All posts by Dr. ESP

The Booger and the Kiwi

Even classic works occasionally require an update. Today, it’s Aesop’s turn.

Once upon a time there was a professional football player named Anthony Darrell McFarland. His teammates called him “Booger.” He was a star defense tackle at LSU and played on two Super Bowl championship teams in the NFL. He is now an analyst on ESPN.

Last Wednesday, during a guest appearance on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” Tony Kornheiser asked him whether he thought quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rogers would retire. Kornheiser prefaced his questions by quoting former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young who once compared retirement to death.

The quarterback position is a little bit different. I saw football as a means to an end. I wasn’t in love with the game. The game was not something I stayed up at night and dreamed about. For me it was an opportunity to take care of my mother and my family. And it gave me the platform that I continue on, even to today.

For me, once the means to the end didn’t make sense anymore, when the last contract I was offered wasn’t beneficial to me, I knew it was time to move on and do something else.

BOOGER MCFARLAND, PTI, JANUARY 18, 2023

Halfway across the kingdom there lived a princess named Jacinda Ardern. She was known to her subjects as Madam Prime Minister. Announcing her abdication, Princess Jacinda told her subjects:

I am not leaving because it was hard. Had that been the case I probably would have departed two months into the job. I am leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility, the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also when you are not. I know what this job takes and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.

JACINDA ARDERN, JANUARY 19, 2023

After Booger achieved his original goal, ensuring his family would never again want for food or shelter, he hung up his helmet and shoulder pads. For Princess Jacinda, ridding her country of assault weapons following a mass shooting of school children was the accomplishment of a lifetime. It was someone else’s turn to wear the crown. Despite Booger’s absence, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won another Super Bowl. New Zealand remains a desirable place to visit, work and live under the new monarch.

I thought about Booger and the Kiwi while watching news of the January 20 “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Would the Dobbs decision be the law of the land if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had stepped aside when Barack Obama could have appointed someone with equally strong women’s rights credentials to the high court? Would Donald Trump been able to appoint three justices if his 2016 opponent, despite all her qualifications and experience, had recognized voters suffered from Clinton fatigue? And, in turn, would Trump himself go down in history as a disgraced, twice-impeached seditionist if he had been content living a fairy tale in his palaces in Manhattan, Palm Beach and Bedminster?

A wise mentor told me the day I accepted the position as director of the entrepreneurship center at Miami University, “The first thing you need to do is find your successor.” He knows I do not always take his advice, but on this occasion I did. And when I moved on nine years later, I did so knowing the program was in good, if not better, hands. The transition was seamless. And, to this day, I have no regrets about leaving a job I enjoyed.

I wonder if Brady and Rogers will ever experience that same sense of personal satisfaction. Or, for that matter, will Joe Biden if he chooses to run for a second term? Last night, Biden’s departing chief of staff Ron Klain ticked off the Biden administration’s accomplishments over the past two years. Even those who disagree with the content must marvel at the skill with which his team marshalled the president’s agenda through Congress with little room for error in a 50/50 Senate and an equally divided House of Representatives. No one would think less of Biden if he rested on his laurels and rode into the sunset.

At some point in every life, a person faces a similar decision. It does not matter whether it involves retirement from a prestigious post or knowing when it is no longer safe to drive a car. He or she can emulate McFarland and Ardern. Celebrate past success and move on. Or keep hanging on. Sports is a perfect lens through which to view one’s options. Look no farther than Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays or Mohammad Ali. The only opponent they could not defeat was Father Time.

The moral of this story: Actors who believe they are irreplaceable are those most in need of exiting the stage. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Norma Desmond.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

What’s My Lyin’?

In the infancy of broadcast television, game shows were a popular prime time staple. There were two varieties. Big money quiz shows like “The $54,000 Question,” which really was big money in its day. The grand prize is more than $650,000 in current dollars. The second category was an excuse to watch unscripted celebrities showcase their knowledge and wit while solving a contestant’s occupation (“What’s My Line?”) or deciding which of three contestants was who he or she claimed to be (“To Tell the Truth”).

I thought about these programs while watching the reboot of “Night Court” and viewing a promo for the return of “Magnum, P.I.” Games shows are also part of this trend. Michael Strahan is the new Allen Ludden on “The $100,000 Pyramid.” To give you some idea how important Ludden was to the game show genre, it takes THREE Manning brothers –Peyton, Eli and the third guy (Cooper)–to fill his shoes on “College Bowl.”

