business news in context, analysis with attitude

Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column on Wednesday, entitled “How To Fix A Flat,” ought to be required reading for…well, everyone.

The essential premise of Friedman’s piece is that the proposed bailout of the troubled US automobile industry ought to be questioned, since it seems as if the companies involved have done everything possible to avoid real innovation and environmental responsibility. Friedman doesn’t just hold the car companies accountable, but suggests that a raft of legislators have enabled them to do so by protecting them from the consequences of their own actions and inactions.

“Instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design,” Friedman writes, the auto industry “threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers.”

Any bailout, he suggests, ought to come with some very big strings…with the goal of getting new management that will force real innovation.

That’s a good point for any business, it seems to me, not just an industry that is on the precipice of ruin. In fact, it makes sense not to wait until standing on a cliff before one starts to think about innovation as a way of doing business.

I’m afraid that in the current economic environment, efforts to innovate and to create new business paradigms that are relevant to an evolving culture, changing demographics and new technologies, may end up being put on the back burner. That would be a mistake, in my judgment. It ignores the fact that even during a recession, the future beckons.

Friedman’s final line in his column is a doozy:

“Somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn’t need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he’d like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I’d bet it wouldn’t take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.”

That reminds me of something that Bill gates once said about the auto industry, that “id GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon.”

Who do you want to model your business after?

GM? Or Microsoft and Apple?

Strikes me as a pretty easy call.

Nice to know that professional sports franchises are paying attention to the economic headlines.

The Boston Red Sox announced that they will not raise ticket prices for the 2009 season.

And the New Jersey Nets said that they will sponsor a jobs bank, offering free tickets to people who bring resumes to a career fair; the resumes will then be distributed to the team’s various sponsors.

Read two excellent books this week while on the road.

“The Brass Verdict” is yet another terrific mystery from Michael Connelly, this one a follow-up to his “The Lincoln Lawyer,” featuring defense attorney Mickey Haller. In this one, Haller – who has been going through his own private physical and psychological hell after having been shot, gets a shot at redemption when he finds himself representing a movie studio mogul accused of murder. The case has plenty of twists and turns, and the book features another Connelly regular, detective Harry Bosch, who finds himself alternately fighting against and helping Haller.

Connelly is one of the best in the genre. “The Brass Verdict” doesn’t disappoint.

Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life,” is an utterly delightful book that recalls his years as a standup comic during the late seventies and eighties. For many of us, it seemed as if Martin quickly got white hot and then suddenly decided to quit and devote himself to the movies. But in fact it took Martin years to develop the persona and approach that made his comedy so specific and even personal…and his book is simultaneously a dispassionate and fond remembrance of those times. I loved it.

Yesterday’s MNB Radio piece made mention of one specific seafood dish that I had while in Spain this week, but I should mention that I loved all the Galician food that I ate. Galician pie, which is made from peppers and sausage and is melt-in-your-mouth good. Galician soup, which is made with chicken stock, white beans, collard greens, onions and potatoes. And Galician-style hake, which is distinguished by a sauce made with olive oil and paprika. Just delicious.

So last week, I was in Argentina. This week, I was in Spain. I managed to come home for about 36 hours last weekend…which was propitious timing, since we’d been invited on Saturday to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. A new Margaritaville restaurant was opening there, and we were invited by a friend who works for the company to attend a party and special VIP concert by…you guessed it…Jimmy Buffett.

There were just 300 of us in the room, and it was an amazing experience. Buffett performed all of his favorites in what he said was his last concert stop for 2008, and the room was electric. I’ve been to a bunch of Buffett concerts, but there is nothing like standing about 15 feet away from him while her does “Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude,” and, of course, “Margaritaville.”

Besides the music, the margaritas were excellent, the Landshark beer was cold and refreshing, and the hamburgers and coconut shrimp made it feel like a night at the beach.

And I’ve had two of the more excellent weeks of my life.

Like I said yesterday, it’s a good gig.

That’s it for now. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


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