Apparently, I’m still a Padres Fan

In sports news today, the San Diego Padres traded away a bunch of players — and who knows, one of those players might one day be as good as Juan Soto — for Juan Soto.

To KEEP the kid, the Pads will have to pay him a lot of money. I think they will.

Do you remember the movie Moneyball? In that story the bean counters show that with advanced statistics they can find players that produce more value than is revealed by the traditional RBI and whatnot. The good guys in that story found new ways to measure the value of a player, and used that knowledge to build a world series team on the cheap.

The team in that story was the Oakland A’s. Since then, the ownership of that team has discovered an even more efficient way to run a team: lose. Pay as little as possible to stay in the league, and soak up the shared revenue from the TV deals. They don’t even pretend to be building for the future. Trying to win would cut into profits.

San Diego is one of a handful of teams that is actually trying to win. At some point in the post season they will go tooth-to-claw with the Dodgers —another team trying to win it all — and the odds on that outcome shifted today.

That’s all fun, but it seems like these mighty players the Padres have accumulated — Tatís, Machado, Soto, and many others — it seems like they enjoy playing baseball. Like if you gave them a day off from playing baseball, they’d spend it playing baseball. Guys like that are fun to watch.

And that’s my team. I seem unable to change that. When I heard they got Soto today, a thrill went right through me. A thrill I thought I was above after all this time, but that excitement for the future is the payoff for fandom. Hope lies dark and insidious inside you, a hallucinogenic vision of the future, and given even a glimmer of light will turn you into a gibbering idiot.

Go Padres!

3

The Bitcoin Plunge is not a Market Correction

It drives me batty to read respected people in national publications talk about the nosedive of Bitcoin and other crypto as a “market correction.”

A market correction happens when the price of a security or a general market of securities overruns any sort of historical baseline for value. When you talk about stocks, there are the simple metrics of how much money a company makes or the value of that company’s assets. There are metrics like that for real estate, municipal bonds, and even manufacturing.

A correction comes when the market realizes that the price has been bid up far past what the underlying value of the asset is. This happens fairly often: people buy stock based on what they expect the performance of the company to be. Sometimes people get excited.

When people say that crypto is no different than the stock market, they are either lying to you or to themselves. There is no P/E report on Bitcoin. No debt-to-asset report on Etherium. Because there is nothing there. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, supporting the value of those tokens.

The price is based on blind faith, sell-shaming, and billionaires spinning a story that ends with them having your money.

The tower is crumbling now; we have been on a roughly monthly cadence hearing about the failure of some sham company that banked everything on crypto always going up. The market plunges, then holds steady for a while, cryptobros in their executive suites sweating as the scam crumbles until they rush for the doors calling back over their shoulders “#HODL!” and another crypto company based on the “always-up” model craters, unable to even tolerate the market that is merely steady.

A true market correction would reduce Bitcoin to just a little bit over zero. I will grant the little bit because Bitcoin is just a little bit useful for things besides being a store of value. Oligarchs have to shift their cash, after all.

4

The Cult of Crypto

The price of Bitcoin is about 30% of what it was a few months ago. The other cryptocurrencies (note: they are not currencies) have been similarly battered. Crypto-based businesses are starting to fail. But if you read what the people still clinging to their vapor-money are saying, you will see #HODL, over and over again.

It is simply a typo for “hold”, that feels more insider-y. Like a secret handshake. The purpose of #HODL is simple: to prevent people from selling their crypto stakes. In itself, this could just be construed as financial advice. “This is a volatile asset, and if you panic you will lose.” And that’s good advice for all investors!

But #HODL and the community behind it use the phrase differently. Consider the company MicroStrategies. They have bought into Bitcoin in a big way, and are now using every resource they have to evangelize — to bring new, naïve money into the market. They know that the price of Bitcoin will only go up if they can convince more people to buy it.

Over the last couple of years, companies like MicroStrategies have succeeded in convincing the business press and the impatient segment of the investment population that Here be Riches.

Step 1: get the suckers to buy, to drive up the value of your holdings.

Step 2: prevent the suckers from selling even when it’s in their best interest to do so.

Consider kraken.com. They are a crypto exchange, meaning they make money when people sell or buy tokens through their service*. They recently declared, in the aftermath of the latest crypto price plunge (I’m paraphrasing): Bear markets weed out the weak. The strong will #HODL. We will also spend the money we take from you to lobby the government on behalf of our singular devotion to our mission, even if that means hurting others. And yay guns.” I cannot find articulated on their Web site what the mission is, but it must be important!

