Saturday, September 08, 2007
Latest Newspaper Column:
This past Tuesday marked the anniversary of an event that nearly brought a major American corporation to its knees and gave the national lexicon a new buzzword for colossal failure.
Fifty years ago, on Sept. 4, 1957, Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel.
It was supposed to be the car of the future, the Next Big Thing. It was also, according to a recent article in The Washington Post, the subject of one of the biggest marketing campaigns ever seen up to that time.
The geniuses at Ford kept the actual design of the car a secret up until the day of release, while teasing people with cryptic references to the mysterious, upcoming "E-car." They hired "motivational researchers" to determine what people wanted out of their cars. They did study after study just to come up with a name for the vehicle, even going so far as to ask famous poet Marianne Moore what she would call it. (Some of Moore's suggestions: "Ford Faberge," "Mongoose Civique," and "Utopian Turtletop.")
Finally, in what Ford's PR director, C. Gayle Warnock, later called an attempt to "brown-nose" company President Henry Ford II, Ford's CEO settled on "Edsel," the name of Ford's late father. This despite the protestations of Warnock, who predicted they'd lose 200,000 sales with a name like that.
(I, for one, will admit to being partial to "Mongoose Civique.")
Once the name was settled on, the hype really kicked into high gear. The crafty Warnock gave favored reporters sneak peaks at the car; the reporters responded to the special access with favorable reviews of a car they'd barely seen and never driven. When the car was finally unveiled, people were stunned, but not in the way Ford wanted.
First off, the car just looked weird. For no really good reason, the engineers at Ford decided that the Edsel would have a vertical, oval-shaped grille on the front rather than the horizontal grille that had served perfectly adequately for other cars in the past. Unfortunately, the early designs didn't take in enough air to keep the engine cool, so the oval got bigger and bigger until it looked, to some people, like a horse collar. To others it looked, shall we say, vaguely obscene.
Add to that the fact that the car just didn't work very well. It had a push-button transmission, located in the middle of the steering wheel, that had a nasty tendency to freeze up. Stuff tended to fall off the car. Doors and trunks wouldn't close. It leaked so badly that people joked that the name stood for "Every Day Something Else Leaks."
Part of the problem was that, although this was supposed to be Ford's most popular model, they had amazingly never dedicated a factory line to making the Edsel. The cars were produced on Ford and Mercury assembly lines, where workers had to change parts bins and tools whenever they switched to the Edsel. Sometimes parts got left off, either by confusion or by disgruntled workers.
Within weeks, it became obvious that the Edsel was a bomb. So the PR team got together and came up with another brilliant strategy: Test-drive an Edsel, and you'd be entered in a drawing to win a pony, right there at the dealership.
Yes, you heard right. Ford bought 1,000 ponies and sent them to dealers. Unfortunately, most suburban Americans didn't have any place to keep a pony, so this marketing strategy flopped almost as badly as the car itself. Not only that, but Ford found itself stuck with a glut of ponies. I've done some research, but I have yet to discover what was done with the excess ponies. I'm not really sure I want to know.
Finally, after losing over $250 million (big money in those days), Ford pulled the plug on the Edsel. Ironically, one of the people responsible for calling an end to the debacle was a Ford exec named Robert McNamara, who would later go on to participate in the creation of his own ill-conceived disaster as secretary of defense under Lyndon Johnson.
So, looking back, what do we see in the failure of the Edsel? A massively overheated hype before the fact, with a compliant press going along. A tendency to tell the boss what they thought he wanted to hear rather than listening to the opinions of professionals. Throwing out years of established doctrine for no good reason. Failure to adequately prepare for the operation (aka going into production with the factory you have, not the factory you need). Then throwing good money after bad in an attempt to salvage the ill-conceived idea. Sound familiar?
Maybe there really is nothing new under the sun.
"I invite you to embrace Islam." He goes on to say: "There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling 2.5 percent."
Ya know, every time Osama releases one of his deranged rants, I hear a lot of bullshit from wingnuts about "he sounds just like a Democrat!"
But in this observation and promise to cut taxes, OBL seems to be making a pitch for those Republicans who think "low taxes" are the be-all and end-all of political theory.
If all you care about his lowering taxes, Vote Osama!
Friday, September 07, 2007
(1) Thanked the Australian Prime Minister for "being such a good host at the OPEC Summit";
(2) Referred to Australian troops in Iraq as "Austrian troops";
(3) Tried to go off the stage the wrong way, over a "steep drop," and had to be guided back to where the stairs were;
(4) Later snapped at the President of South Korea .
One might almost think he's drinking again.
Well, according to this article at washingtonpost.com, that's exactly what's happening to some Comcast customers:
Comcast has punished some transgressors by cutting off their Internet service, arguing that excessive downloaders hog Internet capacity and slow down the network for other customers. The company declines to reveal its download limits.
"You have no way of knowing how much is too much," said Sandra Spalletta of Rockville, whose Internet service was suspended in March after Comcast sent her a letter warning that she and her teenage son were using too much bandwidth. They cut back on downloads but were still disconnected. She said the company would not tell her how to monitor their bandwidth use in order to comply with the limits.
"You want to think you can rely on your home Internet service and not wake up one morning to find it turned off," said Spalletta, who filed a complaint with the Montgomery County Office of Cable and Communication Services. "I thought it was unlimited service."
As Internet service providers try to keep up with the demand for increasingly sophisticated online entertainment such as high-definition movies, streaming TV shows and interactive games, such caps could become more common, some analysts said.
It's unclear how many customers have lost Internet service because of overuse. So far, only Comcast customers have reported being affected. Comcast said only a small fraction of its customers use enough bandwidth to warrant pulling the plug on their service.
