Views from a ParkedCar

Where You Always Seem Smarter...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Blood on Her Hands

We've always found the Wall Street Journal to be the most intriguing of newspapers. Journalistically, they are one of the top papers in the world. Editorially, what they lack in insight they more than make up for in conservative consistency.

It was expected that they'd be against the ruling. Anything remotely critical of President Bush or Republican idealogy is fodder for their pages. But their editorial today on Judge Taylor's ruling permanently enjoining the Bush administration's warrantless wiretap program was particularly snarky and hysterical. They argue, for example, that the wiretapping program is an intelligence operation and not a law-enforcement proceeding, as if this is a meaningful distinction. We suspect that if or more likely, when, the Administration actually starts using the information obtained in a criminal proceeding it will matter little to the victim that his or her civil rights were denied because the information was gained for intelligence purposes.

But where the WSJ really goes astray in its argument is in its view that the program should be judged by its results rather than its essence. According to the WSJ, there is no evidence of any single specific domestic abuse of the program to this point. We struggle mightily to understand why this matters. A program that is illegal is per se an abuse and simply because the perpetrators haven't compounded the problem by engaging in further abuse doesn't somehow make it more palatable or legal. The suggestion that because an individual may not realize that his or her rights have been violated by an illegal wiretap somehow makes the more program more palatable is an extremely distasteful rubric.

We also find it unfortunate that with her opinion, Judge Taylor will now have blood on her hands because "no one can hold her accountable for any Americans who might die as a result" of her opinion. As long as we're applying a results-based analysis, we'll wait patiently for the WSJ to identify the first victim but won't hold our breath. But they can't really be suggesting that's the test, can they? Protecting civil liberties is never easy but assuming for the moment that Judge Taylor's right, isn't that exactly why we have 2000+ dying in Iraq in the first place?

It may be that Judge Taylor's opinion will be overturned. Given the make-up of the Supreme Court, it's likely. But until then, we'll respect the rule of the law and leave it to the editorial board of the WSJ to argue for a different outcome.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bromides for All Occasions

I heard this on a tv show the other day and it stayed with me: "You can have anything you want if you're willing to sacrifice everything you have." I'm not sure it's true, but like most philosophies, it sounds true enough. You can just picture the inspirational poster, can't you? Some athlete up at the crack of dawn or out at the last speck of daylight, practicing their craft.

But just because we're cynics doesn't mean we always have to be cynical. Which in turn got me to thinking about William Swanson's "Unwritten Rules of Management." By now we've all heard the story. Swanson is the CEO of Raytheon who supposedly created this folksy little booklet of unwritten rules. It got great press (see USA Today, for example) and Raytheon made it publicly available for a small fee. At least they did until, of course, it turned out that Swanson had actually cribbed these rules from others. Swanson made light of his lifting (see Raytheon statement), suggesting that there are no original rules anyway. Kaavya Viswanathan, however, hasn't been so lucky. Viswanathan is the Harvard sophomore and budding novelist that had a large book deal. I say had because that's now in question given her belated admission that she lifted portions of her novel, somewhere between 12 and 40 passages, I believe, from two novels by Megan McCafferty. There was an excellent column in last week's Wall Street Journal which questioned why we make so little of this credibility lapse by Swanson, a powerful CEO while simultaneously excoriating Viswanathan for essentially engaging in the same conduct in her first novel.

My guess is that we do this because whatever the source, we still like our daily bromide. Ben Franklin was probably the first to cleverly exploit this need to provide simple, generic justification for our underlying complex actions. And at this late date, who am I to argue with such success, which, as of now, I'm officially making one of my core philosophies. Along with these:

1. The more you give, the more you get.
2. Appreciate what you have instead of lamenting what you don't.
3. If you cannot give of yourself, then you cannot give to yourself.
4. When people are negative, mean, or uncaring to you, they are really negative, mean, or uncaring to themselves. Never forget that.
5. The little things do matter, especially to people you care about.
6. Life, sadly, is finite. Every second counts.
7. If you believe life is full of opportunities, you'll never face another problem again.
8. Since you have to think anyway, you might as well think big.
9. If you miss the opportunity to give your heart away because you can't be guaranteed it won't be misused, you'll never have a life worth living.
10. Have faith in your instincts, they're generally right.