There is, from corporate communications right down to reddit, a culture of sell-shaming. The faithful shall come through adversity and inherit the wealth they deserve. Any so timid as to sell shall die in poverty and shame. This intimidation was necessary to keep the crypto bulge alive. In fact, the believers honestly thought that if they could keep people from selling, the price of their favorite crypto token would go up forever.

They believed, simply, that buying Bitcoin was buying into a sacred trust. That anyone who bought crypto was implicitly obligated to #HODL. For the common good.

But the buyers (I will not call them investors) those crypto-pushers needed to inflate the value of their coins diluted their cult. The new wave of buyers saw the historic rise of crypto, and didn’t understand their own role in causing it. But they weren’t part of #HODL; they bought at the worst time and sold at the worst time (until tomorrow), and broke the damn cult.

#HODL! #HODL! #HODL! the cultists cry as the crypto market spirals down. #HODL! These are the true believers, the ones who will #HODL into the ground, but I wonder how the ranks are holding up as airship Bitcoin plunges toward the 20,000 level after being at 69,000 a few months ago. How many people are crying #HODL as they strap on their own parachutes?

* One of the key features of cryptocurrencies is that theoretically there is no central authority. Yet almost everyone buys and sells their tokens through a trusted central exchange.

1

People Should Listen to Me More Often

You can look at every major financial crash since tulip bulbs and find the underlying fiction that created paper wealth without any value behind it. Handshakes and winks and it’s fun while it lasts.

In April of 2021, I wrote that Bitcoin was a terrible solution to an interesting problem. It is called a cryptocurrency, but it does not match any previous definition of the word “currency”. As an investment it is, in fact, slightly below “bag of magic beans that aren’t actually magic”. At least with those you could make a nice soup. Soon after that episode, the price of a Bitcoin tumbled, then briefly rose to new dramatic heights in November of the same year, and has since steadily eroded.

It is late and rather than sleep I thought tonight I’d read about the latest crypto disaster. Roughly One Trillion Dollars vanished this week. Poof. Gone. Retirements destroyed, hedge funds cratered. Those investors should have listened to me.

Time magazine (wow has that brand been dragged into the dumpster) included this in an article about crypto volatility:

Given that crypto derives some of its value from people’s belief in it, markets can be rattled by surrounding skepticism or policy changes.

Time.com

So, close, yet so far. In fact, crypto derives all of its value from people’s belief in it. There is absolutely no other source of value. If you were to buy gold, and then suddenly everyone decided gold had no value, you could at least make something pretty out of it.

What drove this week’s meltdown is complicated on the surface, and simple in substance. There was a cryptocurrency that was, through elaborate mechanisms including game theory, always supposed to be worth a dollar. While my first question is “why would anyone buy that shit instead of just buying dollars,” apparently plenty of people thought that was a good idea.

So how do the people flogging this investment plan to control the value of the tokens they sell? Part of it is by holding investors hostage – people with a vested interest in maintaining this dollar parity will buy up other people’s tokens to maintain their value. But you can’t always rely on that, so these companies also keep reserves so they can maintain the price by buying up tokens when there is a bunch of people selling.

But… whoops! What if your reserves are in other crypto tokens? What if you need to sell all your Bitcoin ($1.7 billion worth, maybe), but Bitcoin is also falling because someone is trying to sell a shit-ton of it, and even when you’re done, it’s just not enough? Everything goes to shit, is what happens.

It’s a regular cycle. Someone finds a way to create an illusion of value where no value exists. Before crypto, it was weird real estate loan guarentee instruments that created an entire market unto themselves, and led to a near-collapse of our banking system in 2008. That was done by bankers who should have known better, and there were (for a little while) regulations in place to keep it from happening again. In 1929 it was shell companies that all owned each other but not any company that actually made a profit.

Crypto, on the other hand, is a much more egalitarian fraud. Anyone can play! Elon Musk used the power of his twitter account to rob countless less-wealthy people through Bitcoin price manipulation (he claims he was not being corrupt, just stupid – but both can be true).

One thing that none of the press I read tonight mentions – Bitcoin uses lots and lots of electricity. When the cost of power goes up, ultimately that has to effect the value of their tokens.

Universally the press has treated the crypto crater just like they would any other investment issue. Treating crypto with the same words they would use for something that has intrinsic value. That’s simply not right. None of them are saying “This is all fake! Get out while you still can!”

I could create a crypto tonight, call it “eco-coin” and vaguely suggest that we only accept electricity from windmills, or at least I’ve seen some pretty bitchin’ windmills, windmills are cool, so you should invest in eco-coin. If I could catch the ear of the Master Influencer at Credulous Weekly, eco-coin would be off to the races.