Maybe it is time to bring back “What’s My Line,” which aired on CBS from 1950 until 1967. The final segment of each show required the panel be blindfolded before a famous “mystery guest” came on stage. So close your eyes, adjust those rabbit ears and tune in as host John Charles Daly (not to be confused with golfer John Daly) welcomes tonight’s celebrity contestant to be interrogated by the panelists–publisher Bennet Cerf, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, actor Arlene Francis and original Tonight Show host Steve Allen.

Daly: Now we come to the special feature of our program and welcome our celebrity, our big and important guest. Our panel would certainly recognize our guest on sight. So we provided them with blindfolds. Will you please come in mystery guest and sign in. (Audience gasps and then wildly applauds.)

Alright panel, as you know, we get right down to the business of the mystery guest, so we’ll begin the questioning with Bennett Cerf.

Cerf: Judging from the audience reaction you are a very famous person. Are you in the entertainment world?

Guest: Sim, senhor.

Cerf: Have you been an actor?

Guest: Sim.

Cerf: Are you still an actor?

Guest: Sim.

Cerf: Would I recognize any of the plays, movies or television shows you have been in?

Daly: That’s a no. Miss Francis.

Francis: Are you famous for your ability to sing and dance?

Guest: Absolutely.

Francis: Do you play parts in different accents since you’re so well equipped for it?

Guest: Oui, madam.

Francis: Have you ever won an Oscar or a Tony.

Guest: Yes and yes.

Francis: Are you Lawrence Olivier?

Guest: (Hesitates) Non.

Daly: Mr. Allen.

Allen: Can I assume you graduated from lighter things and have gone on to something more pretentious?

Guest: Yes.

Allen: Is your acting of a more serious nature at the present time?

Guest: No.

Daly: Miss Kilgallen.

Kilgallen: If your acting is not serious at the moment, is it comedic?

Guest: Not intentionally.

Kilgallen: Have you appeared on the New York stage in the past year?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: Are you a former athlete?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: Are you also a philanthropist?

Guest: Yes.

Kilgallen: I think I know. Are you Anthony Zabrovsky?

Guest: No.

Cerf: Are you Anthony Devolder?

Guest: No.

Francis: Are you Brazilian drag queen Kitara Ravache?

Guest: No.

Allen: Are you George Santos?

Guest: No.

Kilgallen: Are you all of the above?

(The guest begins to answer but is interrupted by Daly.)

Daly: YES! It’s none other than the poster boy for the Republican Congress and man of a thousand falsehoods. George, you fooled our panel just like you fooled the voters of the 3rd district of New York. And I understand you may soon appear on a special edition of “To Tell The Truth” with guest host Margaret Garnett, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Santos: Only if they let me take the Fifth.

Daly: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks to the panel and our very special guest whoever he may be. And join us next week when we ask members of the 118th Congress GOP leadership, “What’s My Lyin’?”

NOTE: Much of the dialogue and many of the questions in this post were taken verbatim from a 1952 episode of “What’s My Line” on which Desi Arnaz was the mystery guest.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

Fifty Shades of Crazy

Throughout the transcripts released by the House January 6th Committee there are references to “Team Normal” and “Team Crazy.” Team Normal consisted largely of members of the White House Office of Legal Counsel and Deputy Attorneys General at the Justice Department who time and time again warned Team Crazy (1) there was no evidence of election fraud, (2) every federal judge, regardless of who appointed them, agreed there was no evidence of election fraud, (3) the alternate electors scheme was illegal, (4) perpetuating the “big lie” could lead to violence and (5) they could be held responsible if they continued their attempt to halt the certification by Congress of the electoral college count.

For the past two days there have been similar references by reporters and commentators. They suggest the battle between Team Normal and Team Crazy is still in full swing, only the venue has changed. The new theater of operation is the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. I beg to differ. There is no Team Normal. There is only Team Dark Crazy, Team Light Crazy and every shade in-between.

Team Dark Crazy consists of the 20 Republicans who, having practiced violating  18 U.S.C. 1752. Section 1752(a)(2) of Title 18, intentionally disrupting official government business of January 6, 2021, picked the election of House Speaker as their next target. Why? Because the guy who broke the 1,000 mile dash record to genuflect before the person he only days before accused of being responsible for a violent insurrection, was not MAGA enough for them. Furthermore, they refused to take “yes” for an answer. Even when Kevin McCarthy offered them everything they wanted, they refused to budge.

Team Slightly Less Crazy consists of McCarthy and the six Republicans–Elaine Stefanik, Jim Jordan, Steve Scalise, Mike Gallagher, Warren Davidson and Kat Commack–who nominated him on the first half-dozen ballots. Einstein would be proud. Having failed to move the needle in McCarthy’s favor, they continued making the same arguments in hopes of a different result. That different result? One LESS McCarthy vote.

