Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"Those Coastal Puritans"

I think that Justin nails it with this post.
Westerns

James over at Hell in a Handbasket offers up five Westerns for people who think they don't like westerns. It's an interesting list and it is hard to argue with his picks.

Also, he is offering to share some of his recipes-- not for ammo but for food. Simple to prepare but good eats to break the fast food habit. I say go for it. Too many recipes are for people who like to cook and therefore think of 90 minutes in the kitchen as recreation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Well said

Electric Venom on Rumsfeld and the "stop-loss" measures:

I can't even say that I disagree with the rationale. We do need to maintain sufficient force presence, after all. Still, it sure chaps my hide when I remember that in April Rumsfeld was pushing to reduce our military presence in the Gulf Region and military sources leaked reports that prior to the war's onset, Rumsfeld had repeatedly cut the number of participating troops "by as much as half." In May, he continued pushing for a "lighter" military, particularly the Army, and insisted that we needed fewer personnel worldwide. In June he implied that with higher-tech but lighter-weight weapons, the military could get by on significantly reduced manpower.

But then came July, when Rumsfeld evidently caught on to the fact that in a ground war, a "lighter and leaner force" is synomymous with high attrition. Come August, Rumsfeld began putting out the word that "significant numbers of U.S. combat soldiers may have to start serving back-to-back overseas tours of up to a year each in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and South Korea." Yet two months later - after announcing extended tours - Rumsfeld began cutting the number of troops stationed in all three locations, beginning with 30,000 fewer soldiers in Iraq.


There's more, so RTWT. And the comments should prove interesting as well.
Blog Debate

Jessica invites comments on the following:

Resolved: This House (OK, this Blog) believes that the collective knowledge of the blogosphere is greater than the collective knowledge of professional journalists regardless of the subject.

My $.02--The sheer number of bloggers ensures that they will win in terms of "collective knowledge". OTOH, it is much easier to find the really knowledgeable journalists than it is to find the really knowledgeable bloggers.
Paul Samuelson

David Warsh has a nice appreciation of Paul Samuelson at Economic Principals

Our Marshall

But there can't be much doubt that scientific economics in the second half of the 20th century belonged to Samuelson and Cambridge, Massachusetts, much as most of the first half belonged to [Alfred] Marshall and Cambridge, England.

It is hard to argue with that. Foundations of Economic Analysis revolutionized how economists wrote for each other and his textbook Economics was a best-seller for decades. However, elegant mathematics is no substitute for empirical validity and Samuelson often failed in this area.

Economics defended Soviet economic performance right up to the fall of the regime. Samuelson's economic analysis failed to discern the complete bankruptcy of central planning. That's a pretty big blind spot.
Don't tell me the computer has a brain!

Good point made over at Synergy Fest.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Mad Cow

Say Anything takes me to task for my earlier post:

Bad news for Bush? In what way? Did Bush somehow infect the cow with the disease? I certainly don't understand that assertion. Things like this happen, I don't see how it can be directly blamed on the President.

Bad news for two reasons.

First, regulation is not a good issue for Republicans. Public concerns about the food supply and the need for greater oversight gives the Democrats an issue when they haven't had many.

Second, the economic fallout will be concentrated in states that are part of the GOP base. Bad times in the farm belt will be a drag on his electoral momentum.

Thanks to Scott, i found these posts on the subject of MCD that are thoughtful and thought-provoking.
European Heroes

I agree completely with this post:

I have always had great respect for the Polish people and the Polish nation. Their love of democracy and martial valor throughout the years puts them up there on my list of favored nations.

I've tried to note just a few of the times that Poland played a pivotal role in protecting western civilization (see here and here, for example).

At some point i copied down this quote from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn from 1956 which sums up the matter nicely:


It is quite true that there is an aristocratic aspect of the Polish and Hungarian character, an aspect to be found in all classes, which prompts these nations rather to die than be slaves and to put chivalry and liberty above mere physical survival.
football

Kevin Holtsberry has a good post on the end of the NFL regular season. This is an excellent summation of the Steelers's failure, both last night and all season long:


On paper the Steelers have the talent but they didn't live up to it this year. On offense, other than the gutsy Hines Ward, I don't think anyone stepped up and made plays when it counted. Maddox had three interceptions, a fumble, and was sacked five times last night!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Was Saddam Conned on WMDs?

This is from the Guardian

New theory for Iraq's missing WMD: Saddam was fooled into thinking he had them

According to the theory, Saddam and his senior advisers and commanders were told by lower-ranking Iraqi officers that his forces were equipped with usable chemical and biological weapons.

The officers did not want to tell their superiors that the weapons were either destroyed or no longer usable.
The trouble for Britain was, the theory goes, that MI6's informants were the senior officials close to Saddam - with the result that British intelligence was also hoodwinked.

The hypothesis, which is being spread privately by officials, is open to the interpretation that the government is searching for an excuse, however implausible, for failure to discover any WMD in Iraq.


Sorry, but i think this is a stretch. It just does not square with the real risks the scientists and officers would have faced. Imagine, Saddam or Uday orders a live demonstration of the weapons (maybe against a bunch of political prisoners). What happens when the army commanders admit that they don't really have the weapons? The outcome would not have been pretty, and the generals knew that.

Wouldn't they be more likely to understate the number and effectiveness of the weapons? Blame it on the supply people or the scientists?

This argument calls to mind the sophistical attempts of revisionist historians to explain away VENONA and the Soviet documents that came to light in the 1990s. When these turned out to confirm that the Soviets did have spies throughout the US (including Hiss, White, and the Rosenbergs), revisionists claimed that the KGB operatives were lying, that they made stuff up to advance their careers.

In their new book, In Denial, Klehr and Haynes demolish this argument. They point out that is bears more resemblance to movies like Our Man in Havana and books like The Tailor of Panama than to the reality of KGB work. They wrote:

The Soviet KGB, however, lived in a state of institutionalized anxiety, constantly on the watch for hostile intelligence services foisting double agents and disinformation on it. The implication that a succession of KGB station chiefs in New York, Washington, and San Francisco, over a period of years, successfully conspired to conduct a massive con game, and that either they had been bamboozled by their own field officers or they were deceiving Moscow by claiming to have scores of fictitious agents, is simply risible. Any officer practicing such deceit would risk not merely recall and discipline but, during the Stalin era, execution. KGB headquarters was not a credulous patsy but a suspicious taskmaster.


Mad Cow

Instapundit opines "I think it's the swine flu of the 21st century, but I'm glad I don't own McDonald's stock." Of course, he is neither a doctor nor a cattle rancher.

Julie who knows about agriculture and rural communities writes "This is a big deal, and it's going to hurt agriculture in every way possible." I think she is much closer to the mark.

This is also very bad news for Bush.

Say Anything rightly argues against over-reaction: "The cow that tested positive was still alive meaning that it, and likely the herd it is a part of, haven't yet entered the food market."

Monday, December 22, 2003

Sad

National Review decided to mark Christmas with a mean-spirited article wholly lacking in Christian charity. I find it hard to see how one can reconcile the Good Samaritan with Scrooge before his epiphany.
"Contra College"

Aaron has another good essay; this one looks at college, class, and education. No point in trying to excerpt it, it is too good not to read the whole thing.

On the value of "elite" diplomas, the work of Alan Krueger is interesting. Here is a brief discussion of one of the economics paper he co-authored which found that there is no economic value:

They find that school selectivity, measured by the average SAT score of the students at a school, doesn't pay off in a higher income over time. "Students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges," the researchers write.

For at least a generation, college costs have risen faster than inflation. Students and parents spend savings and take on debt in order to attend expensive, elite colleges to get a leg up on the competition. Yet, it appears that elite colleges do not deliver that advantage.

If a private business acted this way, they would be in the sights of class-action lawyers and probably subject to congressional hearings. Certainly "60 Minutes" or "Dateline" would do their best to "investigate".
Life of a Salesman

Steve Sailer reviews Big Fish in the most recent American Conservative. It's not on-line, unfortunately. But this is just too good to share:

Nobody is more scorned in theory than the salesman, especially since Miller's 1949 drama, in which Bernard, the straight-A nerd next door who is Miller's alter ego, gets his revenge on the all-American (and thus doomed) Loman family by becoming a Supreme Court litigator, while the Lomans' sports and business ambitions shatter. Yet, nobody is more popular in real life than the successful jock-turned-salesman.

