Saturday, May 24, 2008

Airline Fossils Need to Die, NOW

Article, San Francisco Chronicle today, predicts that at least two of the following might be in bankruptcy by the end of this year: United, Continental, American, Northwest, US Airways and Delta.

I say don't wait. Like former racehorses with four broken legs, they all need to be administered the coup de grace to put them out of OUR misery. They're arrogant, sloppy, fat, nasty, stupid, obsolete creatures unfit for the current environment. This is where Darwin needs to work. Fast.

Good riddance, and the sooner the better. Good bye to surly ticket counter drones, frowning flight attendants, supremely dumb incompetent marionettes in the executive suites who think that treating passengers like downer cattle is the way to make a profit. I say take the forklift to them all and dump them into the rendering pot.

Article, San Francisco Chronicle today, "Virgin America stymied in its attempts to obtain additional routes."

Yeah, the bureaucrat trolls at the U.S. Department of Transportation are sandbagging Virgin America's attempts to grow, awarding routes and airport gates to the likes of the aformentioned dinosaurs above.

So there you have it, good airlines like Virgin America, Jet Blue and Southwest get screwed while keeping alive those who deserve to die.

More than 15 years ago, I got fed up with the sleazy bastards at American and United. I cut up my frequent-flyer cards and cancelled my airport club cards and left them on the check-in counter. I have not flown either airline since then.

I was the CEO of a company back then. I amended the company travel handbook to forbid reimbursement for traveling on those carriers.

If American or United are the only way to get somewhere, I don't go there. The sooner they die, the faster the American public can escape the U.S. equivalent of Aeroflot and gain access to decent transportation.

Sure, soaring fuel prices squeeze everybody. But when I fly Virgin America, Jet Blue and Southwest, I fly with people I can empathize with. Real people who treat passengers like other people and who offer a good experience and value for the price of the ticket.

I wonder if Jack Kevorkian is available for freelance work?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oil, tobacco ... a lie is a lie is a lie.

1994-Tobacco company executives testify before Congress that nicotine is NOT addictive.

2008-Oil company executives testify before Congress that they're NOT responsible for the high price of gasoline.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Apartheid - No Negroes Allowed in Bookstores?

This disturbing article appeared in the Guardian (U.K.) yesterday. I can find no words suitable for comment.

Why I'm not allowed my book title

It's called The Book of Negroes in Canada - but Americans won't buy that term

Are we on the same page? ... Novelist Lawrence Hill

It isn't unusual for British or Canadian books to change titles when entering the American market. It happened to JK Rowling - Harry Potter has no "philosopher's" stone in the USA; and to Alice Munro, whose fabulous collection of short stories went from Who Do You Think You Are? in Canada to The Beggar Maid in the USA.

But I didn't think it would happen to me. When my novel, The Book of Negroes, came out last year with HarperCollins Canada, I was assured by my American publisher that the original title would be fine by them. However, several months later, I got a nervous email from my editor in New York.

She mentioned that the book cover would soon be going to the printer and that the title had to change. "Negroes" would not fly, or be allowed to fly, in American bookstore. At first, I was irritated, but gradually I've come to make my peace with the new title, Someone Knows My Name.

Perhaps the best way to examine the issue is to examine the evolution of the word "Negro" in America. I descend (on my father's side) from African-Americans. My own father, who was born in 1923, fled the United States with my white mother the day after they married in 1953. As my mother is fond of saying, at the time even federal government cafeterias were segregated. It was no place for an interracial couple to live.

My parents, who became pioneers of the human rights movement in Canada, used the word Negro as a term of respect and pride. My American relatives all used it to describe themselves. I found it in the literature I began to consume as a teenager: one of the most famous poems by Langston Hughes, for example, is The Negro Speaks of Rivers. When my own father was appointed head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1973, the Toronto Globe and Mail's headline noted that a "Negro" had been appointed.

The term was in vogue right into the 1970s. For a time, the word "Negro" took a back seat in popular language culture to newer terms, such as "Afro-American", "African-Canadian", "people of colour" (a term I have always disliked, for its pomposity) or just plain "black."

In the last 20 or so years in urban America, we have witnessed more changes in racial terminology. For one thing, and regrettably in my view, many hip-hop artists have re-appropriated the word "nigger", tried to tame it, and use it so vocally and frequently as to strip it of its hateful origins. We are all products of our generation.

Given that I was born in 1957 and taught to ball my fists against anybody using that N-word, I can't quite get my head around using it these days in any kind of peaceful or respectful manner. Just as the very word "nigger" has risen in popular usage over the last decade or two, however, the word "Negro" has become viscerally rude. In urban America, to call someone a Negro is to ask to for trouble. It suggests that the designated person has no authenticity, no backbone, no individuality, and is nothing more than an Uncle Tom to the white man.

