13 October 2009 @ 6:22PM >>
Months before Barack Obama formally accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, the name “Obama” was already being stamped on or sewn into objects of every type, and these objects could be purchased just about anywhere you happened to be standing. Keychains, buttons, hats, t-shirts were all readily available. I saw Obama skateboards and heard rumors of Obama bongs. Eventually, companies usually seen selling things like pewter gnomes and porcelain kittens got into the game, hawking commemorative coins and Obama dinner plates on late-night cable shows.
21 July 2009 @ 7:06PM >>
Earlier today, my hosting provider, OpenHosting, notified me that Brain-Terminal.com had come under a denial-of-service attack and was knocked offline for several hours.
The source of the attack isn’t yet clear, but it has subsided and service has been restored for the time being.
I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if the attack resumed later. So, please forgive any site instability in the coming hours and days.
One bright spot out of all of this is that I discovered my hosting provider has stunningly good service. I’ve been with OpenHosting for a number of years, and the service has been remarkably stable. And today, OpenHosting’s support personnel responded very quickly, providing detailed technical assistance along the way.
I’ve used many hosting providers over the years, and I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain level of service (that level of service being “not very good”). My experiences with OpenHosting have been far better than with any other vendor.
Bad service is a pet peeve of mine, and I’m often quick to criticize businesses that treat customers poorly or don’t live up to their promises. It’s nice to know that, every once in a while, I run across a company whose service is worthy of praise.
14 July 2009 @ 9:11AM >>
This weekend, while walking around NYC, I noticed a couple more propaganda posters put up by members of the Cult of Obama.
The first, “Siddhartha Obama,” is a large mural on the side of a building in Chelsea. It shows Obama as The Enlightened One holding solar panels, and features Dick Cheney popping out of a stars-and-stripes-painted Hummer and gas pumps bearing the Republican Party logo sitting atop coffins draped in American flags.
Whatever words you can use to describe these cult members, “subtle” is not one of them.
The second propaganda display was spotted inside the Blades board and skate store on Broadway near Great Jones. Adorned with pictures of Barack, Michelle and the campaign logo, it says simply, “Obey.”
“Siddhartha Obama” appears on a wall outside an art gallery, which is at least an understandable venue for over-the-top Obama worship; it’s almost a job requirement for artists that they be driven purely by emotion. The political naivete of assuming one politician will be Our Savior is the sort of thinking artists are almost expected to adopt.
But I find it strange that businesses keep attaching themselves to the Obama Cult, because in theory, they should want to minimize the number of customers they drive away with partisan propaganda.
Then again, in America today, as government takes over more and more companies and tightens regulatory control on the rest, customers matter less and less to companies.
“The customer is never wrong” is last century’s business maxim. Now, it’s “the government is never wrong.” So maybe companies are just making business calculations and deciding that it’s smart to make a public spectacle of their allegiance to Obama.
29 June 2009 @ 8:41AM >>PC Worldreports on a significant development in the evolution of new media:
A tectonic shift has taken place for the digital age: ad rates for popular shows like The Simpsons and CSI are higher online than they are on prime-time TV. If a company wants to run ads alongside an episode of The Simpsons on Hulu or TV.com it will cost the advertiser about $60 per thousand viewers, according to Bloomberg. On prime-time TV that same ad will cost somewhere between $20 and $40 per thousand viewers.
Online viewers have to actively seek out the program they want to watch, so advertisers end up with a guaranteed audience for their commercial every time someone clicks play on Hulu or TV.com. Online programs also have an average of 37 seconds of commercials during an episode, while prime-time TV averages nine minutes of ads.
David Poltrack, chief research officer at New York-based CBS, cited a Neilsen discovery that fewer online ads means viewers are twice as likely to remember a commercial they’ve seen on Hulu than on television, Bloomberg reported.
Despite higher ad rates, online viewing is not about to save television from declining ad rates and viewerships, because online sites like Hulu and TV.com do not yet have wide enough audiences to replace television viewers. Consider that 17.6 million people crowded around TV sets on April 6 to watch this year’s NCAA basketball championship, while online viewing for the entire March Madness tournament leading up to the championship game came to only 7.52 million viewers. The online audience simply isn’t there yet.
Even though the audience is small, higher online ad rates for The Simpsons means the digital ceiling has been broken. In the future, as more people gravitate toward on-demand Internet viewing, it’s entirely possible sites like Hulu and TV.com might, just might, replace traditional television viewing.
It’s interesting to note that sites like Hulu and TV.com are becoming successful simply by dusting off an old format and making it more palatable for online audiences. Instead of loading up shows with commercials, just throw in a few ad spots here and there. Instead of running shows at a specific time, put them online for a limited run and let people enjoy them at their leisure.
Reviving an old format is exactly what Apple did with the iTunes Store, an another online success story. Instead of going for subscriptions or some other newly-thought-out pay format, Apple just did away with the physical store, while still selling people something they could take home — a digital file instead of a CD or LP. There are some who object to buying digital music, since some prefer the tactile feel of having an album with cover art and liner notes. The quality of sound you get from digital files versus a CD has also been pointed out as a drawback. But the success and widespread adoption of the iTunes Store shows that a large segment of people are happy with Apple’s digital retail model.
