October 17, 2008

The Pop in Pop Culture

Oprah Winfrey recently hosted the 60th Primetime Emmy's show. Ze Frank excerpted her introduction and asked for responses.

Here's the edited version of my response:

TV news: producers decide what to produce. editors decide what to show. networks decide when to show it. news personalities bloat until the medium (talking heads) truly does become the message.

TV entertainment: lame, mostly. (I lie. There's plenty I like to watch.)

Yet for 50 years TV was the great agent of homogenization in America. Think Seth Godin's "TV-Industrial Complex."

Re-runs of Get Smart Wild Wild West Little Joe and Hoss Looney Tunes Hogan's Heroes Speed Racer greeted my brothers and me after school. I loved Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom every Sunday night. All in the Family was strangely dangerous Electric Company caused some adults around me to complain about the Cos here's a story of a lovely lady and come everybody there's a song that we're singing and sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.

Okay, okay. I watched the Donnie & Marie Show if I was home on a Friday night my junior year of high school.

Well, yeah, what I'm saying here is that I have warm fuzzies about TV -- I'm part of the pop in pop-culture.

Nonetheless, my children are better informed, more curious, have greater intellectual independence and are just plain better off than I was by their living in a cable-less, dish-less, very nearly TV-less home.

Exception: we put the rabbit ears on the old TV Set so we could pick up the debates on broadcast TV -- and left them on for Homer Simpson.

Another exception: we have a nicer TV Set and a DVD player and we love movies and yes we do watch DVD's of TV shows that originally aired on broadcast TV. Doh!

Okay, another exception: the girls internet stream Grey's Anatomy more than I even know.

Forgive me, Father Charles, for I have sinned.

Still, my children are better off collecting the news they want to collect, going to sources of their own choosing; they are just as inclined to make their own entertainment as they are to consume entertainment; creativity is not reserved for only those in the rarefied wonderful world of Disney, Warner animation, Twilight Zone writers, network directors and I think you know what I'm saying.

As for Oprah's introduction: it was an homage to her TV kin and an homage to herself. It had no meaning for me. Yet I resist snarkiness.

Afterall, the Emmys are a closed system. Oprah, despite her XM channel and her O magazine, lives in the eternal braid of television purveyors and consumers... she herself is both.

When Oprah looks into the camera she is looking into a mirror. When her audience looks into television sets they are looking into a mirror. These loops braid together. Hofstader and Goedel, Escher and Bach would revel in the recursion.

October 10, 2008

Home Land Acquisitions, LLC

Help Wanted:: Start Immediately

Personal Assistant to the Office of the Exchequer *

Duties include writing checks to free market companies sending their fat-cat chief officers and profligate executives, and the companions of both sets of these tired and overworked citizens, to swanky 5-star resorts & spas, from whence they are authorizing billions – that’s right, ~illions with a ‘b’ – of dollars in bonus payments to key employees, during the very weeks of their own corporate bankruptcy filings and / or the receipt and deposit of their corporate welfare checks.

*The Office of the Exchequer is an expense center of Home Land Acquisitions, LLC, hereinafter referred to as “HLA,” a socialized privatized desensitized limited liability company (and we mean limited liability) formed under the Home Land Acquisitions Act of 2008.

Disclosure: HLA is owned in equal membership interests by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve, which are Protectorates of the Peoples Republic of China.

Full Disclosure: Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway owns a controlling interest in China, Bill Gates owns 100% of Warren Buffett and this help wanted ad has been prepared using Microsoft Word 2007.

The Whole Ball of Cheese: HLA is the largest minority shareholder of Microsoft common stock.


Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft, and other ERP Software – none of these programs are facile enough for the species of on-the-fly check writing needed by the Office of the Exchequer, such as when government officials and members of the house, senate or administration are “fact-finding” at aforementioned 5-star venues with said business leaders and, while on the 9th fairway with a dog leg left, promise more bail-out money in return for favorable mortgage interest rates for their children, stylists and paramours.

Moreover, those software packages create immutable accounting records, which is contrary to the best interest of the American people. HLA must have the freedom to act quickly and without an audit trail. (See Opacity, under Qualifications, below.)

