Posts tagged ‘Via Instapundit’

When Corporations Use Social Causes as Cover for Cutting Costs

My absolute favorite example of corporations using social causes as cover for cost-cutting is in hotels.  You have probably seen it -- the little cards in the bathroom that say that you can help save the world by reusing your towels.  This is freaking brilliant marketing.  It looks all environmental and stuff, but in fact they are just asking your permission to save money by not doing laundry.

However, we may have a new contender for my favorite example of this.  Via Instapundit, Reddit CEO Ellen Pao is banning salary negotiations to help women, or something:

Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate,’ she said. ‘So as part of our recruiting process we don’t negotiate with candidates. We come up with an offer that we think is fair. If you want more equity, we’ll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren’t going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation.’

Like the towels in hotels are not washed to save the world, this is marketed as fairness to women, but note in fact that women don't actually get anything.  What the company gets is an excuse to make their salaries take-it-or-leave-it offers and helps the company draw the line against expensive negotiation that might increase their payroll costs.

Postscript:  Yes, I understand the theory of negotiation and price discrimination, as used by auto dealers.  One can make an argument that setting prices high (or wages low) and then allowing negotiation by the most wage or price sensitive is the best way to optimize profits, and that Pao's plan in the long-term may actually raise their total compensation costs for the same quality people.  I don't think she is thinking that far ahead.

It Is Your Obligation to Drop Everything When We Call and Kowtow to US

Via Instapundit:

When Apple didn't participate in an April hearing on children's online privacy, [John Rockefeller] the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, gave voice to his suspicions.

"When people don't show up when we ask them to ... all it does is increases our interest in what they're doing and why they didn't show up," Rockefeller said of Apple and Google, which both declined to testify. "It was a stupid mistake for them not to show up, and I say shame on them."

Vista Update -- It Still Sucks

Short version: avoid Vista.  Longer version:  I wrote previously about Vista writing a new chapter in fair use: 

Because, having killed fair use for multiple copies, believe it or
not, the media companies are attempting to kill fair use even for the
original media by the original buyer!  I know this sounds crazy, but in
Windows Vista, media companies are given the opportunity to, in
software, study your system, and if they feel that your system is not
secure enough, they can downgrade the quality of the media you
purchased or simply refuse to have it play.  In other words, you may
buy an HD DVD and find that the media refuses to play on your system,
not because you tried to copy it, but because it feels like your system
*might* be too open.  The burden of proof is effect on the user to prove to the media companies that their system is piracy-proof before the media they paid for will play...

Back to the book
analogy, it's as if the book will not open and let itself be read unless
you can prove to the publisher that you are keeping the book in a
locked room so no one else will ever read it.  And it is Microsoft who
has enabled this, by providing the the tools to do so in their
operating system.  Remember the fallout from Sony putting spyware, err copy protection, in their CD's -- turns out that that event was just a dress rehearsal for Windows Vista.

Via Instapundit, Bruce Schneier concurs:

Windows Vista includes an array of "features" that you don't want.
These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure.
They'll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will cause
technical support problems. They may even require you to upgrade some
of your peripheral hardware and existing software. And these features
won't do anything useful. In fact, they're working against you. They're
digital rights management (DRM) features built into Vista at the behest
of the entertainment industry.

And you don't get to refuse them.

The details are pretty geeky, but basically

Microsoft


has reworked a lot of the core operating system to add copy protection
technology for new media formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. Certain
high-quality output paths--audio and video--are reserved for protected
peripheral devices. Sometimes output quality is artificially degraded;
sometimes output is prevented entirely. And Vista continuously spends
CPU time monitoring itself, trying to figure out if you're doing
something that it thinks you shouldn't. If it does, it limits
functionality and in extreme cases restarts just the video subsystem.
We still don't know the exact details of all this, and how far-reaching
it is, but it doesn't look good....

Unfortunately, we users are caught in the crossfire. We are not only
stuck with DRM systems that interfere with our legitimate fair-use
rights for the content we buy, we're stuck with DRM systems that
interfere with all of our computer use--even the uses that have nothing
to do with copyright....

In the meantime, the only advice I can offer you is to not upgrade
to Vista.

We have about 50 computers in the company and I have banned everyone from upgrading to Vista.  I have studied Vista and there is nothing there that helps my business, and a lot that hurts it (e.g. higher initial price and much higher system requirements.)  If we upgraded, we might have to replace half our old ink jet printers just because the manufacturers are really unlikely to write Vista drivers for them.  We have 4 Dell's in the closet with XP loaded.  After those are used up, I will build all the future computers myself.  I have several OEM copies of XP on the shelf (less than 1/2 price of the Vista retail upgrade) and I will buy more if it looks like they are going to stop selling it.  I would switch everyone to Linux, except most of my employees are not very computer savvy and its just too hard to get them all trained.  I will probably only buy Vista for one box, which is my gaming machine at home, and even that is at least a year away before anyone has a killer DirectX 10 game I have to have.

