Blog Archive

23 April 2010

When the zoo drops you, you know you're in trouble.

In a further sign of his sagging popularity, the Pittsburgh Zoo has replaced a graphic of Ben Roethlisberger with one of Penguin great Mario Lemieux. Also, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that he will be undergoing a battery of tests to try and figure out what is going on inside his head-

'The goal is to determine the extent to which Mr. Roethlisberger's violation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy during a night of bar-hopping in Milledgeville, Ga., was attributable to some underlying psychological, behavioral or neuropsychological disorder, and to map out a plan for intervention, psychologists say."

I'm glad the experts are on it- I just thought he was a self-absorbed asshole with a massive sense of entitlement.

22 April 2010

Zen & the Art of Youth Ice Hockey Tryouts

Spring is a season of rebirth, the beauty of plants and trees sprouting buds and leaves, woodland creatures and birds looking for mates, longer days, soft rains and sunshine- in short, I hate it. Spring for me means an event is going to occur that will trigger 96 hours of anxiety, madness, hope, elation and dreaded disappointment. It’s time once again for my son to tryout for his hockey team.

My kid is 10 and is by all accounts a very good player. He’s big and strong for his age, a good skater and has been complimented many times by his coaches for his work ethic and ability to follow instructions. He’s playing on a select team right now, sort of like an area all star team, and scored a game winning goal in Toronto a few weeks back. So, based on his ability and past performance, he should easily make his regular amateur team, right ? We will know tonight at 5 pm if he made the top team or if he has to try out again next week for the 2,3 or 4 team for his age group.

Going into tryout season, I told myself that this year was going to be different. I didn’t care what team he made, it’s all irrelevant and the main thing is that he is getting lots of exercise and having fun. “Impermanence” I kept repeating to myself over and over. I was calm, relaxed, my mind open and free…right up to the point where we were in the locker room getting ready.

“Keep your feet moving” I implored to my son, “stick on the ice, keep your head up” I mumbled, “look at the size of these kids, take it to them” I whispered so that none of the nearby parents could here. “Remember body position, use your size around the net” I continued “you’re faster than anyone in this room.” My kid looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and then said “Dad, why are you so nervous ? I’m not nervous.” With that, he went back to playing his handheld Nintendo, half his gear on, half of it strewn about with the confidence of a 10 year old version of Clint Eastwood.

“Because !” I wanted to yell, “this is serious business, this is a huge commitment in terms of time and money for this family, you need to take this seriously, the people picking the team are not your regular coaches, they don’t know you, jeez it smells in here, don’t you remember when I was your age and I got cut from a team and…..” With that, I caught myself surrounded by a thick wave of guilt. “Just do your best” I muttered and walked out of the room.

I walked up into the stands and sat down with the dozens of other neurotic hockey parents. There are 15 roster spots on the team and 34 kids are trying out. 19 kids are going to be disappointed, 19 sets of parents will be screaming and bitching that the process wasn’t fair, their kid is awesome, how could you do this to us. I could be one of the 19. You could read the body language of the parents in the stands as their kids were on the ice- twitches, winces, clapping, head in hands, smiles. Sort of like an immediate feedback loop tied to their kid's performance. I was trying to stay under control, barely, and limit my outward anxiety to a furiously bouncing knee and nervous facial tics.

Hockey parents are a different breed. I sneer at soccer practice when I hear a parent complaining about the $ 30 registration fee (wouldn’t even buy one glove) and the fact that they have to practice on Saturdays at 9 AM (try 6 AM when it’s snowing.) The season starts in August, and doesn’t really wind up until June. 3 or 4 practices a week, games, tournaments, another night, another rink- the entire family is soon walking zombies who’s lives are slaves to the hockey schedule on the fridge. Hundreds of dollars here, thousands of dollars there…pretty soon it adds up to real money. I've paid hockey bills before the car payment, before the mortgage payment, sold stuff to pay for fees in the bad times. Any rational person would look at this from the outside and label it madness. They're probably right.

I tried to think about why I was acting this way. I think it has to do with wanting the best for our kids, not accepting that they are anything less than handsome, brilliant and incredibly athletic. We try to shelter them from disappointment, hurt and judgment and keep them close to us for as long as possible (sort of like The Buddha's father, but I digress.) It seems incredibly unfair that some stranger can judge them, rate them, categorize them and place them on a team just on the basis of watching them play for a couple of hours. But then again, isn’t that how life works ? Life can be brutal at times, incredibly joyous at others- up, down, sideways and always impermanent.

My kid came off the ice and I met him in the hallway to the locker room. He was drenched with sweat, a huge smile on his face and his big blue eyes flashing. “How do you think I did ?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter buddy, I said. You did your best and I’m very proud of you no matter what.”

I think I need to write that down for next year.

21 April 2010

Nature's Fury

Stunning photographs of the volcano in Iceland. The shots of the volcanic generated lightning are eerily beautiful.

