2005-01-29



How incongruous are the Westminster Dog Show ads with the "Final Countdown" soundtrack (Europe if you're not up on your cheezy, 80's hair metal)?

Why not just throw in TNT's NBA voice-over guy:
"Last year Scruffy turned the Dog Show world on its ear, emerging from the Poodle Class to take Best in Show. This year he's hungry for a repeat. That won't happen if Rover has anything to say about it. This prize Dalmation has won virtually every event he has entered in the run-up to this, the Canine Crown Jewel. And you can never count out the grace of perennial contender Patches, or the crowd and judge-pleasing showy mischief of Rusty! 32 other dogs also arrive ready to knock off the big dogs if they falter. The preparations are over and the game is on ... Let the truth be told!"

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How many times can irony fold in on itself? Arraignment delayed in Deadly Train Crash.

Guy drives SUV onto train tracks in order to commit suicide. He then changes his mind and abandons the SUV on the tracks.

Train derails after running into SUV, killing 11 and injuring 200.

Earlier this week a DA reported that the death penalty was not out of the question in this case.

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I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Previously:
Net Worth: The Street-Smarts
Magna: The Book-Smarts
Apprentice 03.01 - BK 101: Revenge on the Nerds

What a difference a week makes? Both teams were 180 degrees out of phase with their performance last week. To be fair, this week's mission put a premium on strategy, financial management and planning. To a degree it highlighted the advantage of a well-rounded business education and experience.

The Mission: This one was a killer! Each team was given a motel in disrepair. They had 48 hours and $20K to renovate, and rent out rooms. Guest evaluations of their lodging experience would determine the winner.

Summary: Neither team completely escaped the pressure of working around the clock for two days. While testing key elements of the leaders' training and experience, it also tested the willingness of every player to get dirty and work hard.

Michael took the reins at Magna, feeling that his experience as a Real Estate Developer would be tailor-made for this project. One thing I'll say for Magna - through two missions they've demonstrated a willingness to find and follow the best-qualified leader. Todd turned out to be a disappointment, but this week, Michael was a pleasant surprise.

Almost to a person, Magna pitched in and attacked the task of cleaning up the dirty motel. Even Danny proved that for all his faults, he is able-bodied - something in demand on both teams during this mission. And, on the positive side, Danny came up with the idea of having a staff get-together (a.k.a. party!) with the guests.

After unsuccessfully trying to bog Michael down in insignificant details early, Verna shocked everyone by walking off of her front desk job, and the team, shortly before guests would be checking out and putting the spotlight on her customer service role. Carolyn eventually tracked her down and talked her back, but not before the potential damage had been done.

Things didn't go nearly as well for Net Worth. Brian, the self-proclaimed negotiating king, volunteered to lead. While no one else on the team was willing to take charge, they also seemed unwilling to follow Brian and his brash personality. Clashes between Kristen who took on the role of project accountant and Brian who didn't who much interest in money until the second day when there wasn't enough of it to buy carpet, were frequent and loud. This mission highlighted Brian's total obtuseness when it comes to the softer skill of managing people and personalities.

Still, Net Worth did a capable job, getting their motel into rent-able shape in time. But, they messed up some of the details, and as this mission relied on the subjective evaluation of the motel guests, victory would turn on those details.

Results: Both teams were able to rent out rooms that were in good, but not great shape. Net Worth tried, but Magna trumped them on customer service. My guess is that that was the key difference. The editors chose entertainment over information when it came to the evaluations, making it appear that both teams were getting failing grades. Only in the boardroom did we discover that on a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best), Net Worth rated nearly a 3 and Magna almost 4. Pretty high marks for such a daunting task, and an impressive turnaround and win for Magna.

For a reward, Magna joined Steve Forbes for dinner aboard his yacht. I love this about the Donald. Earlier in the show we see him playing golf with Anika Sorenstam. Trump doesn't just know all the big names. He's in with them well enough that they'll give up quality time for him.

Back in the board room, the battle was over before it began. Trump opened, as usual, by asking PM Brian general questions about the mission. Brian accepted responsibility for the failure and missed opportunity, and when asked directly agreed that he should be fired. Even the casual Apprentice fan knows that this is suicide in a game where Trump fires contestants they don't fight hard enough for the opportunity to continue on in the show. Brian did bounce back to fight, but I believe that this board room effectively ended when he said, "Yes, I should be fired."

This was an ugly board room. While Brian never gave up the "hot seat" nobody on the team missed their opportunity to not impress Trump, George and Carolyn. Trump didn't even bother winnowing the field to three. It all ended when he abruptly fired Brian and ordered the rest of the team out. Our last image of Mr. Trump was that of a very displeased man.

Analysis:
Great job by Michael. Not only was this a huge mission to manage, he had to bring unity to a team that concluded the prior mission divided and in disarray. Given many opportunities, Michael refused to be distracted from the big picture and the task at hand. To boot, Magna began a manpower-intensive mission on person short and ended two short. Michael's stock is way up after this one.

I am not impressed by Danny's "party with the guests" idea. This was not a brilliant business idea. It was another example of his desire to play manifesting itself in the right place at the right time. This "genius" of his will not be transferrable to other missions.

Danny is off the hook for the time being, as Verna has supplanted him in the crosshairs of team Magna. She wasn't greatly contributing to begin with, and eventually folded under the pressure of a sustained labor-intensive mission. Worse, she walked off the job at a critical time. Her team may have rallied around her when she came back, but they won't soon forget that Verna couldn't be counted on and didn't have the juice for this mission. In the Apprentice, one dramatic, emotional moment doesn't mask the lack of leadership potential.

My suspicions regaring Brian were correct. He is a brash, one-trick pony. And even there, I suspect that his skill as a negotiator is less about business savvy, and more brute force. This guy has an uncanny knack for wearing people down.

All of Net Worth's problems do not leave with Brian however. We saw conflict between Kristen and the other girls on the team. And more basically, we saw this team's poor judgment and willingness to fight rather than work together.

My suspicions regarding Chris were dead wrong. He waited until the board room to do it, but made up for lost time as he stepped up and revealed himself to be a complete idiot. Just as the noose was tightening around Brian's neck, Chris spoke up and added nothing new to the conversation, but managed to bring the attention of the board room upon himself at a time when that attention was unwanted. Had Brian not beaten him to the punch, Chris could well have wound up fired simply for being stupid.

John was the only Net Worth member not greatly harmed by this mission. He continues to show good business instincts combined with strong people skills. That his attempts to counsel Brian and smooth things over among all of the team members failed, wasn't John's fault. Brian was at war with the rest of his team. They were going to have nothing to do with reason.

Outlook:

Strong:
John (NW) - He remained unflappable (a characteristic of the past two Apprentices) through a tempestuous mission. However, if Net Worth can not regain their team unity, his good standing will be in jeopardy.
Michael (M) - Absolutely outstanding performance in a tough mission. Trump had to be impressed.

Close Behind:
Alex, Kendra (M) - Their stock remains unchanged as they continued to show generally solid insight, but still haven't had the chance to demonstrate their true worth.

Neutral:
Kristen, Audrey (NW) - Kristen was dead on with her immediate focus on planning and budget. However, she has not formed good relationships with the rest of her team which could one day hurt her ability to lead. For now she stays put. We'll see which way she breaks in the next couple of weeks. I was impressed to see Audrey come out of her shell a bit. She had some good instincts, but really hasn't done anything significant enough to make a call on her.
Bren, Stephanie (M) - He turned in a solid, but inconsequential performance in this one. It could be that he is more than "the next Raj." Losing the bowtie would help quite a bit. Stephanie still really hasn't shown enough for me to make a call on her.

Not helping their own cause:
Angie, Tara, Tana, Craig (NW) - Right now this is less about individual performance and more about having been part of a catastrophe.
Danny, Erin (M) - A strong upgrade for Danny after his solid performance as a worker bee. I was tempted to move him to neutral, but he was in a deep hole after last week. Erin continues to be more about her wardrobe and attitude than succeeding at this game. This week we did find out that she's two-faced which is not a pleasant addition to her image.

Stick a fork in 'em:
Chris (NW) - He's just dumb. The only mystery here is, will a poor performance on a mission get him? or will it be another poor judgment in the board room episode?
Verna (M) - Don't let all the "welcome home's" fool you. She walked off the job when her team was counting on her. Magna won't forget it, and Trump won't forget it. She's got that wide-eyed innocence thing going on, but in the end it's all about business. She dropped the ball and will not likely get a chance to carry it again with the game on the line.

