Saturday, August 9, 2008

Weekend Edition (Wherein I stray even further than usual from the topic of grammar): The Queen of "Huh?"

In an episode of The Simpsons, Bart nabs a handful of someone else's business cards then hands them out saying, "Look at me! I'm a business jerk."

I'm not a business jerk. Not that I'm not a jerk, mind you. It's just that I'm a little challenged by the business part. Still, on the increasingly less frequent occasions when I actually read the newspaper, I like to read the business page. There's some good stuff there -- stuff you can't learn anywhere else.

For example, I learned today that Edison International's profit in the second quarter nearly tripled. Interesting during a time of so many energy woes. But it gets more interesting: According to the Los Angeles Times, this is due partly to "lower utility taxes."

Huh? We lowered taxes? In a way that helped add about $157 million to Edison's profits?


The Edison story was on the main page of the Los Angeles Times business section. But when I turned to a very small Bloomberg wire story on the bottom of the next page, that's when I really started to wonder about this business-jerk business. It's also when the business stuff began to intersect with my usual blog topics of writing and words.

The 173-word inside story is about a lawsuit against Chevron -- a lawsuit alleging anti-competitive behavior that "caused substantial harm to (California) consumers of gasoline due to increased retail prices."

From what I can piece together, here's what happened. In 2003, after California adopted some new clean-air standards, the Federal Trade Commission sued Unocal for failing to disclose it had some patents pending on refining technology for cleaner-burning gasoline. Two years later, Chevron bought Unocal and inherited the suit. Sometime in the last few weeks, the company coughed up $48 million in a settlement with California consumers who were members of the class action.

So, distilling down further the alleged injustice to consumers:
  • Company applies for patents.
  • Company stays mum on applying for patents.
  • Consumers are thus screwed.
In the grammar game, ignorance has become my sort of stock in trade. I ask stupid questions (a humiliating-but-essential survival habit I picked up as student who entered college with just an eighth-grade education) and share the answers. How DO you spell "ambience"/"ambiance"? Stuff like that.

But today I'm extending my brazen ignorance to another arena: business. So with that I ask, is it just me? Or has the LA Times/Bloomberg failed to connect the dots for all of us who can't insert the word "business" before the title "jerk"?

Am I the dense one? Or did the wire/paper fail to fully explain what happened?

This makes me NOT want to read the business page. I feel dumb. I don't get it. Surely, the problem is my ignorance and not the paper's failure to write for us garden-variety jerks, right?

Sure, I COULD try to do some of my own research. I mean, they've probably been covering this extensively and I've just been too pea-brained and distracted to follow it, right? You'd think so. But when I type into the LA Times archives the kewords "Unocal" and "patents." I get exactly one hit: today's story.

Maybe I should stop trying to understand stuff that's over my head and just join in the headline-fueled chorus of voices going all Jerry Springer on how John Edwards cheated on his cancer-stricken wife.

No. On second thought, call me the Queen of "Huh?"

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