Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Money Grubbing Lawsuit #MMCXVII

Well, I won't be buying their book on Amazon! One of the big stories on our local news last night was that the authors of the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG) are suing Dan Brown for copyright infringement for his publication, The Da Vinci Code. Never mind that The Da Vinci Code has been out for over three years and hasn't exactly been a slow-burn bestseller. In fact, a book that's sold more than 36 million copies in an era where print is dead is anything but that. On top of that, the people who wrote HBHG have actually consulted on a variety of shows and programs related to The Da Vinci Code, using their influence as one of the sources for Dan Brown's research to ride a new wave of popularity for their book that had been largely forgotten for a couple of decades. Now, with Tom Hanks starring in TV ads as Robert Langdon, apparently it's time to strike while the iron's hot and blackmail Random House, Dan Brown, Imagine Entertainment, and Sony Pictures into giving them even more money. Well, writers of HBHG, I was going to buy your book because I am intrigued by all things Da Vinci Code, but you're officially on notice. You're almost dead to me, so don't push your luck. Maybe if you'd had this complaint 3 years ago when the book first came out (you had to have known) then that would be something different. Never mind that you can't copyright non-fiction (although I have an application in with the US Copyright office for exclusive rights to use Newton's laws. That means that everybody who uses gravity will have to pay me royalties) and that being used as a source doesn't violate copyright, especially if you're acknowledged, these guys want money. In fact, there's really nothing that they can do to get off notice, so guys that wrote HBHG? You're dead to me! Dead!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Luging With the Stars

A quick chart for those fans of the luge:

Anti-Globalization Fun

For those of you who enjoy mocking MNCs, I've come across a couple of games here on the internet that would be of interest to you.
One is McVideogame. In it you play the part of McDonalds, oppressing farmers, destroying rain forests and villages, slaughtering cattle, the whole works. It's good clean family fun, but if you don't do a good enough job then you'll get aced by a guy in a clown suit.
The second is for those of you who have had a bad experience at FedEx Kinkos. In this one you get to play a Kinkos staffer who is having a particularly bad day at the office thanks to some surly customers.


Sunday, February 26, 2006

I Pay Money to...Save You Money?

I deal with a lot of companies. I know that that's a bit of an understatement, as in this modern world we tend to do that. There's the grocery stores, the power company, the drug store, the internet provider, your computer company, and so on and so forth. Since this is the case, I think that I am qualified to voice an opinion on what makes a company good and what makes them bad. The company that I'm currently angry with is Questar Gas. I realize that they heat my home, and for that I am grateful. However, they are so far behind the times as far as payment options are concerned that you'd think they stepped straight out of the days of Standard Oil. There are several ways to pay them. You can give them a check via postal mail. You can drop off a check to a designated drop-off point. Finally, you can call a third party company to pay them money from your bank account. The problem with this last option is that it costs $3.95 to do so. In this day and age who charges you to make an ETF from your bank account? That's pure madness. Every other utility company (including the government monopoly water/sewer/trash company) lets you make your payment over the internet for free. Why? Because it's cheaper for them. They don't have to pay someone to go through and punch in the numbers from the payment slips. They don't have to pay check processing fees. They get their money quicker. Even with credit card payments, it's win/win. I get SkyMiles, they get their money, and we're all happy.
Instead, Questar decided that the best solution was to keep doing what it was doing, making sure that they spend the most money possible instead of cutting out a few middlemen (extra data entry people and that third party payment processor) and lowering my gas bill. Instead, if I lose my bill, I get to pay $3.95 for the privilege of giving them some of my hard earned money at a dicount to them. I've had companies give me money for moving to internet services, but Questar can't seem to pull their heads out and change their ridiculous policy. While I can't boycott them (well, I guess I could if I wanted to spend enough to retrofit my house to run on propane), I'm still going to rant about them. Oh yeah, and Questar? You're on notice!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The South Shall Rise Again!

...but not if these guys are indicative of what would pass for a Rebel Army. In the category of "things I have never heard of happening before," we have two roommates going at it over toilet paper. This isn't one of those Quilted Northern vs. Charmin Ultra debates. They ran out of tp, then proceeded to threaten each other, with it escalating to the point where one of them, Kenneth Matthews, pulled out a rifle; and the other, Franklin Paul Crow, proceeded to beat Matthews to death using a clawhammer and a sledgehammer. Ugh. That's grizzly. It's one thing to just hit someone with it, it's another thing to destroy their head so badly that they needed to use fingerprints to get the ID. That's insanity right there. Of course, I don't know if I would have ever put myself in that situation, because judging by Crow's mugshot, he looks like a guy that would kill you if you didn't have toilet paper in the holder, or even if you left the seat up and he went to deposit his securities in the middle of the night, thereby landing in toilet water with results that normally would be called hilarious.
I guess this is one reason why they have a CSI: Miami instead of CSI: Winnemucca

Friday, February 24, 2006

Isaiah Thomas' Fantasy Knickerbockers

There really isn't any competition in the sports world for the title of "Worst General Manager." Isaiah Thomas, the man with the names of two biblical prophets and one apostle, is in a class of his own. He took over the New York Knicks from Scott Layden a few years back and proceeded to destroy it even more than Layden did. Zeke has built a reputation of buying the most expensive players in the league without paying attention to the position they play, if they're injured, or how good they still are. He has to have the worst (15 wins so far this season) $150 million team of all time. He's got a backcourt with two shoot-first point guards (Stevie Franchise and Stephon Marbury), no inside presence, and a coach who has to wonder what in the world he got himself into. Here's Larry Brown, one of the winningest coaches in NBA history, and he came to coach this train wreck of a franchise? One that's just a hop, skip, and another bad trade away to forever having to pay $200 million to the most talented bunch of people in NBA history. Of course, like the 2004 US Olympic "Dream Team," that doesn't mean that they play well together or even like each other. While Zeke was a great player and might even be a decent guy, he's not one who will ever be mistaken for Theo Epstien.

Speaking of terrible GMs, here's a fun column from ESPN's The Sports Guy on a fantasy get-together of them and what he thinks it would be like

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Israel Blows Up Mosque "On a Lark..."