Big Ben & The Court of Public Opinion

Although Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was recently cleared of sexual assault charges by the District Attorney in Ocmulgee County, Georgia, he may be facing a much tougher group of prosecutors as time goes on- the court of public opinion among Steelers fans. Slowly, but surely, I am beginning to see a chorus of voices in blogs, articles and article comments in the Pittsburgh area that are debating what the ultimate outcome of his actions should be- keep him, trade him or even cut him.

Two of the largest pro-Ben groups in the past few years have been women and children. Women wearing # 7 jerseys at Steelers games were a very common sight as they showed their support for this young handsome mega-star with millions in the bank and athletic talent to burn. I'm not a psychologist, but I think there was a good deal of post-adolescent high-school quarterback type crushes going on in the 'Burgh. Naturally, these women that had children passed this adulation on to their kids and little # 7 jerseys began springing up all over the place (my house included.) Big, strong, clean-cut and seemingly pious (if praying and gesturing to the heavens during games was any indication) who wouldn't want their little rugheads to look up to Big Ben ?

Well, hell hath no fury like a bunch of pissed off women. Big Ben's first mistake, a motorcycle crash without a helmet or motorcycle license, was passed off as unfortunate but nothing more than a youthful screw up. Strike two, sexual assault allegations in a civil suit, unnerved many of his followers but it could be dismissed, they asserted, due to the financial angle of the plaintiff and the "he said, she said" aspects of the case. Unfortunately for her, the plaintiff did not cut a very sympathetic figure. Strike three, however, was a too much for even the hardiest yinzer to bear- the creepy predatory nature of the charges, the sense of entitlement, the role of the bodyguards (one an off duty state trooper,) and the pattern of events that, unfortunately, seemed to have been practiced before. Moms who once sported pink Big Ben jerseys on their young daughters were now forced to think about their own kids being caught in the same situation.

Already, groups have begun campaigns to mail his jerseys back to the Steelers, and in some cases, fans are actually burning and disposing of them. Even Steelers fans, it seems, can only tolerate so much loutish, frat boy behavior.

20 April 2010

Anarchist Pig Investment Advice for April 20th

As I mentioned in my last Anarchist Pig update, I liked the prospects for Citigroup (NYSE: C) and was in position for a good jump after earnings were released on April 19th. Citigroup was, of course, battered by the financial meltdown and could rightfully blamed for precipitating the crisis itself. Still, I'm not here to point fingers, I'm here to make money.

My strategy was to go long on Citigroup shares so I opened the position about a month ago by purchasing 500 shares at $ 4.14 per share. At the time, Citi's book value of around $ 5.00 made this a compelling value play and I also felt that the bank's new management was making good strides to streamline their business groups and return to profitability. A few weeks after taking the long position, I further reinforced my optimism by buying 10 call contracts on the strike price of $ 4.00 expiring in September 2010, and 5 call contracts on the strike price of $ 5.00 expiring January 2012. Currently, these positions have yielded the following returns-

500 Shares Long + 17 %
Sept. 2010 call options + 62 %
Jan. 2012 call options + 22 %

Overall, this was a pretty risky bet on Citigroup. Not only was I long on shares, I also took option positions that could have been rendered virtually worthless. The call options clearly show how when you are firm in your decision they can accelerate returns above and beyond the underlying share value.

At this point, I will probably take profits on the September 2010 options position and move that money into the January 2012 options position. I am making this move because I remain very bullish on Citigroup and will also retain the 500 shares that I am long on. My personal opinion is that if you can get in at anything less than $ 5.50, you should enjoy solid returns provided you can endure the inevitable dips and panics that come with owning a battered company this one.

Next week, I will review how I sold covered call options on my position in American Rail Car Industries (ARII.) When my position in ARII reached a profit of nearly 100 %, I sold a covered call option contract because I felt it couldn't go any higher- problem is, the damned stock price has done just that !

Anarchist Pig Investment Advice is just that- advice. I am not an investment advisor, broker or investment professional and if you use this advice, you are using it at your own risk. If you take my advice, you need to do the research to see if it supports your investment goals. In other words, if it doesn't work out, don't fucking call me.

19 April 2010

If only air to air combat was really this cute...

Here's an interesting Chinese video from YouTube. I'm not sure what the underlying message is, but it is fun to watch. It follows the story of a Chinese J-10 fighter and its quest to hook up with an aerial tanker only to be thwarted by the evil imperialistic Americans or something like that- I especially liked the Pulp Fiction inspired soundtrack with Kool & The Gangs "Jungle Boogie" playing as the American B-52 and F-22 escorts rudely cut in line to fuel up.

"Fat drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son"

As I mentioned in an earlier post, 21 year old Matthew Clemmens (pictured above) allegedly vomitted on an 11 year old girl at a recent Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. (Editors Note- Yes, I know it seems redundant to mention that it was a baseball game but this blog now has international readers. Anyways, on with the story.) Inevitably, numerous follow-up articles are now coming forward including a defense of Matthew from his uncle. I can certainly understand family loyalty, but the defense offered by John Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Inquirer is a little harder to, errr, choke down. Mr. Gonzalez points out the massive media conspiracy that has labeled Philadelphia fans as boorish animals more interested in drinking and fighting than actually watching the game-

As we all know, Philadelphia has a reputation for harboring and enabling lawless savages masquerading as fans. The Clemmens arrest only added to that stereotype and allowed lazy, brainless outsiders to lump us all together thanks to the sins of a single cretin.

