Thursday, March 31, 2005

Record Company Math: As mentioned below, the RIAA keeps hounding on file-sharing and its direct correlation to declining record (okay, cd) sales. Now, ignore the illogic of the industry's arguments about how all P2P services need to be shut down to save the poor ol' recording industry. Let's just focus on the absolutes...that being the declining sales. I mean, that's black-and-white, right?

It appears not. As usual, everything depends on the definitions, or as Clinton put it it: "It depends on what the definition of 'is' is." First, let's examine the industry's claim: a decrease of 7% in "revenue" in last year. Hmmm, okay, well revenue can be affected by a lot of things, including signing crappy bands to bad deals, but since the RIAA is attributing the decline directly to file-sharing, what else but record sales could be affected by that? Oh, they weren't:
- For the first quarter of 2003 Soundscan registered 147,000,000 records sold.

- For the 1st quarter of 2004 Soundscan will report 160,000,000 records sold.

That's 13,000,000 more units, almost a 10% increase in sales since last year. He also confessed that 1st quarter "album sales" (as opposed to overall sales) had increased 9.4% since 2003.

What gives? Well, the RIAA would have you believe that the dire situation with declining sales has nothing to do with...declining sales! Instead, it's all about how much was shipped by the recording companies, not bought. Only shipping went down about 7%. And why is that? It's because music stores aren't buying as much in advance, but have been better able to manage their inventory to match buyers' demand. So, the market is actually more efficient!

Anyway, I'm stealing the author's thunder, as she explains much more thoroughly than I. Still, this is serious hocus pocus going on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pizza Guy: A tip? I give him the finger. Listen to this: Last week we ordered (calzones, actually) at about 7:00, and were told that we'd wait about 40 minutes for delivery. No sweat. It was Friday, after all. 70 minutes later, the dude shows up. The zones are cold (I can tell when I take the box and feel no heat coming from it). To add insult, I hand the guy a $20 and he says, "How much change do you want?"

I want all of it, you cretin! Because it's my money! Once I have the change, I will hand you what you deserve, which at this point is roughly a dime.

What the hell are they putting in the water in the public schools?

Tip Etiquette: My wife and I did something last night that we haven't done in years. No, not that. And most certainly not that (besides I'm fairly sure Bush has had it outlawed)!

Rather, we ordered out for pizza. Actually I ordered out; my wife lay in bed shivering with a fever and assorted aches and pains. Despite her 3-day forced bed rest from whatever bug has got her in its grasp, she had this sudden carb-crave and only pizza was going to scratch that itch (I guess those bottles of Gatorade and soup broth just weren't cutting it anymore 60 hours later).

So, to make matters even worse, I ordered from Dominos - a place which shouldn't be allowed to market itself as making pizza. The stuff is awful; even my wife mentioned (between giant bites mind you) how bad it was - and this from a woman who hasn't actually tasted anything since last week.

But, what makes this story even slightly worth blogging about is that I was forced to re-visit the age-old question of how much to tip the pizza delivery girl. It just had been too long.

The price of the pizza came to $11.32. But what for her? Good waitresses get 20%, but then they're serving you drinks, apps, entrees, wine, and dessert over the course of maybe two hours. All this girl did was get into a car and make a stop along her route. But then again, she's out risking her life (through bad weather, bad drivers, and just bad people), so doesn't she at least measure up to a waitress who, after all, only has to walk back and forth from a kitchen? Well, before I tell you what I gave her, let's consult the experts: On the bill mentioned above, the recommendation is two dollars.

Even I, who was once chastised by a pizza delivery guy for trying to stiff him so I wouldn't have to break a $20 (granted this was in my law school days when my creative accounting would have made the guys from Enron look like square-up fellows), feels $2.00 on an $11+ bill is a bit low. With cabbies, I always round up to the nearest dollar and then add a dollar (assuming the typical $5 to $10 cab ride) to give it some heft - so those guys are getting somewhere in the range of 20 to nearly 50% usually.

The question with tipping on the whole is to strike the balance between giving someone who makes minimum wage or less the ability to earn at least part of a living while recogizing the relative value of the proffered service (on one hand), and then using the tip as a forward-looking device to ensure positive service the next time (on the other).

In a bar, it's a no-brainer. If you want the bartender to either think you're a stud (depending on gender and your preference) or to ensure that your outstretched hand is filled with the suds of your choice ahead of the hoi polloi, then a good tip is more about the future, and less about the past (unless your Guiness is simply all head, in which case the smacked ass deserves only the lint from your pockets). And, if you ever want the occasional freebee of a shot of Jamesons, or an extra bit in your "single" scotch, then a strong tipping hand is as much in your self-interest as the bartender's.

But with pizza delivery, I've concluded, it's really only about your relative sense of guilt. Afterall, unless you're getting pizza every few days, the chances of that poor student being your repeat delivery person are slim to none. In the end I gave her a $20 and asked for $5 back, or a net tip of $3.68, or roughly a third (!) of the pizza price. I guess I'm not quite the heartless bastard most of my opposing counsel think I am...nahhhhhh.
The False Economics of Fair Trade: I blogged a bit about this some time ago, when one of the leading coffee distributors announced that it was entering the fair-trade racket. I knew enough at the time to doubt the efficacy of fair trade:
Of course, if you believe the market can work more generally, more globally, then you won't be inclined to think so-called fair trade prices are helpful anyway.
But I never really looked into the details until today, when I got curious and googled. At the Mises Institute's helpful site, I found a more in-depth look at not only the false economics, but the actual scam underneath.

If you buy fair-trade coffee, ask yourself these questions: How much of the additional money you spend goes to the grower? How much is pure profit for retailers like Starbucks, or packagers and distributors like Procter and Gamble, or your supermarket for that matter? How do fair-trade buyers decide who gets to be paid extra for their beans? Goodwill? More fairness? Kickbacks? And do fair-trade incentives actually make things worse for growers in general?

Find out here.

My Ali-like return to the ring: Some of you may be aware that in the last 6 weeks I've been in job-search mode, never a fun thing. Since my last job rewarded me with almost no money, little free time (not even to blog!), and poor benefits, you can understand how it would be difficult to give up the free golf. Alas, the choice was made for me when the owner of the business decided to pack up his cares and woes and head south. What to do, what to do?

I have happily accepted a new position, a move back to the world of media and marketing, or as Razor would say, bullshit. Fortunately, or not, this move does not require reentering the massive corporate, megalo-mart ring of fire. Instead, New Way Media is a small (hopefully not for long) company that does web marketing. I will be in charge of revenue. Literally, getting us some. Just kidding. Sort of. I'll keep you posted on how things are going, and will attempt a return to occasional blogging. We'll see. Anyway, visit

The Supremes vs. Record Companies (not what you think): And by that I mean, I'm not referring to a battle between one of the most famous MoTown groups and its over-reaching label, but rather the argument before the U.S. Supreme Court between the record companies and file-sharing outfits like Grokster.

WetMachine has a pretty good round-up of the day's events, being that one of their bloggers is a member of the Supreme Court Bar.

Funny exchange only to lawyers:

Scalia (sarcasticlly): But doesn't this come to us under summary judgment?
Lawyer: Yes, but under rule 56(b) we are entitled ...
Scalia: Surely you aren't accusing us of applying 12(b)(6)?
[laughter from Supreme Court Bar section, total confusion in regular audience section]

At issue here is whether the record companies can have their cake and eat it too: not only shut off the illegal file-sharing, but also shut down the entire P2P industry. It didn't seem that the Supremes were buying it:
Finally, the Court got down to cases, starting with Grokster. Don Virelli led off for the recording industry. He began with the assertion that Grokster's P2P software has no legitimate uses. The justices reacted skeptically. "Didn't the court below find lots of legitimate uses, such as distribution of public domain works or distribution of works authorized by the rights holders, even if the vast majority of traffic was arguably infringing?" Virelli stuck to his guns, thus falling prey to the trap that has undermined industry so many times in this fight: they over sell.

Scalia then started in on innovation: "But what about inventors? How will they know what people will use this for? Do they get a free ride for a few years to see if the predominant use is infringing or non-infringing?" Again, Virelli went too far. "In reality, these people don't get sued just for inventing stuff" he claimed, while the entire bar section rolled its eyes. Again, the Justices weren't buying. "Inventors need certainty they won't be sued or they won't invent," said Breyer.

Of course, the other side to that coin is whether the P2P people can just throw their hands into the air and say that what people do with their technology is not their business. This winking blind-eye approach is called "active inducement". Anyway, read the whole thing, as Green would say.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Airbrushed Out: This is kind of funny.
There’s a mysterious item from yesterday’s Mediaweek about Lizz Winstead’s departure from Air America Radio, the liberal station she helped build and for which she co-hosted Unfiltered with Chuck D and Rachel Maddow . . . Lizz has been virtually erased from the Unfiltered page, replaced, it seems, with Maddow’s adorable chocolate lab, Brewster. We’re big dog fans, but we’re also huge fans of Lizz’s work. You may have heard of a little show she co-created for Comedy Central back in the day. (Hmmm, wonder if that thing’s still on the air.)
It's a really strange thing about socialists: Whether they're overseeing the Warsaw Pact or just running a freaking radio show, the inconvenient and the insufficiently loyal go down the memory hole. What will you bet that she's been airbrushed from the pics taken at last year's Air America Kwanzaa party?

More: What else was there to the "Unfiltered" show? Maddow has gone from charming to insufferable in record time. And how often does Chuck D. even show up? His role seemed to have some kind of union no-show flavor to it. When he did show up, his job seemed to be to make ludicrous statements and ill-informed pronouncements, like some kind of jester for the white chicks. It was kind of degrading for a guy who at least appeared to take the pre-hajj Malcolm X thing literally.

Out of the Bin Today: I dropped the boy off at school, came home, did a bit of work, then dipped into the vinyl rack for some early-lunch music. I came out with 1987's drop-dead smooth Meet Danny Wilson. Pop chart watchers will remember that the late 80s featured a stealth climb by Danny Wilson's "Mary's Prayer," a beautiful little gem that ruled MTV for the requisite 15 minutes. The album is often reminiscent of the jazzy touches Steely Dan brought to its 70s pop masterpieces. But here, the nod to soul music is more obvious; while Gary Clark sounds a bit like Donald Fagan in some songs (like "Nothing Ever Goes to Plan"), in others he soars beautifully into a blue-eyed soul ("You Remain and Angel") that at times sounds like Smokey Robinson playing around with Tony Bennett's songbook. ("Ruby's Golden Wedding," musically at least, sounds like it came straight from a jazzy Broadway classic.)

The keyboard sounds on the album need to be forgiven -- it was the 80s, after all, and today's $50 synth run's rings around what they had in the studio. Still, the arrangements are original and the performances are great.

More: A friend tells me that "Mary's Prayer" was on the "There's Something About Mary" soundtrack. I don't remember it from the movie, but it's a great choice.

Bravely Taking on Big Salt: Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, fat, and now salt. Is there a single pleasure the nannies won't try to snatch away? Here's Andrew Stuttaford's report on the "chow-time Comstocks" (namely, Michael Jacobson and his grim club at CSPI) set to invade your kitchen on flimsy evidence in their latest report on so-called white death.
As is its usual practice, CSPI begins this latest onslaught with tales of a spectacular death toll (those 150,000 hardy, but unfortunate, Americans who manage to escape the carnage brought by passive smoking, obesity and the Second Amendment only to succumb to a condiment) and then piles on from there. "This innocent-looking white substance" may, says Jacobson, a man clearly unaware of what anchovy can do to pizza, "be the single deadliest ingredient in our food supply."

And as usual, the language of these latter-day puritans resembles nothing so much as the darker, more lurid sermons of their stern black-hat/black-suit predecessors of three centuries before. The report is morbid and overblown; its author appears fixated on the horrible fate that awaits those who have sinned: "[T]he salt in our diets has turned our hearts and arteries into ticking time bombs, time bombs that explode in tens of thousands of Americans every year."

So where's this going? Give you three guesses -- first two don't count:
Jacobson's report concludes with "an agenda for action" that includes mandatory sodium limits in processed food, and consideration of a "salt tax"
Once again, there is no evil in this world so great that it can withstand the onslaught of taxation. For anyone still harboring the pipe dream of fairness in the U.S. tax code, remember that this is the progressive agenda. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, your tax bill may be figured not by your income, but by how closely you adhere to a lifestyle declared safe and healthy by people you do not know.
I can stop anytime I want to: In my profession (and I'm sure many others), the passage of time has been accelerating at an exponential rate over the past 15 years. Technology has enabled constant contact, which in turn has adjusted our expectations and increased our frustrations when someone dares to not answer their cell phone.

Litigators are all about deadlines - ones imposed by third parties, usually courts. As such, given a caseload of anywhere between 15 and 50 cases (depending on complexity and size), your day is a constant juggle - deciding which balls to throw high so you can work on catching some growling chainsaws that are coming down pretty fast. In ye olden dayes (like the seventies - and so I am told), a lawyer could take his damn well time in calling back clients, getting papers filed (judges and counsel always ready to provide an extension), and drafting their opinions.

But today, one cannot seem to get things done fast enough. Curiously, the more technology has made things easier, the more the pressure to get things done faster has increased. In the afore-mentioned ye olden dayes, if you were out of your office, you were out. You'd have to wait until someone got back in. "Now" meant "soon", "later". Then came some cool tech. Pagers were hot in the eighties, but you could always plead that you couldn't find a pay phone in Palau, where you were on vacation. Cell phones came next, and while your options shrank, you still had the fall-back of being out of a coverage area, or that you "had a bad cell".

Today, you're not only reachable by voice, but even your emails track you down at all hours and locations. You see those losers with their little Blackberrys - furiously maneuvering their fingertips to type out little misperled abbrev msgs ignoring punctuaation grammar and etiquette whats importnt is to get bck right away looking pretty doesnt matter!!!11

Well, as of this week, I blog before you as one of those losers. Brashly interrupting a conversation to "just check this email," my head down, ignoring you as I adroitly respond to every single inquiry, because god knows, they can't wait.

I'd love to blog some more, but my hip is vibrating.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Nothing Like a Cool Glass of Mercury! Easterbrook takes a look back at Clear Skies improvements delayed, looking at both the politics, the science, and the media. Politics:
In 2002, George W. Bush proposed the world's first regulation of power-plant mercury--small reductions right away and a roughly 70 percent reduction over 15 years, via the president's "Clear Skies" pollution-reduction legislation. Editorialists and environmental lobbyists denounced Clear Skies, calling its mercury provisions insufficient. Since 2002, enviros, editorialists, and Democrats in the Senate have been fighting doggedly against the Clear Skies bill, which was just blocked again in the Senate two weeks ago. Yet if mercury from power plants really is an urgent threat, blocking Clear Skies had the effect of insuring there would be no reform. Had Clear Skies been enacted in 2002, some of the mercury reduction that the bill mandated would already have occurred.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled regulations that would reduce power-plant mercury regardless of the fate of the Clear Skies proposal. The mandates are a 21 percent reduction by 2010 and a 70 percent cut by 2018. Immediately the rules were assailed as inadequate; Kerry was among many to declare opposition to Bush's plan, saying mercury emissions "must be controlled better and faster." Yet the same situation obtains now as in 2002: If environmental groups or members of Congress manage to block the new rule, then instead of a mercury reduction, nothing will happen. It's hard not to suspect that what some enviros and Democrats (not all, of course) want is to prevent action against mercury, to give them a grievance for the 2006 and 2008 elections.

A National Academy of Sciences study has shown that mercury could cause learning disabilities and seizures in young children. How often this actually happens is, however, not known. About six percent of American women have blood mercury levels high enough to cause risk to infants, a Centers for Disease Control study has found. News reports commonly say that large numbers of American women are "at risk" to give birth to babies with birth defects owing to mercury, but actual incidence of mercury-linked health harm has not been established. Because mercury tends to accumulate in Great Lakes fish, the Food and Drug Administration has warned women of childbearing age not to eat more than six ounces of freshwater fish per week. Most studies show overall incidence of birth defects in the United States declining, so there's no epidemic; especially, childhood deaths from birth defects are in decline. And the "hundreds of thousands" of birth defects caused by mercury that The New Republic warned about? Umm, sorry, mistake. This figure exceeds the total annual number of babies born with developmental defects in the United States, which according to the National Academy of Sciences is about 120,000, about three percent of whom have defects caused by prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals. That's about 3,600 babies per year with defects engendered by toxics, which is plenty bad enough. What fraction of the 3,600 links to mercury is unknown but is probably small, as lead and drugs (both legal and illegal) are believed to be the primary chemical-exposure cause. Though mercury levels in women's blood are the concern of the moment, lead levels in women's blood have declined significantly, and lead is much more clearly associated with birth defects than mercury.
No coverage of the mercury issue that I have seen has placed into context how small U.S. power-plant emissions are in the global scheme, or that current claims of a mercury-exposure crisis follow a dramatic reduction in U.S. mercury emissions. Reporters and editorialists seem determined to present mercury from U.S. power plants as a super-ultra danger, simply by leaving out the larger equation.
Ah, but that's environmental "issues" in a nutshell: lousy science, disingenuous politicians, and a slobberingly friendly media.
Hope He's Better at Medicine: Cause his economics suck. Chatting with a doctor the other day, he gave me an earful of his complaints about the profession, in the end declaring that single-payer is the only way to go. "Capitalism," he said, referring to insurance companies, who were getting the brunt of his wrath, "is the problem."

I gave my usual smile and nod. No discussing politics in this town. Being to the right of Lula makes you a fascist. Still, I wonder if he thinks that it was, you know, socialism that gave the United States the most advanced and innovative health care system in the world. Too, I wonder what he'd think if a single-payer plan with some of the downsides of ClintonCare came along and told him he needed to abandon his lucrative, high-visibility specialty for, say, general practice, or E-room shifts, or perhaps podiatry. Too many folks in your field, doc.

As for capitalism, there's nothing less capitalistic, these days, than health care. That's the problem. Artificially low numbers of doctors keep fees high; employer- and government-provided insurance keeps Elmer and Frieda in pills, no matter the cost -- a cost they remain blissfully unaware of. What could be a bigger recipe for disaster than a captive market that never sees the bills?

36 Hours Later: The post directly below went into the Blogger ether yesterday morning, finally appearing tonight. Jesus. I'd post a lot more frequently if I could be sure the system wouldn't crap out.

Have patience, dear readers. Everytime the system screws me, I rant, rave, and swear to the gods that I will never blog again! So much for that, eh?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good Thinking: Despite the fact that the Atlantic has implemented a staffing policy that amounts to trolling the liberal rags for talent, I'm pleased to see that they've come up with something more interesting than the typical ravings of the Nation or the brass tacks partisanship of TNR. This month, Marc Cooper (a contributor to the Nation himself) has a blistering review of George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant!" -- the hot book in liberal circles these days. Says Cooper:
So what's an earnest, honest liberal to do when nobody wants to hear the truth? Why not turn to personal therapy disguised as politics, psychobabble as electoral strategy? Lakoff, revealingly, provides nary a word on reshaping the Democratic Party itself, blunting the influence of corporate cash, eliminating the stranglehold on the party and its candidates by discredited but omni-powerful consultants, reversing its estrangement from the white working class, finding some decent candidates, or just about anything else that might require actual strategic thinking, organizing, and politicking. Never mind. What liberals most need to do, Lakoff says, is "be the change you want."
Helpful, eh? More:
Groups like MoveOn are fundamentally echo chambers for Volvo Democrats whose lives aren't much affected by whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House, and who think it's a politically significant act to go with an audience of like-minded souls to view a flockumentary like Fahrenheit 9/11 or Outfoxed, to set their TiVo to Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, or to pass around lefty spam containing fiery warnings of creeping fascism. A far more challenging exercise after the election would have been for MoveOn to order its troops to meet with and listen to ten people who disagreed with them—instead of talking, as usual, only to one another.
As a pro-choice, pro-drugs, pro-prostitution (yeah, baby!), pro-market liberal who more and more frequently finds himself defending his decision to vote Republican, I find myself wondering where the Democratic party went.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Let It Be Known: If I'm brain dead--kill me. If the only justification you have for keeping me alive is that I twitch whenever you play "We're Not Going to Take It" real loud--kill me. If a bunch of people who don't know me start lobbying Congress for a law to keep pumping me with fluids and some sort of nutritional gruel--kill me. If Hillary Clinton should start giving speeches as to how she's in favor generally of the "concept of people having the choice to die with dignity" but that she wants to work to reduce dying overall--kill me.

