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February 28, 2006

Only In America, Dammit

I met Mark Cuban at a dot com conference back in the days when people believed that Sean Fanning could walk on water. It was the Webnoize conference in Century City, I forget the year. My job was to scout out any real players in the DRM and online music sales business and try to get them interested in a web analytics product. We already had the technology that Doubleclick was using to monetize their clicks and analyze their money, and we were building that into a full suite. I figured that anybody who was serious about making money would want to have such a tool - but I thought a lot of things back then. Of all of the people who were saying things with conviction that was born of experience, Cuban stood out. Hilary Rosen, the Diva of the MPAA knew what she was talking about too, but people weren't supposed to like such a wet blanket. I couldn't understand all the praise heaped on the guy from Grand Royal, whatever that was. I later found out he was related to the Beastie Boys. Whoop. Charlie Rose was there as was a cat who argued in support of digital watermarks. They too knew what they were talking about. As I approached with my intelligent question, Cuban vaguely suggested that no amount of analytical software is going to help people know what they should have known before the money was invested, or some such. I left dejected, but at least I discovered that the guys at Reciprocal were going broke too.

Sometime later, I found Cuban on Kudlow & Kramer demonstrating his genius. He was arguing seriously about the return of dividends as a stockholder incentive. It was perfectly clear at the time that it was a mindblowing idea. Back in the day when I used to be a road warrior and watched Squawk Box I recall only one older woman with an underproduced video about dividend reinvestment. It was clearly something that the popular capitalists didn't care about. Then again we all know the exuberance was irrational - or at least I did, and bore the scars of scorn telling people they were not motely, just fools.

So all in all, my appreciation for Cuban's savvy hadn't been disappointed. Just a week or so I think he nailed what's wrong with the theatre business. And so of all the people who made money during the craze, I think he's one of the least crazy. But today I'm scratching my head and there is piss and vinegar under my fingernails. So my head is burning with a question like WTF in response to his charity challenge:

Howie, if you can get Mr Trump to pull a rubber glove completely over his head and blow it up on your show, not only will I watch it, I will donate 1 million dollars to the charity of your choice.

This is just one more face-slapping indication that I am hanging with the wrong crowd.

When I was a kid and pretty much an honor student in prep school, I encountered the mind-numbing personna of Regis Philbin. On a boring summer morning, I watched his television show for an entire hour and realized that I had absolutely no idea who he was or who any of the people he was talking about were. It was as if he lived in an entirely different city. Many people have talked about Los Angeles in any number of ways, but I was shocked. Since then I've always marvelled at the amount of money spent on foolishness, namely in the form of television entertainment. It makes for a somewhat witty but ultimately pointless sort of complaint. Let's try it out, see if you get the gist.

The amount of time and money spent by the Bush Administration researching the provenance of the sale of P&O to Dubai Ports was less than was spent filming the 'Marsha Marsha Marsha' episode of the Brady Bunch.

See? Think of anything that's of significant importance, especially life of death matters, and you will find ultimately that some asshat-Americans have spent more money on potato chips. Mister Frito and Mister Lay don't need to give a shit. Their business model works. I used to also do this with political issues when arguing among conspiracy theorists who complained about their tax money being spent on this or that boondoggle. This one shows off the geek in my so bear with me a moment. Let's say that you're on a rampage about $500 toilet seats, and you want to throw in your extended two cents about government fraud, waste and abuse. So you expend 700 words writing a flame in a public forum that I really don't want to read but do anyway. I would calculate that the government spent a total of 3 million on that particular fraud which works out to about .004% of their annual budget. The complainer spent about .01% of one year of his life complaining about it online. The complainer could have done us all a favor, shutup and worked another hour of overtime and it calculates that he would have made ten times the fraction of his taxes spent on toilet seats working instead of complaining. I had the formulae in a spreadsheet.

Like most Americans I'd rather complain than make money. But unlike most Americans I make good money while I'm complaining. (Don't tell anyone I'm blogging at work). Still, I don't see how anybody could fault me by asking WTF when it comes to Cuban's excess. Why invest in stupidity? Easy. He can afford it. And who are we to say Mark Cuban ought to do anything serious - after all, he's in the entertainment business, and he can go talk to Trump or Howie Mandel anytime he likes. If I had his millions, I'd probably do something just as ridiculous. Surely he sees some value in that million, or maybe not. Who knows?

I have the feeling that given the right code, which I'm going to dedicate myself to even more in the face of this capitalist insanity, I could corner Cuban or some other wealthy guy interested in funding the improbable, I could have my Steve Jobs - John Scully moment. I could ask him if he wants to change the world. But that means I've got to have my code done.

Only in America are we inspired by such foolishness, because only in America do so many fools have so much money to burn.

Posted by mbowen at February 28, 2006 05:25 PM

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"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." Henry Louis Mencken

Posted by: ptcruiser100 at March 1, 2006 09:09 AM

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