Copyright © 2006 Frank Lynch.
Me: Frank Lynch
These are my mundane daily ramblings.
Short-sighted investing? Corporations who really appreciate the goal of maximizing shareholder wealth face genuine pressure: not just for the value of the stock as the shareholder might see it, but also the value that the market sees in it. In a sense, you have two groups to please: not just the people who hold your shares, but those to whom those shareholders might want to sell it. So if the market thinks in terms of immediate gains, this year's profit, and so on, then it's difficult to implement significant changes that won't pay off in the near future. I experienced this annually in corporate life, where you had to argue for a program on this year's pay- off, because it was being funded with short term dollars. You could talk about longer term gains, but those don't get that much attention because they're not so concrete, and everyone's puffing up their long term potential.
I was reminded of the negative implications of this in a Sunday business article in the New York Times about the challenges confronting William Clay Ford, Jr., head of the Ford Motor Company:
I remember when this happened, it bummed me then and still bums me now. As a child of the 60's and 70's, I well remembered the volatility in the price and availability of gas, what with the long lines, oil embargoes, and so on. (Remember the "vinyl shortage," and what it did to homogenize the record labels' stables of artists? I still loved the artist who was let go by Mercury for inadequate sales in the midst of the vinyl shortage, and said "Talk to Rod Stewart about it, not me, he's the one selling all the records.") In fact it was that era which made me really interested in the concept of marketing research: I could see Detroit losing share to Japanese imports, and I scratched my head in disbelief that American manufacturers were so blind-sided. How could they not have known?
And here we had a new perspective at the top of Ford, someone who knew there was a need for vehicles beyond the gas guzzlers, and he let himself get argued against it.
If you've read Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy, you may have connected some of the dots of the argument Phillips makes. One is our country's dependence on oil as its primacy as an energy source starts to wane. Phillips talks about the decline of previously great nations and how the decline was tied to a similar, myopic focus on a specific source of energy. First, he cites the Dutch, who were wonderfully adept at harnessing wind and water power. But they loved those energy sources too well too long. Next he cites the British, who held onto coal for too long, and didn't recognize that oil would eclipse coal. And now the U.S.: Phillips cites all sort of evidence that oil has peaked, and we'd be wise to expand our horizons, especially as our dependency has led us to consider oil too strongly as a component of our foreign policy.
Another part of Phillips' alarms has to do with the failure to
invest in domestic industry, preferring to chase the quicker gain
in a more rapidly growing economy, or in an industry which
doesn't produce products which are important to a country's long
term health. Surely, investing in the immediate gains from SUVs
and minivans is analogous to this.
Shame on you, Richard Cohen. I'm
beyond shocked about the sentiments Cohen expresses in this column. He
claims that chartering Israel was so artificial, that it was the
chartering itself which has led to the century of bloodshed. Is
he serious? Would he really re-write other demarcations at this
point, like Northern Ireland, and send those Scots and their
linen factories back to the Highlands? And then, he also writes
that "There is no point in condemning Hezbollah." What?
Can this man not write? Of course there's a point to
condemning Hezbollah's willful, stupid, injudicious kidnappings,
its firing of rockets into Israel's lands. Arguing, using reason,
may not have an impact on Hezbollah, but not arguing is a
horrible message to communicate. I'm simply, thoroughly
astonished at the stupidity I see here.
A man, a man's man, among men. Helluva man. Whatta man. A man's man. Helluva man's man among men. You may or may not know by now that Bush was caught being, uh, "coarse" (no, wait, rewrite! make that "studdish") while talking to UK PM Tony Blair about the current conflagration between Israel and unbridled Hezbollah, operating out of Lebanon.
Bush is a repeat offender with this kind of behavior — we all remember his offhand reference to a New York Times reporter as "major league a**hole." On top of that, there was the joyous way he sidled up to Bernie Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. We can forgive Bush for not knowing he was a criminal as we all do now; but we can't forgive his rush to judgment that Kerik was the right man without having undergone a thorough background check. That kind of rush to judgment is how we got into Iraq, bearing the full wrath of what Colin Powell inaccurately described as "The Pottery Barn rule" (you break it, you bought it). This is, after all, the former Texas Governor who gleefully, sophomorically mocked how a condemned prisoner might plead for her life (this was in an interview with Tucker Carlson). This is the guy who apparently digs the blood-and-guts vernacular of Cofer Black over the careful analyses and nuanced discussions of what might really be going on. Got ants in your pants? Great, invade Iraq.
