Thursday, December 31, 2009

Has it been 10 years since the Millennium? Y2K, where are you?

The werewolf knows he probably deserves to be hate-crimed for posting such a cliched Robbie Williams video that most of the world would like to forget. (At least it features Bond's Austin Martin DB5 from Goldfinger) But Prince's "1999" video is nowhere to be found on youtube. Sloppy seconds, kids.

Anyhow, the werewolf has long been imbued with a profoundly misanthropic streak, and it manifested back during the amusingly dark days of the Y2K drama. Being home in Los Angeles from boarding school, and having a few openings in my social calendar, I recall deliberately detouring past LAX on my way how from a dinner in Santa Monica with the hopes of catching some airport mayhem. Despite all of the hype and hoopla, nothing eventful occurred to the delight of many, but to the mild disappointment of the werewolf. Gone are the days.

Still, it's been one helluva a decade for the werewolf, filled with many thrills, loves, travels, schools, jobs, friends, and memories. Although he is ending the first decade of this century in exile, he appreciates the fact that the bar has been set low for future decades. Here's to making lemons into limoncello. Happy 2010.

Ivy - Edge of the Ocean - The ultimate cool down song.

The featured video is a tad grainy, but the song is lovely, relaxing, and calming. (Not to mention that Dominique Durand's near perfect figure in a bikini is featured.) For those of you that don't know, the werewolf is a cardio-freak. When living in Nashville, he could frequently be found on extended runs or cycling through the stunning Percy Warner Park, sprinting laps around the Parthenon in Centennial Park, or running on the Vanderbilt track. Exile in New York includes much more time on the treadmill than he prefers. However, he has found a degree of joy in regularly mixing play-lists on his iPod to correspond with his various jaunts on the treadmill. I'll speak to some of the high-voltage music selections in a future post, as I am convinced that the energy from the right song, at the right time, can help us push ourselves a little harder during a workout. However, "Edge of the Ocean" has morphed into one of the default cooling down songs that spans several lists.

Do y'all have any songs that you find particularly relaxing after a hard workout?

Obama and Our Post-Modern Race Problem. Shelby Steele spells it out.

I was reading this thoughtful opinion piece by Shelby Steele when I had the misfortune of getting fragged. Steele, one the keenest minds and observers on race relations, puts forth a compelling series of thoughts on what propelled Obama to the presidency. He contrasts him with Reagan and certain celebrities, examines the elements of symbolism involved, and he beautifully deconstructs the manipulation of perception that was essential to achieve the intergalactic fluke that was the 2008 presidential election. The closing paragraph eloquently states "And yes, white America conditioned Barack Obama to emptiness—valued him all along for his "articulate and clean" blackness, so flattering to American innocence. He is a president come to us out of our national insecurities."

Now that the blind euphoria around Obama is subsiding, the messiah's failings are becoming more apparent, and Obama's is star is clearly waning, I think America will devote some serious time and consideration to understanding just what the "hell happened" because in many ways 2008 was a fluke.

I chalked 2008 result up to the confluence of several factors:

On the election side, the Obama camp ran a highly disciplined and professional campaign. It was impressive. The McCain camp lacked discipline, never defined their territory, and allowed their internal divisions to boil the surface, disrupting the entire operation. I also think McCain lost the will to win, as he refused to exploit Obama's obvious weaknesses to his own advantage.

Bush fatigue, incompetent Republicans, and an exhaustion from the perception that we were losing in Iraq. This hurt Republican voter turnout and alienated independents.

The tabula rosa syndrome. Obama was able to be everything to everyone. Voters were able to project their aspirations onto him and see him as a vehicle for these dreams. While this proved inherently false ex post facto, and only works once, he had a mystifying sway over considerable segments of the voting population that I think drove voters to the polls on his behalf.

White guilt. Steele is a billion times more eloquent at flushing this out and in much greater detail than I could ever hope to. However, I noticed among some of my peers at business school, former colleagues, and contemporaries, that their whiteness or "pinkness" (as some of the more slavishly politically correct ones would say), was a liability to which the bore a burden. I think that they imagined casting a vote for Obama would somehow absolve them of the imagined sins that they were somehow accountable for in their own minds. It was the worst form of self-loathing, but, it clearly manifested itself heavily.

Energized democratic voter turnout. Blacks turned out in record numbers, as did younger voters, and other traditional democratic constituencies. There was an irrefutable energy shrouding Obama, and the historic nature of his campaign, that inflated this numbers. I also think Bush fatigue played a part, although not as much in energizing the liberal base, as deflating the GOP base. The irony of the high black voter turnout, is that while it increased Obama's margins, it also ensured that the gay marriage ban in California would pass, as black voters are overwhelmingly against gay marriage. The irony is priceless.

Fragged by a fingernail.

What the hell is wrong with people? As I rode into Grand Central on the Metro North line, savoring my daily dose of the Wall Street Journal, I started hearing the pointed, and shrill clicks of fingernail clippers at work. Although dead-focused on an excellent op-ed in the WSJ, my eyes immediately darted to my right and confirmed my fear. The exceedingly dull looking, middle-aged, heavy-set woman who hasn't smiled in a decade was fast at work clipping her fingernails eighteen inches from my face. The horror.

The years have taught me to expect less from people, especially in places like public transit in New York City, but even my shockingly low expectations had a floor firmly in place. There are certain grooming rituals that I am a huge fan of, yet, believe need to be executed in the privacy of one's own home. Fingernail clipping ranks among these. The werewolf would like to think that in the America of yore, despite its various shortcomings, people had the decency to trim their nails in the privacy of their own homes, or risk severe societal rebuke.

