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Archive for December, 2008

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And HEEEERE we go…

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

From FOX News:

Former President Bill Clinton’s foundation has raised at least $46 million from Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments that his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton may end up negotiating with as the next secretary of state.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave $10 million to $25 million to the William J. Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit created by the former president to finance his library in Little Rock, Ark., and charitable efforts to reduce poverty and treat AIDS. Other foreign government givers include Norway, Kuwait, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Italy and Jamaica. The Dutch national lottery gave $5 million to $10 million.

Those bastards! Clearly, they anticipated that Mr. Clinton’s wife would someday hold a position of power, and in order to curry favor with her, they calculatingly donated millions of dollars to reduce poverty and treat AIDS. Damn – we should have seen that coming…

Sometimes, I wonder how far this can go before someone calls out the media on it. Isn’t it beneficial for the Secretary of State to have previous dealings with foreign governments (even if they are through her husband)? Wouldn’t it be logical for the people who design our national energy policy to have some practical expertise in the energy industry? Shouldn’t a guy like Henry Kissinger, one of the most experienced foreign policy experts in our country, be allowed to chair the 9/11 commission charged with understanding what happened on that horrible day?

When did past experience become a detriment to taking a job? When did prior dealings with those you’ll be working with in your new position become a potential conflict of interest, as opposed to an advantage that could lead to smoother transition and increased productivity?

With the Clintons, of course, it’s magnified even further. Not only can news organizations call her credibility into question before she even gets confirmed, but she and her husband have negotiated a deal that will lessen the flow of money to deserving charities as long as she’s in office:

[Bill] Clinton agreed to release the information after concerns emerged that his extensive international fundraising and business deals could conflict with America’s interests if his wife became Obama’s top diplomat. The foundation has insisted for years that it was under no legal obligation to identify its contributors, contending that many expected confidentiality when they donated.

According to the memorandum negotiated by the foundation and top Obama advisers, Bill Clinton agreed to publish the names of all past and future contributors to his foundation during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.

The former president also agreed to step away from direct involvement in the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual charitable conference where businesses and many foreign governments pledge donations to help ameliorate AIDS, poverty and other social ills. He will continue serving as CGI’s founding chairman but will not solicit money or sponsorships. The CGI will cease accepting foreign contributions and will not host events outside the United States.

So in order for Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, we are willing to:

I assume, by the way, that Bill Clinton will be perfectly free to raise funds for Democratic politicians (including his wife) in future elections, right? No conflict of interest there…

None of this is necessary. It’s all done to avoid the appearance of impropriety, in order to stave off the media hounds. Notice how no one is drafting disclosure agreements or communication plans that would allow Bill Clinton to continue his good work while simultaneously proving that Hillary Clinton is acting independently as the Secretary of State. Because then there would always be a question of “What is she hiding?”

It’s bad enough that we, American citizens, get what we deserve sometimes. But now we’re punishing the poor and the sick around the world…

Categories: News and/or Media, Political Rantings | 1 Comment »

The Root of All Evil is Money

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

This was the front-page article in the New York Times this past Thursday. Here are some quotes:

In all, Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.

But Merrill’s record earnings in 2006 — $7.5 billion — turned out to be a mirage. The company has since lost three times that amount, largely because the mortgage investments that supposedly had powered some of those profits plunged in value.

Unlike the earnings, however, the bonuses have not been reversed.

Scrutiny over pay is intensifying as banks like Merrill prepare to dole out bonuses even after they have had to be propped up with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. While bonuses are expected to be half of what they were a year ago, some bankers could still collect millions of dollars.

[Merrill's CEO, Stan] O’Neal . . . was paid $46 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation research firm and data provider in California. [Head of Fixed Income Trading, Dow] Kim received $35 million. About 57 percent of their pay was in stock, which would lose much of its value over the next two years, but even the cash portions of their bonus were generous: $18.5 million for Mr. O’Neal, and $14.5 million for Mr. Kim, according to Equilar.