...so says Iranian President and all-around nutjob Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Of course, because the US is controlled by Zionists, we are also responsible. This is in spite of President Bush's offer of US help to repair the mosque.
What possible reason would we have to blow it up? We are in Iraq, trying to get the Shiites and Sunnis to like each other and we felt like we needed a new challenge, so we blew the sucker up then blamed it on Baathist insurgents? Perhaps it's that we hate Islam so we decided that we'd take out some of their holy sites. Watch out Mecca, you're next on the list!
Seriously, Iran is getting scary. Ahmadinejad is toeing the Ayatollah's line more (at least in public) than any Iranian leader in more than a decade. They seemed like they were going to reform from within. The people are fed up with a religious junta telling them how to live their lives and they've protested in the streets for years against that regime. However, the iron fist of the regime has come back with a vengeance. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and I don't know which would be worse: al Qaeda with a nuclear bomb or Iran with one. Al Qaeda would certainly threaten to use it and probably would try, but I think Iran may be the looser canon here. If they funneled their weapon through Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad and it got into Tel Aviv, we'd have Armageddon in the Middle East as Israel bombed Iran back to the Stone Age. Heck, we might nuke Iran if they do that. North Korea is scary, but if anything, Kim Jong Il is somewhat rational. He wants money and security. Iran just wants to eliminate Zionism. Unfortunately right now we don't have a credible alternative to war in Iran. We don't have the troops to invade, nor the world support, and any military action - Israeli bombings or whatever - would lead to war with Iran because of our complicity. Right now they're just too big and our forces too spread out to be able to take care of this, but Ahmadinejad seems to not want to give us any choice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Tale of Two Arch-Nemeses

As I've been reading Pity the Nation (I'll review it when I'm finished), it's been interesting to see the evolution of people in the book. Two main figures in the book are Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon. It's interesting to see the paths that their two lives took after Israel's 1982 entry into the Lebanese Civil War.
Briefly, Arafat became the head of a movement among Palestinians called Fatah. This movement eventually was folded into the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). Initially they were headquartered in the West Bank, then after the Six Days War, Jordan. King Hussein kicked them out in 1970 and they ended up holing up in Lebanon. The Lebanese didn't want them and they ended up destabilizing the country enough to start the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. They used their Lebanese base to attack Israel and after a variety of events, Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982, quickly encircling West Beirut, where the PLO was headquartered.
Ariel Sharon was a tank commander with a string of great victories to his name, including honorable service in the IDF during the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War. As is typical of Israeli military heroes, he became a politician and rose to the position of Defense Minister, where he was in 1982. He led the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. His intent was to wipe out the PLO, securing Israel for good. The IDF was a juggernaut and ended up causing a bunch of civilian casualties. Sharon is most notorious for letting the Lebanese Christian Phalange milita run rampant during the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

The big difference between these two is how their lives changed in their "Elder Statesman" years. Both were at the top of their respective nations (not states - semantic difference as the Palestinians don't have a state of their own) and ended up facing off across Jerusalem instead of across Beirut as they did in their younger years. Arafat, of course, got a Nobel Prize in 1994 as one of the architects of the Oslo peace treaty. Until recently, Sharon was noted most for going to the Wailing Wall back in 2000 in an incident that, in theory, started the second intifada. The PLO had been talking about a second intifada since Bill Clinton's last ditch peace efforts failed at the end of his presidency. Arafat once again decided to use violence to achieve his dream - a unified Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. The problem with this vision, other than 5 million Jews living in that Palestine, was that it was uncompromising. Israeli PM Barak was busy negotiating and they had worked up to the Palestinians getting 94% of Gaza and the West Bank (here's a map). Was this Israel's final offer? At the time, yes. However, Barak wanted to secure his name in the history books as the man who once and for all fixed the problem. He probably would have given more, maybe even traded some land in the Negev for some West Bank land. Arafat didn't give him that chance. As the proverbial leopard who didn't change his spots, Arafat tried violence to persuade Barak to agree to the partition. Instead, he ended up with his old nemesis, Ariel Sharon.
At first Sharon acted just as everyone would expect. He hit back, and he hit back hard. The Palestinian people, who up until the intifada were able to have jobs and work in Israel proper, were cordoned off in Gaza and the West Bank. Arafat was surrounded in Ramallah. Terrorists were blown up with military strikes. Bulldozers ran over Rachel Corrie. A security fence was begun around the West Bank (which, ironically, followed the same boundaries that Barak proposed for the Israel/Palestine split) that effectively stopped suicide bombers and at the same time codified what would be Israel proper when all was said and done. Then a funny thing happened. Sharon became the leading chance for peace in Israel. He didn't have anyone to work with on the Palestinian side because Arafat never renounced the intifada or the violence that was happening. Instead, Sharon unilaterally declared that Israel would withdraw from Gaza and guard the border. He alienated some Jewish settlers, but it happened. He began the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were on the Palestinian side of the barricade. Again, he alienated more settlers. He still pressed on, but it wasn't so he could be know as the man who brought peace to Palestine. Rather, he wanted to be the man who brought security to Israel and disengagement was the best way out. He didn't change his stripes either, but his goals were more noble than Arafat's. Arafat devoted most of his life to pushing the Jews into the Mediterranean, Sharon spent his trying to prevent it. In the end the one who will be judged best by history will likely be Sharon because he was the only one who had the guts to make the tough decisions even though he was alone in doing so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nobody Makes fun of Jews Better than Jews

Hot on the heels of the whole Mohammed cartoon brouhaha and the subsequent Iranian anti-Semitic cartoon contest (because, you know, the Jews are part of The Plot and therefore behind this whole thing. I see Kissinger and RAND Corp in there too somewhere)is something that is actually a good idea to try and mitigate some of the madness. That's right - it's a Jewish anti-Jew cartoon contest! This is really a fabulous idea. I know that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (shown here with one of the 1979-80 US Embassy hostages) is a big fan of anti-Jew contests, unfortunately for him he isn't eligible to participate because, in another blatant show of Jewey Jewishness, it's only open to Jews. How dare they! I guess Ahmadinejad will have to make due with the Iranian anti-Semitic cartoon contest. Iranian hate fantasies aside however, it just wouldn't do to have someone else win this contest. That's the point - it's Jews making fun of themselves.
Humor can be a great tool if used properly (an art that is difficult under the best circumstances), and the people behind this contest are using it in the best way imaginable. They're not only showing that, unlike the protesters that burn embassies and kill people, they can take a joke, but they're also diffusing any tension that this contest would have from Jews and putting it to constructive use. I applaud their efforts, and if I was a) Jewish and b) any sort of artist, I'd totally participate.

