Archive for the 'Eye of Hell' Category

Facts Are Fun(gible)

I just watched Obama’s first official State of the Union address. I thought he did a pretty good job, but it certainly wasn’t as memorable as some of his speeches in the past. I also thought it demonstrated his continued move to the political center, which doesn’t particularly thrill me.

Tom ForemanBut this post isn’t about Obama, or the speech, really. It’s about CNN, and my pal Tom Foreman, whom I’ve written about before, as I’m sure you’ll recall. (Sure, I’m sure.)

Wolf Blitzer told us that CNN’s great and powerful political team was going to be fact checking Obama’s speech. First he cut to Ali Velshi to discuss Obama’s claims about how many jobs have been created or saved by the stimulus, and Velshi was very clear from the outset: we don’t know.

Next Wolf introduced Foreman, who was posted at one of CNN’s touchscreen monitors (which I believe they still refer to as “magic”). Foreman’s monitor was filled by a form containing four checkboxes:

  • True
  • Somewhat True
  • Somewhat False
  • False

Foreman introduced video of this section of the address:

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

We cut back to Foreman, ready for the truth, and he, putting a big X in the “True” box, said something to the effect of “Surprisingly, that’s true.” I was shocked. Even with the “surprisingly” or the “believe it or not” or whatever word or phrase Foreman used, he put that X in the True box. Wow.

Then he pointed out that some folks would argue that giving tax credits to people who make so little that they don’t actually pay taxes shouldn’t really count as tax cuts, and that some might say that a one-time reduction in taxes isn’t exactly a tax cut per se. Then he added an X to the “Somewhat False” box.

He marked two of the four boxes in response to one question. So CNN’s crack fact checking team has determined that Obama’s statement regarding tax cuts is both true and somewhat false.

That’s not fact checking. It’s pointing out that people with different opinions are going to come to different conclusions. Why bother calling it “fact checking” if you’re just going to tell us that?

No wonder I never watch CNN anymore.

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Well, Well, Wells Fargo

Ed Schultz“Big” Ed Schultz (personally, I prefer to call anyone with that moniker “Eddie Baby”), on his shiny new show on MSNBC, just welcomed Senator Chris Dodd (D – Troubled Assets) to kvell about the fact that Wells Fargo, a bank that received about 25 billion in bailout bucks, has announced a record quarterly profit of $3 billion.

Now, I don’t claim to be any sort of phynancial expert. When I hear the name of that bank, I think of that awful song we had to sing back in elementary school chorus… that song that harked back to a more innocent day in the life of capitalism:

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
Oh please let it be for me!
It could be curtains!
Or dishes!
Or a double boiler!
Or it could be
Somethin’ special
Just for meeeeeeee!

Wells Fargo logoAnyway, I’m not sure the bank’s profits are something to celebrate. Sure, I suppose it’s better than seeing them lose money. But what did Wells Fargo do with their share of the TARP funds?

For one thing, they bought Wachovia. (I’m going to miss that name. It always made me think of the axiom, “What do big banking corporations do? They Wachovia.”) We all know what happens when one bank buys another. This is from a November article in the Charlotte Observer, the paper in Wachovia’s erstwhile home town:

The San Francisco-based bank has started to lay out where it will get $5 billion in annual cost cuts, about 10 percent of combined expenses. High-level plans have been drafted for key businesses, and Wells is working to impose its own lending policies, according to a Wells presentation this week.

Wells is likely to cut jobs in Charlotte but hasn’t provided specifics. It signaled this week, however, that it will pare areas such as corporate and investment banking. For Wachovia employees, long in the driver’s seat during their bank’s decades of acquisitions, it’s an unfamiliar position – following another bank’s procedures for implementing a merger.

While much is still to be determined, Wells has roughly fleshed out where it plans to get its $5 billion in savings. About $3 billion will come from cuts in overlapping businesses such as general banking and investment banking. Another $1.4 billion will come from reductions in duplicative corporate functions, including jobs and expenses such as marketing and director fees. About $0.6 billion would come from office and branch closures and other cuts.

Yippee! Cost cutting! Job cutting!

And then there’s this piece from today’s Seattle Times:

The earnings news does not clearly signal a recovery of the banking sector. Even Wells risks projecting too much optimism — it hasn’t really absorbed the financial death star that is Wachovia. At that former banking giant, a great institution run into the ground on subprime gambles, most of the huge layoffs have yet to fall in its very vulnerable headquarters city of Charlotte. Crosstown rival Bank of America faces continued weakness across the board, especially from its misbegotten merger with Merrill Lynch (Marry in haste, repent at leisure). Wells is trumpeting its big mortgage share gain from Wachovia, but it will be interesting to see how it manages Wachovia’s troubles. (And Wells is a TARP recipient, $25 billion of your money).