I expect this kind of talk on radio call-in shows, or man-on-the-street interviews, or other places where people who are relatively ignorant about investment banking offer their opinions about it anyway. But if you’re writing on the front page of the New York Times, shouldn’t you be a bit more informed than the general public on the subject you’re writing about? The author of this article, Louise Story, has either completely failed to do her homework, or is much more interested in stirring up jealousy and anger than she is in educating or informing her readers.
Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Money Talk, News and/or Media | 1 Comment »


Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

OK, by now, everyone’s seen the video of the Iraqi reporter throwing his shoes at President Bush. But BoingBoing has collected a series of animated GIFs that are quite clever. Here’s my favorite:

The post has some other good ones as well. Click on the link above & check them out…

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 1 Comment »

Bursting your Bubble(wrap)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

As my three loyal readers are aware, we recently completed a major home renovation (the last set of pictures coming really soon now, I promise). Anyway, this weekend’s project, hanging up all of the artwork, framed photos, etc. around the new house, was the last of the “get rid of this pile of stuff stuck in the corner” jobs that we’ve been at for so long. With it, I officially feel “moved in.”

Anyway, the side-effect of this particular job is a smallish mountain of used bubble-wrap, which now needs to be thrown away. Simply stuffing all into hefty bags would require enough hefty bags to justify another home equity loan. And given the current state of the financial markets, we were forced to look for another solution.

The first few batches were taken care of by me and my sons, each patiently popping the bubbles until the plastic was flat enough to be thrown away like normal trash (OK, I popped patiently; my kids put theirs on the ground and “danced” (read: stomped) on them until they were pulverized flat). By the end, though, there was so much of it (and my hands were legitimately getting tired), that I was in search of a new solution. Then, it hit me: THE CAR!. “Honey,” I said to my wife, “I’ll get the car keys, you get the video camera. This is exactly the kind of thing that always winds up on YouTube…”

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 4 Comments »

The Best Bad Food Revue Ever…

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Matthew Baldwin over at Defective Yeti is one of the funniest writers I’ve come across. In a recent post, he described his opinion of Nabisco brand Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits thusly:

So a few weeks ago I’m at the counter of a local diner, eating a breakfast of french toast and trying to read a novel, when an elderly man sits on the stool two down from me. He came armed with a copy of The Seattle Times and, after averring to the server that he’ll have “the usual”, began summarizing the articles aloud in an attempt to draw me into conversation. “Yeah, I don’t know about this big bank bailout deal,” he would declare in my general direction, while I did my best to ignore him. “No one is offering me a bailout,” he’d add.

Eventually his food arrived, which meant (I thought) that he’d clam up a bit. But just as I let my guard down, he abruptly turned to me and said, “I guess they were talking to Joey Cora about maybe managing the Mariners next year.” Caught by surprise, I accidentally said “oh, really?” and, having breached my defenses, the man launched into a long and convoluted tirade about our local and abysmal baseball team.

For the first 15 seconds I politely nodded and uh-huhed in response, frantically trying to concoct an exit strategy. But then I noticed something fascinating: as the man spoke to me, half turned in his seat and facing my direction, he was also shaking pepper onto his breakfast. And I don’t mean he was giving the shaker a few desultory jiggles now and again, I mean the entire time he spoke he had the mill in an elliptical orbit over his food and was moving it up and down as rhythmically as a piston. This went on for so long that I could only assume that he was doing so absent-mindedly, unaware of the huge volume of seasoning that was raining down on his eggs and hash browns.

So then I tried to keep him engaged as long as possible. “I was always a fan of Joey Cora,” I said truthfully. “How likely is he to take the position?” And that got the guy going for another 20 or 30 seconds, shake shake shaking all the while.

Then, having reached a stopping point in his analysis, he abruptly set down the shaker and grabbed his fork. And I was all, like, “oh man, this is gonna be GREAT!” But then he began wolfing down eggs without any apparent discomfort. Not even a Scooby-Doo style sneeze. Rats.

Anyway, I thought of this guy the other day when I first tried Nabisco brand Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil Triscuit…

It ain’t often a food review makes me laugh out loud…

Categories: Blogging about Blogs, Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

A penny saved is a penny blogged…

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Still putting away some final items from the big House Renovation, and I came upon this, which seemed oddly appropriate these days:

When I was a kid, my grandfather gave me coin collecting books. Basically, nicely bound pieces of cardboard with circles cut out on the inside and years printed below them – one the size of pennies, one for nickels, one for dimes and one for quarters. I don’t know what happened to the nickels, dimes and quarters, but the penny book survived until we packed up to move out of the house, which means I still have it today, now that we’re back in.

