All posts tagged: Annie Logue

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Numberscruncher: Of Course, Mitt Romney Lies!

It’s a given: Mitt Romney has issues with the truth. I think it’s cultural. People in business learn to lie, and in the big-stakes, big-money worlds of consulting and private equity, the truth isn’t all that valuable. In my investment banking days, one colleague told me that I should never say “I don’t know” when asked a question. That made me look weak. Always act like you know what you’re doing and say something  One of my bosses said that I should focus on marketing stocks. If there wasn’t new information to get people excited, just invent something! A third boss said that no one can get ahead in business until they learn to lie. It may be worse in finance than other businesses, but Dilbert’s pointy-headed boss is too familiar to too many of us. It’s not like these are bad people, they are just playing the game. Mitt Romney doesn’t seem like a guy who would lie to his wife or kids, but he would tell shareholders what they needed to hear for …

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Numberscruncher: Who Built What, When?

The 2012 Republican Convention’s theme for Tuesday, August 28 is “We Built It,” a riff on an unfortunate comment by Barack Obama. Obama was trying to make the point that government provides education, infrastructure, police protection, property protection, and other things that have to be in place before a business can be successful. So what was it built on? Entrepreneurs are touchy about other people trying to latch onto their success, because starting a business is hard work. Even harder is getting up every day and trying to get people excited about what you are doing so that they will part with enough of their money so that you can make payroll. Most entrepreneurs would far rather do what they do than have a regular job, but that doesn’t make their jobs easy. Even a liberal like me was soured by my experience applying for a City of Chicago business license; it’s pretty annoying to have a career bureaucrat talk down to you how to start a business – to say the least. And yet, …

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The Popdose 100: The Greatest Love Songs of All Time

Much like our 100 Greatest Covers post last year, this was a collaborative effort for the Popdose staff.  Although our list of nominees was a bit smaller – only 300 songs – the voting was every bit as competitive, with our #7 and #8 songs being separated by just one tenth of a point.  As a collective, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day, whether you’re a member of a Bizarre Love Triangle, a pair of Two Hearts, or even if you’re a member of the Lonely Hearts Club.  Love to all. — Zack Dennis If you’re listening on Spotify, you can find a link to versions of all of the songs here. 100. “You Belong to Me” – Bob Dylan. Of all the things that can cause friction in a relationship, physical distance can be one of the hardest to endure. It softens a couple’s strengths, and makes every single problem – even the smallest ones – harder to address. Without a definitive end in sight, very few long-distance relationships survive. And yet, almost …

Consumerism: Industrial Movies and the Ford Rouge Tour

Troy McClure made the industrial film a legend. In his brief life, Troy narrated such films as “Lead Paint: Delicious but Deadly” and “Meat and You: Partners in Freedom”. He also did the more tourist-friendly “Welcome to Springfield Airport” and the introductory video to the “Ah! Fudge” chocolate factory. McClure’s work resonates with us because, well, it’s so typical of the genre. Ford Motor’s River Rouge Assembly Plant is open to the public, which is pretty cool. It also has not one, but two, industrial films The Rouge was the centerpiece of Ford’s emphasis on seamless integration. Here, the ore, coal, and other raw materials would arrive via ship, and then be turned into steel, parts, and finally cars. The facility has changed a lot over the years. It now houses the assembly line for the Ford F150 truck, the company’s best-selling model, and employs about 6,000 people – down from peak employment of 100,000.

Consumerism: The Graceland Mansion Tour

Memphis has a lot of attractions for music fans, all of which seem to exist to help people fill up a weekend and spend lots of money. Only one really matters, though: Elvis Presley’s mansion, Graceland. The pilgrimage has been parodied in “This is Spinal Tap”, self-parodied in U2’s “Rattle and Hum”, and made out to be a place of miracle and wonder. The house itself is a center-hall colonial, large for the time but tiny by modern McMansion standards. It’s on a nice chunk of land in what was once a gracious suburb, Whitehaven. Graceland has been diminished by the passage of time, and not only because big houses are so common now. The jungle room looks a lot like a goofy basement rec room. The three televisions in the basement look comical in an era of home theatre. And Elvis lacked the same sense of quality as the squires of other historic houses. The Washingtons, du Ponts, and Kaufmanns put care into Mount Vernon, Winterthur, and Fallingwater. Elvis, meanwhile, was a country bumpkin …

