Friday, December 31, 2004

Teachers who cheat

A really disturbing story about Houston elementary schools that may have cheated at TAKS tests. If true, it's a spectacular scandal since these are poor urban schools nationally celebrated for recording high achievement scores.

One detail struck me: the Dallas Morning News started digging when they noticed wildly fluctuating test scores, then gathered witness accounts to confirm. Until that point, no adult had ever come forward. But people knew. Things had looked suspicious to teachers at other schools, and teachers who later taught the high-scoring students soon realized they weren't that smart. And everyone just shrugged their shoulders. Unbelievable.

Finally, this is an example I think of the unique value of local newspapers. I know James Lileks has written it many times, (none of which I can find and link to) but there's no reason to pick up a paper for national or international news. I've already seen 10 updates online or on TV. But the delving into regional stories -- that's the role for a newspaper. It's the benefit that consumers can't get anywhere else. It's also a service since the Houston school district would not now be starting their own investigation if not for the DMN's findings. Well done.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Treating voters like consumers (because they are)

One of the things that interests me most about the presidential election is how the Bush-Cheney campaign used consumer research and communication strategies that mirror the savviest marketers of big brands. And we here at NotBillable are always fans of smart advertising! Patrick Ruffini points to this WaPo article that tells us how smart it really was. One could say that the Kerry campaign (and their 527s) took a mass approach to marketing their candidate -- an old strategy that meant, for instance, buying lots of expensive network media -- while the Bush campaign took a niche approach, matching different messages to different audiences and employing a more targeted use of broadcast and cable ad buys. Example: as the NYTimes reported on December 6 (in an Archived article) research showed that many Republican women watch Will & Grace. Guess where the campaign did buy network ad time?

This is consumer research -- pure and simple analytics -- at its best. When most people talk of research in campaigns, they mean focus groups but there can and should be much more. There's the all-important database. Early on, the Bush-Cheney team scrapped their traditional phone lists and voter info and used CONSUMER databases -- getting a psychographic picture of who their voters were and what they did. This of course led to the aforementioned precise media plans. I'm guessing it also allowed them to zero in on INFLUENCERS -- people who can reach and motivate other voters/consumers not reached by more traditional advertising. And that's where "the energy and commitment of your supporters" (as Ruffini puts it) kicks in.

As someone in advertising who loves to follow politics, I've always wondered why campaigns don't behave like successful marketers. Candidates are brands. They reach and influence voters through advertising and public relations. Maybe Bush-Cheney finally proved to the political world what Procter & Gamble proved years ago to marketers: the secret to success is constant and high-quality consumer research.

Didn't they break up?

Despite the vicissitudes of love, Dweezil and Lisa will always live on in re-runs. Must add interest to late-night TV viewing for respective new flames.

Fads and fit

I've read tons about Target and their relationships with designers. But this Mimi Swartz article is different -- she actually goes clothes shopping there and, gasp, tries the stuff on. How does it look? She likes some of it but concludes that "the depressing truism that you get what you pay for is pretty incontestable here." She's let down by poor-quality fabric, untrimmed threads and lack of cut. Which is to say that Isaac Mizhari's designs were probably cool when sketched out but the realities of producing so much so cheaply meant sacrificing the fine details of garment construction.

Of course this is true not only for Target lines, but also for the mid-price lines at nice department stores. You can pay three times Target prices and not see ANY improvement in quality. That's the really depressing truism.

That also may be why so many of my friends prefer to shop Target and Old Navy -- it's the same crap, but at least it's fun and cheap crap!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Kicking, clawing, hair-pulling.

Remember when girls got into fights on the playground? You had to watch. It was lame and vicious and for us on the sidelines, the most fun recess ever had to offer. That's how I feel about Nick Coleman and Powerline. I'm not saying any of them are girly men. Far from it. Those Powerline guys are bull stud warriors. I'm simply saying that it's fun to watch.

Is it comfortable in your echo chamber?

If you wanted your thoughts to be widely considered, if you wanted to engage in a true dialogue with others holding different positions, if you wanted to begin the process of consensus-building, this opening paragraph may not be the best way to start.

But then I don't have a "cosmopolitan sensibility."

