2005-02-28



Generally I'm all for the media's efforts to fit square pegs in round holes. Knock yourselves out you lackers of originality. It is frustrating, however, to watch this misery when you are rooting for the square peg.

Exhibit One: John McEnroe, my all-time favorite tennis player. On the court he displayed a furious game and attitude as he became one of the youngest champs the game has ever known.

Mac is a lot of things. A talk show host isn't one of them. Not that CNBC wasn't willing to try. Lobbing brief but edgy comments into a tennis broadcast is one thing. Keeping a one-hour slab of television fluff moving along and interesting is quite different. And just that quickly, John McEnroe became an ex-talk show host.

CNBC's newest victim? Donny Deutsch. Deutsch gained fame when the Ad Agency he owns hosted one of the challenges in each season of NBC's "The Apprentice."

Deutsch is a likeable guy. His expertise and passion for what he does made him an instant favorite on Trump's reality show. Say what you want about Donald Trump, but the guy is picky when it comes to business. If he likes you, as he clearly likes Deutsch, you must be good.

It's easy to see why Deutsch came to mind when looking to fill a new talk show seat. The guy is very animated and insightful WHEN TALKING ABOUT BUSINESS AND ADVERTISING. You know, the things he knows. As with McEnroe, this doesn't translate well into the broader talk show forum.

Instead, Deutsch's show "The Big Idea," is a train-wreck. As creative as he is, DD is not gifted when it comes to imbecilic banter which is required to keep the average talk show moving.

At one point an interview with Billy Idol bogged down when the rocker revealed that in his early days to further an "in your face" image. Deutsch: I've got to tell you, I don't like that. Idol went on to explain that it was all an image thing and had nothing to do with the singer's personal beliefs. Deutsch: I don't like that.

I'm not saying DD had to agree with Idol. But a good talk show host can disagree without bringing the show to a grinding halt. He could go the Oprah route and just airhead his way through it. Or, like Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, come back with a compelling question designed to stimulate discussion.

Another problem - the show is often used as a vehicle for Apprentice alumni hawking their latest ventures. This in itself is not bad. Unfortunately, those ventures are usually as well thought out as CNBC's idea of getting Donny Deutsch to host a talk show. Apparently, unlike Deutsch, the quality Apprentice alums have gone with their strengths and are back in the business world.

Personally, I'm interested in business and marketing, so the thought of one hour with Deutsch grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, DD is probably not going to be hired to do an hour of that. So, I guess we'll just have to guess who will get the next shot at talk show glory once CNBC comes to grips with its latest failure.

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The Schiavo case is active again with a flurry of legal action. As of right now Terry is on the clock with just under a month to go before her feeding tube is removed, barring any further reversals.

This one really troubles me because what I would want were I the person laying in bed conflicts with my natural wariness of opening the door to euthenasia.

Please note: this is just a discussion, not a legal statement. If you are some lawyer or doctor reading this 5 years from now because I wrecked my motorcycle and am in a coma, get off the internet and get back to work saving me!

Now, I'm just a layman, but this is what the preponderance of the medical opinion in this case seems to say: Terry Schiavo has nothing to look forward to other than years of being fed and ventilated by a machine. She's not going to get better. She's not going to get up out of that bed and start walking around. She's not likely to even get to the point where she can feed herself. And she's already been doing this for more than 15 years! I must admit - I'd want the plug pulled. For that matter, I would have wanted it pulled years ago. Not just for me, but for the family that would otherwise face years of living at the hospital with no hope, and no end point in site. At some point I would expect everyone to deal with reality and move on.

Unfortunately these decisions don't happen in a vacuum, and the legal world of life and death seems unable to handle "case-by-case" situations. When once something is permitted, even more of it must be permitted the next time out until we reach a point that would horrify even those who started the whole thing. Where Roe v. Wade has gotten us with baby-killing, Schiavo could take us with "mercy" killing. Thus I am instinctively cautious in this case.

I guess for me the telling thing is that Terry would not be able to survive on her own. Many would argue that removing her feeding tube would amount to "playing God" in deciding who dies. On the other hand, aren't we already playing God by forcing life into a being that is trying to die? Again, this is dangerous ground. In the grand scheme of things we are all dying. Still, as I read the accounts of her brain damage I can't help but think that living is more than continuing respiration and digestion by any means necessary.

I guess that I root for this whole thing to be resolved without being seen as a watershed case for someone's moral point of view. Even that is doubtful. Both sides have invested heavily in this one and are beyond reason.

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2005-02-24



The AP reports that "Wead regrets going public with Bush tapes." Pick your source.

Hmmm. So, taping conversations without your "friend's" knowledge and later trying to cash in when that "friend" becomes President is not a good idea? And all it took to get that lesson across to Wead was the whole world calling him a slimeball!

Wead can spare the apologies. What did he expect would happen? The sad thing is, there isn't anything of great consequence on those tapes. Not that that won't stop the MSM from trying to seize on something to sully the President. Bottom line, the tapes are about as newsworthy as the revelation that Wead is sorry for releasing them.

With friends like this ...

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Once again I've been on the road. One thing I've discovered in my travels: There seems to be no corner of Kentucky that can escape the reach of ESPN Radio. With baseball starting up, the NBA approaching its trade deadline and College Basketball in the stretch run to March Madness there has been a lot of news.