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2005-01-25



I continue to be disappointed in GM's Fastlane blog (see my blogroll) - I'm not a car guy, and so far Fastlane is simply a fluffy, rolling commercial for GM products. No one says it has to be anything but that. I guess I had just hoped that in a blog we'd get a little something more than a GM ad. Something a little more subtantial than the ability to throw in our two cents, "The new Saturns look really cool," that is.

Enter Randy Baseler, VP of Marketing for Boeing with Randy's Journal. Alas, no feed (Randy says they'll be looking to add features in coming weeks - hopefully a feed is on the list), so I couldn't add it to my blogroll, but it will be worth the extra effort to keep an eye on this one.
"I hope it will help solve one of my biggest frustrations - not being able to talk with everyone as often as I like about what's going on in our industry and our company. Either I'm in a different time zone, or in a meeting or at another commitment, so this web space can be a place where you can go to find out my thoughts and opinions."
Baseler isn't kidding about talking about what's
going on in his industry. His first two post-introduction posts covered the
rollout of Airbus' (Pepsi to Boeing's Coke) new marvel, the A380 for folks
in that industry. But here's the kind of commentary I wish we would get
from Lutz over at GM:
"Along with the A380 being an engineering marvel it also represents a very large misjudgment about how most passengers want to travel and how most airlines operate. The A380 does not mark the beginning of a new stage in commercial aviation; it is the crowning achievement of a bygone era."
Long story short, Airbus is betting that the future of air travel will be largely hub to hub with connecting flights. Baseler points to prevailing trends to defend Boeing's investment in a direct flight / more choices future. His supporting commentary is interesting and at a level that the layman can understand.

It's also educational. The reader learns about the thought and strategy that go into the air travel industry. But there are also a couple of insights that transcend industry boundaries: 1. The successful see themselves as partners with those they serve and those who serve them. Boeing has figured out what they believe their customers and potential customers are going to need in the future, and they are giving it to them. 2. It is important and extremely helpful to know and understand your organization's philosophy, vision, mission and strategy.

Here's hoping Baseler will find the time to keep us posted (and to add a feed). Here's also hoping that Lutz will find his way over to Randy's Journal and be inspired.

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2005-01-24



I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Previously:
Net Worth: The Street-Smarts
Magna: The Book-Smarts


In the run-up, this new Apprentice edition was billed as the Book-Smarts vs. the Street-Smarts. The clear undertone of all the promotion however, was "Come root for the high school educated gang to stick it to those nerds." If that's what you were looking for, round 1 didn't disappoint.

The Challenge: Burger King is rolling out six new sandwiches. The teams were told to pick one, promote its launch, and operate one BK location for a day. The teams would be measured by sales of their particular sandwich at their location.

Summary: John took the reins at Net Worth and, noting its potential for promotion, he selected the Angus Western Burger. The team launched a successful "Wanted: Dead or Alive" campaign complete with a Las Vegas Trip giveaway. The team executed the plan smoothly and benefitted from their lack of over-education. Everyone dug in, worked hard and performed well.

Todd became Magna's first PM and bumbled from the get-go, as he failed to maximize his team's ability to run all phases of the restaurant operation. Clinging to the "Chief Out-of-the-Box Guy," mantle, Danny volunteered to handle marketing and under-performed, showing a complete lack of strategic thinking. The measly effort at marketing that he finally mustered left his dedication in question as well as he seemed more interested in playing his guitar than in helping his team succeed. Meanwhile, Todd spent the bulk of the mission seated in the restaurant, or wandering aimlessly, doling out empty "rah-rah" encouragement.

Results: Though it wasn't a blowout, Net Worth's teamwork won out over a top to bottom puny effort from Magna. The key to failure for Magna: not enough personnel trained on point-of-sale (2 vs. 3 for Net Worth) which limited their capacity and at times had potential customers walking out the door.

Net Worth joined the Donald for a private dinner in the basement wine cellar at Club 21.

In the boardroom, the PM is always under the gun, but Danny was the early target for his lame marketing effort. Todd briefly and unsuccessfully tried to pin the point of sale problems on Alex who had served as the restaurant manager. Only Kendra had the clarity to identify that even the trouble with Danny was ultimately simply another aspect of Todd's poor leadership.

Todd brought Alex and Danny back to the boardroom. Alex was never really in jeopardy, and though a lot of time was spent on Danny, it was hard to tell if he was really ever a serious candidate for firing. Though none of the Trump Trio were impressed with the Leisure Suit Legend, George zeroed in on Todd and Carolyn clearly felt Danny was a convenient scapegoat. The Donald fired Todd.

Analysis: I suspect strong editing here, but so far we are led to believe that Net Worth is living in harmony while Magna is a dysfunctional group of incompetent morons.

One reality that can't be changed by editing. As a team, Magna tried to take out Danny, and failed. Instead they lost one of their less quirky players. Now Magna returns to fight with one of their more inspirational members alienated.

Todd may not have been much of a leader, but he also didn't come across nearly as hopeless as several others on Team Magna. This mission may have further weakened this bunch for the early going.

By contrast, over at Net Worth, John is riding high. His ability to quickly and smoothly get 8 diverse personalities working out of the same playbook was impressive.

Does Net Worth have any weaknesses at this point? I'd say Brian. He's got a loud mouth and, in what little we've seen so far, lacks focus and displays questionable judgment. Case in point: negotiating for the Viking hat during the team's trip to purchase western outfits. Then of course, there was the boisterous, "That's f****n' awesome!" in the middle of a semi-formal dinner with Mr. Trump.

Danny may still be alive, but his stock couldn't be lower. He's shown very little to suggest that he could win, and plenty to suggest that he can't. Plus, his team is out to get him.

While Alex was a visible piece of Magna's failure as the restaurant manager, I don't believe this one did him any permanent damage. He performed well in the board room and has shown sharp analytical and business skills. I will be curious to see how he does as a leader.

Outlook:

Strong:
John (NW): time will tell if this was a fluke, or if John really has impeccable people and business skills.
No one from Magna (even the best Magna players rate only a "not as bad as the rest of the team").

Close Behind:
Chris (NW): real estate guy, and on Net Worth I'm looking for players who have enough intelligence to compensate for the education gap. Chris seems to be one of them.
Alex, Kendra, Verna (M): As mentioned, Alex has a lot of tools. Kendra scored points by not jumping on the "fire Danny" bandwagon. Verna appears to have some street smarts to go with her education.

Neutral: after only one mission, we haven't had a chance to form an opinion on some of them yet.
Kristen, Audrey, Angie, Craig (NW) - I should dock Craig for the bowtie, but let's give him a chance.
Michael, Stephanie (M) - Stephanie was actually teamed up with Danny on marketing, but the failure in that department seemed to be his doing. Stephanie was helplessly along for the ride.

Not helping their own cause:
Brian (NW): A muzzle would really improve this guy's chances.
Bren, Erin (M): We've seen a bit of both, yet neither has shown that they have anything worthwhile to offer. Erin is full of herself and better start showing something or she'll be downgraded.

Stick a fork in 'em:
Tara, Tana (NW): If we could get rid of one of these two so we can stop getting them confused with each other, that'd be great.
Danny(M): The guy is a screwball. Granted, he's probably not as bad as he's being portrayed. Mainly, we've already seen enough to know that he's not the energetic, innovative force that he makes himself out to be. His "ideas" are impotent and unoriginal. He's a poser.

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OK, I just want to know ... Why do they make 3-ring binders big enough
to hold a ton of paper, but the rings in said binder not strong enough
to stand up to as much paper as the binder can hold (in this case a
ton)? The rings start pulling apart, not enough to make you give up
altogether and get a new binder, but just enough that pages slip out of
one ring or other and start to rip and refuse to turn when you want them
to. It's madness I tell you!

I could swear that there is some super-intelligent power out there, bent
on annoying us to death. They've started by taking over the brains of
anyone who produces anything that we use. Actually, they started with
pizza delivery persons. Once they secured our pizza supply, they moved
on to this!

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I've really been enjoying Pastor Tod Bolsinger's blog, It Takes a Church. And while I'm still digesting
the latest post, I really appreciated his thoughts on belonging
to a church
.

After covering those who seek to belong without believing, those who are
comfortable in the confines of church without having committed to
Christ, and membership responsibilities, he gets to those who believe
without belonging.
"While many today believe without
belonging, this is the most pervasive mistake of the day. Indeed, I got
word that the speaker at our Junior High camp told the kids that church
wasn't important only faith was. Fortunately our Junior highers saw
through that and challenged the notion."

At this point my mind began to expand on a few of Bolsinger's points to
think of those who belong without belonging. There are ways to take on
all the trappings of belonging; attendance, financial contribution, even
membership. And if the church's goal were to simply exist, to open its
doors a few times each week, to collect up enough money to pay the
utilities and salaries, and keep up the grounds, I guess that would be
sufficient.