True confession

This morning, The Corner tut-tuts the NYTimes:

"(I) probably would have avoided the Bull Durham reference in the Sontag obit. The quote was: 'the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent overrated crap.'"

But I have to confess, when I heard Sontag had died, that line was the first thing I thought of. What's remarkable is THAT may be kinder to Sontag's reputation than remembering her post-September 11 writings.

I got the e-D.T.s

Today it will be one week since D Magazine's FrontBurner went on holiday break. I never thought I could go that long without 'em. Sigh.

"Stingy" wasn't the worst part

Jan Egeland is a UN undersecretary no one had ever heard of but he got his 15 minutes yesterday when he called the US relief for tsunami victims "stingy." I think he has been proved wrong. In fact, horribly wrong.

But what offended me more was this: Egeland thinks the US would donate more if taxes were raised. He argues that our politicians "'believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It's not true. They want to give more.'" Who knew a Norwegian bureaucrat could be so intimately aware of the American voters' real, unspoken desires? How is it that only Egeland could sense that, although US voters just re-elected a president who promised to make tax cuts permanent, they really didn't mean it? And did you know it IS the business of UN's middle management to set tax policy for its member nations?

Egeland's comments are pure petulance, revealing the true sentiment of everyone at the UN: if only Americans would shut up and give us more money.

UPDATE: You can read a truly intelligent observation here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

'Up yours' to the ban

In Britain, the day after Christmas is a traditional fox-hunting date. With the new hunting ban set to take effect in only two months, the hunts drew huge numbers this year. Lots of people turned out in freezing cold to show support for Those Who Ride. In an article I will always treasure, the Telegraph gives us this quote from one of the hunters:

"They're here saying 'Up yours' to the ban."

Well! A bit excitable, isn't he? Then there's this, a museum piece passing for a photo caption:

"The Duke of Beaufort's hounds gather at Worcester Lodge."

Yes, yes. Just so. My hounds gather at the couch but all the same, we hope the ban is overturned if only to preserve such unlikely and delightful language.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Not funny

George Carlin enters re-hab. I wonder if this has anything to do with his recent onstage meltdown at the MGM Grand. Or if it's just an excuse for him to leave Vegas until people start wanting to see his show again. If that ever happens. Carlin was once brilliant. A mellow, fun comedian who could appeal to hippies, rebels and mainstream Midwesterners alike. But somewhere along the line, it became obvious that he really doesn't like his audiences. That's a shame. Because bitter isn't funny.

Morocco, yes or no?

Aside from the Adolphe Menjou appearance, would I recommend the movie Morocco? Yes, but mostly as an academic exercise. Most people fixate on the scene in which Marlene Dietrich kisses another woman right on the lips. But her whole tuxedo number is a remarkable combination of feminine allure and outright butchiness. And moments later, when she re-appears in a skimpy stage costume, it's obvious that she won the good-looking legs lottery. Gary Cooper is bad, but tall.

Adolphe Menjou trivia

OK. Adolphe Menjou IS trivia. To some. But for those of us who spend too much time watching so-so movies from the 30s and 40s, he's an actor you see a lot. Usually he appears as an elegant aristocrat. For instance, this morning I watched Morocco and saw him again. As an elegant aristocrat. I assumed he was French mais non: he was born in the US to a French father and Irish mother. And his cousin was? James Joyce. Yes, THAT James Joyce.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The fear of cooking.

I will watch pretty much any cooking show. I love them all. Alas there's one that I've now grown weary of: Alton Brown's Good Eats on the Food Network. Watch it once or twice and it's interesting. Sometimes amusing. Watch it any more often and you realize that if you took Brown's advice to heart, you'd be too terrified to make anything more complicated than a glass of water. My good Lord! It's just a constant parade of specialty gadgets, safety precautions and algebraic equations that if ignored will result in failure--FAILURE!

I just don't need that kind of pressure.

Ellisblog, where art thou?

Eager little minds are still waiting for his Best and Worst of 04 list.

Rudy: the new Karl Rove?