My guess is that I probably can't take original credit for any of the foregoing, so I won't. Some geek with too much time on his hand and a much better grasp of search engine technology will likely see to that. But I think these fit nicely into formulating a core set of principles. And besides, they're just generic enough to fit damn near any occasion, the key, really, to any great bromide.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Death Be Not Proud

Here’s a heartwarming death-penalty story out of Ohio. It seems that the state with the most inept, ineffective governor, according to no less an authority than Time Magazine (available here) also has the most inept, ineffective method for killing its prisoners. According to numerous press stories ( see here ), Lucasville Prison officials took nearly 90 minutes to execute Joseph Clark, a death-row inmate for the last 22 years. Apparently, it took prison “doctors” several minutes to even find a vein in Clark’s arm. After consulting Grey’s Anatomy, apparently, prison doctors injected Clark with their supposedly lethal cocktail, only to have Clark look up several minutes later and mumble “this isn’t working.” As far as last words are concerned, these may not be particularly quote worthy but they sum up rather well the state of the Buckeye State under Taft and his Republican stooges.

But fret not, Ohioans. Come this November, you’ll have a real choice about your future. Kenneth Blackwell, a panderer of the worst sort to the religious right, squares off against a solid Democratic hopeful, Ted Strickland. While Strickland may be an unknown to the good folks north of Columbus, Blackwell is a known commodity throughout the state. A shameless self-promoter, Blackwell currently serves as Secretary of State and George W.’s wingman in Ohio. It was Blackwell, after all, who served as co-chair for W’s 2004 re-election effort despite the obvious conflict of interest with his duties as secretary of state. Blackwell’s gubernatorial platform consists of two planks: the tax and expenditure limitation amendment and protecting Ohioans from the plague of same-sex marriage, two hallmarks of the ultra ring-wingers in the Republican party. And this is considered progress when compared to the Taft administration, whose dubious accomplishments include having Ohio ranked the 31st smartest state and dropping further (see here ) and being ranked near the bottom in population lost, presumably as the availability of quality jobs shrinks (see here)

So if Ohio lives down to its neo-Republican roots come November, expect the population loss to hasten. And expect the state’s infrastructure to crumble even further. And expect the state’s commitment to education become even more tenuous. But on the bright side, we won’t have to worry about those damn gays trying to live in committed relationships, work at respectable jobs, and pay badly needed taxes. Oh, and if you needed some good news, at least things aren’t looking up much for Taft himself as he faces potential disbarment (see here) after being convicted of omitting numerous gifts and other swag from financial disclosure forms. He might as well be as unemployed as the rest of Ohio.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

No Fun League?

Sometimes you just have to spend a little time in the sandbox.

It was interesting to read this morning in various media outlets the exhortations of the increasingly clueless George W. that the United States "does not torture" and that we follow the law when it comes to interrogating terrorist suspects. I suppose that's good news, I don't know. And I admit that it's a complicated topic. But while claiming we don't torture detainees and that we scrupulously follow the law, W. also was standing firmly behind the efforts to have the CIA exempted from the John McCain backed Senate bill to outlaw torture. This is noteworthy on at least two counts.

First, it clearly illustrates who exactly is running the country and while you can have 3 guesses as to the answer, the first two don't count. In the old days, that is, pre-W, the vice presidency was more or less a thankless role. If called upon to do anything at all, the vice president's job was to stump for important presidential initiatives that needed an extra push and to attend funerals in incovenient locations. But in this wacky, but dangerous, administration however it's the other way around, as if we didn't know that already. W's push for a CIA exemption is being driven by, give up? Cheney. Roll that around in your mind for a moment. In context, this is one of the more important philosophical decisions to be made by the Senate in recent memory and rather than seizing the opportunity himself to stake out a claim for the higher moral and ethical ground, W is out shilling for a vice president sorely lacking in either. Oh the pictures Cheney must have from W's party boy days!

Second, finding the flaw in W's logic as he articulates, poorly, his rationale for torture, is so easy, it ought to be the test question on the student achievement tests dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act. "If George can get Congress to exempt the CIA from any laws against torture, can he then proclaim that we are only following the law if we still torture detainees?" And W and his handlers why an increasingly overwhelming majority of the American people no longer find this frat-boy lap dog credible?

But when things get this bad, sometimes you just need a diversion into the irreverent and irrelevant. That's right, I'm talking about Terrell Owens, along with virtually everyone else. There is no doubt that T.O. is the worst teammate of all time, as Jim Rome noted yesterday. And it more than illustrates why the only way to enjoy professional sports these days is to follow the plays and not the players.