In terms of actual value, my new crypto would be worth exactly the same as Bitcoin: zero. I’ll finish this episode with the same words I used to start it: You can look at every major financial crash since tulip bulbs and find the underlying fiction that created paper wealth without any value behind it. Handshakes and winks and it’s fun while it lasts.

1

Pod Life

It was in late 2001 or early 2002. I was on an airplane, and I pulled 1000 songs out of my pocket, was navigating to find the album I wanted, when a man in the row behind me leaned forward and asked through the gap between seats, “What is that thing?”

It was an iPod. Until its release, there had never been anything like it. The mechanical click-wheel of those early versions was just so satisfying and intuitive, navigating through a large collection of songs was simple, even with the tiny black-and-white screen. “It passes the blonde test,” a blonde friend of mine said after a few seconds with the device.

Part of the iPod of course was timing. Suddenly it was possible to fit a hard drive (yes, an actual spinning-disk drive) and a battery into a little case with enough storage to play music. But on top of that was the design. Anybody could make a music player, but only Apple could have made the iPod.

And only the iPod could save Apple. There was a huge battle inside Apple over whether the iPod would work with Windows computers. Steve Jobs was absolutely against it. Steve got his way most of the time, but in this case ultimately other voices carried the day, and while Steve was not the least bit gracious in conceding, he was later able to recognize that decision as a turning point for the company. It was the moment the gadgets were allowed to grow independently of Macs, and eventually the gadgets became the center of the Apple ecosystem. And here we are now.

Today (or, recently at least, I don’t pay close attention) Apple announced that they will not be making any more iPods. It’s just as well; the iPod is now just an iPhone without the phone. The iPod nano was probably the pinnacle of the “thing that plays music” Apple offerings, although it was not as viscerally satisfying to use as its clunky ancestors. I have one of those around here somewhere as well.

The only surprise I felt at the announcement was that the company I work for was still making iPods up until now. It seems like once the pod had to play video it wasn’t really an iPod anymore (says this grumpy old man).

But… the headphones I wear could fit a click wheel. A million songs in your ear. Anyone want to make that real?

4

Breakfast of Champions

Green Chile Cheesy Bagel!

Featuring “Some guy in Albuquerque with a roaster in his garage” brand chiles! The best!

5

I Have No One to Discuss this With

It’s a wacky footnote in sports history. I learned about it a few weeks ago, and I’ve kept the WikiPedia Page about it open in a tab ever since, so when I stumble across anyone around me who might find it interesting, I would be ready.

But even when I regularly interacted with other human beings, there was no one in that set that would find this story interesting. So I’m just going to tell you about it. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

It was a soccer tournament for the Caribbean Cup. The rules for the tournament had an odd twist, sanctioned by FIFA: If a team scored a winning goal in overtime, it was a “golden goal” and counted as two goals for deciding tie-breakers. So it came to pass that Barbados was playing Grenada, and Barbados needed to win by at least two goals to advance to the next round. Grenada could be content to lose by only one and it would be they who proceeded in the tourney.

Barbados was up 2-0 for quite a while, but then Grenada scored. As it stood, Grenada would move on to the next round, leaving Barbados behind. Barbados attacked, but Grenada pulled everyone back into a defensive shell. With Grenada on full defense, it was looking unlikely that Barbados would get the goal they needed.

So, with time running out, Barbados kicked the ball into their own net, tying the game, to try for the “golden goal” in overtime.

But here’s where things got really weird. At that point, the ONLY thing that could prevent Granada from advancing was a tie. It didn’t matter who won, as long as the margin of victory was only one point. Granada had only to put the ball in either goal before overtime started to move on. So they were attacking both goals, while Barbados was defending both goals. I like to picture this moment, as the structure the athletes usually play under broke down completely and the heads of the fans in the arena exploded one by one.

In retrospect, it seems pretty certain that if Grenada were the least bit prepared for this situation, they would have managed to score, even in the limited time. Hell, on one end, there’s no offsides! But who prepares for that? They did not, in fact, put the ball in either net during regulation play, and it was on to overtime.

Barbados got their golden goal, and moved on to the next round of the tournament. Grenada, unable for a couple of terrible minutes to even put the ball into their own goal, went home.

The golden goal rule was scrapped the moment the tournament was over.

2

Idle Hands

It is generally accepted these days that, based on the fossil record, the precursors to humans developed a modified knee that allowed them to stand and move about on two feet, and, shortly thereafter, these hominids’ brains started getting bigger at a dramatic rate.

There is no proven causal relationship between the events that I know of, but I believe it is reasonable to imagine that once the hands were freed up, cleverness and nimbleness would be rewarded. (And the ability to throw things well.)