Speaking of Miller, the December Commentary has an essay by Carol Iannone which contains this assessment of the playwright.

Though Gottfried acknowledges that most of Miller's later plays are filled with characters spouting wildly unrealistic, politically inflected dialogue, he fails to see the single animus that has long driven Miller's work-the willed resentment toward American society, th overwrought, obdurate sense of condemnation and outrage. In Miller's hands, tragedy consists not in the individual's encounter with solemn powers greater than himself. Rather, tragedy is the failure to stand against patent corruption and foolishness, in the form of such life-crushing American villains as demanding fathers, witless salesmen, and witch-hunting antiCommunists. The idea that society might represent something more than betrayal and wasted sacrifice, that authority properly wielded might be admirable, that the dutiful son and quiet hero might deserve even more honor than the creative types who challenge every stricture-all this seems beyond the imaginative capability of our "greatest living playwright."

Gottfried calls Miller a "typical liberal." It would be fairer to say that he is a strange artifact of an American Left whose formulaic slogans were once a fixture on the cultural scene but whose fortunes in recent decades seemed to have waned somewhat (at least at home). The comeback of Arthur Miller suggests that, like the hackneyed dramas embodying them, these slogans have neither died nor fallen away, but only lain dormant.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

More Football

Flyover Country takes issue with the football posts (here).

On most points we just have different tastes. I dislike a lot of the showboating; he thinks it's sometimes entertaining. To each his own.

It is true that i think Vick is over-rated. But that has more to do with the media hype than with Vick's talent. No one can measure up to the media acclaim Vick has received. In a season he was injured Vick drew more attention than QBs who are leading their teams into the playoffs.

The Joe Horn/Terrell Owens deal is a similar matter. I don't like publicity stunts, but i am bothered more by ESPN devoting so much attention to them. Is Joe Horn really a better receiver than Hines Ward or Marvin Harrison? If he is not, why give him so much air time.

I just want players to become famous for their overall performance, not for their theatricality.

As for Butkus, it is true that he probably wouldn't be a Hall of Famer today. But that's because the NFL changed the rules to increase passing and scoring. If TO or Joe Horn had to play Butkus in his prime, under the rules of that era, it would be a different story.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Football and Statistical Analysis

Great article in Slate.

HT: Outside the Beltway

The Young and the Pointless

This is a great article on how advertisers over-value the 18-34 demographic.

Advertisers have their reasons for targeting teens and 20-somethings. First among them is the belief that long-term brand loyalties are set when people are young and impressionable. The problem is that the belief is based on market research that is 40 years out of date. "It's a cliché and a fallacy to think you can build a customer for life," says Al Ries, a longtime New York ad exec who is now a marketing consultant in Atlanta. "As people grow up, they change brands."

This isn't just a problem for advertisers:

Why should we care if advertisers have been duped into paying extra for teenage eyeballs? Because it's one big reason that so much of the dial--and the broader culture--is filled with dreck. "Network executives lose a lot of sleep trying to figure out what will hold fast the slippery attention of people in their late teens, 20's and early 30's," writes Jonathan Dee. "It is the principle by which a great deal of our popular culture--not just TV, but music, movies, radio--comes into existence." Take away the unearned premium demanded by shows that skew young and there might be more room for entertainments that aren't embarrassing to grown-ups.

One major hurdle to correcting this over-valuation is that the people who create advertising and buy advertising time tend to be 18-34 college-educated urbanites. They will still tend to advertise on programs that appeal to and flatter them (Friends, Seinfeld).

The author overstates his case here, however.

The "customer for life" cliché isn't the only blunder behind advertisers' youth fixation. Mr. Cracknell tells of a gin brand he worked for that would panic every few years when research showed the average age of its customers to be 50. They were acting on the "my customers are all about to die" fallacy, which leads companies to look for replacement customers on the playground. (This strategy may work for cigarette manufacturers, but is not widely applicable otherwise.)

Sears and GM (especially Buick, Olds, and Cadillac) were badly hurt when baby boomers failed to behave as their parents had. The advancing age of their average customer was an indication that their assumptions about customer lifecycle behavior were out-of date.
Advertising Metrics and the Problem of Interpretation

One common metric used by marketers to evaluate advertising effectiveness is "recall". After their ads run with sufficient reach and frequency, research firms survey the target audience of the ads to see how many remember seeing/hearing the ad, its central message, etc.. If those numbers don't come in high enough, the usual response is to blame the advertising for being unmemorable and the agency for insufficient creativity.

That line of reasoning assumes that the advertising was seen and heard. In the age of the remote control, Tivo, impatient viewers, and proliferating commercials, that assumption is not tenable. The radio program may have 500,000 listeners, but how many sit through the six or seven or eight ads thrown at them during commercial breaks? The best ad in the world will look ineffective if it is slotted fifth in an eight spot block. Too many people will have zapped away.

Advertisers demand that their agencies "cut through the clutter" of competing ads. It is time that they look at media outlets and ask why they create clutter by putting together massive blocks of often insipid ads. While the eighth commercial does increase marginal revenue for the TV or radio station, it probably reduces the impact of the other ads.

Similarly, advertisers are going to have to come to grips with the impact of recording technology on viewership. It may be that technophiles are a lost cause for broadcast commercials. But advertisers can at least stop paying to "reach" an audience that is unreachable. NBC et. al. will not do the necessary analysis; that would take money out of their coffers. But any company serious about marketing ROI has to pay attention to this problem.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Tivoing Radio

Jeff Jarvis thinks we will soon be able to do just that. I wonder, though. Eventually, advertisers are going to catch on to the fact that the show's audience is not the same as the audience for their commercials. (That's what happens with zappers, Tivo, VCRs, etc.; people skip over the ads).

If i was in the magazine business or owned an agency strong in direct mail or print, i'd commission research that measured just how large the current drop-off is between radio/TV audiences and the commercial audience.

And it is wrong to assume that all this consumer empowering technology is going to produce a richer array of program choices. If ad revenue drops (because no one hears the commercials), stations will look for cheap, syndicated filler. Radio will become even more homogenized. (Sort of like local television--- go anywhere in the country and you get to watch the same Seinfeld reruns at 5:30 and 7:00 pm).
That Atta-Iraq Memo

I'll grant you that the memo first reported by the London Telegraph is suspect. But as i read the Newsweek story "debunking" the memo, i worry that we are jumping the gun in discounting the whole idea.

The FBI is relying heavily on a timeline and paper trail.

The problem with this, say U.S. law enforcement officials, is that the FBI has compiled a highly detailed time line for Atta's movements throughout the spring and summer of 2001 based on a mountain of documentary evidence, including airline records, ATM withdrawals and hotel receipts. Those records show Atta crisscrossing the United States during this period—making only one overseas trip, an 11-day visit to Spain that didn't begin until six days after the date of the Iraqi memo.

The only problem is that these are easy to fake. Anyone can register as Mohammed Atta at a motel, check his email, or ride airplanes under that name.

In fact, if you were going to slip out of the country for a meeting with an intelligence operative, you might have an accomplice use your credit card, etc., just to help cover your tracks.

I await further analysis by Mark Reibling and Edward Jay Epstein

But in the meantime i might as well take advantage of the Beltway Traffic Jam

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

A Good Pat Buchanan Column

Why Do They Hate Dixie?

“Howard Dean wants the white trash vote,” wrote Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer in mockery of the Vermonter. “[T]hat’s clearly what [Dean] meant when he said he wanted the votes of ‘guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.’”

After Dean was savaged by Al Sharpton, who called the Confederate flag an “American swastika,” Krauthammer was rhapsodic. His humiliation serves Dean right, Krauthammer chortled. He should never have pandered to Southern “yahoos” and “rebel-yelling racist redneck[s


Don't Know What to Make of This

Offices of Interpreter's Lawyers Searched

Air Force investigators searched the offices of al-Halabi's military lawyers Thursday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, his civilian lawyer, Donald G. Rehkopf Jr., said Tuesday. The investigators, who had a military warrant, copied the hard drive of one of the defense lawyers' computers, Rehkopf said.