Consumerism: The Motown Tour

Berry Gordy, Jr. served in Korea, returned to Detroit, got a job at Ford, and started writing songs for his friend Jackie Wilson. Gordy figured out two things. First, there was money in publishing. Second, a lot of the kids who came up singing in Detroit’s black churches had voices that were perfect for rock and roll. In 1959, Gordy borrowed money from his family, bought a two-flat at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, and put up a giant sign reading “Hitsville USA”. He lived upstairs with his wife and kids, and set up shop downstairs. He built out a recording studio in the attached garage, and the rest is history. Where there’s history, there’s a museum. Gordy eventually acquired the house next door to 2648 for office space, and that’s where the Motown Historical Museum tour begins. It’s $10 a head, and it’s a bargain. The facility itself isn’t: basically, the museum is the dining room of a two-flat with a bunch of record jackets tacked to the walls. But, your tour comes with a …

Numberscruncher: Billy Ray Cyrus Regrets

It’s really hard to say what’s right and wrong when raising kids. There is so much that’s weird and random about life that setting rules and passing judgment is pointless; even though we all do it, most parents with a child older than three have learned not to say anything out loud. So I don’t judge Billy Ray Cyrus. He got his daughter involved in show business, and now blames the pressures of it for tearing his family apart. And yet, we all know families under stress where the only Disney involvement was a trip to Orlando.

Numberscruncher: Kickstart My Record

Musicians and writers used to be able to rely on record companies and publishers for advances, but those are smaller and harder for mere mortals to get than in times past. And, many bands have found to their chagrin that record companies offered the most expensive form of financing when all was said and done. And yet, the books want to be written, the music wants to be played. And even if it wants to be free, there are costs involved. When the going gets tough, creative people get creative.

Numberscruncher: Music, Books, and Liz Phair

I admit it. I’m one of the people who loved Liz Phair in the early days and who is confused by the choices she has made. It’s an old and tired story, though, so I’ll mostly spare you the rant. Besides, Matt Springer did it better. But I will say this: Phair’s career shows what happens when an artist doesn’t have an editor. As a writer, I find that editors often make my crabby. But most of the editors I’ve worked with have made my work a lot better. They save me from stupid mistakes, suggest words and phrases that make a story stronger, and point me in directions that I had overlooked. Liz Phair has been working more or less alone for years, without a regular band or consistent record label. She thinks “Bollywood” is a great song, and she won’t listen to those who tell her otherwise. She doesn’t need to convince anyone but the buyers. Phair does not have to worry about manufacturing, distribution, and publicity, because she can do it all …

Numberscruncher: Mass, Class, and the Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the great sports turnaround stories. Yeah, they won the Stanley Cup, and we’re all happy about that here in Chicago, but the big story is how the team went from almost no fan base to a huge one. I was at the home opener in 2006 as a guest of the team’s old ad agency. There was hardly anyone at the United Center that evening. Three years later, the Hawks sold out every game. What changed?

Numberscruncher: Mothers, Moms, Politics, and Palin

Although I have given birth, I don’t particularly like being identified as a mother. Even worse, I hate being called “a mom” by anyone other than my son, because that strikes me as a word that only children use. Is being a mom different than being a mum or a mommy or a moms? (I know I probably won’t win this battle; I also have strong feelings about the difference between “house” and “home” that few others do .) But I am very tired of how the word “mom” is used to make light of women’s accomplishments. Parenthood changes many people for the better. It makes them more responsible and more mature, gives them a sense of perspective, and gets them engaged in their communities in new ways. Parenthood does not change everyone for the better, though, and many people who change for the better over time manage to do it without procreating. Here’s the reality:  there are 6.7 billion people in the world. With no offense intended to those who have struggled with infertility, …

CD Review: Valgeir Sigurdsson, “Draumalandid (Dreamland)”

