Tony LaRussa & Yes

Monowi / Wikimedia Commons

With the news of the death of Yes co-founder Chris Squire, I’m reminded of a story from 2004.

Back then, I was living in Saint Louis, and for two years I lived in a complex called the Chase Park Plaza. It was part-apartments, part-hotel, with a movie theater and lots of dining options. It was a very nice place to live.

At the time, then St. Louis Cardinals baseball coach Tony LaRussa lived out the season in the hotel side, along with some other coaches.

A bar manager I befriended, Sarah, told me this story one night as I stopped in for a drink.

Sarah pulls into the garage, and parks. She sees this red sports car with the door open and loud music blasting out of it. She walks slowly to the entrance to the hotel and the music stops. The driver gets out of the car, it having been turned off.

She stops and gawks, as it is none other than Tony LaRussa. He looks at her, takes off his sunglasses, and says: “What? You don’t like Yes?”

I can’t say that I am a big follower of Progressive Rock, but Yes put out some great stuff. And Tony LaRussa was a fan.

Do Brands Need to be on Facebook?

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Making dinner this evening (Rice-a-Roni, if you must know) my wife and I struck up a conversation over my love of Chicken flavored Rice-a-Roni.

As I was waxing poetic about the fine line between browning or burning the vermicelli, I decided to check out the San Francisco treat’s Facebook page.

Just nine days ago, Rice-a-Roni decided to quit Facebook.

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I was genuinely surprised and explained to my wife the news having “just wanted to see what Rice-a-Roni was up to on Facebook…” She completed the sentence with her sarcastic voice “yeah, said nobody ever.

Most everyone, especially Catholics (Lent!), have had friends quit Facebook for a while (99 days of freedom). Other friends sort of phase it out of their lives, using it sparingly. But rare is the person who tells everyone they’re quitting for good. Even more rare is the person who doesn’t come crawling back and have to wear a scarlet letter.

I only know of one person who declared it, did it, and didn’t come back (so far).

When it comes to loving, er, “liking,” Rice-a-Roni, I am not alone. 212,000 people opted to “like” the page on Facebook… Which is not a small audience. Admittedly, it’s not large, either — White Castle only has locations in a handful of states and has about 5 times as many “likes.”

Alas, I was intrigued that a brand like Rice-a-Roni decided to call it quits on Facebook. Assuming they didn’t buy “likes” or advertise to coerce fans to “like” the page, they probably spent a fair amount of money on it.

Many brands — especially those in the service industries — spend a small fortune on in-house or outsourced social media teams. And Rice-a-Roni is part of Quaker Oats, a division of PepsiCo, so it’s not some mom and pop food company with a following.

So, why quit Facebook?

Is it that Rice-a-Roni is a simple product, a staple even, and it just is what it is? No cult following? Not a lot of complaints or social media mentions? Even their goodbye earned a whopping six likes over the course of nine days. To be fair, their last social media post was in February and the frequency with which posts appear in the feeds of those who “Like” something depend on a lot of factors, one of which is engagement. (TL, DR: Don’t post much, you won’t get much engagement.)

Perhaps, but how does Knorr, a competitor of sorts, have 10 million Facebook likes?

A lot of money? Do people prefer Knorr’s products to Rice-a-Roni’s? Or is it that they just offer more of them that can be used in a more diverse manner? (Answer: a combination of both.)

But, I think the fundamental question here is whether there is a measurable level of ROI for static brands like Rice-a-Roni to justify spending big on social.

Perhaps Quaker Oats did that cost/benefit analysis and concluded the ROI was too low.

How to Ruin Your Sunday

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Watch this amazing, terrifying, graphic old BBC film called The War Game (1965) about how Britain might respond to nuclear war.

This line stuck out as I watched it:

“Within the next 15 years, possibly another 12 countries will have acquired thermonuclear weapons. For this reason, if not through accident or the impulses of man himself, it is now more than possible that what you have seen happen in this film will have taken place before the year 1980.”