Simple Math: Zero Tolerance = Zero Sense

This was on the radio this morning, and it certainly makes me glad to be far, far away from High School. A McHenry, Il area high school suspended and then the school district subsequently expelled a student, Derek Leon Kelly, from school for the rest of the year. What was his crime? Doodling DLK in a notebook during detention. They insisted that it meant "Disciple Latin Kings" - which doesn't make sense anyway, as it's a mishmash of two rival gangs.
Zero tolerance was based on a good theory that you didn't want to tolerate students doing legitimately bad things, but it's turned into the lazy man's punishment tool. Did you mention blood in a short story? That must be a gang reference - the Bloods!
You couldn't possibly have meant, say, blood. You know, the stuff that's in everybody's bodies? This is ridiculous and what the district ended up doing is putting a kid - a kid who's had some trouble, granted - on the street instead of in school. Where's he going to go? Well, either to the Latin Disciples or Latin Kings. I think that he may even straddle the fence and swing both ways what with his drawing and all.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I'll take a Cheese Mohammed

Making another stab at the Danes, the Iranian confectioner’s union ordered pastry shops to officially change the name of Danish pastries to “Rose of Mohammed” pastries (you cannot make this stuff up). Bakeries all over Iran were covering up any baked reference to Denmark with black banners symbolizing mourning. One shop owner offered explanation for the dramatic fad with these words, "This is a punishment for those who started misusing freedom of expression to insult the sanctities of Islam". Personally I don't think this punishes the Danes very much at all, in fact they could probably give a flying turban if Iran chooses to refer to all Danish inspired pastries as a "Rose of Milwaukee".

I suppose many of you will say, didn’t we as American’s do something similar just recently with french fries? Yes, and no. There were some American’s who avidly boycotted anything with "french" in the title, french fries, French’s mustard, and French Stewart, but most of us scoffed at the name switching fools, and nothing was headed up by something as ominous as the "confectioner's union". I suppose though if it makes Iran feel better by really sticking it to the Danes by means of a pastry war then so be it, hopefully it will all be resolved peacefully, until then I'll take a Rose of Mohammed and some Freedom fries.

Fantasy Apprentice

One show that I've looked forward to ever since it started is The Apprentice. The first season was a gem and it's very rewatchable on DVD. The second season was rough, very rough. My man Bradford got out way too early because of a bad decision on Trump's part and the rest of the candidates just weren't as strong. It didn't help that the eventual winner, Kelly Perdew, had the personality of a cardboard cutout. The third season got better, and the fourth season had the show hitting its stride again. I have high hopes for the fifth season that's starting up a week from today. My only beef is that NBC, in all their infinite wisdom, decided to schedule it opposite 24 on Monday nights. It was opposite CSI (my wife's favorite show) and now it's opposite 24 (my favorite show). Thanks NBC, thanks a lot. It looks like it's another season of watching The Apprentice on tape upstairs while we TiVo 24 downstairs.
Another reason to be excited is someone they are already playing up to be the return of Ivan Drago: Lenny the Russian. Unfortunately NBC doesn't have that spot up on the internet, but trust me...give him a pair of boxing trunks and he's just as evil.
One of my Apprentice traditions is Fantasy Apprentice. Yahoo hosts it and even if you don't know anything about it or watch it, sign up and give it a whirl. You can win bragging rights and a mention here on Ye Olde Two Guys from Quantico Bloge as well as a nifty Photoshopped picture of a trophy to post as your desktop wallpaper.
Go to the Fantasy Apprentice Home Page
The group ID is: 460
The password is: trump

Hope to see you there!

An opinion on sassafrass

I am a self proclaimed root beer connoisseur, due to my informed and discriminating taste for the brewed root. I have been scouring the world over in search of the finest of root beers and have compiled a list for the top shelf. The list currently stands as follows (not listed in any particular order):

Red Rock: The Red Rock Brewery Company brews an excellent root beer in house. It is spicy and robust, drawing from a strong tang of cinnamon and anise. I like a root beer that has a bite, and this one fits the bill. Probably the best root beer I have ever had, certainly the stoutest.

Virgil's: I don't care much for the regular Virgil's which tastes too much like molasses just tossed in a glass of soda water and swirled around with a licorice stick. I do however fancy Virgil's Special Edition Bavarian Nutmeg, which has a dark smooth flavor, with a pleasant nutmeg taste and aroma. Unlike its sister beverage the SEBN doesn't beat you over the head with an overpowering licorice flavor. The licorice is there, but it has been toned down to contribute to the taste symphony.
It is one of the most expensive root beers available for purchase, probably because you end up paying for an old-timey bottle and stopper. It is available along the Wasatch front in Good Earth stores. While you are there you should grab a keg (yes it comes in a keg) of Virgil's Cream Soda, which is excellent.

IBC: It comes in a 32oz bottle, need I say more? IBC makes a fine root beer with a nice subtle kick. They also make the only palatable diet root beer, which tastes similar to the regular although it is a bit watery and a little too sweet it works in a pinch though, for when you feel like cutting back the sugar/cal intake, that is if you can push past the bitter aftertaste.

Bulldog: This root beer is second only to Red Rock's, and widely more available. It has a gentle honey and vanilla flavor that is sweet too the last drop and lingers for just a bit after.

Others to note:
Henry Weinhardt
Thomas Kemper

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Michael Eisner, Childhood Rapist

I know that it's a bit out of style to bash Michael Eisner now that he's no longer part of Walt Disney, but I was listening to the soundtrack to Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away in English) and I realized that Disney (meaning Disney itself, not Pixar - although Pixar is now Disney anyway, and not Studio Ghibli, although Disney has distributed their films here in the US) hasn't released an animated film with any redeeming qualities at all in over a decade. I'm not blaming Robert Iger for this - he brought Pixar into the fold and gave John Lasseter full creative control over Disney animation, so they may have turned a corner here, but Eisner managed to tear the door off of Disney's animation vault, where they store movies for 10 years so nobody can see them, then re-release them with a lot of fanfare and a new cover so that another generation of shmucks will go and buy them again, and destroy everything that was good about Disney animation. During his tenure, he greenlit direct-to-video (i.e. crap) sequels to every Disney animated movie ever made, except for the Aristocats, a movie so bad that a bad sequel to it would have been so bad as to create a paradox of sorts where the crappy animation actually imploded on itself, like a miniature black hole.
Seriously, I remember the day when i loved Disney movies. They were the stuff of dreams - things that I watched in between Star Wars airings. I was looking forward to showing them to my children some day, but now I worry that I'll get sucked into the same trap my mother did with my little sister - she has all the bad sequels. Of course, I still have Miyazaki to help me out. I am certainly going to indoctrinate my daughter to like Ghibli films because they're things I can tolerate. I may even buy into the old Disney vault and get some of the actual classic films (they call these masterpieces, and the sequels are called the Gold Collection, as in fool's gold) (not some of the crap like Pocahontas, which teaches children that all white people are evil and Gaia is your friend and personal diety). I refuse to go any further than this though. Buying bad Disney sequels is like being an Accessory to Murder. You're just as guilty as the guy doing the killing.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Losing...with Style!