24 June 2009 @ 8:50AM >>The Wall Street Journalreports:
The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.
Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.
Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.
The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.
The “monitoring center,” installed within the government’s telecom monopoly, was part of a larger contract with Iran that included mobile-phone networking technology, Mr. Roome said.
“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” said Mr. Roome.
Human-rights groups have criticized the selling of such equipment to Iran and other regimes considered repressive, because it can be used to crack down on dissent, as evidenced in the Iran crisis. Asked about selling such equipment to a government like Iran’s, Mr. Roome of Nokia Siemens Networks said the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.”
19 June 2009 @ 8:24AM >>
Remember when passing the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan was vital to saving the republic? The administration made all sorts of projections intended to demonstrate the necessity of their plan.
Well, now we’ve got a few months of data, so we can see how their plans panned out.
This chart shows Obama’s unemployment projections without the stimulus (the light blue line) and with the stimulus (dark blue line). Actual unemployment figures are shown as red dots:
Why should the government tax unskilled workers making $18 an hour, who haven’t bankrupted their employers, in order to protect unskilled workers making $28 an hour, and who have bankrupted their employers, from having to take a pay cut?
29 May 2009 @ 6:47PM >>
The recent post on the FDA’s regulation of Cheerios as a drug generated a lot of e-mail from readers. Last week, I posted a well-reasoned disagreement with my view on the matter.
Here are a couple more responses:
Maybe the cholesterol lowering qualities are not the result of the Cheerios themselves, but the fact that the person eating Cheerios for breakfast is not eating a food that might increase one’s cholesterol level, i.e. bacon. Would the FDA be justified in stepping in then? I have to imagine if you had a side of bacon (a few slices) with your Cheerios everyday, your cholesterol would not be lower by 4% in 6 weeks. To me this is common sense. Unfortunately, there are too many people out there who have given up thinking for themselves and are reliant upon others telling them what is good and what is bad. Enter the Nanny-state.
I just want to encourage you concerning your take on the FDA regulating Cheerios like a drug. It seems as though we as a nation have completely lost all common sense, and I can hardly take it anymore.
Is it really a revelation that food affects health? Before we became a nation of pill popping hypochondriacs, how do you think we consumed beneficial nutrients?
Since Cheerios might be able to make health claims, and therefore should be treated like a drug, it makes sense that the FDA should also treat milk like a drug, and investigate those potentially spurrious claims that it “does a body good”. Several years ago, there was an opinion that eggs increased cholesterol. Should the FDA have classified eggs as a harmful drug? Where does it end?
Food products are already regulated to require the disclosure of ingredient lists and nutritional information. Any nutritional scientist can consume the information already required of a food manufacturer and conclude potential health benefits and risks. If a product contains 3000mg of sodium per serving, for example, does it really take a clinical study to determine that it is not heart-healthy? You could not use the same method to evaluate Ambien or Prosac.
Of course, I am making my argument based on common sense. Since common sense is rapidly going out of style, perhaps I should just concede. Let’s treat anything healthy like a drug, just to make sure everyone is “safe”. Calling my doctor now to stock up on prescriptions for citrus - need that vitamin C.
21 May 2009 @ 8:44AM >>
Once again, it seems that the people who follow the rules and pay on time are going to get stuck with the bill for those who don’t:
Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.
Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.
Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.
“It will be a different business,” said Edward L. Yingling, the chief executive of the American Bankers Association, which has been lobbying Congress for more lenient legislation on behalf of the nation’s biggest banks. “Those that manage their credit well will in some degree subsidize those that have credit problems.”
I am very libertarian when it comes to limiting the control of the federal government. I do not believe the government should regulate individual and ordinary decisions of regular citizens. In the game of life, the government’s role should not be deciding where to move the pieces.
However, the government must act as Milton Bradley and set the rules that make it possible to play the game fairly. Rules such as antitrust laws, banking regulations, and criminal penalties are necessary to ensure the People don’t get screwed in one form or another by other people or businesses who take too much control, engage in fraudulent behavior, or try to otherwise gouge or mislead a consumer.
With regard to your article specifically, it appears that your argument for why the FDA’s decision is a bad one, is that the government is just trying to enforce a rule for the sake of enforcing a rule and engaging in “nanny” behavior.
While I agree that the government, especially as of late, has been engaging more and more in parental decision-making, I think the actions taken by the FDA are correct. The problem isn’t that “idiots might get confused and mistake a bowl of Cheerios for a pile of Lipitor.” The real problem is that the FDA cannot set a precedent of letting products be advertised as giving specific health benefits without meeting the rigorous FDA standards established for that type of advertising.
I’m assuming here that the FDA did not approve the so-called “clinical study” that was done by General Mills, a company who does not do “clinical studies” on a regular basis. If such a precedent were to be set, herbal supplement companies could make specific claims about their products (more specific and more often than they already do) that were not correctly tested.
