Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wishing you lots of love during the holiday season

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. I appreciate you more than I probably make the time to say.

o those who celebrate Christmas, may your day be merry, cheery and bright , and may all your Christmases be loving.

To those who celebrate Hanukkah, may your days be filled with the loving light that triumphs over darkness.

And to those who celebrate Kwanzaa, may you fulfill all the aspirations of this special celebration.

To those who celebrate nothing, well... enjoy your day off!

And please, be safe out there. Everyone knows not to drink and drive. But did you know that it is more dangerous to drive while tired? Rest first before you hit the road. I want you back alive and well, and of course reading my blog!

I hope that 2009 brings everything that you need and many things that you want.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The 2008 Top Men of Tennis – Limerick Style

Current Rankings from the official site for men's tennis:

1. Nadal, Rafael (ESP) [1335]
2. Federer, Roger (SUI) [1061] {photograph below}

3. Djokovic, Novak (SRB) [1059]

4. Murray, Andy (GBR) [744]

5. Davydenko, Nikolay (RUS) [543]

6. Tsonga, Jo-Wilfried (FRA) [410] {middle photograph}

7. Simon, Gilles (FRA) [396]

8. Roddick, Andy (USA) [394]

9. Del Potro, Juan Martin (ARG) [389] {top photo}

10. Blake, James (USA) [355]

# 10 James Blake

He’s good friends with that douche named John Mayer

And once dated a blonde called Jennifer

His go-for-broke style

Butt bouncing all the while

Only confirms he’s an overa

# 9 Juan Del Potro
A breakout star this American summer

Four titles after Stuttgart, what a winner!

José Acasuso,

Nalby, Chela, Gaudio

All replaced by a new son for Argentina

#8 Andy Roddick

It’s unfair to blame it all on the model
‘Decker does B-Rod', so not a good title
But with Mandy Moore

Who had class galore

He was more focused, committed, and subtle

# 7 Gilles Simon

There is an old saying in France

"À jeune chasseur, il faut vieux chien"
In Thierry Tulasne
Simon found the right man

Who could help him learn victory’s parlance.

# 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
“My dear President Elect Obama”,

Wrote Jo Wilfried’s maman, Mme. Tsonga.

“What you pulled off was great

I really do appreciate

But did you have to steal all my son’s thunder?”

# 5 Nicolay Davydenko
His relief was utterly satisfying

Having faced accusations of gambling

In their eyes he could look

And say, see, I’m no crook

Now if he only he could just halt the balding

# 4 Andy Murray

“Get over it”, he shouted, “I am Scottish!”

The press slammed him for being so piggish
But it was just a joke

Or a
pig in a poke
From his teeth everyone knows he’s English

# 3 Novak Djokovic

A proud son of the Serbian soil

No one doubts that he’s willing to toil

But the ceiling won’t pop

He’s shut out of the top

Federer and Nadal make his blood boil

# 2 Roger Federer
Of his year I have no idea what to make

Losses to Sampras, Fish, and ouch Blake

When I kneel down in prayer

I say “God, please, next year
A fourteenth Slam for goodness sake!”

# 1 Rafael Nadal

Part superstitious belief, or just fear

Some think coaches should be changed every year

But when you have the best

And beating all the rest

Uncle Toni’s not going anywhere

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who goes nude to promote a PG movie?

I don’t get it. Why did Jennifer Aniston take off all her clothes to promote a movie that is rated PG? I’m sitting here scratching my head and wondering at the insanity of this woman’s decision-making. This is a PG-rated movie about a dog. And as part of promoting this movie, she took off all her clothes and appeared on the cover of GQ.

She didn’t shed her clothes when she was promoting the R-rated “Derailed”, a movie in which she did sexy things with Clive Owen. She didn’t take her clothes off when promoting the headache-inducing “Break-Up”, a movie in which she strips naked and cavorts in front of Vince Vaughn. But she gets stark nake
d to promote her latest, a PG-rated movie about a dog?

Am I missing something here or does this woman seriously have a screw loose?

I didn’t want to seeMarley and Me” before she took her clothes off and I certainly don’t intend to see it now. But this is not really about the movie per se, but about the messages implied in the approach taken to market it. Are we really still stuck in a time when women are so disempowered that the best we can do to get what we want is to take our clothes off? Honestly, I thought that the women’s movement had pushed us past that.

Then again, I’ve written before about this new brand of feminism that advocates a woman’s embracing her inner slut. In this new re-working, Ms. Aniston would have bared all not because she’s a desperate talentless hack who happened to marry lucky and clearly isn’t over it, but because she is an empowered woman and her nudity is a statement of her power.

I continue to be offended by this debasement of women’s historical struggles. It really irks me that the women’s movement in some respect has been reduced to a woman’s right to be a slut. Or to act or look like one. In the same week that Ms. Aniston elected to bare all to sell her movie, so too did another of Kardashian sisters – the one that looks like Yeti. Or a little bit like Jennifer Aniston, now that I think about it. These are the women that take their clothes off – the talentless ones who lucked out and attracted some paparazzi attention, and then go nude to exploit this. There is nothing feminist about their base manipulations. But these are the role models to which impressionable young women are constantly being exposed.

The actresses whom I admire and whose movies I never miss, never seem to believe that they have to strip naked to promote their craft. I’m talking about actresses like Cate Blanchett, Catherine Keener, and Frances McDormand. From another era, Vanessa Redgrave never disappointed. Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard take risks in some of the roles they accept that few others would dare. But none of them have posed naked on the cover of a men’s magazine as part of promoting a movie, even an R-rated one.

And of course, the goddess of them all is Meryl Streep, who has throughout her career, focused on improving her craft. When she is in a movie, you know that there is a solid chance that it’s going to be excellent. And while excellent actresses like Susan Sarandon and Toni Collette have not been shy about portraying sexuality on screen or stage, neither of them has allowed themselves to be photographed spread-eagled on the cover of a men’s magazine in order to promote an upcoming product.

One can only wonder what went into the decision-making by the 39-year-old Aniston. Was she under the influence of pot when she took this decision? Is she so frightened about turning 40 that she wants to pretend that youthfulness and sex appeal are still within her grasp? But is it really youthfulness when it requires massive amounts of airbrushing in order to maintain the illusion? Is Ms. Aniston really such a non-person that she would rather live with an illusion than face her own reality?

The interview that accompanied the photographs was also quite disturbing. Ms. Aniston did of course talk about the movie. The one about the dog. The one that is rated PG. But she also continued to ruminate about her ex-husband and at one point made a disturbing joke about spending vacations in the Hamptons with her ex, his new lover, and their children. She joked about carrying Zahara on one hip and Knox on the other. Can we spell stalker anyone? Things that make you go ewww.