I haven't watched much of the Olympics this year. Part of it is because in general I don't watch much of them. It's not that the sports are boring. Wait, I take that back. There are some very boring Olympic sports. Curling comes to mind, even though it's got an underground fan club. Another reason is the television coverage. NBC tends to think that the best way to make sure that people watch is to pack their primetime coverage full of human interest stories, commercials, and fireside chats with Bob Costas. Where's that soccer announcer who screams "GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!! Goal-goal-goal-goal! GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!"? Let's liven things up a bit with some swooshes, more mayhem, and above all, a TiVo. Thanks to the wonder of TiVo, I've been able to at least get the last criteria. By skipping the fluff, I've been able to compress approximately 10000 hours of Olympics coverage into my own personal 1 hour highlight reel. Foremost among anything else on that reel is Lindsay Jacobellis' Snowboardcross race from Friday. In one of the most idiotic moves in recent Olympics history, Jacobellis decided that being 100 meters ahead of her nearest opponent and on the way to a certain gold medal just wasn't good enough. Instead, she had to hot-dog it. She pulled a little trick on her second to last jump, biffed it, and ended up with the silver medal. Of all the stupid things to do. Wasn't celebrating at the bottom good enough? Wasn't standing on the podium hearing the Star-Spangled Banner a good enough prize for winning? You had to go out and pull a stunt like that, somehow doing everything in your power to make sure that you pulled a silver medal out of the certain gold you had. It was an unbelievable moment. You really have to see it to believe it. Take a look right here. This even surpassed Bode Miller's comments about how he got plastered during his ski runs on the Idiocy Scale. There are still 6 days left for something else to win, but right now, barring somebody else trying to get their claim to fame, nobody can touch Lindsay Jacobellis.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Corporate Raider or Sack of Crap?

There are some people who can be redeemed and there are others who can't. In the latter category I put Two Guys from Quantico Inagural Sack of Crap Lifetime Achievement Award winner Carl Icahn.
Why is he so bad? A lot of people haven't ever heard of him. He has been obscure outside business circles, not really making any waves most of the time. Most of his unredeemable qualities come when he decides to take an investment in a company. Because of the fortune he has amassed throughout his business career, he feels like he should have a much more powerful say than he actually deserves. His modus operandi is to buy pieces of companies, scream about how they are undervalued, and then follow that up with his plan to "unlock" value. This plan always consists of breaking up the company. Is this the best thing for shareholders? Not usually. Breakups, like mergers, are hard to do. In the end all that happens is lots of cash for the investment bankers who finance the deal. Is this the best thing for the company? Not at all. They end up weaker than they started out and they have a loudmouth either on the board or running the company.
Icahn was the driving force behind making Howard Hughes' old airline, TWA, impotent. He bought control of the company in the mid 80s then proceeded to sell anything of value out from under it. This included airplanes, routes, and operations centers. This "unlocked" the value for Icahn who got rich, then drove the company into bankruptcy, losing control of it in the process. They proceeded to attempt a revitalization only to get smacked down under Icahn's thumb again in the late 90s and eventually get sold off to American Airlines as a mere shell of its former self.
What put him in the running for this lifetime achievement award is his current attempted breakup of Time Warner. He wants it broken into four pieces, each with less power but, in theory, more value; allowing him to cash out and leaving a broken Time, Inc, Warner Bros, AOL, and Misc. Company in his wake. While it's important to listen to investors, especially powerful ones like Icahn and fellow company killer Kirk Kerkorkian, in the end the responsibility of the executives should be to the company and to its employees, not to loudmouth billionaires who use these companies as expensive Legos that they can put together and dismantle at will.
Fortunately Time Warner seems to have withstood Icahn for now. For their sake and for everybody else's, let's hope he sells soon. At the very least, he's come out of this with a lovely award, the Two Guys from Quantico Sack of Crap Lifetime Achievement Award. Congratulations Carl, you've won it!

Tomorrow: Lindsay Jacobellis and her boneheaded showboating!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dramatic License

Our office is home to a lot of buzz words. In the past they've been phrases like "download," "quick and dirty," and "take this offline." Currently, the word of the year is "drama." By drama, of course, they mean making a big deal out of things, freaking out, and so forth. In theory, no drama is a great thing to shoot for. Who wants to work in a soap opera (unless of course, you are working at an actual soap opera)?
The big problem with this is that it doesn't work. Why doesn't it work? Because the main person in charge of making sure that there isn't any drama is the drama king. Of course, we're talking about St. Aaron the Flaccid. He devotes so much time and energy to getting rid of other peoples' drama only to replace and augment it with his own drama. Ugh. He really doesn't have the first idea about running a business. Before working here he had been a great academic, but as the old saying goes "those who can't do, teach."
Because he's not my direct boss (that's another member of the executive team) I haven't had to deal with too much of his drama. Unfortunately because he's designated himself point man for one of our other branches and there's an operational issue, I get to waste pretty much all of my working time tomorrow to deal with his bullcrap. In the words of Johnny Biscuit, "fun fun!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


The Wall Street Journal poses an interesting question in yesterday's issue. It's something that has been batted about in academic circles for a bit, but it hasn't seriously been considered until now. There are people who want to enlarge NATO. That's nothing new. Turkey has been considered, then former Communist Bloc countries, and even pieces of the former Soviet Union (most notably Ukraine). Now, with Iran having a hardliner as President and restarting its nuclear program with the express purpose of wiping Israel off the map, people are considering inviting Israel into NATO. While this sounds ridiculous, it's a very realist view. The thinking goes that if Israel is part of NATO, then it will provide a greater deterrent to the Iranian mullahs, because you could, in theory, eliminate the Israeli nuclear stockpiles with several well placed nuclear bombs of your own. However, if they were a part of NATO, and NATO's charter specifically says that if one member is attacked, all are attacked, then there are approximately 10,000 nuclear weapons to retaliate with. There are still issues, however. Quoting from the Journal:
The majority of NATO's 26 members still firmly opposes Israeli membership
as too polarizing both within the organization and among Mideast players.
Belgium and France, for example, are far from ready for territorial defense of
Tel Aviv. For their part, Israeli leaders, after years of self-reliance, are
divided on whether to trust any security guarantee other than their own --
particularly if it comes from Europeans, whom Israelis consider traditionally
pro-Arab and historically anti-Semitic.

Those issues would have to be worked out, but it's nothing that's un-workoutable, especially with the continued issues revolving around the Mohammed cartoons. From the Journal again:
The cartoon controversy has been a wake-up call to Europeans, who
increasingly view the danger from Islamists to be much broader than an anti-U.S.
phenomenon. Europeans are coming to see the threat as geographically closer to
them than to the U.S. and domestically more dangerous because of extremists
within their unintegrated minority populations.