Drew Bledsoe to the Cowboys: I really like this deal. It's one of those situations that feels like it will work well for everyone concerned. While he may not have lived up to his past hype, Bledsoe is a capable quarterback. What's more he's being reunited with Bill Parcells with whom he shared a Super Bowl appearance in New England.

Dallas is a much better team now, and Bledsoe's career might just be gaining its second wind.

Randy Moss to Oakland: This is one of those Raider crapshoots, and I'm skeptical. I don't know if Al Davis has lost his touch or if the economics of the league are too prohibitive, but gone are the vintage Raider-esque deals that had re-treads leading Oakland to glory in years past. These days Oakland's "bold" moves smack more of desperation than genius.

People may look at this deal and think that Moss fits the classic Raider mold. Wrong. Past Raider greats have been colorful and somewhat troubled off the field which is Moss for sure. But on Sunday afternoons they lined up and each gave 110% in playing as a ferocious team. There is no team in Moss.

On a more practical level, without Duante Culpepper pitching to him, Moss' game can only suffer.

Chris Webber to Philadelphia: This could be the juiciest transaction of the week, and I'm wondering why it isn't getting bigger coverage. Sacramento sends the guy who was the Cornerstone of the team's resurgance (although I'm not sure if they were ever good before so perhaps it was just a regular old surgance) to the city of brotherly love.

Webber being traded isn't a huge surprise. C-Webb and his massive contract were responsible for both the Kings' rise to Western Conference Championship level and their failure to go any further. Webber always seems to disappear in the clutch.

The elephant in the room here is a player who wasn't involved in the trade - Alan Iverson. AI is a great team player provided he is teamed up with guys who don't want to score, as he has been for the better part of his career. Webber enters Philly on a 20 ppg scoring pace. As long as the NBA continues to insist on playing with only one ball, this move isn't going to work.

I suspect the 76ers are setting up to deal Iverson in the off-season. I also suspect that once they get a look at Webber's post-season "fire," they won't know who to get rid of. Either way, I'll be very suprised of they enter the 2005-6 season with both of these guys still on the roster.

Kobe Bryant: I hope he's happy. Before he lacked "street cred." Now he lacks respect, any shred of potential for post-season success, endorsements, etc. Keep an eye on Amazon for Kobe's new book, "How to deflate your career in two years or less!"

North Carolina: I am so happy to see the 'Heels back in the hunt. This was everything I had hoped for back when they made their first overture to Roy Williams. Now they just need to give Duke a good smack!

Barry Bonds: Funny thing ... Jason Giambi is every bit as guilty as Bonds on the 'roid front. Yet the already likeable Giambi doesn't seem to have suffered one bit in the court of public opinion.

The difference? Giambi met the issue head on, dealt with it and is moving on. Bonds continues to play games, to deny, to downplay, to shift blame, and to exhibit all sorts of disengenuousness toward the fans and writers. Bonds already had image problems. Using steroids didn't help anything. If it's possible for his reputation to sink any lower, the way he's handling the current situation ought to do the trick.

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2005-02-22



I had Traffic School tonight. What an experience, and another opportunity to observe the fascinating behavior of folks in the group setting.

Group Dynamics in a Classroom Setting 101:

Lesson A: Seating

Up front are the "Brown-Nosers." They answer lots of questions and ask even more questions. During breaks ... well, what am I saying? There are no breaks for this crew. They gather at the soda machines still deep in the current discussion. Of course there are a couple of unfortunate souls who arrived too late to have a seating choice. By the end of the night, even they may assimilate.

Now this is all commendable stuff, in say ... the college setting. You're there to learn. But this is traffic school - a four-hour jail of a different color for those who can't control their accelerator foot. Don't fight it.

In back we have the wild bunch, or should I say, the wild bunch wannabes. Suddenly finding themselves in a group of 50 people who don't know them, they seize on the opportunity to become the cool, rowdy guy they always wished they had been in high school. This is a little hard to pull off in your mid-30's, but that's not stopping this gang.

In the rows between the front and back are those who just want this night to be over, and people like me who can't seem to do anything like this without finding something to hate on. Thankfully my table-mates have chosen the quiet pouting approach to this thing.

Lesson B: Class Flow

For the most part everyone starts out quiet and grumpy. Let's face it, it's Monday evening. Already one of the grumpiest times of the week, even when there is no Driver's Ed for Big People involved.

Behind me, one of the Wild Bunch is making his case for class BA. "Yeah, I've usually got those guys (police) pegged. That a***ole was hiding out and got me!" He'll later reveal that he's been to the class before (you can attend once per year in order to not be assessed points for a moving violation), so apparently he doesn't quite have them pegged as good as he thinks.

Eventually someone besides the teacher speaks up. Maybe to answer a question. Maybe to ask a question. Whatever the reason, once the ice is broken there is no going back. This fires up the 'nosers who will serve to draw out, ad nauseum, all subsequent points of discussion that will be covered in the class.

Once the floodgates of class participation have been opened, the dumb questions start. And yes! Contrary to motivational speaker-speak, there are dumb questions.

In a throwback to my college days, I instinctively abhor lame, mindless questions. Not that I'm totally against class participation. Quite the contrary, there is a lot be gained from active participation in the right setting. At Traffic School, we're just there to do our time. In college, every question forestalled the prospect of an early release, so they'd better be worthwhile. Here, I guess it didn't really matter. We were there til 10 either way. They could have asked, "How many chucks would a woodchuck chuck?" for all it mattered. Still, dumb is dumb. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

As the class draws to a close, some get sentimental. There is the inevitable, "You've been a great group," praise from the teacher. Tonight some clapped. What is that about? I repeat - this is Traffic School! And now it's over.