As the old saying goes, within every stereotype lies a grain of truth.

Mr. Gonzalez's defense of the Phillies and their fans sounds a bit like the excuses offered in 2009 after a fan was beaten to death following a game in Philadelphia-

"The vast majority of fans act well at games, act well outside of games. And are cordial with opposing fans, but it's a select group of knuckleheads that take it a little too far and then give the whole city of Philadelphia a bad name."

At what point do the excuses stop ?

I'm sure that life has become a living hell for Matthew Clemmens and I hope that this incident causes him to take a hard look at himself. That being said, if it wasn't Matthew becoming the poster child for barbaric behavior in the stands, it would be some other lost soul at some point doing something equally stupid. Although personal behavior and accountability are the issue here, we can't discount the Animal House atmosphere at many professional sports venues these days. The free for all, alcohol fueled atmosphere fosters and nurtures this type of behavior.

I don't know if some sociologist will ever do a study, but I just can't remember going to baseball games in my youth and seeing people tailgating in the parking lots. Sure, some people may have had a grill going and were enjoying a few pre-game brews, but nothing like the binge drinking frat boy free for all that you need to navigate on the way into the stadium. I'll say again that this problem is not just present in Philadelphia- it has spread to many other towns and sports.

Then again, is it really a big societal problem or am I just getting old ? Perhaps a bit of both.

18 April 2010

Among the Barbarians

Setting a new low for classless Philadelphia sports fan behavior (an incredible feat needless to say) 21 year old Matthew Clemmens allegedly (intentionally) vomited on an 11 year old girl at a recent Phillies game. Although the report does not say the reason for the spew attack, it can be inferred that the young girl committed the horrible crime of actually wearing another team's jersey to the game. The girl's father mentioned that they were sworn at before the incident and had beer thrown on them causing the young kid to cry- something that all parents reading this blog can understand would be a really painful thing to see. Fortunately for the offender, the girl's father (a tough looking police captain) didn't beat the living hell out of him although his mug shot does show him sporting a nice shiner.

Well, you say, that wouldn't happen in a great city with a great sports tradition such as....Pittsburgh ! Oh nay, nay. It does happen and I've seen it happen. I've seen it happen to such an extent at Steelers games that after many years of buying 3 or 4 games a year off of a friend, I am sitting this season out. I'm sick and tired of trying to go to a game and having to endure thousands of blind drunk "fans" hurling obscenities at the opposing team and fans, their own team and each other. I'm revolted by the parking lot tailgating scene that is starting to look like something out of "Mad Max" with rampant binge drinking, vomiting and fighting. I made the mistake of taking my 9 year old to the Steelers-Oakland game last season and instead of enjoying an afternoon out, was forced to explain why otherwise responsible people feel the need to get drunk out of their minds in order to watch a game.

Now look, I'm by no means a priss. I like to drink beer when I'm at sporting events (before, during and after) and enjoy hanging out with my buddies as we enjoy the ups and downs of our local teams. Having a mild buzz and sitting in the stadium or arena can be an enjoyable experience. What I don't get, however, is how people can pay a great deal of money to buy their tickets so they can get blasted in the parking lot and pass out in their seats. A more logical plan would seem to be save the money, get blasted at home and pass out on your couch but, hey, who am I to judge ?

The other problem at sporting events, particularly Steelers games, is the underlying nasty vibe that you get (even if you are wearing Steelers gear.) The crowd seems very edgy, very drunk and in need of just one little spark to completely lose it. On many occasions I've bumped into a member of the Steelers nation, said "sorry" or "excuse me" and been met with the classic "fuck you" hissed through beer sodden lips. I've seen fist fights break out over people having their feet stepped on, cutting the line at the bathroom (because they badly need to get rid of that 6 gallons they drank in the parking lot) and reacting to insults real and perceived. Something about putting on a Steelers jersey and drinking heavily before noon can turn a nerdy bank vice president into a raving lunatic ready to fight anyone, and everyone, that gets in his way.

So, I'm sitting this one out. I'm tired of worrying about getting punched, kicked or shoved while trying to actually watch the game. In fact, I'm so tired of Steelers nation that I'm not even going to watch them on television. Screw 'em, the team and their fans have become a damned disgrace. No more hero worship for women beaters and sexual predators. You want me back in your stadium ? Clean up your act. You can start by cutting a few big names on your team. Next, reign in the zoo in the parking lot and quit quietly looking the other way at underage binge drinking, public exposure and drunk driving. Pull season ticket holder's tickets if anyone using theirs gets out of line and make them pay a fine of $5,000 to get them back with money going to charity. Do these things and I might just come back. Maybe.