"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 23 March 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Discovery Channel



Negotiations got sticky and one

party turned to the other

party's competitor to do its

deal. And then a stunning thing

happened: The party that was

left behind at the negotiating

table began to compete with the

party that walked away. Cue

thunder. "It's out-and-out

reprehensible conduct," an

executive of the wounded company

told The Wall Street Journal.


And thus the TeleChobis were

born. The Journal reports that,

starting in April, the

four colorful, pear-shaped,

baby-talking 'Chobis - Nita,

Toso, Ton, and Tis - will "sing

nonsensical songs, play with

rabbits, and prance mindlessly

about the garden." The

competition isn't just in

competition, either; it's also

stubbornly captured a piece of

the very product it's been

working to undermine.

TeleChobis programmer Television

Azteca was in the process of

bringing the British-born

'tubbies to Mexico when its

"archrival" network ended up

with the exclusive broadcast

rights to this

children's television oddity.

Since it had been expecting to

own the Falwell-aggrieving show

in Mexico, though, Azteca had

already filed for trademark

protection to secure the

merchandising profits in which

it hoped to share. And then,

after the Teletubbies

distributor pulled a


kick-the-football with its

broadcast rights, Azteca saw

little point in withdrawing its

trademark application for

Teletubbies merchandise.


The deal between Teletubbies

exporter Itsy Bitsy

Entertainment and the snubbed

broadcaster had broken down over

Itsy Bitsy's demand that the

"educational" show be run

commercial-free - it generously

allowed that it would be

acceptable to show ads before

and after. So perhaps it's not

all that surprising to hear the

precise type of bleating coming

from the injured party. But

those bastards are just trying

to make money off of our

television show is still a

pretty funny argument. "A TV

station that steals another show

- that's just not how you do

business," Itsy Bitsy's COO told

the Journal. Been in the

television industry for a long

time, guys?


Delightfully, the Journal story

is liberally sprinkled with

descriptions of Television

Azteca's CFO Adrian Steckel

shrugging and grinning

throughout his interview. Just

because there's a Superman, the

executive is paraphrased as

arguing, does that mean that

there can't be a Batman? "We

filed trademarks on behalf of

them to do something together,

and then they went and did a

deal with our No. 1 competitor,"

Steckel helpfully explains.

"There is no incentive for me to

make their life easier."

("Besides, he adds with a grin,

'Mexico is already



A business run by people who are

shocked - shocked! - that other

people would compete with them

or decline to cheerfully

surrender lucrative trademark

protections, Itsy Bitsy

Entertainment is not at all

alone in this world; catching

people behaving just like the

very thing that they actually

are continues to be a noticeably

common game of gotcha.



Just about 10 years after

California voters approved

legislative term limits,

Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and

Senator Tom Hayden both face a

mandated departure from their

seats in the state capitol. But

they've already decided what

they hope to do after their

terms as state legislators end:

They're going to be state

legislators. Kuehl can't hold

her Assembly seat, and Hayden

can't hold his Senate seat - but

there's no law that prohibits

Kuehl from taking a Senate seat

and no law that would keep

Hayden out of the Assembly. Oh,

and their districts overlap. See

where this is going? Given the

strongly left-oriented

legislative districts in

question, neither needs to do

much more than keep breathing to

guarantee a couple of easy

election-day victories over

whatever Republican meat ends up

on their tray.


And this is not at all uncommon.

Faced with an electoral

majority that intended to usher

in an era of citizen-statesmen,

career politicians all across

the state have comfortably

slipped the noose by the

unforeseeably clever tactic of

running for something else,

frequently being shrewd enough

at the game of political

calculus to pick up a gimme

somewhere. Former Assembly

Speaker Cruz Bustamante, for

another example, currently

wields the vast powers of the

lieutenant governor's post.

And someday someone

will figure out what powers

those are, exactly.


But, aside from winning many of

their campaigns and continuing

to hold elected office at

generous salaries with minimal

accountability, they haven't

fooled the people. A watchful

Los Angeles Times reader, for

example, took up his pen

recently to alert the editors of

the secret agenda behind all

this office-switching. "If there

is some way to circumvent the

term limits law," letter writer

Bill Burgess reveals, "you can

bet the confirmed politicians

will find it.... Without shame

they will do anything, even

trading down to a lesser

position." Burgess writes his

letter in response,

specifically, to the story

explaining that Kuehl and Hayden

would be switching seats, with

Hayden trading down to a lower

position to circumvent the term

limits law. Bet no one expected

some ordinary reader to figure

out what the story really meant.



Kuehl and Hayden will have

important work to do, too, if

they win quasi-reelection. A


colleague, Assemblywoman Nell

Soto, has single-handedly

discovered an awful truth that

cries out for legislative

intervention: Gas stations

charge you a quarter for air and

water, rather than giving it

away, because they want to make

money off their customers. "My

special interest," Soto bravely

avers, "is the consumer." Soto

has introduced a bill (AB 531)

that would require gas stations

to give up that quarter. "Why

can't we supply air and water?"

Soto asks rhetorically, although

of course her "we" doesn't

really mean we in the

traditional sense. "The big oil

companies can afford it."


Look for some other legislator

to discover the minor reality

that "big oil companies" don't

own or run very many service

stations or that the franchisees

who do are responsible for

maintaining their own, leased

equipment. Or that the margin on

a dollar-or-so gallon of gas is

- after the wholesale price,

state gas tax, federal gas tax,

state and local sales tax,

payroll, maintenance, franchise

fees, and a host of municipal

permits and licenses - about a

nickel. And so on. But making

discoveries is hard work, of

course. And we can only expect

Nell to discover so many things

in a single term.


You notice, watching people

announce that they've

discovered something that was

pretty obvious to begin with,

that they tend to be making a

discovery that only costs

someone else; martyrs tend to

end up sharing a common type of

secret. Itsy Bitsy Entertainment

notices its own potential losses

at the hands of a gleefully

unscrupulous competitor, but not

the difficulty it put the other

company through when it was

supposed to be on the same side.

Sullen term-limits advocates

omit any acknowledgment, in

their angry missives, of the

general difficulty of winning

public office or the expense.

Legislators discover business

practices that must be curbed

without discovering the

difficulty of sustaining a

profitable business. There's a

particular kind of blindness

behind this thinking - a myopic

narcissism that condemns the

sanguinary complainant to think

that all of the blood must be

his, possibly owing to the crown

of thorns.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers

[Purchase the Suck Book here]