, Bradshaw remains one of pro football’s most popular retired players. As of September 2007, Bradshaw was the top-ranked former pro football player in the Davie-Brown Index (DBI), which surveys consumers to determine a celebrity’s appeal and trust levels.”

This is the guy whose greatest regret is that he wished he received more love and respect.

To have done so much, gained so much fame and recognition, to be worshipped as gods, and yet . . . to take away from it that it wasn’t enough. They wanted more. More respect. More love. They had been treated so unfairly.

In my earlier post on Osaka I mentioned how her media strategy was taken straight out of the Trump playbook: grievance used as an excuse to tightly manage and control one’s coverage. Unsurprisingly, Trump would also become a bubble blower with his own media company, the Trump Media & Technology Group. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that Favre and Brady are both big Trump supporters (and golf buddies), since Bradshaw was a critic, at least when Trump was in office. But it’s interesting to look at the psychology in play here through the lens of Mary Trump’s profile of her uncle in Too Much and Never Enough. In that book she saw Trump’s narcissism as at least partially being a way of acting out a need for love he didn’t receive from his father.

Are today’s celebrities damaged in the same way? Will too much ever be enough to satisfy their craving for more? More money, more attention, more respect, more love? And how accommodating will supposedly objective media have to become in order to placate these needs?

Isolating in style

As the super-rich continue to rake in the pandemic bucks (billionaires in the U.S. have seen their wealth grow by over 44% during the COVID-19 crisis) they have gone on a buying spree of superyachts. According to a VesselsValue report there were a record 887 superyachts sold last year, which is up 77% from 2020. One of the newest has been built for Jeff Bezos (whose wealth increased by $24 billion just in the past two years) and it’s been in the news recently because it will apparently require the temporary dismantling of a historic bridge in Rotterdam to get it out into open water.

What caught my eye reading one report about the growth of the superyacht industry was a quote from Sam Tucker (of VesselsValue) who said that the spike in sales can be attributed to “the increased need for privacy and private isolation” that superyachts provide.

Really? This is a need? Billionaires can’t safely self-isolate within their gated estates? Small armies of security details can’t ensure privacy anywhere but on a yacht? How much privacy are we talking about? How much isolation?

This sounds like camouflage for what is basically just more conspicuous consumption by the ultra-rich. As long ago as April 2020 CNN ran a story on the practicality of riding the pandemic out on a yacht:

Rumble Romagnoli, CEO of Relevance, a luxury digital marketing company headquartered in iconic yachting destination Monaco, is skeptical of the notion, pointing out that the practicalities involved make it an unfeasible choice for most.

“I think it’s a bit unrealistic to think people are going to swan off, get on board a yacht and just sit in the middle of the sea,” he says.

He also stresses that being stuck in the middle of the sea for weeks on end would prove tedious for most, even if they have lavish amenities at their disposal — “Rising Sun” has a wine cellar and a basketball court onboard.

“These billionaires and multi-millionaires don’t just stay on a yacht for two to three months. It’s not that pleasurable,” he adds.

“They fly over, get on a yacht, go to a restaurant, get off the yacht for lunch, go to a nightclub, get a helicopter somewhere else.

“It’s not like a villa. It can be quite claustrophobic.”

Also, with a full crew on board, as well as passengers, the risk of possible infection cannot be ignored.

The CNN story came out partially as a response to the Instagram post by David Geffen, where the billionaire mogul captioned a picture of his superyacht with the message “Isolated in the Grenadines.” That didn’t go down well (the post was later deleted), and it adds to my suspicion that what the billionaires really want to isolate from is bad press. But how do you quarantine from that? Can a media bubble be blown big enough to go around the world?

Tilt! Tilt!

Erin O’Toole is out as leader of the Conservative Party.

This came as a bit of a surprise, if only because I wasn’t aware they were even having a vote to remove him. In the event, 73 out of 118 MPs voted for his ouster, which is pretty emphatic.

O’Toole was not an inspiring leader, though the Conservatives did win the popular vote in the 2021 federal election (as they did in 2019). Apparently the main complaint against him was that he was too much of a centrist on issues like abortion, a carbon tax, balancing the budget, and firearms. In the way they speak of these things, this made him more of a Red than a Blue Tory.