Of course, once my grandfather gave me the books, he had to start giving me coins. I remember holding coins up to the light to read the years on them, so I could put them in my book (much like my kids go through their grandparents’ quarters to collect all fifty state quarters & put them in a similar book, also given to them by their grandparents, but I digress…)

Anyway, one of the oldest pennies in the book is this one from 1930. That’s a penny from The Great Depression, folks. Forget everything you know about interest rates and the time value of money. I can promise you that when this penny was minted, it was more valuable to the owner(s) than it is today.

I gotta say, Honest Abe’s holding up pretty well after 78 years. If only he could talk, huh? That would be . . . . . . well, exceedingly frightening, I suppose. Better he just sit there and stare to his left. Yes, yes – that’s better. That way, I won’t have nightmares when I go to sleep just after posting this to the blog. Definitely better. Definitely…

Categories: Money Talk, Random Acts of Blogging | 2 Comments »

How Screwed is Conan O’Brien?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

So, you’re Conan O’Brien and you took over the late-night show (12:30AM) from David Letterman back in the mid-90s. No one thought you’d survive, but you made it work. Then, Jay Leno announces he’s leaving the Tonight Show and, unlike the Carson/Letterman thing, you are named as his successor. Life is good, right?

Well, now, Jay Leno has announced that he’s going to do a daily show on NBC at 10pm. It won’t be a copy of The Tonight Show, he says, but it will contain “comedy staples” like “JayWalking” and “Headlines.” Also, guest stars doing interviews. So now, 10pm becomes “Tonight” and 11:30 becomes “Late Night.” What’s changed for O’Brien? Nothing.

At least nothing good – 50% more people watch TV at 10pm than at 11pm, so with a 10pm instance of the late-night talk show genre available, those people who “endure” 11:30 TV viewing can pack it in early for the night, reducing the audience. And the poor slob who winds up with the 12:30AM slot? Might as well do infomercials if you ask me…

On a related note, this confused me:

“I find it to be a bold, future-forward move,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive vp entertainment at Chicago-based ad buyer Starcom. “It’s a defensive move to keep Jay from going to ABC. But it’s an interesting move in the sense that if it can work, it’s not a show that you DVR.”

The TiVo-busting nature of a daily talk format was one of many arguments that NBC co-chiefs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff made in their appearance with Leno in Burbank on Tuesday.

TiVo (and other DVR systems) are driving down ad revenue on TV because people can so easily skim through (or skip over) the commercials now. But I don’t understand how a 10pm talk show is something you don’t DVR. My DVR works just fine at 10pm, and as long as the show has commercials, it’s just as valuable to DVR as any other show, no? I DVR John Stewart’s show every night – most nights I watch it live or just after live (if I miss the first 10 minutes, DVR lets me start from the beginning). And if I go to bed early or am doing something else at 11pm (e.g., blogging), I can watch it the next night. Color me confused by this anti-DVR logic…

Eventually, I predict that network TV will go back to the old advertising methods of the 1950s – in-show advertisements by sponsors. So, Jay Leno would stop during his monologue and tell the audience about how great Viagra is, or whatever they’re advertising that day. Then, the show really is DVR-proof, because you never know when the commercials will start/end, or even if you’ll miss something funny during a commercial spot (check out 2:26 from this Tonight Show video. A couple of those per week, and no one will want to scan past the commercials…)

Categories: Primetime TV | 3 Comments »

Shalom, readers!

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

I haven’t posted one of my “monthly” health-checks or “How People Found Me” entries in quite some time (bad blogger….bad, bad blogger), but this one caught my eye. And since I no longer trust myself to wait for the monthly posts, here it is:

According to my Google Analytics logs, someone from Givatayim, Tel Aviv, Israel came to my blog using this link over the weekend.

So first, it’s really cool that someone can read something I wrote in a different language that uses a different character set, and I don’t have to do anything to make it happen. Second, it’s meta-cool that I’m able to find out about it the very next day and narrow him/her down to a town halfway around the world.