Yippee.

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Wrestling With the Numbers

George the Animal SteeleI admit it. I used to watch professional wrestling on the eye of hell. But this was some twenty or twenty-five years ago, back when the WWE still had an F, when Hulk Hogan was a “real American,” who’d “fight for the right of every man,” when George the Animal Steele fell deep into puppy love with Miss Elizabeth, the “manager” of Macho Man Randy Savage. He loved her even more than he loved eating the foam inside turnbuckles.

At the time, I watched for the same reason I watched a couple of soap operas: for the sheer theatricality of it. I used to try to impress people with my theories about the connections between professional wrestling and Kabuki theatre. Did you know that Kabuki was created for the masses, who weren’t considered sophisticated enough to comprehend Noh drama? Did you know that the stage in wrestling is actually built over another stage with a space between them, so that when a character slams his foot down it reverberates, just like in Kabuki?

I lost interest when I felt that things had gone too far over the top. Even I have my limits. Similarly, I gave up on Days of Our Lives after Dr. Marlena Evans became demonically possessed and had to be exorcised by John Black, her lover who may have also been her former husband Roman Brady, but who apparently had at one time also been a Catholic priest.

So why, after all these years, am I writing about professional wrestling again? Well, I’ve seen the adverts for the upcoming Wrestlemania XXV on the eye of hell, and it seems the WWE is in dire need of a math and vocabulary lesson. Watch:

Here’s the text of the voice-over announcer:

In March of 1985, it began.

And every year thereafter, we celebrated the action, the amazement, the thrills.

Now, after 24 years, it all leads here.

On Sunday, April 5th, experience the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania.

Live, Sunday, April 5th, on pay-per-view.

Assuming they’re correct in stating that Wrestlemania has taken place once each year since March 31, 1985, this is indeed the 25th annual event, and the moniker “Wrestlemania XXV” is perfectly fine.

But that doesn’t make this the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania. Dictionary.com defines “anniversary” as the yearly recurrence of the date of a past event. And if you’re interested in the source of the word, the Online Etymology Dictionary provides this information:

anniversary
c.1230, from L. anniversarius “returning annually,” from annus “year” (see annual) + versus, pp. of vertere “to turn” (see versus). The adj. came to be used as a noun in Church L. as anniversaria (dies) in ref. to saints’ days.

Your wedding day is not your first anniversary. That comes a year later. Similarly, you’re not popped out of the womb on your first birthday. You’re born on your date of birth. Your first birthday is the first anniversary of your date of birth, one year later.

So Wrestlemania XXV, the 25th annual Wrestlemania, is not Wrestlemania’s 25th anniversary. That will occur on March 31, 2010, 25 years after the first event. And that means this isn’t even going to be the 24th anniversary. That’s six days from today.

Give Leapin’ Lanny Poffo a buzz. If he’s still in his “the Genius” persona, I’m sure he can answer any questions about this.

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Viva Commerce! (#23)

Dear Chrysler,

Your current ads on the eye of hell feature the following proclamation:

We don’t want to be just any car company,
We want to be your car company.

Chrysler logo

That’s a lovely sentiment. It really is. But I have to tell you, you’re not going to be my car company. I haven’t owned a car since I gave my thirteen-year-old VW (“das Spiff”) to charity in the spring of 2000. I’d just paid about $500 for some repairs, brought it in for its annual inspection, and was told that it would need another $600 or so in repairs to pass. That was the end of the road for das Spiff. Since then, I’ve weaned myself from the need and I wouldn’t want a car now — not from you or anyone else. I’ve got no use for one.

True, if I were interested in buying a car, it probably wouldn’t be one of yours, but that’s hardly the point.

Personally, I’d advise just a little patience on your part, Chrysler.

Six months from now, the idea of being just any car company is probably going to seem like a real prize to you.

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The Florida Keys Have a Lousy Domain Name

Two posts in a day! (And they’re my first two posts all month.)