What do these 27 people have in common? With the exception of representatives-elect who were not part of the 117th Congress, everyone on this extreme end of the Team Crazy scale voted to decertify the 2020 presidential election. Oblivious to the echoes of the 2022 mid-terms, the GOP decided it was a good idea to showcase the very people who, but for safe districts, would likely have been repudiated by American voters.

And unlike thieves, there is no discernable honor among members of Team Crazy. Several major newspapers referred to the House GOP caucus as a circular firing squad. It is more like a banquet in which all participants are both the cannibals and the entrée.

Which brings me to Team Light Crazy, the other half of the Republican caucus which did not vote to decertify Joe Biden’s electoral college victory. You might ask, “Doesn’t that make them Team Normal?” Hardly, dear reader. This was their latest and maybe last chance to rid their party of the Trump virus.

All they needed to do was coalesce around one of their own for House Speaker. If you claim you want to move past the attack on the Capitol, you do not back anyone to be your poster child, who by participating in the big lie contributed to that event. Furthermore, they did not recognize McCarthy’s previous enabling of Team Dark Crazy as a sign of what would surely come next. Despite all the red flags, EVERY single one of them voted for McCarthy as their nominee on November 15, 2022. That is far from normal. It may be less so, but still crazy.

Meanwhile, Florida Representative Cammack accused the Democrats of bringing “popcorn and blankets and alcohol” into the chamber, somewhat ironic as Ms. Cammack, based on her wild gestures and voice volume, appeared to the only person in the chamber who may have had one too many. [For the record, Cammack’s remark was in response to a photo of California Democrat Ted Lieu, who was holding a bag of popcorn during a presser outside his Rayburn Building office. A validation prop comedy is still effective.] You want to know what is NOT crazy. When your opposition is destroying itself, just sitting back and enjoying the show.

So grab your blanket, popcorn and adult beverage of choice and tune in at noon today for Episode Seven of “Who’s Not the Boss.” And be prepared to binge watch Episodes Eight and Nine.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

A Fool and Your Money

Every year, about this time, we are treated to images of three wise men on camels following a star to Bethlehem. This year is no different. However, this December there is a different triad of not so wise men, and the only star they are pursuing is their own. Instead of Magi, I prefer to call them “The Unholy Trinity.” Or “The Axis of Weasel.” Or “The Three Jackasses of the Apocalypse.” You may know them better by their real names: Elon Musk, Sam Bankman-Fried and, of course, Donald J. Trump.

The stimulus for today’s blog was an encounter with an elderly man leaving “Kendall’s Bagels and More” in Palm Coast, Florida. He appeared somewhat disgruntled so I asked him, “How are you?” He replied, “Fair to middling, but the day is still young.” Not wanting to assume what he meant, I continued, “Young in a good sense or bad sense?” His cryptic answer, “I read the newspaper this morning.”

Sadly, many of today’s headlines are not likely to be the harbinger of good feelings. What might he be referring to? I thought I would share my reasons for being less than forlorn. “You know, any day you do not hold Tesla stock or invest in cryptocurrency is a good day.” He chuckled and we departed, still not knowing whether he shared my relief at not having spent $800 for a share of Tesla stock or $64,000 for one Bitcoin. Or whether he rued having made the same mistake so many others have in search of a quick return on investment.

Which brings me to the three perpetrators. Compared to Bankman-Fried, Bernie Madoff was a piker. Madoff’s mere $64.8 billion in fraudulent transactions on behalf of 4,800 clients is sofa change when stacked up against the 1.2 million registered users of Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange. Two participants, Silicon Valley venture capital fund Sequoia and Singapore based investment company Temasek, stand to lose more than $200 million each following FTX’s bankruptcy filing. To promote his Ponzi scheme, Bankman-Fried recruited celebrities including “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David and sports figures Tom Brady (is he now an actual goat in lower-case letters), Steph Curry, Shaquille O’Neal and Naomi Osaka.

Talk about karma, when Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried gave birth to a son in 1992 who chose to take both his parents’ surnames, the die was cast. I anxiously await the banner headline in the Wall Street Journal upon this scammer’s conviction on 1.2 million counts of financial fraud. “BANKMAN FRIED!”

On the other hand, Elon Musk would do well to heed the advice of Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, the M*A*S*H character portrayed by the late David Ogden Stiers. When asked to hurry up with a patient to assist with another, Winchester replies, “I do one thing at a time. I do it well. Then I move on.” We now know TWO things at a time (Tesla and SpaceX) were Musk’s limit. Forays into social media, cryptocurrency and high-speed transportation (the Hyperloop) took his attention away from the enterprises that were paying the bills.

