Friday, December 06, 2002

Two Good Columns

Tom Friedman and William Safire both wrote excellent columns this week. You can read Safire's wise and well-reported view of Billy Bulger's choice by clicking here. You can read Friedman's take on what he calls the most important political trial in the world by clicking here.

Good News on Wi-Fi

The solution to the "last mile" issue of telecommunications may well be wireless fidelity, known in techie circles as "Wi-Fi," which enables high speed access without cables or 3G networks. The problem with Wi-Fi has been that it's sort of like ham radio; a hobbyist's deal. No longer. Yesterday, IBM, AT&T and Intel announced that they had formed a company to build out a national network of Wi-Fi "hot spots." The announcement was simply great news.

Truth and Leadership

Read this story and ask yourself this question: What will it take for Cardinal Law to do the honorable thing and step down? What further revelations are necessary?

Thursday, December 05, 2002

The Agony of Defeat

Roone Arledge died today at the age of 71. He virtually invented televised sports and from there went on to build a world-class television news operation at ABC. I didn't know him, but my cousin, James Walker, worked for him at ABC News. And James would, from time to time, regale me with Arledge lore.

The Roone Arledge story that is lasered into my brain involves a couple of camera crews returning from the Gulf War. As is always the case in stories like this, they flew into JFK late in the evening. It was cold and rainy and utterly bleak. I don't think there is anything more depressing than waiting at JFK Baggage Claim at midnight on a miserable night. And these guys had risked their lives covering the war, only to learn that much of what they had filmed never aired.

And who was there to meet them? Roone Arledge, who thanked them for their hard work.

You can read more about Arledge's passing today by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

An Excellent Blog

David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, has an excellent web-log which you would be well-advised to bookmark (or put on your "favorites" list). In his posts today, he references the work of David Warren, whose knowledge of the Islamic world makes his newspaper columns especially interesting. I urge you to read Warren's speech on the coming Islamic implosion, which you can do by clicking here.

Call It Journalism

Gerald Boyd has issued a memo on behalf of his boss Howell Raines addressing the controversy over the New York Times's ridiculously overblown coverage of the alleged membership controversy at Augusta National. It really has to be read to be believed.

Rolling on a River

President Bush campaigned in Louisiana yesterday and the overnight tracking polls ticked up for Suzanne Terrell, the Republican challenger to incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). My friends down there tell me that Terrell can now be considered a favorite to win the run-off election this Saturday, 8 December. If Terrell does indeed defeat Landrieu, Senator John Breaux's life in the minority party will be a whole lot more painful.

Geezer Patrol

Geezer poster boy Don Hewitt, who is holding his desk hostage at CBS News, was on Larry King Live Monday. It's been a while since Ellisblog issued a "geezer alert" regarding old fogies who refuse to make way for new talent.

Hewitt's performance on Larry King Live will long be remembered for its Nixonian bathos. It was, by turns, whiney, grandiose, narcissistic, self-pitying, full of false bravado, a masterpiece of faux insult and outrage. Here's a taste of what he told Mr. King (another Geezer Poster Boy who should have been shelved years ago):

"Well, I still intend to die at my desk. I never said where that desk was. I would like it to be at CBS. I think it will be at CBS. If it's somewhere else, it will make me very unhappy, and I would like to believe it will make them very unhappy.

I think the problem, Larry, is not that they are unaware that "60 Minutes" was the only newscast in history to ever become the most watched broadcast in America four times, was in the top 10 10 more years than "I Love Lucy" was, made this company a couple of billion dollars, and I know that they're not unaware that we are not the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, everyday television show. I think the problem is that they don't know that I'm not the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, everyday 80-year-old."

Hewitt manages to accomplish the impossible feat of making one feel sorry for CBS management.

Truth and Leadership

Jack Connors, the chairman of Hill, Holliday, Boston's leading advertising agency, was interviewed recently for the NBC Nightly News regarding the scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church. Mr. Connors has long been extraordinarily generous to Catholic charities and has been supportive of the Church in countless other ways.

