How Did She Get So Lucky?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch humps the leg of a local entrepreneur:

An entrepreneur from Edwardsville is weaving a network of basket makers from some of the world’s poorest countries to create a business that combines spirituality and fair trade.

The Blessing Basket Project grew out of a need that former television news producer Theresa Wilson had to lift women around the world out of poverty. Wilson, 36, originally wanted to work with poor women in the United States. But when she put her idea on an Internet bulletin board, she was deluged with e-mail from around the world from aid workers.

She’s a do-gooder, doing good things for the world around her. She’s having people in third world countries weave baskets which she sells:

At the Festival of Nations last month in Tower Grove Park, the Blessing Basket Project sold 92 baskets from Bangladesh and Uganda at $25 to $35 each. Wilson and her husband, Bryan, a construction worker who helps the company as a volunteer, said they are surprised at the response they get from buyers.

Got that? They sold the baskets for $25 to $35 each? How much did they pay the poor people in the third world to create them?

The 150 weavers that the Blessing Basket Project is working with around Kampala, Uganda, were paid $12 for a set of three baskets – three times more than typically offered. The weavers – mostly female subsistence farmers – are able to buy milk and meat for their children as well as books and uniforms for school.

So, they’re paying $4 each for these baskets and selling them at $25 to $35 each. I am sorry, that looks like a 500% to 700% capitalist imperialist dog mark-up to me.

Of course, I’m not against capitalist imperialist dogism, but I do think that the Post-Dispatch likes to assail corporations who would do this, particularly those that use third world labor to do things formerly done by unionized US workers.

I guess the difference is that software and automobiles aren’t sold at Whole Foods Market.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

I Remain Uninspired

I get this mail from every once and again, and hey, sometimes I read the stories. This Entrepreneur bit, however, leaves me uninspired: New chapter, better verse: After reinventing itself, TWG Consulting writes a richer history:

Marilyn Breitenstein bought her company, TWG Consulting Inc., for $10 in 1992.

She saw enough value in the former Sprint Corp. technical writing and training development unit to happily buy it with an Alexander Hamilton note. McDermott International had picked up the unit in its acquisition of Sprint’s United Information Services. But the Houston-based energy services company had no interest in following through on the unit’s contract commitments.

It was a gamble because Breitenstein was giving up a director-level position at Sprint for the little consulting business. But she wanted a challenge.

So she was a director at Sprint who managed to buy a subsidiary of Sprint for $10? Yeah, that sounds like the rest of us down here scrounging for the next client.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

No Irony to See Here

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in a story about government-mandated nonsmoking restaurants, cites a number of restaurant figures who say that the whole industry will be non-smoking in the near future because patrons want it.

The restauranteurs interviewed have restaurants with both smoking and non-smoking sections, so they’re not in a hurry to do what their patrons want, are they?

Instead, they wait for government to strip them of their property rights, and then they do what they say the public wanted all along.

If I had to guess, I would say that these quotables are mouthing the story line to get the name of their establishments listed in the paper. But I’m just cynical.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

It Wasn’t Me

As previous co-workers can attest, I have always been, well, let’s just say “open to the [negative] possibilities” about the fiscal and marketplace health of my employers.

This reputation means I must firmly refute that this internal MCI memo refers to me at all:

It has come to my attention, that there is a small group of employees who are extremely negative in the work environment (and vocally so), about the future of a) MCI; and b) their current job status in Ashburn. I’m not sure what’s driving the doubt or the negative commentary, but I can tell you that it is unprofessional and I ask that you direct your concerns to me, directly, versus continuing the disruptive commentary with other colleagues.

Let me say unequivocally that I have never been to Ashburn.

And in case you’re wondering, my current employer’s position in the marketplace is non-existent and his fiscal position is tenuous, at best.

It’s less satisfying when you’re self-employed, though. Also, I have no coworkers with which to kvetch.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories


Hey, everyone’s a loser in this story:

Attorney General Jay Nixon said Friday that Schnucks and Dierbergs stores had been adding a surcharge onto video rental bills that looked like a sales tax but wasn’t. He said the companies had kept some of the money.

