Category Archives: around the web

Adapt or Die

A fellow Michigander notes that his Kindle didn’t kill Borders, bad business decisions did:

The most-cited reason for Borders downfall will certainly be technological change. The Nook & Kindle e-readers both will be portrayed as the grim reapers for Borders, and bookstores in general. That may contain a kernel of truth, and is even more convincing when you throw in competition from online booksellers like Amazon and big box stores like Costco (their selection is always surprisingly robust). Detroit Free Press writer Mitch Album spent his Sunday column listing other factors, including the decline of books as an essential part of our culture. Absent Twilight & the Harry Potter series, and excluding homework assignments, how many American kids are devouring books? For that matter, how many of their parents use time after work to wind down with a book? Not many, it seems.

But I didn’t kill Borders, and neither did my Kindle-loving brethren – bad business decisions did. In 1992, Borders was sold to Kmart, which then merged it with Kmart’s Waldenbooks and started franchise expansion. Borders became a public company in 1995 and reached its sales per square foot peak in 1997 – at 204 stores – but kept opening new stores. It expanded overseas and failed to capitalize on growing (non-expansion) revenue streams, most notably in 2001 when it gave Amazon all of its online book sales. Instead of being conservative with expansions – even downsizing – as the market landscape changed, Borders kept pumping revenue up with store openings. On April 18, 2011 the truth was clear: Borders hasn’t been a truly healthy company since the late 1990s and now nothing can save it.

 

Like Gordon, the closing of Borders has kind of been a gut punch for me.  In someways it seems silly to get all emotional about a big box chain.  But Borders was a Michigan company that started in Ann Arbor.  There was something that always made me swell a bit with pride about this homegrown company making it big.

But Gordon is also correct that the company made mistakes that contributed to its demise.  It will be sad to see this great store pass into history, but it ultimately has only itself to blame.

Der Spiegel:We Heart Tabloids

Interesting and surprising thoughts from the German newspaper Der Spiegel on why people are hating on Rpuert Murdoch:

A glance at the television coverage and the op-eds in recent days would be enough to convince anyone that the media mogul from Adelaide governs Downing Street and that Great Britain is mired in a scandal akin to Watergate. Everywhere one can read about the extent of his media power. His real crime, though, are his views, even if no one will say so. He’s known to be a stalwart conservative whose newspapers reliably bang the right-wing drum — and that was plenty to make him an object of hatred.

It goes without saying that progressives would be more merciful in the verdicts they have passed on the tabloid press had they themselves ever found success in the genre. But it is difficult to create a left-wing version of The Sun. One can only tell readers so often why young criminals deserve compassion instead of tougher prison sentences, or why each foreigner is a blessing for the country to which he has immigrated. People still cling tightly to their prejudices, contemptuously leaving the pedagogical messages behind at the newsstand…

Those who condemn a nation’s tabloid press are actually condemning the segment of the population that makes such products big and powerful. The intelligensia has always struggled with the simple masses. Indeed, it is truly painful to know exactly what is good for the country, but to fail to earn mass approval, whether at the newsstand or the voting booth.

As early as the French Revolution, Enlightenment thinkers were forced to recognize an aggravating gap between the populace as they imagined it and the actual people who took to the stage as revolutionary subjects. In 1793, when food riots shook Paris, one of the era’s key figures, Maximilien de Robespierre, said that while he wouldn’t accuse the people of incriminating themselves, he had hoped they would have loftier aims. “When the people rise up, should they not have a goal worthy of them?” he asked. “Should they be concerned about a bag of groceries?”

It’s been that way ever since: The avant-garde makes lofty, magnanimous plans while the crowd seeks to fill more tangible needs.

More on Sarah Palin, Victim

Per Philip’s earlier post, this Politico article spells out that Sarah Palin’s message of conservative resentment is damaging to conservatism:

…Palin’s skeptics said a successful presidential candidacy would need to be buoyed by genuine policy vision, not merely grievance. For now, however, Palin’s appeal is largely rooted in the sympathy she’s gleaned from her loudly voiced resentments toward the left, the news media and the GOP establishment.

“The appeal of conservatism is supposed to be people taking responsibility for their own actions,” said Labash. “But if you close your eyes and listen to Palin and her most irate supporters constantly squawk or bellyache or tweet about how unfair a ride she gets from evil mustache-twirling elites and RINO saboteurs, she sounds like a professional victimologist, the flip side of any lefty grievance group leader. She’s becoming Al Sharpton, Alaska edition. The only difference being, she wears naughty-librarian glasses instead of a James Brown ‘do.”