The initial funding level of the Office of the Exchequer is $700,000,000,000,000.00. However, it is anticipated there is much more where that came from under the Bailout Protection Act of 2008 as amended (“BPA”).


Excellent Penmanship

The Incumbent will possess beautiful handwriting and be able to elegantly line up 7, 8 or more zeros to the left of the decimal point in that little rectangle box on the checks. The Incumbent must also be able to legibly spell out those long numbers on that short “in the amount of” line.


Additionally, Incumbent will be responsible for NOT keeping track of any disbursements, including, but limited to, NOT entering checks amounts in any double entry accounting system or 10-column ledger, NOT maintaining a check registry, NOT writing checks on a wooden surface that may become engraved with incriminating etchings of very long numbers, NOT remembering payees, dates or dollar amounts, thereby retaining a permanent state of plausible deniability, and so forth. Or, NOT so forth. Or is it, So NOT forth? Whatever.


Preference will be given to individuals who can demonstrate ennui toward this new form of Redistribution of Wealth, plus the capacity to repress any errant thoughts and have no compunction about using tax dollars of widowed mothers of three young children waiting tables and doing maid service to make ends meet and other hard working decent members of the so-called middle class which ain’t really in the middle any more is it [sound of taking a deep breath] to preserve the incomes of multi-millionaire executives, investment titans and whining managers of institutional funds.


GED or combination of experience and high-level contacts and connections. Certificate from an accredited beauty school for hair, eyelashes and nails may be substituted for GED.


Ability to Travel

Some travel may be required to clandestine locales to pick up the next batch of blank checks and undisclosed sums of cash sown into the inseam of pants or waists of skirts.

Access to a Physical Address

Must have access to a rotating number of physical addresses, such as neighbors' mail boxes. While checks will be written in the modified privacy of the Incumbent’s residence, Incumbent or Incumbent’s children or Guatemalan domestic help, will dispose of written checks under the newly adopted “½ x Netflix” protocol, whereby outbound-only red envelopes (with red ink) will be picked up from Incumbent’s neighbors' mailboxes every two to three hours seven days a week by FedUPS (formerly FedExUPS).*

* FedUPS is a wholly-owned subsidiary corporation of HLA.

Writing Hand Free of Injury or Disease

No incident of surgery or therapy for, or symptoms of, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, polyneuropathy or tennis elbow within the previous 12 years in either the left or right appendages.



Annual salary will be commensurate with flexibility of thinking and the degree to which scruples do not adversley affect behavior. Salary will be paid in the form of cash to Incumbent and cash "loans" to several layers of corporations that will in turn pay consulting fees to Incumbent. Incumbent has right to use pre-tax dollars in the cash accounts of these several corporations for "business purposes."

Insurance Benefits

The Office of the Exchequer pays 100% of all premiums and deductibles for medical, dental, vision, pharmacy, chiropractic, life, short-term disability, long-term disability, senior care, pet, homeowners, automobile, recreational vehicle, watercraft, rental property, and vacation home insurance, all of which is underwritten by AIG-TGIF, a wholly owned subsidiary of HLA.

BlackBerry Storm

Despite vehement protest by Parlement du Canada, HLA’s recent takeover of Canadian company Research in Motion, the makers of the BlackBerry, has provided unforeseen perquisites for HLA employees. Incumbent and each of his or her family members receives a Storm in his or her choice of color. International service and unlimited minutes, texting, email and internet access are included.

2009 Toyota Prius Hybrid

HLA is Green. HLA cares about the environment. HLA is Drug Free, Tobacco Free, Duty Free, Hormone Free and Guilt Free. Its dining facility serves only free-range meat and poultry. HLA uses only 100% recycled paper (that’s why its documents smell a little fishy). HLA has industry-leading day care for employees as well as for employees' children. While it is true HLA is the only entity in its unique industry, it nonetheless deserves recognition for its family-friendly policies.

American Express Card

The General Accounting Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and State Franchise Tax Boards have no power to audit Incumbent’s financial affairs; HLA and its operatives have been granted, under the BPA, exemption from any form of accountability; no one will know where the Card is used and for how much; besides, the Incumbent will pay the monthly AmEx payments with cashier’s checks purchased with cash provided for that purpose. (See Ability to Travel, under Requirements, above.)

Unlimited Supply of Pens

HLA's standard pen is the Waterman Expert II Rollerball, Black Lacquer Barrel (Item# WAT40021W), only $90 each. At that price Incumbent has wide latitude on how many Waterman's to stash in inventory.

Mortgage Forgiveness

One of HLA's mortgage banks -- it owns them all in the U.S. -- will forgive Incumbent's home mortgage. Did you expect anything less?

Global Immunity In Perpetuity

Essentially an unlimited supply of get out of jail free cards valid in G7 countries and certain totalitarian dictatorships put into power by the CIA.

Multiple Passports and Identities

Just in case future administrations start pointing fingers.... HLA recognizes it’s the little people who take the fall.

Numbered Bank Account

A numbered bank account in one of three safe havens of Incumbent’s choosing in the event HLA fails in its mission to preserve and protect the lifestyle of the rich and richer.

Scratch that. The administration already has authority to take money from any person or sovereignty for any reason any time any place any how.


For purposes of National Security, until further notice, Home Land Acquisitions, LLC, its owners, its subsidiaries, and its employees, are exempt from anything the EEOC might try to pull, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as Amended, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA), the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act (Newborns' Act), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, officially named the Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act of 2002, and every single one of the Bill of Rights.

(c) 2008 Dennis Freire

September 24, 2008

E Pluribus Unum for Who, um?

I don't have anything to add, really, to the public discourse on the new movie "Saving Private Companies" coming real soon to a theater near you.

Produced by the Chickens Who Came Home to Roost and the First Two Little Piggies Who Made Their Houses Out of Straw and Sticks.
Directed by the Rains That Came Tumbling Down.
Written by the Man Who Built His House Upon The Sand.
Distributed by Dewey, Cheatum and Howe.
Most critical review by the Invisible Hand.

Corporate welfare. Socialized downside. Privatized upside.

E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one"

Pluribus bear the burden, executives and select shareholders become unum and reap the rewards.

In the 80s, Lester Thurow called us a casino society. We see once again that the house wins. And we know who owns the house, and it ain't Pluribus!

My January 17, 2008 post expresses my opinion on executive compensation. You might want to read it. And here's my next-day response to readers' comments.

September 9, 2008

Grandpa Volunteers, Grandma Sacrifices

Arthur Dennis Farren and Stella Mary Payne Farren's young family as the War began. Santa Barbara County, California

My Mother's Father at War

Arthur Dennis Farren, Some South Pacific Island, World War II

January 25, 2008

Memes as Headlines

I was reading the Jan. 25, 2008, edition of Economist.com. The headline for an article reporting Mexico's war on illegal drugs, is "No country for old men."


Yet another case of editors appropriating titles and phrases from literature or popular culture, or even from the lexicon of clich├ęs , for use as headlines.

"No Country for Old Men" is the title of a Cormac McCarthy novel from which Joel and Ethan Coen adapted a screenplay and directed a movie of the same name.

How much lazy headline writing have you seen?

I've seen plenty of uses of "a clean well-lighted place" (Hemingway's short story) in headlines.

Is this lazy?

Or is it smart communication? Essentially using memes as headlines. (If you are not familiar with the concept of a "meme," follow this link.)

"Master of his domain." "Great white whale." "Will it blend?" "It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times." "Around the World in (Almost) 80 Days." "A Bird in the Hand is Better than One in the Bush." "Where's the Beef?" "Not That There's Anything Wrong With That." "War and Peace." "All's Fair in Love and War."

Please send me any memes as headlines you come across.

DennisFreire at GMail dot com

[A related area is that of editors copying the headlines appearing in other publications. That would be "headline plagiarism."]

[[Also related is the art of new media headline writing for purposes of optimizing search engine results and maximizing Adsense activity.]]

January 23, 2008

Social Flutterby, New Media Curmudgeon and theThird

Here is a summary of your responses to my call yesterday for opinions about Facebook (polling sample is a little over 50; while important to me and to those who've opined, these results are statistically insignificant).

Oh, and I was way off on the number of my 100 or so regular readers who have Facebook accounts. I guessed 15%. It's near 50%.

By the way, I don't have a Facebook account. On purpose, but I'll have to tell you why in a different post.

I've generalized your responses:

Social Flutterbyes:
About 40% don't care about the politics of Facebook's capitalists. This group is happy to have the platform, figuring they set their own micro agenda.

New Media Curmudgeons:
About 28% either said they never will participate in the "Facebook / Myspace / Et al" culture, or that they have quit that world, closing their accounts and boarding up the windows to their private lives.

A Third of You:
The prevailing opinion of a third of you was that Facebook, et al, are dominated by poseurs trying on different personae as they masquerade through the web.

Thanks for participating.

DennisFreire at GMail dot com

January 21, 2008

How Do You Spell Recovery?


Malcolm Galdwell poses some questions about pro sports and banned substances.... questions I've been thinking and talking about.

See Malcolm's post "War On Drugs, Con't" and see the three entries below that: "The War On Drugs," "Free Fernando Vina (Part Two)" and "Free Fernando Vina!"

January 20, 2008

Sunday Night's Soup Night

The best day of the week is Sunday. The best part of Sunday is being together as a family. And our favorite meal on Sunday night is soup.

The girls like soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I like soup and crackers.

Tomato soup tonight. Awesome.

But there are more favorites: Tortilla soup. Barley and rice soup. Greek lemon rice soup. Chilled soups, like acorn squash soup, mango soup or celery soup. Chicken broth. Chicken and rice soup. Chicken and noodle soup -- homemade noodles.

No one likes minestrone. Cooked carrots are deal breakers.

I made homemade chicken soup a couple of days ago. Yum.

The girls wearing their flannel pajamas, eating soup and sandwiches and talking. We get a lot of down loading done Sunday nights with bowls of soup in our hands.

January 18, 2008

Distribution of Wealth

I've been surprised by the responses to my post about the distance that separates the compensation of publicly-traded companies' CEOs from the compensation of those CEOs' fellow employees.

Some have expressed outrage about high CEO compensation, but with no explanation why they were outraged.

Some have said, So, what's your point? it's all a matter of market forces and contracts.

Others have accused me of being in essence a John Edwardian "there are two Americas" anti-capitalism move-on-dot-org naif.

Still others suggested I was asking some questions between the lines: How is the compensation difference justified? Can you show me, give me examples, help me understand?

I think my posts on employee compensation and insurance benefits hinge on principles of accountability, proportion and ethics.

Tell me more by continuing to send email to DennisFreire at GMail dot com.

(That's right. I prefer one-to-one interaction in contrast to traditional blog comment posting. Tell me what your preference is...)

January 17, 2008

How to Make Good Bread

Insurance Benefits

Some of your responses (to my post about employee compensation) have reminded me of an ethical dilemma faced by boards of directors and executives, at least by those with consciences perhaps as refined as the Bishop of Digne's or Jean val Jean's, both of Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables."

In many companies, when group medical plans are established and administered, distinctions are made for purposes of setting the amount an employee pays for the annual premium.

For example, at the administrative level, the employee may pay $330 a month for family enrollment in the group medical plan. For the same benefits, however, at the executive level, the employee may pay $120 a month for family enrollment in the group medical plan.

Thus, the employee with the least amount of annual salary is required to pay the greatest amount of the employee portion of the group medical premium.

And the employee with the greatest capacity to pay the larger employee portion of the group medical premium pays the lowest possible amount.

I personally know, and admire, several executives who have recognized this lopsided and nearly arbitrary differentiation of employee cost of medical benefits.

EBay is a good example. It has built into their cost structure the full group medical premium for each employee: it pays 100% of the group medical premium. If you make $26,000 as a inbound call customer service representative, or $126,000 as a brand manager or power channel coordinator, eBay pays 100% of your group medical benefits.

I have done many budgets where the group insurance benefit line item has increased an average of 12% to 15% a year, year in and year out. There are prevailing macro-economic forces beyond most employers' control (and most employers are small to medium sized businesses) that cause the steep premium escalation.

But where possible, I personally would seek other areas to control costs besides passing the bulk of the burden on to the employees with the smallest capacity to pay for group medical premiums.