Lobbying "Reform"

Via Instapundit, Mark Tapscott reports that Nancy Pelosi is cooking up a lobbying "reform" bill that  will be to lobbying what McCain-Feingold was to elections:  A figleaf labelled "reform" behind which politicians can hide while in effect making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to exercise their free speech.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has cooked up with Public
Citizen's Joan Claybrook a "lobbying reform" that actually protects
rich special interests and activists millionaires while clamping new
shackles on citizens' First Amendment rights to petition Congress and
speak their minds....

That
is bad news for the First Amendment and for preserving the kind of
healthy, open debate that is essential to holding politicians,
bureaucrats and special interests to account for their conduct of the
public business.

The key provision of the 2006 bill was its
redefinition of grassroots lobbying to include small citizens groups
whose messages about Congress and public policy issues are directed
toward the general public, according to attorneys for the Free Speech
Coalition.

All informational and educational materials produced
by such groups would have to be registered and reported on a quarterly
basis. Failure to report would result in severe civil penalties (likely
followed soon by criminal penalties as well).

In addition, the
2006 bill created a new statutory category of First Amendment activity
to be regulated by Congress. Known as "grassroots lobbying firms,"
these groups would be required to register with Congress and be subject
to penalties whenever they are paid $50,000 or more to communicate with
the general public during any three-month period.

In other words,
for the first time in American history, potentially millions of
concerned citizens involved in grassroots lobbying and representing
viewpoints from across the entire political spectrum would have to
register with Congress in order to exercise their First Amendment
rights.

There is even more bad news here, though, because the
Pelosi-Claybrook proposal includes loopholes big enough to protect Big
Labor, Big Corporations and Big Nonprofits, as well as guys with Big
Wallets like George Soros. Big Government, you see, always takes care
of its big friends.

The Pelosi-Claybrook proposal builds on the
restrictions on free speech created by campaign finance reform measures
like McCain-Feingold that bar criticism of congressional incumbents for
30 days prior to a primary and 60 days before a general election.

It should be no surprise that Common Cause, whose main cause is to champion unlimited government power, is behind both bills.

I Have Mixed Feelings on This

Via Instapundit, comes this story of the Pennsylvania legislature declaring vendetta on local media:

Team 4 has a voicemail recording of Democratic State Rep. Tim Solobay,
of Canonsburg, saying that state lawmakers are preparing an all-out
assault on the media. Solobay hints that the first volley is a bill
that would start charging sales tax on all advertising in Pennsylvania.

Solobay left the voicemail message for editor Cody Knotts, who works at The Weekly Recorder, in Claysville, Washington County.

In
the message, Solobay says, "But you know, for the most part, the
majority of the legislative feeling about the media right now is if
there's something they can do to screw them, you can imagine it may
occur."

Apparently, the legislature is pissed the media embarrassed them last year over a pay raise:

Like many newspaper editors in Pennsylvania, Knotts wrote prolifically
last year about the 16 percent pay raise that lawmakers took, and then
gave back under heavy media pressure.

Then, last month, he
learned of a bill in Harrisburg that would hit the media hard --
lifting the sales tax exemption on advertising, along with some other
services.

If true, this is clearly a disgusting abuse of power, but probably only unique because someone was willing to actually admit the tit for tat.

However, I am left with mixed feelings.  The media generally cheer-leads every tax increase, and is the first to join the bandwagon of slamming corporate profits and poo-pooing corporate "fat-cats whining about tax increases that cut into their huge profits" - you know the drill.

So I am less than sympathetic when I hear a media guy saying this:

Knotts said the plan would cause some businesses to stop advertising.

"We
don't have a big profit margin," said Knotts. "We're sitting at around
3 or 4 percent, maybe, and it's going to cut that down to where we're
losing money and then how can we stay in business."

Media executives in Pennsylvania, including those at WTAE-TV, have been lobbying lawmakers to kill the advertising tax.

Guess what - my profit margins in camping are thin as well, and my customers get hit not only with the 6-8% sales tax you are probably facing but also lodging taxes as high as 14%.  I have never ever seen a media outlet in any city or state in which we operate oppose a lodging tax increase.  Or take oil companies, who media companies revel in slamming.  Oil companies make average margins in the 5-8% range, but get hit with sales and gas taxes as high as 30% or more.  Or what about Wal-mart?  Wal-mart has margins in the 3-4% range - have these media companies ever opposed sales taxes at Wal-mart? (hah!)  So after supporting every tax you saw come along and slamming every other business as greedy profiteers, excuse me if I don't cry many tears when you get hoist on your own petard.