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2005-02-20



Speaking of Mark Cuban, I think I spotted a typo in this post on the impact of blown calls in the NBA. The post ends:
"Missed calls don’t balance out for teams over the course of a season. There are going to be teams that are going to feel like they can’t get a break and are snakebit with bad calls…

...and they just may be right.


I believe that last line was supposed to read, "...and they may just be right here in Dallas!" How those few words wound up on the cutting room floor is beyond me.

Actually it was a pretty even-handed piece. For a while I found myself wondering who was filling in for Cuban.

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Dallas Maverick's owner, Mark Cuban has been called a lot of things. Objective isn't one of them.

He recently weighed in on the plight of the NHL (for those who can't remember, back in the day the NHL was a league in which a game called "hockey" was played professionally). Go figure that he sided with the owners.

I happen to agree, but Mark Cuban siding with NHL owners is like public school teachers opposing vouchers. Spare us your "arguements." Logic had nothing to do with your position. And speaking of your position, we can guess yours at the outset so why bother at all?

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Over at Beyond Bullets, Cliff cites research that bullets in Power Point presentations are actually counter-productive. This post, based on research by educational psychology researcher, Dr. Richard E. Mayer, claims that retention improves by 28%, and application by a whopping 79% when text bullets matching the presentation's narration are removed.

Interesting piece, and it kind of makes sense to me, but ... Thanks alot! Now what is a PP novice to do?

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2005-02-19



As players begin trickling in for Spring Training, we look ahead and realize that this year could see Barry Bonds take Hank Aaron's place as the sport's slugging king, and Pete Rose's place as its prime villian. Such is the road MLB has mapped out for itself. A shining moment which should bring renewed interest and fan support will instead serve to intensify the debate over steroids and the legitimacy of every offensive milestone posted over the past decade.

In a recent poll commissioned by ESPN, only about 1 in 4 fans gave Bonds' claim that he was unaware he was being given steroids the benefit of the doubt. They were much more evenly divided on whether or not Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, comparisons to MLB's chief fallen angel, Pete Rose are becoming part of the discussion.

Personally, I'd give the nod to Rose before Bonds. Rose's sins, however, did not contribute to the on-field accomplishments that make him Hall material. Take away the gambling and Rose is still the all-time hits leader, and one of the best players in history. Take away the juice and Bonds is a declining slugger, a member of the 500-Home Run Club, and someone who has to annually choose between DH for an AL also-ran and retirement.

Enough of the comparison. Personally, I wouldn't put either man in the Hall. The actions of both men threaten the sport's integrity - integrity being what makes a game worth following. MLB is justified in doing anything and everything necessary to defend the foundation of its product. Problem is, in recent years those who are vested in the success of the game haven't taken this responsibility seriously.

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2005-02-16



I'm a little behind on Apprentice blogging due to a busy week and my main computer being in the shop right now, so here's last week's episode.

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
Apprentice 03.02 - The Motel from Hell
Apprentice 03.03 - Making a Nescafe Splash or Kerplunk?



Wow! Not much good to say about this week. Both teams were absolutely horrible and, in an Apprentice first, both wound up in the board room. My gut tells me that if Verna had not walked out last week, Trump probably would have fired one person from each team this week. But, every time you lose more than one person, you lose an episode. The Donald is all about the revenue.

Most episodes open with everyone in the suite waiting for the board room to end and trying to guess who will be fired. If you'll recall, last week Danny bucked the rules and brought an exempt Michael back into the board room. So this week we see Erin's certainty that Michael will be fired. Wishful thinking? How does someone so obtuse get through law school?

Michael may have survived last week's board room, but Magna was not about to let him off the hook. Bren had a frank, one-way talk with him about teamwork. This is one of the few things Bren will do right this week.

The Mission:
We're back at Donny Deutsch's again this season. Funny thing ... in season one it was Donny Who? This time the candidates were fired up to be working for DD. The Apprentice has been very good to this guy and vice versa. He's clearly great at what he does. I've got a post on his trainwreck of a talk show in the works.

DD wants each team to put together a 30-second commercial for Dove Body Wash. He urges the teams to view it as a 30-second film, because the typical commercial doesn't cut it anymore. "Blow me away!" The most creative will win.

Summary:
Magna goes with Bren's idea - a tawdry suggestive scene (complete with cucumber) that ends up with the guy leaving the girl, taking the body wash, and going home with his boyfriend! Once again an Apprentice team takes the low road, despite the fact that Trump and his right-hand woman Carolyn can not have made it more clear over the episodes how much they dislike that strategy.

The producers don't even try to leave us in suspense on this one. George, Trump's other helper immediately reacts: "They're going down the wrong track. I don't even think they have a track."

Over at Net Worth, the team embraces John's idea for a humorous commercial - runners running a marathon, periodically splashing water on their face, and one time one of the runners splashes the body wash on instead, then splashes water on and goes on to victory.

Erin takes a turn as PM for Magna. Noting that her boyfriend is a director, Kristen volunteers to be Net Worth's PM.