But the church is a living organism. A beacon in the community.
Christ's hands, feet and love in world famished for all three. A church
can't hope to reach its community and its world without members who are
invested, who are passionately committed to that mission.

Those who belong without belonging are more engaged in finding fault
than in finding solutions. They are more interested in territory than
in progress. For all of their belongingness, they are ever ready to
back off, or completely pick up and move on at a moment's notice, at the
slightest slight.

As I write this, we are in our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and
I'm still reflecting on Sunday's sermon. "If the church is divided, its
witness is weak." How much more so when division comes along the lines
of what the church is to be about in the first place.

Those who think the church exists to provide a comfy seat on Sunday
mornings must wonder at all the talk of "division" and "disunity," or
for that matter, "challenge."

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Acknowledging that "Someone's going to win," but overwhelmingly the odds are that it won't be you, and that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, I have come up with a new technique for lottery players that will save them, and anyone who has to wait in line watching them lose, a lot of time.
 
Here's how it works:
1. Drive to the gas station, convenience store, etc.
2. Take a $5 bill in the palm of your hand.  5-$1 bill will work, but a single bill is easier, and this is all about convenience.
3. Enter the gas station, convenience store, etc.
4. Walk up and slap your money down on the counter by the cashier.
5. Leave.
 
Voilas!  Once you've arrived at the place, the whole process doesn't need to take more than a minute.  You don't have to wait in line and no one has to wait in line behind you.
 
This is also a great way to avoid those delayed losses.  You know where you win $10 and now have to spend that much more time losing the money you just "won."
 
And for anyone who wants to save even more time, I'll be glad to send you a packet of SASE so you can simply mail me your $5 each week.  How about that!  You can play the lottery in the convenience of your own home.  I won't even fuss about receiving cash in the mail.

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2005-01-23



Popstick, the marketing organization for which Apprentice comic relief man Danny Kastner is the CEO.

Interesting stuff. Hard to tell how well the company is doing from a business perspective. I'd kill for a set of financials. If Popstick has moved out of the capital burn phase and hovering around profitability, I'm impressed with Danny's business skills. If they are still burning venture capital, which I suspect is the case ... ho hum. It doesn't take a lot of business savvy to get there.

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2005-01-22



I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Just a month ago, Kelly Perdew wrapped up Apprentice 2 as Donald Trump's newest employee. Now we commence the third 16-week job interview and Donald Trump is mixing things up. Where previous versions have started out men vs. women, this season pits a team of high school-educated, "street smart" hopefuls against eight college-educated, "book-smart" contestants. To add fuel to the fire, Trump announced at the opening that collectively the high-school educated team earned 3x what the college-educated team was earning. Both teams seemed unable to let go of this in the early going.

It should be noted that the previous two Apprentices were both college educated. And, while there have been some successful high school-educated contestants; Troy in season one and Stacy in season two, it was clear that the lack of knowledge and refinement that comes with a college education ultimately was their undoing. Education alone won't do it, however. Both Perdew and Bill Rancick, season one's winner, were pitted against better educated foes late in the game. Both rode their combination of education, street smarts and experience to victory.

Notes on the Street-Smarts:

The high school educated group represents one of the more remarkable bonding episodes in reality television. I'm not suggesting that the group instantly became fast friends. More likely they are buoyed by a mutual desire to stick it to a very hate-able book-smarts group. Whatever the reason, the street-smarts were able to quickly settle down, follow the direction of a leader and cooperate.

When they initially met to work on their group name, John, a Tech Firm owner stepped forward to suggest some very basic ground rules designed to help the group get along and navigate as smoothly as possible, future board room skirmishes. Usually in such a situation, anyone stepping up for any reason will prompt a rousing chorus of "you're not the boss of me!" Again, mutual animosity for their opponents is probably the prime mover here, but kudos to this team for quickly figuring out that the shortest distance to their goal will sometimes involve setting aside ego and falling in line.

Hats off to Real Estate Broker, Brian, for coming up with this team's cheezy, typical reality show early moment with his "I'm a straight shooter" speech. Why is it that whenever a new group gets together on a reality show, someone feels the need to "warn" the group that they are going to tell it like it is. This is usually code for "I'm going to be a loud mouth, and I'm trying to color it noble terms in advance."

Rallying around Trump's recognition of their superior income, the group chose the name, "Net Worth." Then they settled down to mock the Magna love-fest in progress in the next room.

RIght now things look good for Net Worth. They did a great job of coming together. The strength of their bond? Only time and a trip to the board room will tell. Given how disarrayed team Magna is, it might be a while.



Individual Street-Smarts: (note: evaluation of individual players' chances assumes that they have been portrayed accurately, but also recognizes that exaggerations may well be edited into the show to boost entertainment value)

Unlike Magna, at this point Net Worth has no "no chance to win" category. As mentioned, this group showed an uncanny ability to grasp the route to success. There were no insurmountable obstacles in evidence during week one that would rule out any of the Net Worth members. In addition, much of the first episode was spent on Magna making it hard to evaluate all but the key Net Worth players.

Probably not:

I suspect that Tara is probably too weak for an executive position with Trump. During one tableau, she mentioned how she had had doubts, but was reassured when the Donald shared how the "net worth" of the street-smarts was 3x that of the book-smarts. In actuality Trump was comparing the income of the two groups. This is a rather basic knowledge error for someone pursuing a high level business position.

In addition, Tara's job is listed as "Senior Government Manager." I don't know what this is so I'll reserve permanent judgment, but it brings to mind pictures of a desk jockey rising through the ranks to become head desk jockey. Merit is often a foreign concept in government work.

Sales Executive Tana (not Tara), is outspoken in an annoying way, and struggles with the big picture. She had some good observations and some worthless input. The point is, she had a lot to say which is good to a point and trouble after a while. These reality situations are set up to give you plenty of rope to hang yourself with your own mouth. It's only a matter of time until she says the wrong thing to or about the wrong person.

Sales people are a unique breed. They are the people who can get ahead in business without having a broad knowledge of the workings of their own organization. They spend long hours hawking their product and are judged on one thing: their ability to generate revenue. In Apprentice, sales people like Nick and Troy in season one have done well. Their ability to size up people and negotiate helps them to steer clear of trouble. However, their lack of experience in other areas of the organization ultimately dooms them.

Strong Potential:

From the outset, John showed solid business and people skills, a potent combination in this game, as he led Net Worth to victory in the Burger King challenge. Obviously a lot can change in 15 weeks, but if I had to put my money on one player at this point, it would be John. One question regarding anyone on Net Worth: have they picked up enough knowledge in their business life to overcome the formal education deficit.

Although we got to see less of him, Chris seems bright and personable. And actually, early on, it's not a bad thing to not have been heard from a lot. After one episode the only contestants you remember are those who led, talked too much, or did something incredibly stupid. Past winners Rancick and Perdew were efficient with words. They didn't run off at the mouth, but also weren't silent. When they spoke it added something to the task at hand. Besides, Chris is a Real Estate Investor, and they are near and dear to the Donald's heart.

Potential but Flawed:

We got to hear plenty from Brian, the brash Real Estate Broker with the Brooklyn accent. He has the raw energy and fearlessness that can contribute to success. Unfortunately he lacks anything resembling discretion when it comes to his mouth. In the name selection process his ideas centered on the idea of "brass balls." For winning, Trump treated Net Worth to a private dinner in the basement of Club 21. Brian asked about the validity of the story that Trump paid off the mortgage of a couple that stopped to help his chauffer change a flat on the limo. When Trump confirmed the story, in this elegant setting, Brian exclaimed, "That is f****n' awesome!" Shortly thereafter he raised a toast to "not being the first one sent home." By the look on Trump's face, either the wine was bad or he was non-plussed by Brian's harsh demeanor.

Can't Tell:

As mentioned, we didn't get to see enough of this team to learn much about the supporting cast. But Kristen, Angie, and Audrey contributed to a solid team victory which suggests at least some potential in each of them.


Perhaps it's just the harmony, but for now Net Worth is by far the more likeable of the two teams. Go Net Go!

Next: Week One: Net Worth Shines in Burger King Mission
Also on Apprentice 3: Apprentice 03 - Magna: The Book-Smarts

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2005-01-21



I believe that there is much to be learned about human nature, business and success from NBC and Donald Trump's hit show "The Apprentice." Therefore I'll be blogging along with each step of the "16 Week Job Interview."

