Wednesday, December 09, 2009
It's cool by the Pool - right? [COLUMN]
Tiger, Bicycle Crashes and Contraction - by Nick van der Leek
I try to avoid salacious tabloid fodder on this site, so the coverage of Tiger Woods might raise a few eyebrows. Actually it's not voyeuristic fascination, or baying for blood. Tiger epitomises the same hubris we saw in the late Michael Jackson. It's a lot more than just a very talented performer caught with his trousers between his ankles. The meat of the story lies in the confluence of two things: great wealth and moral decay. Privilege appears to have clouded Tiger's sense of decency, but what's particularly evident is the deception, the dishonesty involved.
It will be interesting to see at what point his corporate sponsors cut and run. To the extent that they have stayed with him thus far demonstrates also the level of standards corporates have. I predict they will cut Tiger loose, because with a pornstar and a tally approaching double figures, Tiger has become the butt of talk show jokes. It is deserved when one looks at the sort of women he has associated with. The billionaire golfer consorting with a series of waitresses. Tacky.
In the moment he crashed his vehicle the Tiger brand house of cards began to teeter, and is now in the process of collapse. He has tried to hold it all together by paying his wife $5 million to stay married to him, an indictment in itself. What may save him is an appearance on Oprah, some tears, some honesty.
Fortunes can change in a second. I witnessed this personally yesterday morning, at around 5:20 cycling down Club Road with a bunch numbering in the 20's [the Illovo Group]. We'd gone through a few windy roads and on a section of smooth, straight tar, freewheeling down, a rider 10 metres ahead of me, for no obvious reason, suddenly fell off his bike and hit the tar road face first.
When I passed by it was obvious that it was a very bad injury. He was lying on his stomach, arms at his sides, face mashed into the road and pulpy blood, tomato sauce red, spilling out just above his eye socket.
I asked the other riders what happened, one said, 'I was just remarking how strong he and another rider were and then he fell.' His foot had slipped out of his pedal unexpectedly.
To my horror I recognised the rider as a fellow I'd raced against in the Free State. When I checked my bike sensor I saw we'd been riding at about 48km/h when the accident happened. Usually we go down this stretch at over 60km/h.
Five excruciating minutes later, the ambulance arrived. By then Bertus was making gurgly sounds, his body heaving, but not obviously compos mentis. One rider, was in tears. He made a few ineffectual attempts to move his limbs, but Jeremy made sure he remained in the position he was in and didn't move. He could have a broken neck, his skull might be held together by his helmet. The paramedic arrived and calmly provided oxygen. I noticed a line of blood drip out of his mouth. He was unable to open his eyes when the medic asked him to, and as I say, not able to say anything, but making small movements. Fortunately that awful gurgling of blood had stopped. I had suggested if it stops it would mean he had stopped breathing and we'd have to perform CPR.
Once the ambulance left all of us cycled back, spooked, shocked, scared. It wasn't inconceivable that he might be dead within the hour.
But the prognosis isn't too bad after all:
Alan did his X-ray diagnosis. He's fine, but rather damaged. He was on a ventilator for the night and in an induced coma. They will bring him around today. He has a broken jaw, nose and eye socket, a vertebra and bleeding on the brain. They are stabilising him and will operate on the face on Thursday. The prognosis is good...
The point of the above is to illustrate how suddenly and unexpectedly things can change dramatically. As we enter a new decade, 2010, the changes we face will be rigorous and multiplicitous.
While the markets are talking recovery [expansion] yesterday's markets demonstrated that the economy is pedalling hot air. For every stock that went up two fell on the NYSE. FedEx, the bellwether of the global economy, rose, but two others, McDonald's and 3M, fell. Entire countries are emerging with serious debt or banking burdens. Greece. Dubai. Venezuela. Ireland. In addition we find ourselves in a curious set of quandaries. Markets fire up when the dollar weakens, but a weak dollar presents a mortal threat to the global financial system. But the dollar is too important to China to fail, so we're propping it up. But how is the US$meaningfully different from the Zim$? Both countries are printing money like crazy; how long can the USA keep up the ruse? How long can corporates pretend that their earnings are up, when the drivers of the economy, consumers, have taken a big hit.
The pillar of world finance, is credit. Are big companies able to make loans these days? Are banks in a position to provide them? More pertinently, do consumers have an appetite to buy cars and houses [both of which require loan financing]. In my opinion the contraction of property markets is one of the most severe punishments inflicted upon the banking sector. That source of revenue has been depleted, and covered over by bailouts, but once that bailout money is gone, and the bonuses have been paid, there's not going to be a second bailout.
In the same way bailout money is seen as an infinite gold nougat centred resource, so the interior of planet earth is considered filled with oil nougat. Infinite. It isn't. Some sobering surprises remain in store along the climate change front. The last decade has been the warmest on record, and changes are gathering momentum. Some new evidence shows that the transition to an ice age, related to melted polar ice shutting down the North Atlantic Drift Current, can take as short a time as two years, to mere months.
The lesson is this: massive change can happen quickly. The question is, can we adapt as quickly?