The piercing sound of each clip is itself just cause for going postal. However, striving to be a gentlemen extraordinaire, I devoted my attention to the profound musings of the WSJ op-ed page and allowed my rage at my uncouth neighbor to boil internally. That was until a heard a pointed click that was quickly followed by a small impact on my cheek. Yep. The cow had fragged me. It was mortifying. How was I to react to this indignant insult? Options raced through my mind; a public dressing down of the severest order, finding the dead cell chunk she had just removed from her body and stuck me with and throwing it back in her face, farting in her general direction... the list was extensive. However, being slightly traumatized and never having been in this situation before, I settled with the restrained approach of simply turning of my head and giving her the twenty-five second "eat shit and die" look, before repositioning my paper to act as a shield and trying to purge the recent occurrence from my memory. She seemed oblivious to the crime she had just committed, lost in the desolation of her own myopia. The day went on.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The no-fun crowd strikes again!

Yale Wimps Out

The werewolf knew he wasn't smart enough to get accepted to Yale(He didn't bother to apply). With one exception from his boarding school class(his roommate), he thought most of the people he knew who went to Yale were massive defects. No news there. Plus, not that he really cares, but Yale is doing no favor for itself or its image with vapid and hollow moves like this. Regardless of the source, the werewolf is always a fan of a classic and legendary sports rivalry. Although not a stakeholder in either side, he appreciates the story, nature, and deep roots of the historic Harvard-Yale football rivalry. The application of the term "sissy" can be traced to the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the rivalry itself is distinctly American. Our society is training its youth to look for anything that could make them a victim of something, destroying their perspective on linguistic freedom of expression, and eroding their will to enjoy an honest sports rivalry that has its roots deeply seeded. The poisoning of the mind always starts off small, like this, but can eventually start impacting society writ large if it isn't properly checked. How weak have we become? The no-fun crowd really needs to get over themselves.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

According to the NY Times, storied San Fransisco clothier, Wilkes Bashford, narrowly dodged going the way of the Dodo. Despite a growing population, and until recently, an expanding wealth base, it seems to me that specialized men's clothing stores have struggled as a business concept. Among other things, I chalk this up to the tragic homogenization of taste/style, men outsourcing their wardrobe decisions to their wives/partners, inconsistent dress-code policies at the office, the rise of online shopping, and the ridiculous "we're so desperate to get foot traffic in our stores" promotions that include "buy one ugly thing and get six free" at Joseph A. Banks. Also, the homogeneous big-box stores like Macy's are purely a volume play, so at some point they, too, engage in "80% off" sales to move the product they over-purchased off the shelves to make way for the next season of boring goods. While there is some price relief for consumers, a good thing, methinks, it's a sad trend for the clothes horse, but an inevitable one, I guess.

It looks like the white knight who swooped in and saved Wilkes Bashford from folding, the Mitchell family, have been successful in buying struggling local men's stores and breathing new life in to them. Interesting. Despite a slight affection for Brooks Brothers and J. Press, I always preferred getting outfitted by the local guys to the national and hyper-boring chains that dominate most of the retail scene. The local shops that were worth their salt offered better service, invested themselves in their relationship with you, usually had distinctive merchandise in stock, and made it a point to understand me as clothes horse consumer, rather than push conformist and seasonal trends my way. A few outstanding examples that I formally patronized were Atlanta's Michael Christopher(now semi-defunct), and H. Stockton; Charlotte's Old Dog, and Taylor Richard & Conger; and Nashville's Oxford Shop.

Despite several visits to San Fransisco over the years, I never made it to Wilkes Bashford, although it was always a store I heard was worth walking through. It does sound too pricey for my blood. What I find interesting is now that Wilkes Bashford, which served the hoity-toity monied elite of the bay area, has been acquired by east coast clothiers, will it still be able to select merchandise that its patrons are accustomed too, or will it lose some of its uniqueness by being part of a larger purchasing collective with an east coast bias? Clearly the old model didn't work out, as Wilkes Bashford was in death throws only a few weeks ago. However, I am always interested in the claim that nothing will change when new ownership takes the helm, despite the notion that change is clearly afoot. There are certainly upsides by being absorbed by a larger owner, like leveraging suppliers on volume purchases, along with other economies of scale, yet, there also exists the potential to get product dilution and lose the sense of local distinctiveness that was once a source of viability. The jury is out and change is clearly afoot, it will be interesting to see if the new model for local guys is to band together and consolidate in the name of staying alive. Here's to adapting and surviving.

Unions are like herpes and John Mackey is the Man.

John Mackey and Whole Foods:

Here is a must read profile of Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey. The big kahuna of hippie capitalism and one of the few leading business luminaries I actually admire and respect. His career is a testament to what modern corporate social responsibility (CSR) management theory should consider and implement if it was honest with itself. There's too much content in this article to parse out in one post, but this newly discovered Mackey quote “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover" is epic, and spot-on. (The werewolf may have it chiseled on his tombstone)

As a great admirer of conscientious capitalism, I have always been dumbfounded by the lefty, do-gooder, hippesque adoration for unionized labor. Unions represent a huge threat to stakeholders like consumers, suppliers, shareholders, management, and the even the long-term prospects of employees themselves. (has anyone looked at Detroit and the US auto industry lately?) Monopolizing labor is just as dangerous for the long-term, as the monopolization of any other good or service in a market driven economy. I have long been fascinated by the inherent incompatible realities of unions and those who claim to care about all stakeholders, as CSR stewards. It's time to address the elephant in the room and realize that one of the most ethical and socially responsible moves a company can make for its employees and workers is resist unionization at all costs. If CSR is serious about itself as a concept, it will file divorce papers from the liberal/democratic interest groups and de-link itself from partisan politics. Wishful thinking.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

They just can't quit.