The outrageous ways we behave when with the comfort of friends. This is not a difficult concept: most people talk differently to their wives or husbands in intimate surroundings than they do when they're at church or in a bank teller line. But put a bunch of guys in a tavern, and it's completely different, all the one-upmanship. Or a group of women out on a night together, you can imagine the stories they tell, and how they escalate. Cass Sunstein wrote about how this issue is exacerbated on the Internet: there's an interesting social psychology that goes on when you think you're not only surrounded by groups of like-minded individuals, but you feel you're anonymous and won't be confronted with your web musings in the town square, and that superiority is staked out by pushing the envelope into further extremities.
If you're a regular reader of blog sites where there the format allows for dialog, you've probably seen the "I can top you" behavior. But the funny thing is, it doesn't even require a cesspool where neanderthals talk to each other in the same cozy confines. They talk to each other across the same bandwidth, crossing the domain names, that it's as if they were all at the same pub table, merely wearing different T-shirts proclaiming their blog sites. Glenn Greenwald, a measured man, has not only observed this phenomenon, but he's called out to the popular press that it's high time that they recognized who is fomenting hate, and calling, very clearly, that the vampires be brought into daylight. I suppose it's a seductive appeal, it's not an offer for eternal life so long as you suck blood so much as it's an appeal for more clicks if you adhere to the accepted wisdom of your chosen tribe.
The phenomenon of "I can out-hate you" has been further
augmented by the self-congratulatory site of Pajamas Media, which
aggregates the opinions of the selected bloggers with the
accepted mind-set. That is, they don't believe that their market
is capable of reading the link list of the sites they like, this
target market needs even further direction. Now that's
respect. Part of this phenomenon, I guess, is that Pajamas Media
attracts really guttural sites like Horsefeathers, whose proprietors seems in
an eternal battle not just to out-hate others, but to out-hate
themselves. For instance, this sad post, where Stephen Rittenberg focuses on an
isolated paragraph in an isolated article from an isolated
source, to rail about, uh, poor focus? If you were grading a high
school paper about anything like media bias, or source bias, or
topic bias, and were presented with a singular proposition like
this, uh, how long would it take you to grab for your red pen?
There's no overview of the rest of the coverage from the rest of
the article, or other coverage of the AP, or the rest of the
coverage from others in the media. It's a very isolated view. But
then again, fungii grow really well when there's no light.
Keep this one in your back pocket.
James Wolcott has
done some heavy lifting I recently wanted to do over the
hypothesis that the decline in the stock price of the New York
Times' parent company represents a rejection of its librul,
Americuh-hatin' stories. Wolcott looks at another media outlet
whose stock price hasn't been doing well, but this one publishes
The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial staff is nothing short
of whacko (it having been the pages which told us about those
lucky duckies who don't have to pay taxes because they're so
Part of Dick Cheney's "one percent doctrine" is explainable. Briefly, anyway. I've just started reading Ron Suskind's book, and the title hinges around Cheney's concept that if there's even a "one percent" chance of terrorists bringing calamity upon us, then something has to be done to prevent it. The need for action doesn't depend on the probability of it happening. That's it in a nutshell.
I'm not unfamiliar with this argument. In a lot of our activities, people suppose we weigh the probability of an event against the value of the possible outcome, and come up with an "expected value," (probability times value) and trade it off against other expected values. But when values go into the extremes (like losing 3,000 people on a sunny September day, or winning 16 kajillion dollars on the lottery), people no longer act in a linear fashion. They buy insurance against the unlikely event of a house fire, because they'd rather the Fireman's Fund or Mutual of Omaha bore the risk, for instance. Or maybe they don't, if they don't realize they live in a flood zone.
Cheney's principle is a lot like that. So in one sense it's pretty human. Except for a couple points... One, I don't expect the most powerful person in the White House to behave like Joe Consumer. Yes, we expect them to connect the dots, but their first duty is to uphold the Constitution and not trample on it. If they feel that trampling on what truly defines America, then bring it out in the open. If your argument is valid it will bear weight and not blink in the sunshine. The fact that the White House prefers to behave surreptitiously is indicative of how little faith they have in America, much as they did in pursuing war against Iraq, choosing "convenient" arguments which weren't borne out by the inspectors. But perhaps I quibble.