I was watching CNN this morning, and right after Howie Kurtz spanked Sports Illustrated for failing to be seriously journalistic about its bikini photography, they cut to an advertisement for the Florida Keys — perfectly normal tourism stuff. At the end of the advert, the announcer suggested checking out the tourism board’s website at “FLA Keys.com,” that is to say, what I heard was “eff ell ay keys dot com,” which one would expect would be written out as “flakeys.com.” Of course, one would probably read such a domain name as “flakeys dot com,” which is maybe not the image the Keys want to promote. That would explain why the domain name that appeared at the bottom of my screen was “fla-keys.com”. But the announcer had made no mention of the hyphen.

Naturally, that got me wondering. I was online at the time, and I might not have been looking at the eye of hell while the ad was running, so I would have thought the site was located at flakeys.com. What would happen if I tried to navigate to that address?

Sure enough, a request for flakeys.com redirects (via a 302 instead of a 301 — stupid IIS) to fla-keys.com, so those flakey Floridians at least have that covered.

But couldn’t they have gotten a domain name that would both allow them to easily say and spell the address the same way (that is, without the much-despised hyphen) and not require a redirect? That question led to some quick exploration:

  • Florida Keys logofloridakeys.com, which looks like it could be the official site of the local tourism board, complete with a “Florida Keys” logo, is owned by a company called Cooke Communications, which apparently publishes some local newspapers and magazines.
  • thefloridakeys.com is the home of “Best of the Florida Keys,” which is kind of archaic looking. Dig the animated gif of the hurricane on the home page!
  • flkeys.com is a local realtor.

    And what of the hyphenated variations?

  • florida-keys.com is apparently for sale and is currently hosting one of those parked made-for-AdSense “search” pages.
  • the-florida-keys.com is registered to some guy in New Jersey, but nothing is published there.
  • fl-keys.com contains a meta refresh that sends the user to fl-keys.com/floridakeys.htm, which then fires a script that redirects to fl-keys.com/search/load.php, which in turn fires another JS redirect to fl-keys.com/search/re.htm, where you’re hit with yet another script that send you off to fl-keys.com/search/index.htm (wheeeeeeeeee!), which is another sponsored search page.

It seems that unless they’re willing to buy what could be a pretty costly domain name, the folks at the official tourism council got beaten to the punch. Flakeys indeed.

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Serious Journalism – Bikini Edition

Howard KurtzI was watching Howard Kurtz on CNN this morning, and he weighed in on the controversy (which I hadn’t even heard about) regarding Sports Illustrated retouching out a tattoo on Danica Patrick’s back.

Kurtz’ view is that retouching is wrong because this is supposed to be journalism. No, I don’t think he was joking. Here’s the transcript:

By the way, Sports Illustrated also did something this week. It airbrushed a photo of racecar driver Danica Patrick to remove a tattoo that she had on her back. SI thinks this is just fine. I don’t. This is a journalistic magazine.

Come on, guys. Keep it real.

This was a picture of Danica Patrick, the race car driver, in a bikini. Is that what she wears when she’s racing? And was the picture for a serious journalistic piece about her career, which could have included some discussion of the fact that, in addition to racing cars, she’s viewed as a sex symbol? Plenty of sports figures pose for posters, calendars and such that are about subjects other than the human drama of athletic competition. Often they’re about the human drama of being hot. Would Kurtz have a problem with those pictures getting the Photoshop treatment?

The picture was not for a serious article on Patrick’s career, by the way. It was for SI’s annual swimsuit edition, the purpose of which isn’t exactly serious journalism about sport. Go ahead and click through on that link if you want to see the purpose of the magazine. You’ll probably see the same pop-up ad I saw for Planter’s Big Nut Bar, with the tagline “Make It Big.” Message received.

This is not sports journalism. It’s part fashion (selling the swimsuits), but for the most part, it’s cheesecake — pin-ups.

And fashion and glamour model pictures are retouched all the time. Hell, I’ve got a friend who works both as a fashion model and a photo retoucher. There she is below, working her photoshoppery magic.

Anna

Keep it real, Howie.

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Viva Commerce! (#22)

Dear Aleve,

Aleve boxYour adverts on the eye of hell say that “only two Aleve can stop pain all day.”

I don’t see how that’s supposed to convince me to shell out my hard-earned cash to buy a bottle of your little pills. I mean, what are the odds that, of the millions of Aleves out there, I’m going to be the lucky sod who wins the jackpot and gets the two that can stop pain all day?

What if I just get one of the two? That’d be like getting cherry – cherry – cherry – lemon on a slot machine, and then no one would have a shot at stopping pain all day.

What a waste!