This decision by the FDA is a difficult one, I must say. I don’t believe there would even be an argument if this scenario were more like an herbal supplement company stating that the ingredients in the supplement will guarantee on average a 10% weight loss and 14% muscle gain, but those studies were based only on clinical trials conducted on lab rats, and the results only counted the rats who were left living after the study was over.
But the sad truth is, even though this is a children’s cereal that is practically an institution among breakfast foods (and late night desserts, as you have pointed out), the rules are in place to prevent harm to the consumer in the face of bad studies. If Cheerios conducted an FDA approved study and it was found that the decrease in cholesterol was negligible and it actually increased the likelihood of testicular cancer in young men, you would likely be changing your tone about this “nanny” decision.
Thank you for your time, and please keep writing your wonderful blog entries. While I had to say something against this entry, I am often pleased by what you have to say.
Thanks for the e-mail, Blake. I think you have a good point with respect to herbal supplements. However, I think the Cheerios case is different in one key respect.
Herbal supplements are intended to improve someone’s health or state of mind. That’s the only reason people buy herbal supplements: to consume them like medication. So regulating them like a drug makes sense to me.
But the original and primary function of Cheerios to fill the stomach and provide the body with energy. Cheerios is tasty, and that’s a nice side-benefit, as is the apparent cholesterol-lowering power. But such benefits are secondary.
Now, if General Mills is making claims about Cheerios that are false, that’s a much more defensible case for government regulation. But in the reporting I’ve seen, nobody disputes the health claims made by General Mills. I haven’t seen anyone question the legitimacy of the studies about Cheerios cholesterol-lowering properties.
So why, then, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the government?
Before regulating Cheerios like a drug, why doesn’t the government first commission its own independent study and see if the claims about Cheerios are false?
That seems reasonable to me, and it would certainly constitute far less government interference in private enterprise.
That’s my take on it, although I could be wrong. The media reports on this story haven’t exactly been paragons of clarity.
Update: In another report, it seems the FDA is questioning the claims of General Mills: “We certainly don’t have any issues with the safety of Cheerios,” Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in an interview today. “We just believe that the labeling on this particular product has gone beyond what the science supports.”
The FDA has sent a warning letter to General Mills, telling the company that its claims about the health benefits of eating Cheerios “would cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease.”
The problem: Cheerios are a food not a drug, the FDA notes in the letter, which was sent May 5 but was posted on the agency’s website today. Thus, claims that the 68-year-old whole-grain oat cereal lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer violates federal law, the agency said.
The FDA was particularly unhappy about assertions on Cheerios boxes and its website that eating the cereal can “lower your cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks.” The FDA counters that the cereal must be approved as a drug before making such specific health claims.
General Mills spokesman Tom Forsythe said the cholesterol-lowering claim has been featured on the Cheerios box for more than two years and that the heart health claim was approved by the FDA 12 years ago. On April 20, General Mills announced results of a clinical study that showed eating two daily servings of Cheerios (1 1/2 cups each) can reduce cholesterol 10% in just a month.
“The science is not in question,” he said. “The scientific body of evidence supporting the heart health claim was the basis for FDA’s approval of the heart health claim, and the clinical study supporting Cheerios’ cholesterol-lowering benefits is very strong.”
Forsythe said the company looks forward “to discussing this with the FDA and to reaching a resolution.” General Mills faces seizure of products or an injunction against making and distributing Cheerios.
As the Los Angeles Times reports the story, it seems that the government’s complaint about the cholesterol claim isn’t that it is false. The problem, according to the FDA, is that because Cheerios is effective at lowering cholesterol, idiots might get confused and mistake a bowl of Cheerios for a pile of Lipitor.
According to government regulations, if Cheerios provides the health benefits claimed, that fact itself is all that’s needed for the government to treat it as a drug. Nevermind that it isn’t a drug. Nevermind that, for decades, schoolchildren have understood that Cheerios is food. Nevermind that. This is the government and the rules must be enforced, common sense be damned.
Anyone who looks at a box of Cheerios and sees a product “intended for use in the prevention, mitigation and treatment of disease” is the type of person whose mortgage I’ll end up paying someday. So screw him. If he can’t distinguish between cereal and medication, then let him get ripped off for that $5 a week habit, I say. Consider it stimulus by stupidity.
After all, what’s good for General Mills is good for America.
11 May 2009 @ 8:27AM >>
Chrysler, the car company that will soon be owned by the federal government and the powerful union partially responsible for driving the company into the ground, is no longer honoring “lemon law” settlements to buyers of bad cars:
Chrysler’s bankruptcy is throwing a wrench into California’s lemon law, which is intended to make it easier for consumers to get refunds for defective vehicles. As the automaker’s bankruptcy grinds away, settlement checks from Chrysler to unhappy car buyers are bouncing and complaints are stymied in and out of court.
Consumer advocates say the situation could erode public confidence in buying new cars at precisely the time the automakers need customers in their showrooms. And Chrysler says it has yet to do anything to resolve the issue.
State lemon laws, such as the one passed by California in the early 1980s, make it easier for consumers to get refunds for defective vehicles that are still covered by a manufacturer’s warranty.