Ms. Aniston has since claimed that by posing nude, she was not making a statement. Oh, OK. What was she doing then? Getting a tan? In the middle of winter? Is this woman stupid or just insane? It certainly takes a tremendous amount of shallow narcissism for her to not be able to contemplate the inappropriateness of this choice. Or maybe it’s just a desperate attempt to compete with her ex-spouse and his younger lover, both of whom have enjoyed significantly more personal and career success.

Perhaps Ms. Aniston has come to realize that she can only remain relevant by keeping the non-existent “love triangle” alive. Nothing else explains why she is still harping on it four years later. Whatever the heck is going on, one thing is crystal clear – this is no feminist role model.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who knew I had an inner Kanye?

I am in the middle of a fight with the USTA. Well actually the fight is over and I won and the loss is all theirs. I don’t know if the experience speaks to a level of disorganization within the organization responsible for managing tennis. Or if it was just a fluke incident that really should not be over-interpreted. I really don’t know. I’d like to believe that tennis USA is in good hands. But honestly I’m not so sure.

What happened is this. I decided to renew my membership this summer when I went to the US Open. In fact, I renewed it for three years. You see, that’s how serious I am about supporting tennis. And let me make something immediately clear. I do not and have never participated in any USTA tennis leagues. I decided years ago that I was only going to play tennis for fun. This has been a source of frustration for various league managers over the years who have tried to recruit me to their teams because, even if I do say so myself, I have a good game. I have pissed off more than a few league recruiters by nicely saying, “No”. So, in other words, the USTA has really not done anything for me. Other than of course, functioning as the organizing body in the USA for the sport I love.

But despite this, I have remained a member of the USTA. I decided years ago that I would always support tennis, and if that means paying for a three-year membership in the organization that represents my favorite sport, well so be it. As part of the membership package, one receives “Tennis” magazine as well as the USTA magazine on an almost monthly basis. In a good month I simply scan them both – once you’ve been reading “Tennis” for some time, many of the articles start to feel recycled. And even that too is OK.

In exchange for prompt payment on the spot, the woman at the USTA booth assured me that my magazines would appear in “about two weeks”. I could live with that.

September came and went, no membership card, no magazines. October came and went, nothing. November – same stupid story. So then I got angry and I went all Kanye in their backside. I sent an ALL CAPS email asking them to send me back every last penny they had taken from me and immediately cancel my membership.

I received a response claiming that they had already sent me a “Tennis” magazine so they would issue me a pro-rated refund. Well that sent my inner Kanye FLARING, and I responded again in ALL CAPS that I had not received a SINGLE magazine and that I therefore expected to receive a FULL AND PROMPT REFUND!!!!!

I eventually received a contrite letter of apology assuring me that I would be fully refunded. And in all fairness, let me state clearly that the entire sum was refunded to me on December 8th, exactly three months and one week after they accepted my payment for a three-year renewal.

And then today, I received a copy of the November/December issue of Tennis magazine. The magazine normally comes in clear plastic. This one came in a white manila envelope. Somebody somewhere in their marketing division must have decided to make true on their claim to having sent me a magazine. So now I can truly say that they have. Needless to say, I instantly sucked my teeth in irritation. Who are these stupid people?

I must admit that I got further irritated when I saw the cover with the caption, “Serena Williams, No. 1 Again”. It took me a few moments before I realized that they were talking about the results of the US Open. Three months after the fact. Three months after Jelena Jankovic has trumped Serena into second place, leading her by almost 1000 points. Three months after Jankovic has been seen training her ass off in Mexico with Pat Etcheberry, running sprints with the marathon winner German Silva, so serious is she about remaining No. 1. In the meantime, Serena withdrew from the Hopman Cup.

I know that the USTA is not directly responsible for Tennis magazine (although they are clearly in each other’s pockets which is why “Tennis” is included as a bonus for USTA membership). Tennis magazine is put out by the Miller Publishing Group, which also used to own Vibe and Spin, both of which they sold off in recent years. Apparently they’ve elected to keep Tennis magazine. Cool. I’m down with that. But we are facing a period when the Internet is giving print a serious challenge, so much so that magazines and newspapers once thought to be impervious to change, indestructible really, now find themselves either downsizing in order to survive, or closing up shop altogether.

Is it then asking too much for the publishers of Tennis magazine to keep up with events occurring in the world of tennis? Is it too much to expect that the USTA will offer the kind of excellent organization that support like mine and thousands of other individuals have paid for? Apparently it is. And that’s why neither one will be getting a dime more of my hard-earned money.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When promise is mismanaged

I never liked Jelena Dokic’s game. I don’t enjoy watching what I call go-for-broke-on-every-damn-shot kind of tennis. You know, where the player hits a flat ball as hard as possible into the deuce court and then you can predict without fail that no matter what the opponent does, the player will respond by going for an all-out-win by hitting a flat ball as hard as possible into the ad court. This pattern is repeated ad infinitum or for as long as it takes for the opponent to (a) make an error, (b) run out of steam, or (c) lose the match. It’s boring as hell to watch but, when done well, it works. And there was a time when Jelena Dokic was the best at this type of play.

Side-to-side, go-for-broke-on-every-damn-shot tennis works best when the player is at the top of her fitness because it demands a lot of the body. In fact, it is an aggressive type of play most frequently associated with injury. This is partly because it demands the ability to redirect the ball accurately and aggressively no matter how hard your opponent responds. It demands a great deal of speedy footwork and flat out sprinting. It requires an enormous lung capacity, an unwavering attention to ball placement, and an unerring focus. And there was a time when Jelena Dokic had all of these gifts and more.

Dokic used to make an odd nasal sound when playing that either added to her charm or served as an irritant depending on how you felt about her. The sound irritated me but I was already irritated by the predictable side-to-side-to-side, go-for-broke pattern of a game with no variation, no creativity, no alternative plan, no spin, few drop shots or lobs, mainly an unrelentingly flat pounding of the ball from one side of the court to the other, back and forth, on and on. So when you added the little nasal whinny, I often turned off the volume whenever Dokic played.

But Dokic’s nasal whinny was the least of the distractions around her back then. In late ‘90s, Dokic’s career was being managed by her father, the infamous Damir Dokic. My absolutely favorite Damir Dokic story involved his getting kicked out of the 2000 US Open after making a scene over the price of a salmon plate, accusing the WTA management of being gangsters and criminals. (I must admit that I felt the same way this summer after paying for overpriced Heineken and pesto cheese sandwiches, but I knew better than to go all Damir Dokic up in there.)

Whatever laughter was triggered by this particular Damir Dokic story quickly subsided the following day as I read news reports of his daughter sobbing the translations of her father’s Serbo-Croat tirades to the media over the telephone. She translated statements about having to fight the Jews in New York, and not caring if they put a bomb on the plane. Episodes like this and the one in which he was he was ejected from Wimbledon following a drunken outburst in which he allegedly broke a journalist’s phone, confirmed that Mr. Dokic was a loose canon. It was not long before his daughter’s career imploded.