Does that make me a socialist in your eyes?

Employee Compensation

Larry Ellison co-founded Oracle in 1977 by making a capital investment and contributing his intellectual property, which was the relational database he created. His 2004 salary of $40.6MM, I assume, was a product of his risk bearing as a major stakeholder and founder, and his leadership as CEO.

Assuming an average employee salary of $60,000 per year at Oracle, Mr. Ellison's compensation was 677 times greater than the average Oracle employee.

In the United States, the average teacher salary in the 2005-06 school year was $47,602. During the same period, the average principle salary was nearly twice as much at $92,965.

I'm not pointing to distribution of wealth. What I'm interested in is the compensation variance of employees.

Thus, for my purposes here, I would exclude Larry Ellison as an example, because he is a company founder. I exclude the local home builder, an excavation contractor, a Quizno's franchise owner or the obscure but cash-flowing website owner. I exclude those who bear real risk with their real assets. If their venture loses, they lose.

I am comparing employees at publicly traded companies.

For example, the CEO of Wells Fargo made $37.8MM (here, look at this way: $37,800,000) in 2004. Again, assuming an average Wells Fargo employee salary of $60,000, the CEO made 630 times more money than his fellow employees.

But the Wells Fargo CEO did not bear any risk in the start-up capitalization of Wells Fargo. Nor did he bear risk later by making additional paid-in capital contributions. Nor did he invest in Wells Fargo with large amount of his own after tax dollars and thereby accepting burdens of risk as a stock holder.

No. He was an employee who advanced through the ranks, finally entering levels of management where annual compensation charts on a logarithmic scale.

Here are some comparisons to consider:
(Executive Salary , Avg Worker , Variance , Office)
$400,000, $40,000, 10.00, President
$217,000, $40,000, 5.43, Supreme Court Justice
$165,000, $40,000, 4.13, Congressman

(CEO Salary, Avg Worker, Variance, Company
$148,000,000, $60,000, 2,466.67, Colgate-Palmolive
$70,500,000, $60,000, 1,175.00, United Technologies
$37,800,000, $60,000, 630.00, Wells Fargo
$32,800,000, $60,000, 546.67, Apollo-Education Group
$30,200,000, $60,000, 503.33, Kohl's
$23,300,000, $60,000, 388.33, PG&E

(Avg Principal, Avg Teacher , Variance )
$92,965, $47,602, 1.95

The variances which are the most mystifying to me, of course, are those among CEOs of public traded companies and their fellow employees. Particularly when CEOs, most often, improve the financial performance of their companies by increasing profits in the short-term by massive cost cutting; profits flag later because products and services do not capture new sales.

My exposure and perspective are limited, but I have failed to see how, in most cases, a publicly-traded company CEO's performance justifies exponential differentials that so vastly separate employee compensation within one company.

I first became aware of CEO compensation extravagance as a shadow on the wall of Plato's cave, when I was in high school. Lee Iacocca became CEO of Chrysler and became a celebrity for brokering a deal with the Federal government, securing from the Feds loan guarantees to stave off bankruptcy. Yes, Chrysler repaid the loans, even seven years ahead of schedule, but the company still went from one crisis to the next. Where was the long-term solution? How did Iacooca's short-term fixes warrant his huge compensation? And by now you know that by "huge" I mean "huge" when compared to the average worker at Chrysler.

So, you say, market forces drive CEO compensation. Is that correct?

If so, how is it that only one side of the market forces blade is felt by CEOs? Why aren't CEOs fired when the company's fortunes turn south? Or at the very least, why aren't their salaries adjusted down to be, say, only 10 times that of their average co-workers?

Book Recommendation

Seth Godin's "Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync?"

This book should be read by the CEO on down the line. An understanding of Seth's thesis will help companies:

  • avoid out-of-sync and therefore costly forays into new media
  • judge how their enterprise fits in this age of atomized information and unlimited channels
  • align behavior with stories
"Meatball Sundae" should be read by educators for insights concerning how attention is won and information is sought and consumed.

The book should be read by parents for a reminder of the market of ideas, products and services available to their children and grandchildren -- choice is king and we can educate our children about their power to shape their own consumption.