Mr. Connors said that Boston Catholics look to the Archdiocese for two things; "leadership and truth." What they've found is the antithesis of both. Cardinal Law's disgrace is now complete. That he hasn't resigned is yet more evidence that he is incapable of leadership.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


Throughout the 1990s, following the defection of Ken Alibek to the United States and his subsequent debriefing, American intelligence officers grew more and more concerned that genetically altered smallpox would be transported from the former Soviet Union to Iraq. The ABC News Investigative Unit has more on this story today and you can read it by clicking here.

Front Page News

After 25 years as a member at Augusta National, former CBS Chairman Tom Wyman has resigned in protest. He thought about it for 24.9 years and decided enough was enough. Following is the letter I wrote to Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson upon hearing the news of Mr. Wyman's letter of resignation:

Dear Mr. Blowfish:

I think you're a great man. A really, really great man, taking a really, really courageous stand on an important issue of principle. If I was a member at Augusta National, I would support your courageous stance 1000 percent. Yessir. I'd be right there with you, unlike those 75 weasels who Weasel Wyman indicated were plotting against you.

Of course, Mr. Blowfish, I can't support you because I am not (yet) a member. But if I was a member -- if you were to make me a member -- I would support you. And I would consider it an honor to be a member of Augusta National, unlike the Weasels and that cranky bastard and his posse on 43rd Street.

Maybe what I should do is come down there and we could play a little golf. This weekend works for me as does the weekend after that and the weekend after that. Looking a bit further down the road, any weekend in the calendar years 2003 through 2023 works for me. You just let me know what works for you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Warnest Regards -- JE/je

Monday, December 02, 2002

Poking the Rhino

Ernie Els shot the lights out at the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa this past weekend and ended up winning the tournament by 8 strokes. He shot 63 on the final day, birdie-ing seven of the last ten holes. The Associated Press reports that following his runaway win, Els "pronounced himself ready to challenge Tiger Woods" for the number one ranking in professional golf, although the accompanying story contains no direct quote regarding any "challenge."

In the immortal words of the fomer tour caddie Kevin Ceconi, "now is not a good time to poke the rhino." In fact, never is a good time to poke Tiger Woods.

Strategery at The New York Times

Seth Mnookin reports on the growing distress inside the New York Times over the direction of the paper. People who work there are concerned that Uber-editor Howell Raines is driving the bus off a cliff. I've made the same argument myself.

But there is an alternative view, first espoused to me by an equities analyst at Smith Barney. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here): Yes, Raines is making the paper more ideological and yes the paper's "news" has become considerably more opinionated, but no, that doesn't mean it's bad business. There are probably 3 million people who really and truly believe that the election was "stolen" from Al Gore. If you sing to this choir, as the New York Times now does, chances are that ever greater numbers of them will become subscribers (people read the news and views that reinforce their own opinions). So Raines may be damaging the brand, as Ellisblog asserts, but he's growing circulation while he does. And so long as he continues to grow the circ, his strategy will continue to enjoy the support of the Sulzbergers and The Street.

Guest Post

The Guns of Augusta

By Rick Reilly
Sports Illustrated

Now that the fire is out, the riot has been quelled, the paramedics are gone, the jails are locked down and the National Guard is in control, I have to say that the 2003 Masters was an absolute Hootie. Wouldn't you?

And it all started so innocently.

Martha Burk wrote a little letter asking Augusta National to get a female member. Club president Hootie Johnson answered by saying, basically, "When Hell gets a bobsled team." Feminist groups promised to picket the Masters. The New York Times demanded that Tiger Woods boycott the event. And Jesse Jackson said he'd be there for the women.

For their cause, I mean.

So the tournament started, and for the first time in history, there were throngs of protesters outside the gates of storied Magnolia Lane. There were two main groups: Martha's Mothers, who carried signs saying things like welcome to the ms.sters, and Hotties for Hootie, who were led by Anna Nicole Smith because, as one said, "she's so great with the octogenarians."