Jelena Dokic owed a great deal of her success to an investment in her promise by Tennis Australia. The Dokic family had fled their war-torn homeland, and, by age 11, Jelena had been awarded Australian citizenship. No doubt Tennis Australia had detected the promise that, by 1998 saw Jelena become the #1 Junior in the world. She remained the darling of Australia when she teamed up with Australian Mark Philipoussis to win the Hopman Cup in 1999. She received a wild card into the Australian Open that same year and lost in the third round to then world #1, Martina Hingis.

Jelena Dokic's star continued to rise as she qualified for Wimbledon and avenged the loss against Hingis, spanking her 6-2 6-0 in the first round. I remember that match. Hingis seemed completely out of sorts and stories later emerged about her being distracted by a fight with her coach-mother. But Dokic’s domination that day was unquestioned. Dokic went on to beat Mary Pierce, then seeded 9th. Dokic eventually lost in three lop-sided sets to Alexandra Stevenson who was also enjoying a breakout year, and whose career would also soon deflate. More promise mismanaged but that’s for another column.

Things started unraveling for Dokic when she lost in the first round of the 2000 Australian Open to Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary whom she narcissistically dismissed as someone who “will never be a player”. For these statements she was roundly roasted by the media. But all eyes remained on the antics of her father who protested by returning his family to Belgrade, denouncing Australia as not having been supportive enough of his daughter. The narcissistic fusion between father and daughter was disturbing to watch. By early 2001, Dokic had registered for the Australian Open as a Yugoslav citizen. When she lost in the first round to Lindsay Davenport, Damir Dokic alleged that the draw had been rigged against his daughter. Lost in the chaos were his daughter’s statements of a similar belief and a threat to never again set foot on Australian soil.

In fact, Damir Dokic’s massive presence has always overshadowed his daughters’, and has distracted from her own erratic temperament and questionable decision-making. I have long believed that Jelena Dokic needs to be held more accountable for the mismanagement of her own promise.

In 2003, Dokic parted ways with her father and started being coached by Croatian Borna Bikić whose brother (Tin) she was also dating. By mid-2004, she had returned to her family but the transition was difficult and for a 4-5 month period in 2005/2006, reports claimed that she had literally disappeared. She resurfaced in Australia in 2006 requesting a renewal of her Aussie citizenship. She denied claims by her father that she had been kidnapped by her boyfriend. But her career has continued its downward slide, in part because of frequent injuries. Her attempts to rebuild her career have been encouraged by an inordinate number of wildcards. But she withdraws from as many matches as she actually plays. And she continues to complain about feeling inadequately supported, statements for which she has had made to apologize to Tennis Australia.

Ten years later, Jelena Dokic is once again begging Australia for yet another chance to help her reclaim the promise that resulted in her becoming a citizen in 1998. But Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, has made it clear that this time he is setting limits for the conduct of the now 25-year-old adult woman. There will be no handouts and no funding. And while her verbal statements of apology have been accepted, he expects to see them backed up with action including her giving back to some of the Juniors in the same manner in which her own promise had been nurtured years ago. It’s too bad this was not done years ago. Both Dokic’s career and her emotional development may have been better off for it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Thanksgiving road trip

We left at 4am. We were driving to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. A friend had invited me to spend the holiday with her, and another friend and I decided to make a road trip of it. Sure we could have flown but the point of a road trip is to be out there on the open road, nothing but sky above you, solid road below you, and a white or yellow line to mark your way. A road trip can be a deeply spiritual experience. It can help to clear your head.

The last road trip I went on involved another friend and her dog which she loved beyond all reason and which I thoroughly hated by the time we made it to San Diego. The thing was a nervous mess and we had to stop every half-hour for it to pee after something or ot
her – a big truck, a loud car horn, me changing the station – had set off its hyperaroused anxiety meter. I had sworn off road trips with women ever again. Which is not to say that my luck is any better with men. The last trip I went on with a man ended up with our car floating gently down into a snow-filled ravine enroute to Montreal. It took another car floating down into the same ditch for us to get pulled out. The combined manpower of both vehicles did the trick.

Road trips are for me tests of endurance and patience. I have loads of the former but very little of the latter, a combination that can make travel at once both a joyous and an irritating experience. So I was both looking forward to and questioning the possible benefits of the drive to Atlanta. But my friend and I both needed to clear our heads, and short of sitting on a therapist’s couch, there is no better cure for a muddled mind than getting out on the road to anywhere, preferably somewhe
re far.

My friend had some issues with a man that she needed to sort out. I had my own man issues to resolve but wasn’t ready to talk them out loud with anyone. But I knew that the 14-hour drive would help clear my head and put some much needed distance between the male stimulus and my somewhat questionable emotions. It was a situation in which I had been thrown into contact with the same person repeatedly and we had enjoyed each other’s company so much that feelings were starting to develop. Except that, for a number of reasons, they should not have. So I needed to break it. Come to think of it, that is a perfect description of the situation my friend also faced. So there we were, two women wit
h man issues on the road on Thanksgiving Day, driving to Atlanta to clear our heads and sever budding bonds. Yes it was an ambitious plan but with Prince on the ipod and gas at affordable prices, it seemed doable.

My friend got to my house at 4am, as planned. The fog was thick in the early morning. Visibility was a few mere yards and the plan to drive at 75 mph had to be quashed. A more cautious 35 mph was called for. The result was that we eventually crawled into Baton Rouge somewhere around mid-morning.

At the start of the trip, I suggested that we purchase lottery tickets in each state along the way. I figured that if all else failed, I would settle for being a millionaire. And I knew that she would not blab and tell everyone that we were suddenly rich as dirt. Of course the problem with having a lot of money seems to be that some people think they can suddenly do w
hat the hell they want and live by their own rules. You know, such as breaking some of the norms that govern healthy relationships and crossing lines that you really shouldn’t. And maybe this is why I still haven’t checked to see if we won.

Along the way, I suddenly remembered a Caribbean superstition that says that if you want to break a pattern, it is necessary to cross water. I told my friend this and she got very excited and decided to give it a try. The next time we crossed a river, she called out the name of the man she was attracted to but shouldn’t be and asked him to set her free. I wasn’t ready to speak my situation out loud so I whispered the name of the man I had become attracted to but shouldn’t have. And so we went, she screaming, me silently whispering every time we crossed a bri
dge with water running under it.

I wish I had stopped to take more pictures of the swamps of Mississippi. There was one long bridge that went on for miles. Let go. Let go. I’m free. I’m setting you free. I whispered for miles. My friend became hoarse with screaming.