Magna actually worked pretty well together on this one. One trouble spot - the actors showed up on the set well over an hour before anyone from team Magna. Erin, having all the interpersonal fire of a coffee table, seemed clueless as to how to handle this. Bren's saved the day with strong people skills, and the shoot was on.

To their credit, Magna ditched scenes that were even more pornographic than their final product. They weren't totally oblivious to decorum.

Despite his promise to "re-adjust" at the beginning of the episode, Michael continues his abrasive ways. He is forgiven this time, however. First, he was right with all of his brash observations this week. He identified from the start that his team's idea was poor, and a loser. Second, despite his personal disagreement, he whole-heartedly supported his team's decision.

At Net Worth, Kristen's control-freak tendencies and her poor relationship with some members of her team came home to roost. In one vignette she openly admits that she prefers doing everything herself. Lack of B-School hurt Kristen in this one.

Kristen directs the commercial, relegating John, who had the vision for NW's spot, to working on the music. Again a crucial mistake.

Results:
Magna, dressed up like chefs (after the characters in their commercial) for their presentation. Here again Michael is blunt and correct in his criticism. DD's first comment to the team, "How can I take you seriously in those goofy hats?"

Magna executed well, and their commercial was faithful to Bren's vision. Unfortunately, that vision was horrible. It was humorous to watch Magna's obliviousness on this one. After watching this wretched commercial Erin turns proudly back to face DD & Company. Even if you couldn't figure out on your own how bad the spot was, the lack of a reaction from Donny should have tipped her off. This guy is all energy. When he sees something he likes, you know it.

Net Worth executed horribly on what was probably going to be a mediocre vision anyway. Kristen took John's idea and eliminated what made it not disgusting and way off target - the water! The image that stays with us: a runner with a dumb look on his sticky, body-wash covered face.

Neither spot is of any use to DD. Trump decides that there won't be a winner this week, and that both teams will appear in the board room.

In the board room, both PM's come under fire. When they try the stock, empty "I was a good leader, we all stuck together," crap, Trump reminds them that they did a horrible job. Erin brings Bren and Michael back to the board room. Bren because the obscene commercial was his brainchild, and Michael? Residual hatred from last week is my guess.

Kristen brings Audrey and Tana back to the board room for Net Worth. Kristen and Audrey have been at odds for a while, so there is a personal agenda. Kristen's strategy is to blame not using water with the body wash on the actors being difficult to work with. Audrey and Tana were charged with supervising the actors.

With no performance successes to hang their hat on, Magna wisely falls back on a basic Trump philosophy - they remain united while Net Worth attacks each other. Lest we give them too much credit, they simply picked up on the fact that the Donald was harshly criticizing Net Worth for their lack of unity.

To the very end of her Apprentice life we hear Kristen telling us what a great leader she is. Her actions have said otherwise and she is relegated to taking the elevator "to the street."

Analysis:
This one was a stinker. The viewer is left wondering if anyone is going to survive. In a season of firsts, will we get to the end and have Trump echoing Donny Deutsch's, "They both sucked!" as he finds himself unable to come up with even one positive in trying to pick a winner?

I don't know what got into Michael last week, but he was back on his game this time. He may be abrasive in dealing with his team, but his team is performing horribly. I wouldn't be surprised if Trump sees, "Doesn't play well with the rest of Team Magna" as a positive! I still think he has promise but needs to watch his step because he is obviously going to be a frequent board room target.

Kristen was the right person to fire this week. Rather than lead, she simply tried to take the whole task over and do it on her own. At that point we found that not only does she lack leadership, she also isn't very talented. But at the very end, when she got to share her final thoughts in the taxi cab, I became very thankful that she was heading off to the airport. She wouldn't shut up! Usually the loser will offer a couple quick thoughts. Danny sang a song. Kristen just went on and on about what a great leader she is. Lady! We've just spent an hour finding out that you couldn't be more wrong.

The jury is still out on the book-smarts vs. street-smarts. Magna can't seem to get their act together at all. But, at key moments, their intelligence and the perspective that comes with the educational process kicks in and serves them well. As mentioned their idea was flawed, but their execution was pretty good this week. The only question: how come only one or two of them were able to spot what a bad idea this was? Weed one or two more people out, and Magna could become very strong.

Net Worth is all over the board. When they are on, they're very good. When they are off, they are way off. And, at this point, their wild cards are wilder and more numerous than those on Team Magna. Net Worth should be hoping for a shake-up of the teams very soon.

Outlook:

These are all relative. I doubt that at this point Trump is looking at anyone on either of these teams and thinking, "Man! They are sharp!"

Strong:

John (NW) - Had his team's initial idea, but it doesn't count against him as the final product wasn't really his idea anyway. Continues to be a good team player with sound instincts and skills. Unfortunately it looks as though he doesn't have much of a team to work with. Needs to work on keeping his image in tact during this early craziness.

Alex (M) - We haven't seen a lot of Alex yet, and that becomes more of a winning strategy each week. This game is a minefield right now. Alex is keeping himself out of the spotlight. When you do notice him it is for something positive.

Close Behind:

Michael (M) - He does appear to have learned from last week. At the same time he's not hiding his thoughts and ideas which, it seems, are almost always correct. Give him one or two more weeks to let last week's debacle wear off (and perhaps for Magna to shed his haters) and he'll be back at the front of the pack on Team Magna.

Angie (NW) - She will shine on Net Worth. Last week she was the winning PM, and this week she kept herself out of trouble. The maturity and polish that she and John have is in great demand on Net Worth right now and will help them to continue to be seen in a positive light.

