03 December 2006

Rounds O’Bullshit

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Item 1: Rumsfeld: The History Rewrite Begins

Sometimes, there’s a fine line between being a conspiracy theorist and a good analyst; sometimes an issue is so obvious it just slaps you in the face, even if it seems like a conspiracy. Well, yesterday along comes just one of those stories, where we-the-people have to look behind the news to grasp what’s going on.

As reported by The New York Times (which broke the story) and subsequently The Washington Post (among others), outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (that “media darling”) wrote a classified memo indicating that the US may need to consider new military and other approaches if we really wants to win the war in Iraq. No – really?! Forgive my surprise, in the face of almost four years of failed war policy, and almost four years of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Mr. Rumsfeld insisting that everything is going well. Even better is the official White House response to The Washington Post, which reported that spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said “The president has said he's been dissatisfied with the progress in Iraq, so the right thing to do is reevaluate our tactics. There are a number of reviews underway, and the president is open to listening to a wide array of options.” That is, a wide array of options that consist primarily of doing exactly what we’re already doing, but not those options that might involve changing tactics. (But let’s not sweat the details, ok?)

More importantly is the transparency of Rumsfeld’s memo – that is, the transparency of his attempt to write into the official record that after almost four years of failed war policy, he’s ready to consider a change. Well, good for you Rummy, but it’s a little late, doncha think? This smells of Robert McNamara-style rehabilitation, learning the lessons of a previous administration’s failed war policy and seeking a chance to start changing our perspective on history before it’s even history. Which, in turn, smells eerily of bullshit.

Item 2: F*** the Faux-Politesse

Another good story this week involves the tempest-in-an-etiquette book of the strained words between President Bush and incoming Virginia Senator James Webb. If you missed the story, you can see a round-up of reports here. The core of the tale is that Bush asked the Senator-elect how his son, who is currently serving in Iraq, is doing; when Webb replied “I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Bush apparently replied that this was the question the President had asked, namely: “How's your boy?”

Lots of spin in drifting circles on this one, including discussions about whether Webb did the right thing by answering critically, whether he was showing disrespect by not answering more specifically and politely, whether it bodes poorly for Webb’s future on Capitol Hill, or marks some declining sense of politeness in DC politics.

Etiquette books only tell part of the tale here, and it seems to me that the golden rule in a situation like this starts with the idea of asking a question in the first place: politicians, like consultants and trial lawyers, should never publicly ask a question a) to which they do not already know the answer, and b) to which they do not want any answer that may be provided. Webb may have been more honest than a polite, political situation typically calls for – but President Bush should have known better than to ask a question like that to begin with, especially of a politician who has been openly critical of the President’s failed war policy.

Item 3: Effective Portfolio Management (Not)

The Atlantic’s December 2006 issue carries a brief mention in its “Primary Sources” column of a new study titled “Spam Works: Evidence from Stock Touts and Corresponding Market Activity” (abstract available here) by Laura Frieder and Jonathan Zittrain. The Frieder & Zittrain study looks at the impact of spam e-mails “touting” certain stocks on the trading activity of those same stocks, the stocks’ share price, and the regulatory questions raised by all this spamming activity.

All of which reminds me of an article I wrote back in February 2004 on just this subject: “Over-the-Counter, Down for the Count” looked at 12 companies over the course of several weeks prior to, and following, spam messages promoting those companies’ stocks. Not surprisingly, it sounds like this new study came to much the same conclusion I did: you can lose your shirt on these “investments.”

Item 4: Bad Movie Roundup

If you have serious insomnia, here is information on two movies you could consider renting. Which is worse? Vote!


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