Nixon said the two supermarket chains had agreed to stop the practice and pay $110,000 each in penalties to the state.

Salient points:

  • Business, since Dierberg’s and Schnucks saw fit to levy a 7% surcharge on video rentals and labeling it a “tax/surcharge” even though the State of Missouri does not levy a sales tax in these situations. By breaking out the extra portion of the price, these supermarket chains do the same thing telephone companies, utilities, and mechanics do: they hide, deceive, and trick customers with extra line items on the invoice to generate extra revenue. Listen, you damn creative business types: mark one price that includes all of your costs of business and tell me up front.

    P.S. Thanks for the statements that you didn’t do anything wrong here. Smeg off, you stooges. Even the laissez-faire amongst us recognize you’re not victims here.

  • The consumers, who have paid extra seven cents per $1.00 rental for who knows how long. $1.07 isn’t so bad for a video rental, but getting institutionally suckered is.
  • The attorney general, who had to conduct a year-long investigation to net $220,000 in fines. Certainly not cost effective, and certainly not where I would allocate assets, but unquestionably, the wrong doers were doing wrong.
  • The taxpayers, who had to underwrite an investigation costing more than $220,000.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Intel CEO Cries, “More Socialism, Please!”

At least, that’s what I hear when a CEO of a profitable company wants the Federal Government to fund his R & D.

So let me get this straight….space travel, which only will be profitable in the long term, should be open to private capital and research, but chip and computer design, which yield profits now, should be funded by Mississippi citizens who live in tar papered hovels, or Montana citizens in kerosene-heated mobile homes?

Suck it up, pinko. Your duty to increase your shareholders’ wealth and your own bonuses does not come at the expense of the U.S. Taxpayer.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Unwritten Mandate to the Airline Transport Authority

Drudge linked to this violin-soaked lamentation from the Airline Transport Authority, wherein the protagonists of their own melodrama lament fuel prices and their own inability to profitably run businesses:

US airlines have warned that the continuing sky-high price of fuel has “all but wiped out any chance of a profitable year for the industry”. [Revel in the British style, gentle readers, of placing the punctuation outside the quotation marks.]

The comments of their trade body, the Air Transport Association (ATA), came after Continental Airlines became the latest carrier to raise ticket prices.

To try to ease the high price of oil, the ATA called on President George W Bush to stop stockpiling the fuel.

Please, President Bush, stop thinking first of the strategic military needs of the country whom you’ve sworn to protect, and start thinking of the bottom lines of one of the most heavily-subsidized and ineptly-run industries. Do it for the children!–namely those poor waifish children of airline executives and their lobbyists, who can scarcely afford a summer abroad with the high ticket Pprices on their free rides.

Here’s the ATA’s president giving what passes for “strategic thinking” in the airline industry:

“We agree that the strategic reserve is an investment in the nation’s future,” said ATA president and chief executive James May.

“However, any investor will tell you that you buy low, sell high. Unfortunately the government is doing just the opposite.”

The strategic reserve is not an investment. Not even a hedge. It’s a vital necessity to keeping our military functioning should the flow of just-in-time petroleum stop or slow. The government is not buying oil to make a profit. It’s not buying at the best time. It’s buying when it can, which is now.

Unfortunately, that’s not what’s best for James May. Too bad, James May.

Also, did anyone else notice the weird tesseract in the BBC’s story?

Second paragraph:

The comments of their trade body, the Air Transport Association (ATA), came after Continental Airlines became the latest carrier to raise ticket prices.

Last paragraph:

Continental’s price rises were later mirrored by United and North West.

Whoa. Where am I? When am I?

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Do They Really Understand Why There Are Prices?

/. links to a story on the BBC which says Microsoft might have to raise prices to pay for its exorbitant legal fees and fines.

From the BBC story:

Microsoft is objecting to the size of legal bills submitted by lawyers who brought an anti-trust case in California against the software giant.

Microsoft told a California court that consumers could suffer if it has to pay the full $258m (‘/£146.7m) bill.