This is disturbing. Islamo-fascist jihadists are like child molesters, the trait is embedded in their DNA. Recidivism is high amongst these specimens of human scum. I don't think that notion is appreciated by enough people. The fact that we had two of these jerk-offs in custody and released them does not bode well for anyone.

The perverse obsession with closing Guantanamo has always left me a tad flummoxed. Given the tropical locale, modern amenities, new buildings, regular halal meals, scheduled prayer time, excellent health care, and relative peace, I always thought Guantanamo beat the hell out of a cold cave in the Afghan mountains or sanctuary in the sewers of Fallujah. Sure you had to deal with some tough questions on occasion and run the risk of getting yelled at, but it sure sounds like a better arrangement for us, given it takes known terrorists off the street. Maybe we should move them to an new international prison in the Antarctica to keep them away from civilization. It would be more fitting on some levels.

Add a BRIC to your portfolio?

So says this NYTimes peice. For those of you that don't know, BRIC stands for the primary emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The werewolf thinks Brazil would be the safest bet based on the graph featured at the start of the article. Watch out for the Russians. It screams of a bubble to my amateur eyes. Just look at the sharp drop during the second half of 2008. Russia is heavily reliant on its state controlled energy sector for its cash flow. Russia may be a decent short term play, but for the long run, get the hell out. I don't trust the Putin/Medvedev axis, am skeptical of the nascent Czarist nationalism, and think their willingness to expropriate assets, and bully neighbors are all troubling signs.

People have had prolonged investment erections for China and India. India, like Brazil, seems ripe for growth, and their is no doubt in my mind that China still represents opportunity and will grow to rival the United States economically. However, I get the impression that before this comes about, China will have some serious growing pains to deal with in terms of rooting out internal corruption, updating their infrastructure, resolving the differences with their disenfranchised, violent separatist minorities, and managing expectations via the rural urban divide. There is also the touchy subject of how much U.S. debt the Chinese have purchased.

My hedge fund friend keeps raving about Sri Lanka and Colombia. Hell, most things look good from exile.

Tiger Woods, enemy of the shareholder?

According to this story at the New York Daily News, the recent revelation about Tiger Woods' sexcapades and imploding domestic life may have cost shareholders upwards of $12 billion according to this academic dude. This is not chump change. I have not seen the actually study, and putting aside the fact that I think there could be multiple factors at play regarding these pricing declines, this raises a raft of interesting questions.

Before attending business school and subsequent to my current exile, the werewolf spent three years as an insurance broker in his former life. I specialized in professional liabilities, including Directors and Officers liability, among other things. Here's a question to all of my litigation loving lawyer friends out there. Based on this information, can shareholders wage a legitimate claim against the D's and O's of one of Tiger's sponsoring companies linked to this decline? My answer at the moment would be, it depends.

Several publicly traded companies invested themselves very heavily in the Tiger Woods brand. The worst example, and ripest for a D&O claim methinks, was Gatorade and their strange decision to replace of their primary sports drink with a specialty branded sports drink named Tiger. Given that Gatorade is the original sports drink and the godfather of that consumer segment, the decision was ill-conceived from the get go, and, I think independent of Tiger's indiscretion, it was a bad move for the company because it diluted their core product brand and they heinously mismanaged the advertising and branding for the Tiger drink. Still, tying your company's storied primary product that has its own core following and a well defined place in the consumer's mind to a fallible human, and naming it after him, is sheer idiocy. The product wasn't performing well before Tiger's brand equity tanked with his sexplosion, and the irony is, that Tiger's fall from grace may have provided Gatorade with the cover they needed to pull the drink.

Accenture's value has weathered the Tiger storm without any noticeable loss(Although one wonders how long it will before the whiplash of the current economic environment impacts their bottom line). Accenture's insulation can be attributed to the fact that they offer professional services to corporations and have no contact with the product consuming public, and that their whole Tiger associated advertising campaign was an attempt to simply raise the company's profile and brand awareness. I digress. The question looms, did Nike and Electronic Arts screw the pooch by tying extensive portions of their product lines to Tiger? Should they have performed due-diligence on his background as part of their fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders to safeguard against an event like this?

Finally, does the $12 billion in evaporated shareholder equity make Tiger an enemy of the people?

Scylla and Charybdis for the modern age.

On the Knife's Edge: Yemen's Instability and the Threat to American Interests | Center for a New American Security

This is an interesting little piece from the Center for a New American Security on Yemen's gloomy prospects as a state. I have long been fascinated by failed states and studied them extensively as an undergraduate. It's no secret that Somalia is the crown jewel of failed state examples. Depending on how one defines a failed state, examples can also include the Democratic People's Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Yugoslavia(it's fragments tell that story), Chad, Zimbabwe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Plenty of others could qualify based on adjusted metrics.

Failed states also present a serious security conundrum for the United States. Being a skeptic of nation building projects and their implications, yet, a closet humanitarian, who also believes in the preemptive use of force when appropriate, the werewolf struggles with how to best frame addressing failed states from a security perspective. There is no question that failed states can serve as safe havens for our enemies and also can send out destabilizing shock waves to their neighbors, complicating anything and everything. Given that Somalia has devolved into a cesspool of piracy, terrorism, gangsterism, and anarchy, and that Yemen and Somalia share several distinctive internal traits, it would be terrifying to think of the implications of of having two failed states straddling the gates to the Red Sea. It would literally create a modern day "Scylla and Charybdis" for maritime commerce.

Monday, December 28, 2009's Nanny of the Year 2009!

Nice little piece by the folks over at Reason. Bloomberg is an Archduke in the no-fun crowd. What is he going to target next? Smiling too much?

Victor Davis Hanson: Some Modest Obama Predictions.

Classicist, observer, and blogger extraordinaire, Victor Davis Hanson, issues some keen predictions in his latest post. Here are some worthy highlights:

Some Modest Obama Predictions

1) We will begin to hear ever so insidiously mention again of the “war on terror”; some quiet memo will go out to cool all the talk of ‘man-made disasters’ and ‘overseas contingency operations’.

2) Either shortly or soon next year, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano will resign. I don’t see how the nation’s point woman on domestic terrorism can claim that the system worked like “clockwork,” when the Nigerian terrorist’s own father contacted American authorities long ago to warn us about the proclivities of his own son, who came within seconds of blowing apart a transcontinental jet. The system worked only at the 11th hour thanks to a courageous Dutch tourist who took matters into his hands.

3) I think the overseas bowing, apologizing, and kowtowing will stop in 2010—it brought no tangible results. Indeed, Obama is one bow away from global caricature and humiliation. And when one examines the recent behavior of Iran, Russia, Venezuela, or Syria, one concludes that they all think they can make favorable readjustments in regional landscapes and power relationships in 2010. Obama’s advisors will try to stop his natural inclinations to apologize, and I think will be successful—given the gathering storm clouds of 2010.

4) We may hear something finally in support of the Iranian dissidents. The ‘reach out to Ahmadinejad’ line has failed. And Iran will probably get the bomb in 2010. Since we will not ratchet up sanctions or impose an embargo, the only hope to stop an theocratic bomb will be regime change—and that may prompt some Obamians to speak out on behalf of the courageous rather than worry whether the murderous will meet with us.

5) We will hear lots of talk about fiscal sobriety next year. Obama realizes that the $2 trillion annual borrowing is unsustainable and warping his foreign policy as well as his own sense of stature. He also knows that “they” who will pay increased income, payroll, health, and state taxes are simply not numerous enough to end the deficits, and may slow down or find ways to reduce income exposure—as the combine tax bite goes over 60%. As a result, we can expect some sort of federal excise tax or stealthy fees, or at least some euphemism for finding more revenue.

It doesn't take a razor sharp observer to notice the stark incongruities and blunder of the Obama administration's first year. Hanson is on to something with his first point. Political correctness is a severe disease of the mind that infects many in power these days. Sadly, one of the more acute symptoms of the vicious, paralyzing, self-imposed affliction is a complete inability to see something for what it actually is. Political correctness is an intellectual paralysis that is sourced by blending fear, resentment, and dishonesty of facts and masquerading the abominable outcome as "sensitivity." Following the massacre at Fort Hood and the failed Christmas day "undie-bomber," maintaining the politically correct delusions about the "War on Terror" as nothing more than a "man made disaster" has become increasingly untenable for the administration. A simple, and honest shift in rhetorical positioning could be a good sign that the newly installed PC apparatchiks at Homeland security are doing their job of taking threats more seriously.

Pursuant to his second point, I was and still am mildly agnostic towards Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security. Let's put aside the fact that she revels in looking androgynous and reminds me of Janet Reno on several levels. Also, other than being a former Democratic governor of a red border state, who backed Obama during the primaries, I am not sure what her homeland security qualifications are, even though she has held the portfolio for nearly a year. However, that observation is way above this exile's pay grade. It has become increasingly evident over the past few days that she has no idea what exactly is going on or how to articulate the priorities of homeland security on the Sunday talk show circuit. Given the administration is already at capacity with rhetorical and incompetent buffoonery, via Joe "The Mouth" Biden," and "tiny" Tim Geithner, I'd agree that Napolitano's day's are numbered.

I take exception to point three. Obama's constant apologizing abroad is inherently part of his international shtick. Does anyone recall that gaudy speech he delivered in Berlin back in the summer of 2008? That says it all. I find his lack of distinctly American resolve to be an appalling and feckless trait, but it was clearly part of the deal when we elected him. As much as I'd love to see a savvier and effective Obama overseas, I don't see how a switch in approach will occur because such a switch would be an admission of having been wrong. Obama strikes me as too proud and egotistical to ever imply he somehow erred. We are talking about the guy who had the gall to accept the Nobel Peace Prize after authorizing an escalation of violence in Afghanistan, and having done absolutely nothing prior to that. It takes a self-centered delusion of grandeur to pull that off with a straight face.

As for Iran, Obama's silence last summer was deafening. Especially while pro-democracy activists were being gunned down in the streets of Tehran. He has positioned himself as being fundamentally unserious about addressing the Iranian threat directly. I think he is concerned that a strong rhetorical stance, may undo some of the positive buzz associated with his Cairo speech. As much as I'd like him to, I don't see him seriously tightening the rhetorical vice on Iran in the near future. There is a lingering neurosis throughout most of the left and the Obama administration that an aggressive stance with America's known enemies and a dedicated pro-human rights posture would too closely resemble President Bush. We couldn't have that now, could we?

Finally, short of the U.S. defaulting on its debt, things can't get much worse from a governmental macro-economic policy perspective. However, fiscal and monetary sobriety will be nowhere in sight during 2010. Between the looming health care bill that bails out big insurance, and talk of a second economic stimulus package, the best we can hope for is containment of the pending damage. Maybe the dems can nationalize the legacy airlines, all government contractors, old print media, and a few construction companies next year. Yes, more middle class tax hikes can be expected. Remember, if you voted for "hope," change is all you are going to have left in your back account.

Texas Shows Its Swagger in New Population Estimates

Texas Shows Its Swagger in New Population Estimates

Say it ain't so! In stating the obvious, the elites who chronically mismanage those enlightened blue-states could learn a thing or two from Texas. The numbers from the census bureau tell a chilling tale for many states in the Union. Barone aptly states "Texas over the decades has had low taxes (and no state income tax), low public spending and regulations that encourage job growth. It didn't have much of a housing bubble or a housing price bust." What do you reckon' the Ivy league elites from the blue-states hate more about this reality, that Texas is thriving or that this current success is owed in part to the policy legacy of Governor Bush?