Of course, that did not occur.

While we’re on the topic, Iran’s pretty close to a bomb… and has been for some time. The horrors of one bomb won’t be as bad as global thermonuclear war — but it would be really bad. It could lead to further use of nuclear weapons, going down the road to… yes. Turtles all the way down to global thermonuclear war. Or a small version of it.

Would the survivors envy the dead? Probably.

Who Did It Best?

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Bloomberg interviewed a logo maker to discuss Presidential campaign logos:

It was the 2008 election, and that famous letter “O,” that changed everything, says designer Sagi Haviv, a partner in the New York firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv who has designed logos for the Library of Congress, Armani Exchange, and Harvard University Press, among other clients.

Overall, I found his insights sort of meh. Read the item and judge for yourself.

Particularly, what he had to say about Rick Perry’s logo:

“Like Hillary’s logo, this design is attempting to combine a letter with another element, here a star. However, unlike Hillary’s design, [which] marries the H and the arrow nicely, this marriage is extremely awkward. The star looks like it’s been slapped on top of the P, and the two elements are fighting each other visually.”

Uh, sure. How about the fact that it’s pretty much a stock logo format used by common brands?

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Who did it best?

My vote: Popeye’s.

Jack, Jack…

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Friend and fellow SLU grad — now a St. Louis City Alderman — is apparently on board with a city-funded stadium in St. Louis.

He appeared on NPR‘s “All Things Considered” this morning in a sound-byte about the city’s frantic effort to keep the bottom-tier Rams from moving to Los Angeles.

Jason Rosenbaum (NPR St. Louis): People like Jack Coatar see this place as the future of professional football in St. Louis. The St. Louis Alderman says building a publicly-financed football stadium here will inject economic vitality into a blighted area, and keep St. Louis as an NFL city.

Jack Coatar: You know, we have the opportunity to completely change what that river front looks like. Take a blighted area north of the arch and completely regenerate that area.

Also joining the conversation was Holy Cross’s Victor Matheson. (Whose work I cited in an item arguing why Cleveland should turn down the GOP or Democratic conventions.)

The math on publicly funded stadiums (like political conventions or Olympics) usually does not add up to a net gain.

Here’s Matheson in a 2011 report, Financing Professional Sports Facilities:

Numerous scholars, starting with Carlino and Coulsen (2004), have used hedonic-pricing techniques to attempt to quantify the quality of life aspects of sports. If the presence of an NFL franchise, for example, is a vital cultural amenity for residents in the area then the value of the franchise to local citizens should be reflected in a higher willingness to pay for living in a city with a team.

One problem is St. Louis is a small, relatively poor city given its size with 318,000 residents. The region has 2.8 million people — and that includes Illinois. Missouri politicians (and not Illinois politicians, who represent a not-insignificant amount of Rams fans) appear ready to pour $400 million (plus) into the stadium.

That means that financing of the stadium is likely to be borne by state taxpayers as a whole. I recall during my time at SLU seeing highway billboards farmers put up that said “If Cardinals build highways, we’ll build stadiums.”

I’m dubious about publicly funding any pro-team’s sports stadium. This, despite being from Cleveland. There, our politicians helped hasten Art Modell’s decision to move the Browns to Baltimore by giving stadiums to the Cavs (not so great at the time) and the Indians (historically bad but on the verge of being good enough to lose in the World Series twice) and not the Browns. Modell just wanted improvements to a stadium far more inferior to the Edward Jones dome.

After the Browns left, we fought to keep the name and got a new franchise which, like the Rams, has under performed. Browns fans, happy(?) to have a team again, will likely hold the bag for a team’s stadium that, at best, hosts 10 games a year there. After paying for 74% of it.

At least the Cardinals are there more often and have a chance at going to playoffs.