Draumalandid is part of a full-on multimedia expose of Alcoa’s aluminum smelters in Reydarfjordur, Iceland. The company’s first plant was planned in 2002, built in 2005, and became live in 2007. The music is the soundtrack to a documentary based on the book Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation, by Andri Snaer Magnason. The book came out in Icelandic in 2006 and was released in English in 2008, although it has not been published in the U.S. (I bought my copy on a trip to Iceland).  It was written before Iceland’s economy tanked, but it addressed the existential crisis: what kind of nation should Iceland be? Iceland is to countries as the platypus is to animals: it’s neither one thing nor another. Even its continental status is ambiguous, as the divide between the North American and European geologic plates runs through the island. It has just 300,000 people, highly educated, very sophisticated, and poor for most of the country’s history. Iceland has two major natural resources, fish and energy. Fishing the Arctic is …

Numberscruncher: The Blagojevich Family Clothing Budget

People who give personal finance advice tend to give the same advice over and over. That’s because it works. And one of the most basic ways to start getting a grip on your finances is to keep a small notebook and write down every single thing you spend money on for a month, ranging from the rent to quarters for parking meters. It’s usually a revelation: you see exactly what you needed to buy, but also exactly how you spent money that you did not have to spend. I don’t think that Rod and Patti Blagojevich kept careful track of their spending, but the IRS audited them in order to help establish a motive for Rod’s alleged crimes as governor of Illinois, specifically trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. The idea was to head off a defense that would argue that the governor really didn’t make that much money, not with his legal bills and a mortgage in a nice Chicago neighborhood. Unfortunately for the defense, the audit showed that Mr. and Mrs. B …

Numberscruncher: WaMu Scandal’s Legacy Is a Terrible Song Parody

Whenever there’s a corporate scandal, there is going to be an example of ridiculous excess. You can count on it. This time, the excess came from Washington Mutual, you mortgage brothers can’t deny. I was a happy Washington Mutual customer for years, both in San Francisco and Chicago. The people who worked in the branches were really nice and efficient, and their service charges were the lowest around. I was sad when the bank failed, although I was thrilled that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation existed so that the bank’s failure wasn’t a hardship for me. But the Feds never like bailing out banks, even though they have done it quite a bit in the last few years. Hence, a bank bailout is followed by lots of subpoenas and hearings, and that is why we now know: Karen and the Kauai Krewe like big bucks and they cannot lie. Yes, her homegirls tried to warn her that rapping big bucks make her look corny. But she did it anyway, and now it is entered into …

Numberscruncher: Poland, Plane Crashes, and Risk

Over the weekend, the president of Poland died in a plane crash that also killed many of the top officials of the Polish government, in a tragedy seemingly borrowed from Irving Wallace’s 1964 novel The Man. Wallace’s book was a best-seller at the time; a freak accident at a World War II memorial event gives a black senator the American presidency. If I recall correctly, Douglass Dilman did a fine job as president and was never asked to produce an imaginary “long-form” birth certificate. As strange as the Polish plane crash was, an accident that wipes out a layer of executive power had been imagined before. Plane crashes that kill high-ranking government officials have happened, too, such as the one that killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown in Croatia in 1996. That’s why these events are risky, not uncertain. Mathematically, there is a difference between risk and uncertainty, and it matters. Risk is an adverse event that you can quantify. One out of every two million people will die in a plane crash every year, or …

Numberscruncher: The Real Problem With the American Diet

I am tired of all discussions about diet and exercise. Part of the problem for me is that the math is so incredibly imprecise. We are told over and over that weight gain = calories consumed – calories burned, 1 pound = 3500 calories. If it were so easy, Weight Watchers would not have had revenues of $1.4 billion in 2009. There’s a catch, and that is that the body’s metabolism adjusts to a given weight level. The rate of calorie burn can vary, which also means that the rate of weight loss can vary. Are you burning 100 calories per mile when you run, or only 75? We know that people do have weight problems, and that losing weight and keeping it off is very, very hard. And we also know that the advice we get from Those Who Know changes all the time. I remember when butter was bad and margarine was good, the ideal diet was high in carbohydrates and low in protein, and a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of …

Numberscruncher: Viacom Sues YouTube

A video that always makes me happy, and violates Viacom’s copyright:

YouTube is taking another round of fire in the ongoing debate about intellectual property rights. Earlier this month, the court documents in an ongoing copyright infringement suit between YouTube and Viacom were released. Neither side looks good. The Google team apparently acknowledged that the reason for the site’s being was the distribution of pirated video. Viacom’s legal team wanted all of its content pulled, but enough folks at the company knew that there was publicity value to posting clips. Contractors from the company’s PR firms allegedly went to Kinko’s to post material to YouTube, in some cases after altering it to make it look amateur. After all, online video is a powerful form of promotion. It introduces people to new artists and new ideas that they might not find out about otherwise. (Gawker had a great piece on how people can learn about great rock artists from online video.) It boils down to this: Viacom’s management saw …

Numberscruncher: Neither Families Nor States Manage Their Budgets Well

Let’s just come right out and say it: most families do not do as good a job as they could with their finances.  So why do we hold them (i.e., us) out as paragons of fiscal virtue? Case in point: I live in Illinois, a state that is on the verge of bankruptcy for a whole bunch of reasons not limited to having two governors in a row indicted for corruption (one of whom is currently in prison). We have some serious problems here, including a $12.8 billion budget deficit, $5.1 billion in unpaid bills, and $2.25 billion in short-term loans.  Many of my fellow Illini are in denial. Last week, the TV news was interviewing someone in a conservative public policy group about their plan to help the government cut spending so that we don’t have to have tax increases. The state legislators should approach this the way a family would, the man said. They should sit down and look at how much money they have, then pay the most important bills first, and …

Why You Should Like: The Twenty % Tippers

One day last September, the mail included a hand-addressed envelope with a New York City postmark and a return address that turned out to be a Mail Boxes Etc. store near Times Square. Inside was a sheet of paper with an odd story on it and instructions to go to TippersMusic.com and request a CD from a band called The Twenty % Tippers. How exciting! Finally, mysteries were coming my way! And as someone who read a lot of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden back in the day, I am always looking for mysteries.

Numberscruncher: The Recovery, Jobs or No Jobs

The March issue of The Atlantic has a thoroughly depressing article about how employment might not pick up when the economy recovers. As if that wasn’t enough to send you to the liquor cabinet, the article goes on to explain all of the spillover effects from reduced employment. People unemployed when they are young will always make less money. Blue collar workers will never have good jobs ever again. No one wants to marry a jobless slacker who sits on the couch all day, so marriage rates will fall. All of this will change our culture, society, and politics. So pour yourself a double. This recession is different from the usual post-World War II because it was brought on by a financial system crisis, not by a downturn in the business cycle. Because of that, it’s difficult to say what a recovery will look like. Maybe Don Peck of The Atlantic is nuts and employers will have to add tons of new employees to meet demand as soon as it picks up. Maybe.

Numberscruncher: Earthquakes

On Saturday, another devastating earthquake hit, in Chile, and that gives us another chance to look at some of the numbers associated with earthquakes and rebuilding. The Richter scale, used to measure the magnitude of earthquakes, is a logarithmic scale of ground motion. Hence, an 8.8 quake is almost ten times as strong as a 7.9 quake and 100,000 times as strong as the 3.8 earthquake that hit north-central Illinois on February 10. (It’s also a measure that is falling out of favor with seismologists because it is less descriptive than other ways of looking at earthquakes, but it’s simple, so it sticks.) The next big number is the death rate. That is only loosely correlated to the magnitude of the quake itself. That’s because ground motion doesn’t kill people, falling buildings do. If an earthquake prone area is affluent and has strong building codes, the death rate is likely to be low. The Loma Prieta quake that interrupted the 1989 World Series in San Francisco had a Richter magnitude of 6.9 and killed 63 …