Then Ben Wright showed up and said that women couldn't fit into the members' green jackets because "their boobs get in the way." Gloria Steinem hit him over the head with a Big Bertha, and you had yourself a good old-fashioned throwdown.

That convinced CNN to set up a makeshift studio at the new Piggly Wiggly across the street, with Wolf Blitzer at the desk. They called the show Insane at the Lane and started broadcasting nonstop. Next thing you knew, everybody who had a bone to pick with Augusta showed up at the gates.

There were picket signs saying that Augusta was unfair to Asians, Native Americans, Eskimos, North Dakotans, South Dakotans, New Mexicans, Mexicans, gays, poor people and Donald Trump (none of whom are members). Banned CBS analyst Gary McCord was there holding an augusta unfair to me sign.

Jesse Jackson was there, chanting, "We don't want surplus cheese! We just want women's tees!" And Newt Gingrich was walking around handing out newt's for the coots! bumper stickers. All the billionaire CEOs who are members of the club had to sneak past the press by pretending they were pimento-cheese-sandwich deliverymen.

Then Phil Mickelson had a plane fly overhead pulling a sign that read, tiger out of augusta now! And NOW was there with T-shirts that read, a woman's place is at the (practice) range. Then Kenny G showed up, but the fur people mistook his hair for a coonskin cap and hurled a bucket of blood at him. Some of the blood got in the eyes of the old Pinkerton guard manning the gate, and while he was temporarily blinded, Winona Ryder lifted the old guy's keys and let everybody in.

That's when it started getting nuts.

Burk and her adjutants occupied Ike's Cabin -- which the other side sarcastically renamed Dyke's Cabin -- and Hootie and the members holed up in the men's grill, firing black-eyed peas at anybody who wasn't wearing one of their the only iron a woman should hold is a steam iron! T-shirts.

In the middle of all this, the players were trying to win the tournament, which wasn't easy with Johnnie Cochran running all over the place yelling, "How come the balls are white? Where are the balls of color?" and Pat Buchanan holding a prayer vigil at Amen Corner, and PETA down at Rae's Creek trying to save the fish swimming in the green-dyed ponds.

I still can't figure out why Hans Blix and his U.N. inspectors were there.

People kept having to explain to Jimmy Carter that there were no hostages to free. They finally had to get an ambulance for CBS anchor Jim Nantz. Hootie had decided to televise this Masters without any ads, to take the heat off his sponsors; the E.R. guy said no TV announcer could handle the stress of going that long without re-moussing.

But the most frustrated person at Augusta was Tiger Woods, who was trying to become the first man in history to win three straight Masters. He led by 35 shots at one point, despite having to constantly step over and around Dusty Baker's kid, who kept running along the fairways trying to pick up Tiger's ball and bring it back to him.

Hootie finally canceled the whole damn tournament Sunday afternoon, mostly on account of Richard Gere's Tibetan monks meditating in the bunkers, the pile of burning bras on the 18th green (which somebody tried to put out with Andy Rooney) and the desecration of the membership log by Burk, who wrote herself and 50 of her friends in as members.

Tiger had only a four-footer left on 18 when Hootie shut it down. Tiger didn't take the news well. It was the first time anyone had seen a guy come for the green jacket and get taken away in a straitjacket instead.

Still, I think Hillary will make a terrific membership chairwoman, don't you?

Lower Oil Prices?

Handelsbankens equities analyst Lars Maurius Furu thinks so. Following is an excerpt from his email to clients yesterday (thanks to reader J.J. for forwarding it along):

An article in the Washington Post on Saturday, primarily focused on Saudi Arabia's political ties and tensions with the US government, revealed one interesting statement that we believe is relatively new to the market: that Saudi Arabia has very aggressively marketed its products in the US for deliveries in December, according to the Department of Energy. The sources say that the country now produces more than 1 million bpd above its quota. The quota set for 2002 is 7.05 mbpd. The most aggressive estimates of October 2002 Saudi production was 7.75bpd. still the highest for 14 months. The article thus suggests that the Saudis have increased production even more in November, even after the chute we saw in the oil price in October.