What his removal seems to signal is a tilting of the Conservatives toward right-wing populism. Personally, I think there is some sense in dumping O’Toole if only for his lack of charisma and inability to be the party’s standard-bearer. But I don’t see how running further to the right, even if only on culture-war issues, is going to help the Tories. And if the switch was driven by an unhappiness among the grass-roots about mask mandates and cancel culture, we may be entering into a period of deeply unserious politics. This is too bad, because I think Justin Trudeau has shown himself to be a corrupt and ineffective prime minister. The country can do better, but I’m afraid better is not going to be a choice moving forward.

Pandemic lite

Rolling, rolling, rolling. (CP – David Lipnowski)

A convoy of truckers, dubbed by some the Freedom Rally, is driving to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates. Thousands of protesters and counter-protesters are expected to welcome them this weekend.

Commentators often express surprise at how the COVID-19 pandemic became so political. I think it’s been a combination of two things. In the first place, the various lockdowns have had a huge negative impact on a lot of people’s lives. As I’ve said before, the fallout from this is going to be profound, and will be felt for years.

Then there’s the problem, if I can call it that, of COVID not being deadly enough. Make no mistake: we were lucky, given the poor response countries around the world had to its outbreak, that it was so mild. If you are under the age of 65 with no underlying medical conditions the infection fatality rate is 0.5% or less. The last time I checked, two-thirds of Canada’s deaths due to COVID were of people over the age of 80. The average life expectancy of a Canadian male is 80.

But it’s because the disease itself has been so mild that people have been given license not to take it seriously and turn it into political theatre (or just plain theatre). When Trump got back from his hospital stay after contracting COVID he originally wanted to stand outside the White House and take his jacket off to reveal a Superman shirt. That’s not being serious. Boris Johnson having parties in violation of his own restrictions on such gatherings is not being serious.

But why should we be serious when COVID was no big deal? Professional athletes like Novak Djokovic and Aaron Rodgers could afford to blow off any rules and regulations on reporting their status and condition both because they’re fabulously wealthy and because even after testing positive for COVID they were still able to physically perform at the highest level.

Look, if COVID had been a particularly lethal disease none of this would be happening. Everyone would be getting vaccinated. But because the stats are what they are people don’t feel personally at risk. Sure they might get sick for a few days, but otherwise what are the consequences?

And there’s the rub. A year ago I said that one of the good things to come out of the pandemic would be what we learned from the experience. Unfortunately, that can cut both ways. We’re lucky that COVID-19 turned out to be so (relatively) harmless. It wasn’t the Black Death, the Spanish Flu of 1918, or even SARS 2003. But given how mild it was I’m afraid that the next time, and there will be a next time, when we may have to deal with something a lot more serious, our immediate response is going to be influenced by our experience with COVID-19 and our skepticism of how the government handled it. A resistance to vaccines will be dug in. This may turn out to be one of the most damaging results of the pandemic.

When condos go bad

Fascinating story reported by the CBC today about a derelict condo building in one of Toronto’s less fashionable neighbourhoods.

As much as $9 million of debt plus a rapidly deteriorating structure have caught up to York Condominium Corporation No. 82, which runs the 321-unit building in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood. And last week, an Ontario Superior Court judge cited an engineering report that found repairs needed in the 10-storey building over the next year would cost more than $14 million.

Like all condominium corporations, this one is overseen by a small group of owners elected to a board of directors. They have the power under Ontario’s Condominium Act to require all owners to pay for common expenses, no matter the price tag.

So that’s what they did.

On Sept. 2, the corporation sent letters to all owners informing them they had 15 days to pay a special assessment ranging from $30,000 to $42,500 per unit depending on its size — on top of monthly maintenance fees of about $800.

The total $11.2 million raised would be used to repay loans and chip away at a list of 70 repairs ranging from replacing plumbing to upgrading elevators to restoring the party room that’s been shuttered for the past 15 years, the letter said.

Apparently the total bill for repairs will be over $14 million. It’s a story that made me think of the collapse of the condo building in Surfside, Florida last year. It doesn’t sound like there’s any solution to a problem this large. What really shocked me though is that the resident they interviewed was paying a whopping $900 a month in condo fees to live in a “dangerous and dilapidated” building. This is insane, and highlights how poor people in bad situations can’t get ahead.

Meanwhile, residents, many of them seniors, are protesting the special assessment. But as at Surfside, this is pretty much their only option. You can blame lots of people for letting things get to this point, but they’ve made their bed and are going to have to lie, or die, in it.