That all being said, the Owens saga does underscore one of the fundamental differences between pro football and its pro sports brethern. NFL owners have consistently held the line on refusing to guarantee contracts for its players while the guaranteed contract is virtually the way all other pro sports do business. In this way, the NFL is like most workplaces--you are just a bad hair day from being fired without anything more than the personal effects on the top of your desk. But is that a good thing?

From the NFL owners' perspective, it's clear that the guaranteed contract wreaks havoc on major league baseball. Studies demonstrate, time and again, that players rarely live up to the value of their contracts and ultimately the fans get left holding the bag as clubs raise ticket prices to pay, in part, legacy money owed to players no longer with the club but whose contracts have yet to expire. This tends to argue for non-guaranteed contracts. But by going this route, NFL owners, with the complicity of the players union, has created major instability in other ways.

At its core, the Owens saga is about money. While it is true that poor T.O. signed a 7-year deal last year for approximately $49 million, the only (and I say that gingerly) money Owens was guaranteed was his signing bonus. That coupled with his first year salary pocketed him $9 million last year. Not bad, but not $49 million, either. The rest of the contract is back-loaded, as they like to say in the trade--earned in subsequent years through increasingly higher salaries and roster bonuses, assuming he wouldn't be cut before either kicked in. In other words, the only way T.O. has a chance to earn the other $40 million is if he plays the full 7 years with Philadelphia. Disregarding the fact that T.O. is the clubhouse leader on the all-jerk team, the fact is that neither the Philadelphia front office nor T.O. ever expected that he'd play out that contract or earn that money. The salary cap implications of high yearly salaries and non-prorated (from a salary cap standpoint) roster bonuses all but prevent that from ever happening. As a result, the only way for a jackass like T.O. to get more money before he blows out a knee for good is to parlay his immediate accomplishments into a re-negotiated contract with more upfront bonuses. That's the game the owners and players engage in each and every season and is a dance that T.O. knows all too well.

In this way, T.O. is like the Judith Miller of the NFL--the right issue but the wrong spokesman. While no one will muster any sympathy for T.O., there is no doubt that this saga and its underlying implications will have a dramatic impact on the negotiations currently taking place between the NFL and its union. If the lack of progress in those negotiations thus far is any indication, a labor dispute in the form of either a lock out or a strike is on the horizon. And we can blame this on T.O. as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Whose Music Is It Anyway?

There was an interesting column by Walter S. Mossberg in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he posits that media companies have gone too far in curbing consumers’ activities. At issue is the use of Digital Rights Management software that more and more is imbedded in music and video files in order to restrict further, illegal distribution.

Viewing it strictly from the lens of a consumer, I can't really disagree with his overall conclusion that consumers should have broad leeway to use legally purchased music and video for personal, noncommercial purposes in any way they want. But to a certain extent I think he miss the point for underlying his conclusion is, I think, a basic misunderstanding of what one purchases in the first place. When you buy from iTunes, for example, you don't buy unrestricted music. You buy a restricted version of that music and pay a price that presumably is an acceptable trade-off for those restrictions. To a certain extent, even the purchase of music via the LP was restricted--you needed a record player. In any event, theoretically, if what you want is an unrestricted version of that music, the price you're charged should be higher to compensate the owner of the music for the risk that some Marxist, or teenager, will illegally send it downstream. Considered in that light, it's hard to believe it's taken the music owners this long to utilize what is essentially a hedge against its risks--Digital Rights Management. Thus, while as a consumer I'd like greater freedom (or at least the opportunity to buy music in an unrestricted format), I understand that that's not what I purchased. I just wish that the various on-line services engaged in much greater disclosure of this fact.

On a related front and although technically not a DRM issue, the same concepts are being employed by the likes of Rhapsody, Napster and Yahoo Music by restricting the number of players to which you can download subscription music. (To the unintiated, these services not only allow you to purchase tracks, they also allow you to pay a monthly rent to essentially download an unlimited number of tracks to your mp3 player. As long as you keep your subscription, you can c0ntinue to listen. Let the subscription lapse and the license to listen magically expires.) Napster is the most restrictive, allowing a subscriber to download to only two devices per subscription. The other two services allow three active devices. To add an additional device, the subscriber has to deactivate one of hisr other devices for at least 30 days, which is just long enough to invalidate all of the music you previously downloaded to that device. These restrictions are undoubtedly driven by the record companies as the tradeoff for making their content legally available. Apparently the fear is that allowing more devices on a given account will only encourage people to share accounts with hundreds of others, thus depriving the record companies of revenue. But in essentially taking the default position that pretty much all of their customers are criminals, the record companies continue to place at risk their ability to leverage the internet to their economic value.