Just a month ago, Kelly Perdew wrapped up Apprentice 2 as Donald Trump's newest employee. Now we commence the third 16-week job interview and Donald Trump is mixing things up. Where previous versions have started out men vs. women, this season pits a team of high school-educated, "street smart" hopefuls against eight college-educated, "book-smart" contestants. To add fuel to the fire, Trump announced at the opening that collectively the high-school educated team earned 3x what the college-educated team was earning. Both teams seemed unable to let go of this in the early going.

It should be noted that the previous two Apprentices were both college educated. And, while there have been some successful high school-educated contestants; Troy in season one and Stacy in season two, it was clear that the lack of knowledge and refinement that comes with a college education ultimately was their undoing. Education alone won't do it, however. Both Perdew and Bill Rancick, season one's winner, were pitted against better educated foes late in the game. Both rode their combination of education, street smarts and experience to victory.

Notes on the Book-Smarts:

The college-educated team chose the name Magna, as in Magna Cum Laude, highlighting their educational achievements. Ironically, Magna Cum Laude is a second-tier honor which is trumped by Summa Cum Laude. This dovetails with Magna's showing in the first challenge.

Now here's what I hate about the start of any reality show where strangers are thrown together. Everyone comes in posing as the ultimate team player. They laugh way too hard at everything that is said, and even the lamest ideas that their teammates come up with are called "brilliant" and "phenomenal." Never has this behavior been more in evidence than during Magna's name-choosing meeting.

Danny, a Marketing Tech Firm owner seemed destined to be a catalyst from the moment he stepped off the elevator in Trump's executive suite clad in a leisure suit with a guitar slung over his shoulder. High School educated, Tech firm owner, John said it best:
"The guy in the leisure suit obviously dances to the beat of a different drummer and apparently that drummer loves polyester."
Danny immediately stepped up and volunteered to be the team's CMO - Chief Morale Officer. To prove his worth he yelled out, "Unbelievable!" as his suggestion for team motto. Magna would embrace this brilliant idea straight through their first defeat.

After the first episode, it is obvious that this team is in trouble. In the promos and early comments, Apprentice 3 is being staged as a battle between street smart entrepreneurs and a bunch of over-educated, privileged bookworms. For team Magna it is as if the network went out of their way to find applicants true to that billing.

Bad attitudes abound. There is zero unity. And, during their first trip to the board room, everyone except Kendra ganged up on Danny, unsuccessfully. Later on in the show a failed coup will be no big deal - a weekly part of doing business. But this early, having Danny on board after the attempt on his Apprentice life will only add to the team's dis-jointedness. I won't be surprised if this team manages to put together a string of impressive losses until Trump is forced to re-shuffle the teams to restore balance.



Individual Book-Smarts: (note: evaluation of individual players' chances assumes that they have been portrayed accurately, but also recognizes that exaggerations may well be edited into the show to boost entertainment value)

No Chance to Win:

In the opening, Erin states that she is out to "show all the male chauvenist pigs that they're wrong and that a woman can be sexy and powerful and smart." She is none of the three, by the way. But the bigger problem is that none of these things have ever been an issue on the Apprentice. The prior two seasons have hosted a number of very attractive, very successful women, and several have done well on the show. Erin has signed on to fight in a war that doesn't exist.

Meanwhile she doesn't appear to have anything of value to offer her team. During mission 1, she was overmatched by the point-of-sale terminal at Burger King and she spent more time pulling her hair out of her eyes than selling burgers. Several of the tableaus featured her wearing a pink, frilly, wrap type garment that only allowed one of her arms to move.

After Alex suggested "Cornerstone" for the team name ... Erin: "Too long, or something." That's Erin in a nutshell.

Bren, one of two bowtied contestants (c'mon guys, you can't follow Raj's act ... and one wonders why you would want to), wasn't as visible, but still managed to establish his uselessness. His idea for team name: "Shiznit." Had he persuaded the team to go along, he could possibly have become the first contestant fired for their role as PM of the name selection effort. Bren has no illusions. He calls himself, "a little man with a big mouth." On that his self-awareness is unparalleled.

Then there was Danny and his guitar, judging team names by their musicality and leading Magna, at least those who didn't have the courage to risk the impression that they weren't behind whatever the team did with 120% enthusiasm, in a sing-along. Danny was a board room target and only the fact that Todd more directly contributed to the team's failure saved him. Though he's still around, Trump's leadership team has already indentified that Danny doesn't have the juice.

Danny casts himself as an "out of the box" guy. He strikes me more as someone who uses the illusion of being "out of the box" to disguise a lack of motivation, talent and creativity. Even his explanation of the success he has experienced in business makes him seem more like a coattail-rider than a rain-maker. When commenting on team Magna's board room attack on him, Danny yelped, "I was the 'unbelievable' guy!" as if he was going to ride that nugget to a $250K executive position with the Trump organization. Apprentice 3 could well be the first time Danny has found himself in a position where he won't be able to slip through the cracks.

Real Potential if they can survive a few weeks on this team:

Though he went quickly from riches to rags in Trump's esteem as PM Todd brought him back into the board room, I predict that Alex will bounce back. He's a sharp attorney, and one of the few on the team who appears to have solid practical business instincts. My one reservation: practicing attorneys don't tend to do well on this show. Jennifer from last season doesn't count - she established her unfitness early, and held on by virtue of everything but business skill. Still, Alex is one guy I'm rooting for on this team, if only out of sympathy.

Verna comes off as a street-smart candidate who somehow wound up on the wrong team. She is educated but probably possesses 90% of this team's combined common sense. Her attitude is a bit questionable right now, but you can hardly fault someone like her for having a little attitude while being stuck on team Magna. We haven't had a chance to see her expertise, but her street-smarts make her invaluable right now.

Though we haven't seen much of Kendra so far, a brief display of board room brilliance won her approval from Carolyn (which I don't think should be underestimated) and demonstrated that she gets the bigger picture. While the rest of the team was ganging up on Danny, Kendra shared her opinion that Todd, and not Danny was the key to the team's failure in the first mission, with one of the reasons being Todd's failure to properly manage Danny. As I shall discuss more in my post on episode one, of the eight Magna members, only Kendra properly assessed Magna's performance and results in the first mission, and I think this scored points with the Donald.

Obviously, with the first mission over, I now know that Todd doesn't belong here, but initially he stood out as one of the few non-dingbats on Magna. Unfortunately, Todd was "hands off" on a team where "hands on" was needed. I think that in a different situation Todd would have had more to show. Unfortunately he broke, before it had even been established, my cardinal rule for survival on Team Magna in the early going: don't be PM!

In order to survive, the hopefuls really must avoid stepping up to lead until the teams are re-aligned. Magna is unmanagable in its current form, and is collectively lacking in the practical business skills that will be tested repeatedly in the weekly missions. To don the mantle of Magna PM right now is suicide. Any time the team fails, poor management will be one of the factors making the PM a prime target for firing. This will be less a reflection on the PM, and more an indication of how impervious the team is to leadership.

Case in point: When Todd was fired this week, it was the first time a PM has been fired in week one of the show. Only the quality leaders seem willing to step up early on, and there is usually enough incompetence scattered about to draw fire away from the PM.

Can't tell yet

We didn't get to see much of Michael. One might argue that on this team that is grounds for immediate membership in the "real potential" category. I'll wait and see.

Also on Apprentice 3: Apprentice 03 - Net Worth: The Street-Smarts

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2005-01-20



Don't get me wrong, I'm as pleased as punch that George W Bush is being sworn in for a second term today.  I'm just not into all the inaugural hoopla.  It's fine for those who are ... just count me out.
 
Here's the thing.  This is going to be the most journalled, televised and broadcasted event since the election.  Yet there isn't likely to be anything newsworthy.  Not even the first lady's dress will be a surprise.  So we once again find ourselves with a bunch of journalists standing around in front of cameras, microphones and laptops with nothing to say, yet talking nonetheless.
 
I was listening on the radio over lunch.  No choice.  All the good stations were pre-empted.  It was a regular cornucopia of cliches and blather.  The fur was flying and the rubber was hitting the road.  Boiled down, all that was really said during the 15-20 minutes of my driving around:  Bush will have a battle on his hands trying to reform Social Security.  Riveting stuff, really.  I mean that issue has only been front and center for two years!  I sense we might be hearing more about this in the future, but don't quote me on that.
 
On the bright side ... the new Apprentice starts tonight!

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2005-01-19



I've been doing a lot of online work with templates, stylesheets, etc.
lately and I'm quite pleased with the progress. .css files used to
really mess with me, but as most of these things go, a little trial, a
little error and slowly but surely you start to get the hang of it.
Some notes ...