Under the California law, new or used vehicles that have a defect that can’t be repaired after four attempts — or two, in the case of life-threatening defects — or that have been out of service for 30 days during the warranty period may be designated “lemons.” That triggers an obligation for the manufacturer to either pay the owner a cash settlement or buy back the vehicle.
Alex Simanovsky, an Atlanta attorney whose firm handles lemon law cases in California and other states, said he had “a stack of six or seven checks in my drawer right now from Chrysler that have bounced.” The amounts range from $2,000 to $3,000 for clients who were accepting cash payments to as much as $40,000 in cases where Chrysler agreed to repurchase the vehicle.
San Diego attorney Ellen Turnage represents a client who reached a settlement with Chrysler over a 2006 Dodge Magnum with a bad suspension. The car has been returned to Chrysler, but the automaker’s check bounced.
“Now he’s got no car and no money, so he can’t go buy a new one,” Turnage said of her client. “He’s stuck. We’re hanging on to a glimmer of hope that at some point this will all be resolved.”
Apparently, the Obama administration doesn’t mind seeing Chrysler’s customers screwed, probably for the same reason that they don’t mind seeing Chrysler’s lenders get screwed. The only important thing is that the United Auto Workers union gets its big payoff for their vigorous support of Obama’s candidacy.
Unfortunately, the lesson consumers may draw from this story is, don’t buy cars from an American car company.
6 May 2009 @ 9:29AM >>
History is rife with examples of mafia ties to labor unions. Now, President Obama is using mafia tactics to steal from bondholders and give the loot to one of his biggest source of campaign funds, labor unions:
The President has just harshly castigated hedge fund managers for being unwilling to take his administration’s bid for their Chrysler bonds. He called them “speculators” who were “refusing to sacrifice like everyone else” and who wanted “to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout.”
The President and his team sought to avoid having Chrysler go [the normal bankruptcy] process, proposing their own plan for re-organizing the company and partially paying off Chrysler’s creditors. Some bond holders thought this plan unfair. Specifically, they thought it unfairly favored the United Auto Workers, and unfairly paid bondholders less than they would get in bankruptcy court. So, they said no to the plan and decided, as is their right, to take their chances in the bankruptcy process. But, as his quotes above show, the President thought they were being unpatriotic or worse.
The President’s attempted diktat takes money from bondholders and gives it to a labor union that delivers money and votes for him. Why is he not calling on his party to “sacrifice” some campaign contributions, and votes, for the greater good? Shaking down lenders for the benefit of political donors is recycled corruption and abuse of power.
Creditors to Chrysler describe negotiations with the company and the Obama administration as “a farce,” saying the administration was bent on forcing their hands using hardball tactics and threats.
Conversations with administration officials left them expecting that they would be politically targeted, two participants in the negotiations said.
Although the focus has so been on allegations that the White House threatened Perella Weinberg, sources familiar with the matter say that other firms felt they were threatened as well. None of the sources would agree to speak except on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of political repercussions.
The sources, who represent creditors to Chrysler, say they were taken aback by the hardball tactics that the Obama administration employed to cajole them into acquiescing to plans to restructure Chrysler. One person described the administration as the most shocking “end justifies the means” group they have ever encountered. Another characterized Obama was “the most dangerous smooth talker on the planet- and I knew Kissinger.” Both were voters for Obama in the last election.
It’s interesting that President Obama only uses these mafia-like tactics with fellow law-abiding citizens whose only “crime” is finding themselves opposed to Obama on one issue or another.
When it comes to thugs like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez, suddenly Obama becomes Mr. Warm-and-Fuzzy, and it’s all smiles, handshakes and backslaps.
4 May 2009 >>New York Post columnist Irwin M. Stelzer notes that President Obama “said last week that he’d override the contractual and legal rights of Chrysler’s senior lenders and carve up the company between the government and the United Auto Workers.”
Obama forced the senior lenders to take something like 30 cents for every dollar they’d lent Chrysler. Many lenders — the big banks who’d taken federal bailout money — rolled over. But some hedge-fund managers pointed out that they have a legal, fiduciary responsibility to do the best they can for their investors (which include pension funds) and decided to take their chances with a bankruptcy judge.
Never mind that this is their long-established legal right. Obama is furious with these “speculators,” and hinted that he knows where they live and will get even when the new financial-industry regulations are drafted.
This continued antagonism towards America’s business community may not be in the country’s best long-term interests, Stelzer points out:
[T]he president is counting on some of these “speculators” to partner with the Treasury and take a big stake in the toxic assets that are preventing the big banks from resuming normal lending. Unprotected by a rule of law, these investors will sit on their assets, rather than partner with a government that might some day decide, after the fact, that they made too much money, or should bear a larger portion of any losses than they had signed on to do.
One of my clients was directly threatened by the White House and in essence compelled to withdraw its opposition to the deal under threat that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight.
The most interesting thing about Lauria’s claim is that the Obama official threated to sic the White House Press Corps on offending “speculators.”