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It’s No Toyotathon Without You

Squire FridellThey say it’s Toyotathon time.

They’re calling it “The Toyotathon of Toyotathons.”

They lie.

Without my man Squire Fridell whipping us into a frenzy, I say it’s no Toyotathon at all.

Come back to us, Squire, we need you! I’m sure you’re very busy running your little winery, but come on, man! It’s Toyotathon time, and you’re the Toyotathon guy! Can’t you come out of retirement once a year, at this extra special time, to bring back the spirit of the Toyotathon?

If you can’t make it, do you think your daughter would consider taking up the tradition?

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Viva Commerce! (#21)

Dear Marshalls,Marshalls logo

Welcome to Remedial Discount Mathematics. Shall we begin?

Your ads on the eye of hell say that a shopper can save “up to 50%” off of department store prices. As an example, you show a sweater, priced at $40.00 at the department store.

How much is up to 50% of $40.00? That’s right, it’s anything from 0 to $20.00. So if your customers can save up to 50% on that scarf, how much can you charge?

No, if you charge $19.99 they’re saving more than 50%, which is more than “up to 50%”. See, a price of $19.99 represents a discount of $20.01 from the original price of $40.00, and $20.01 is 50.025% of $40.00.

50.025% is actually more than 50%, and “up to 50%” isn’t supposed to go higher than 50%.

Maybe we can get Capt. James T. Negotiator to tutor you. He had a similar problem last year.

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Buy Our Product. Hurt People.

Advertising is often about comparison: our product is better than their product.

It’s not uncommon for that to extend to a representation of the people using the products. That is, because our product is better than their product, the users of our product have some advantage over those who use their product. They may be happier, more successful, sexier, wealthier, etc.

Sometimes, this rubs off on the user of the superior product, making them kind of cocky. They’ve made the right choice, and they seem to feel that that makes them better than the poor slob who’s stuck with Brand X.

It’s one thing for the winning consumer to be a bit of an asshole, but some advertisers now appear to have decided that picking the right product gives one the right to take things a step or two further.

National Car Rental logoIn a current spot for National Car Rental, John McEnroe explains the advantages of National’s Emerald Club and its new Emerald Aisle (faith and begorrah) feature: not only can you bypass the counter and all the paperwork, but you just go into the lot and pick whichever car you’d like.

Sounds pretty good, right? Keep in mind that this is John McEnroe, who is equally famous for tennis and temper. He demonstrates his freedom of choice in a lot full of cars by yelling, “Hey, Pal! That car’s mine!” at what appears to be one of maybe three other customers there, pulling a tennis racket and ball out of his carry-on, and serving the ball right into the poor man’s head, knocking him to the concrete, coffee cup, briefcase and all. If the tennis ball doesn’t give him a concussion, I’m sure the pavement does.

It should be noted that the Emerald Club rules stipulate that:

National Car Rental may disqualify any Member for any reason including such Member’s unacceptable driving record. Such disqualification is effective when it is entered into National Car Rental’s computer system.

I wonder if “any reason” includes assault on fellow Emerald Club members.

We’ve got a similar situation with Hall’s cough drops.

In the old days, a Hall’s ad would involve a person who had a bit of a cough or congestion. They’d pop a Hall’s and that menthol-lyptus stuff would go to work, sending waves of gentle, healing warmth through them, and they’d find themselves cleared out, comfortable, and happy. Nice and simple. But no more.

In a current spot on the eye of hell, our protagonist is in an elevator, standing right in the middle of the car. The door opens, and someone walks in. Our hero is pushed a bit to the side, expresses a touch of irritation on his face, and moves back into the middle of the car. The door opens again, and again he has to move out of the way to let someone through, again he becomes a little irritated, and again he moves back into the center of the elevator. The door opens yet again, and our hero is not a happy guy. You’d think that by now he’d have figured out that if he moved into a corner of the elevator, he could finish his ride thoroughly untouched, but he seems to believe that he has the right both to stand in the center and to have an invisible buffer zone around him. He thinks that other people should enter the elevator by pressing themselves up against the wall and squeezing by him as carefully and respectfully as possible.

So what does he do about it? He pulls out a Hall’s and pops it into his mouth. We see those waves of warmth and comfort like before… but something is different. Those waves are now weapons, forcing the other people up against the wall and literally flattening them — most likely causing permanent damage, perhaps death.

Is this really the message advertisers want to send? When did it become necessary for consumers to feel so superior for purchasing the right product that they believe they have the right to kill?

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