Risk Management and Finance Blog

A new blog and a good one-- Synergy Partners.

HT: Business Pundit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Will Vick be the Second Coming of Randall Cunningham?

Even when he was out with an injury, Michael Vick received more media attention than many QBs who actually played each week. Now Atlanta has fired Dan Reeves so they can get a coach who is more in tune with their young QB.

I was gratified to see the old-school Colts of Manning and Dungy beat the Falcons like a cheap drum. Maybe TMQ is right about those football gods.

I am leery of extrapolating any QB's performance after 15 or 20 games (see Kurt Warner, Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox). This is especially true with unconventional QBs like Vick. Initially they shred standard defenses with their mobility and speed. But coordinators catch on once they have a couple dozen games on film and they gameplan better. It is then a question of the QB learning how to cope with schemes designed to stop HIM, not a conventional QB. (Age and injury also are a problem since they eventually slow down all fee-noms).

Often, that is an insurmountable hurdle. But Atlanta has decided to stake their future on a young QB to the point that the next coach will have to be amenable to Vick.

I'm reminded of young Randall Cunnigham and Buddy Ryan. RC was unbelievable at times-- his somersault over the Giant defender and into the end zone still makes highlight reels. But he became a Buddy Ryan pet and never developed into the QB he could have been. Teams eventually contained him and his passing skills never matched his running ability.

If that happens with the Falcons and Vick i won't be sad.
NFL: Quality and Records

Another problem with the NFL is the increasing focus on individual records. This is a problem for a sport that is a pure team game with complex interdependencies not subject to easy statistical analysis. This is especially true for the defensive side of the ball.

After Bruce Smith captured the "all-time" sack record* Michael Wilbon wrote

Bruce Smith wasn’t great as a Redskin, but the greatness of his career is undeniable. He and Reggie White are unarguably the greatest defensive ends of their time. They ate quarterbacks for lunch and turned offensive coordinators into mumbling fools by the middle of every week. Maybe White was a hair better; he played tackle, lined up anywhere and everywhere and wrecked offenses. Smith, at his best, was so much prettier to watch. He always had the pure moves that allowed him to use his quickness to beat his man. A step below White and Smith are Chris Doleman and Richard Dent, with Charles Haley behind them. Their primary value: they got to the quarterback. They brought down the men who play the most valuable position, certainly the most glamorous position in team sports.

The "prettier to watch" comment is telling. Smith gets moved to the top of the heap because he made plays that could be captured by the camera and replayed as a highlight. But the role of the defensive lineman is much broader than that.

Here are some numbers Smith groupies won't talk about.

In four Super Bowls, Smith and the Bills's defense gave up an average of 142 yards rushing and 388 yards total offense. Contrast that with the Bob Lilly Cowboys. In two Superbowls they gave up an average of 74.5 yards on the ground and 257 total. Or how about the Joe Greene Steel Curtain? An average of 96.5 on the ground, 255 total yards in four Super Bowls. In fact, Greene's worst Super Bowl is better than Smith's best.

Lilly got one ring and Greene grabbed four. Smith, of course, was 0 for 4 when it mattered most.

*all time defined as since 1982. So we don't really know how Smith stacks up against Alan Page, Deacon Jones, or Big Daddy Lipscomb.
Acidman is exactly right

when he says that nfl football sucks today

This was especially good:

The NFL isn't a football league anymore. It's nothing but Soul Train in cleats and colorful uniforms.

But it is worse than that. The NFL is in danger of becoming the NBA where players get famous and mug for cameras but don't actually win much. (Exhibit A: that Atlanta receiver who celebrated a TD catch when his team was down 30-6).

I blame ESPN. Their programs demand highlights so they put on flashy plays and players regardless of the overall quality of play, game situation, or contribution to winning. Those "highlights" get replayed over and over and are the currency of celebrity (which is the only scarce commodity left as Aaron points out).

Dominique Wilkins was the original NBA "human highlight film". He made spectacular plays. He was on ESPN nearly every night during the NBA season. He was a much bigger sports celebrity than Michael Cooper of the Lakers. The only problem was that Cooper's defense helped the Lakers win championships, while Wilkins's Hawks won nothing.
Warning Football blogging ahead
One of the Gems of Chicago Radio

is Milt Rosenberg. When i lived in Chicagoland i loved "Extension 720". How many other commercial radio stations do programs with Harold Bloom or Harvey Klehr as guests? Rosenberg now has a blog and it is definitely worth checking out. A nice mix of links that are off the insta-beaten path.

Monday, December 15, 2003

War Games

Good post on the topic over at Hell in a Handbasket.

I agree completely with him when he writes:

wargames are snazzier than the older ones, but they have less to teach. Less meat on the bone, so to speak. This is due to the X-Box slackers that I've mentioned before. They want easy play and eye candy. This is a shame to a purist like me

It's really disappointing to that the power of the PC has been harnessed to generate pretty graphics instead of more realism (randomness, logistics, hidden movement) than can be incorporated into a playable board game.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Blogging Hiatus

Real life calls for the remainder of the week
Software

An excellent multi-blog discussion on the future of software development. Start here and don't miss the comments.

Even this non-programmer found it interesting.

Aaron describes enterprise software as "disgusting." I doubt that this is mainly the fault of the developers. This software is usually sold as a "solution". Yet Thomas H. Davenport pointed out, ("Putting the Enterprise into the Enterprise System," Harvard Business Review, v.. 76, number 4, July/August 1998, pp. 121-131), "An enterprise system, by its very nature, imposes its own strategic logic on a company's strategy, organization, and culture." Further, enterprise systems "pushes a company toward full integration" and centralization. I suspect many implementation problems and software modifications represent an undeclared war between centralizers and decentralizers-- undeclared because the internal proponents of enterprise software never make explicit that the goal is to bring the "cowboys" in the business units and business functions to heel.

David Gelernter did identify a mindset by developers that rings true in my experience. He wrote that "when technical people write books, they tend to assume that 'a nontechnical audience' means children." I have often felt that is exactly how many technical types view the people on the business side. Such a viewpoint hinders communication and helps add to the complexity of software.

This is also as good a place as any to plug Gelernter's book Machine Beauty; Elegance and the Heart of Technology. He has a lot to say about computers, software, and the reason for their complexity and users's frustrations. A sample:

"This much is clear: (1) most computer technologists are oblivious to beauty; (2) the best are obsessed with it; (3) the public has a love-hate relationship with beauty in computing; and (4) beauty is the most important quality that exists in the computer world, when all is said and done. "

"Beauty is decisively important to computer technologists because, first, virtual machines are always in danger of drowning in complexity. Hardware machines are held in check by physical reality. {Software builders are free from this limit]... So they go wild; a single programmer alone at his keyboard can improvise software machines of fantastic or even incomprehensible complexity."

"This huge complexity is responsible for software's permanent crisis: if you build a big enough program, it is almost impossible to make it come out right. Studies show that the average commercial software project takes 50% longer that it was supposed to, and one project in four is abandoned.... The 'beta test' is the industry's admission of failure-- the procedure whereby a product that is known to be flawed, but is nonetheless as good as the manufacturer can make it, is handed to expert users in the hopes they will find some of the remaining bugs."

"technology's single most important obligation is to get out of the way. The point of machinery is to make life easier."

"we do get from our fancy computers a tiny fraction of the value they are capable of delivering: we are a nation of Ferrari drivers tooling around with kinked fuel lines at fifteen miles per hour."


The Market Bubble

Jane Galt discusses the market bubble and suggests that evolution is to blame (at least in part).

But if we are programmed that way, why did we have a bubble in 1998 but not in 1980 or 1955?
It's hard to remember today just how new wide-spread individual investing is. Thirty years ago middle class Americans didn't invest, they put money in the bank. (See Nocera, Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class for the best discussion of this transformation.) A certain amount of naivety is to be expected with new investors.

What is astonishing about 1998-2000 is that this naivety was exploited, not mitigated by those who should have known better.

The airwaves were awash with irresponsible advertising that asserted that the average Joe could get rich fast by trading online.

Business media acted more like cheerleaders than watchdogs. CNBC, for example, was happy to provide a platform for money managers and "stock analysts" to hype the market and specific investments.

We now know that those "recommendations" were rife with conflicts of interest. Yet, business journalists were uninterested in pursuing those stories. It was a classic case of reporters being held hostage by their sources.

It is sad that investors were better off reading the business section of the liberal New York Times than they were listening to CNBC or reading Fortune or Red Herring.

Many journalists fell for the siren call of revolution. The Internet promised to be for business what Port Huron and Woodstock were for politics and society in the 1960s and 1970s. Anything was possible because the Net was new, revolutionary, and the stodgy, old, straight, white guys just didn't get it.

Given what we know now, the bubble was also a failure of regulation and government leadership. Yet no one seems interested in the political dimension. We have Clinton facing impeachment and his best shot at survival is a booming economy. Did this make his administration hesitant to act for fear that a market drop would hurt the boss's job approval numbers? Were they thinking about what would happen to Gore in 2000 if they moved aggressively in 1999? Two sectors where Clinton had substantial business support were Silicon Valley (Apple, Oracle, etc.) and investment banking. These were also the areas where the bubble's excesses were most obvious. Coincidence?

Missing Men

Ad Age (12-08-03)

But turn down the noise, and logic suggests a simple truth: Young men, early to adopt new technologies, are playing more video games, using more DVDs, doing more online-- and watching less broadcast TV.

The networks have tried to argue that viewership isn't dropping, it's all Nielsen's fault for measuring wrong. I like how they assume that the old measures were accurate and the new methods are flawed. Why couldn't it be the other way around? Maybe the past several years of ratings overstated the number of young men watching TV and the new measures now reflect that reality better?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Roots of Radicalism

I was reading Roots of Radicalism and came across this discussion of the objectives and tactics of the New Left.

Quoting Mark Rudd (SDS president at Columbia):

"We manufactured the issues. The Institute of Defense Analysis is nothing at Columbia. And the gym issue is bull. It doesn't mean anything to anybody. I had never been to the gym site before the demonstration began. I didn't even know how to get there."


"Even Berkeley had a slogan that "the issue is not the issue," meaning that the real issue was not free speech on campus but thoroughgoing social change."


Mike Goldfield in New Left Notes (1966):

"You have to realize that the issue didn't matter. The issues were never the issues....It was the revolution that was everything. The only thing that mattered was what you were doing for the revolution. That is why dope was good. Anything that undermined the system contributed to the revolution and was therefore good."

This is one more reason why ANSWER's participation in the anti-war protests is a problem. They are using the protests to further their revolutionary aims; that the war is a mistake is secondary. One would think that moderate anti-war types would resent having their cause hijacked by Bolshevik wannabees.

Further, since "the issue is not the issue," non-revolutionaries (i.e. most of us) have every right to reject any and all ANSWER-led causes no matter what the ostensible merits of a particular case. They don't care about the merits, but only the utility of the protest to further their Stalinist aims. To be "fair-minded" is to be their patsy.

How Times Change

The Blog from the Core discusses the "entertainment" at a recent Dean fundraiser.

Antiwar comedians raising campaign cash for Democrat Howard Dean last night blasted President Bush as a "piece of living, breathing s - - -" at an angry X-rated fund-raiser in New York.

Couple that with the fact that Dean let Margaret Cho guest blog on his campaign site. On her own blog and in her stand-up act she says charming things like:

The Pope is one press release away from selling indulgences to buy space in heaven, like in the days of Martin Luther - not the King, the father of Lutheranism, Catholicism Lite. I am so angry, I don't want to just rip up a picture of the pope. I want to rip him a new asshole, wearing a condom, and I don't even have a dick, but this is the one time I wish I did. (10/10/03)

Hard to believe that just five years ago Washington was scandalized when a Republican congressman called Clinton a "scumbag."

Dean and Gore

OTB has a round-up of blogger opinion on Gore's endorsement of Dean.

FWIW, when i heard about this, i thought "Nixon, 1964". While the Clintons maneuver to stop or undercut Dean, Gore becomes the leading established Democrat in his camp. If Dean loses, his supporters will remember who worked for them and who worked against them. That will help Gore in 2008, just as the support of Goldwater voters (and Barry's endorsement) clinched it for Nixon in 1968.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Newt was supposed to be a historian

Virginia Postrel thinks Newt Gingrich "thinks seriously about strategy (of all sorts)." But you couldn't tell that by the passage she quotes:

Gingrich argues that the administration has been putting far too much emphasis on a military solution and slighting the political element. “The real key here is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow,” he says. “And that is a very important metric that they just don’t get.” He contends that the civilian-run CPA is fairly isolated and powerless, hunkered down inside its bunker in Baghdad. The military has the money and the daily contact with the locals. But it’s using the same tactics in a guerrilla struggle that led to defeat in Vietnam.

Makes it sound like the Republic of South Vietnam fell to a popular insurrection and a peasant army. But that's not the way it happened. Saigon fell to a modern army that was equipped with Soviet tanks and artillery and that waged a conventional offensive. It was Poland 1939 or Norway 1940.

Outside the Beltway has the right perspective

But what Newt knows about military strategy is just what he's heard others say; he's not an expert by any stretch of the imagination.
OK, I'll Play

So, we're google-bombing as a political tactic?

Well, then, i agree with this fine site that

For an ideal example of a miserable failure, one need look no harder than to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

UPDATE: Okay, i see the cool kids have a different target. That's fine. This is also a miserable failure.
Hilliary!

From The Blog from the Core

I think Hillary has no intention whatever of running for president next year: she wants the Democratic candidate to get clobbered, and the Democrats to lose even more seats in the Congress, so she can "save" the party in 2008. (If they actually let her try to do that, they'll be conveniently forgetting or ignoring that the party's race towards oblivion accelerated dramatically with the introduction of the Clintons to the White House.)

On his point about the actual effect the Clintons had on the Democratic party, see here.
The New Carnival of Capitalists

is here. Another good batch of posts on business and economics.

Wal-Mart Weans Suppliers

That's the headline from the print edition of Ad Age (12-1-03). Bentonville doesn't "want to be the sole source of survival for a company." They plan to take steps with any supplier that derives 30% or more of their revenue Wal*Mart sales.

In 2002 Wal*Mart accounted for 18% of sales of P&G products, 23% for Revlon and 21% for Hershey Foods.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Malvo, Moose and Motivation

This blogger asks:

Did religion -- namely Islam -- play a role in the killings? Is this connected to Osama's al Qaeda, even if only via ideology?

He has a lot of evidence that the answer is yes.

The JunkYard Blog thinks the police, esp. Chief Moose owes us some answers on questions he didn't cover in his book:

But--they misled the public, whether from noble intent or not. They told us they were looking for a certain profile, when in fact they had much evidence that pointed away from that profile and toward another.

We need to know why.


More on Chief Moose here:

What he doesn’t talk about in his book is some damning evidence that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo could have been caught a lot sooner but for Moose’s insistence that the killer or killers HAD to be white. Despite eyewitness accounts of black or “dark skinned” drivers in the areas of the shootings, Moose (who can’t get past race to save his life) refused to entertain even the thought that the sniper(s) could be anything other than white.

How many people died while Moose was leading a Keystone Cop search for white guys in a white van?

Saturday, December 06, 2003

35 Heroes of Freedom?

Matthew Stinson asks

Is it just me, or does Reason's list of "35 Heroes of Freedom" read like it was written by the president of a high school Cbjectivist club?

Which is just about the perfect description of it. He puts it into perspective with

Larry Flynt gets a nod, but Pope John Paul II, who fought tyrannies more profound than American obscenity law, does not.

Outside the Beltway adds

anyone that thinks the guy who invented Pretty Good Privacy did more for freedom than Lech Walesa, Ronald Reagan, or John Paul II has a very narrow view of reality.

Another thing that struck me when reading the article was their statement that

Half a billion people or more have escaped the gray hand of totalitarian communism.

That is true, but it happened with no thanks to the libertarians. They were opposed to Reagan's military build-up and his confrontational approach to the Soviets.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Predictable

LEVI'S REVIEWING DISCOUNT JEANS MARKETING TACTICS

New 'Signature' Line Set Off Price War

Levi Strauss' move into the discount channels may have stimulated even more difficulties for the jeansmaker, which announced on the day of Mr. Marineau's memo that sales will decline for the seventh straight year from its 1996 high of $7.1 billion to an expected $4 billion come January.

Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resources Group/Flickinger Consulting, New York, said the arrival of Levi Strauss Signature stimulated something of a denim price war in the giant discounter's apparel department.
Unbelievable

Tree display vexes law school

Law Professor Florence Roisman was the first to complain about the original tree. Even undecorated, she said, it was a symbol of Christianity on government property.

"The tree is placed there to celebrate a Christian holiday -- it is not put there in the middle of summer," said Roisman, who is Jewish. "To honor one religion and not honor others is exclusionary. This is unacceptable at a place that presents itself as inclusive of all people."

The Supreme Court disagrees. It has ruled Christmas trees are secular symbols of the holiday. At the same time, the court said putting up trees in a public place gives any other group the right to place a holiday symbol there.


Why do taxpayers put up with subsidizing professors who clearly have too much time on their hands?
Image is everything

My local talk radio station-- WHP-- is running TV ads for its program line-up. Since they carry Michael Savage they include his picture-- complete with cowboy hat as though he is John Wayne or something.

What a crock. The man lives in San Francisco. As noted here, his ravings drip with contempt for those of us who live in the hinterlands and he has been especially contemptuous of the people of Colorado in the Kobe case.

But for publicity purposes, he is a cowboy.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Steelers Woes

Kevin has a good analysis here.

I think that he underweights the Maddox factor. Last year he lit defenses up and we expected him to continue. Unfortunately, defensive coordinators adjusted, and Maddox is back to looking average.
Ecosystem fun and games

My Resignation from the League of Liberals
Nominee Power-politics

This post over at the JunkYard Blog gets it exactly right:

What am I talking about? Those memos, the ones that show for a fact that the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have been puppets for various hard left activist groups for the past couple of years. Imagine for a second that a pile of memos demonstrating conclusively that the GOP had been taking orders--not mere suggestions, but orders--from various far right groups, or from industries with vested interests in pending legislation surfaced. Imagine how the press would treat that disclosure--it would be Watergate times two. Imagine how the Dems would treat it--Washington would probably be in the grips of serious scandal fever. And for good reason, really. The parties are meant as ideological vehicles, and as competitive yin and yang to keep government relatively honest and somewhat functional. They are not, however, meant to be merely the above ground operation for various unelected heads of various fringe groups that prefer to operate below the horizon, or that operate out of sight because the American people reject their radical opinions.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Advertising as a commodity

Once the heads of advertising agencies dealt with the CEOs of their clients. They were seen as counselors, not merely people who wrote ads. Bill Bernbach did not just make clever commercials for VW. More than anyone, he defined the whole marketing position for the Beetle and allowed VW to compete with General Motors on GM's home turf. (Mary Wells's A Big Life in Advertising gives an insider's' view of the era.)

Paradoxically, despite the fact that "building strong brands" has become a key strategic initiative for most businesses, the role of the agency inside the client company had been downgraded. Senior management rarely confers with anyone at the agency. According to Ad Age 3 out of 4 top advertisers now involve their procurement people in the purchase of advertising. Apparently, they no longer look to agencies for strategic advice; today, they see ad creation as analogous to buying gasoline and janitorial services.

It has always been difficult to measure the return on advertising. It seems that corporations have decided to simply focus on cost reduction and hope that equates to improved performance.

Wal*mart Shoppers

Some interesting demographic information in the 6 October Ad Age.

The average consumer has a household income of $45,245. For Wal*mart shoppers the figure is $41,847.

Wal*mart shoppers are slightly older (45.0 versus 44.6 for all shoppers) and slightly less educated (13.9 years vs 14.1). Nearly a quarter of Wal*mart shoppers have four year degrees.

So the stereotype of the typical Wal*mart shopper doesn't fit. They really are not that different from the average consumer. No surprise given that over 100 million of us go to Wal*mart each week.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Shooters' Carnival

In addition to general advice, they have begun to include product reviews. So if you are thinking about buying a handgun or rifle, or are wondering about ammo brands, check them out.
Wolves and Sheep

Check this out at Backroads Blog.

98% of the population bemoans violence. 2% are okay with it. Of this 2%, half are wolves, ready to prey on the sheep. The other half are sheepdogs, which will keep the wolves at bay.



Friday, November 28, 2003

Anti-Saudi Bashing

I'll admit it, a lot of conservatives bug me with how they attack Saudi Arabia. It's not that i think that the Saudi royal family is a positive force in the middle East. Rather, i think they betray a double standard at work.

Case in point, this bit from the Corner:

There’s much about the piece that is deeply, deeply flawed (hey, it’s Albright), not least the failure to draw a distinction between the need to deal with the Saudis in the years of the Soviet threat and the situation after the Soviet collapse. Perhaps this was inevitable – the failure to grasp that things had changed (and to realize that the strategic significance of Saudi Arabia was now completely different)

So, the French are always to be grateful for our liberation in World War II, but America should have no residual gratitude to our allies in the Cold War? How cynical can you get?
Mark Steyn

Poor old Easterbrook was criticizing Jewish execs for not behaving Jewish enough (as he sees it), and wound up getting fired for “anti-semitism” from his other gig at the ESPN. Which, if you were Dr Mahathir, would sort of confirm the point you were making. Maureen Dowd can criticize Clarence Thomas for not behaving black enough, and nobody ever demands her pretty little head. Excessive ethnic touchiness is bad enough, but excessive ethnic touchiness inconsistently applied is worse. No wonder it's reduced a big macho sports network into a bunch of shying geldings at a ladies’ trotting race.

Read the rest here.
That could explain it

Last week i noted the how easily it seems for intelligence sources to link terror attacks back to al-Qaeda. In this article Laurie Mylroie offers one reason why:

one indication of a "false flag" operation is that the investigation is too easy. Authorities are immediately led down one track, away from the real culprits. Thus, the passport of one suicide bomber in the first set of attacks, on the synagogues, was found amid the wreckage. He was easily identified and the link to al Qaeda quickly established.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

How Smart was Clinton?

Aaron over at God of the Machine writes

Terry claims, as if it were an established fact, that Clinton is "known to be unusually smart," for which I can discern no evidence whatever. He is justly famed for many acts, none of which, except getting himself elected, could remotely be classified as intelligent.

It's part of a long post that deserves to be read.

See also this, which i wrote when no one read this blog.
Salam Pax

The JunkYard Blog has a great post on the Blogosphere's pet Iraqi. As he notes JYB was onto Salam long before Baghdad fell. He caught some flack for it at the time, but he was right as SP's post-war comments make clear.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Light blogging ahead

Holidays, etc.
Getting Hip to Squareness

This is one of the best things Michael Kelly ever wrote.

In all these states we were, first and above all, not-square. Everything was a variation on that; to be seen as clever and even profound you had to be not much more than not square.
*******
Knowingness, of course, is not knowledge—indeed, is the rebuttal of knowledge. Knowledge was what squares had, or thought they had, and they thought that it was the secret of life. Knowingness is a celebration of the conceit that what the squares knew, or thought they knew, was worthless. In The Graduate the career advice ("Plastics") of a family friend, Mr. McGuire, to Benjamin Braddock, played by Dustin Hoffman, is classic square knowledge. Benjamin's mute disdain toward that advice—and his elaborately played out disdain for all that McGuire and the Robinsons represent—is classic anti-square knowingness.

You can see in this example the problem that a return to square poses: anti-square is so much easier and more fun. Knowledge, even on McGuire's level, is notoriously difficult to acquire. Sixteen years of hard, slogging schoolwork, and what do you know? Not enough to carry on ten minutes of intelligent conversation on any subject in the world with any person who actually knows something about the subject. Knowingness, though—a child can master that. (Can and does: there is an obvious inverse relationship between age and knowingness; the absolute life peak of knowingness generally arrives between the ages of twelve and sixteen for females, fourteen and eighteen for males—whereas, as these cohorts can attest, grown-ups don't know anything.)

This is why Benjamin Braddock had to ignore, with prejudice, Mr. McGuire. McGuire may have been a fool, but he was, in the limited area of business and economic trends, probably a knowledgeable fool. Had Benjamin been obliged to respond to McGuire's advice in terms of knowledge, he would have been utterly lost—he would have been the one exposed as a fool. But for Ben—and more to the point, for the movie's audience—knowingness offered a lovely way to not only counter McGuire's knowledge but also trump it. Ben didn't have to know anything about McGuire to show himself intellectually (and aesthetically, and even morally) superior to McGuire. He only had to know that what McGuire thought he knew was a joke and McGuire was a joke because—because the McGuires of the world are definitionally jokes, and if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you, because you are a McGuire. That's knowingness, and for no-sweat self-satisfaction you can't beat it.


Kelly was more right than he may have known. In matters big and small knowingness plagues us.

If you want a small example, take a look at VH1's "I Love the ...." programs. As this blogger noted, they are just a series of snide, bitchy comments by people who really know little about the subject they are discussing. Everything is just fodder for a snarky joke.

In the latest New Criterion, Mark Steyn gives a common example:

In the days after September 11, I ran into no end of college students eager to lecture me on the "root causes"-- poverty breeds despair, despair breeds anger, anger breeds terrorism, terrorism breeds generalizations-- yet unable to name the capital of Saudi Arabia or find Afghanistan on a map.

Knowingness is a key element in many (most?) of the deleterious movements which have swept through the humanities over the last four decades. Graduate students did not have to master a subject in the old-fashioned way. They could just pick a short-cut-- racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia-- and go cherry-picking for facts that fit.

For example, the history of the Northwest Territory used to be a complex matter of competing empires, tribes, religions, classes, and ethnicities. Now you just have to illustrate the genocidal attitudes of greedy settlers and you're home free.

Why really try to read Eliot or Pound carefully? Just pick out the lines and phrases that show fascist sympathies or anti-Semitic attitudes and be done with it.

These types of scholarly movements are a sham because they minimize the element of discovery in the research. The "scholar" knows what s/he will find when the s/he sets out. The footnotes are just a charming convention that serves as a smokescreen.

As Kelly wrote, the problem is figuring out how to go back to attitudes that are not as easy to pull off and not as much fun.

Friday, November 21, 2003

More Wal*Mart

Business Pundit linked to this Fast Company article on the difficulties of being a Wal*Mart supplier. It's well worth reading but like much business journalism the narrative elements crowd out context and important questions are neither asked not answered.

Early on the author announces:

Wal-Mart is not just the world's largest retailer. It's the world's largest company--bigger than ExxonMobil, General Motors, and General Electric. The scale can be hard to absorb. Wal-Mart sold $244.5 billion worth of goods last year. It sells in three months what number-two retailer Home Depot sells in a year. And in its own category of general merchandise and groceries, Wal-Mart no longer has any real rivals. It does more business than Target, Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Safeway, and Kroger combined.

This sounds scary, but later on we find this:

believe it or not, American business has been through this before. The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., the grocery-store chain, stood astride the U.S. market in the 1920s and 1930s with a dominance that has likely never been duplicated. At its peak, A&P had five times the number of stores Wal-Mart has now (although much smaller ones), and at one point, it owned 80% of the supermarket business.

There is another example in the more recent past: Circa 1960, Sears (yes, Sears) was larger than its five largest competitors combined.

So we shouldn't take Wal*mart's market dominance as a permanent feature of the business landscape. Business empires have a way of crashing.

More importantly, suppliers found a away to survive and prosper even when giants roamed the retail landscape.

The problem of Wal*mart squeezing margins of "branded" goods were discussed here. Both Vlasic and Levi Strauss seem to fit that mold: they wanted the sales growth and didn't think too much about profits. That isn't Wal*mart's fault: that is a failure of strategy by the brand owner.

Over twenty years ago Michael Port wrote Competitive Strategy. How can any business think that the way to high profits is to sell most of its product through a single large outlet? The Five-Forces Model will tell you that the profits are going to accrue to the buyer (in this case Wal*mart) not the seller (Vlasic, Levi's, etc).

Often a brand is defined by saying "no." Now that Levi's sells jeans at Wal*mart for $20, it is more difficult to sell their established versions at other stores for $45. This famous brand is being devalued by a management searching for a quick fix to long-standing problems.

As noted here, part of the problem for suppliers of branded-products is that retailers inherently commoditize the product simply by offering it in their store. Which is why some luxury brands have experimented with opening their own outlets.
Lileks, Lileks, Lileks!

The last part of this Bleat is priceless.

But since his target is Salam Pax, a pet of some in the blogosphere, he'll probably receive more than his usual allotment of abuse. Still, he is right.

Cut the clever café pose; drop the sneer. That “Rambo” crap is old. Iraq needs grown-ups. Be one.

UPDATE: Not everyone agrees with Lileks. Outside the Beltway has links (and be sure to read the comments).

Nonetheless, Scott's right that Salam is a war profiteer of a very modern sort. About what you would expect from one of the "smart-alec kids of the nomenklatura."

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Prague Connection

The redoubtable Edward Jay Epstein looks at the evidence again and does a little reporting as well.

It really seems that the Atta-Iraq connection is still an open question. While evidence for it is slim, it is clear that it has not been disproved.

What is troubling is that the FBI seems unwilling to work with the Czech's to investigate it.

Czech intelligence services could not solve this puzzle without access to crucial information about Atta's movements in the United States, Germany, and other countries in which the plot unfolded, but it soon became clear that such cooperation would not be forthcoming. Even after al-Ani was taken prisoner by U.S. forces in Iraq in July 2003 and presumably questioned about Atta, no report was furnished to the Czech side of the investigation. "It was anything but a two-way street," a top Czech government official overseeing the case explained. "The FBI wanted complete control. The FBI agents provided us with nothing from their side of the investigation."

The JunkYard Blog asks a lot of questions about the FBI's unwillingness to pursue these leads.

Maybe the FBI is just the captive of its own theories. For over a decade they have downplayed the dangers of state-sponsored terrorism and traditional espionage. Instead, the Bureau has focused on loose networks of criminals. It is a view that sees al-Qaeda as a law enforcement problem (like the Russian mafia) rather than an instrument of statecraft.

That might be a valid theory, but I would feel better about it if the chief author of the doctrine had been someone other than Robert Hanssen. Anything touched by a traitor seems suspect until revalidated by fresh and critical eyes.

The indispensable Mark Reibling has a lengthy post that looks at the broader question of al- Qaeda-Iraq links.

One other thing-- do intelligence "sources" and journalists use a consistent standard for determining "linkage"? A few hours after a terror attack it is common for the group to be identified and often we are told that they are "linked" to al-Qaeda or UBL. But these groups are shadowy, they don't publish org charts, and are a "loose-network". So how good is our evidence? And how strong is the link? Is it that much stronger than the connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam?

I suspect that many reporters and pundits demand a higher standard of proof about Saddam-UBL links than they do for UBL-Bali or UBL-Turkey.
More on the DVC

Dan Brown has sold over three million copies of a thriller that essentially charges the Roman Catholic Church with being a 2,000 year conspiracy that knowingly perpetuates a fraudulent history of Christ, his ministry and his message.

There aren't a lot of groups you can get away with defaming like that. You can do it to Texas oilmen and the Pentagon like Oliver Stone did in JFK. But there aren't a lot of other easy targets out there. Clearly, our concern about "hate speech" and love of diversity has limits.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Hitting back at comment spammers

She sounds like she means it. I hope it works.
Local soldier killed in Iraq

Timothy Hayslett, the father of two, had hoped to make the Army his career.

Hayslett went to the same high school as Randy Shughart, one of the two Delta team snipers who were killed in Mogadishu and were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery.

Sgt. Hayslett leaves a wife and two children. God be with them in their time of grief.
Polish Joke in the Atlantic

They published a letter here (it's at the bottom of the page) in response to the cartoon discussed here.

The Da Vinci Code's Shaky Foundation

A good piece by James Hitchcock.

For l50 years people have been calling the historical reliability of the New Testament into question. But now the Gnostic gospels, which were written later and were never taken as historical documents, are treated as at last giving us a true picture of the early Church. For example, Elaine Pagels, a scholar of Gnosticism, theorizes that Thomas is presented as a doubter in the New Testament in order to discredit the spurious Gospel of Thomas, a theory which is guesswork at best, not scholarship.

Found via Open Book.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Stop telling me what to do!

The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy

That's the title of a new book by the good folks at RoperASW. Who will, for the right fee, show your company how to harness "influentials" and their word of mouth recommendations to build better brands.

I doubt that these influentials are monolithic enough to be a "controllable" part of the advertising mix.

But i really doubt that 90% of us go to the same 10% for advice on everything. It just sounds absurd: who talks to the same one or two people about a wine recommendation, a 401(k) rollover question, and car shopping?
History? More like Historical Fiction

I'm really disappointed that the History Channel is using the 40th anniversary of the JFK assassination to air this tripe: The Men Who Killed Kennedy. Just a whole bunch of conspiracy theory, new witnesses who tell their story after thirty-five years, "facts" that are newly revealed.

They never once admit that the single bullet theory has strong scientific evidence to support it.

Further, I'm no fan of LBJ, but accusing the guy of murder should take some serious evidence. You'd better have something more than some spotlight-craving fantasists telling tales about dead people.

It's not often ABC is more level-headed and honest that Fox or the History Channel.
Credit where credit is due

Coyote at the Dogshow has been a posting machine of late. Quoting Phil Ochs when he is not nailing the Justice Department for violating the Brady Law.

James at Hell in a Handbasket always posts frequently and he digs up interesting stuff way off the beaten path. Sharks, orcas, and a movie review. There is also a discussion on a new round for the M-16 rifle.

Scott has evidence that the technological revolution marches on and now in a meaningful way: cracker-cut cheese!

Monday, November 17, 2003

Iraq and post-war Europe

I originally posted this back in March because i think it is good strategic planning advise. But the current talk about our "failure" to plan for Iraq's reconstruction and the danger that entails makes it pertinent for other reasons.

The Best Strategic Planning Advice Ever

"Avoid Trivia"

That was the only advice George Marshall offered George Kennan in 28 April 1947 when he gave him two weeks to create the State Department's Policy Planning Staff and formulate an American response to the European economic crisis.

Kennan had the staff in place by 5 May. He presented Marshall with the recommendations on 23 May. They were accepted and became the basis for the Marshal Plan.

Not a bad month's work.


Now, note the dates--- 1947! The Marshall Plan, the most successful initiative in State Department history, was put together TWO YEARS after the Nazis surrendered.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Those cozy bloggers

It's a Little Too Cozy in the Blogosphere

"The sassier the voice, the more successful the blog is likely to be."

Or maybe the writer just happens to like blogs whose authors tend to write cute, snarky, or sassy things. When i look at my blogroll i don't see a lot of blogs that sound like those Jennifer Howard is writing about. Has she ever heard of Steven den Beste? One Hand Clapping? In fact, not a single one of the bloggers listed here typically posts in the sort of chummy, cutesy tone she complains about.

It's sort of like watching only the VH1 and E! networks and deciding that TV journalism has been taken over by bitchy fashion designers and third-tier comedians.

One thing about bloggers: in most cases their friendships and group loyalties are presented right along with their commentary. That is much different than print or television.

The same sort of flirting, mentorship, clubbiness, and lobbying takes place with old media journalists. But it is invisible to the reader of a piece. Sid Blumenthal didn't just promote Bill Clinton in his articles in 1991-92, he also argued the Clinton case to other reporters on the bus covering the campaign. But most readers didn't know about that jockeying when they read about the 92 campaign in their local paper. How many people knew Todd Purdum was trying to score with Dee Dee Myers while he covered the White House and she was press secretary?

Outside the Beltway has a good analysis as well.

Terry Teachout, one of the bloggers mentioned in the Post article, comments here.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Kagan, Rumsfeld, and the RMA

Rev. Sensing links to a critique of the Kagan article on Rumsfeld's efforts to transform our military. Owen Johnson read Kagan completely differently than i did.

It seems to me that Kagan's main fear is that Rumsfeld will impose a narrow vision when exploiting the current RMA which will leave the US military unbalanced and poorly positioned to cope with future threats and missions.

Kagan is explicitly in favor of the "noisy, messy and apparently disorderly fashion" the services do things. He worries that Rumsfeld is trying to change that and impose a business-oriented, "one best way" mindset that over-values efficiency, assumes that the future is highly predictable, and understates our enemies's ability to adapt to and reduce our asymmetrical advantages.

I don't know if Kagan is correct or not. But, as i noted before, we also don't know if Rumsfeld is John Scully or Jack Welch either.
Alfred Kinsey

Terrific article at NRO on the pioneer sex "researcher."

Kinsey’s Kids

Indiana University, which has the dubious distinction of being home to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, is hosting a yearlong 50th-anniversary celebration of Alfred Kinsey's controversial 1953 book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. The festivities ignore the serious exposés of Kinsey's work and maintain the fiction that his research methods and findings are legitimate.

RTWT
Working at the Post Office

Julie Neidlinger has some reflections and offers advice to us postal customers. I've never understood why people think being a customer gives them carte blanche to be rude, demanding, and petty.

Oddly (and fortunately) i have no postal worker horror stories. After living in nine places in five states my experience with the USPS has been almost universally positive. More than just positive; there have been numerous times where the people at the PO have been helpful and friendly beyond the job requirements.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Old Media Blog

World Magazine now has a blog. A couple of months ago they added a feature in their paper magazine that covers what blogs are saying. This column discusses blogs and what World plans to do with their blog.

Ia Drang


On 14 November 1965 the US First Cavalry division launched an offensive in the Ia Drang valley in South Vietnam's Central Highlands. This marked the first time that American regular forces met North Vietnamese army units in combat.

The first engagement as at LZ X-ray where an understrength battalion led by Lt. Col. Harold Moore (1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry with approx.. 450 men) was attacked by over 3,000 NVA troops. In a three day battle the US force held their perimeter with the help of around the clock air and artillery support. American losses were 79 dead and 121 wounded; NVA casualties were many times that.

LtC Moore went on to become a Lt. General. His book on the battle-- We Were Soldiers Once... and Young became a best-seller and later was made into a movie starring Mel Gibson.

LZ X-ray was only the beginning of a 34 for day campaign. (Read more here) On 17 November 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry fought off the further attacks at LZ Albany suffering 155 killed and 121 wounded.

All told the 7th Cavalry suffered 234 killed in action. As Moore and Galloway wrote in their books prologue: "That is more Americans than were killed in any regiment, north or south, at the Battle of Gettysburg, and far more than were killed in combat in the entire Persian Gulf War."

General Moore distilled three lessons of leadership from his experience:

First, never quit. Three strikes and you're not out. Put that on your refrigerator.
Number two - there's always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor. There's always a way.
Number three - trust your instincts.
The cover of We Were Soldiers had a picture of a young officer--Lt. Rick Rescorla who was a platoon leader in the 2/7 Cav. Rescorla survived the war and later went on to become vice-president in charge of security at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. He died in the WTC attacks as he worked to get his people out of the tower. His story is here.




Thursday, November 13, 2003

More on Jarvis

Justin at Dust in the Light has a series of posts on Jeff Jarvis, populism, and new-media. (Just start here and follow his links).

I think it indicates an importance in remembering that folks like Jeff Jarvis are old-media types dabbling in — and differentiating themselves using — new media.

My post on the subject is here.


The Boob Tube

Coyote at the Dog Show says it best:

Don't like the TV programming you're watching? Well, there's a really easy way to solve that. Get up off the couch and go do something.

But don't sit there on the couch watching and then complain that the programming people watch is turning them into pussies, warping their minds, or whatever. Do the manly thing: Turn it off.

Chickenhawks

The JunkYard Blog has a good post on the this rhetorical tripe:

But the "chickenhawk" label has been a persistent plague in this war. Anyone who supported war but didn't rush down to the recruiter to sign on has been slapped with it by liberal pundits and bloggers and generally by the anti-war crowd. It's obviously nothing more than one of many canards the anti-war crowd has tossed up to try and squelch the pro-war side of the debate--they figure calling us names or calling out our courage quotient will make us think twice about publicly opining in favor of a war we're not actually fighting in.