In theory, the White House Press Corps is an independent body, an arm of the press and not the Obama Administration. What would give this official the idea that the press corps would blindly do the administration’s bidding?
Perhaps the press could prove its independence by digging into this story a little bit deeper. (The White House has issued a blanket denial, but the varying accounts don’t add up.)
What is going on in this country? The government is about to take over GM in a plan that completely screws private bondholders and favors the unions. Get this: The GM bondholders own $27 billion and they’re getting 10 percent of the common stock in an expected exchange. And the UAW owns $10 billion of the bonds and they’re getting 40 percent of the stock. Huh? Did I miss something here? And Uncle Sam will have a controlling share of the stock with something close to 50 percent ownership. And no bankruptcy judge. So this is a political restructuring run by the White House, not a rule-of-law bankruptcy-court reorganization.
One hallmark of organized crime loan-sharking is that, once you are in debt to the mob, you are never allowed to pay off the principal. No matter how much you pay, you always owe more. The mob squeezes you for everything you have. Until a few months ago, I never expected to see an analogy between the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Mafia. But is it unreasonable to see a parallel in the government’s refusal to allow banks that have borrowed money under TARP to repay it? Does it not appear that financial institutions that became enmeshed with the government, and are now being dictated to by the government, find it increasingly difficult to extricate themselves?
So the federal government along with the unions will have total control over not only General Motors, but Chrysler too. Meanwhile, the federal government can indefinitely extend its control of certain banks by refusing to let them repay government loans.
13 February 2009 @ 9:32AM >>
Stephen Bates at Slatesuggests a new business model for the faltering newspaper industry: declare itself a religion. Although he refers to this idea as “a modest proposal,” it is far less obviously satirical than the Jonathan Swift essay those words reference.
The media covers politics with all the objectivity of a missionary describing his faith, and they treated the election and inauguration of President Obama with the sort of dispassion you’d expect of disciples who just witnessed someone rise from the dead.
Our press has been a religion for years. They might as well admit it now so they can claim the tax breaks.
9 February 2009 @ 8:51AM >>
According to Financial Week, Congressman Barney Frank, the Democrat who serves as the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, wants to limit executive pay of all companies:
Congress will consider legislation to extend some of the curbs on executive pay that now apply only to those banks receiving federal assistance, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank said.
“There’s deeply rooted anger on the part of the average American,” the Massachusetts Democrat said at a Washington news conference today.
He said the compensation restrictions would apply to all financial institutions and might be extended to include all U.S. companies.
14 January 2009 @ 9:12AM >>
Once Washington starts handing out the money, eventually everybody lines up:
With the financial industry, auto makers and more getting assistance from the federal government to stay afloat during the recession, the adult industry decided it would try to get something as well.
Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis and “Hustler” magazine publisher Larry Flynt have said they will petition Congress for financial aid along the lines of what the Big Three auto makers are getting.
Francis said that he and Flynt are asking for $5 billion, and that they have sent letters to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Congress and their local Congressman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) with the proposal. Rep. Waxman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
With the $5 billion, they would “invest in building new means of distribution, and shoring up our distribution right now to prevent further erosion from factors like Youporn and other Internet content that has seriously affected our business over the past few years,” Francis said in an interview with FOX Business. “We will use the money wisely, and we will create more jobs.”
Francis said that if invited, he and Flynt would drive across the country in a hybrid vehicle to present their plans to Congress.
The press release noted that DVD sales and rentals for the adult industry have decreased by 22% in the past year, partially because people are turning more and more to the Internet for adult content.
“People are too depressed to be sexually active,” Flynt said in the press release. “This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex.”
Francis said he and Flynt would also be willing to discuss the possibility of the government buying equity stakes in their companies, as was done with financial firms.
“If the government would like to be a partner with Mr. Flynt and I, we’re certainly amenable to it,” he said.
As unlikely as it sounds, I wouldn’t discount the possibility of the government giving bailout money to the porn industry. After all, politicians and porn stars have a lot in common: their jobs both involve screwing people.
12 January 2009 >>
As reported by the Washington Post:
With fuel prices declining, government mandates that automakers build highly fuel-efficient cars will be no more effective than combating obesity by forcing clothing manufacturers to make only small sizes.
Attributed to Bob Lutz
Vice Chairman of Global Product Development
31 December 2008 >>
Just days before Barack Obama was elected president, Pepsi unveiled a new logo. According to some, the updated logo bears a striking resemblance to Obama’s campaign logo. Wonkettesaid it was “what would happen if a can of Tab had sex with Barack Obama.”
To me, the notion that Pepsi would consciously mimic the Obama logo seems like a bit of a stretch. Considering how fickle poll numbers can be, why would a major mass-market brand risk being seen as promoting a particular politician? Nobody in politics remains popular forever.
But when I left work Monday evening, I saw something that made me wonder if I my assumptions were wrong.
You see, my office is in Times Square, where advertisers are revving up for the millions of people who will see tonight’s New Year’s Eve festivities.