January 6, 2008


Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Polonius giving advice to his son, Laetres
(Hamlet, Act I, Scence 3)

What's the relationship between debt and being true to your self?

January 5, 2008

Seeing It Soon Enough

I received a request from a friend to help analyze a difficult situation.

The fountain head of the problem is a series of decisions made three years ago, in 1995. From that fountain head flows a river.

Over the course of three years' of additional decisions or lack of decisions, tributaries and run offs and waterfalls have added volume and speed and inevitability to the flow.

Today it is too late to build a damn.

Changing the course of the flow
nearly would be impossible.

The good news is

(1) we were able to compile data, model the future, make some interpretations, coolly accept economic realities, and identify several paths to take,
(2) an option has become available that would be of equal help to my friend and to the third party, and
(3) numbers 1 and 2, above, happened soon enough.

Reminds me of what Mike Leavitt said, as quoted by Washintonpost.com:

"There is a time in the life of every problem when it is big enough to see but small enough to solve."

January 4, 2008

Vaulting Ceilings and Education

The responses to my posts The Third Teacher and Good Design, Wrong Agenda helps me see there are a lot of folks who question the established learning environments for children.

I wonder about cathedrals and a sense of eternal perspective and how that perhaps promotes spirituality... So I ask, is there a relationship between the vaulted ceilings of a cathedral and an expanding view and spiritual sense?

And here's a corollary: What about the flights of emotion and passion and even feelings of deep reverence evoked by mountains and forests and grand blue skies or ominous gathering storm clouds? Or the vastness and depth and pertual motion of the ocean? Or the brilliance, beauty, and diversity flora and fauna?

Physical spaces inspire and promote thought and creativity. John Muir spoke of standing a top mountains an vistas in the Yosemite area of California Sierra Mountains and, though he was alone, uttering mighty "Yulps!" as the seemingly best visceral expression for what he experienced with his five physical senses and his other emotional, intellectual, spiritual and creative faculties.

A learning space for children ought to be calculated to not be so calculating; to not reward only the ever eager, hand-raising, I-got-the-answer type of student, but to elicit more of a Socratic approach of presenting questions for analysis and discussion -- I think space can promote dialectic approaches to guiding even young learners to self-propelled discovery.

Check out these summaries of studies about the effect of ceiling height on learning: A Schools for Children blog post and a PDF document The Influence of Ceiling Height.

Working in groups, teams, committees, subcommittees, on projects, assignments.... in contexts of division of labor and returning and reporting/synthesizing. Thus, why not eliminate classroom desks and instead have conference tables, open chairs for circular and other arrangements, etc.? A friend of mine likes the idea of having yurts available -- yes, even indoor yurts, for certain activities.

Dr. Todd Petersen has some well-defined ideas about classroom furniture and learning environments, and has developed a growing education philosophy (not the typical blah, blah, blah) supporting his ideas.

January 3, 2008

"The Cheapest Way To Build An Empire"

This is stream of consciousness, maybe ill formed, but I wanted to chunk it out to look at it later.

An oft-touted wealth-creation strategy:

Expectation of being the target of a purchase or merger; planned aforethought; sure, we could slip into the set of argot containing "flip," but we won't. The principles are bearing risk and seeking commensurate reward.

There's another mind set, a kin to Expectation:

Anticipation of being the target of a purchase or merger, but it wasn't always so; in the beginning, there may have been a desired independence from equity lenders, perhaps an aversion to debt, and so forth. Here, anticipation truly means hoped for, and the hope arises in the firm’s evolution.

And a cousin to Expectation and Anticipation is: Acquiescence to Inevitability.

In Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch," a character named Hassan identifies an interesting principle, "reward for surrendering," where the tactical and strategic movements of a conquering nation "gives the surrounding nations a reward for surrendering. And a reason not to rebel."

Another character, Hanuhpu, expands on this thought with an example from history:

"Just the way so much of the Roman Empire didn't have to be conquered. The Romans seemed so irresistible that kings of neighboring countries would make the Roman senate the heir to their thrones, so that their kingdoms would pass peacefully into the Roman system. It's the cheapest way to build an empire, and the best, since there's no war damage to the newly acquired lands." (Orson Scott Card. "Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. Tor. NY, NY. 1996.)