A Saab-story's final chapter.

GM recently announced that Saab, like its stablemates, Pontiac, and Saturn, is to be wound down into oblivion. It makes sense. Saab, despite a certain cache and decent potential, reminds me of B-movie actor Michael Biehn. They both always dwelled on the cusp of potential, developed a decent reputation, and loyal following, but never achieved the star status that always seemed within their mutual reach. Biehn played prominent roles in well known films like "The Lords of Discipline," "The Terminator," "Aliens," "K-2," "The Abyss," "Tombstone," and "The Rock." Yet nowadays, he can be found working for a case of hard liquor doing voice-overs for computer games and flunkie films for the Sci-Fi channel.

Traditionally, Saabs have been quirky. (This statement excludes the heinous rebadging GM engaged in) Their engines are small, but turbocharged, the ignition is located on the center console near the transmission between the front seats, and they have bizarre Nordic design features and ergonomics. Cute quirky differentiators that meant something once upon a time, but were lost long ago in the bureaucratic labyrinth that encapsulates GM. Over the last few years, Saab had morphed into a useless Scandinavian appendage on the GM collective. Like the Borg, GM has been known to assimilate its acquisitions and totally strip them of any distinctive value added features in order to more quickly ruin them. Over the last few years, Saab's were nothing more than rebadged Chevy's and Subaru's. Even Saab's brand managers lost the quirky Saab brand image by vacillating between two abortive advertising campaigns that overemphasized a "state of independence" or being "born from jets." Neither was great, but the fact that they couldn't stick to one certainly added to the mayhem of Saab's identity in the GM stable.

My experience with Saab's go back to my day's as a boarding school student in New Hampshire. My girlfriend during senior year was one of the few day students where I was enrolled. She had a winterized blue 1990 Saab 900 coupe with a 5-speed manual transmission. One of the many things I learned from her was how to drive a stick shift. It's a very fond and positive association for me, and while she is long gone, her gift keeps on giving.

In 2003, I bought a new silver Saab 9-3 linear sedan that I affectionately named the "Saab-story." Despite looking halfway decent and aging well visually, the car is a mechanical nightmare that has pillaged my checking account on several occasions. Since the warranty ended several years ago, it feels like I have been stuck paying alimony to an bitter and undeserving ex-wife. All these ludicrous expenses, constant nagging and bitching, with no benefits, pleasure, or piece-of-mind. Despite the fact that the werewolf is obsessive compulsive about maintenance and keeping an orderly car, little things that are absurdly expensive frequently fail on the Saab like clockwork. It reliably starts about 80% of the time. Not to mention that every Saab dealer I have been to in Georgia, Tennessee, and New York finds a way to shake you down worse than a Jersey mafioso. I have been detached from the Saab-story for years, but as an underemployed, recently minted MBA, I am in no position to jettison the gray lady. I look forward to the day where I can wind down my own Saab-story. That being said, it's sad that the such a quirky and iconic brand has fallen victim to GM's quest for mediocrity and sub-standard automobiles.

Someone remind me why we bailed GM out?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Confession of a dangerous mind: An Anglophile admits to liking something French. Phoenix - 1901(live)

It's funny. For years I eschewed almost all things French. There is no serious logic to the roots of this Franco-contempt I harbor. Since I was a child, I have always been imbued with a profound Anglophile streak. This can be chalked up to a deep resonance for tales of Churchill, Nelson, Thatcher, and Wellington among others, while despising the likes of Marshal Petain, and generally interpreting the French as venal, petulant, feeble, and unreliable. I still proudly maintain most of these biases. The Lafayette shtick never really held that much water with me.

My anti-Gaulish bona fides were so legit that during the spring semester of my junior year of college in 2003, a political science professor started off his April 1 lecture by announcing that I was taking up a collection to repatriate the Statue of Liberty to France. Along with collective gasps of dismay from the classroom, the girl sitting in front of me quickly snapped around and in wide-eyed rage accused me of being a "patriotic pig," before the professor could announce it was an April fool's gag. Gone are the days.

I guess I have mellowed a tad through the years. Despite never taking to French wines, even though my father always pushed them on me, I have always loved French ties. I permanently borrowed my first Hermes from my father towards the end of college, and have aggressively expanded my collection French ties since then. My favorites have always been the unlined, unstructured ties of Arnys. They tie great knots and drape distinctively. Charvet ties have such bold colors and are so beautifully woven that their elegance is hard to surpass, but I find them delicate and quick to fray, hence they don't get worn as much. Hermes has great patterns, although some would consider them cliched. The Hermes tie I lifted from my father is probably thirty years old, yet its subtle display of equestrian bits goes with just about any professional outfit I can throw together. Timeless.

I have never thought much of French rockers. For the most part, the French just aren't programmed to get rock and roll. This link says it all. Trust me. However, I will confess to being pleasantly surprised by Phoenix. I find their current hit, "1901," to be appropriately catchy and enjoyable. I became aware of the band years ago through their song "Too Young," and always thought them to be French Canadian for no good reason. Anyways, since this werewolf is in exile, he'll be honest with the world by starting to admit that he is finding a few French things likable.

Credibility Lost: How James Cameron pulled a George Lucas cubed with Avatar.

James Cameron was a major influence during my formative years. I can easily recite every line from his 1986 sci-fi thriller Aliens in my sleep. Since the early 1990's, my best friend and I have frequently quoted these scenes with reckless abandon during our conversations. There is so much I want to salute Cameron for when it comes to Aliens, but I'll distill it down. Beyond being a compelling story about redemption, terror, honor, betrayal, desolation, and fear, there are complex layers to plot that get peeled back with more viewings. Most of the marines transcend the one-dimensional jar-head stereotype Hollywood frequently pushes on the public and are both likable and despicable. There is an impressive feminist streak to the film pushed primarily by Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley character, but strongly supported by Jenette Goldstein's portrayal of colonial marine Vasquez. Aliens is also one of the first major films post Vietnam War to portray the military in a positive light. In fact, one of the primary themes of the film is how the honorable loyal marines get betrayed by the mercenary civilian industrial-government coalition in pursuit of bottom-line profits. While there is strong anti-government and corporate tone to the film, it aggressively pushes what can be perceived as conservative themes and a truly positive portrayal of the military. It also leaves the audience satisfied.

Cameron's 1991 sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the first R-rated film I saw in the theater. (Thanks, Dad!) Again, between endless one-liners, mind-blowing(at the time) special effects, a captivating story arc, an uber-strong feminist lead lead via Linda Hamilton's Sarah Conner, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's badasstic presence, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and timeless movie going experience.

Cameron's 1994 action bonanza True Lies is the only film I have ever seen twice in the theater on opening day. (I am not sure if that is something to be proud of or not.) Beyond including simple reality based details like having the villains be crazy Islamo-fascist terrorists, the film has a very human and neat story arc. It centers around a Captain America like super-spy, Harry Tasker, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who saves the world from villains on a daily basis, yet, has a cover that includes maintaining a very boring family life. Tasker strives to be the ultimate family man. As the conflicts between his family life and career as a super spy begin to overlap, a thoroughly entertaining, action packed, joyride, complete with appropriate doses of hilarity and sincerity ensues. Jamie Lee Curtis, Bill Paxton, and Tom Arnold all need shout-outs for great supporting roles.

The original Terminator and The Abyss are both strong films that I enjoy. This leaves us with Titanic. I don't think Titantic will ever get a fair shake from me because of all the estrogen I associate with it. I was a sophomore in high school when Titantic was released and the thing I remember most was a cadre of girls bragging to our gay algebra teacher about how many times they saw the film in the theater over the past several weeks. These gals were claiming around five and six viewings apiece. Jesus! It made me feel like I need a freakin' tampon to buy a ticket to the film. Anyhow, I recall seeing the film a few weeks after it opened, enjoying parts of it, (especially the scene when the dude bounces off the propeller as the ship is sinking), but being mortified by the symphony of teenage girl sobs towards the end of the film. Still, massive props to Cameron for directing such a profitable film.

On to Avatar. I was excited when previews for Avatar starting popping up regularly last summer. The buzz around the graphics and 3-D was certainly interesting, but from what little I could glean from the previews, the plot looked rich with potential. As the launch approached, blogs and reviews I read began to generate some unfavorable impressions. That still didn't deter me, because I viewed Cameron with a reverence and respect one grants a titan. I was prepared for some unoriginal left-wing bullshit, as that is standard issue with most Hollywood products. I would have been okay with that. So, I went into the film with incredibly low expectations, and was still appalled by what I saw. The technology was okay, but not worth the excessive hype. Although the rendering of Pandora, the world where the film is set, deserves some serious merit, it wasn't enough to trump the vacuous plot and perceived betrayal by Cameron. A good friend commented that "Avatar" combines the worst features of Dances with Wolves and Final Fantasy. He hit the nail on the head. However, beyond being a retreaded and exhausted plot about evil white people and their capitalistic corporations, altruistic academic biologists, the glorification of primitive native peoples (who look like smurfs on steroids), how these smurfs live harmoniously with nature, and the celebration of literally going native, the betrayal of your species, and dragons fighting helicopters, there truly was no substance to film. To say that every character was one-dimensional would be giving each character too much depth. The plot was so incoherent and inconsistent that it rivals George Lucas's Star Wars prequels for shear idiocy. Therein lies my primary gripe.

I can forgive Cameron for being an idiot lefty who is a slave to boring, unoriginal, and expired dogmas. Most of his peers in the film industry are just that. What I can't forgive him for is thinking that technology and graphics are a reasonable substitute for a respectable plot and storyline. I was, and to some extent still am, I fan of the original Star Wars trilogy. I recall being excited about the prequels, and subsequently let down. George Lucas essentially shat out three craptastic films that had no plot, no writing, and no coherent story arc, and in essence, were a massive insult to fans of his original films. That's done and over with and the fact that people got snookered into seeing the prequels is a testament to the strength of Lucas's original franchise. What Lucas should do for the galaxy is retire from the film industry and enjoy farming Ewok pelts and playing squash with midgets. Cameron, a visionary in his own right, should have heeded the "Lucas lesson," and at least indulged his fans with something akin to a plot in Avatar. He had twelve frackin' years to work on that small detail! Most of Cameron's films have worked their way into pop-culture and Americana because he was able to blend technical innovations with solid stories and rich character development. He's proven himself on that level with five of his last seven films. Who doesn't know lines like "hasta la vista baby" and "I'll be back?" Cameron has had a decade to learn from the mistakes of peers like Lucas, yet he fails miserably in the execution of Avatar as if he used the Star Wars prequels as a blueprint instead of a warning. He literally creates a whole new world and blows his credibility load on making that world so ridiculous and cliched, that it may inadvertently restore some credibility to George Lucas. It takes a lifetime of work to earn respect and maintain credibility, and one careless action to thoroughly undo it all. That is the real tragedy of Avatar and James Cameron. Credibility lost.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: From Priviledged Nigerian Elite to Failed Islamic Terrorist.