Neutral:

Tana (NW) - Has started to stand out from the pack a bit and shows some intelligence and promise. But, we still haven't seen enough to know if she's strong enough to excel on this problematic team.

Audrey (NW) - Likewise has started to separate from the pack, but in a less positive manner. Kristen's complained that Audrey was "dead weight," and we really haven't seen anything to suggest otherwise.

Tara, Craig (NW) - Still laying low. Once again, that may not be a bad idea.

Bren (M) - I still believe that Bren has some possibilities, but other than Kristen, he was probably hurt the most in this week's disaster. It was an idea that did in Team Magna and Bren was the architect of that idea. To his credit he owned up to it, and has demonstrated good skills and instincts on several other occasions.

Stephanie, Kendra (M) - We've had positive glimpses, but not much to go on yet.

Erin (M) - She got a little board room boost for her display of team unity, but still hasn't shown that she's got a lot to offer in this game. Plus, she's really kind of an airhead!

Board Room Bait:

Chris (NW) - How can you tell if Chris is saying something stupid? A: His lips are moving. For all of the negative attention he brings on himself with his mouth, he doesn't seem to have any positive action to offset it. I think eventually Trump will tell him that he needs to step up and that will be the beginning of the end of Chris.

Stick a Fork in Them:

Well, no one is at this level, or perhaps just about everyone is. Trump is not happy with either team right now. Magna especially. Though they dodged a bullet in the board room, this was the third time in the first four weeks that Magna has performed dismally. No one in the game can afford a big misstep right now.

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2005-02-15



What is it about elections that makes Democrats lose all reason? They're suffering enough in competitive races these days. They seem unable to find a Presidential candidate who is electable at both the Primary and General level. And now they have elected Howard Dean to take over the party machinery. This, by the way, is Dean's first election victory since his meaningless Missouri triumph.

By picking a northeastern liberal, the Dems appear to have not learned anything from the last election. So goes the common take on this. I'd say that more basically, they haven't learned anything from anything! Howard Dean was an absolute flop.

Sure, there are still plenty of causist Deaniacs around, ready and willing to follow the former Governor off of whatever cliffs he chooses. Over at blogforamerica the airhead comments and parroting of CNN talking points continues. In their world, were it not for the media overblowing "I have a scream," we'd all be united and happy-happy-joy-joy over President Howard's first weeks in office right now. Truth is, as he was exploding on that Iowa stage, the fatal blow had already been dealt and Dean was dead in the water.

There'll probably always be Deaniacs about, reminiscing the great revival of ought-four, just as there are still some hippies rolling around in VW vans, stuck in the 60's.

Problem is, for all of his incredible buzz, Dean failed miserably where it counted - at the ballot box. The promised hordes of invisible cell phone users never materialized. So, what do you do with someone who has proven unable to translate attention into votes? Why, make him your party chair, of course!

All I can say is ... Thank You! Thank you, for once again failing to seize on an opportunity to learn and grow. And thank you in advance, for the boundless entertainment this is going to provide over the next several years. It was truly sad to see Dean fade last spring. I hadn't even considered that there might be a way for Dean to stay in the spotlight for years and have the GOP benefit from it!

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Caught ESPN's hot "taking advantage of the poker craze" mini-series "Tilt!" last night. This has to be the smarmiest compilation of cliches and condescension ever assembled outside of a Tom Cruise action flick?

Were ESPN not striking while the iron is red-hot, this thing would have been DOA.

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2005-02-11



Over at Fastlane, GM Powertrain VP Tom Stephens stepped up and tried to inject a bit of substance with his discussion claiming to sort out the facts and myths surrounding fuel economy.

My response to Stephens' content in a moment. First let me reiterate my thoughts on Fastlane.

I prefer a little substance in a blog, so in my opinion this is worth a glance only if you've never checked out Fastlane before. No doubt you've heard of the blog - it was the darling of corporate blogs when it kicked off last month. This post, like all the others at Fastlane is little more than shallow, transparent GM self-promotion.

Mind you, I don't fault GM. They've already gotten far more mileage out of whatever they spent on this advertising than they would in other media. No one says a blog has to be substantive and objective. However, if those are things you cherish then you should ignore the Fastlane "buzz."

As to the piece on fuel economy.

Stephens' post was prompted by this comment in a previous post: "In view of rising gas prices, when is GM going to get off the gas guzzler wagon and start building, promoting, and selling more fuel efficient vehicles?"

To that question, little discussion was necessary. A simple, "When people stop buying them, stupid!" would have been much more honest and to the point.

However, Stephens did go on to defend GM's fuel efficiency honor, citing carefully selected facts and building a "we're better than most," defense. The Fastlane following didn't like it, but it was about all that could be expected given the circumstances. What's he going to say, "Yeah, the fuel economy on our average vehicle is pretty shabby?"

In another life, Stephens could be a Scandinavian mayor: "Welcome to the warmest city in Norway!"

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2005-02-09



Massachusetts is becoming the proving ground for the disasters of political correctness run amock. Tom Mountain of the Newton Tab had this commentary on the Newton Public School District where teaching math is no longer a math teacher's primary objective.