Was Kerik's resignation really the plan all along? I lost count of how many pundits eagerly pronounced Rudy Giuliani's presidential hopes DOA because of the Kerik scandal. "How could Rudy have been so stupid as to recommend him?" they cried. Hmm. Stupid? Could Rudy -- realizing the full scope of Kerik's troubles -- have recommended him for Homeland Security precisely because he wished to jettison him as both a business partner and future political liability? There were two possibillites: 1) Kerik miraculously survives the sudden scrutiny and becomes Giuliani's handpicked homeland hero or 2) Kerik is so shamed by the inevitable revelations, the nomination is withdrawn and he resigns from the consulting firm. For Giuliani, it was win-win. In EITHER case, Rudy gets rid of a business partner whose personal dirt could ruin his company AND he puts any potential scandal behind him well in advance of the '08 election. I don't think Rudy Giuliani is stupid.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Quote of the year?

Forget luxury sedans or jewelry. This year's hot gift in Texas is plastic surgery. As in guys giving their gals boob jobs. Check out this from a wife whose husband gave her $7,000 breast implants: "I never had breasts....I feel very loved that he was willing to do that for me." Yeah. Big sacrifice for that guy. But give him credit. It IS the gift that keeps on giving.

Bloomberg TV's lone viewer

Anyone else addicted to Bloomberg TV? Especially like at 5:30 in the morning? No? That's what I was afraid of.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Monday, December 20, 2004

The kids can't wait

Giddiness abounds this week because Ellisblog has promised us his "Best and Worst of 2004." For many (OK, me) this is more exciting and meaningful than Time's Person of the Year.

The rumble about Rumsfeld

As the dog-piling of Donald Rumsfeld continues, Instapundit reliably provides some sane and thoughtful observations. He thinks that by focusing on issues like mechanical signatures, the critics reveal the weakness of their case. Me, I just can't figure the critics out. Surely they noticed that the president stuck with Ashcroft for four years of the ugliest kind of controversy. He stuck with Cheney through all the Halliburton hysteria--for two elections. President Bush just doesn't seem likely to fire someone simply because the media and media-whipped politicians want him too.

But, as it's always useful to remember, what do I know?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Dinosaur blows smoke up bloggers' skirts

According to today's Page Six, Time magazine managing editor Jim Kelly "said he's a fan of blogs and he named his favorites, including Instapundit, PowerLine, and blogs written by Andrew Sullivan and Joshua Marshall.... 'I read a lot of blogs. And a lot of people who blog are the readers I want....These are people who are skeptical about what they hear and don't buy the conventional wisdom. And that is a big part of what I'm about and what I'd like to think Time is about.'" Yes, who among us can deny that Time is a font of unconventional wisdom and anti-mainstream media. Um, I suspect that Jim Kelly doesn't want these bloggers as readers so much as he wants these bloggers' readers as readers. Because that would truly pump up sales. And then he might not have to rely on stunts like the very lame Time's Person of the Year to garner PR.

Cranberries are good for you. Sorta.

The trouble with health news is that it's often confusing and hardly ever actionable. Like this for example. One ingredient in cramberry juice prevents dental plaque, but another ingredient can soften enamel and still another can cause cavities.

"A team at Rochester University in New York found that two daily doses of fruit drink containing 25 per cent cranberry juice inhibited bacteria-binding and further accumulation to an artificial tooth surface by 67 to 85 per cent.

"It does seem that cranberries are good news for teeth, but it is important to be aware of the negatives," says Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF. "Cranberry juice is very acidic. Every time you drink something acidic, the enamel on your teeth is softened temporarily which can lead to tooth erosion."

Another problem is that many popular cranberry juice drinks contain high levels of added sugar."

So drink more cranberry juice. Or less.


Last night I watched Desk Set, a likeable Hepburn-Tracy movie from 1957. It has a certain historic interest now because of the plot line: four women in the research department of a TV network fear they will lose their jobs to the new electronic brain -- a computer. They don't because it IS a movie. Other tidbits: the truly wonderful Joan Blondell and the screenplay, written by Nora Ephron's mother Phoebe Ephron, which features this tipsy exchange:

Bunny: How about more champagne?
Peg: I shouldn't. There are 85 calories in a glass of champagne.
Bunny: Really? There's a place in my neighborhood where I can get it for 60.