And directly across the street from my office, at the base of the building where a crystalline sphere counts down the final seconds of every year, Pepsi placed a sign that looked familiar:
In case your memory wasn’t jogged by the photo above, here’s a hint:
If Pepsi is invoking Obama’s campaign materials deliberately—and I have no reason to believe that they are—then maybe the folks behind it see some business sense in doing so.
Judging from the volume of painted plates and limited-edition coins being hawked on TV ads that gush about Obama’s “kind eyes and warm smile,” the Merchandising of the President-Elect might be the only growth industry left.
Here in NYC, you can’t walk a block in midtown without passing several street vendors pushing Obamawear. But maybe I’m only perceiving this avalanche of advertising and street trinkets because I’m stuck inside the New York bubble.
Could Obama’s campaign imagery help sell sugared water to a entire nation?
I’m skeptical. The United States isn’t Manhattan, and selecting a particular brand of cola isn’t usually where people make political statements.
If the new Pepsi logo was designed to evoke the Obama logo, maybe the Ad Men of Madison Avenue—unable to see outside the New York bubble themselves—simply miscalculated on something that could backfire. Or maybe they launched this redesign fully aware that they were using one of the world’s most recognizable brands as collateral in a big bet on the political fortunes of one person.
Thousands of conservatives and even some moderates have complained during my more than three-year term that The Post is too liberal; many have stopped subscribing, including more than 900 in the past four weeks.
It pains me to see lost subscribers and revenue, especially when newspapers are shrinking. Conservative complaints can be wrong: The mainstream media were not to blame for John McCain’s loss; Barack Obama’s more effective campaign and the financial crisis were.
But some of the conservatives’ complaints about a liberal tilt are valid. Journalism naturally draws liberals; we like to change the world. I’ll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.
Journalists bristle at the thought of their coverage being viewed as unfair or unbalanced; they believe that their decisions are journalistically reasonable and that their politics do not affect how they cover and display stories.
Tom Rosenstiel, a former political reporter who directs the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said, “The perception of liberal bias is a problem by itself for the news media. It’s not okay to dismiss it. Conservatives who think the press is deliberately trying to help Democrats are wrong. But conservatives are right that journalism has too many liberals and not enough conservatives. It’s inconceivable that that is irrelevant.”
The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama. It’s not hard to see why conservatives feel disrespected.
Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.
Rosenstiel said, “There should be more intellectual diversity among journalists. More conservatives in newsrooms will bring about better journalism. We need to be more vigilant and conscious in looking for bias. Our aims are pure, but our execution sometimes is not. Staff members should feel in their bones that unfairness will never be tolerated.”
Bob Steele, ethics scholar at the Poynter Institute, which trains journalists, thinks editors should be doing “ongoing content evaluation of candidates and issues to provide scrutiny on photos, stories, placement of stories and what are the weaknesses and strengths of the candidates.” He also recommends “prosecutorial editing” as one way to “minimize the ideological bias and beliefs that all journalists have. It would greatly reduce the news content being skewed by beliefs.”
The Post and other news media can work harder on eliminating even the perception of bias while never giving up the willingness to follow stories that will inevitably tick off some readers.
Intellectual diversity in the newsroom is essential to the quality of the media’s product. There need to be people involved in the reporting process who challenge the assumptions of the dominant thinking in the industry.
Today, it’s clear that isn’t the case, and that’s one of the reasons for the sorry financial state of the news business.
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.
This was startling. Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand. China’s official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its “worst snowstorm ever”. In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.
So what explained the anomaly? GISS’s computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal. But when expert readers of the two leading warming-sceptic blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, began detailed analysis of the GISS data they made an astonishing discovery. The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all. Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running.
The error was so glaring that when it was reported on the two blogs - run by the US meteorologist Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre, the Canadian computer analyst who won fame for his expert debunking of the notorious “hockey stick” graph - GISS began hastily revising its figures. This only made the confusion worse because, to compensate for the lowered temperatures in Russia, GISS claimed to have discovered a new “hotspot” in the Arctic - in a month when satellite images were showing Arctic sea-ice recovering so fast from its summer melt that three weeks ago it was 30 per cent more extensive than at the same time last year.
A GISS spokesman lamely explained that the reason for the error in the Russian figures was that they were obtained from another body, and that GISS did not have resources to exercise proper quality control over the data it was supplied with. This is an astonishing admission: the figures published by Dr Hansen’s institute are not only one of the four data sets that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relies on to promote its case for global warming, but they are the most widely quoted, since they consistently show higher temperatures than the others.
If there is one scientist more responsible than any other for the alarm over global warming it is Dr Hansen, who set the whole scare in train back in 1988 with his testimony to a US Senate committee chaired by Al Gore. Again and again, Dr Hansen has been to the fore in making extreme claims over the dangers of climate change. (He was recently in the news here for supporting the Greenpeace activists acquitted of criminally damaging a coal-fired power station in Kent, on the grounds that the harm done to the planet by a new power station would far outweigh any damage they had done themselves.)
Yet last week’s latest episode is far from the first time Dr Hansen’s methodology has been called in question. In 2007 he was forced by Mr Watts and Mr McIntyre to revise his published figures for US surface temperatures, to show that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s, as he had claimed, but the 1930s.