I now know for damn sure I'll never spend a dollar on Comcast. I mean it's one thing to tell people up front that "okay, you get this much usage per month for this price." But to sell "unlimited service" that's actually limited service, but they won't even tell you what the limits are....somebody needs to contact their local Attorney General consumer fraud division.
I look forward to seeing these crooks sued out of existence.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Sen. Larry E. Craig yesterday launched a campaign to save his political career, dismaying fellow Republicans with his determination to stay in the Senate if he successfully overturns his guilty plea, made after he was arrested in a sex sting in an airport men's room.
The Idaho lawmaker called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), telling him that he plans to finish his term through 2008 if he manages to have the charges against him dismissed by Sept. 30. Meanwhile, his attorneys sought to quash an ethics committee investigation, prompting a rare public rebuff from the panel's leadership, who said that their probe will continue.
America loves a good trainwreck, and this one promises to be a five-alarmer.
Who wants popcorn?
P.S: Personally, I've got no damn sympathy for the twisted little freak. He lives in the world he and his buddies would love to see us all live in: a world where being different in your sexuality drives you into the dark corners and the merest intimation of gayness is enough to cost you your job.
How you like your "family values" party now, bitch?
WASHINGTON - A B-52 bomber was mistakenly armed with six nuclear warheads and flown for more than three hours across several states last week, prompting an Air Force investigation and the firing of one commander, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the mishandling of the weapons “deeply disturbing” and said the committee would press the military for details. Rep. Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the Homeland Security committee, said it was “absolutely inexcusable.”
The plane was carrying Advanced Cruise Missiles from Minot Air Force Base, N.D, to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., on Aug. 30, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a Defense Department policy not to confirm information on nuclear weapons.
The missiles, which are being decommissioned, were mounted onto pylons on the bomber’s wings and it is unclear why the warheads had not been removed beforehand.
And why is it necessary to fly a missile halfway across the country to decommission it?
Monday, September 03, 2007
We all believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. Some on the left believe that they are innocent even after being proven guilty.
Of course, as Greenwald points out, the wingnuts have no problem believing that people who are merely suspected of terrorist activity are guilty until proven innocent, AND they still insist Scooter Libby is innocent after being found guilty by a jury. Greenwald's explanation of the reason for this mental disconnect is well worth a read.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
So it seems that another rat has left the sinking ship that is the Bush administration.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, affectionately known to President Bush as "Fredo," announced his resignation from the post this past week.
Perhaps the nickname should have been his first clue. After all, Fredo was the weak Corleone brother who was shot in the head and dumped in the lake on his brother's orders in "Godfather II." It's not what you'd call an auspicious nickname.
It was clear from the beginning of Gonzales' career that his primary qualification for any governmental job was his exemplary hang-time whenever George Dubbya Bush said "jump." But Gonzales' two main jobs -- White House counsel and attorney general -- were ones in which blind loyalty to the Boss has the potential to wreak utter havoc, not only on said Boss, but on the country as a whole. Both jobs require a degree of independence that poor Fredo could never muster.
Let's start with his tenure as White House counsel -- essentially the president's legal adviser in matters pertaining to the way he does his job.
There are few things a lawyer can do that are worse for a client than telling him, "Sure, Boss, you can do anything you want, even if the law says different. I'll come up with some cockamamie theory. It'll be OK." Unfortunately this appears to be exactly the kind of advice Gonzales gave. His infamous memo to the president justifying the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," the one in which he described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
When Gonzales further advised the president, in essence, "Sure, Boss, you can ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and wiretap anyone you want. You're a big strong war president. Don't let a bunch of punk judges and congressmen push you around," his position drew a stinging rebuke from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Even Republican senators, it appears, don't like being informed that the laws the Congress made don't apply and they should just sit down and shut up when the king wants something. And you can bet that judges really don't like it.
As attorney general, Gonzales continued his yes-man ways, acting as if his job were not to act as an independent law-enforcement officer but instead to turn the Justice Department into the Office of the Holy Republican Inquisition.
U.S. attorneys such as New Mexico's David Iglesias, who failed to be vigorous enough in pursuing Democrats who had been designated as targets by Republican lawmakers, found that they themselves became targets -- of complaints to the White House by those same lawmakers. Soon after that, they found themselves unemployed.
Others, such as Carol Lam, who successfully prosecuted Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham, became subject to termination orders from "the highest levels of government," in the words of the official who fired her. (Allegedly Lam was fired because she wasn't pursuing enough immigration cases. However, pre-Cunningham, the Justice Department had sent a memo to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defending Lam on just that issue.)
Finally, Fredo was called before congressional investigators and asked to explain what the heck had been going on. After his performance, which was a veritable blizzard of contradictory statements and sudden "lapses in memory," even Republicans had had enough.
"Why is your story changing?" Republican Sen. Charles Grassley demanded during one hearing. Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter described Gonzales' account of his role in the attorney firings as "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts." Finally, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, not exactly a flaming liberal, told Gonzales, that "the best way to put this behind us is your resignation."
Dubbya, of course, with his usual disdain for reality, blamed Gonzales' resignation on Democrats who had "dragged his name through the mud" for "political purposes."
So now that Gonzales is history, the question is, who's going to replace him? At this time, one of the names being floated is that of Homeland Defense Secretary Michael Chertoff.
OK, let me get this straight. The Bushistas want to nominate the man who was head of Homeland Security, "Brownie's" boss, during the debacle that was the federal governments response to Hurricane Katrina? And they want to do so one the second anniversary of said debacle? My, won't that make for an interesting confirmation hearing?
I was going to ask if they could really be that stupid, and then I look back on the past few years and think yes, yes they can.