I am for Israeli membership in NATO. It's a smart move in a lot of respects. It gives NATO a credible partner in the Middle East, and assuming that Iraq continues its march toward democracy, it could pave the way for Iraqi entrance into NATO as well (also assuming that they won't freak out being in the same alliance as Israel). It could help to stabilize the region, and it helps Israel back down from their current first strike policy if they feel threatened.
There are problems too, however. The first one is that it may not deter Iran. With the way that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is acting, it may not work. He may destroy Tel Aviv and a good portion of Israel (I don't see Jerusalem being destroyed due to its cultural significance to Islam) even with the knowledge that soon thereafter Tehran and the rest of Iran would be uninhabitable for decades. He may bank on the Russians coming to his aid, mimicing the old Cold War spheres again, just in a new arena, and with Putin at the helm, I wouldn't be surprised if that did happen. Finally, it could be seen as one more piece of evidence about what Robert Fisk terms "The Plot" (everybody against the Arabs).
Right now everybody's taking it slow, and that's exactly how it should be. There are a lot of variables that need to be looked at before we move this direction, but I think that in the end it's a wise decision.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Brokeback to the Future

Brokeback Mountain, while gay, has given the humor industry enough content for a lifetime. Here’s some hilarious stuff - take a look

Here's another Brokeback parody - Bareback Mountain

I thought I was done, but I found one more parody trailer that proves once again that you can take any film with homoerotic undertones from the 1980s, add the music from Brokeback Mountain, and create something completely different.

"Big Time" Cheney: Green Beret

Proving that the anti-Cheney forces were right (and there were a lot of anti-Cheney people out there), and that he is the devil, Vice President Dick Cheney shot someone. I think that this is only the second time in US history that a sitting Vice President has shot someone. The first time, of course, was when Thomas Jefferson's Vice President, Aaron Burr, shot former Secretary of the Treasury and founding father Alexander Hamilton. Most people remember this bit of Classic Americana thanks to the good folks at the Dairy Farmers of America and Michael Bay.

I have to say that this was a bit of a shocker when I read about it in the paper. I know that this time it wasn't intentional, but to actually have a Vice President shoot someone? That can only mean one thing: that this nation has balls. I dare you to find one article that says that Dominique DeVillipin has shot someone, or that Jack Straw met someone on the field of battle. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin has probably killed more men than all other non-African heads of state combined (that man has more cojones than a whole heard of buffalo).

It will be interesting to see what comes of this. I wouldn't be surprised to see an investigation of sorts, but it will be a little bit of a black eye for the NRA, because their opponents can always say "guns don't kill people? Remember when the Vice President shot a guy hunting?" That's never good for gun interests. On the other hand, as long as John Kerry likes his hunting, we probably won't see an all-out assault on the Second Amendment crew.

Babies, etc

So I didn't post last night. I really meant to, but this whole baby thing is new to me, and after doing a little feeding (I didn't do it - I helped my wife) and a little changing (this one was me), and then playing with her and then calming her down, and suffice it to say, time went away. So that Mike gets the idea that Alyssa is not Alyssa Milano, here she is in all her baby glory. So far, being a parent is much better than I thought it would be. It does involve some priority changes, but surprisingly enough, it's actually pretty fun. While there are ugly babies out there, and I really hope that I would be able to a) know that my kid was one of them and b) admit it, her being adorable really helps with the "It's 5 am and you're wanting more food and a diaper change" angry rant. That may change, but so far it hasn't. For those who aren't parents yet, it's an institution that I highly recommend

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Killer Groins

This has been the year of the groin. First, we have had Carlos Boozer injuring and re-injuring his hamstring so many times that it appeared as though they may have to amputate it, and now we have Michelle Kwan leaving the Olympics because of some problems with hers. I don't remember hearing this much about the dreaded hamstring since Jim McMahon injured his back in 1987, beginning the end of Ditka and the Super Bowl Shuffle Bears and marking the beginning of the Tomczack/Harbaugh/Kramer/Insert random bad quarterback name here era.
Is it really that chronic? Once it's pulled, can you pull it again so easily? Most importantly, how good would a pulled hamstring sandwich be if you had the right barbeque sauce?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

No Biting Social Commentary (or Non-biting Either) Tonight

I am wasted. Not in the "I just downed a fifth of vodka, then followed it with a 12 pack of Sapporo" sense, but in the "I haven't had much sleep since Thursday night/Friday morning" sense. My wife, after much pushing and coercing, has given birth to a healthy (and rather gargantuan) little girl! She weighed in at 9.5 lbs and 21 inches, and it was something that I don't really care to go through for a little while. There's nothing worse than being helpless as your wife feels miserable...and you can't do one thing. That is, of course, unless your name is OJ Simpson, then I can think of a lot of things worse than that, like paying the civil penalty for killing said wife. I don't have the Digicam here, but when we get her back from the hospital I'll post a picture of her.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Britney Spears Could be Dopier than Jessica Simpson

Britney Spears is in the news again, and once more it's not for her singing talents. This time she was in the news because unlike most new parents, she drives with her baby in her lap as opposed to in the car seat. Now she claims that it was to get away from the paparazzi, but let's be honest. Can the paparazzi be annoying? You bet. Can they make you want to lash out? Sure. Will they steal your baby? That's doubtful. They want pictures...pictures like the one you so foolishly provided them. One baby in the driver's seat is worth a thousand of Mommy strapping it in. The only time you are in danger with paparazzi is when you try to outrun them. That's not good for you - but firey crash photos are good for the paparazzi.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

This has to be a sign that the end of the world is nigh. I never thought that in my lifetime Barry Manilow would have the #1 record in the United States. It's not that I don't like Barry Manilow. Well, okay, I don't like Barry Manilow. But still, the top selling album in the US? In the age of Eminem, Kanye West, and American Idol? That doesn't sound right at all.
Then again, maybe it does. At first glance it seems crazy, however, when you look a little closer, it does have some merit. Record sales have gone into the toilet since their peak in the year 2000. Let's look at some of the reasons.
One is iTunes. ITunes has pushed music back from an album-oriented format to more of a singles-oriented one. People are buying their songs individually now, cherry picking the best stuff from otherwise mediocre albums. This is certainly partly where I fall, mainly because 95% of all music released (not the singles, but music in general) is dreck. Before iTunes, we had to take the 10 terrible songs to get at the 1 song that we actually liked. Now I can spend $.99 instead of $16.99 and get the same listening enjoyment that I would have had before. That's value added right there.
The next reason is because there just hasn't been any breakthrough mainstream acts. You can tell me that rap is mainstream, but I don't buy it. Of all the people I know, there is maybe 2 or 3 who are actual consumers of rap music. I have a few songs in my iTunes library, but not many. It's not my style, but that's where the big new artists (50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye West, Nas, Jay-Z, and I could go on) come from. The rock scene has been a wasteland for over a decade now. I only get excited for an album when it's from U2. All the other bands I liked are now long dead or have stopped recording (or at least recording music I like), so I haven't bought a non-soundtrack CD (excepting the aforementioned U2 albums) in probably 4 years.
The record companies will say that it's because of the pirating, but it's a red herring. They've become more commercial and aren't willing to allow an artist to pick up steam. Instead, they're looking for an immediate return on their investment. This is what's killing music, because they aren't allowing artists to get their grounding. U2 didn't really make money for Island Records until The Unforgettable Fire and weren't huge until The Joshua Tree. Likewise for everyone's favorite vapid stadium rock band, Journey. They muddled along in the gutter for the better part of 3 albums until the broke through and only became huge with the release of Escape nearly a decade after they first started recording. Until companies are willing to give artists a shot, go with their gut, and eat the costs for a few years until it pays off, music will continue to muddle along with Barry Manilow at the top. Established acts are the way to go, and because Barry's fanbase skews so old, we will see more of him, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, and Frankie Vallie and the Four Tops Seasons as the singles movement really gets going.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Japan: The Fetish Industry's Best Friend