Suddenly this animal’s brain had the tools to perform much more complex tasks, and nimble fingers became a force multiplier for more intelligent owners. Smart became very sexy.

The brain expansion kept right on going, even when it became dangerous to push that big head out of a mother’s birth canal. As a compromise human babies are born completely helpless, brains still developing, just so the mother would survive. It was a heck of a compromise to make, and required more complex social groupings for the species to survive. And here we are.

Unimpeachable sources will tell you “Idle hands do the Devil’s work.” But it was the idle hands of our ancestors that literally defined who we became as a species. Those locking knees created idle hands, and it was idle hands that gave rise to our brains.

There are those who believe the human organism was created through a process of intelligent design. But perhaps it would be more accurate to consider we were made instead by malevolent design. Those locking knees, and all the Devil’s work that has come since, certainly have me wondering.

6

Top Golf

One of the awesome people who helped me get my shoulder working again was a friendly guy named Patrick. To succeed at a job like that, it takes more than a bunch of school and an internship and working one’s way up through the ranks. You have to be a people person. While Patrick was working on my soft tissues and testing my progress, there was also conversation. Physical therapy is like getting your hair done in that respect.

So while Patrick was exploring how far he could bend me before I yelped, we were also chatting about this and that. Since my presence there was due to a bicycle crash, naturally riding was part of the discussion. But Patrick also likes to swing a golf club, and eventually he told me about Top Golf.

I must confess I still don’t fully understand what this is, but I have grasped the most important part. Top golf is a place where you and your pals can go and have a beer or three and hit golf balls. But wait! There’s more! it seems that at Top golf there are computers and shit that analyze you shot and based on that you score points or kill monsters or ascend to primary breeder in your troupe. I glazed out at that part.

But the brilliance of all this is that someone asked the question, “What if we took the onerous task of hitting a golf ball, and turned it into a game?” Revolutionary!

Yep, someone has gamified golf. About time, too.

Life Hack

When you’re staring at the stranger in the mirror, wondering who the fuck you are and how the fuck you got here, you may as well be flossing.

1

Happy Road Trip Day

Elevator, Ocelot, Rutabaga, everyone, as we cross 17.000 in the Muddled Calendar*. Seventeen has always been an auspicious number in the Muddleverse, being prime and whatnot, and I’m feeling pretty good about the upcoming 365.2422 days (give or take; there is some wobble).

In other news, apparently I’m still a Padres fan. Time will tell how those two mystical forces align.

* The Muddled Calendar started at 0.000, so at the millennium I don’t want to be hearing from any pedants.

6

Hank Aaron

I was a kid in 1974, and not particularly attached to baseball. Yet I felt the buzz as Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron approached the all-time home run record.

Aaron was approaching a record set four decades earlier by Babe Ruth. He accomplished this (I read today) by being the singly most consistently great player in baseball history. This is something that can only be accomplished by a talented athlete who never takes a day off, mentally or physically, for decades.

In 1974, there were a lot of other things I didn’t know. My recollection of the game is vague, except for the part where Hank went long. While I watched the TV to see if this would be the at-bat that made him a legend (not even really understanding what that meant, but I was caught up in the spectacle), I did not know that Hank Aaron was receiving death threats every day. A lot of people were threatening to kill him if he, a Black man, were to break Ruth’s record.

When Aaron’s team relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta, he wasn’t too stoked. He had played minor league ball in the South, and the fans had not been pleasant. But his team moved, and so did he, and he quietly became a voice of racial justice in Georgia.

But (I read today), rather than being filled with anticipation at breaking a legendary record, Aaron was living in hell, and just wanted that final home run that put an end to the conflict, one way or another. That angers me, that such an accomplishment would only be a source of catharsis, rather than joy. That the last part of the climb to that summit would be tainted by fear of something not natural but simply evil.

Aaron broke the record set by a man who played in a league that excluded black players. Imagine what might have become of Ruth’s numbers if he had had to face Satchel Paige occasionally, or any of a number of powerful pitchers and fielders relegated to the Negro Leagues.

Aaron’s record was eventually broken by the bioscience industry, with Barry Bonds as its representative.

Neither of those two were dealing with thousands of hostile letters every week. Neither of those were just wanting to get this whole thing behind them.

Hammerin’ Hank, you’re still my hero. You’re still the home run king.

A Cocktail Challenge

Your assignment, kids, is to come up with a cocktail with the following name: The Tears of Q Spirit. If you would prefer to avoid politics, The Tears of Ben Roethlisberger is an acceptable non-organic substitute.

Barring obvious troll recipes that include bologna or Barton’s QT, I will drink all the entries and judge them. There might be a prize, but even if there is, it will probably be something you don’t want. Feel free to suggest a prize, even if you don’t enter the contest.