But here’s the thing about the Matheson report. The benefits of new stadiums tend to benefit apartment building owners, not necessarily citizens writ large:

Carlino and Coulsen (2006), for example, find that rental housing in cities with NFL franchises command 8% higher rents than units in other metropolitan areas after correcting for housing characteristics…

Others such as Feng and Humphreys (2008) and Tu (1995) find localized effects of stadiums and arenas on housing prices but also that these effects fade quite quickly as the distance from the stadium grows. (Editor’s note: St. Louis is nothing if not spread out.) Conversely, Coates, Humphreys, and Zimbalist (2006) find that Carlino and Coulsen‟s results are highly dependent on model specification. Kiel, Matheson and Sullivan (2010) find that the increase in housing costs does not extend to owner-occupied housing and also find that the presence of stadium subsidies lowers housing values, a finding also uncovered by Dehring, Depken, and Ward (2007).

Here’s a rare intersection where Vox and I agree. Let the Rams build their own stadium or leave.

Matheson concludes his report by saying this:

Improving citizens’ quality of life is clearly an important goal for public policy makers, and there is evidence that sports are a valued amenity for local communities. Evidence of significant direct economic benefits from sporting events, franchises, and stadiums is lacking, however. While public-private partnerships can be justified on quality of life grounds, voters and public officials should not be deluded by overoptimistic predictions of a financial windfall. Sports may make a city happy, but they are unlikely to make a city rich.

Love you, Jack. Happy you’re succeeding as an elected official. But you’re wrong here.

Drop the economic vitalization argument and just say you want to keep an NFL team because the city likes sports. Voters appreciate honesty.

You can listen to the NPR report below:

Fiorina Contacting Voters Early

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I get a fair amount of Republican mailers. I once worked for the RNC, have donated money to candidates (albeit not very much), and vote in every election.

Which is why tonight, a robo call from Carly Fiorina’s campaign came as a bit of a surprise.

Why?

She’s the first candidate to have contacted me who wants to be President. I don’t think that Fiorina stands much of a chance in winning the nomination, but it was interesting that she was the first candidate to make contact with me — a so-called “super voter.”

And no, I don’t think there is some secret press list that exempts me from being contacted. To the contrary, candidates like contacting reporters — even ones who might not agree with or like them — in hopes they’ll get some press.

Perhaps the handful of people I know in passing who have jumped on Team Carly have my cell number. Or perhaps she’s making aggressive moves early.

Here’s the call:

The Five Worst Star Wars Social Media Fails

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Even curmudgeons like me can play into America’s dumb clickbait traffic whoring culture!

Here are the first five screenshots of dumb ‘Star Wars Day’ Facebook marketing I saw in the past 10 minutes.

Stop clicking on this crap and the internet might get better. That includes this blog post. Because it’s crap.

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Mistakes are Bound to Happen

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Today in the pages of my former employer, Hannah Hess does some good shoe leather reporting on the United States Capitol Police and incidents involving firearms being left in bathrooms.

It’s concerning, to say the least, that police officers are making mistakes that could yield fatal outcomes for innocents. (The U.S. Capitol is like a supermagnet for insane people, who roam the halls of the office buildings like zombies in The Walking Dead.)

What’s even more concerning about what Hess uncovered is that one of the incidents involved a child finding the weapon:

A 7- or 8-year-old child visiting the Capitol with his parents found the next loaded Glock lost by a dignitary protection officer, according to the source.

That’s really bad.

There are a few types of USCP officers that I know about: Uniformed, Dignitary Protection (DPD) — they protect Senate and House leadership — and plainclothes/undercover.

Of course, anyone who has been around the Capitol complex or has seen a beat cop in uniform knows that their belt rivals that of Batman: Radio, magazines with ammunition, handcuffs, Taser, Glock & holster, ASP baton.

Taking your pants off to take a shit is a huge ordeal. (Probably slightly less so than if you’re plainclothes, or DPD.) And, for the force’s female officers, going number one involves the cumbersome ordeal of dropping the trousers whereas male officers aren’t similarly burdened.