Musk, Tesla owners and Tesla stockholders have all suffered. Tesla recalls have increased ten-fold in the past two years. And brand loyalty has suffered from more competition in the EV car market as well as Musk’s success in offending demographics who were the most likely purchasers of his pro-environmental poster child. Note to Musk’s secret Santa: Give him a copy of King Midas and the Golden Touch.

I have saved the Donald for last for one simple reason. Adding the NFT Trump Superhero trading cards to all the other grifts associated with the Mar-a-Lago Prosperity Church is clearly one more act of a desperate, modern-day P. T. Barnum. I would not be surprised if the plaque on his desk reads, “A sucker is born every minute.” And while sane people may consider Trumpism an on-going threat to democracy, Trump loyalists’ more pressing concern should be Barnumism, a clear and present danger to their wallets.

There is one more thing these three incorrigibles have in common, an affinity for using the internet and social media as an instrument to promote their various hustles. Musk now has Twitter and StarLink. Trump created Truth Social. And before his arrest, Bankman-Fried talked about partnering with Solana Breakpoint, the blockchain provider for FTX, to extend use of the same technology to gaming and other on-line activities.

Maybe they could pool their declining resources and establish a single website where gullible investors could be recruited. Except for the fact it is already registered to a major sporting goods retailer, the obvious domain name for their site would DICKS.COM. NOTE: Dick’s Sporting Goods purchased the domain from its original owner (you don’t want to know), and it immediately redirects the user to dickssportinggoods.com.

For what it’s worth and Happy Holidays,
Dr. ESP

A Lack of Faith

Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time a minority of the population has followed the country’s official religion.

Jill lawless, AP News LONDON, 11/29/22

If you think someone who considers himself a devout agnostic would revel in this report out of Great Britain, you would be correct, but not for the reasons you might expect. I have never been anti-religion. It is simply not my thing. I am, however, strongly anti-theocracy and bristle at the very thought of an “official religion.” Fortunately, in England, official and mandatory are not synonymous, and non-believers are not beaten or imprisoned.

The “lack of faith” in the title of today’s post is not about the decline in British adherence to the Church or any other religion. Instead, it refers to those who feel they need to establish a theocracy. If they truly believed in the goodness and benefits of their respective faith, there would be no need for theocracy. Their countrymen and countrywomen would participate voluntarily. And the response to a decline in followers would not be incarceration, but introspection.

For example, why are former Catholics the fastest growing denomination in the United States? Could it have anything to do with the inability of some priests to keep their hands off young parishioners? Or how many years it took the Vatican to admit there was a problem and make any attempt to rectify it? Or for disaffected Jews, sitting in a synagogue listening to a sermon about “tikkun olam,” healing the world, when the prized front-row pews are occupied by wealthy congregants who finance politicians who deny climate change? Or followers of Islam, being expected to recite daily prayers when young women are beaten to death for not wearing the “appropriate” apparel?

Nothing advances rebellion like compulsory allegiance. Especially when political and religious leaders who promote such fidelity routinely violate the core values of their respective faiths, whether it be the beatitudes, the covenant between God and the Jewish people or the five pillars of Islam.

It is easy to make Iran the poster child for theocracy, although it is more a role model why theocracy does not work. And yet, those on the extreme right of America’s political spectrum condemn the Islamic Republic while, in the same breath, advocate Christian nationalism. And do not, for one minute, think they are in the minority.

An October 2022 Pew Research poll found 60 percent of adults “think the founders originally intended for the U.S. to be a ‘Christian Nation’,” ignoring the establishment clause in the First Amendment, crafted by those very same founding fathers. This is the same “originalist” hypocrisy by which which a Catholic dominated Supreme Court, despite proclaiming to be strict constructionists, has repeatedly chipped away at the principle of separation of church and state.

But, let’s be honest. I do not believe I will be arrested next month if I return someone’s “Merry Christmas” with a “Happy Holidays.” Nor will I take to the streets because some individuals believe I am going to Hell because I have not accepted Jesus as my salvation. I would rather believe a deserved ticket to Hades, if it existed, could not be voided by a deathbed conversion.

I have been in the minority all of my life. First, raised as a conservative Jew and now as an agnostic. Over those seven decades I have been repeatedly exposed to the promises of a Christian life, on billboards, radio, television, in magazines and newspapers, by mail and multiple strangers on my doorstep. And that is their right because in America people, but not the government, have the freedom to try and recruit new disciples. To date, I have not been persuaded, which is my right.

Yet, those who promote Christian nationalism do not accept that choice. They lack the faith that Christianity is so appealing non-believers will eventually see the light. Therefore, they want to force it on us. If that day comes, I too will take to the streets and hold up a blank piece of paper as have my brothers and sisters in Iran.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP