Mao Rules

December 29th, 2007

The Economist turns its attention to a rather unlikely management guru: Mao Zedong.

Mao knew not just how to make a point but also how to get it out. Through posters, the “Little Red Book” and re-education circles, his message was constantly reinforced. “Where the broom does not reach”, he said, “the dust will not vanish of itself.” This process of self-aggrandisement is often dismissed as a “personality cult”, but is hard to distinguish from the modern business practice of building brand value.

Yet within China economic growth was pathetic and living conditions were wretched. So why did a vast list of Western political, military and academic leaders accept the value of Mao's brand at his own estimation? Even Stalin, no guileless observer, believed in and, to his later regret, protected Mao. The brand-building lesson is that a clear, utopian message, hammered home relentlessly, can obscure inconvenient facts. Great salesmen are born knowing this. Executives whose strategies are not delivering need to learn it.

Chief executives are not in a position to crush the media as Mao did. Nevertheless, his handling of them offers some lessons. He talked only to sycophantic journalists and his appeal in the West came mainly from hagiographies written by reporters whose careers were built on the access they had to him.

The law constrains the modern chief executive's ability to imitate Mao's PR strategy. Publicly listed companies have to publish information, rather than hand it out selectively. But many, within bounds, emulate Mao's media management; others, determined to control information about them, are delisting. Burrow beneath laudatory headlines on business and political leaders, and it becomes clear that the strategy works.


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Top 10 Data Breaches of 2007

December 28th, 2007

I was a little surprised that the HMRC data disk loss only made it to number 2 in this list of the Top 10 Data Breaches of 2007.

I didn't recognise the number 1 entry at first, as I'd forgotten the name of the parent company of TK Maxx:

1. TJX — 'Sorry About That. Here's a Gift Card. Come Back Soon for our Sale!'
Victims: Millions of bargain shoppers worldwide
Class Action Outrage Scale: 8 out of 10 lawyers
D’oh! Factor: 3 out of 5 Homers

No breach got more ink this year than TJX’s, which involved some, OK, tens of millions, OK, 50 million, all right all right around 100 million credit and debit card records. Priceless moments included TJX’s defense in press accounts that "our security was comparable to many other major retailers" and the portion of TJX’s proposed settlement with consumers in which the company would hold a three-day “Customer Appreciation Sale” and give some customers $30 store vouchers. (Sorry about the e. coli in the meat in our store; here’s a gift card to buy more meat in our store). After consumer advocates raised a stink, the vouchers were changed to $15 checks. Sad as the whole episode was for consumers, TJX’s stock has remained healthy. Don’t you just love a bargain?

For my money the HMRC breach was worse, because it involved not far short of half the population of a single major industrialised nation. TJX may have lost more people's data, but the damage was spread around the world.

One other interesting point. In the wake of the HMRC fiasco there have been various reports of other data losses because public servants everywhere are being asked to review their record and report to their superiors. Oddly enough, I haven't noticed a succession of major retailers and credit card processing companies making public declarations of their past failings. Does anyone really believe that it's because no other retail operation has screwed up bigtime? It's like the perception that government IT projects always go over budget; if that's how it appears, isn't it at least in part because the likes of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee can force departments to account for their failings? It's not the whole story by any means, but it's certainly part of the reason for the perceived failings of public sector IT procurement.

[Via Bruce Schneier]

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Evil update

December 28th, 2007

Axis of Evil: Annual Letter to Our Members by Shap Sweeney:

Dear Members States,


The Centennial Goals, a flagship initiative of the A. of E., is truly shaping up to be a dream within our grasp. As we seek to raise $100 trillion, which would enable us to permanently destroy freedom and to kill every free person and dog alive by 2100, we will need to count on your steadfast support. It will take all of us working together to make our dream of ravaging the world come true. But when the Axis of Evil was founded in 2002, there was one simple goal in mind: to provide an axis where evil countries could pursue evil deeds. So as we look ahead to the coming year, we must remember we are in this together. We cannot do it alone.


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Art Factory Village

December 27th, 2007

James Fallows has found the workshop of the world (fine arts division) in southern China:

[In Dafen…] are many hundreds of individual art factories, in which teams of artists crank out hand-painted replicas of any sort of picture you can imagine. European old masters. Andy Warhol. Gustav Klimt. Classic Chinese landscapes. Manet. Audubon. Botero. The super-hot and faddish contemporary Chinese artist Yue Minjun, whose paintings and sculptures all feature people wearing enormous grins. Thomas Kinkade, the "Painter of Light." Walter Keane, the "Painter of Mawkish Big-Eyed Kids."

This and more is on sale, priced more or less by the square meter. We saw suppliers delivering huge rolls of canvas, to be converted into "commodity art" — which is what the English sign on one store said. […]

Fallows posted more pictures from Dafen and a little more background information about China's history of reproducing art on a large scale in this follow-up post.

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Hello Kitty Contacts

December 27th, 2007

Hello Kitty contact lenses. Too cute for words, or deeply scary?

[Via Japundit]

1 Comment »

"That red-suited bastard had better not show his face around here this year!"

December 27th, 2007

Fathers do the funniest things at Xmas.

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Vampire Circus

December 26th, 2007

Seeing this clip from Vampire Circus brought back fond memories of the BBC's late night horror double-bills back in the mid-1970s. Let's just say that Vampire Circus made a big impression on me as a 13 year-old: a fine example of public service broadcasting in action.

[Note to self: set up a reminder in MyDigiguide to make sure I don't miss Vampire Circus next time it shows up on TV.]

[Via MetaFilter]

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Creation Museum Report

December 26th, 2007

As promised, John Scalzi visited the Creation Museum last month and produced a report on the experience, accompanied by a rather wonderful (and quite snarky) slideshow.

For what it's worth, these are my favourite pictures from the slideshow:

[I appreciate this report is old news; I bookmarked it when it came out but only got round to reading it yesterday. I think it's worth posting about even six weeks on.]

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December 26th, 2007

In the right hands, xkill could be a useful tool. A very useful tool.

xkill - extended kill - kill processes or users, including Usenet posters.


xkill sends a signal to a process or a terminal. The first two forms send a signal to a process. The functionality in this case is the same as kill (1).

When the command xkill is invoked with an username as argument, it attempts to locate the specified user on the local host. If the user is logged on, the signal ECUTE (electrocute, 666) is sent to the user's terminal. This will cause the keyboard to electrocute the user. If the user is not logged on, the appropriate line of the file /etc/passwd is marked. The first time the user logs on the ECUTE signal is sent to the terminal he is using.

When the command xkill is invoked with a remote username, in the form user@host, a connection with the remote host is attempted (see xkilld (8)), to send the ECUTE signal to the user's terminal.

[Via Claudio Calvelli, commenting at Charlie's Diary]

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New Catholicism

December 26th, 2007

Mark Steel wonders whether the Roman Catholic church is ready for Tony Blair:

For the first time ever I felt like going to a Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Because it would have been worth it to yell during the sermon: "It's one thing tolerating the Inquisition and the Mafia and an assortment of paedophiles, but surely even YOU draw the line at Blair."

The Vatican will have to be careful. He's probably planning to stand for Pope, then announce that if they're to succeed in the modern age, they'll have to discard outdated ideas of us and them, and learn to embrace the devil. "This is the way forward for New Catholicism," he'll insist, upsetting Old Catholics when he spends two free weeks in Satan's holiday home. […]

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