The legal costs are part of Microsoft’s settlement for over-charging consumers buying its software in California.

“I wouldn’t have put it in if I didn’t think we earned it,” said Eugene Crew, the lead attorney against Microsoft.

“Somebody ends up paying for this,” said Microsoft attorney Robert Rosenfeld. “These large fee awards get passed on to consumers.”

Insightful commentary from the Slashdot poster:

Do they really understand why there are laws?”

Spoken like a professionally overpaid, but open-source free-software-loving burgeois Marxist. Let me explain, once again, the real world. Companies want to make money. To make money, they design, build, or provide things or services. They then offer to exchange same for a quantity of money that covers their costs as well as make a tidy profit. The profit margin’s really determined by the demand for the thing or service, and it cannot equal zero or a greater number (m >=0). So when the cost of providing the good or service goes up, such as a result of regulation or litigation, the price of the good or service goes up. End of story.

Information wants to be free, quoth some developers making upper five or lower six figures, who don’t work for enough soup to sustain themselves and a simple pallet in the corner upon which to sleep.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Steve Chapman Speaks Word to Power

Steve Chapman, in today’s Chicago Tribune says (registration required):

Some newcomers are planning to move to Chicago, and the invasion sounds as though it will be a grim affair. “They’re a negative for the city,” said one fearful alderman. They’re guilty of “treating people wrong,” said an angry minister. They exploit a “slave mentality,” charged another clergyman.

You’d think Genghis Khan was riding in our direction, with his marauding hordes in tow. In fact, the would-be migrants are from Wal-Mart, whose chief crime is to become one of the most successful companies in American history. All the giant retailer is threatening to bring is a few hundred jobs and a lot of inexpensive products. But critics want the City Council to block the project.

Bobo opponents want to block it because it’s Wal-Mart. But it’s a good company, an employer, and a seller of things people want to buy. Get off the anti-capitalist chic and let it in.

Just don’t let the local government throw people out of their homes or provide tax breaks.

(Originally seen on Daniel Drezner because I must be slow today getting to my Chicagoland papers.)

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Who Says Finance Is Boring?

A couple years ago, I invested in some IBI (Intimate Brands, Incorporated), which was Victoria’s Secret. I liked it so much, I bought into the company, werd.

Now it’s part of LTD (Limited Brands), but I am still enthusiastic about the company.

I mean, dammit, man, they put pictures of women wearing lingerie into the annual report!

I think there’s numbers and stuff in it, too, between the pictures. Some words, too, but hey! Tyra Banks!

Updated: I originally wrote women wearing lingerie into the annual report and have amended it to acknowledge it’s really only pictures thereof. Heaven knows, I would have gotten into trouble with the SEC, not to mention my wife, were I to insinuate LTD sends actual models to its stockholders. Thank you, that is all.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Indian Tech Companies Outsource, Too

Remember those tech jobs leaving for foreign shores? Cue the Neil Diamond, because they’re coming to America. The Washington Post reports:

Infosys Technologies Ltd., which has become India’s second-largest software maker thanks largely to outsourced work from the West, is investing $20 million to create nearly 500 consulting jobs in the United States.

Just stay competitive, fellows, and commerce will flow to you.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Tech Professionals Suddenly Anti-Free Markets

Funny, I seem to remember about six years ago that all of the IT professionals in the world were all for the free markets, especially since those free markets meant that the IT professional’s next job in six months would yield a 20% salary raise. Oh, how shallow the sentiments ran.

According to CNet, the IEEE has come out against outsourcing:

In a policy statement, IEEE-USA said U.S. government procurement rules should favor work done in the country and should “restrict the offshoring of work in any instance where there is not a clear long-term economic benefit to the nation or where the work supports technologies that are critical to our national economic or military security.”