What is a Newton Math Teacher's #1 priority?
"Respect for Human Differences - students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors. Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others..."
Now these are noble ideas, and I hope that they are on display in the classrooms at Newton. But if I were a Newton parent, when the math teacher gets up to teach, they'd better be teaching math! In my personal opinion, Math and English are critical components of education at all levels and, once again, if it were my kids I'd be none too happy about even a moment of teaching time wasted.

The results: Newton 6th-graders are clearly and significantly underperforming all other Mass. districts in standardized math tests. Nearly one-third of their sixth-graders are at a failing level in math. So bad is the problem that one of the Middle Schools in this, one of the wealthiest areas of the state now is in danger of being placed under the Federal "No Child Left Behind Act."
"When a school department determines that ideology should take priority over academics, standardized test scores gradually decline and educational standards suffer. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time for the decline to take its inevitable course."
The decline? Newton has slid from #7 in their state to #35 over the last five years.

When will people get it? When you reach out a hand, are you seeking to lift others up, or push them down? Then again, what should we expect from the state that give us Kennedy and Kerry, who aren't actually for anything other than throwing stones at what they're against. To gladly forego quality education in favor of promoting a blissful, but impossible existence where inequality is no more is madness. People are different. Get over it.

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2005-02-07



OK people, this one gets me and I'm seeing it more and more.

YOU + ARE = YOU'RE

You are welcome = You're welcome
You are in luck = You're in luck

YOUR, on the other hand, means belonging to you. I can't really do the equation thing because "your" isn't the OBVIOUS combination of two words like YOU'RE is.

examples:

Your bicycle
Your house
Your brain appears to be turned of if you're writing "your welcome." Can we at least make a little effort here?

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Generally I don't like to blog on things that everyone is covering unless I have something unique to add to the equation. I doubt this is the case with the Super Bowl, but ... it is the Super Bowl, so a few brief thoughts ...

- The key to the Patriots' tremendous success isn't overwhelming football talent, nor a top flight quarterback. It isn't even Bellicheck's mad genius coaching. The key is simply that they don't make mistakes. Once again yesterday, New England was able to conquer a foe capable of beating them by simply sitting back and letting the Eagles out-mistake them.

- Some will think I was talking about interceptions and fumbles there. That was part of it. But Philadelphia's main failing, besides not appearing to have a clear game plan for a while, was basic game management. It doesn't take talent or keen football instincts to figure out that when you are under two minutes and down by 10, you can't burn clock while trying to decide whether or not you want to huddle up. And even with all of that, Philadelphia had hope right up to the point where they prematurely decided to go for an onside kick. Apparently being short on time wasn't enough - the Eagles wanted to destroy their field position as well.

- Today folks will be talking about flashy catches and dramatic scoring plays. But the Patriots' ability to routinely run off 7-8 yard runs on 1st and 2nd down was their bread and butter in this game. The key to avoiding mistakes is keeping out of situations that lead to taking the risks which lead to mistakes. New England did this. Philadelphia did not.

- Hats off to FOX and Paul McCartney on the halftime show. Sure, I thought all the laser effects and what-not were still overdone. But, it was all presented in such a way that someone who doesn't care about all that crap could still enjoy it.

A special thanks to McCartney for just doing what people want to hear most from Paul McCartney - classic Beatles and Wings tunes. He resisted the urge to do his lesser known works, or to cover the creations of others. And he and his band didn't fix what wasn't broke, instead keeping the songs true to their original style. In short, McCartney and Co. avoided all the stupid things performers do when they've got a huge, but captive, audience.

As for FOX, more success. People will chalk up the FOX juggernaut to ideology or style. I'd say they are just good business people. They know and are good about feeding their audience.

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2005-02-05



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
Apprentice 03.02 - The Motel from Hell


I had forgotten what the early weeks of Apprentice are like. At the beginning it's all about weeding out the candidates that don't belong there in the first place. Unfortunately you come into the show having recently followed last season's closing weeks where the real talent is.

To recap: In week one, Net Worth had it all together and enjoyed a solid win, while Magna was divided and in chaos. Last week, Magna worked well together and won big while Net Worth couldn't seem to stop fighting. This week we were back to the week one format with a smooth Net Worth and disarray at team Magna.

There were fireworks even before we found out what the mission was. Verna, who took flight last week, is back and apparently spent much of the next day in bed as Danny tried to bolster her spirits. Despite appearances to the contrary, Verna whispered (because she didn't seem to have the strength to talk) "I definitely have inner strength to stay here and stick with this." I've got to admit, I hate that "inner strength" line of b.s. It's one of those touchy-feely things people trot out when they don't want to offer anything tangible.

Danny mobilizes a "support group!" An Apprentice first, and hopefully last. The "Unbelievable" guy continues to demonstrate that he just really doesn't get the Apprentice. "We're here to support Verna in whatever you do." He goes on to tell her that if she wants to stay home and not participate in tomorrow's mission, "that's OK!" This outrageousness finally inspired the rest of the team to abandon the politeness they displayed when Verna returned last week and let her have it. To echo them ... What's the Point! If you're not going to do the missions why are you here?

Verna left, which is a little diappointing. I would love to have seen how Trump would handle someone calling in "sick."

The Mission: Each group is given a budget and must execute a marketing event for Nescafe. The winner will be the team that creates the most "buzz" and excitement as evaluated by two reps from Nestle.

Summary: Bren nominated Danny to take charge of this one at team Magna. After all, it's a marketing task and Danny is the creative, "out of the box" guy. Unfortunately, as in previous weeks, when given a task any more detailed and important than "go paint a room," Danny doesn't even seem to know what to do or how to attack things.