The second point is that, by Cheney expressing it in terms of a minimum possibility (if he truly said it), it focuses action on a single variable, the negative impact. That is, without taking into account the probability of the negative impact, there is nothing on which to base priorities except the single variable of the negative impact. Five hundred die in Chicago versus five hundred die in Ocala; the former has a probability of 80%, the latter 1%. To Cheney (as he's supposed to have formulated it, anyway) the two events are equal.
Do you think this is an unfair canard? Well. Here's Osama bin Laden, the weekend before the 2004 Presidential election:
Now, of course I'm not arguing that we negotiate with OBL, but I quote him to show that Cheney's all or nothing approach is basically to not differentiate between reacting and overreacting. It is a great way to bankrupt the country, and the announcement this week of all the supposed "targets" in the DHS matrix demonstrates how good we've gotten at over-reacting.
Arlen Specter's big salaam. Pardon me for being late to this party, but there are a number of scary aspects about Arlen Specter's supposed "compromise" with the White House over the way it's conducted its wiretapping without the requisite judicial oversight. First, of course, there's the arrogance of the administration's acts: the behavior of course sets the executive branch above both the legislative branch (which set the FISA limits) and the judiciary branch (which is charged with the oversight and has rarely rejected a warrant request). Like, what's to lose by upholding the Constitution? Even if you think the case for your warrant is doubtful, you had 72 hours of free play. But noooooo....
Specter has trumpeted this agreement as a recognition by the White House that it doesn't have a "blank check." Hell, now that's a standard upon which to argue for the White House adhering to its Constitutional role, that it doesn't have a "blank check." (This just in, the White House also can't nuke Chicago, defy the laws of gravity, or reunite the Beatles. Good job, Senator Specter!)
Let's think about this "deal" which Specter has supposedly brokered:
Got that? As pointed out by Representative Heather A. Wilson, deciding on the Constitutionality of the Bush efforts is not what the FISA court does best. In fact, considering how few warrant requests have been turned down by FISA judges, maybe this is entirely the wrong crew to ask to take an independent review? Kind of like asking people in the Bronx who's better, the Yanks or the Red Sox?
And, since the testimony could be held secret as well as the decisions, can anyone explain to me the appeal process? All court cases are supposed to have an available chain to the Supreme Court. But who would have access to sufficient information to form an appeal? And who would get to serve as a plaintiff in a case to which they were not a party?
Anthrax scare at the New York Times. Hopefully it's only a scare, but the New York Times received a malicious letter with a copy of one of its editorials crossed out, and a white, suspicious powder. So far, the article says, the employee who opened the letter isn't showing any symptoms of it having been anthrax, but let's not ignore the basic malice intended, even if it was only intended to "simulate." And let's not forget, the New York Times did not bring this on themselves. The press should always challenge, that's its role, regardless of what stray bloggers suggest. When you have Ann Coulter suggesting that the Times' staff be tried and executed for treason without anything close to a hearing of evidence from both sides, you get an idea of the atmosphere that's out there. And then there are people even worse, who can't even claim to be as highly paid as Coulter for spreading their filth, arguing for the hanging of the Supreme Court majority which ruled against the Administration's Guantanamo summer camp (as if he were unaware of the strong terms in which Scalia had condemned Bush in a similar case).
It's time to recognize the people who foment hate and make it impossible to bring the country to a mutual understanding. It's not Atrios. It's not Juan Cole. It's not even Michael Moore. Nor Al Franken.
Quagmire. I think it's high time we
started using the word again, loudly and frequently. The sectarian violence in
Iraq shows no signs of abating any time soon, and our MBA
President still hasn't shared anything like a project plan with
us (dates, steps, milestones, etc.). If we're not improving the
situation, we're wasting our time and letting our own people die
at the same time. Shame on all those myopic, arrogant
people who thought we could turn a pressure cooker into a warming
Serious sticker shock. Big time. The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of New York City's most important
cultural institutions and one of its most popular tourist
attractions, is raising its "recommended" adult admission
$15 to $20. This strikes me as so wrong: granted, they run a
huge deficit every year, but the Met is a national treasure, of
significant cultural benefit to visitors around the world. A hike
like this strikes me as, like, losing music programs in schools.
Isn't there some other way? (I'd love to know what endowments and
grants it already gets - - it's obviously not a "for profit"
I'm surprised this is still being
discussed in these terms. Ezra Klein reminds us that malpractice suits have
little or nothing to do with rising health care costs. The
Republicans can dance about trial lawyers, and the Dems can dance
about malfeasance, but it's still small potatoes. I've written
about this before, somewhere here. But malpractice is just a drop
in the bucket.