It started raining in Alabama. Darkness fell sharply, unexpectedly. It
became cold in the car, but turning on the heat made the air stuffy. I had done all of the driving. I love to drive so this was not a burden. But we were equally tired. Hunger made us irritable. Ten miles out of Montgomery, we decided we could not drive another mile. So we found a Hampton Inn off the highway and decided to crash for the night. I called my friend in Atlanta to give my apologies. And I fell into a sweet dreamless sleep, free of any thoughts of him and any feelings that I shouldn’t be having. Crossing water is magic.

My friend says that she has since broken things off with her guy. I can however speak only for myself when I say that I feel completely free. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

When greed motivates behavior

For a start, let me apologize. Writing is a responsibility – a tremendous one. And when I undertook writing this blog, it was never my intent to do anything but deliver on that responsibility. My initial goal was to write at least 100 articles per year, with at least 50% of them on tennis, and the rest loosely divided between “life” and “love”.

And then along came John chipmunk-cheeked McCain, with Sarah-the-Bitch Palin, and Barrack Hussein (
yes, Hussein, get over it) Obama, and I got more than a bit distracted. And for that too, I apologize.

My intent on starting this blog was to write at least one article every 3.65 days. Really, it would be greedy of you to expect more.

Yes I have greed on the brain. I think that it is a massive factor to explain the precipice that we seem about to fall off of. And yes I know that a preposition is not a good thing to end a sentence with. But how else could I make my point?

I have an ex-boyfriend who believes that greed is the best explanation for men’s infidelity. I probably need to mention that he was not a psychologist. But inasmuch as he was dating one, he frequently felt moved to try to attempt to give his two cents on explaining human behavior. And he felt that psychologists had become so enamored of anxiety and depression and anger as motives for human actions that we had simply lost sight of baser motives such as envy, and coveting, and greed.

What triggered his observations was a series of in-depth columns I had written on infidelity in relationships. He endured the series and the unending commentary it had inspired – and then told me that I was completely wrong.

Infidelity in his view had nothing to do with discontent or desire – twin motives I had put forward to explain why men cheat on the women they claim to love. Instead, in his view, it was all about greed. He felt that infidelity was inspired by wanting more than your fair share. He argued that in my feminine naiveté, I had completely missed the truth that some men were just greedy, had been greedy since childhood having never learned to be content with their portion. He maintained that such men would spend the rest of their lives wanting to acquire more and more and more. He believed that base greed more than any other emotion adequately explained their behavior.

I must admit that at the time, I took some solace in his strong language, thinking (stupidly) that his self-awareness was a protection against his ever being inspired by a similar motive. Silly me. He was not speaking about himself. He was commenting only on a blind spot in human motivation that he honestly felt that psychologists had completely missed. In hindsight, I think that he was right. Let’s not count the levels.

It was hard not to ponder on greed as the price of oil kept rising and rising throughout the North American summer. You and I may have started taking the bus but someone(s) somewhere must have been profiting by this epiglottal squeeze. Who profits when a specific commodity suddenly becomes scarce or unaffordable? Who benefits when something needed overnight ends up out of the reach of the average? Really, this is all so reminiscent of Frank Hebert’s “Dune”, isn’t it?

I have long had an interest in altruism – the very opposite of greed in many ways – and have tried to keep track of some of the research that examines human selflessness. There is a great deal of research to back up the assertion that altruism is innate to human nature, that its absence needs to be explained, not its presence. What then about greed?

Greed has been defined as the selfish desire for the pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, especially when denying the same to others. Are we born greedy or do we learn to want more than our fair share? And if greed is learned behavior, how is it learned? Can it be unlearned? Are there gender differences on this dimension? There is so much about this motive for human behavior that we do not know.

I do believe that the greed of a few is a principal factor in the economic death grip that has seized hold of the world economy. It was greed that made some American realtors and brokers sell subprime mortgages to the clueless poor who would soon discover that they would not be able to afford their shiny new houses. It was greed that motivated banks to buy and sell these questionable pieces of paper, collapsing them into bundles of worthlessness that could be floated on the free market. And as the meltdown continues to affect us all, somewhere there are a handful of Shylocks who continue to count their pounds of flesh.

A lot of brilliant psychologists are among the staff of those advertising firms that persuade us to buy unnecessary commodities. In fact the best advertising influences us to blur the boundary between wants and needs. In truth, we can all live more healthily without either Pepsi or Coke, but a lot of money has been spent in persuading us to choose between the two. Greed will always remain a motivator for behavior because it enriches and profits the conscienceless gluttons among us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflections in Haiku – The Top Ten Women of 2008

According to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour website, these are the top ten female players of 2008:

1. Jelena Jankovic (photo bottom right)
2. Serena Williams

3. Dinara Safina

4. Elena Dementieva
(middle photo)
5. Ana Ivanovic

6. Venus Williams (top photo, right)

7. Vera Zvonareva

8. Svetlana Kuznetsova

9. Maria Sharapova

10. Agnieszka Radwanska

Here are ten haikus in recognition of their achievement:

Radwanska the Pole
Made a million bucks
sweet herstory

Sharapova’s rank
Accurately reflects her
Limited progress

Kuznetsova please

Find a coach and stick with him

Or her, I don’t care

Vera’s tears erased
A year of brutal work
Back to the drawing-board

Venus Williams
Seems to have recommitted

To braids and tennis

Ms. Ivanovic seems caught

Between twin loves:

Modeling and tennis

Dementieva knows
That serving is not

The only way to win

Safina worked hard

For everything she’s achieved

Congrats little sis

Come clean Serena.

Were those an actress’ tears

Or real disappointment?

Heavy mascara
Can't drive Porsche with broken toe

Drama queen
’s on court

Sunday, November 9, 2008

There’s no crying in tennis!

I was shocked to see Serena Williams twice burst into tears as she was soundly thrashed by her sister last Thursday. Of the two sisters, Serena has always appeared to be the mentally stronger. And then today Venus did it again – she made an opponent cry.

I really thought Vera Zvonareva had stopped with the crying. Throughout this tournament in Doha, she has looked so bold, so confident, so fit. Indeed, throughout this year, I can honestly describe her as composed. She has looked nothing like the Vera of yore, a fragile young woman who would sob at the slightest error, her face turning beet-red, as huge wet tears stream down her cheeks.

But throughout 2008, that Vera never appeared on court. Instead, she has been replaced by a composed yo
ung woman who announced to all comers that she is a force to be reckoned with. This new Vera has been on a tear, coming from behind to qualify for the year-end championships in Doha, and steam-rolling over everyone on the way to the finals.

So when Vera burst into tears after losing her serve in the third set, I must admit that I felt disappointed in her. You see, Vera did not just tear up briefly and move on. That I may have been able to deal with. No, she threw herself on the ground and her entire body started heaving dramatically. Then she sat down, hid her face under a towel, and continued to sob. With this emotional display, she was signaling to her opponent that she was going to lose the match. And she did.