I used The Book of Negroes as the title for my novel, in Canada, because it derives from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the tail end of the American Revolutionary War. It documents the 3,000 blacks who had served the King in the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783. Unless you were in The Book of Negroes, you couldn't escape to Canada. My character, an African woman named Aminata Diallo whose story is based on this history, has to get into the book before she gets out.

In my country, few people have complained to me about the title, and nobody continues to do so after I explain its historical origins. I think it's partly because the word "Negro" resonates differently in Canada. If you use it in Toronto or Montreal, you are probably just indicating publicly that you are out of touch with how people speak these days. But if you use it in Brooklyn or Boston, you are asking to have your nose broken. When I began touring with the novel in some of the major US cities, literary African-Americans kept approaching me and telling me it was a good thing indeed that the title had changed, because they would never have touched the book with its Canadian title.

I'd rather have the novel read under a different title than not read at all, so perhaps my editor in New York made the right call. After all, she lives in the country, and I don't. I just have one question. Now that the novel has won the Commonwealth writers' prize, if it finds a British publisher, what will the title be in the UK?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Launch Reality

By way of author/journalist Seth Mnookin's blog, herewith the reality check for authors.

It falls into the "sad but true" category and offers the best insight into the dysfunctional world of authors and book publishing.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Dumb Calif Bureaucrats Criminalize Home Winemakers

Yes, I know that "dumb bureaucrat" is redundant. But, just in the nick of time the California state government has arrived and they're here to save us from ourselves. Again.

By declaring that competitions among home winemakers are illegal.

This story from The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat (the only real newspaper in Sonoma County) says it all.

Read it.


Then let's ALL have a tasting of homemade wines at our homes. We need to set a date and then notify the bureaucrats. Let them come after ALL of us. Would make for some great YouTube Vids.

Home wine ruling a shock
Organizers and others stunned that state ABC would say events like Harvest Fair are against the law


Home winemaking competitions abound in California.

From the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in the heart of Wine Country to the massive California Exposition & State Fair in Sacramento, fairs around the state recognize the skills of thousands of amateur vintners.

Numerous private winemaking clubs also hold regular contests so their members can see how their vintages stack up.

But they all have one thing in common: They're all illegal.

That's what state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officials have told an Illinois man who wants to hold a home winemaking competition in Santa Rosa this summer.

"We told them it's illegal," said Matthew Seck, chief of the trade enforcement division of the ABC.

State law creates an exemption from California's alcohol licensing laws for home winemakers who produce up to 200 gallons a year -- but only if they are making it for their own consumption.

The exemption was essentially California's way, after regulation of alcohol fell to the states following the repeal of Prohibition, of continuing the federal exemption for home winemaking.

The problem is that the exemption is a very narrow one that does not allow people to share the wine they produce with others or remove it from the place where it was produced, Seck said.

Word of the state's position spread quickly though the ranks of the passionate home winemaking community, particularly in California, where hobbyists have access to some of the best grapes in the world and craft wines in garages, basements and barns.

"It doesn't make sense to most people, but that's what the law is," Seck said.

Seck declined to say what type of enforcement the agency might take against an amateur wine judging event. He said he was unaware such events take place at county and state fairs, and had never received a complaint against one.

But when the ABC receives a complaint or becomes aware that laws are being broken, it has an obligation to act, he said.

Threat of prosecution

In an e-mail to the Santa Rosa event's organizer, Joel Sommer, ABC investigator David Wright was clear there could be consequences.

"If you decide to hold your event please be advised that it will be without Department consent or authorization and could result in criminal prosecution," Wright wrote.

That got Sommer's attention.

The resident of St. Libory, Ill., and a self-described "Web entrepreneur" operates a winemaking Web site called WinePress. He was shocked by the response and baffled given the proliferation of other such events across the state, including the state's own fair.

"I was just trying to do everything legally," he said.

Sommer has held home winemaking competitions in Denver, Baltimore and St. Louis in recent years, and was looking forward to holding his first event in California. But the legal opinion threw his whole plan into question.

Many visitors to Sommer's Web site rallied to his defense, digging up legal research and offering support and strategic suggestions. Many suggested the ABC official was off base or overstepping his authority.

"This guy is drunk on power," wrote one poster.

The ABC's stance flies in the face of reality and years of history and tradition, said Nancy Vineyard, co-owner of The Beverage People, a home brewing and winemaking supply company in Santa Rosa.

"If that's the case, then just about every county fair and club across the state is breaking the law," she said.

"I've never heard anything like it," said Bob Bennett, an avid home winemaker from Healdsburg and head of the Garage Enologists of North County. "I can't think of why he's any different than the other (competitions)."

Such competitions are crucial for home winemakers to get feedback on their wines from experts in the field, said Fred Millar, president of the Sacramento Home Winemakers. He noted that many of the best professional winemakers started out as hobbyists.

"I'm really concerned. I think this could have a chilling effect on the whole industry," he said.

Others suggested Sommer just ignore the ABC and hold his event as planned.

"It's silly and it's a technicality and nobody really cares," said Andy Coradeschi, former president of Cellarmasters Home Wine Club of Los Angeles, which has held a competition for 34 years and last year judged about 220 wines.

