"Sometimes a Great Notion"
Amazon.com has been accepting payments from publishers of up to $10,000 to have books featured and reviewed on its website under the headings "Destined for Greatness" and "What We're Reading". Faced with public criticism for not disclosing the ongoing payments from publishers, Amazon found some resourceful responses. Vice-president Mary Morouse opposed labeling purchased reviews because of the often overlooked "neatness" issue: "I think it would be more distracting to have a book tagged," she said. "I think that would clutter it up." Next, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos argued his company was "pioneering a new medium that shouldn't be held up to the same standards" as book reviewers in magazines who strive for "independence from advertising concerns." (After all, who can meet those high standards?) Then he added the real kicker: "We're a buying co-operative. If we can lower costs by collecting co-op advertising money, that can lead to lower prices." Publishers buy reviews and we get lower prices. It's win-win. See why Amazon.com stock keeps rising? (WSJ 2/9/99, NYT 2/8/99)
It's Only Cigars
Nearly two years ago David Weisenthal, AKA Havana Dave, brought 100 duty free cigars back from Cuba after having faithfully followed instructions from a U.S. Customs publication entitled "Know Before You Go." For his efforts, he had his cigars confiscated. Let's see where Dave went wrong according to Judge Dalzell of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania (1/8/99).
1. Even though the Customs book said in "plain language" that 100 or less cigars could enter the country duty free, Dave had relied on information from the wrong agency. He came under the Regulations of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
2. Dave responded that OFAC had issued no "instructions" to follow. To this the Court said, Dave "gave OFAC more credit than the agency was due when assuming mention of 'instruction' (in their Regulations) meant that OFAC actually would issue an instruction from time to time." 3. The bottom line: Dave's defense failed, said the judge, because "it is only supported by common sense."
If this makes no sense, try rereading "Alice in Wonderland." (www.itsonlycigars.com)
Beyond "Follow the Money"
In Berkeley, California, SmartTouch Inc. has been test marketing a new identification system that can link fingerprints to Visa accounts. At the High Tech Burrito restaurant, customers now just put a finger to a touchpad and their meal is deducted from their bank account. SmartTouch CEO Phil Gioia says the device, soon headed for grocery stores, is needed because, "In a consumer environment, everything is moving to a higher level of convenience and security." (For whom he didn't say.) Pointing out the deeper significance of this breakthrough was the founder of SmartTouch, Ned Hoffman, who says with this device, "You are the money." Now you are the money walking, talking and breathing. Now I can look at myself and know who I am. I am $53.27. Peace at last. (Daily Californian @ 2/4/99)
Last fall, Wes Hummer was almost thrown out of a Washington Redskins football game when a guard discovered a 99 cent bag of Goldfish crackers in his duffel bag. Across the country, more and more stadiums are hiring guards to make sure fans do not smuggle in food. Officially, it is for safety reasons, to protect players from thrown objects. Unofficially, stadium managers know that up to 25% of their revenue comes from concession stands. Some stadiums have acted to keep fans in a consuming mood by banning tailgate parties in their parking lots and hiring food cops to patrol the aisles and snatch away illegal food. Meanwhile the Redskin's management responded to the potential safety threat of Wes Hummer's 99 cent Goldfish crackers by pointing out that "the team's no-food policy is clearly stated in the fan guide." Some people just refuse to read their fan guides. What can you do? (WSJ 2/5/99)
Defending the Fatherland Dept.
Faced with the increased immigration of foreign speakers to our shores, 22 states have responded by declaring English our official language. Now a number of small towns like Norcross, Georgia have gone a step further and passed laws penalizing linguistic "infringements". Recently Maria Cobarrubias was fined $115 for the name sign posted outside the supermarket she owns saying "Supermercado Jalisco". She had violated Norcross' ordinance banning signs that are less than 75% English "as determined by local authorities" (which I presume means no ghetto talk). The law, which ostensibly was passed for safety reasons, has also been used against several Korean churches and an Oriental beauty shop. The good news: Norcross Sgt. H. Smith believes some Spanish words are "acceptable", which should be cause for celebration in Norcross' Hispanic community.. (WP 2/6/99)