However, if my vegetative condition is the only thing keeping Eno from turning this Blog into a tribute to obscure Irish folk guitarists or some sort of Ayn Rand quasi-porn site--keep me plugged in at all costs.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

First Word/Last Word? I haven't posted on the circus involving the Schiavo woman. Basically, I'm stunned that it's even got this far, but no one seems ready to rest until this poor woman goes on and off her life support about fifteen billion times. I feel like I'm watching the right-to-die sequel to Alexander Payne's rather smart abortion film, Citizen Ruth.

Honestly, what about this is so hard?

Monday, March 14, 2005

Expert, Textpert: The FauxPolitik Assignment Desk nominates Doctor Razor to abstract David Foster Wallace's cover story in this month's Atlantic. True to DFW form, the Atlantic prints this note before the online version of the article:
Editor's Note: In the print version of this article additional commentary from the author appears alongside the main text. (Subscribers may scroll down this page for a link to an Adobe PDF version of the article.) In the version below, click the phrases within the colored boxes to read the commentary.
I have to admit, hypertext is an inspired medium for the footnote king. Make it all live and clickable, and voila! -- no more crick in the neck from zooming up and down the page to read the notes along with the story.

Anyhoo, we all know I haven't the patience to read it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How to throw a case: Please, learn from my mistakes. I've been a litigator for going on seven years now. Not an eternity, but long enough to have committed some blunders in the courtroom - much to the chagrin of my clients. But, if you're hell-bent on losing, then you could do worse than the following:

1. Ask the judge if he's one of those penis-pumping judges.

2. Insist on conducting the entire trial as if you're Jim Carrey from "Liar, Liar".

3. Open your case with: "Since we know the Jews control everything, let's not pretend this whole case isn't just a sham..."

4. Mark your exhibits with Yu-Gi-Oh stickers: "Your Honor, I'd now like to show the witness a document which I've marked for identification purposes as "'Mokuba Kaiba'."

5. Wheel around to the jury as you whip out a realisitic-looking toy gun, screaming "I told you to stay away from my wife!!"

6. Remind your witness, when he's on the stand, to just "tell the story like we rehearsed it yesterday."

7. Repeat everything your opposing counsel says in a mocking, sing-songy tone.

8. Refer to the judge as "Your Holier-Than-Thou".

9. Ask for that cute juror's number during your closing argument.

10. Ventriloquism.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ten Years Can Seem A Lifetime: Two guys in a garage and their website called "Yahoo!".
Ljubicic!: Ljubicic...Ljubicic. Cursed be thy name! What/who is Ljubicic, you say? Why he is none other than the man who nearly single-handedly defeated the U.S. Davis Cup team, comprised of none other than Rddick, Agssi, and the Bryn twins (all spelling in honor of our Croatian daddy) ... on our home soil - the first time in 105 years of play.

Sad, but this is the way of American involvement in non-paying sporting events. See our sad efforts in basketball in Athens last summer as a prime example. Want more? Go watch the Ryder Cup. It's not enough to send the best players anymore...they have to want to win. And, let's face it, Rddick isn't about to stress a hammy going for a wide shot in a Davis Cup match...despite Pat McEnre's exhortations.

Nay, these international tests are the domain of the small, vowel-less central European nations, and their vowel-plenty S. American bretheren. These teams (and indeed, they are teams) play for pride, because their hometowns actually give a crap. Please, all who actually knew Davis Cup play was going on right now, raise your hand....I'll wait....thought so. You were all glued to the latest development in the Martha Stewart or Michael Jackson saga.

Nonetheless, Ljubicic Croatian Daddy would be a great name for a rock band. H/T Dave Barry.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Your tax dollars at work: Let's see, you win the Kentucky Derby on a relatively unheralded horse, then you go on and win the Preakness. You fall short of legend status by a couple of strides in the Breeders' Cup so you don't take home the Triple Crown.

Still, a pretty decent year, if you're Stewart Elliot, jockey for Smarty Jones. Well, what a difference a year makes.

Yes please, keep our country safe from such a felon! Who knows, this year he might rescue a child from a burning building or something.
Oh, Danny Boy: Not worth the time, however, is Ken Auletta's three-hanky farewell to Dan Rather, who creeps off to the CBS's Shady Acres Retirement Home (commonly known as 60 Minutes) this week. It's not online, but that's no great loss. I nearly vomited every time Rather 1) choked up, 2) reminisced about when he was a boy, 3) made some inane comment about the responsibilities of journalists, or 4) did all of the above simultaneously.