There is still much to learn about fledgling trust-fund jihadist Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed Christmas day terror plot on the Detroit bound Delta/NW flight from Amsterdam. Especially given the reports of his presence on various British and American watch lists, and the boy-terrorist's own father explicitly warning the U.S. Embassy in Abuja of his son's conversion to the dark-side. We have Dutch citizen hero, Jasper Schuringa, to thank for his quick and deliberate subduing of Abdulmutallab on the flight. Sadly, by its very nature, several theaters of the War of Terror will require the quick reaction of citizen irregulars like Meneer Schuringa. However, this BBC article makes it abundantly clear that the maladjusted Mr. Abdulmutallab certainly never wanted for much in his life by any measure, and he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth as the son of a Nigerian banking magnate. It is no crime to born wealthy or privileged, mind you.

What really galls me is the continued assumption by many on the left and some of the paleo-conservative right that Islamo-Fascism and Jihadist terror has its origins in wealth discrepancies and poverty. Between the odious John Walker Lindh, most of the 9/11 terrorists, and Osama Bin Laden himself, there is a clear pattern of privilege, wealth, education, and elitism. The tone and attitude of the aforementioned links seems surprised that the young failed Jihadist is a man of wealth and privilege, when the trend seems to indicate that to be a norm, and surprise should be reserved for actually finding a poverty stricken jihadist working for Al Queda. (I will leave the Arab-Israel conflict details out of this post, since this focuses on the War on Terror) I think the real story here is that Africa and its Muslim population is beginning to formally enter the War on Terror as an operational theater in the minds of the west. It has been a functional theater for some time, yet not in the minds of most people. Africa has been a ripe ground for Muslim terrorism for years. A few examples include the fact Bin Laden operated out of the Sudan, Somalia is a lawless wasteland that's population is completely Muslim, and there have been reports of Lebanese middle men in western Africa using blood diamonds to finance various terror operations. Although there has been a subtle focus by American security policy on Africa for some time (especially with a large American presence in Djibouti), it has largely escaped the public perception. The Middle East, Caucusus, south Asia, Europe, and southeastern Asia all seem to get more press and attention. While I do not think the overall dynamic of the conflict will shift, I do think more young Jihadists of African extraction will rise to prominence, and more attention will be paid to the African front of the conflict as this story unfolds. We shall see.

Revision: Box office joke. "Avatar" keeps edge over "Sherlock Holmes."

There is litte or no hope for America. The greatest cinematic disappointment of 2009, James Cameron's shockingly lame Avatar, remained dominant at the box office over Guy Ritchie's vision of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. This makes the werewolf in exile's black heart sink a little lower. Not since George Lucas live birthed a third term abortion with his heinous Star Wars prequels, has a cinematic release been such a bloody joke and universal let down. Not that Sherlock Holmes is a fine specimen of cinema worthy of high accolades. It isn't. However, the consumer knows that he will get a two-hour action packed thrill ride, that, at its core, is mildly entertaining, even by the staid and tired formulas that big Hollywood has become slavishly devoted too. Trust me, Avatar is such a "charlie foxtrot" of a film, that it no longer takes beer goggles to make The Phantom Menace watchable.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

They don't make movies like this anymore. The Wild Geese Trailer (1978)

The Wild Geese is one of the better films about mercenaries in Africa. I was fortunate to have a father who introduced me to films like this when I was a little boy. As much as I liked elements of Blood Diamond, it's heavy handed moralizing and confused script left something to be desired. Also, the insipid political correctness that dominates Hollywood has rotted away the appreciation for and the will to make such tales properly. Take the 2005 joke of a film Lord of War for example. Maybe we'll get lucky and the 2006 book, The Wonga Coup, will get produced into a movie. I know that is a dangerous wish in this day and age. (This randomly has me thinking of the "winner's curse" lesson from my business school game theory class, despite the lack of an auction process) The cinematic version of Frederick Forsyth's great novel, The Dogs of War, missed the mark by several miles despite decent performances by Christopher Walken and a very young Tom Berringer. As much as I enjoyed the book, I have been unable to find and watch the cinematic version of Wilbur Smith's Dark of the Sun, much to my eternal dismay. Thus, I conclude the Wild Geese reigns supreme.

Ivy: Lucy Doesn't Love You

Ivy, a small indie band from NYC, has long been a favorite of mine. Their lead singer, Dominique Durand, has a voice that could charm a deaf curmudgeon. There is something ethereal about the way her French accent harmonizes with the guitar. Since I was on a music video kick a little earlier, I inadvertently stumbled on this gem of a video from Ivy and thought it was worth sharing. I'll be honest, I feel like I've known a Lucy, or two, in my life.

Keytar Hero.

While working out this afternoon, my iPod mix threw Don Henley's 1984 hit "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" at me. I've always enjoyed this song, but hadn't heard it in awhile. When I got home, I decided to check out the music video. Boom! This video shamelessly features the keytar. There are a plethora of amazingly kitsch details that help make the 80's so great, but considering the distinctive synthesized sounds that so accurately capture the essence of the 80's, the keytar certainly tops of the list.

I am huge fan of both Rock Band and Guitar Hero. They both helped me get through business school. I was just wondering has a Keytar Hero supplement or addition been formally developed for either of those games? This may qualify as one of the worst ideas of all time list, however, I think there would be a healthy market for such a product. Any takers?


AC/DC, one of the greatest head-banging performance bands of all time, may have to cancel a sold-out concert to protect some birds. Ridiculous. One would think that a bird species that has survived a raft of natural predators, the trials and tribulations of the evolutionary process, and makes Australia's second largest city, Melbourne, home, could handle two hours of some serious rock n' roll. Since when did that cause harm?