But in designing everything for the worst case scenario, the record companies and their surrogates--Napster, Rhapsody and Yahoo and the other similar entrants--create real world problems for families of three or more, each of whom posses an mp3 player. Since none of the services offer "family" discounts, you'd have to purchase a second fully paid subscription in order to satisfy every member of the family. My humble guess is that most are not opting for the second restriction with more opting to just junk the idea of a subscription altogether.

I think subscription music is a good idea that has little chance of succeeding as long as the record companies remain this paranoid. At some point they'll embrace the digital age and the great commercial possibilities of alternative and cheaper methods of delivering their content, but I won't hold my breath that it will occur anytime soon. In the meantime, they'll continue to leave mega dollars on the table and while watching their antiquated business models crash and burn.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Justice DeLayed

Who knew that the currently defrocked House Majority Leader Tom DeLay would seek vindication on a technicality? After loudly proclaiming his innocence and seeking to blame the indictments on a vast left-wing conspiracy (see NY Times article here), the Hammer has dispatched his crack legal team to get him out of this mess on a technicality. The motions recently filed seek to vindicate DeLay by arguing, essentially, that the underlying conduct he engaged in supposedly wasn't illegal when he did it. In one particularly rich paragraph, DeLay claims that he is being indicted for the money laundering of "funds", but the funds in question where in the form of checks and checks do not meet the definition of "funds" under the Texas penal code. I suspect they still spend the same, though.

Nonetheless, whatever the merits of the case, we do know at least that DeLay's filing makes short work of the the major tenants of his professed innocence--that he did nothing wrong and that he is being victimized by the left. Perhaps he can skate on the technicality. Many criminals do. But always keep in mind that a finding of "not guilty" doesn't necessarily make one innocent.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Judy, Judy, Judy

Usually I’m quicker study than this but I have to admit, it took me way too long to get this whole Judy Miller/New York Times/Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson/Karl Rove/Scooter Libby thing. I attribute it to the fact that I’ve been out of the journalism game for too long, particularly as it is practiced by the so-called media elite in D.C. and the City.

At its core, the story is about the branding and marketing of the war in Iraq and the Administration’s dogged determination to crush any debate or dissent. The brilliant Frank Rich wrote about that in yesterday’s Times where he lays out the scary but true life story of the White House Iraq Group or WHIG that was fast at work selling the war in Iraq to the American people long before W claimed he had made up his mind. Here’s the link:

But while understanding the underlying story is of graver concern for the welfare of our nation, I think we should not lose sight of the train wreck that is now Judy Miller. After reading the Times story about the Miller debacle and Judy’s own unintentionally funny mea culpa ( and I can now fully understand the Times’ angst. As some Times editors readily acknowledged, Judy Miller was not the ideal candidate for this kind of principle. Miller admits now that she got the whole WMD story wrong, blaming, typically, not herself but her sources. It was pretty clear, though, to everyone else in that newsroom and outside that Miller’s stories on WMD were not credible and that she had become a stooge, as it turns out, for the WHIG.

Sensing her career spiraling out of control, Miss Run Amok used the on-going special prosecutor investigation and her subsequent subpoena to determine the source of the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity as the perfect opportunity to resurrect her flagging career on the back of the First Amendment. The problem, of course, was that this forced the hand of the Times, who now must realize how badly they were handled by Miller. In the first place, according to Miller’s own account, she’s not even sure if Libby ever revealed Plame’s identity to her. But that’s almost beside the point as it’s pretty clear that Libby had given a voluntary waiver to Miller about a year before she went to jail to allegedly protect that source. Miller’s claimed doubts about that waiver just don’t ring true, know matter how she spins the notion that Libby was truly telling her not to testify. Miller sounds like someone desperate to find a diversion. Frankly, Mary Richards heading to prison to protect her source on the old Mary Tyler Moore show was more credible.

The irony here, of course, is that had Miller just testified when first subpoenaed, her career would like have been saved. I think most folks would have ultimately given her a pass on the wrong WMD stories. Believe it or not, people still use yesterday’s newspaper to protect the hallway from dog droppings. But by falsely raising herself as the standard bearer for journalism, Miller has brought nothing but shame to the Times and herself. For that she doesn’t deserve any more plaudits. She deserves to be fired.