- I finally shut off the Front Page extensions on the website last
night. Don't get me wrong. MS Front Page is a nice package and allows a
novice webster to get up and running with a arsenal of features that
would otherwise be beyond their grasp. The downside is, after a while
this crutch holds you back. As you progress with html, depending on how
much work you did previously you may be stuck with Front Page-specific
lines of code in your files that don't play well with more standard
techniques.

- It's less dramatic, but I finally fixed my template here at the blog.
I prefer text to be a bit smaller. I don't know why. It feels cleaner
that way, and more fits on a screen so you don't feel like you are
constantly scrolling when reading a post. Anyway, rather than take the
time to tweak the blogger template, I set up custom tags in w.bloggar that reduced the font size at the post level. Short-term solution, long-term problem. Now I've fixed the
template, but the tags remain in previous posts which makes them appear
too tiny. I'm going to go back to the beginning of the year and remove
the tags from each post. Apologies to those rare souls who may want to
dig back further than that.

- Props to PmWiki. We're using wiki out at the website, but
are really only beginning to tap its enormous potential, I feel. Part
of the problem up to this point has been our software, WikiDX. I'm not
even going to link it because its not worth the trouble.

When you look at something like WikiPedia you see that this tool is the ultimate in
flexibility and open-ness, while still allowing users to create some
reasonably sharp pages. WikiDX, on the other hand, was a struggle. It
had all the basic wiki features, but nothing even slightly more advanced
to help with presentation. Thus pages became a mish-mash.

Like WikiDX, PmWiki is free. That's where the similarities end. It's
an easier install. It is much easier and allows the user more
flexibility in customizing even the program's shell. And it includes
features which allows for the creation of organized, clear pages which,
in my book, boosts user-friendliness. Let's face it, you're not going
to keep at it if you constantly have to sort through a mess.

- Finally, props to WordPress. I'm not sure if I've tipped my hat to
them before, so I need to do it now. This is free, open-source, blog
software. Admittedly, things were a little dicey when I first started
using them. The software is continuously in development and there are
still bugs to be worked out. But, our current version is much smoother
with many of the major problems having been fixed.

In addition, their support forums are now well-stocked with valuable
information on the minor glitches. To date I've only encountered one
problem that couldn't be solved - designating categories when posting by
e-mail. It turns out that at this point, this is something the software
simply hasn't been designed to do. For everything else I've found some
combination of tips, work-arounds, and patches to keep us going.

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2005-01-18



The three-day weekend was nice ... where it went, I have no idea.

The biggest news is that we have switched over to Outlook at work. Finally! We were using Groupwise which was OK I guess, but a little clunky and short on features and user-friendliness. For my money, and I'm a layman on things like this, it's tough to beat Outlook running on an Exchange Server.

I pity the IT department though. These switches are hardly fool-proof to begin with. Throw the human element in there, with folks coming back from a long weekend and anxious to get at their e-mail ... they are going to wear that dept out over the next few days.

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2005-01-14



I and many others have noted GM's entry into the blogosphere with Fastlane blog by Vice Chair Bob Lutz.

Since then the news hasn't been so good for GM as we've had reports that GM plans to continue job cuts in North America and the auto-makerwill be issuing another recall, which comes on the heels of a slew of recalls at the tail end of 2004 (here and here). While none of these constitutes a huge crisis for GM, they are noteworthy developments as the giant struggles with market share and profitability in its North Amercia operation.

Over at GM Fastlane blog? A lot of talk about interiors, whether or not the Aura is production-ready, etc. - basically a rolling GM advertisement. No shame in that, but then why are we getting all excited about this "blog?" Admittedly, I'm keeping a close eye on guys like Microsoft's Scobleizer and his Red Couch blog where there is much talk about the potential of blogs for use by organizations. I still don't think I fully grasp all of the possibilities, perhaps no one does, but I'm confident in saying that Fastlane doesn't begin to realize the full potential of this medium.

Personally, I'd like to see some discussion of the strategic landscape facing GM. Will this sell cars directly? No. But what about the next time GM is going toe to toe with the UAW? Fastlane seems like the perfect tool for making some PR inroads.

So what do we get when we click on the "business" category over at Fastlane? The text of a speech Lutz gave in 2002. Ironically managing change was his topic on that day.
"I was asked the question by the organizers of this event, 'Can change be managed?' And the answer is absolutely, yes.

Although I must point out, it’s a qualified 'yes.' It’s like someone asking, 'Can you stop the rain?' Well, no ... but I can bring an umbrella.

There are some things you can control, and some things you can’t. The trick is to control everything that you can, and to use your common sense to prepare yourself, your staff and your organization for the things you cannot control.

It is ironic that GM should pick this topic for one of the first entries on their new blog because change, controllable and uncontrollable, is exactly what GM-North America is struggling with right now. Rising fuel prices, the aging of a key product line, health care costs, product defects and now, it appears, how to master the blog medium are among the landmines facing the auto-maker.

Driving a GM-like behemoth is like navigating an oil tanker. There is a long time between rudder shift and course change, but once realized, you're stuck with the results. Undoing them will be that much harder. So the captain must be wise and sure and able to find the right course through rough water the first time. So far, GM has found the rough water, but seems baffled as to the course changes needed.

I don't expect the GM execs to be great bloggers. I do expect them to be seasoned vets of the auto industry and sharp business minds. Time will tell if they have a clue on either front.

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2005-01-13



"Tax withholding changes Americans' psychology by obscuring the level of taxation, and even more insidiously, most receive a rebate from the IRS each year, instilling the idea that they get money from the government. Of course it's a little bit of their own money back."
- from the Human Events profile of the National Taxpayers Union

And now this, one of my favorite organizations, has their own blog - Government Bytes.

Thanks to Redstate.org for the pointer.

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Here's the thing I love about blogging and blog-reading: You may start in familiar territory, but you never know where you are going to wind up.

I have my list of favorite blogs and news sourcess, although I must admit that I'm trying to venture off the path and find some lesser-read gems in the rough, and blogs that specialize in some of my areas of interest. One the reasons many of my favorites are my favorites however, is that they seem to have ears everywhere in the blogosphere and come up with the most interesting links.

Here's how today's chain went:
I started out at Hugh Hewitt's blog. He was pluggin his book again - go figure. Seriously, it's a great read, and literary candy for a blogger.

Anyway, Hugh mentioned Tod Bolsinger who was reviewing the book from a Pastor's perspective. Very interesting - he's got a good site.

Bolsinger in turn paid homage to one of his main blogging influences, Mark Roberts, another blogging pastor. Bolsinger then linked to Roberts' blogroll of blogging pastors.

I've added some of those to my blogroll here and will get them out to bloglines soon. As you can well imagine, a perusal of those blogs brought more interesting posts and no doubt further links.

Unfortunately lunch is over and it's time to get back to work.

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2005-01-11



... I must comment on the CBS report, or rather on MSM's treatment of it.

I was certain the story would be big news. After all, it's a story about a major media outlet letting its political bias lead it into unprofessional and unethical behavior. It seemingly confirms the common rant regarding MSM and its bias. Surely they would be falling all over themselves to get the word out on this, as if to say, "we're not that way," or, "we've learned."

Instead: business as usual. I had an inkling of it as I was browsing through my aggregator late yesterday afternoon. The blogs (of varying political and philosophical persuasions) were, without exception, all over the report, many having already read generous portions of the 200-page document. Meanwhile, among my nine feeds from scattered newspapers, only two contained any mention, and even there coverage was scant.

It was this NPR headline,
"Report: Rather not Involved in Vetting Bush Story"
that led me to break my silence. Yes, this is factually correct. However, it is nowhere near a reasonable summary of the report as a whole, nor its treatment of Rather specifically.

While many are dissatisfied, holding that the report hedged on the issue of political bias, I believe Thornburgh and Boccardi were much harder on CBS and Rather than anyone expected. It was highly critical of Rather and everyone else involved. To issue a "Rather was clean" type headline ... well that's just Rather-esque.

"Rather wasn't involved in vetting," goes right up there with "no evidence that political bias played a role." How hard Thornburgh and Boccardi worked at connecting those dots, I don't know. What I do know is that it couldn't be more obvious that political bias not only played a role, but was most likely the prime mover in this episode. Likewise it couldn't be more obvious that a seasoned vet such as Rather is heavily involved in his stories.

I was tempted to add that had John Kerry been the target of the piece, Rather would most certainly have insisted on a thorough investigation of the documents. But I doubt that. He wouldn't have vetted the piece any more carefully than he did here. He would have killed it on sight.