Another of his close allies is Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, who recently startled a university audience in Australia by claiming that global temperatures have recently been rising “very much faster” than ever, in front of a graph showing them rising sharply in the past decade. In fact, as many of his audience were aware, they have not been rising in recent years and since 2007 have dropped.
A new Irish film claims that climate change guru Al Gore is an alarmist and that those who think they are saving the planet are only hurting the poor
IF THE ADVANCE publicity is anything to go by, Not Evil Just Wrong will do for Al Gore what Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 did for George W Bush.
“This is the film Al Gore and Hollywood don’t want you to see,” declares the website for the latest work by film-makers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. The site even features a big picture of Gore, with his lips in the photograph seemingly digitally enhanced to make them look like Heath Ledger’s Joker from the latest Batman film.
The website goes on to say that their latest film - which takes on what are described as global warming alarmists - is “the most controversial documentary of the year”. Indeed, it could very well be the most controversial. And Al Gore and Hollywood may well not want you to see it. And in that respect, Gore and co are actually succeeding for the moment. Because there is no completed film. Not yet anyway.
McElhinney and McAleer have raised almost $1 million (EUR799,000) but need a total of $4.5m (EUR3.6m) to allow for a full cinema release. They say they were acutely disappointed at being turned down for funding by the Irish Film Board, especially its conclusion that it was “repetitive and creatively thin”.
Instead, they have gone onto the internet hoping to solicit donations in the style of Barack Obama. The finished product will be around 90 minutes long. Both film-makers rebut the Film Board’s criticism by pointing out that a near-complete version of the film has been chosen in the audience category at the Amsterdam Film Festival later this month.
Voters overwhelmingly believe that the media wants Barack Obama to win the presidential election. By a margin of 70%-9%, Americans say most journalists want to see Obama, not John McCain, win on Nov. 4. Another 8% say journalists don’t favor either candidate, and 13% say they don’t know which candidate most reporters support.
In recent presidential campaigns, voters repeatedly have said they thought journalists favored the Democratic candidate over the Republican. But this year’s margin is particularly wide. At this stage of the 2004 campaign, 50% of voters said most journalists wanted to see John Kerry win the election, while 22% said most journalists favored George Bush. In October 2000, 47% of voters said journalists wanted to see Al Gore win and 23% said most journalists wanted Bush to win. In 1996, 59% said journalists were pulling for Bill Clinton.
In the current campaign, Republicans, Democrats and independents all feel that the media wants to see Obama win the election. Republicans are almost unanimous in their opinion: 90% of GOP voters say most journalists are pulling for Obama. More than six-in-ten Democratic and independent voters (62% each) say the same.
For an industry that by all measures is in severe financial trouble, you’d think that reporters and editors would be a little more worried about the public’s perception of their output. But the media’s short-term desire to elect Barack Obama is apparently more important than their long-term credibility. That’s an exceedingly poor business decision.
[W]e have this extraordinarily complex global economy, which as everybody now realizes is very difficult to forecast in any considerable detail.
And, Mr. Chairman, I know — I agree with you in the fact that there were a lot of people who raised issues about problems emerging, but there are always a lot of people raising issues, and half the time they’re wrong. And the question is, what do you do?
I mean, you point out quite correctly that the Federal Reserve had as good an economic organization as exists, and I would say, in the world. If all those extraordinarily capable people were unable to foresee the development of this critical problem, which undoubtedly was the cause of the world problem with respect to mortgage-backed securities, I have to — I think we have to ask ourselves, why is that?
And the answer is that we’re not smart enough as people. We just cannot see events that far in advance. And unless we can, it’s very difficult to look back and say, why didn’t we catch something?
21 October 2008 >>
The current market turmoil is not due to an insufficient amount of government meddling; quite the opposite, as the Washington Post notes in an editorial today:
[T]he problem with the U.S. economy, more than lack of regulation, has been government’s failure to control systemic risks that government itself helped to create. We are not witnessing a crisis of the free market but a crisis of distorted markets.
We’ll never know how this newly liberated financial sector might have performed on a playing field designed by Adam Smith. That’s because government interventions of all kinds, from the defense budget to farm supports, shaped the business environment. No subsidy would prove more fateful than the massive federal commitment to residential real estate — from the mortgage interest tax deduction to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Federal Reserve’s low interest rates under Mr. Greenspan. Unregulated derivatives known as credit-default swaps did accentuate the boom in mortgage-based investments, by allowing investors to transfer risk rather than setting aside cash reserves. But government helped make mortgages a purportedly sure thing in the first place. Home prices seemed to stand on a solid floor built by Washington.
Since no government regulator can know in advance how new man-made economic rules will affect the financial choices people make, no regulator is ever capable of understanding the full set of potential pitfalls those regulations could create. Any wholesale changes to the functioning of our markets is therefore extremely risky.