Michael, holding an exemption as last week's winning PM suggested a European cafe theme. This was the first and last constructive bit that he would offer his team this week. He rode his exemption hard, being a thorn in Magna's side at every turn. At his best this week he was doing nothing. At his worst he was actually detracting from the team's efforts.

Meanwhile, Angie volunteered to be PM for Net Worth and the group seemed fine with this. The team quickly came up with an "All American" theme and set to work mapping out a public event that would follow this theme.

Both teams were competing for the attention and taste buds of the average person walking around their area of New York that day. To get and keep attention, both went with giveaways. Net Worth had a drawing for $10,000. To be included in the drawing a person simply had to taste one of Nescafes hot or cold choices. Magna gave away iPods every hour.

Magna never really was able to come up with a distinct theme, or attention-grabbing idea. Early on they hired an event planner for $50K - the lion's share of their budget. But not early enough. Stephanie tracked down a planner and got the quote. But when it came time to pull the trigger on hiring the planner, Danny balked, tried to take a vote, and then finally hired the firm at the last second.

Net Worth's event was a smash. People enjoyed themselves and stuck around to take in the Nescafe promotion, including the All-American hot vs. cold debate.

For Magna, even through the execution of their event there was little unity, llitte coordination, and anything of value was being done by the firm they hired, not by their team.

Results:
The guys from Nescafe weren't nearly as dynamic as a lot of the guests Trump rounds up for his missions. They felt that both teams had gotten out their premium brand message, but that Net Worth "took it to another level" and came up with a creative idea.

Net Worth won and was rewarded with a luxury helicopter ride around New York complete with champagne.

Magna united in the decision to ignore Michael's exemption and push him for firing. While Trump gave that idea some ear time he never backed off of his stance that Michael had an exemption. When questioned and in debate, most of the group conceeded that Danny was responsible for the loss, but felt that Michael's general lack of integrity in abusing his exemption over-rode that and warranted immediate firing. Stephanie was most vocal in her criticism of Danny for being unable to make timely decisions.

Danny brought Michael and Stephanie back into the board room, and essentially moved himself into checkmate with this decision. Trump and Co. wouldn't consider Michael for firing because he was exempt, and Stephanie, while being part of a losing team, was nowhere near as cupable in this loss as Danny was. I don't know if the results would have been different if he had chosen someone else, but Danny left the Donald no alternatives to firing him, and joined Verna as a week 3 casualty.

Analysis:
Magna is two members short now, but much stronger. In Danny and Verna they got rid of their two most unpredictable, unreliable players. Unfortunately, in the process they outed another problem in Michael. More on this later.

What was Verna doing on this show? From what we saw, I think her problems go beyond "just couldn't hack it." She displayed signs of a chemical imbalance, perhaps even clinical depression. As to her dramatic, "I realize what's involved in walking out at the 11th hour ..." line. 11th hour? Lady! The sun is just rising on this game. You're out before you were ever in.

I've got to admit that I'm liking Bren more and more each week. He hasn't had the opportunity to do anything significant yet, but his insights are almost always spot on. I'm very curious about his putting Danny up to be PM. If it was, as he said, because he thought Danny was the logical marketing guy, then perhaps I'm overestimating how bright Bren is. But I suspect this could have been the Sam gambit (season 1) where you take your loose cannon and put them in a position where they have to show their cards. If they have the goods they'll deliver a win. If not, they are in a position where they'll likely be fired.

For Net Worth, was Brian the disunity catalyst? Last week there were smaller pockets of division on the team that didn't involve Brian. None of them were present this week as the team once again united behind their leader and attacked their task in coordinated and inspired fashion. It certainly appears that getting rid of Brian was huge for this team. I suspect that there are one or two pretenders (maybe Craig) hiding out under the radar right now. But as a team Net Worth is looking good once again.

I don't really understand Michael's thinking this week. In the board room he contended that the team rejecting his European cafe idea was what put him on the sideline in this one. It was obvious from the start that he wasn't taking this mission seriously. That is disappointingly short-sighted thinking. The fact that you can't be fired this week doesn't mean you won't still be creating impressions in the mind of Trump, Carolyn and George. The exemption doesn't mean that your actions will cease to affect your relationship and ability to work with the other members of your team - something that is key week in and week out. Michael may not have been fired this week, but he is now Public Enemy No. 1 on team Magna.

We didn't see a lot from Alex in this one, but he continues to be one of my favorites. When Danny was trying to take a vote on the event planner, Alex rightly confronted him and told him to make a decision.

I can't say I totally blame Magna for trying to usurp the exemption and take out Michael. After all, it wouldn't have been the first time that Trump deviated from the show's format. But they should have thought better of it for a couple of reasons:

1. Michael was not the cause of the team's failure in this mission. By now you have to know that the first thing the Donald looks at is who is responsible for the loss. And when it is as clear is it was this week, the person who is responsible is going down. Caused a failure beats out generally bad every time. Another thing to remember is, Trump is constantly evaluating you. Even in the board room he is looking at each player's instincts in how well they are able to assess the failure and its causes. Only Stephanie helped herself out by being able to identify Danny as the cause of the failure and to cite specific reasons why. Everyone else was too wrapped up in the Michael crusade to take advantage of an opportunity to show intelligence even in the face of failure.