This is an indication that the Saudis are starting to see the logic in allowing lower oil prices for a while in order to restore demand, put a brake on new non-OPEC projects, and increase their own power within OPEC. The article suggests that Saudi Arabia has
been able to build foreign exchange reserves of USD 90-100bn in order to weather these measures. If the article's sources are correct, this is exactly our base case oil price scenario only we did not expect to see this clear indications of it until the end of Q1.

Our forecast oil price for 2003 is USD 18/bl, with USD 22/bl in Q1, USD 18/bl in Q2, and USD 16/bl. We expect OPEC will be able to stabilise the oil price at around USD 18/bl from 2004 on. Please refer to our Statoil report ("What if OPEC makes a turn?" of
November 11).

The Kerry Challenge

Mickey Kaus has issued what might be called the Kerry Challenge, asking readers to explain what it is about Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that leaves him so universally disliked. Kaus himself cites the perpetually furrowed brow, which is indeed annoying. Howie Carr lasers in on Kerry's narcissism and opportunism. Back in my Globe days, I found Kerry's unwillingness to take a politically difficult stand off-putting (Kerry couldn't even bring himself to vote for Operation Desert Storm, a lay-up if there ever was one). And then there's the "gloomy Gus" thing, which I reference in the Kerry item below (scroll down).

But the real key to John F. Kerry is probably Billy Bulger's famous line that his initials (JFK) stand for "Just For Kerry." All politicians are self-interested, of course, but they are also collegial. They trade favors back and forth. They help each other out. They keep their word (generally speaking) to one another.

Kerry is perceived, as Kaus says, as "arrogant and aloof." But it's not really that. It's that, even by political standards, he's unusually self- interested and self-involved. During his dating days (after his first marriage ended), I woman I know who had just returned from London, was fixed up with Kerry for a blind date. They went to a nice restaurant and had a good meal. Throughout the various courses, Kerry seemed perturbed that no one in the restaurant recognized him.

No matter, with dessert and coffee he got down to business and began to explain to the recently re-patrioted woman what he would do when he was elected President. She was completely bewildered. Voters will likely experience the same sensation.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

The Mother of All Retail

Looking over the NYSE and NASDAQ tables this morning, I was struck by how high the price-earnings ratios continue to be for the companies that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Of course, earnings have been off this year, so that may partially explain the high multiples. But even if you double the earnings of the Dow Jones 30, the P-E ratios would still be high (if not very high) by historical standards.

One company that has a P-E ratio of roughly 30, however, is likely to see its stock rise sharply on Monday and here's why.

God Help Us

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will file papers this week with the Federal Election Commission, a pro forma step on the way to a declaration of candidacy for the 2004 Democratic Presidential nomination.

I wrote a lot about Senator Kerry as a columnist for The Boston Globe. He's an able, smart fellow. But he's a bummer. He wears the burdens he bears on his sleeve. This is disconcerting because -- on paper, at least -- his life could hardly be better. He's married to the terrific Theresa Heinz. His children (from his first marriage) are great. He has more money than he can count (Theresa Heinz is one of the richest women in the world). Every advantage God could bestow upon someone has been bestowed on John Kerry.

Yet the tone of his campaigns is always funereal. In John Kerry's view, the glass is always half-empty. After a while, this disconnect between the facts of his life and the woebegone-ness of his rhetoric begins to grate.

I doubt he'll be able to wrest the nomination away from Gore. I doubt anyone can. But Kerry surely won't win a single state primary until he cheers up and walks his campaign down the sunny side of the street.

Al Qaeda's Allies

A chilling tale of Chechen rebels seeking to acquire nuclear weapons can be found here. It is well worth reading.