I am reminded of the movie in which Tom Hanks looks on nonplus
sed as one of the female baseball-playing characters burst into tears. Tom then announces in a confused tone, “There’s no crying in baseball”. I found myself yelling at the TV screen, “Vera, quit it, there’s no crying in tennis!” As if she could hear me. As if it would make a difference.

Listen, I am not without empathy for this young woman. As a player myself, I know how hard it is to feel your command of a game just slip away. And I can even imagine that some might argue that releasing the tension from your b
ody via a few tears might have a beneficial effect. Perhaps. I would think that deep breathing and maintaining a positive mental focus would be better strategies than giving in to tears. The reason for this is because crying in such situations is usually preceded and accompanied by negative thoughts – and no one can afford to take the risk of thinking negatively when a resurgent Venus Williams is on the other side of the net.

I don’t know what it is that Vera did that got her to stop crying in the first place. I’d like to believe that she worked with a sports psychologist. That is certainly what I would have recommended were I a member of her training team. Sports psychologists spe
cialize in helping players get over their mental blocks to winning. They teach sports players how to concentrate and maintain positive focus, how to manage on-court stress, how to improve their moods, how to build their self-confidence in their ability to play at the highest level of the sport, and how to ignore or tune out distractions (such as a screaming partisan crowd).

Some players have gone on record about having used sports psychologists. Todd Martin has been open about using the assistance of a sports psychologist to help him get over his mental block against playing Pete Sampras. And when Todd eventually beat his nemesis, I remember thinking that the profession had been vindicated.

Sports psychology is now commonly integrated into many tennis-training programs. Most of the better NCAA pro
grams have a sports psychologist on staff. There is no stigma attached to seeking out the assistance of this individual. In fact, today most players understand that this is what achieving peak performance actually requires.

I remember once being invited to speak to a group of Junior players who were leaving to participate in an ITF tournament. I did it but I was quite annoyed. I was annoyed that it had not occurred to any of the coaches to invite my participation until the day before the team was about to depart. So there I was, in a crowded stock room turned conference room, giving a group of pre-teens what amounted to little more than a pep talk. I would have loved to have been offered the opportunity to work with them throughout their physical preparation. Tennis is more than a physical sport. It is a psychologically very demanding game. A last-minute pep talk could not possibly be enough. And it wasn’t.

Vera played awesome tennis today. But Venus, clearly the mentally stronger of the two, came back from a set down to prevail. They were both ranked lowest in the line-up going into Doha. It is ironic that they outlasted everyone ranked above them to end up facing each other in the finals. The only difference between them today lay in their levels of mental fitness.

Friday, October 24, 2008

When opportunism meets impulsivity

All successful politicians are good opportunists. Successful politicians grasp intuitively that the currency in which they are transacting is the ability to influence. “Vote for me” they all say, not as plainly and directly as that because the transaction of influence involves methods that are both subtle and unsubtle. And to be effective as an agent of influence, a good politician will seize on any and every opportunity to accrue political power, whenever such moments arise.

Barrack Obama is a tremendous opportunist. He could not have gotten as far as he has by his age if he was not. An excellent example of his opportunism is the way he has managed to capitalize on the decline of financial markets worldwide. He has responded with plans and long-term solutions. And more importantly, no matter how his opponent has tried to distract him from this focus, Obama clearly understands that this is what Americans want to talk about right now. Not about if a surge was successful or not in Iraq. Not on whether that war should or should not have occurred. But on their bank balances and what this portends for their financial future. So, like an opportunist extraordinaire, Obama continues to communicate messages of financial delivery.

John McCain is also an excellent opportunist. In fact, he may be better at spotting opportunities for manipulation than Obama ever will be. What McCain lacks in formal education, he more than makes up for with an innate wiliness that is in some sense admirable. The old goat can see an opportunity the second it presents itself. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the corrective ability to think things through before acting on them. This is called impulsivity.

A knack for opportunism works best when it is partnered with an equal capacity for excellent judgment and an ability to assess situations well before acting on them. This seems to be what McCain lacks. And if he loses the November elections, it will at least in part be because he ends up coming across as a reckless opportunist. At a time when Americans are looking for guidance from someone they can trust – and it’s hard enough for most of them to wrap their minds around the notion of trusting a Black man with the middle name of Hussein – it is becoming increasingly apparent that trusting McCain seems to present an even more difficult challenge.

McCain’s impulsivity did not start with the selection of Sarah Palin. But it is a good example of it. An opportunity presented itself – here was a good-looking conservative governor with an attractive family. Superficially, she seemed appropriate if your only impulse was to capture the votes of the 18 million women who wanted Hilary Clinton, and if you concluded that all you apparently needed to achieve this was someone with breasts and a vagina.

And at first, the selection of Mrs. Palin attracted so much attention that McCain must have momentarily believed he had done it right. He would have to be a complete idiot to still believe this. And McCain is no idiot. In hindsight he must know that he should have vetted her more carefully, thought through his options more rationally. But when you’re an impulsive individual, such thoughts often only occur in hindsight, if at all.

The same thing occurred when McCain latched on to Joe the Mascot. When Samuel Wurzelbacher (now infamously known as “Joe the Plumber") sought to embarrass Barack Obama by accusing him of potentially raising his taxes so that he might not be able to afford to buy the plumbing company he worked for, McCain seized on the opportunity to shame his opponent. Joe the Plumber was mentioned some 20 times in the subsequent debate. Some said that it was McCain’s best performance. There’s nothing like believing that you have struck gold for inspiring an old fart to excellence.

And once again McCain found himself with egg all over his face. Turns out that Joe was apparently neither a Joe nor a plumber. And that he actually has a lien on his house for unpaid taxes.

Opportunism has been defined as a tendency to seek to make political capital out of situations. The principal aim is the garnering of additional influence or support. The opportunist does not seek to genuinely win people over to a principled position. True opportunists do not care if people genuinely understand the issues. In fact, they might prefer it if you don’t because your improved political understanding is not their goal. But sometimes opportunism backfires. Badly.

Which brings me to Ashley Todd, a young McCain supporter who alleged that a Black man had attacked her, stolen her money, and, spotting her McCain-Palin sticker, proceeded to carve the letter “B” for Barack on her face. News reports claim that McCain immediately telephoned the young woman. Here was another opportunity to show up the kinds of despicable Black people who were supporting Obama.

Except that there was a curious thing about the facial mutilation. The letter B had been written backwards, as if it had been self-inflicted with the use of a mirror. And it turns that that is precisely what occurred. Ms. Todd has since confessed her lies and will face criminal charges.