The only entertaining part of the article was Dan attempting to impress Auletta by attempting to be "in charge" in the newsroom. It quickly becomes clear that everyone's ignoring or humoring him. Auletta hears one side of a conversation when Dan snaps up a ringing phone in the newsroom with a terse, "CBS News, this is Rather." Pause, for the inevitable Who the hell is this? from the caller. "This is Dan Rather." Pause. "Okay, I'll tell him." Even better, this same farce happens again later.

Auletta's a good writer, but he can't seem to bring together the strings in this story. Rather is an icon of self-parody, so there's no chance of anyone taking his sermonizing, hymn singing, or football-coach quoting terribly seriously. Auletta's profile turns, naturally, into an sad, pointless portrait of a dinosaur.

Coincidental parallel: Hunter Thompson, also once a young lion, also parodied mercilessly by Trudeau, also hanging on for the past twenty years, hoping to bring his "A" game one more time. Alas.

Back to the Senate: An issue we haven't mentioned in a while -- the filibustering of Bush's judicial nominees -- is making a comeback. Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker article this week was excellent and quite fair. It's worth the time.

I've noted before that the Dems obstruction plan was altogether dumb -- note Bush's nearly unprecedented gains in Congress in his first midterm, along with moderate coattails last fall. But the GOP's "nuclear" option (curtailing filibusters on judicial nominees) is just as self-defeating. It has always been this way: the majority can't get everything it wants with no cost whatsoever. (Every majority forgets this fact.) And soon enough, the shoe will be on the other foot. I have no doubt that senators on both sides of the aisle will begin to mouth the erstwhile arguments of their opponents, much as both sides have been for, against, and then for (again) the independent counsel statute that blessedly expired without renewal.

Our Autos, Our Selves: Razor, your comment below about Subaru-driving folks of a certain age reminds me of something I noticed this past weekend driving through Maine. When I lived there, fifteen or so years ago, the Subaru was the Volvo of Maine. Now the Volvo is the Volvo of Maine. Just saying.
Cover Girls? I mentioned to a friend the other day that a lot of anti-Syrian protesters in Lebanon are very attractive. Every story I looked at had at least one picture of a woman who could send a supermodel home to cry in her push-up bra. I'm not the only one who noticed, apparrently. Glenn rounds up some newsmags who are catching the "hotties for democracy" trend. Even the Connie is on board!

More: I have a friend in Beirut (a young, handsome, Westernized Muslim, and a bit of a ladies' man) who I'm sure saw some of these pictures and decided to, er, go out and agitate for freedom. Sound mercenary? How many of us would not have been born if dad hadn't been just a little on the make when he first met mom at MLK's 1964 march in DC?

If you go slow, they notice you: Much ado about the "Italian Job" in Iraq recently. The U.S. story has been that Sgrena's driver was moving too fast approaching a checkpoint, and so brutal force was used to neutralize the potential threat.

The Italian position, when stripped of the emotional rhetoric, is that no one saw a checkpoint, and when in Iraq you better be moving fast, especially on the highway to the Baghdad airport.

Which then makes for a good article on what these "checkpoints" are really like. Of particular interest is that the U.S. checkpoint will usually come after an Iraqi security force "checkpoint". Main difference? The Iraqis sit idly by, smoking as they wave you through - not bothering to warn you that a few hundred yards up ahead, there's another checkpoint; this one manned by armed-to-the-teeth soldiers who actually will do their job. So, you speed up to get from A to B as fast as you can, only to see a cadre of Marines, tanks and large guns pointed your way, shouting in a language the driver may or may not understand. Now, couple that with the adrenaline and fear that must have been coursing through Sgrena's car post-escape, and you can only wonder how anyone made it out of that car alive.
Union Dues? I read, for the first time, Inc. Magazine while I was getting my oil changed this morning. I think about business a lot less frequently than Flyer does, but I did used to be in the construction/real estate racket long ago, and I tussled with the unions on occasion. Thus, an article titled "Why the Unions Can't Win" caught my eye.
I've been thinking a lot about rank-and-file union members lately, and I have to say it's a shame how the guys at the top have let them down. Union leaders must be the only people on the planet who haven't figured out that if you want to get anywhere today, you have to think and act like a businessperson. You have to market yourself. You have to make the case why someone should purchase your services. If what you want are jobs for union members, you need to treat employers like potential customers, not like adversaries you're going to force into submission. In a competitive economy, nobody buys because they're forced to. They buy because they want to.
The author, Norm Brodsky, goes on to tell a story of his own union/non-union woes. There was a time, obviously, when business in America was the realm of robber barons, sly oil swindlers, and billionaire stock waterers. It's interesting that the one part of the American business environment that hasn't come along into the 21st century is the unions. It's true that unions were, at one time, the enemy, shut out on principle by so-called capitalists (cronyists is more like it). True, too, that today some big companies (like Wal-Mart) opt to run without unions -- which would have been a big deal 30 years ago. Unions are simply more and more irrelevant, thanks partly to such archaic tactics. Wal-Mart isn't run by specie barons lighting cigars with c-notes. It's run by a board of stockholders who just don't see any benefit from unionizing. I mean, why bother when affirmative action rules, minimum wage requirements (which are higher than the fed minimum in many states), and legal precedent has set in stone much of what unions (theoretically) represented?