A triumphant return

Just outside Dallas last night, people waited in line for 2 1/2 hours to a watch a movie -- at a new drive-in theater. It's a fun story and, although you have to wonder why the owners chose December to open, I'm glad for them. But half way through the article, one movie-goer says, "You go to the movie theater, and people tell you to sit down or be quiet or other things. Here, you can run wild." And to him, I say, "Yes. PLEASE stay at the drive-in and run wild. Because most people actually prefer a theater audience that sits down and stays quiet." I go to fewer and fewer movies these days precisely because I'm irritated by how noisy people are in theaters. And I'm not talkin' kids. Grown adults seem to think the movie theater is just like their living room. Or a drive-in.

Friday, December 17, 2004


A drug bust that occured not too far from my house yielded some strange evidence: Jack Ruby's police fingerprint card, stolen from police archives But there are only 9 prints. Jack Ruby's left index finger was bitten off in a fight with a guitar player. That's hard core. And that's even before he shot Oswald.

Dr. Krauthammer, genius

From today's column:

"I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

"It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own."

Spot-on observations like this are why I never miss his columns or his appearances on Fox News.

Blink dammit

Why doesn't Uma Pemmaraju ever blink? Other than that, she's completely life-like.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Rubberband Man, I think I love you

Yes, I do work in advertising but no, I'm not in any way involved with OfficeMax or their Christmas Rubberband Man spot. And that's unfortunate for me because it's swell. The problem/solution vignettes are downright charming. The whole thing just makes me smile. And I'll want to see this spot every year, just like I used to look forward to the Norelco Santa who sledded through the snow on an electric razor.

Ever thus

There's an old saying that the most popular man in Dallas is the Cowboy's number-two quarterback. That's been especially true for the last few weeks as fans clamor to see less Vinny and more Drew. But now...I don't think anyone's too interested in seeing Romo.

I'm just sayin'

If you were going to have a secret extramarital affair, why would you have it with a powerful publisher and why would you meet her at a location next to the site of the biggest news event of our times? Because you WANT people to know. (And yes I confess I'm enjoying the pure camp of stories like this -- where the participants are evidently leaking all the tawdry details to their friends in the press.)

Bet you're not surprised.

If you've ever been to a casino, you had to suspect this goes on all the time.

Cahill Speaks, Listeners Chuckle

I'm only an amused observer when it comes to politics and today I'm amused by this account of Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill's appearance at Harvard. Cahill spoke with regret of the Swift Boat Vet ads and claimed, "This is the best $40,000 investment made by any political group, but it was only because of the news coverage that it got where it did," she said. As I remember, most major papers and broadcast news ignored the Vets. Only the Washington Post addressed the Vets and their claims. Maybe the Vets story "got where it did" because -- for voters -- the Vets' claims helped fill gaps in the Kerry bio that the campaign itself left open when they sought to highlight his Vietnam service without releasing Kerry's complete military files or seriously addressing the "Genghis Khan" testimony.

As for Cahill, I will always remember her for her shockingly inept response to those NASA photos of Kerry in a bunny suit. Instead of deploying self-deprecation and humor to earn her candidate some likeability, Cahill accused NASA of a conspiracy to embarrass Kerry. Smart. Knock the one government agency every American has good feelings about.

UPDATE: I think this Powerline post states the case much more accurately than I did (big surprise, I know.) Particularly this description of how the whole issue was at first ignored then reluctantly covered by most media: "the SwiftVet story didn't obtain reach because the MSM covered it; rather the MSM covered it because it had reach."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Father's Day

Joe Simpson, father of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, upped his personal ick factor today by being quoted in the NYPost as saying, "Jessica ... just is sexy. If you put her in a T-shirt or you put her in a bustier, she's sexy in both. She's got double D's! You can't cover those suckers up!"
Now that's just creepy. Some people are doubly offended since Mr. Simpson is a former Baptist minister. But it's not the "minister" part that's the problem. It's the "former." There's a long, instructive track record of parents who quit their jobs to manage the careers of their precocious offspring. See Eric Lindros, Todd Marinovich or every third father of a women's tennis star. When dad doesn't have a real job of his own, things get weird.

I like dots.

And so I chose this template. It doesn't mean anything. Just dots.