2. If you think it through, it is unlikely that Trump would fire someone with exemption. This designation is intended as a reward to inspire candidates to step up and be Project Manager. The first time you fire an exempt player it loses much of its allure.

My gut tells me that Danny's success in business outside the Apprentice has resulted largely from him taking the path of least resistance and maintaining an aura of ultra-creativity. It's the "I'm not lazy, un-focused and lacking in direction - I'm really so brilliant that you can't even see or understand how brilliant I am," model. Clearly he was on the Apprentice for entertainment value. Twice he was put in positions where he was assigned a critical and specific task, albeit ones which should have played right into his "creativity." In each case he falied miserably and demonstrated not only no leadership, but also no creativiy and no real business talent.

For all of his bull-headedness, Michael hit the nail on the head: "Danny is not a great advertising person or a great leader." It only took two devastating losses for Magna to realize this.

I say devastating because the damage in this loss goes beyond having to appear in the board room and lose a member. Magna has once again shown Mr. Trump chaos, disorganization and disunity. This loss took each member down a notch in the esteem of the Donald and his team.

Outlook:

As we are seeing, these early weeks are a minefield and full of unexpected turns. We don't know much about several players yet, and there's no shame in that. Laying low while the wild cards are sorted out isn't a bad idea.

Strong:

John (NW) - John is the only player in the game who has performed exceptionally well in a leadership role and not, at other times, done or said something blatantly stupid to tarnish that image.

Close Behind:

Alex, Bren (M) - Both guys seem to consistently have good insights, but haven't had the chance to step into a primary role yet. My guess is that Alex is going to go far in this game, and Bren has that potential as well.

Neutral:

Angie (NW) - NW's win this week was all team effort. Angie performed well as PM, but for NW that role was not pivotal this week. I still sense some weakness in Angie.
Kristen (NW) - She has potential, but also some interpersonal and style issues with other members of her team which could be her undoing.
Audray, Tara, Tana, Craig (NW) - All were commendable parts of the team this week, but we still haven't gotten to see or hear enough of them to make an evaluation.
Stephanie (M) - Twice she has been in a visible role, and twice she has been thwarted by Danny's poor leadership. Shows some good insight. Now that Danny is gone, she'll probably become the team's designated Marketing / Creative guru so we should get to see her worth very soon.
Kendra (M) - She has shown a couple moments of intelligence but we just haven't gotten to see that much of her.

Not Helping Their Own Cause:

Chris (NW) - He actually had some good insights this week. But! His tendency to shoot from the mouth without thinking is becoming more and more apparent each week. That can be a fatal habit.
Erin (M) - Confronting Verna was the first and only level-headed contribution she has made that we've been able to see. She continues to come off as a brat with little to offer the team. She was a key player in the board room assault on Michael - thus another opportunity to demonstrate original and clear thinking was lost.
Michael (M) - He came out of last week looking like a champion and managed to fritter that whole gain away in one week. He's not "stick a fork in him" because, having been PM last week, he is not likely to be PM and not likely to be the cause of a team failure any time in the near future. So, he's got time to regroup, but he must act quickly to smooth over relations with his fellow team members.

Stick a Fork in Them:

There really isn't anyone who is beyond saving right now. Michael is close, and if he were to somehow wind up in the board room next week after having been in a position of responsibility his chances would be slim. But, as mentioned above, he'll probably be able to duck out of the line of fire for a couple of weeks.

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2005-02-04



At a seminar last week there were 200 of us over at the Marriott. Here's what I'm trying to figure out: Does being in a group setting like that create idiots, or simply reveal them.

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What a crazy couple of weeks! Lots of seminars, training, and trips on the work front, rehearsals at church, etc., etc. It seems that every night I get home just in time to pass out.

I had been trying out a cool app, AvantBlog, that would help me fire off posts in my spare moments away from the web. It's an AvantGo channel for Blogger blogs which lets you make entries on the go, then posts them the next time you synch.

It wasn't until I was sitting in the middle of a particularly dry seminar last week that I realized I needed to synch my Blogger username and pw before using AvantBlog.

Now that I have that taken care of, a couple of my usb devices are not getting along with each other and have taken out my usb ports. This is really a Windows thing, although to avoid responsibility Gateway support would have you believe that when six usb devices all stop working at the same time, the problem is each of the devices, and not the usb controller.

Anyway, there is plenty of info out there to confirm that this, the usb ports not "waking up" when your notebook comes out of hibernation, is not an uncommon problem. The cure is a little more elusive.

I solved this once by flashing my BIOS. Now that that the BIOS is current however, my flash utility won't let me re-flash, and really that's probably best. Brain surgery isn't the way to fix a sprained ankle.

I've found a couple of things to try before I resort to MS customer support. We'll see how it goes.

Anyway ... time to start catching up on random thoughts from the past week or so.

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It's rare for a boxer to live so long, but after 99 years of life, German former heavyweight boxing legend Max Schmeling has died.

This story caught my eye, not because I'm a huge Max Schmeling fan, or even a fan of boxing in general. Not in the least.

Schmeling is familiar to me because he is the answer to a number of "Sports and Leisure" questions in the very first edition of Trivial Pursuit. How many times did I land on the end of that spoke on the TP board, confident that if nothing else, surely I'd be able to pick up the orangish-red piece of pie, only to have my hopes dashed by a Max Schmeling question!?

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