I agree with the bit about security, much as I think the country should have manufacturing capability to build B2s when every other country is against us, but I don’t think the government should prop up an overpaid bunch of undercompetent IT workers. Let the marketplace do its work and return those who cannot produce quality, and inexpensive, hardware or software back to the retail or services industry where they belong. If you alone are making twice the national median income or more for a family, stop begging for sympathy and complaining about workers who can support an elevated personal standard of living for less than you can.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Ten Ways To Get Fired

Yesterday, I pointed out Ways to Annoy Your Co-Workers.

Today, I’ll help you out if you just want to end it all: here are Ten Ways to Get Fired.

The article, like the other one, takes the standpoint that you shouldn’t do these things. I was rather hoping for how-to guides.

I’ve only been fired once, and the day after my last day the boss called to ask why I wasn’t at work–but that’s a long, albeit amusing story. Buy me a Guinness sometime and I’ll tell you about Bob “I Own The Business.” One of my coworkers brought in doughnuts everytime she got fired. Me, I took it as an opportunity to stay home and look for a better job. What was my point?

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

I Don’t Think That Means What You Think It Means

Instapundit links to a Wired article about outsourcing. It’s an even-handed treatment, but the author quotes an Indian programmer:

Aparna Jairam isn’t trying to steal your job. That’s what she tells me, and I believe her. But if Jairam does end up taking it – and, let’s face facts, she could do your $70,000-a-year job for the wages of a Taco Bell counter jockey – she won’t lose any sleep over your plight. When I ask what her advice is for a beleaguered American programmer afraid of being pulled under by the global tide that she represents, Jairam takes the high road, neither dismissing the concern nor offering soothing happy talk. Instead, she recites a portion of the 2,000-year-old epic poem and Hindu holy book the Bhagavad Gita: “Do what you’re supposed to do. And don’t worry about the fruits. They’ll come on their own.”

She’s quoting the Bhagavad Gita? The Bhagavad Gita? That, and the particular quote, is particularly funny and ironic.

Here’s the Brian’s Notes version of the Bhagavad Gita, kids: Prince Arjuna is a little reluctant to enter a war where he has friends and relatives on the other side. He’s a bit reluctant to go into battle because he doesn’t want to slaughter them. His charioteer, Krishna, happens to be an incarnation of a deity, and he spends the poem convincing Arjuna that it’s his duty to go into battle and slaughter his friends and relatives because that’s how the his life is scripted. So Arjuna does. I’d imagine this quote is Krishna giving a pep talk, probably before revealing one of his majestic and terrifying forms.

With that context, make of the quote what you will. Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of Java!

Note: Don’t take this post as demeaning to the Bhagavad Gita or Hinduism. Go read the whole thing, as they say. It’s an interesting piece, and describes an eastern worldview that I don’t entirely share. It’s got certain truths in it, though, and as from any philosophical work, perhaps you can draw something from it to apply to your own life.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories

Only Ten?

MSN has Ten Surefire Ways to Tick Off Your Coworkers on its Careers site. Hey, I took a look because I thought I might pick up some new techniques. Unfortunately, this little document is about things you might do that might tick off your co-workers and why you shouldn’t do it. I don’t do the ones listed here.

I have, however, inadvertently stumbled across other surefire techniques to, if not tick off, at least raise hackles of, co-workers and office mates. So might I suggest the following:

  • Audible smacking of gum.
  • Real-time audio commentary to whatever sputteringly shocking news story you are looking at on the Web. Also, do this for at least six hours a day.
  • A messiah complex, wherein you exclaim to anyone who is listening that you are the greatest job title that ever was, but low how they mistreat you. Oh, how sorry they will be when you’re gone. How lonely they will be in the silence of the whining.
  • Answering questions that weren’t asked and then vigorously defending your position to a startled co-worker. Remember to get angrier if he or she agrees or tries to appease you.
  • Clearing the nose and the throat with gusto. Every couple of minutes.
  • Vigorous scratching and appropriate relief noises, particularly if you can bare the skin to scratch.

I am sure my former office mate could add more to this list, but until the doctors break through his catatonia defense mechanism, we’ll never know.

Buy My Books!
Buy John Donnelly's Gold Buy The Courtship of Barbara Holt Buy Coffee House Memories