A corollary: As a staffer (and as a private citizen) I have been known to use the cellphone holster. It’s quite common on Capitol Hill for BlackBerry toters (though their prevalence is fading). Even the weight of a phone and holster often results in the wearer unclipping it and placing it elsewhere — whether it’s the floor or the toilet cover holder.

Suffice it to say, I never lost my BlackBerry or personal phone during my years on the Hill, but I did leave the bathroom a few times, only to run back a few minutes later to retrieve it.

Which is why I am empathetic to USCP officers who might make the same mistake. They say the pen (or BlackBerry) is mightier than the sword, yet a sword is not a Glock. So, suspending (or even firing) officers who make such a mistake, at least to me, is certainly justifiable.

In discussing the story (as it’s Friday, a slow news day) with the Federalist‘s Sean Davis, he encouraged me to think about it a bit deeper.

Sean’s contention is that three incidents is bonkers. I’m not so sure (even though nobody condones mistakes as potentially fatal as these) it is.

My concern is the transparency: We don’t know how often these incidents have occurred, since as Hess reports:

How often do officers leave their guns unattended around the Capitol complex? The answer is unknown because Capitol Police are not required to disclose such incidents.

To the best of my knowledge, there are about 1,400 sworn Capitol Police officers. Let’s hypothesize a bit.

Women generally represent 12% of police forces across the U.S. — but at the Capitol, based on my experience, it is probably closer to 20%.

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And, while transparency is my main concern, let’s just assume that these three incidents are the only three we know about in 2015. To be clear, we’re measuring only the potential for these incidents since January 1, 2015.

In 2015, 120 days have elapsed. If you multiply that by 1,190 daily duty day bathroom visits, you get 142,800 estimated bathroom visits by USCP officers since the beginning of the year. (Note: I did not control for private bathrooms.)

If the three incidents — and we don’t know this — are the only ones, it represents .0021 percent of bathroom visits.

I think everybody would like the police to make zero mistakes, but that’s not reasonable. If officers make mistakes like this, they should (and they have) been suspended without pay. Or, they should be demoted or even fired — depending on the circumstances.

Until I get more information, I am inclined to disagree with Sean in that it’s “bonkers.”

But, until we have more transparency, we won’t know the extent of the problem. And, until then, I think we should reserve judgement and demand greater transparency.

WMATA 7000 Series Hype Video (Fixed)

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Today, WMATA released a comically sad hype video for their new 7000 series “Snowpiercer” edition train cars. What made it sad was the hype music they found to put it to. I laughed, I cried, I kissed 44 seconds goodbye.

Until I decided to fix it. With the Quad City DJ’s. It took about 30 seconds. I think it came out perfect.

I Tried to Warn You, Cleveland

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UPDATE: Cleveland.com has posted an update: “This story and headline have been revised to clarify the possible train closure would take place late at night.” Of course, we’re still far away and won’t know for sure what will happen until it does. For those wanting to people watch and take the RTA in, you may be out of luck. Or, RTA might be told by Secret Service they have to make changes at the last minute and lots of people could be screwed.

Last year, when Cleveland was a finalist for the 2016 GOP convention, I wrote an item for the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggesting that if offered the convention, Cleveland should say no.

Of course, in true Cleveland fashion, I was labeled a heretic in the comment section for merely suggesting it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that Cleveland wasn’t well-prepared for it.

The Editors at Cleveland.com suggested I jump into the comments, which is never a good idea. Yet, I did anyway.

Today, I read at Cleveland.com that the RTA might be shut down to the public, which is precisely something I posited might happen in the comments section to a reader.

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I hope Cleveland does well with the convention, as I love my home town. But this report is just the first of many to come, and my guess is Clevelanders won’t like the medicine.

Side note: At work, we have already received a prospectus on renting out a home in Shaker on Lee Road next to the RTA. What might have been a good selling point might not be so good if the trains don’t stop at Lee Road and go all the way to Green.