The only growth area for unions these days is service occupations (let's see Upton Sinclair write a story about customer service reps being turned into sausage) and government employees (not a famously competitive field; plus, the last time the fed got tough with a union was when Reagan -- thought to be a union-friendly Republican based on his SAG days -- bitch-slapped PATCO). There are reasons for this, a lot of which I hadn't thought about until I read this piece. It's interesting stuff. I wonder what kind of success would/could be had by unions treating an open shop as an RFP? A little bit of "Look what we can do for you" might go a lot further than a lot of "Nice store/company/restaurant you got here; it'd be a shame if anything happened to it."

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Call it "The Relative Effectiveness Quotient": Steyn, again -- naturally.
The other day I found myself, for the umpteenth time, driving in Vermont behind a Kerry/Edwards supporter whose vehicle also bore the slogan 'FREE TIBET'. It must be great to be the guy with the printing contract for the 'FREE TIBET' stickers. Not so good to be the guy back in Tibet wondering when the freeing thereof will actually get under way. For a while, my otherwise not terribly political wife got extremely irritated by these stickers, demanding to know at a pancake breakfast at the local church what precisely some harmless hippy-dippy old neighbour of ours meant by the slogan he'd been proudly displaying decade in, decade out: 'But what exactly are you doing to free Tibet?' she demanded. 'You're not doing anything, are you?' 'Give the guy a break,' I said back home. 'He's advertising his moral virtue, not calling for action. If Rumsfeld were to say, "Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division go in on Thursday", the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast.'

But for those of us on the arrogant unilateralist side of things, that's not how it works. 'FREE AFGHANISTAN'. Done. 'FREE IRAQ'. Done. Given the paintwork I pull off every time I have to change the sticker, it might be easier for the remainder of the Bush presidency just to go around with 'FREE [INSERT YOUR FETID TOTALITARIAN BASKET-CASE HERE]'. Not in your name? Don't worry, it's not.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Publice Service Announcement: Make sure to mark your calendars and tell your wives/girlfriends to save the date!
KISS Song Titles If KISS Was Made Up of the Guys from REO Speedwagon:

1. I Want to Rock and Roll All Night Unless You Feel Like Staying In.
2. Bang, Bang You Made My Heart Beat So Fast!
3. Uh! All Night I Slept On My Arm So As Not to Wake You.
4. Rock Me, Baby and Let's Fall Asleep, Spooning.
5. Let's Put the "L" in Sweet, Sweet Love.
6. Love 'Em and Leave 'Em is Something Those Other Guys Do.
7. Burning Up With Fever, Cause We Stayed Out Too Long Talking.
8. Fits Like a Glove…You Give the Sweetest Presents.

(If neither you nor a family member were a part of the KISS Army, then you may have some trouble with this.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Synergy is Dead (revised): Remember that word, "synergy", say back in 1997/1998? Everything was done to create synergy and to shift paradigms. If you didn't have synergy, heck boy, you better go get some.

I heard the siren call. At that time, I was seriously considering throwing away my legal education in order to find one of those hot "dot com" jobs everyone was talking about (you know, with the foosball tables and keg parties?). I didn't know what the word meant, but it seemed everyone else did, and the hell if I was going to get stuck in an old-world job like providing legal advice and fighting in a courtroom over ancient concepts rooted in Roman tradition. Nope, synergy was the name of the game. And it continued to be just as we crept into the 21st century. What happened next is well-documented: failure of corporate cultures to mesh, too much overhead, and not enough of a bump from the cross-marketing to justify the massive cash, stock and personnel outlays/upheavals.

But, it's clear that companies just couldn't help themselves. Take Gillette, a well-established company that dominated market share and had only one competitor. "Too easy," said the highly-paid business school graduates. So, it branched out into highly competitive markets, like tooth care, batteries, and deoderant. Naturally. And nature took its course via a sinking share price, customer dissatisfaction, and a bloated corporate structure. All the vibrating razors (!) in the world can't make up for that.

What we've learned in just the past 6 or 7 years, is that business should be about core markets, about the tried-and-true. It's about building, maintaining, and gradually improving your single business model. It's boring, and it makes it harder to justify all those Ivy League MBAs, but very few blockbuster deals, merging previously separate worlds have produced shareholder satisfaction.

And, it is being revealed today that merging previously separate UNIVERSES is even harder (and by companies that are otherwise very successful) and hence, synergy is dead.

Now, companies can still use diverse holdings to their advantage, but as is well-described in this article (and I came across this piece as I was searching for articles containing "synergy" and "media" - oh well), the s-word effect is best achieved organically, i.e. Nickolodeon feeding CBS (both owned by Viacom) morning cartoons. But to artifically smash together say a soft drink company with a movie company so that you can, I don't know, have Dracula knock back a ginger ale ("I'm giving up blood for that fresh sparkly taste of Canada Dry...ah, ah, ah!"), just doesn't make any sense.