Categories: The Future is Now | No Comments »

ISBS Review: Rosie Live! – Dead on Arrival

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Last Saturday, I summarized all of the bad reviews that Rosie O’Donnell’s new variety show, Rosie Live!, received on it’s premiere (and, as it turns out, finale) show. At the end of the post, I off-handedly commented that I’d really like to see the show now, just to see how bad it was. And then Jason egged me on. So tonight, I put myself through watched it.

First of all, let’s be clear: the show deserved every bad review it got. It was truly awful. And, since I watched it with an eye toward what made it so bad, I think I’ve got it figured out: Rosie simply cannot get out of her own way.

Did you ever go to a local comedy club? You know, the kind where there’s an emcee who does a few minutes of stand-up to warm up the crowd, then introduces the next act, then comes back and does some more stand-up, then introduces the headliner, then reminds you to tip your waitresses and says goodnight? OK, did you ever truly hate the emcee? I mean, has he/she ever been one of those people that just rubs you the wrong way as soon as he/she takes the stage? To the point where even if you enjoyed the comedian, when you saw the emcee you thought, “Ugh….this guy again?!?” If you know what I’m talking about, then you know what Rosie Live! was like.

Every time Rosie was on stage, the material was cringe inducing. The comedy bits were lame, poorly rehearsed, and ill-timed (Example #1: “Oh, let me see who’s at the door. Why, it’s Jane Krakowski! <at which point, Rosie opens the door>. Example #2: “Wait a minute, was that the doorbell? <NBC chimes sound – bing, bong, bing…> Why, yes it was!”). And her singing was, as it always is, barely passable.

But here’s the thing: even that wouldn’t have killed the show. The main problem was that Rosie was in all but four of the numbers – a pair of tap-dancing twins, an acrobatic act that called back Ed Sullivan’s spinning plates (now with Segways!), and two musical guests – a jazz singer who’s name I’ve instantly forgotten and Alanis Morrisette. In every other case, Rosie inserted herself for no apparent good reason. As such, major talent like Liza Minelli, Jane Krakowski, Kathy Griffin, Clay Aiken, Harry Connick Jr. and Gloria Estefan had no room to shine. They either performed with Rosie as an anchor around their waists, or walked on and off stage, barely performing at all. Clay Aiken made a lame joke about how both he and Rosie were gay, but didn’t sing a single note. Harry Connick Jr. plugged his Christmas CD, sang a few bars of a Christmas song, and was then ushered off the stage by Rosie so the show could move on. If you go back and read the list of names I just mentioned, you can’t help but admit that the lineup is pretty impressive (not every performer appeals to everyone, but remember – this is supposed to be a variety show. That’s the point).

The intervening comedy bits (like the comedy club emcee coming back on to introduce the next act), were poorly written and inclusive of popular TV personalities (Alec Baldwin, Conan O’Brein, and others). I’d have even given these a pass because I remember the old Bob Hope specials, where he’d do the exact same thing. A master comedian like Bob Hope (or Johnny Carson, or Dave Letterman) can be funny to watch even when the jokes are dying. But Rosie just couldn’t pull that off. It didn’t help that she started the show by talking about how overweight she was and then grabbing her own breasts. This theme carried throughout the comedy sketches, as guest after guest made reference either to her cleavage or her weight. The closing number, with Gloria Estefan, was a song entitled “I’ll Eat Tomorrow,” and contained dancers wearing giant food costumes (think: Beauty and the Beast – the stage show) and Rachel Ray walking on stage with a giant (fake) turkey.

The bottom line: the great variety shows of the past featured their hosts, but they weren’t about their hosts. The purpose of the show was to showcase the guests, and the host existed to weave it together. This show was an on-stage tribute to Rosie herself. With four exceptions, everything was by Rosie, about Rosie, with Rosie or for Rosie. When it ended (and before she read the reviews), I’m guessing Rosie was pretty happy about how it all went. Unfortunately, no one else in America agreed.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Primetime TV | 6 Comments »

We all knew this day would come…

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

In my mailbox (the actual mailbox, not my e-mail inbox) today:


Categories: Money Talk | 2 Comments »

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