What's really amusing is that according to the referenced article, uber-stiff bird-maven, "Hans Uhl of BirdLife said birds nesting in the area at the time would be threatened by anthems such as Highway To Hell and You Shook Me All Night Long." Hans is do detached from humanity that he claims to know which specific songs would be most harmful to his avian friends. He is a charter member of the "no fun crowd." The aptly named "no-fun crowd" (a name developed by my best friend's father to describe modern day teetotalers and anti-tobacco Nazis during a conversation years ago) includes those who are incapable of having fun themselves, so they develop ridiculous metrics to reduce the fun of others. What about "Shoot to Thrill, "Rock n' Roll Train," "Money Talks," Hans? Perhaps the birds will enjoy those hits? Can we compromise and modify the set-list? Take note Hans, the birds can fly away for the duration of the show if it truly bothers them. Anyhow, I am due back on planet earth. Rock on AC/DC!

Mad Men style.

There are many redeeming features to AMC's hit series Mad Men, not the least of which is a new found attention to the classic and nostalgic standard of men's haberdashery that is associated with JFK, the early 60's, Ivy league preppyness, et al. I am a huge fan of the show and the style it showcases. I'll save the attempt to wax uneloquent about the various political, social, and cultural overtones of the show during another post. However, I have been bemused and slightly perturbed by how Don Draper is frequently branded as the show's paradigm of style. This is a mistake, methinks. Draper, while certainly projecting a muted reverence for classic Madison avenue style, is slavishly boring when contrasted with the more colorful, poignant, and imperial Roger Sterling. Sterling, superbly portrayed actor by John Slattery, is frequently armed with a tumbler of scotch in one hand, a Lucky Strike cigarette in the other, and he possesses a endless quiver of scene stealing one-liners that showcase his sardonic wit. He qualifies as a dapper Dan extraordinaire. Between the meticulous silhouette on his three-piece suits, the understated color contrast of his neck ties, and clean cropped hair cut, he is clearly the titan of style on the show. If dominant suit manufacturers such as Brooks Brothers, Adrian Jules, Oxxford, Hickey Freeman, or Samuelsohn had a true understanding of the show, they'd try and leverage "Sterling style" at some point in the near future.

Disclaimer: I secretly yearn for the return of three-piece suits.

Paradise lost. Was it ever found?

Although these tensions have been brewing for sometime, the fallout from Zimbabwe's disintegration under Mugabe is starting to take a visible toll on the internal workings of neighboring states in the region, especially South Africa. While South Africa's miraculous transition from Apartheid to majority-rule in 1994 is both commendable and impressive on multiple levels, the blind faith invested in the ruling ANC, and the rose-colored glasses frequently applied to the future of South African society in a democratic era have missed the mark, far and wide. The ANC's lack of resolve on isolating and undermining the Mugabe regime have sown the seeds for the aforementioned story, along with the chronic mismanagement of expectations of their internal constituencies. Africa and its few progress minded leaders need to embrace the fact the yesterday's "liberation" heroes have evolved into today's despots, mass-murders, villains, and are a tumor on tomorrow's aspirations.

The Legacy of Flight 93.

Passengers on a Detroit bound NWA flight from Amsterdam thwart a would be suicide bomber. It is an impressive reminder of both the legacy of Flight 93 and the fact that all Americans may unexpectedly be called to act as soldiers in the War on Terror. This was certainly an episode with a happy ending.

Hippie Capitalism.

This NY Times piece was both amusing and inspiring. Although my firsthand experience with absinthe has always been ugly, I was hooked by the line "Five years ago, Ms. Lins was living in a yurt in New Mexico. To escape the heat, she came to this small town in Delaware County, chosen for no apparent reason other than instinct." The fact that the article's entrepreneurial heroine was recently chasing the archaic lifestyle of Asiatic nomads who haven't known glory since the 13th century in the middle of the Southwestern wastelands, and seems to have eschewed the traditional notion of the American dream prior to her current venture is an impressive testament to both the power of markets and the newly emergent "specialized" sub-sector of the economy. I am still working through the details of how to frame and analyze this growing, "hand-crafted" product trend from a macro perspective, but it dovetails nicely with the fact that two business school classmates of mine have successfully launched a natural dog treat company, and are being well received throughout the market place. Granted they earned their MBA's (not a special qualification for entrepreneurial success, but certainly more grounded in the bottom line than Yurt dwelling), however, their product, branding efforts, and boutique like manufacturing operation are strikingly similar to that of Ms. Linds. I wonder, are some of the great entrepreneurs of the next decade going to be those who offer specialized consumer products that reject the homogenization of tastes that have been prevalent for the last several decades? Just some food for thought.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Teeing Off.


A Werewolf in Exile is a platform for me to hone my writing and analytical skills. It is also intended as a structured forum to collate the bizarre smorgasbord of concepts, ideas, details, hobbies, and things that keep my juices flowing on a daily basis. Lord only knows, I have collected an odd assortment of the aforementioned and am in dire need of sorting through them all.

I've long toyed with the concept of starting a blog. Although the notion ceased to be hip or edgy many moons ago in this twitter savvy age, here is to riding yesterday's waves. Thank you for making the pit stop.

Comment Moderation: This blog will be a forum where the near absolute right of free speech will be honored and respected. I welcome virtually all comments under almost all circumstances.  I will make little or no attempt to moderate  the comments regardless of content with a few exceptions. I am naturally not a censor, and frankly do not trust myself being one. However, I reserve the right delete comments that are highly obscene and have absolutely no merit (such as gratuitous expletive laced ad hominem attacks) and  comments that reveal unwarranted personal information about me or other people who prefer to be anonymous. As a libertarian-conservative contrarian, I prefer edgy civility, but will tolerate just about anything but the aforementioned two examples. However, please note that comments made by posters in no way reflect the views of this blogger.