Of course, the threat of victimhood conservatism has long been a problem in the Republican Party, but with Palin it has found a voice.  But like Sharpton, such a kind of victimhood is going to be a disaster for the Republican Party.  Those who share Palin’s world view of resentment would resonate with a presidential candidate Palin, but I don’t think even in these harsh economic times if her message would even be attractive to the political middle.

There needs to be some kind of anti-Palin, a compelling politician that can give people an alternative view of conservatism.  Is there one out there?

On RINO Hunts, Ctd.

Bruce Gilson, who has, ahem, more experience when it comes to living, has this response to my earlier post on RINO Hunts:

I don’t think Riley’s type of thing is really new. The tension between extremist and moderate Republicans has been going on since 1964 at least (remember Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” in his acceptance speech). Even the “RINO” designation applied by extremists to moderates is decades old by now. One has to accept that there are some who cannot accept that the Republican Party is not ideologically homogeneous, and work around them. (emphasis mine)

Bruce makes a strong note here.  It’s easy to think that the rise of extremists within the GOP is some recent phenomenon, but the tension between the two wings of the party has been there for at least 50 years if not more.  I’ve read articles from the 1980s where this was still an issue back then. The extremists have always been like the schoolyard bully who threaten the timid moderate.  The problem is that moderates never really try to stand up to the bully.  We whine about the bully and talk about how unfair it is to be bullied, but we never face them down. 

Politics is always going to be rough game.  Moderates have to learn to fight back and stand up for themselves.  The world doesn’t care about whiners.

The Scandal of the Constitution

After the ruling, Margie Phelps, a member of the church who is also a lawyer, and who argued the case forcefully for years on behalf of Westboro Baptist, told CBS Radio News what she would like to tell the Snyder family now that they’ve lost their case. “This was a fool’s errand. It was un-American as anything you could have done. That boy is still dead…. Now get down on your knees, mourn for your sins, repent and obey,” cackled Phelps, the lawyer, the despised victor in a constitutional showdown they’ll be talking about until the next military funeral case gets filed in federal court.

Like it or not, your constitution protects her. And if we all liked everything about what the Constitution promised, or required, or even permitted, it would be a greeting card or an anthem instead of a touchstone. It ought to be reassuring, not depressing, that the fabled document so clearly and roundly protects a creep like Phelps when he displays the sort of crap members of his family display when they shamelessly seek out opportunities for free international publicity. Reassuring — and certainly more instructive about the way the Constitution really works than anything Justice Antonin Scalia might have been able to gin up to a group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

There’s something a bit scandalous about Andrew Cohen’s post on the Synder v. Phelps decision. As Americans, we want to have pleasant images of the Constitution and we love to talk about how it protects us from tyranny.

But in many ways, we do tend to treat like a greeting card. We make the Constitution into a mushy, gushy memory, something that is a thing of beauty and to quote a science fiction novel, mostly harmless.

Thing is though, if the Constitution is really working, then it’s going to be somewhat offensive to people and a bit unfair. We don’t want to think that the Constitution is for Fred Phelps and his ilk, but it is as much his Constitution as it is mine.

I don’t think it needs to be said that I think Fred Phelps is a lowlife. But even lowlifes have some constitutional protection. That’s what makes the Constitution so fascinating….and so scandalous.

Unions=Tea Party

Will Wilkinson:

There’s something about the union demonstrations in Madison, and the excitement it has caused on the left, that reminds me of the Tea Party. I think I’ve figured it out what it is. The advent of the labor movement is at the heart of the left’s sacred creation myth. The sense on the left that unions are under siege gives them something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Similarly, the sense on the right that America’s foundational values are under siege gave the Tea Party something to fight for with a bracing sense of historically-rooted identity and moral authority. Of course, the Tea Party has about as much to do with the values of the American founding as John Adams has to do with Raytheon, and public-sector unionism has about as much to do with preventing worker exploitation as Eugene Debs has to do with unfireable $100,000 a year public-school teachers. But it’s nice to have a team, and a noble lineage, and to get out there and really give the bastards who are stealing our country hell.