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2005-01-10



The report is finally out. I must admit that it had a little more bite than expected. Other than that I don't have a whole lot to say. It was clearly that this was a cheap smear job from the moment the report aired. And it's been clear for years that Rather and CBS are extremely biased and don't put a whole lot of effort into checking that when they go on air. Maybe the 200+ page report will pass on something new to someone - there weren't many surprises here.

Want more? You can check the report itself. Or, if you have to work tomorrow, check out Powerline's coverage. As always, their work is thorough, even-handed and backed by Hindrocket's knowledge and experience.

Honorable Mention: Hugh Hewitt is not happy with the report.

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The Detroit Free Press reports that GM expects to cut its North America workforce by roughly 7% this year. The cuts, to be exacted mainly through retirement and attrition, should match the pace that the auto-maker has maintained since 2002. When you add it up, this makes 45,000 jobs cut since 2000 as GM continues to struggle with profitability and market share here in the US.

The problems:

  • Rising health care costs: Yes, the side of the debate not often heard. We want cheap vehicles and expensive workers. The viability of the company is not a concern - their job is to employ a lot of people in the U.S. Using really rough math: GM produced roughly 5M vehicles last year, and paid $5.1B in health care costs. That's $1,000 on every car going to health care. Did I mention that Toyota and Nissan aren't having these problems? At least not to the crippling extent that GM and Ford are experiencing.

  • Rising oil prices: This one plays no favorites. Auto-makers across the board must deal with this. Unfortunately, Ford and GM are banking on the success of vehicles in the fuel inefficient category.

  • Aging truck models: Again, problems in the key part of GM's product line. Their trucks have done well, but the basic structure of these vehicles is outdated. This means they are harder to sell, and require heavier use of price concessions and other incentives which will further impact profitability. GM is stuck with this problem for at least two more years.

Previously, I blogged as follows:
"Personally, I still view the big three as bloated, plodding dinosaurs in a world that demands speed and flexibility."
This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about. The auto industry is already fraught with challenges that simply can't be avoided. But GM's strategy has not positioned it well to respond to the additional, unforeseen issues.

Oil prices? That one should have been bankable. You don't know when or how much, but you have to assume the crunch is coming.

And a product line that is getting ready to age GM right out of the game! Real, real hard to have any pity here. The fact that 2005 is 7 years after 1998 isn't an auto biz problem. It's simple math. That GM has done nothing to prepare for the fact that time marches on is puzzling.

I hopped over to GM's FastLane Blog to see if Vice Chair Lutz would have anything to say on the matter. So far nothing, which isn't surprising. This was more of an informational piece and not a breaking story. Plus, Lutz has bigger fish to fry with the Auto Show going on. Still somewhere along the line, amid his talk about the new Saturn interiors, I'd like to hear something on grand strategy.

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"I love making movies and I'll take this as an invitation to make more 'Fahrenheit 9/11s.' "
- Moore after his film received the People's Choice award for favorite movie

As if Moore needs any invitations.

And an apologist quote from AP:
"Both men (Moore and Mel Gibson) had controversial films that fared well at the box office last year."

Indeed, the Passion was #3 on the year with gross receipts of $370M. Farenheit on the other hand, at $119M didn't even crack the top 15. It was however, the top grossing campaign commercial of all time.

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2005-01-08



President Bush has named his two tax point men: Connie Mack III and John Breaux.

Personally I'd rather see Jack Kemp and Dick Armey, but I'm not really getting my hopes up on this initiative anyway.

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Watching Jets-Chargers out of the corner of my eye. This is ugly. Sometimes you'd see 17-10 and think, "Good defensive struggle." Not today. The two teams are trading fatal mistake for fatal mistake.

What is the deal with Pennington? I just don't see where the hype is coming from. He watches his intended receiver (and that's receiver, singular, no look-offs here) from the snap to the conclusion of the play. And NY's plays are so slow to develop. He doesn't seem able to throw the ball until the receiver is standing there, waiting, and Pennington has double and triple-checked that the guy is wide open.

I feel like the Jets have been between SD's 40 and 30 for the last half hour. 10 minutes left and NY leading by a TD and driving, sort of. The Chargers get a much needed 3rd down stop, only to put 12 men on the field for the ensuing punt giving the Jets a first down and allowing them to continue their "drive." That should have been fatal. Fortunately for SD, the Jets spend the next three plays appearing to head for the wrong end of the field.

Fatal mistake number #257. SD - 4th and Goal with seconds left. The Jets suffer a rare moment of defensive clarity and blow the play up. Yes, NY actually does have their defense on the field for this drive. Before this play, who knew? NY blows the play up, and Brees is forced into a disjointed underhand pitch while running for his life. Game over ... but wait! The Jet pursuer wisely clocked Brees in the helmet as the SD QB was falling to the ground, having already gotten rid of the ball. A new set of downs and SD takes advantage on the next play.

Oh boy! Overtime. We could potentially have 15 more minutes of this poetry in motion.

I've seen enough to safely say that, of all the AFC teams in action this weekend, only Indianapolis has a chance to move beyond next weekend.

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The firestorm surrounding Enron and their accounting firm, Arthur Andersen has long since died, but one battle goes on. The obstruction of justice case which reduced AA from an accounting firm tens of thousands strong to a skeleton legal crew will be heard on appeal by the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue, the word "corruptly."

The case:

  • Massive accounting irregularities hammer Enron and an SEC investigation begins.

  • Prior to the SEC issuing a subpoena or making any formal move against AA, one of the firm's attorneys advises strict adhearance to document retention policies - i.e. destroy everything but what is necessary to support the audit.

  • Massive document shredding and e-mail deleting ensues.

  • The SEC subpoenas AA for documents related to their audit of Enron. The destruction ends.


Was the destruction of documents legal or not? The firm's policy technically allowed them to dispose of the excess documentation, but in practice they didn't normally do so. To suddenly follow policy to the letter for one client, shortly before that client and your firm are indicted is suspicious.

Under the law, it is a crime for someone to "corruptly persuade" another to, among other things, destroy documents with the intent of making them unavailable in official proceedings.

AA objected to the initial judge's instruction to the jury that the government "did not have to prove that the defendant knew its conduct was illegal." AA attornies argued in their appeal that " 'corruptly' had to mean 'at least conscious wrongdoing.' "

I'm really torn here. First of all I believe the initial judge was out of bounds. In some cases "corruptly" may be vague enough to cause problems. Here I agree with AA's lawyers in that knoweldgable wrongdoing is implied in the use of the word.

What I have trouble with is how AA could argue that they weren't knowingly circumventing the law. What other explanation could there be for suddenly undertaking such an operation?

I'll be curious to hear what the Supreme Court has to say on this one.

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Earlier this week I discussed my interest in business and blogging. Well, a blue chip case study has emerged as auto giant GM has entered the blogosphere. This is no token effort. So far, none other than Vice Chair Bob Lutz has been dishing out the posts and responding to comments.

It will be very interesting to see how this blog evolves. Personally, I still view the big three as bloated, plodding dinosaurs in a world that demands speed and flexibility. These are the last companies I'd expect to see thinking that blogging could be a useful tool, much less executing on that thought in a meaningful way.

Personally, I'd love to hear some of the guy's unedited thoughts and comments on running a behemoth car manufacturer. Due to time and professional considerations, this isn't likely to happen, but I can dream. So far, Mark Cuban is the highest profile person I've seen really show himself in a publicly accessible blog. Go figure.

So far, as could be expected, the real-time content (there are some archived Lutz speeches) has been fluffy, promote GM products fare. But, if you are a car buff you'll probably enjoy it. The comment sections are hopping and Lutz does respond to some of the commentary in subsequent entries.

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2005-01-07



A great piece by Victor Davis Hanson: The Disenchanted American.
"Americans know all that — and yet they grasp that their own vigilance and military sacrifices have earned them spite rather than gratitude. And they are ever so slowly learning not much to care anymore."

I've linked Hanson's site with the full piece above, but you will also want to check out the coverage over at Little Green Footballs where the comment bin is already loaded and well worth a browse.

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Not so fast! Safety may no longer be the primary barrier to in flight cell phone use. It seems the FCC has been flooded with emails from air passengers who fear spending their flights listening to cell conversations.
One idea:
"Some who sent comments to the FCC expressing fears suggested that if the ban is lifted and wireless service is allowed on board, the airlines should separate those who want to use their phones behind a partition."

LOL ... annoying cell phone guy rates right up there with smoker guy now!

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It's pretty sad when an entire pro league takes the season off and no one notices.

I wish soccer would do this so we could wake that handful of blowhards up as well.

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Admit it. It's the debate you wanted, but never got!