Help from legislators

Seck declined to say whether county fairs or the upcoming California Exposition & State Fair's Home Wine competition would violate the law. He said he was unaware they held home winemaking events.

But legislators are moving quickly to make sure the flap doesn't interfere with the summer fair season. After receiving calls from home winemakers across California, state Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, is proposing urgency legislation to fix the problem.

"I think there is a concern that some of these events may have to cease without this kind of bill," Wiggins spokesman David Miller said.

Next week, Wiggins will introduce a bill, SB 607, that would add home winemakers to a section of the law giving greater latitude to home brewers. Current law for beer allows "personal or family use" and lets home brewers remove their brews "from the premises where manufactured for use in competition at organized affairs, exhibitions or competitions."

Adding wine to this section should resolve the issue, Miller said.

As "urgency" legislation, the bill requires a two-thirds majority to pass, but would take effect immediately upon the governor's signature.

Despite the warnings from the ABC earlier this year, Sommer remained undeterred and continues planning his event. The fact that he has already paid deposits to the Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa has motivated him, too.

He continues to "move full speed ahead" for the event, called WineFest, and hopes to get 150 people to attend.

The threat of prosecution initially made some posters on Sommer's site question whether attending was worth the risk. But most saw the threat as hollow and the risk minimal, he said.

"If they make an example out of me, fine, but at least we get the law changed," he said.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Move over wunderkinds, there are 2X more boomers entrepreneurs!

A new study confirms what all of us older entrepreneurs knew already: there are a lot more of us than 20-something wunderkinds. The following comes from the Kauffman Foundation:

Challenging the perception of American technology entrepreneurs as 20-something wunderkinds launching businesses from college dorm rooms, a new study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and researchers at Duke and Harvard universities reveals most U.S.-born technology and engineering company founders are middle-aged, well-educated and hold degrees from a wide assortment of universities.

In fact, twice as many U.S.-born tech entrepreneurs start ventures in their 50s as do those in their early 20s. Further, elite, highly ranked schools are over-represented in the ranks of these founders, and Ivy-League graduates achieve the greatest business success; however, 92 percent of U.S.-born founders graduate from other universities, according to the study, Education and Tech Entrepreneurship. The study analyzed U.S. engineering and tech companies founded from 1995-2005, representing the most current decade of data.

"Because entrepreneurship is an indicator of economic vitality in regions and across the country, this study raises important policy questions about how to foster greater tech entrepreneurship to boost economic growth," said Robert Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. "Probably the most compelling fact in the study is that advanced education is critical to the success of tech startups."

U.S.-born engineering and tech company founders are overwhelmingly well-educated. While there are significant differences in the types of degrees these entrepreneurs obtain and the time they take to start a company after they graduate, the study reveals a direct correlation between a founder’s education and company performance.

In 2005, the average sales revenue of all startups in the sample was around $5.7 million, employing an average of 42 workers. Startups established by founders with advanced Ivy-League degrees had higher average sales and employment – $6.7 million and 55 workers, respectively. The success of these groups contrasted sharply with startups established by founders with high school degrees with average revenues and employees at $2.2 million and 18 workers, respectively.

Among other findings:

  • The average and median age of U.S.-born founders was 39 when they started their companies. Only about 1 percent of U.S.-born founders of tech companies were teenagers.
  • The vast majority (92 percent) of U.S.-born tech founders held bachelor’s degrees, 31 percent held master’s degrees, and 10 percent had completed PhDs. Nearly half of these degrees were in science-, technology-, engineering- and mathematics-related disciplines. One third was in business, accounting and finance.
  • U.S.-born tech founders holding MBA degrees established companies more quickly (13 years) than others. Those with PhDs typically waited 21 years to become tech entrepreneurs.
  • The top 10 universities from which U.S.-born tech founders received their highest degrees are Harvard, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, MIT, University of Texas, University of California-Berkeley, University of Missouri, Pennsylvania State University, University of Southern California and University of Virginia.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of the tech startups were established in the same state where U.S.-born tech founders received their education. Of the U.S.-born tech founders receiving degrees from California, 69 percent later created a startup in the state; Michigan, 58 percent; Texas, 53 percent; and Ohio, 52 percent. In contrast, Maryland retained only 15 percent; Indiana, 18 percent; and New York, 21 percent.

"While education clearly is an advantage for tech founders in the United States, experience also is a key factor," said Vivek Wadhwa, the study’s lead researcher and a Wertheim fellow with the Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University. "That a large number of U.S.-born tech founders have worked in business for many years also is important in understanding the supply of tech entrepreneurs."

Other researchers include Richard Freeman, Herbert Asherman chair in economics, Harvard University and director, Labor Studies Program, National Bureau of Economic Research; and Ben Rissing, Wertheim Fellow, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School and research scholar, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


No comment needed.

This is from Seth Godin's often amusing, usually helpful and always interesting, blog