Pre-judging Mitch Daniels

Alex Knapp is not so impressed with Mitch Daniels:

Looking at the Republican field for 2012, I’m more than a little disheartened that the most prudent and fiscally conservative contender for the Republican nomination is Mitch Daniels.

The same Mitch Daniels who, as director of OMB, oversaw a federal budget that went from a $236 billion suprlus to a $400 billion deficit.

The same Mitch Daniels who stated that the cost of the Iraq War would be “only about $50-60 billion.” (Actual cost to date — over $800 billion and climbing.)

Ugh.

Now, I’ll be fair. I’m only now starting to look at Mitch Daniels. I haven’t had a chance to review his record as Governor. Maybe it’s an improvement.

But in the past few weeks I’ve heard him bandied about as the “fiscally conservative” candidate, and I have to say the first time I heard that, I laughed.

I find his criticism mean-spirited and ignorant.  He never bothered to check Daniel’s record as governor, something Daniels has been doing for about seven years, he bases his opinion on the few years he was OMB Director for President Bush.  I mean, all he had to do was look up Daniels via Google to get some more info.

If you want to judge Daniels on his fiscal conservatism, fine.  But at least have the decency to judge his whole record and not just selective bits.

What an idiot.

Thoughts on Borders

It’s a little odd for people to be writing about the end of the bookstore chain Borders when it has only declared chapter 11 bankruptcy and not chapter 7 liquidation.  I still hold out hope that the chain will survive, albeit in a smaller form.

I have to root for Borders- it’s a Michigan-based chain, started in Ann Arbor.  I’ve always liked the store over its rival, Barnes and Noble.  I remember when I was living in the Washington, DC area in the mid-90s and I would spend hours in a few stores in the area, especially the one in Rockville.

Eli Leher remembers Borders fondly.  He also believes he had a part in its downfall:

At it’s prime, Borders did a great thing: it provided a place where people could buy nearly any piece of recently published or classic literature or music and hang out for hours on end without any overt pressure to buy.  Its welcoming, even comfortable interiors were a wonderful respite from loud, overly bright stores geared towards speed of sales rather than the browsing that good books demand. Its reading groups and arts events—Chicago stores often featured pretty good jazz groups—offered a real cultural outlet.  Borders did a lot more good than bad and forced its competitor, Barnes and Noble, to match these perks.

All that said, I’m partly responsible for Borders’ demise. When I lived across the street from a Borders and cut through it every morning on my way to the metro, I spent well over $100 there most months. When Amazon started “Prime” service, these visits slowed to a trickle. When the Kindle came out (around the time I moved away from that Borders) I stopped buying hardcopy books altogether.

I would agree that the advent of Amazon and e-readers like the Kindle have made bricks and mortar stores obsolete, but I also think the damage done to Borders was just as much the fault of Borders than it was technology.  The bookstore chain was slow to getting online and even today, it’s web presence is not that great.  Recently, I was looking to purchase a book and wanted to see if I could buy it at the Borders website.  The price for that book was twice as much as it was on Amazon.  Borders wasn’t even close to being competative with the Amazon.  If the chain wants to survive, it’s going to have to make the website on par with Amazon and be ready to play hardball.

Barnes and Noble saw the handwriting on the wall and has been able to keep up with Amazon, not only on the web, but also in the e-reader market with its own machine- the Nook.

Will Borders survive?  Well, it’s too soon to write its obituary, but if it fails to face the future, it will go the way of Circuit City.

DADT Over For Now

Log Cabin Republicans explains:

Log Cabin Republicans are deeply disappointed by the Senate Majority Leader’s choice to invoke cloture on the National Defense Authorization Act without coming to an agreement on the amendment process, effectively locking Republicans out of the debate.

“There is no other way to describe it – today Senator Reid torpedoed repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director. “Despite heroic efforts by Senator Susan Collins to craft a fair and reasonable process for debating one of the most important bills addressed by Congress every year, Senator Reid chose to turn his back on days of negotiation in favor of blaming Republicans for his failures. Today could have been a day of celebration for all Americans who support our servicemembers to serve both honorably and honestly. Instead, brave men and women will continue to serve under a failed and unconstitutional policy that has been firmly rejected by the American people, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Log Cabin Republicans are angered and disappointed, but we are fully committed to continuing the fight against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ by whatever means necessary. We are tremendously grateful to Senator Collins for her efforts, and look forward to the day when together we will see this statute erased. (Read on…)