File this one under "Only In Japan." Apparently Akihabara isn't just the garishly festooned epicenter of Japan's Geek Culture anymore. Well, maybe it is. Whichever, it is an area where you can get your cosplay freak on. There are two rival cafes, Cure Maid Cafe and Cafe & Kitchen Cos-Cha, that make everybody who's wanted to be served by a French Maid's dreams come true. This story's been out a while in the Mainichi Daily News, but I just stumbled upon it during one of my random "what's up in Japan" searches. I can't imagine this working anywhere else. It's truly one of those things that makes Japan so uniquely Japanese. I'm just surprised that I hadn't heard about it, either from one of my sojourns in Tokyo or from Derek's blog.
While we do have Hooters here in the US, I don't think this would go well, unless it was just outside of UC Berkeley. Nevertheless, take a gander, and if you happen to be a woman between the ages of 18-27 and can speak Japanese and (and this is the big one here) don't mind being oogled by this guy, then feel free to apply here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Arab Dual Standard

Since I couldn't quite get the direct link to the pictures to work right, go here to see the "inflammatory" cartoons. Precisely what is offensive about these? The Mohammed with a turban that's a bomb may be in poor taste, but that's what cartoonists do - have poor taste. I understand that for a Muslim to portray Mohammed in this light would not be the best thing for him - he knows the rules and should be held accountable in whatever way his religion prescribed. A random Danish guy shouldn't. I know that we should be mindful of other peoples' faiths and all of that good stuff, and if they had written a nice letter to the editor, I would be much less critical. However, burning embassies, killing people, and in general causing havoc isn't the brightest way to get people to stop and get others to support your cause. In addition, it's not the best way to get people to believe that Samuel Huntington is wrong. Instead it perpetuates an intolerant "Us vs. Them" attitude that will leave us where we were in the 15th Century - with Islam as a militant group trying to seize the Christian world and the Christian world fighting back. At this point, that's not a fight that I would want to get involved with if I was in the Middle East because if they wanted to, Europe, the US, and Israel could kill everybody living in the Middle East in about an hour. It's not like these types of things don't happen to Christian holy men. The Catholics put the Pope on the same level as Muslims put Mohammed, and he's given this treatment. According to Christians, Jesus is the Son of God, and yet he is one of the most caricatured people of all time. Here's an example. Here's a much more offensive example. Even the living God gets mocked. Do we riot? Do we burn down the Onion compound? No, we complain. That's the civilized way to do it. As long as a group of people chooses to riot and burn down buildings over percieved slights, they will stigmatize themselves and fall further into the cycle of patheticality that they perpetuate with every suicide bomb.

Monday, February 06, 2006

rilvary sux

I'm all for a good college rivalry, the name calling, wearing of colors, co-ed jokes and so forth. The problem is some people can't keep it all in good fun, they feel both compelled and justified in taking it to a whole new level of retardation. In Utah we have one of the more recognized rivalries in the nation, for those who have been absent from the world of college sports during the last 20 years, I'm talking about BYU Cougars and the University of Utah Utes. There seems to be a group of Utah fans that insist on taking the rivalry too far, a prime example of which was seen at a Jazz game not too long ago. In the Delta Center a large sign was held up that read as follows: BYU SUX!

Far be it for me to comment, but A) they are in the wrong venue B) they are in the wrong league C) they are at the wrong sport (34 - 41 was the score from the last football game in which BYU was defeated by the UofU). I see these types of behaviors from certain Ute fans all of the time, almost every game at the UofU you will see this regardless of who the actual opponent is. At the 2005 Fiesta Bowl I saw numerous signs stating "F*** BYU", "BYU Sucks" and other statements expressing their opinions about the Cougars, never mind that Utah was pitted against Pittsburgh that day.
Now I am a fair person, I know that not ALL Utah fans are this ridiculous. I also will happily discuss all the ways in which BYU fans/students are idiots (and believe me there are many). I believe that there are two types of Utah fans. There are those who love the University of Utah, and those who love it simply to hate BYU. Most Utah fan fall into the first category, they adorn themselves in red, have good laughs at BYU co-ed jokes, and boo loudly when BYU takes the field. I respect these fans greatly, I still dislike their team, but I respect them. Then there are the "other" fans who don't really seem to care about the Utes, other than it gives them a chance
to show how cool they are by hating BYU. I can put up with this to a point, but when it starts filtering into the professional sporting arena which has no affiliation at all with BYU or even college sports it has to stop.

I'm begging the real Ute fans to reign in all the idiots giving you a bad name. If you do this for me I'll make every effort to stop all the I'm-going-to-BYU-and-am-holier-than-thou attitudes that seem to run rampant.