But there is hope. Some companies are seeing the light. First, streamline. Get back to your core market. Then, abandon the old and embrace the new. Best example? Eastman Kodak. A few years ago, the company was in the crapper. The company had branched out into microfiche, copiers and the like. It had also recently sunk a ton of money into developing (pun intended) a new form of film cartridge - perhaps you heard of the Avantix film system? Just as that was being launched, digital imagery was rearing its virtua head.

Now, it's true that Kodak was investing substantial money into digital as far back as 10 years ago, when digital imagery wasn't profitable, but Kodak is a film company (like the adage about shaving companies: "give away the razor, sell the blades"). And even today, it gets more income from film than from digital imaging, even as the market moves more and more to digital. However, the share prices has rebounded significantly, and it appears the company is on the way to at least a mild recovery. All from putting its focus into what it has always done best: let people look at their family vacation photos, albeit in a new-fangled format.

Fortunately, I have the next best thing: tulips. They're going to be huge in 2005. It's a whole new me.
Of course, he's married to a left-wing media operative: Greenspan has not been shy of late of sounding the warning bell regarding the impact of Bush's no-tax and spend mentality. True to his Conservative bona-fides, he came down on spending as opposed to not enough taxation, and certainly we'd lose respect for him if he said otherwise:
"Addressing the government's own imbalances will require scrutiny of both spending and taxes," Mr. Greenspan told members of the House Budget Committee. "However, tax increases of sufficient dimension to deal with our looming fiscal problems arguably pose significant risks to economic growth and the revenue base."

The Fed chairman emphasized that his own preference was to reduce deficits by cutting spending rather than raising taxes. But he said the "overriding principle" was to reduce the deficit, making compromise essential.

My point is this: here is arguably the most influential man in government regarding our economy as a whole, and inarguably, one of the most intelligent and least partisan person in a town raft with stupidity and hackery.

Further, he's not just giving a fireside chat on interest rates. He's explaining, in no uncertain terms, that we're headed for a fall, unless we change our ways:

"When you begin to do the arithmetic of what the rising debt level implied by the deficits tells you, and you add interest costs to that ever-rising debt, at ever-higher interest rates, the system becomes fiscally destabilizing," he told lawmakers. "Unless we do something to ameliorate it in a very significant manner," he added, "we will be in a state of stagnation."

The President's response?
"The president does have a substantial deficit-reduction package," said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman. "His budget is a continuation of that policy, and he looks forward to working with Congress in cutting that spending down. Likewise, the president agrees that the long-term budget is the issue, which is why he's trying to lead a national discussion and reform movement to save and strengthen Social Security."

As with all things Washington, the truth lies between the words. Bush's budget may indeed have a "deficit-reduction package". However, as with all politicians, it's not the budget, it's the reality. SEE Bush's Prescription Plan; Iraq spending. SEE ALSO Bush creating new bureaucratic offices at the drop of a hat. Further, Bush doesn't want to go back to "pay as you go" restrictions from the Clinton years to apply to any tax cuts, only future spending packages. Dr. Evil would nod and say: "Riiiiight."

I know Bush has his mandate and all, but that was just to keep gays out of the bonds of marital bliss. Whatever happened to the fiscal responsibility platform of the GOP? Well, at least we have a strong currency and low oil prices...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Weird Post-Oscar Thoughts: First and foremost, why do hot women tie themselves into these seemingly ill-fitting dresses that cause their breasts not to bloom, but to ummm, like melt over the tops of their bodices?

Chris Rock - not particuarly funny. He's just not well-suited to a PG-13 broadcast. Plus, a lot of his humor needs some build-up. His 5 or 10 minute rants on a controversial subject taken as a whole, are much funnier than 1-2 minutes on some lame Hollywood subject. I mean, he tried to be honest and poke holes in celebrities' images, but it fell flat I think.

Sean Penn - can the man get any more irritable? It's like he's some 75-year old crotchety grandfather on the porch complaining about the "kids nowadays". Has his life really been so hard?

Marketing on the Red Carpet - why do we NEED to know the designer of every bauble and lookalike gown? Why does Joan Rivers have such clout that she can dictate public opinion? Has anyone taken a close look at her? NO, don't...just asking. In ten years I predict the attendees will be wearing either company slogans on their outfits (a la British football teams), or temporary tattoos (like boxers).

Let them fucking walk up to the stage - it's the biggest night of most movie-makers' careers, and they have to scrunch up in the aisle to receive an award. I mean, sure, it's for make up, but without make up...well, have I mentioned Joan Rivers. Or look here. I'd say make up is the MOST important category.

Beyonce singing in French - next year let's have Fred Durst sing the theme to one of the Chinese entries for foreign language film. I know 90% of the audience had no idea she was butchering the material, and that 98% didn't care, but come on. Was anyone tuning in just to see Beyonce do this?

No more "Mulligan Oscars" - if you get robbed one year, don't "make it up" next year. Morgan Freeman could have gotten one for Shawshank or Daisy. He didn't. I don't know that he was the most deserving this year. Same with Eastwood. By all accounts, the Aviator was the better movie event. $1MM Baby was just the most controversial. But Clint got robbed last year for Mystic River (as he put it, he was "Hobbitized"), so they make it up this year. At this rate, Scorsese's home films of his dogs running on the beach will give him the long-coveted Oscar some time in 2014.