Back in the heyday of this blog, I might have been able to expect as many as four entrants in this contest, but now, well, I’m just hoping for a chuckle. If you choose to answer on Facebook, I’ll even pop over there to check it out.

1

Dogs and Tennis

I’ll admit it, yesterday I snuck over to Facebook to see what people have been saying about my more recent episodes (I probably log in to Facebook as often as once a month these days). In response to my recent episode about getting creative with sports, Candace Reedy said, “I always thought golf and tennis would be greatly improved by retrieving dogs…”

I agree wholeheartedly. And dogs and tennis balls? It’s as natural as beer on Friday. I once wrote somewhere in the million-plus words of this blog, that if dogs could raise a statue, it would be to honor the person who invented the tennis ball.

The Round Mound of Hound in intensive training.

So — dogs and tennis. Obviously a good idea. But how, exactly, would it work? I’m here to help make that real. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Overall, I think dogs would add two things to the game: chaos and slobber.

Let’s think about slobber. You’re going to have wet-ball players and dry-ball players. When you serve a ball that is sodden with dog drool, it will feel like you’re hitting a lead weight. If you serve with the usual overhead motion, you will be launching a slug and while it might not get over the net quickly, when it touches the surface on the other side, it will drop flatter than a biological slug. The ultimate dream of topspin players to keep the ball low to the surface on the bounce; with a drool-ball there will hardly be a bounce at all.

But when you toss that saturated ball over your head, dog spittle spinning off, droplets shining in the sun, your opponent will know what is coming, and rush the net. So what do you do instead? The lob-serve. Hit it deep, keep it squishy, and your opponent will be forced to hit it on the volley rather than let it “bounce” – a relatively tough shot.

But here’s were things could get tedious. Your opponent is just as restricted as you are concerting shot options. She will be sending a lob right back. Not exactly the recipe for excitement.

Except, of course, there are dogs on the court! And the right dog for this game will be expert at shagging lobs. But then what happens? Simple: If the dog catches the ball on the volley, it’s a point for the dog’s team. If the dog catches it on the first bounce, no points for either side, a do-over. The dog can enjoy the ball for a limited time, juicing it up, but when her teammate says “drop”, the ball is returned to play.

Imagine you’re Roger Federer, able to serve a thousand miles an hour, give or take. You’re a dry-ball player. Your dog is an Australian Cattle Dog, nimble as all get-out and filled with energy, but is well-trained to give the ball back before it is too sodden. Your dog’s name is something like “Ace.” 

Today you’re facing an up-and-coming dog-tennis player named Casey, a scrambler in the Michael Chang mold, and his canine teammate Luna, a youngster of uncertain parentage with strong legs and an almost limitless supply of drool. Casey is good at deflecting hard serves so that Luna can have a shot at them, and Casey’s scrambling style will eat you alive once things get sloppy. A classic wet/dry showdown!

Stuff like that is what sport is all about.

Getting Creative with Sports

I’m writing a story with a lot of swimming in it — specifically swimming under water. It got me to thinking about things that have nothing to do with the story, about swimming and sports and whatnot. I knew some competitive swimmers back in the day, and I remember watching one of those guys traverse nearly the entire length of the pool without breaking the surface. That was a long time ago.

Less long ago, I read that in swimming competitions the rule makers now mandate that swimmers have to come to the surface a specified distance after they dive in or after they turn. Why? Because all that splashing on the surface slows you down. Underwater is faster.

The Swimming Czars put rules into effect because swimmers will otherwise exploit the limited size of the swimming pool and spend half their time submerged. Understandable, but… you want to know who does the butterfly fastest? Put them in a nice, calm lake and point to a buoy.

Maybe this has already happened, but I think swimming can learn from the biker kids over at the velodrome. I went to a few events when I lived in San Diego, and those bicyclists have some crazy competitions (motorcycles on the course, unknown race length, slingshot your team mate, it goes on). If there’s a way to cheat, the riders at the velodrome will have a competition to see who does it best. It’s actually a lot of fun to watch, even if you don’t understand everything that’s going on.

If the lords of the swimmin’ hole adopted that ethic, there would have to be a competition that disallows breaking the surface except on turns. I think that would be hugely entertaining. You have the best conditions for world-record times, but swimmers only get to take a breath once every fifty meters. Mess up your turn and don’t get a full fresh lungful, and you’re in a world of hurt for the next fifty.

I encourage the ruling bodies of every sport to consider events like this. Body-checking in a marathon? Making sounds in golf? Team bowling? We could revolutionize sport itself!