Lunch with Chris

I was at lunch with Chris Cannon on Saturday by virtue of me being part of the Utah County Republican Machine leadership, and we all had quite an interesting discussion. While he talked about various legislative things, the subject that we kept coming back to was immigration. Most of the rest of the leadership was somewhere between against and virulently against immigration, specifically Hispanic immigration.
I understand the need to combat illegal immigration. It causes all sorts of problems, so I think that almost everybody agrees with it. The problem comes in the implementation of how to eliminate illegal immigration. The person who I have the biggest disagreement wants to militarize the border, throw a wall up, and force draconian punishments on businesses who dare to help illegals.
I, on the other hand think that because this problem is caused by the market, let's let it sort the problem out. The first thing we should do is completely eliminate immigration quotas. If someone wants to come into the US, they can, as long as they can get a visa. Visa requirements include not having a criminal record and not having any health issues. That's pretty reasonable. Anyone who wants to come here should be able to, and if they're from Mexico, they generally make it - legally or otherwise. With quotas gone, suddenly every illegal who comes across the border is a criminal in every sense of the word. They can't get a visa because they are engaged in criminal activities, so they are legitimate criminals. There will be a lot less of them, and we will be able to step up prosecution and have an aggressive program to eliminate illegal immigration - and we will have the people to carry it out.
Another benefit to this is that it will stop the ghettoization of the Hispanic population. While it's natural for immigrants to gather in one geograpic location (it happened with the Irish, the Chinese, the Poles, the Italians, and I could go on), but because of the high number of illegals (estimated at somewhere around 22 million) a thriving shadow economy that caters to illegal immigrants has popped up. People in this shadow economy are shady by nature, and it results in higher crime in the US. Eliminate the shadow economy by eliminating 95% of illegal immigrants and you will have a much smaller problem.
The problem with just taking all of our illegals and shipping them to Cuba is that they have an inordinately large impact on industries that matter to people in the US. Agriculture is one area where you'll find a very high percentage of illegals, as is construction. If we were to deport 22 million workers, food and construction prices would shoot through the roof because demand would far outstrip supply. In the long run, farms would close, and we'd get our lettuce and tomatoes from Brazil instead of Arizona. Our chicken would come from China instead of Arkansas, and so on. Our economy runs in part on the minimum wage jobs these people take. Therefore we can't feasably do it right now. If instead we punish these businesses (my friend's recommendation is to take away their business licenses) then you would end up with serious shortages and a lot of pain as banks defaulted on loans, people's deposits didn't get honored, and we ran out of food.
"But what about security?" and "9/11!" come the cries from the xenophobic right. "They're stealing our jobs!" come the cries from the xenophobic left - as Rep. Cannon calls them, the immigration horseshoe - going through the bottom of the political spectrum, connecting right and left. Is this really the case?
The 9/11 hijackers got into the country legally. I think that if we closed the Mexican border somewhere around 1/1/2000, they still would have hijacked those airliners. Visas would weed those people out, and we wouldn't have to chase after people who are pretty decent other than that they snuck across the border. We could focus our efforts on those who are trying to sabotage the nation. Meanwhile, all those jobs that are being "stolen" are already staffed - by illegals. They're taking jobs that nobody wants. I don't see how that's stealing jobs. Not to mention that we're going to have a employee shortage here in the next 5 years without all those immigrants.
The other reaction, one that is much more xenophobic is that they'll take over our country, making everybody speak the Spanish and watch unpredictable Mexican sitcoms. However, that is also a red herring. Assimilation among legal Hispanic immigrants is on par with every other group who has come into the US. The first generation has problems, but the second generation is as American as Taco Bell. Among illegals, it's much lower. Again, by loosening immigration laws, we'll be able to toss them in the Melting Pot and let them simmer into full Americanity.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Steel is stronger than Venti Mocha Latte

The Pittsburgh Steelers just won the Super Bowl. What are they going to do next? Disney World, of course. The Seahawks just lost, so they are going to go back to the most depressing city in the US and wait around for a sunny day. Now I don't mean to malign Seattle - it has some great scenery if you leave town - but it's absolutely insane. They truly have lived up to the legend of their founding father, who built the city on an island that disappeared when the tide came in. Not only are they insanely liberal, but they will throw money at any hare-brained scheme they can find. There's the underground bus system. The above-ground bus system. A subway. Freeways that make Soviet expressways seem idyllic by comparison. And, not to be forgotten, a monorail that has 2 stops: Nordstrom and the Space Needle. To make matters worse, the trains actually crashed into each other. I don't know how that was possible, as they have been travelling back and forth on these same tracks for so many years now, but apparently they made it happen. The only good thing that came out of this was that there weren't any people injured, mainly because there weren't any passengers on the train.
Farbeit for me to say that they should just give up and stick one more bus on that same route, but why spend $100,000 on a project when you can just send a monorail across a lake and spend $20 billion on it?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

We Don't Do the Limbo

Crap! I lost my freaking post! Why do I do these things to myself?! Note to Google: please institute Ctrl-z ASAP. Well, long story short, because I don't want to go back and get the picture and links again, here's an approximation of what I said.
The Catholic Church is eliminating limbo. That's great for the babies of the world who died before being baptized, because I guess they will go back to heaven or something. I don't think they'll return to hell, which is where they were before Pope Innocent III came up with the concept in the mid 1100s. The way I see this, Pope Benedict has painted himself into a bit of a corner. By eliminating limbo as a concept in the church, it's either acknowledging that Popes are in fact sometimes full of crap or it acknowledges that God is a changing God, which really would do the same thing, as Popes have said that that isn't the case. I guess the net result is that Popes can indeed be full of crap. That, in turn, would seem to drive a bit of a stake through the heart of the Vatican. Of course, the Catholic church has done this before, most notably with the Nicean Creed, but this is news because it's now! I think they'll get through this, but it certainly augments the claims of people like Martin Luther who said that was the case.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Oprah? Noprah.

Well, I lost my post. Let's start again, shall we? I mentioned a week ago that I'd get to Oprah's Tom Cruisesque bout with insanity, and now I am. Keep in mind that I haven't actually seen this Oprah, but because my wife is an official Oprah Watcher, I feel qualified to talk about her anyway. (And if I didn't feel qualified, I'd still do it.) This all started with her defending James Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces. She did defend it when it first came out that he was stretching the truth a little bit. Then, Oprah looked like quite the fool. People were calling her out, and so she completely changed tactics. She invited Frey on her show, and in front of a national TV audience, she took a rusty butter knife out and proceded to disembowel him in a ritual act of hara-kiri to defend her honor.
Did she need to do this? No. She could have just issued an apology and said she'd vet her book club books more closely in the future. Instead, she blamed the publisher, Frey, and society on her mess up. The mighty Queen of the Universe, Oprah Winfrey, couldn't have been fooled. It was shenanegans! She refused to take responsibility for her actions, and as such, she's as much a part of the problem as Frey was. She was stretching the truth with what actually happened. She's addicted to the love of the world and couldn't take someone actually saying she's full of crap. So she stretched the truth (lied, as she said Frey did) to make it even better and more delicious. Again, isn't that wrong? According to Oprah it is. Shouldn't she be rolled out on the carpet to be trampled by millions of Oprites as a result? The answer is unequivically yes. She may be a wonderful person, but I am calling bullcrap on this one. Oprah, you're on notice.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

St. Aaron the Flaccid

It's a short post today - loads have happened at work, it's the wife's birthday, and whatnot...but I've had such a string of posts that I couldn't go down without a fight. Therefore, without further ado, Forro and I have decided to bestow sainthood on people in the office. Names have been changed, mainly because we don't want to get in trouble.

St. Aaron the Flaccid: Patron Saint of the Mediocre and Indigent. St. Aaron will take any level of performance for any reason at all, mainly because he doesn't want to be responsible for maybe causing financial hardship for someone.

St. Marcus the Rake: Patron Saint of Single Mothers. St. Marcus will give every benefit of every doubt to single mothers, and in the process, look like he is sexually harassing them.