Numberscruncher: Cheap Trick Takes On Nielsen SoundScan

Cheap Trick, the pride of Rockford, has a new CD out called The Latest. It’s been released through Tunecore , a service that makes it easy for bands to sell downloads of their music on iTunes, eMusic, and other sites; it also has some distribution services for self-produced CDs. It gives bands control over their distribution and rights. For a band like Cheap Trick, which has a following but ain’t exactly the Rolling Stones, the result is almost definitely more profits than anything available from a major label. However, Cheap Trick used to be on a major label, so Sony handles the group’s back catalog. Two weeks ago, the band’s manager, Dave Frey, published a rant on Tunecore’s blog about Sony. His concern is that the band puts out new music and goes on tour to support it. When Sony notices an increase in interest, it puts out a cheap compilation CD, the kind that can be found at interstate rest stop gift shops and in discount stores before the December holidays. That, Frey thinks, …

Numberscruncher: Making Money on Elections

February 2 is Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney and Election Day in Illinois. We have a lot of hot contests here in the state because our governor, who took office after Rod Blagojevich resigned, is not very popular and one of our senate seats, once held by Barack Obama and now by Roland Burris – appointed by Rod Blagojevich – will be open. Campaigns are big business, which I see every day when I pick up the mail or let the answering machine pick up. When you have big contests, generating national interest (and funds), you end up with a lot of money being spent. You’ll want an office and some staff; maybe you can run the campaign out of your house and do most the work yourself, if you are running for a small-town school board, but the scale gets higher the bigger the office and the greater the number of voters you must reach. You’ll probably want posters, yard signs, and stickers. Everything will have to be done by union printers, and quite possibly, …

Numberscruncher: Getting Value from Intellectual Property

Sita Sings the Blues is a great, sad movie about a breakup. The creator, Nina Paley, mixes animation styles and narrators, using the story of the Hindu gods Rama and Sita in the Ramayana. It’s beloved by reviewers , but it’s not always easy to see. That’s because the work produced its own drama, that of Paley attempting to get the rights to include the songs of Annette Hanshaw. The issue is the underlying compositions, which are owned by big publishing companies. Copyright on works created before 1978 now lasts a total of 95 years; Congress extended the law mostly at the request of the Walt Disney Company to protect the image of Mickey Mouse. Copyright is a balancing act. On the one hand, creators should be able to derive economic value from their work. On the other hand, there is a point where a work either becomes useless (such as articles I wrote in 2001 on virtual private network technology) or part of the culture at large. The problem is that now, copyright has …

Numberscruncher: Who Needs the Radio?

When I was a kid, I had to listen to whatever the DJ picked. One of the odder decade-end lists was Nielsen’s list of the most-played singles on radio between 2000 and 2009.  It’s a head scratcher – “Drops of Jupiter” got more play than “American Idiot” or anything by Coldplay? Usher was bigger than Beyonce or Justin Timberlake? In what universe? It’s a list that reflects radio programmers who are out of touch with what real people are listening to. In the first decade of the 21st century, the radio broadcasters consolidated to make more money. Led by Clear Channel, which owns 894 radio stations in the United States, the goal was to offer standardized programming everywhere. Clear Channel also promoted concerts and bands, so it offered a seamless package for advertisers. The problem is that the listeners revolted. No matter how many times they had to listen to it, a line like “the best soy latte you ever had” never inspired drivers to sing along at the top of their lungs. Besides, Clear …

Numberscruncher: Taxes Around the World

Americans have a unique phobia about taxes. Years ago, politicians told us that we could have more stuff by paying less money, and we liked that. And so, we believe it despite all evidence to the contrary. And now, our country faces massive deficits and a budget that cannot be cut. The choice is between raising taxes or cutting Medicare, Social Security, and the Department of Defense. Both are bad politically, but taking an ax to spending will be worse. And although I would rather not see my taxes go up, I am also not happy about living in a rich country where some people have no health care, our educational system is below world standards, and there is at least one person out there who would rather vandalize a church than acknowledge that some Americans go to bed hungry at night. The first question, of course, is what goes into a tax base. Some jurisdictions tax income (corporate, individual, investment), other s tax consumption through sales or luxury taxes, and still others tax wealth …