I do not at all fault McCain for seizing hold of these opportunities and seeking to increase his power and influence through them. That is what good opportunists do. But opportunism works best when it is combined with a preexisting ideology. You have to stand for something, and when you know clearly what you stand for, you will recognize and seize those opportunities that mesh with your preexisting principles. Like many Democrats, Barrack Obama seems to believe that it is unfair that five percent of the population has managed to profit by get-rich-quick schemes that form the crux of our current financial crisis. He did not start believing this when the crisis occurred. He has been saying it all along. The plummeting of the economy provided him the opportunity to say this more meaningfully.

When you stand for nothing, or when you’re the kind of opportunist who will jettison seemingly heart-felt principles just so you can increase your political power and influence, you may luck out periodically. But mainly you end up seeming to be grasping at straws. Combine this with a tendency to be impulsive and the world concludes that you’re a reckless, dangerous man. And they find themselves increasingly willing to take their chances with an intelligent, thoughtful Black man.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tennis round up: it's been a while, non?

I must admit that I have been distracted by all of the drama surrounding the Presidential elections. For a moment there, I completely forgot that this is supposed to be a tennis blog. At least some of the time. So in this column, I catch up with all of the tennis developments I have not commented on over the past month or so. Apologies for these delayed reactions.

Tsonga wins first title
It’s unforgivable that I did not throw a party to celebrate this. When Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost to Novak Djokovic in four tight sets at the finals of the Australian Open, tennis commentators hailed his performance as a breakthrough. Much was subsequently expected of him. Little was delivered. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he soon found himself once again sidelined by injury. This went on for several months.

So when he again faced Djokovic in the finals of the Thailand Open, few felt he had any chance of winning. But win he did, using his massive forehand to save three break points in the final game before closing out the victory. The score was 7-6 (4), 6-4. Tsonga had won his first career title and was paid $94,000. But he denied that getting revenge for that Aussie Open loss was ever a motivating factor. I didn’t believe him for a second.

And still she rises
When Jelena Jankovic lost to Flavia Pennetta in the second round of the Zurich Open, it was hard not to wonder if she really cared. I’m not saying that she tanked – not at all. And I also don’t mean to minimize Pannetta’s performance. Flavia has had a rough time of it recently – between the break-up with the famous boyfriend (Carlos Moya), and a series of unfortunate injuries, it’s been great to see her back looking healthy and focused. And her making it all the way to the finals of the Zurich Open confirmed that her resurgence is no fluke.

However, Jankovic must have been bone-tired. Prior to this match, she had won three tournaments in three straight weeks – in Beijing, Stuttgart, and Moscow. Ironically, she beat a resurgent Vera Zvonareva in each of these tournaments, in the last one facing her in the finals. It’s nice to see Vera back again and seeming tougher. I remember the days when all she was known for was her pitiful crying during a match.

It’s been a helluva year in women’s tennis. Henin quit at the top of her game, leaving the field wide open for all takers. Davenport tried but she remains on the fringe and few really see her as a threat. Dinara Safina stepped up and out from under her brother’s shadow; these days it is she who seems to be inspiring him to give his all to tennis instead of to the Safinettes who have long lusted after him. Serena takes a time-out – but you know she will bring her A-game to Doha. Venus should qualify, and deservedly so. But Jankovic is indisputably the #1 player in the world.

While Serena plays with Common, Venus keeps focus on tennis
When last I saw photos of Serena, she was on the beach with Common, daring to wear a white bikini after Labor Day. But while Serena played at the beach – no doubt aware that Jankovic had usurped her #1 spot and Safina had supplanted her in # 2, but seemingly unbothered by both of these developments – Venus remained focused on her tennis. In a sense, Venus has no choice really. Serena has already qualified for the year-end Sony championship event in Doha. So have Jankovic and Safina. But Venus needs every win she can get her hands on in order to qualify.

Against Flavia Pennetta in Zurich, 28-year-old Venus brought her A-game. She knew better than to underestimate Pennetta, having lost to her the last three times they played. Pennetta was clearly aiming for a fourth win but Venus denied her. The first set tiebreak was nail-bitingly close. But when Venus broke Pennetta in the opening game of the second set, and then held serve with four straight aces, I knew that there was no looking back. And was there a more Hallmark ending than when she ran into the stands to kiss her father and her dog – and was serenaded by “Simply the best” upon her return.

¡Ay caramba!
Nadal's loss to the Frenchman, Gilles Simon, in front of the Hugo Boss supermodel ballgirls in Madrid, ended up being one of the best tennis matches I have ever seen. For everyone who disparaged Federer for losing to Simon in three tight sets of the opening round of the Rogers Open (Canada), it’s time to sit up and take notice. That was no fluke. Gilles Simon is a serious contender. He faced Nadal in front of the latter's home crowd and he did not flinch. Not after losing the first set, not after taking the third set to a tie-break, and not even after he found himself facing a 6-6 score in the tie-break. Simon calmly proceeded to win the next two points and the match. It was Nadal who seemed tense. More than anything else, Simon focused on breaking down Nadal’s lefty backhand. He pummeled it and pummeled it, and managed to make Nadal look defensive. Honestly, Nadal started hitting some of the kind of silly poking shots that you only see among club players of a certain (advanced) age. I feel badly that Nadal lost, but I can’t help but be thrilled for Simon. He deserved it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Like rats fleeing a sinking ship

My aesthetician is a German woman. She has all of the newfangled technologies but prefers to use old-fashioned methods of skin cleansing – her fingers, a sterile needle, a steamer, washcloths. I like going there and sometimes even fall asleep as her heavily-accented English washes over me as she explains what she is about to do.

Getting a facial has become a luxury I can really no longer afford. But this being a long weekend, and having gotten so caught up in work that I did not make any plans, I decided to treat myself from tip to toe. I rationalized that the money I would have spent in a frenzy of weekend activity, I could simply spend on myself.

I started off with my hairdresser. Normally her salon is crowded with women seeking the expertise of her Dominican fingers. Yesterday the salon was com
pletely empty. I walked in and went straight to the shampoo chair. I had my choice of attendants – they were all available. On a typical Saturday, I could easily spend three hours just getting a shampoo and blow dry. Yesterday, I was out in an hour.

Before I left, I asked the salon owner what the matter was, although I knew that it had everything to do with the poor state of the economy. She responded that it was like that some days and that the day before she had had so many customers that she didn’t know what to do with them. I respected her right not to show me her fears. But while flat-ironing my hair she took a telephone call and switched to talking in Spanish. I gathered that she was planning a trip back to the Dominican Republic to see about starting a small hairdressing business there.

Next up was a pedicure. I decided to try a salon I had never used before, one that was conveniently located on the way from the hairdressers'. I have never in my life been so happily greeted by so many Vietnamese attendants. The empty salon offered me my choice of magazine, chair, and nail color. I wa
s once again the only customer. The salon advertised $5. off the spa pedicure. I took it. Honestly, it was the best pedicure I have ever had. The attendant was undistracted; there was no need to hustle me out of the massage chair to accommodate the next customer. I tried to ask her view of the empty salon but her English was just not good enough for meaningful communication. But of course I had my own answers. The economic backslash is in full swing.

