Auntie Fatcat's

Sit down, have a cookie, and chat for a spell.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Customer Care

This morning I glanced at an article in the Seattle Times about how increased costs related to's discounted shipping programs were one of the chief causes of the company's 30% quarterly profit drop from a year ago, which caused its stock price to drop 2.5% in response. I usually don't read the business section that thoroughly, but this article contained a quote that caught my eye. David Garrity, an analyst for Caris & Co. (whoever that is), said, "It appears that consumers are rewarded rather than shareholders."

That's right. Favoring consumers over shareholders is apparently a shocking thing to do and must be punished. No wonder the U.S. economy sucks. If you're just trying to make money and you don't care about what you're doing or the people who are buying it, then it's either not going to happen or it's not going to last. If more companies focused more on excellence in their fields--and I mean real excellence, not the smarmy kind that comes on posters with pictures of skydivers or mountain climbers--the profits would come on their own. Not immediately and temporarily, but slowly and sustainably. Worked for my company anyway, at least until the shareholder-fawning suits bought it.

Guess I'll be making myself a big, fat order from

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Dictatorship of Relativism

So they have a new pope. Quickly and unsurprisingly, the College of Cardinals has elected former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be Pope Benedict XVI. I'm mildly disappointed to see that the new pope is a hard-line conservative: strongly opposed to divorce, birth control, liberation theology, women or married men in the priesthood, and homosexuality anywhere. I was kinda hoping they would notice the huge Catholic population in Latin America and choose someone who would focus his ministry, as Jesus did, on the needs of the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. That would take the Church back to its biblical ideals of love and compassion while putting the pope in a great political position to enthuse and activate the most faithful and massive of Catholicism's faithful masses. Instead, they've chosen to fixate on the relatively petty concern of micromanaging people's bedroom activity. Okay then.

That said, I do agree with the new pope on one thing. At a mass shortly before the papal election conclave began, Cardinal Ratzinger said that modern society is creating "a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires. . . . Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism." Take out the part about the creed of the church, and I'm there.

Like most liberals, I dislike and distrust fundamentalism of any stripe for its rigid insistence on imposing a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all set of rules on everyone. But I think its opposite number--the belief that there are no rules, or that everyone has the right to pick their own rules--is almost as bad. When I took management training back in my Wizards of the Coast days, we were taught that good managers impose as much structure as needed and no more, allowing employees as much room to innovate as possible while retaining clarity of roles and responsibilities. I think the same is true of morality; there must be a few universal rules, but only the minimum you need to clarify rights and responsibilities. After that, do what ye will.

I'm guessing that most people would agree with that general position, and come to blows mainly in arguing what the few rules should be. Healthy moral debate is a good thing, particularly if we can stick to persuading and keep away from demonizing and fisticuffs. Just keep in mind, while we debate, that there's a difference between being a jerk and being immoral, that sins aren't always crimes and virtues aren't always requirements, and that all beliefs are not created equal. And however high the bar may be for setting universal moral rules, the bar for turning those rules into enforced laws is higher still.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Boys' Lessons

My beloved nephews David and Derek came to visit me for most of last week, along with their parents. We went to a Mariners game, took in the zoo, saw the animatronic dinosaurs at the Pacific Science Center, and watched the IMAX version of Robots. While all this was going on, I had plenty of exposure to the wit and wisdom of nine- and three-year-old boys. Here's what I've learned:

1. My name is Aunt Spiderman Buddy, and I had best answer to this. Quickly.

2. Baseball players are to be judged not by their prowess on the field or with the bat, but by how well they do what you want in your baseball video game.

3. The child who is not particularly heavy the first time you "up" him ("Me-me no see! Up me!") will have gained approximately one and a half tons by the time he develops an acute case of "owie toes" and must be carried home.

4. No matter where you go to eat, the kids' menu will offer a cheeseburger and fries, and the kids will choose this 80% of the time. The remainder of their choices will be macaroni and cheese (10%), cheese pizza (5%), and quesadillas (5%). The real mavericks might pick cheese enchiladas or grilled cheese sandwiches, but offerings not involving cheese are unacceptable.

5. The Mariners' mascot is not a moose, but a reindeer. He works for Santa in the winter and the Mariners in the summer. The Sonics mascot is not a Sasquatch, but a doggie.

6. Live butterflies can be scary if they fly right past your head. When fleeing from scary butterflies, it's important not to flee into the neighboring "Bees & Wasps" exhibit.

7. Small boys often have superpowers. Among them are the ability to make crosswalk lights change and the ability to see my house from each and every one of the binocular things on the observation deck at the Space Needle.

8. M&Ms and Skittles mixed together don't taste as bad as you might think.

9. Komodo dragons are cool, even if they are not as scary as butterflies.

10. Just because a person is wearing his Spiderman jammies does not mean he should be addressed as Spiderman. Sometimes Superman has to wear his Spiderman jammies when his mommy makes him put his Superman jammies in the wash.

Today I got a nicely illustrated card thanking me for showing "my boys" a great time. I say thanks to them, for reminding me what a great time looks like.

Monday, April 04, 2005

How 'Bout That Richie Sexson?

First pitch as a Mariner, and he whaps it out of the park. Second at-bat, he flips it over the center-field fence, just to prove the first one wasn't a fluke. Guess you get what you pay for, at least for today, so thanks to the Ms for putting up the bucks for once. And a shout out to Ichiro and Jamie for proving that there's more good to this team than the new kids on the block, happy as we are to see them.

There's a long season ahead and plenty of worries coming off of last year's dismal performance, but right now things are looking mighty fine from the cheap seats.

It's Opening Day, and life is good.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Rant o' the Day: Discrimination in Academia

Harvard President Lawrence Summers recently suggested that the underrepresentation of women in the sciences may be due to women's lesser aptitude for advanced scientific work, or perhaps their innate preference for more social professions. Many conservatives supported him in this view. Now the Seattle Times tells me that conservatives themselves are also vastly underrepresented on our nation's campuses.

I eagerly await President Summers' assertion that this may be due to conservatives' lesser aptitude for advanced academic work, or perhaps their innate preference for more lucrative occupations. And I particularly look forward to hearing George Will call critics of this opinion "hysterical."