Enticing succession and perpetuation solution for the "retiring royalty." From surviving corporations' perspectives, analogous to business development through affiliation, acquisition or merger.

The politics are the same, too. Egos. Saving face. Avarice. Risk and Reward.

In 1995, the vendor that provided the customer service and financial accounting software my company (I was an employee) used was acquired by one of its larger competitor. Our vendor's software ran on an IBM/Unix platform. The database was flat. The worry was Y2K computing errors five years hence.

The installed base of users of this software was fairly large. The acquisition did not arise from the desire to take a shortcut to better products and technology. It was the customers these particular Romans wanted. Evidence of this came quickly. Representatives came calling to explain that "we are migrating from your legacy system to a new Windows-based program."

For us, the portent was increased item cost (data base license, user licenses, training, etc.) and decreased productivity in selling our products and servicing our customers.

This company disappeared, swallowed up like Atlantis in an ocean of competition.

Rather than allow talk of "migration from legacy systems" and such become a ring in our noses by which we would be tugged and pulled on a path dictated by the vendor, we requested bids from other vendors.

We knew we wanted a Windows-based system (remember, this was 1995) and we preferred a relational data base for greater reporting capabilities. We wanted to avoid Y2K disasters that were widely predicted at the time.

We identified two vendors and asked them to present their stuff. We selected the winner.

Okay, here's the part that is relevant. I accompanied the team that went to the winning vendor’s corporate headquarters to negotiate terms for licensing, installation and training. This company had their own "legacy system" but had spent their cash and human capital on building a product from scratch based on the Microsoft SQL Server.

Bingo! These guys created something new and exciting. Windows based, not a DOS product running on Windows, but a from-the-ground-up Windows product. A relational database allowing us to map data fields to Excel or Access for custom reporting. Client / Server operation, which was preferred in those days.

Our contract signing was in May. The company was acquired in August of the same year.

The purchaser in this case was not interested in the installed base of customers. In fact, there were very few installations. It was brand new software. Moreover, the targeted vendor's customers on the vendor's "legacy" DOS-based software were comparatively small in number.

The purchaser was in it for the product, the technology, the resources. They did not have to risk capital in product creation, building, testing, and retesting.

Today, the purchaser in this transaction is in the top two of vendors in its particular industry.

EBay, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, Berkshire Hathaway. Other examples you could name. These sovereignties have prosecuted both types of acquisitions: buying customers and buying technology. And like the Caesars, these empires have allowed in many cases the exiting royalty to live the remaining days with some dignity, lots of wealth, but with declining influence and authority.

It is doubtful that surrounding countries planned to flip (dang, I used that jargon) their thrones to Rome. No. I’d ascribe capitulation to Rome as Acquiescence to Inevitability.

“The Romans seemed so irresistible that kings of neighboring countries would make the Roman senate the heir to their thrones, so that their kingdoms would pass peacefully into the Roman system.”

January 2, 2008

Helping Others Find An Audience

Of course, by "an audience" I refer to people who are engaged and interested in what someone is creating or saying or selling.

I met today with the owner of an up and coming commercial web site selling specialty products. He has a narrow niche and a loyal following. He's ready to step up from his current plateau of sales and operations.

About every concept we discussed has been taught by Seth Godin.

We discussed search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). We talked about viral videos, blogs, and social media. Next time we meet we'll discuss he concept of social gestures and social objects.

What I liked about the guy (one of the things I liked about him) was his desire to avoid cynical, interruption-based marketing (you know, the I-don't-care-if-I-offend-50- people-for-every-5-orders-fulfilled" mentality of direct marketing), and instead has created genuine interest in his business. As a result of his keeping his promises and staying true to his story, he has very satisfied customers.

But he needs more customers and he wants to stay the course as to the tone and character of his site.

He has the beginnings of a remarkable story. I'm eager for our next meeting and brainstorming and analyzing and shaping a strategic plan for marketing to his email subscribers and bringing the right people to his site.

Many have said that each web site is a small needle in a huge haystack. I am eager to watch his progress.... when duties of confidentiality have run their course, I may be able to share additional details that I believe will be quite fun to learn about.