In a political environment like this, new regulations are an easy sell. People will support any bill that puts a stop to Demonized Financial Activity X—as long as they think it’ll only cost other people. But when deciding whether to support a particular regulatory solution, remember that you’ll never get to hear a full accounting of its possible downsides. That’s because there’s no human or computer on the planet capable of accurately modeling the quintillions of variables that will also change as those regulatory changes ripple through the world’s economic oceans.
New regulations may seem obvious, but the damage they can cause rarely is, sometimes even in retrospect.
Since those with an ample supply of pessimism are already comparing our economy to that of the Great Depression—I’m not denying there’s the potential for pain in our future, but call me once the economy has contracted by 33% or when unemployment hits 25%—perhaps it’s useful to recall what happened in the 1930s when government bureaucrats in their infinitesimal wisdom decided that they knew better than markets:
Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After scrutinizing Roosevelt’s record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.
“The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes,” Cole said. “Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened.”
Sadly, our country once again seems to be blindly groping its way towards socialism.
8 September 2008 @ 8:52AM >>
Sex doesn’t sell, at least not in Europe:
[Members of European Parliament] want TV regulators in the EU to set guidelines which would see the end of anything deemed to portray women as sex objects or reinforce gender stereotypes.
This could potentially mean an end to attractive women advertising perfume, housewives in the kitchen or men doing DIY.
Such classic adverts as the Diet Coke commercial featuring the bare-chested builder, or Wonderbra’s “Hello Boys” featuring model Eva Herzigova would have been banned.
The new rules come in a report by the EU’s women’s rights committee.
Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson urged Britain and other members to use existing equality, sexism and discrimination laws to control advertising.
She wants regulatory bodies set up to monitor ads and introduce a “zero-tolerance” policy against “sexist insults or degrading images”.
6 August 2008 @ 8:58AM >>
One year ago tomorrow, I was sued for defamation and interference with contract by a laundromat located in my former apartment building. For a while, my fiancee and I were customers of Todd Layne Cleaners until we tired of its rude and incompetent service. Eventually, I came to the informed conclusion that Todd Layne Cleaners “sucks” and is “overpriced.”
For expressing these two opinions to the neighbors in my building, a creature named Todd Ofsink, the “Todd” in Todd Layne Cleaners, sued me. (You see, Todd is fortunate enough to have a brother, Darren, who owns a big Madison Avenue law firm called Guzov Ofsink. Darren Ofsink’s firm is representing brother Todd.)
In response to the lawsuit, I created a website called ToddLayneCleanersSucks.com where I documented the case and the incidents that led up to it. This caused Ofsink to increase the damages in his lawsuit; instead of suing me for $20,000, it became $300,000.
I generally don’t write about my personal life on this site, but I wrote about this case last October after the New York Post got wind of it. And now that the case is approaching its one year mark, I thought it was time for an update.
The case is still ongoing, oozing through the courts with all the speed of cold molasses.
Initially, the court threw out Ofsink’s defamation claim, upholding my constitutional right to express my opinion about his business. The court should have thrown out the interference with contract claim too; that claim was just a smokescreen for the dismissed defamation claim.
Why is the case still alive? Because courts are reluctant to dismiss a case before the plaintiff has had an opportunity to gather evidence. The evidence-gathering phase is called “discovery,” wherein each side is allowed to demand evidence from the other. After the discovery phase is complete, I will have an opportunity to move the court for summary judgment. If I am successful, the case won’t proceed to trial, but instead, will be dismissed.
In my discovery demands, I asked for several things, including financial records to support Ofsink’s claim that my criticism of his business caused him to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. I also asked for the store’s security camera tapes, because Ofsink swore under oath that I attempted to disrupt his business by “simulating masturbation” within his store. Later, Ofsink tacitly admitted his statement was false by recasting his earlier characterization as merely a “euphamism.”
Ofsink misled the court by making false sworn statements under oath, which is why he refuses to turn over the store’s security camera tapes or anything else. He knows that if caught lying to the court, he could be subject to monetary sanctions, or even criminal prosecution for perjury.
The deadline to produce discovery was in mid-February. Not surprisingly, nearly half-a-year later, Ofsink still hasn’t produced any of the required documentation. (Meanwhile, I’ve responded to his discovery demands in good faith, turning over 116 pages of documents he requested.)
Ofsink’s excuses for violating his discovery obligations are comedic. The following gives you a sense of his petty antics. (My requests are at the top of each scan, followed by his response.)
As you can see from these responses, Ofsink isn’t even willing to turn over evidence documenting his own claims. His strategy is to drag this case out as long as possible, hoping that I will eventually buckle and sign a non-disparagement agreement. That’s what he demands in exchange for dropping the case.
In other words, Ofsink will only stop using his brother’s law firm to harass me for engaging in free speech if—and only if—I agree to sign away my right to criticize his business.
It ain’t gonna happen.
In the meantime, I’ve filed a motion asking the court to compel Ofsink to comply with discovery, and I’m awaiting the court’s decision. That’s where things stand now.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, and the cost of exercising one’s most basic rights can sometimes be quite high. But if people don’t stand up to the Ofsinks of the world, we won’t even have the right to criticize lousy service from our local cleaners.