I closed out the day getting a facial. The aesthetician greeted me warmly. Normally I have to call a good month ahead to get an appointment with her. Yesterday I called in the morning and got an appointment that same afternoon. As she lathered my face with cleansers, I commented on the surprising ease with which I had gotten an appointment. She opened up about how bad things were for her and how she has barely made any money in the past three months. She then revealed that if things got worse, she would just pack up and move back to Germany.

“How long have you lived in the States?” I asked incredulously.

“Thirty years!” she replied. “But I go back for holidays every year. My parents are still there. And to be honest I have always banked there. I prefer to save my money in Germany where it’s too far for me to spend it!” I
laughed along with her, but I could feel a knot of displeasure growing inside me.

Look, I get that attitudes like my hairdresser’s and my aesthetician’s are largely the legacy of a history in the United States of official policies of hostility towards minorities and immigrants. And I include those who came here voluntarily, those who were forced to do so in chains and shackles, and those who actually predated colonialization but found themselves herded like cattle onto reservations where they could be more easily marginalized. The 1790 Naturalization Act was explicitly designed to refuse citizenship to “non-whites”, which then included immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and France. Other racist policies have included the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1924 National Origins Act, and the 1924 Immigration Act, all of which were aimed at restricting entry to the US by people categorized as “non-white”.

Today, racism is no longer an official component of US immigration policy. But in practice, US officials continue to persecute illegal immigrants from some countries while looking the other way for others. And the granting of a visa can be facilitated by the size of one’s bank account.

One outcome of such racist policies is that when times are hard in the US, and when this country needs the minds of its best thinkers and the skills of its best workers, we are faced with the phenomenon of some folks clamoring to get out. They’re like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

The truth is that despite its many racist policies, a whole lot of people found life in the US to be preferable to what existed in their countries of origin. But now that times are tough and seem on the verge of becoming tougher, many are plotting their escape. I find this both unseemly and unfair. If the US was a good enough country for you to live in when times were good, then it should be good enough during times of recession. In fact, you should be willing to do your part to help re-build it. To flee just because you have a passport allowing you to do so is a statement that you were just using this country conveniently and really never wanted to belong here. You forfeit the right to complain therefore if the door is slammed on your way out.

(cartoon remains copyrighted to Mike Lukovich of the Atlanta Journal;

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Weight of Our Dreams

I’ve been listening to Robin Thicke’s latest CD (titled “Something Else”). It’s the soulful follow-up to his “Evolution”. Every song is excellent, but his “Dreamworld” is hauntingly beautiful and touches me in a space that is at the same time hopeful but scary. It’s the space in which dreams are born and hope is truly the thing with feathers. Thicke (photo below from his website) croons…

I would tell Van Gogh that he was loved, there's no need to cry
I would say Marvin Gaye your father didn't want you to die
There would be no black or white, the world would just treat my wife right
We could walk down in Mississippi and no one would look at us twice

That's my dreamworld, that's my dreamworld
It's more than a dream

My dreamworld, that's my dreamworld

And I wanna live in the dream

I sometimes find it very hard to remain focused on my own dreams and wishes. I find that I am always aware of the surrounding realities that limit them. I strive and pursue like few others, but I am never surprised when reality reaches up and slaps me in the face, reminding me that not everything is under my singular control. That there are factors over which I have no control and which, in this country, will always influence how far I can go and how much I will achieve.

It’s so much easier then to deposit our dreams and hopes in others. Let them carry out our wishes. Let us feel the pride in their achievement, knowing that it came at tremendous cost and that they had the strength to fulfill it.

But some people crumble under the weight of other people’s dreams. This has long been my view of the Williams’ sisters. They became the repository of dreams and hopes in a way that James Blake never had to and Donald Young never will. And when they lose, there seems to be an extra layer of painfulness that is simply not there for say a Patty Schnyder or an Elena Dementieva.

After having worked so hard to become the #1 player in the world, Serena Williams elected to disappear after the US Open, leaving the field wide open for anyone named Jelena Jankovic who wanted to overtake her. Serena returned at the Porsche Grand Prix this week but seemed unusually vulnerable. She won the first set against China’s Na Li. In fact, she made Na Li swallow a bagel. And then she squandered it by losing the next two sets – and tumbled heavily from her #1 berth.

Then last night I watched Venus lose to Jelena Jonkovic, who is once again the #1 player in the world. Anyone could have predicted Venus’ loss last night – Jankovic is playing that well. In fact, I truly believe that if Serena had lost the second set in the finals of the US Open, Jankovic would have won the trophy. Jankovic is oozing a level of self-confidence that is remarkable to watch. Always able to hold on to her laughter at the tensest of moments, she has the remarkable ability to shrug off losing a first set and then act as if the match actually just got started.

But unlike her countryman Novak Djokovic, Jankovic does not seem to be carrying the burden of Serbian dreams. Sure she has her vocal supporters, but it is Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic who seemed to be the anointed ones who were expected to deliver. Jankovic was always the less attractive also-ran, the retriever that I and many like me dismissed as nothing but. Unlike Jankovic, Venus and Serena Williams have never been freed from having to carry the burden of expectation, the weight of the dreams of Black folk.

I find it remarkable that Barack Obama has written two books in which the words “dream” and “hope” feature prominently in the titles. This suggests to me that he totally gets it. And that he actually may not mind carrying people's hopes and dreams.

I first heard about Barack Obama from a 70-year-old white woman, a California psychologist who started peppering my inbox with news about him starting some two years ago. I now know many other women like her, white women who volunteered to make calls and help raise funds for his campaign. Barack Obama has become the repository of hope for people of all colors who dare to dream of a racially unified USA.

But I can’t help but worry about the utter mess he seems about to inherit. You know the details. I don’t have to tell you. In fact, I explained before that this is precisely why I did not want him to win. And while I do appreciate the timing of George Bush’s implosion – which I assume was supposed to occur after Obama had assumed power so that he and the Democrats could carry the full weight of blame – there is a great deal about this that is unfortunate.

It is unfortunate that Barack Obama may have the difficult task of telling the American people that we have actually been living in a dreamworld. The party is clearly over. The business of living on a hypothetical economy is no longer working. It’s time to face the reality that the rest of the world either hates or mocks us, that poverty in this country comes in all shades and hues, and that the only way forward is through unity. That is my dream.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sex addict…or the effects of Californication?

I read recently that the actor David Duchovny has checked himself into rehab for the treatment of a sex addiction. I must admit that I had a good belly laugh with that one.