It's kind of like the BCS where you had one team, Auburn, conspicuously absent from the picture at the end. Only Auburn is Ralph Nader and Bush is USC ... OK, enough from me. This one speaks for itself.

Thanks to Redstate for spotting this one.

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From the start of the war when coverage ran 24hrs/day, embedded journalists have helped to add texture and interest to the Iraq story.

I'd always been curious about how that whole thing was controlled. I remember when we used to have guests ride with us on the sub - regardless of the guest and regardless of the purpose for our underway, the whole situation was carefully managed from what instruments had to remain covered, to which spaces were off limits, to what could be talked about. Yet watching these embeds, it appears that they can go anywhere and say anything at all.

Captain's Quarters has the story of five embedded reporters being kicked out of Iraq. Good stuff.

Captain Ed also points out that as the Iraq election draws close, requests for embeds are increasing:
"The media has trumpeted the lack of security that threatens to derail the elections -- and yet more reporters want to be at the polling places to report the story. I'm not questioning the courage of the reporters, but does it occur to them that the Iraqis themselves might have more at stake in this election and will have the motivation to risk a visit to these same polling stations?"

Hat tip to VodkaPundit for the pointer.

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It's been a while since we've had a good, frivilous lawsuit. But I've got to admit, I didn't see this one coming. Tobacco, McD's, Gun mfrs, sure. But Fear Factor?

You just can't make this stuff up! A Cleveland man is suing Fear Factor over a recent rat-eating episode. It seems the grotesque-ness of a stunt where contestants had to eat rats mixed in a blender, a rat smoothie if you will, caught this frequent Fear Factor watcher by surprise, causing his blood pressure to rise making him dizzy and disoriented.

In his words, "I didn't see the doorway on route to my room, ... I ran into it causing suffering, injury and great pain." It was considerate of him to put it in nice, lawsuit-friendly terms for us.

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.
  1. Let's pretend he'd never watched the show. Pretty much everyone knows, just from the commercials, that they do disgusting things on Fear Factor. Rats, snakes, worms, cockroaches, centipedes, animal testicles, animal privates, cow snouts, pig intestines, blood, etc. And that's just off the top of my head. There are no surprises here. You turn it on - that's what you get.

  2. OK, now let's deal with Mr. Aitken, who by his own admission, "... watches 'Fear Factor' often." Same as above, only more so. He should have known very well what he was getting.

  3. Couldn't turn off his TV quick enough? Wrong. Again, even a moderate FF viewer knows exactly when the gross stuff is coming. You have the first stunt, an action stunt often having something to do with height or water or both. When that stunt is over it's time for the nastiness. You get a little teaser and then a commercial break. Plenty o' time for even a whimpering simp to touch that dial.

  4. Also, as a frequent viewer of FF, the calls for networks to "clean up their own acts," rings hollow. Prior to this, it was all good. Contestants repeatedly dunking their heads into a vat of cow's blood, eating buffalo pizzles, ripping open and consuming the soft innards of a mountain goat testicle, crunching down live cockroaches and assorted beetles ... that was all ok. Then he puked and turned into a clutz and now they've just gone too far.

  5. He wants to send a message and is not concerned with a cash judgment. This makes the $2.5M price tag a little puzzling.

  6. Then there's the obvious: even if you ran headlong into it, how much injury and suffering could a doorway really cause?

  7. Even more obvious: What kind of MAN can look America in the eye and say this stuff with a straight face?

  8. Well, at the end of the story we find out just what kind of man ... "Court records show Aitken, who works as a paralegal, filed two lawsuits against tobacco companies in the late 1990s. Both were dismissed." He's a legal-Beagle! (no offense to dogs intended) That's just how he does business. And from the looks of it, he's not very good at it.

Perhaps, he should just sue his doorway and be done with it.

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Previously I posted on WaPo's initial coverage of a VA teen couple's apparent suicide. After a little further digging and an interview with one set of parents, a more realistic picture emerges.

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Like just about everyone else, when I first heard of Andrea Yates' conviction for drowning her five children being overturned I was troubled. It's an awful case, but her guilt was never in question.

After further reading and listening however, it turns out that this shouldn't have been a surprise. The prosecution's key and only expert, Dr. Park Dietz, was a well-known witness-for-hire. He was also notorious for being not credible.

So the question isn't, "How could the appellate court do this?" With the key witness having lied, their decision was pretty cut and dried. The question is, "Why did the prosecution put all of their eggs in this basket?"

Dietz's lie regarding a fabricated Law & Order episode that resembled Yates' case, probably didn't have a direct bearing on the jury's decision. But his testimony was critical to the question of insanity, so, back to the drawing board, perhaps.

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2005-01-06



From Gov Schwarzenegger's State of the State address last night:
I can also announce that we intend to wipe out nearly 100 unnecessary boards and commissions, abolishing over 1,000 political appointments in the process. No one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month. Now, I know the special interests will oppose all the reforms I have mentioned. Of course. Any time you try to remove one dollar from the budget, there are five special interests tugging on the other side. Anytime you try to make something more efficient, there are a half-dozen special interests trying to prevent it.
In his year at the helm the Governator has become more refined in his speeches. There were no "Mastadons" or people "bleeding red ink" this year. Instead we have serious talk about cutting government. In California's govt this may only represent a drop in the bucket, but it's a start, and a move in the right direction. I have to applaud that.

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I finally got over to blog-rolling and added some links:

Poor Richard's Almanac: A new blog out here on Blogspot. Hugh gave him a mention the other day which makes me totally jealous, but the guy has to have something going on to earn that respect. He promises politics and media talk, but fans of music, guitar and the blues will want to check out his first few posts.

The next three kind of go together. I'm really getting into studying business lately. I mean, I always have in a general way, but right now I'm studying successful businesses and successful business persons. I've also been doing a lot of reading up on blogging, including Hugh's latest book and how it can be used effectively in a variety of settings.

Scobleizer: Self-proclaimed Microsoft geek blogger. They don't come much more successful than Microsoft, and Scobleizer has some great insights into his company and his work. Which leads to ...

The Red Couch: Scoble and friend, Shel Israel, are writing a book, and they will be documenting the whole process via this blog. What's the book about? From Shel's previous site:
“The Red Couch (TRC)” argues blogging is changing everything and businesses choosing to ignore it, face the same fate as the blacksmith who ignored the automobile a century ago. It will explain why this is a good thing, for both business and its customers, prospects, partners—even their own employees and investors, offering numerous examples of how blogging brings them closer together."
So, I'm torn. On the one hand, I wish the book were out so I could read it. On the other hand, I'll be fasicnated to watch the process. Right now they are working on the Table of Contents.

Scoble recently linked to an old journalism hand with a new blog, Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism. Dan has just given up his job at the San Jose Mercury News and ended two decades in the gainful employment of media organizations. He is quite literally now walking his talk:
"I'm going to work hard on a project to inspire, enable and create what many have been calling a new kind of journalism. In the new world that I and many others believe is coming, the grassroots will have a fundamental and crucial role in the process ..."
In a short time his blog already has a number of great posts along those lines.

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2005-01-05



Here we go again. WaPo reports on a Virginia teen couple found dead in an apparent double suicide or murder suicide. Before I get rolling, this is a tragedy. It troubles me, and I feel for the families left behind that have to try to sort this out. That said, something drives me absolutely crazy in the way the media deals with stories like this.
"Michaela Wegner, 15, was a cheery honors student who baked cookies for her classmates and thanked her teachers for their hard work. Harold Anthony Holt Jr. was a 19-year-old Dallas Cowboys fan who had dreams of a career in computer drafting.

They lived in spacious South Riding homes separated by two miles of wide suburban avenues and a verdant golf course. And they were in love. "

Awww ... it's almost too perfect. Actually it is too perfect. But that's what we need to make this thing really dramatic. So far we have two perfect little angels whose only crime was being in love. It's a regular Romeo and Juliet I tell you.

But wait. All is not as it seems. Apparently the Wegner's parents thought Holt was a little too old for their daughter. Understandable. Probably something we would have been concerned about at the top had we not been blinded by the verdant golf course.

Let's be honest. When you put all the pieces together I'm guessing that her parents weren't nuts about this guy in any way. She's a sophomore honors student, working on the yearbook, and no doubt doing all the little things that someone shooting for a nice college does. Her parents must have had high academic hopes for their little girl, and might well have seen Holt as a threat to their daughter's well-being. If so, it turns out that those concerns were well-founded.