Microsoft Censorship in China

Via Instapundit, comes this article by Rebecca MacKinnon on how blogs are filtered and censored in China, and in particular, how Time's Man of the Year Bill Gates seems to be taking a leadership role in the censorship arms race.

Microsoft's MSN Spaces continues to censor its Chinese language blogs,
and has become more aggressive and thorough at censorship since I first checked out MSN's censorship system last summer.  On New Years Eve, MSN Spaces took down the popular blog written by Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti...

Now, It is VERY important to note that the inaccessible blog was moved
or removed at the server level and that the blog remains inaccessible
from the United States as well as from China. This means that the
action was taken NOT by Chinese authorities responsible for filtering
and censoring the Internet for Chinese viewers, but by MSN staff at the
level of the MSN servers.

In addition to taking down sites that offend the overlords of China, Microsoft is also actively filtering blog content

Back over the summer I wrote a post titled Screenshots of Censorship
about how MSN spaces was censoring the titles of its Chinese blogs, but
not posts themselves. According to my testing in mid-late December,
they now censoring much more intensely.   

On December 16th I created a blog and attempted to make various
posts with politically sensitive words. When I attempted to post
entries with titles like "Tibet Independence" or "Falun Gong
(a banned religious group), I got an error message saying: "This item
includes forbidden language. Please delete forbidden language from this
item."

I understand that the business climate in China causes businesses some difficult choices.  Refusing to acquiesce to certain government rules, like censorship, essentially cedes a large a growing market to the locals.  But at some point, that's just what you have to be willing to do, when market share is just too ethically expensive.

Better Late Than Never

Via Instapundit comes the separation of powers is slowly starting to work, with the Senate starting to reign in the Administration:

In a break with the White House, the Republican-controlled Senate
overwhelmingly approved a measure Wednesday that would set standards for the
military's treatment of detainees, a response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and
other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a victim of torture while a prisoner during the
Vietnam War, won approval of the measure that would make interrogation
techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual the standard for handling
detainees in Defense Department custody and prohibit "cruel, inhuman or
degrading" treatment of U.S.-held prisoners.

Its good to see Congress getting off its butt and seeing it stop relying on the Supreme Court to deal with these issues.  I thought this was overdue a while back when I posted this.

Of course GWB, who is the only president in history to go 5 years without vetoing anything, is threatening a veto of this sensible regulation:

The White House has threatened to veto the $440 billion military spending
bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has
lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan
objected that the measure would "limit the president's ability as
commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism."

Uh, how?  Glenn Reynolds responds:

This resistance seems to me to be a mistake. First -- as Lamar
Alexander noted on the Senate floor, in a passage I heard on NPR
earlier this morning -- it is very much the Congress's responsibility
to make decisions like this; the President might do so in the first
instance, but we've been at war for more than four years and Congress
is actually doing its job late, not jumping in to interfere. If the
White House thinks that the Senate's approach is substantively wrong,
it should say so, but presenting it as simply an interference with the
President's Commander-in-Chief powers is wrong. Congress is entitled,
and in fact obligated, to set standards of this sort. It's probably
also better politically for the White House, since once the legislation
is in place complaints about what happened before look a bit ex post facto.

Perhaps current practices are producing a treasure trove of
intelligence that this bill would stop, but I doubt that -- and if I'm
wrong, the Administration should make that case to Congress, not stand
on executive prerogatives. And this bill seems to be just what I was calling for
way back when -- a sensible look at the subject by responsible people,
freed of the screeching partisanship that has marked much of the
discussion in the punditsphere. That should be rewarded, not blown off.

A Bush veto of this measure is likely to touch off the perfect political storm within his own party.  This would make the trifecta of alienation from the more sober parts of the Republican Party, following on his profligate spending tendencies as revealed post-Katrina and his cronyism as reveled first at FEMA and now with his recent Supreme Court nomination.

Strange Quark Nuggets

Once in a while you read something so new and unexpected about the universe that you don't even know how to react.  That is where I am with this article on strange quark nuggets, smaller than the width of a human hair but weighing tons, burrowing through the earth at 900,000 miles an hour.  Via Instapundit.  Coming soon:  Bad Hollywood movie using the concept.

July? Who Can Wait Until July?

Via Instapundit:

THE NEXT HARRY POTTER BOOK, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is finished, and will be out in July.