RTWT

Those who toss the term around usually don't have a problem with the "chicken" part-- many of them went down the line with Clinton and are solidly behind Dean. They had no problem with Madeline Albright taunting Colin Powell about his unwillingness to commit troops into murky conflicts. It's the hawk part that bothers them and the conservative/republican thing.
Men Marriage and Advertising-- Follow-up

Several bloggers commented on this post and they make interesting points:

Snooze Button Dreams is one of those who are watching less TV because of "men are dumb" stereotype:

I don't watch things that irritate me and the ever growing "guys are lovable losers/bumbling idots" thing has pretty much trashed television as an entertainment vehicle for me.

The Desert Light Journal is another blog that thinks the portrayal of men on TV could account for the decline of male viewership


Snippy offers a woman's perspective that cuts to the heart of the matter:

That second one is, in fact, far more important to me. I'm in the middle (or possibly by some definition near the end) of trying to raise my sons to be men who are valuable and cherished members of our society. These insidious attacks on their value as human beings, and on the images I've tried to present to them of worthwhile manhood, mean more time spent fighting negativity and less time spent building important values like respect, self-reliance, confidence, generosity, and kindness.

The Man without Qualities makes a provocative point:

But there seems to be another force at work: American television increasingly presents a tolerant view of homosexuality, and increasingly presents images of gay interaction itself. I am not interested in condemning or condoning that development here. But it is simply a fact that the development has happened and is continuing to happen.

In my opinion, while tolerance of gay lifestyles may (or may not) be increasing in the United States, it is also a fact that the great majority of American men do not feel comfortable being directly or indirectly involved in or witnessing or having their attention drawn to any aspect of gay interaction.


I'm not sure i agree completely. I don't doubt that the increasing gay presence on TV may turn off some viewers. But gays on TV are themselves often caricatures--- urban, swishy, smart, bitchy, witty, girly. Will on Will and Grace is simply the other side of the coin, the antithesis of the doofus clod husband on a dozen sitcoms. On Queer Eye the opposition of gay to straight men is made explicit. But all of it is rather a set-up, the gay characters are used to mock conventional males.
How not to do it

If possible, do not get linked by Instapundit just as you head out of town for several days. Or at least try to make sure you have access to your email and blog. All those new visitors and no new posts.... i wasted an opportunity.

But i do have new stuff coming over the next couple days including a couple of things that continue the discussion on men, media, and advertising.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Someday maybe i can write something this succinct and on-target

Too many bloggers confuse civilization, or culture, with Zeitgeist, which is white noise. Culture does not consist, and never did, of what is taught in college, or what appears on television or in the newspapers. It is an underground stream, the product of a few dozen of the most intelligent people of each generation, and it always appears sounder retrospectively because time takes out the trash.

God of the Machine

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Welcome Instapundit Readers!

And thanks for stopping in.

Since this is your first visit here, why not check out some of the archives?

And take a look at the blogroll as well. You might find a couple blogs that are new to you, and they certainly are worth a look.

Thanks again.
Men Marriage and Advertising

One of the targets of Kim du Toit's now famous rant was the way men are portrayed in commercials. On this he was absolutely right. The middle class guy as doofus is one of the most popular themes in advertising. Chevy uses it to sell cars, Circuit City to sell electronics. Frozen pizza, cereal, cleaning supplies-- all of them use men as the butt of their jokes.

To go further, while men of all types are on the receiving end, husbands are the ones who get it worse

I don't doubt that if you totaled all the spending on these commercials you would conclude that "husbands are dumb" is the most popular advertising message in America. If TV commercials can shape the image of a sneaker or beer, what is it doing to the image of marriage.

Miller's advertising competes with with Budweiser's. But there is very little advertising which portrays the husband/father as an attractive, respected figure.

Women, most of them, should be concerned about this cliche as well. Implicit in the message is the wife as ball and chain. Husbands are clearly guys who have no fun. The only men enjoying life in commercials are single. The point is neither subtle nor nuanced and it is repeated over and over in prime time.

Jane Galt thinks this trend simply reflects the fact that women make the buying decisions for most consumer products. This is unsatisfactory. The anti-husband commercials are not only used to sell cereal, paper towels, and diapers. They also promote cars and beer where the target market includes men.

I wonder if these ads are part of the reason that men are deserting TV, especially broadcast TV. (See here and here). The barrage of disparaging commercials just make it a little less appealing to the male demographic.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Cyber-mob Rule

Jeff Jarvis thinks that the public uproar over the Reagan mini-series and CBS’s reaction is a bad thing. Really bad. The blogosphere is not acting like a pack-- it’s a herd that has become a "mob". Mobs are dangerous-- scary dangerous. All of us should be worried.

Stifle the gloating again, blog mob. For you may think this is good news -- ding, dong, the big media witch is dead... it's melting, it's melting! Or at least: The big guys are listening at last!
But it's not good news. It's bad for media, old and new. It's bad for the republic.


As a conservative, I distrust the mob. As a student of history, I also know that mobs do not appear spontaneously and that not every large gathering is an unthinking mob. Usually, before the herd can become a mob there must be some underlying grievances that those in power are unwilling or unable to address.

The first point Jarvis overlooks is that the uproar was not just pro-Reagan or conservative; it was also pro-truth and anti-lying. Conservatives often criticize liberal programming without calling for boycotts. The West Wing has been pumping out Clinton/Gore talking points for four years. It has been criticized (as I did here)but did not provoke widespread outrage. The Reagan mini-series was a special case because it used fictional events to create a portrait of the Reagans that was contradicted by real events.

If the mob was wrong-- if the mini-series was a well-done, fully rounded portrait with real merit-- then why didn’t CBS stick to its guns and broadcast it? They would have won praise for their courage and would have demonstrated that the critics were just trying to incite the mob.

Jarvis acts as though only the mob can censor or restrict programming. He is not that naive. Networks and studios make decisions everyday that shape what we see on TV. One reason conservatives were angry is that they knew CBS or Miramax will never fund a Clinton mini-series that is as shoddy, exploitive and dishonest as the Reagan drama. No one is going to base a prime time movie on Gary Aldrich’s book or The American Spectator’s reporting.

Terry Teachout was astute to highlight the role of new technology in shaping this controversy and its outcome. Those forces won’t go away just because CBS tossed the program to Showtime. The effects may not always be as visible as the Reagan-fireworks, but they will be real and long-lasting.

Most mass market advertising is designed to build and maintain brand equity. A large part of that equity is in the minds of consumers. It is not just that a car is more reliable or roomier-- it is also more refined, or cool, or the choice of smart buyers.

Much of our thinking about brands is fuzzy and confused. We have a hard time measuring what works, what consumers really think, how much knowledge customers have. Faced with such large unknowns brand marketers simply focus on putting their advertising in front of viewers/readers. In general, the demographic of the audience matter a lot; the nature of the programming does not.

Obviously, networks like this approach: sponsors do not worry too much about the content that surrounded their ads. Counting eyeballs by demo group is the main type of analysis.

This model is not eternal. In the early days of television sponsors owned and produced the programs. (Hence soap operas).

Nor are advertisers always indifferent to the vehicle that carried their message. The New Yorker’s prestige makes it attractive beyond its demographics while Penthouse struggles to draw mainstream advertisers despite its large readership.

Both advertisers and consumers are gaining more awareness about each other. Consumers used to know who advertised on shows they watched; now they know who advertises on shows they hate or which mock their deeply-held beliefs. Ironically, this "media awareness" is promoted by magazines like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide-- places Jarvis used to work.

Advertisers always have exploited celebrity endorsements to help their brand (Nike-Michael Jordan). They know that when a celebrity gets into trouble there can be negative fallout for their product (Nike-Kobe). Now advertisers have to assess media buying decisions as potential endorsements with upside and downside risks.

For networks the problem is that the risks grow out of consumer's perceptions. Cozy arrangements between ad salesmen and advertising agencies can’t survive if the advertiser pays too much attention to customers and if customers tell advertisers what they think of the shows they sponsor.