I'm not saying this is right or wrong, good or bad. I'm saying it's NORMAL. Smiling, baking cookies, Dallas Cowboys and "dreams" of drafting once you finish your stint at a trade school dont' define normalcy or reality in this case. They are simply a very small collection of facts carefully chosen to present a distorted picture. Is this done simply to make the story that much more dramatic and sell newspapers? I don't know, but these attempts to distory the reader's view of normalcy bothers me. Normal is two parents saying, "I don't care how 'deeply' in love you think you are - our 15-yr old daughter is not dating an adult!"

And when you're a teenager and you are "in love" but your parents won't allow it, normal can go in one of two directions. 1. You sneak around behind your parents' backs, pretending to go to a friend's house in order to see your forbidden love. I'm not saying I condone it, but that's how the teenage mind works. Or, 2. you obey reluctantly, and mope around the house griping about it every chance you get, until one day you meet someone closer to your own age and station in life and realize that your parents were right. This really pisses you off so the moping and griping continue, but at least the whole Capulet/Montague thing has quietly died with your future still in tact.

Most teenagers, young as they are in some respects, can figure out that regardless of the complaint, shooting yourself isn't going to substantially improve things.

When what is essentially a double-suicide seems reasonable enough to carry out, SOMETHING IS WRONG. I don't care how many cookies she baked, how many teachers she thanked, or how much he loved the Dallas Cowboys, there are problems somewhere. It certainly isn't necessary to talk about the blemishes now, or ever in the newspaper for that matter. The point is, you can't tell us what sweet, normal kids these were when the very reason you are talking about them defies that notion.

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If Auburn doesn't get a share of the National Championship, they have only themselves to blame. OK, it turns out they can thank Oklahoma as well, but more on that later. Sure, Auburn won the Sugar Bowl. Barely. Narrowly squeezing past Virginia Tech. The Hokies are certainly respectable, but hardly an exclamation point on a championship resume.

Regardless of what was going to happen in the Orange Bowl, Auburn needed to win big. They needed to make a statement that would remain in coaches' minds. They came up well short.

Personally, I think that any SEC team finishing a season undefeated has earned a share of any championship, or at least the right to play for it. Which brings us back to the Sugar Bowl being Auburn's chance to plead their case on the field. If so, it was a scoreboard victory, but a moral defeat.

-- B --


And as I said, it turns out that Auburn needed a big win more than anyone realized on Monday Night. After USC man-handled Oklahoma, it will be hard for any voter, coach or writer, to deny them a #1 vote. Of the contenders, USC was the only team to step up and play like they wanted a championship.

-- B --


You know the game is desperate when the announcers start imitating the AFLAC duck (and they always do), to keep themselves amused (it always does). Yesterday this occurred in the second quarter, I believe. I'm sure it was a big hit with the male 12-14 demographic.

-- B --


The upside to the game being out of reach by halftime: much of the audience had already turned away and were spared sitting through Ashley Simpson. She didn't expose her breast or anything, but it was stil obscene in a "totally devoid of entertainment value" sort of way.

-- B --


*climbing onto soap box* Stop me if you've heard this one before. Big 12 team advances to BCS Championship Game. BCS Championship Game marks the first time said Big 12 team will play a significant non-Big 12 opponent. Big 12 team has their butts handed to them by significant non-Big 12 opponent so badly that you are left wondering what the heck Big 12 team was doing there in the first place! How many times have we seen this recently ... Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma.

I've said it before and I'm saying it now. Big 12 football is the most carefully crafted illusion in all of College Sports. Prior to USC, name one quality non-conference opponent that Oklahoma played (and really, to say that they played USC is generous ... they were the other team on the field). You can't because there aren't any. "But they beat Texas!" OK, name one quality non-conference opponent that Texas played. You can't. The best you can say for them is that they slipped by three-loss Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Oklahoma and Texas, the stalwarts of the Big 12, and annual fixtures in pre-season championship discussions, combined to give up 92 points in their bowl games.

When will the pollsters learn!? Not even the computers catch the Big 12's act because, once again, Big 12 teams only venture out of conference to pad their record with big wins over patsies. There are no common, quality opponents with which to make a comparison. So it's up to the pollsters to realize that time and again Big 12 teams which seem so powerful against each other get into bowl games and can't even compete.

Here come the "Texas Tech beat Cal, a team that was a whisker away from the BCS," arguements. Next to the Big 12, the Pac 10 was probably the next most suspect "elite" conference. The Big East doesn't count because there's no pretending going on over there.

The sad thing is, as these Big 12 teams are embarrasing themselves in the Championship Game, there always seems to be a more deserving team looking on.

When Nebraska (who made it to the championship despite being throttled by Colorado and not playing in the Big 12 Championship) was run off the field by Miami, fans were left wondering what might have been had Oregon had a chance.

Last year the failure of Oklahoma (who made it to the championship despite being crushed by KSU in the Big 12 Championship) only fueled complaints that USC deserved a chance.

This year, Auburn entered bowl season out of the SEC, far and away the nation's toughest football conference, undefeated. While the Tigers' Sugar Bowl win was less than impressive, it's hard to argue that they would have fared any worse against USC than Oklahoma did.

With their impressive win, USC did BCS proponents a big favor. So convincing were the Trojans that there won't be a lot of controversy surrounding their championship. It will be easy to foget that we go into the off-season with three teams still undefeated. It will be easy to forget that the BCS as a champion selector is on a several year failure streak.

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2005-01-04



A great post over at The Rough Woodsman where Swamphopper finds himself in the middle of his own little culture war and fights back. It's well worth a read.

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2005-01-03



Powerline has linked Professor Geras' call for lists of top 10 rock and pop songs. Be sure to hop over there and cast your vote.

Meanwhile, I always enjoy these things, so here are my choices.

First my Top Ten "Just because I didn't like it doesn't mean it wasn't a good song" songs: Some I like, some I don't. Simply, I keep my taste in check and vote for the songs I think are the most deserving of Top 10 of All Time status.

  1. Time - Pink Floyd

  2. Carry on My Wayward Son - Kansas

  3. Hotel California - The Eagles

  4. Candle in the Wind (original) - Elton John

  5. My Generation - The Who

  6. Let It Be - The Beatles

  7. Piano Man - Billy Joel

  8. Cold as Ice - Foreigner

  9. True - Spandau Ballet

  10. Should I Stay or Should I Go - The Clash


Notes: Yes, no Stones, no Doors, no Zeppelin. I know everyone will think they should be up there due to their tremendous following. I am checking my own taste up to a point, but the Beatles were my acknowledgement that there are a group of bands that made a huge impact despite pumping out so-so music.

OK, now My true Top Ten:

  1. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Elton John

  2. Cold As Ice - Foreigner

  3. Time - Pink Floyd

  4. Should I Stay or Should I Go - The Clash

  5. Jamie's Cryin' - Van Halen

  6. Don't Bring Me Down - Electric Light Orchestra

  7. Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas

  8. Tainted Love - Soft Cell

  9. Bringin' on the Heartbreak - Def Leppard

  10. You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi


... and Honorable Mention Second Ten:

  1. Cheap Sunglasses - ZZ Top

  2. Radar Love - Golden Earring

  3. Dreamer - Ozzy Osbourne

  4. You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - Bachman Turner Overdrive

  5. Moving in Stereo - The Cars

  6. You've Got Another Thing Coming - Judas Priest

  7. Mysterious Ways - U2

  8. Let You Go - Aerosmith

  9. Back in Black - AC/DC

  10. The Zoo - The Scorpions


Notes: In a lot of cases I wanted to put a group on the list because their entire body of work is so awesome, and so the specific song could just as well have been any one of several.

In the you almost don't deserve to be on the list because ... category I have:

Van Halen for not getting along and thus giving a hopeful world a number of disappointing Van Imitations.

Foreigner for that whole "Four" business. With six your sound was distinct and edgy. With four you were just another eighties hit band.

Bon Jovi for being such a pretty boy. But, I just can't help it ... you ROCK, man!

On the other hand, kudos to Aerosmith and AC/DC for radical sea changes which actually beefed up their product, and to Def Leppard in dealing with their drummer's loss of an arm. They were white hot coming off of "Pyromania" before the tragedy and emerged from it as hot or hotter with "Hysteria."

Finally, as I was compiling my list, I realized that the word "love" kept popping up and that I had the ingredients for the best list of all ... My Top Ten "Love" Songs:

  1. Love Bites - Def Leppard

  2. Love Stinks - J Geills Band

  3. You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi

  4. Radar Love - Golden Earring

  5. Tainted Love - Soft Cell

  6. Love Don't Live Here Anymore - Madonna

  7. I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That) - Meat Loaf

  8. Love is a Battlefield - Pat Benetar

  9. Ain't Talking 'Bout Love - Van Halen

  10. I Hate Myself for Loving You - Joan Jett


Enjoy!

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