St. Maxwell the Clueless: Patron Saint of Technophobes. St. Maxwell doesn't know anything about technology, other than "bigger must be better."

St. Louis the Weak-willed: Patron Saint of Last Resort. St. Louis will take anybody into his department if the Boss says so.

St. Samuel the Beloved: Patron Saint of Those Who Can Do No Wrong. St. Samuel is beloved of St. Aaron. That pretty much covers it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Kicking and Screaming

One thing that has been and always will be the case when competition is introduced in an industry is you will hear about how unfair it is. "Our competition is getting unfair subsidies through (insert reason here - government subsidies, tariffs, lowered barriers to entry, fuel hedges, etc) and we can't compete - help us!"
This is not a recent phenomenon. It happened during airline deregulation, when some of the great carriers of the past - Braniff, PanAm, TWA, and Eastern - went out of business as a result of increased competition. It's happened to the textile industry as the Deep South has been ravaged by competition from clothing shops in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Honduras. Now it's happening to the auto industry.
I take that back. It's been happening to the auto industry for a couple of decades. GM's market share is a fraction of what it once was (in Donald Trump's words, "they've been decimated"), and Ford is struggling. Right now Chrysler, which is really a German company (the US arm of DaimlerChrysler), is the only one making some headway.
While I think that he does have some salient points, Pete DeLorenzo also is just making excuses. Here's the money quote:
GM and Ford, by sheer virtue of their size and place as two of America's iconic industrial giants will be the lightning rods that will put all of these issues on the table. Yes, they're responsible for much of the trouble they find themselves in and the reasons are numerous - ingrained bureaucratic complacency, short-term thinking instead of long-term planning, a lack of conviction to do what's right instead of what's politically and financially expedient, woefully underachieving executives who squandered every opportunity to deliver the attractive, high-quality products so desperately needed in the face of challenges from relentlessly-focused import manufacturers - and on and on and on. I've documented Detroit's downward spiral in detail for the last six-and-one-half years of doing this publication.

But Detroit's current predicament isn't all of their doing, either. And without the corresponding serious discussions and actions in Washington, we as a nation will face severe consequences. This country's lawmakers have been cruising along for years while displaying an Alfred E. Neuman-esque, "What, me worry" attitude, and they're just now waking up and realizing that the dire straits facing Detroit are inexorably linked to the overall well being of the country and its manufacturing base. Yes, Detroit has contributed mightily to its problems over the last 25 years, but there's no denying that the playing field is far from level. As a matter of fact, because of this country's dismally naive trade policies, it continues to be luridly skewed in favor of the import competition at almost every turn.

He's absolutely right in the first paragraph. US auto manufacturers in the 80s and early 90s were arrogant. They assumed that because they were GM, Ford, Chrysler, and AMC we'd buy whatever they put on the road, no matter how ugly it was, how bad the gas mileage was, and how likely it was to blow up or catch on fire. Then the Japanese started making good cars. That was certainly unexpected! The Japanese gained ground and pretty soon they were in a dogfight with US manufacturers. US companies started to make reliable cars again and emulate the import look, they merged (AMC with Chrysler, then a decade later, Chrysler with Daimler-Benz), they improved the gas mileage. Nevertheless, the Japanese continued to gain ground. Mr. DeLorenzo assumes that it's because of currency manipulation (everyone's current bugaboo) and health care costs. He's part right. Health care is a massive liability, and it's time to ditch the third party payer system. We're actually moving to do this, contrary to his beliefs. HSAs are the wave of the future, and they are law now. It will move health care back to the consumer. We will decide the cost of our health care and what's worth it to us, and the government won't tax that money. We can also use it for retirement, because at retirement age we can pull money out of our HSA tax free. Very, very nice. In addition, because there are catastrophic circumstances that are beyond our control every so often, there is a catastrophic coverage component through a third party at a highly reduced cost. I won't get too much into How Health Care Ought To Be (that's a topic for another blog), but I did want to address his concern there.
As far as tariffs and currency manipulation are concerned, I don't see the case. The real countries that matter in this arena are Japan and Germany. We don't get cars from anywhere else, so I won't worry about them right now. The yen is currently at 120 yen/1 dollar. That's up from 100 yen/1 dollar of a year ago, but it's down from 150 yen/1 dollar in 1997. That means that Japanese imports have less of a margin than they did less than 10 years ago. In addition, as a reaction against Japanese tariffs against US vehicles, we've slapped a tariff on Japanese imports too. That sounds pretty level to me. Oh wait, the Japanese actually reacted to both of these by opening factories here in the US. That means that those cars are paid dollar for dollar, eliminating currency fluctuations, and they aren't subject to tariffs. So what's really the problem? It can be summed up in one word: unions.
Detroit has been unionized for decades, and management made some boneheaded concessions to the unions back in the 80s. Every time Ford or GM shuts down a plant or cuts back on production, the workers from that factory still get paid their full rate (including benefits). A recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) put it best:
Analysts estimate that the JOBS Bank is costing Detroit's auto makers and Delphi Corp., the big former GM unit, more than $1 billion annually -- at $130,000 in wages and benefits per worker per year.

GM has 5,000 to 6,000 workers in its JOBS Bank, analysts estimate. The company hasn't disclosed a figure. Chrysler has about 2,500 union workers in the program, and Ford says it has about 1,100.

The JOBS Bank toll at GM and Ford could rise substantially in the next two years as the auto makers launch restructuring programs designed to cut excess capacity in North America. Auto analysts say the JOBS Bank also hurts the Detroit auto makers by encouraging them to keep building slow-selling products rather than shut down plants and lay off workers who will keep getting paid.

As a result, it doesn't pay to cut production. That leads to more vehicles than the market can bear, which leads to rebates to lower the cost of the cars, which pushes down values, which hurts owners of American cars, which hurts car companies, which starts the cycle over again. The only way to get out of this cycle is to eliminate the jobs bank. Then they can cut production to a reasonable level and save a ton of money on employee costs. That would stabilize American car companies. Then they could turn to their other problem: design.
To some degree they've already done this. Another WSJ article (subscription again)talks about this problem. There are some cars that are making an impact: the Mustang, the Chrysler 300, the Chevy HHR, the Hummer, and Cadillac vehicles are notable in this area. They're distinctive, they're bold, and they're selling (even with high gas prices). On the other hand, dogs like the Chevy Malibu are sitting on lots forever. People will buy cars that look good and can be told apart from the generic Japobubble, it's as simple as that. Innovation is also key - high gas prices have killed Detroit's golden goose, the SUV. They're starting to respond, but it will take a while to get there, while Toyota and Honda moved before the market told them to and they're in a prime position to clean up as a result. I think that US automakers can fix their problems, but it will take some tough steps, including a possible strike, before it actually happens.

Hat tip to Nick for the article that inspired this post!