I have never met a sex addict. I have however met a slew of men who claimed the disease of sex addiction after being busted for infidelity. I’ve also met many wives who clung desperately to the belief that the reason for their husband’s habitual failure to keep his dick in his pants was an addiction to sex beyond his control.

I have no idea if this is what Mr. Duchovny’s wife believes. I have never met her and I have not seen any interviews in which she expressed an opinion on her husband’s supposed addiction. I also actually like them both as actors and I wish them well in their attempts to reconstitute their marriage. But if Mr. Duchovny does indeed have a sex addiction, I would be fascinated to read the scholarly monographs on this diagnosis.

Psychologists have long disagreed over whether 'sex addiction' is a legitimate disorder. 1970’s clinicians influenced the inclusion of sex addiction in the 1980 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). But by 1994, sex addiction had been dropped from the DSM, as researchers argued persuasively that only substances, not behavior, could be addictive. The issue however remains unresolved.

Ever since homosexuality was first included and then removed from the DSM systems, psychological researchers have remained wary of pathologizing human sexual behavior. And this for good reason – it is very difficult to tease out concerns about morality when discussing the topic of sex. In the current version of the DSM, sexual disorders are classified in three categories: sexual dysfunctions, paraphilias, and gender identity disorder.

Sexual dysfunctions represent impairment in normal sexual functioning, such as the inability to achieve an erection, reach orgasm, or experience pain-free intercourse (e.g., vaginismus), in the absence of a medical basis, and with a level of distress that hinders the person's everyday functioning.

One problem with this category of ‘dysfunction’ is that the manual does not indicate how long a problem should endure before it crosses over into dysfunction. Nor does it clarify why level of associated distress is even relevant to diagnosis.

Paraphilias involve sexual feelings or acts involving non-human partners (e.g., fetishism), non-consensual human partners (e.g., pedophilia), or sexual practices that involve suffering by one or both partners (e.g., sadism).

But how can you classify a behavior as a disorder when most of its sufferers are not in the least distressed by their actions? Most individuals with paraphilias do not voluntarily seek psychological help but tend often to be mandated into doing so after getting into legal trouble. I read recently about a man who inserted his penis into the hole in a park bench. Chances are he would have continued to engage in this activity had his member not gotten stuck, requiring rescue by paramedics.

Finally, the category of gender identity disorder includes those individuals commonly referred to as transsexuals, who express a persistent desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex. Think Isis on the most recent version of ANTM.

Which all brings me back to Mr. Duchovny and his alleged sex addiction. The notion of addiction implies an inability to control behavior, a tendency to continue engaging in the behavior in spite of negative consequences, and a compulsion to spend inordinate amounts in pursuit of the activity. Think gambling. Or Amy Winehouse.

I find it beyond ironic that Mr. Duchovny is the star of a ribald and sexy series called Californication. He plays the protagonist, an irresponsible, constantly horny guy named Hank. I can’t help but wonder how he handled the weekly temptation of pretending to have sex with one beautiful woman after another on camera. I wonder also if his problem might be less sex addiction and more (mere) occupational hazard.

Monday, September 29, 2008

In defense of Kendra, Bridget and Ho-lly

I happened across “The Devil Wears Prada” on HBO over the weekend. I had seen it in theatres two years ago but had then focused more on the fashion than on the storyline or the acting. This time I was less distracted and also a great deal less impressed. It really isn’t a good movie. And the choices made by the Anne Hathaway character in the end made no sense at all.

Oh I got the romantic notions at the heart of the story. But the character development was so flawed that when she eventually did the honorable thing and went back to her flannel-wearing, grilled-cheese making boyfriend, her decision made not a lick of sense. It would have been far more plausible had she sold her soul to the Devil.

And at a time when Ms. Hathaway would probably prefer to be hiding in shame as a result of developments in her personal life, she and her wide open smile have been deployed to help market yet another film. One about somebody getting married. One I will probably wait for cable.

The story from her personal life is that Ms. Hathaway spent the past four years dating a supposedly wealthy Italian businessman named Raffaello Follieri. Mr. Follieri is not by any measure an attractive man. In fact, with his weak chin and wonkyish left eye, he is actually as plain as dirt.

this rather plain-looking man could attract a woman as stunning as Ms. Hathaway meant only one thing to me. He had to be extremely wealthy. And he apparently was. After all, he lived in a posh part of Manhattan and paid around $34,000. a month in rent. Can you even begin to fathom the kind of luxury in which one can be cocooned for $34,000. a month? I honestly can’t. Ms. Hathaway and her Italian lover enjoyed the opulent lifestyle of the rich and famous complete with jet setting, spree-shopping, and fine dining. Until it all came crashing down when he was exposed for being a con man.

What I’ve never understood is why Ms. Hathaway has borne no criticism for being a woman with a price, a woman whose beauty and body could be purchased by the wealthiest bidder. Really, for being just a common slut.

I genuinely fail to see the difference between women like Anne Hathaway and the three ‘girlfriends’ of the wealthy and elderly Hugh Hefner. There was a time when Mr. Hefner was an attractive, virile man. That was many moons ago. Now h
e is 82 years old and well past his prime. And yet, not unlike Raffaelo Follieri, Mr. Hefner has managed to procure the companionship of not one but three attractive women. [The oldest of the three claims to have a master’s degree in psychology but apparently always had a dream of being a Playboy Bunny. And with the influence of her aging Lothario, her dream came true.]

And now the Daily Telegraph is claiming that Hef, as he is affectionately known, (or “Puffin” if you’re his Ho Madison) – has been told that he has to cut back on expenses. The current problems on Wall Street mean that not only can your middle-income American no longer afford a sub-prime mortgage, but apparently neither can Hef afford the bill for his stable of blondes. And the bimbos have reportedly been jumping ship faster than you can say “Viagra anyone?”

It makes perfect sense to me that a woman who sells her sexual and companionship services to the wealthiest bidder, would bail when the source of her affluent lifestyle starts running out of money. This does not necessarily mean that she doesn’t care for the old fart. But beauty, especially of the skin-deep type produced with the assistance of a scalpel, does not come cheap. And if the old fart can no longer afford you, well then it’s time to find someone who can. No hard feelings, just a slut doing what a slut’s gotta do.

But no one has called Ms. Hathaway a slut. Somehow she has managed to become a wronged woman who just happened to spend four years living in the lap of luxury paid for primarily by her con man. Never mind the fact that she helped him
to develop his Follieri Foundation, and even served on its board of directors. Never mind that she did not end the relationship with Mr. Follieri until his non-profit organization came under investigation by the IRS in June 2008, days before he was arrested for fraud. Somehow she has managed to be portrayed as the innocent beneficiary of her lover’s stolen funds. But Kendra, Bridget, and Ho Madison are regarded as common sluts.

Sorry, but I fail to see the difference.