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"What you've got here is a quarterback with an out-of-date playbook." -- Efficiency expert James P. Womack on General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, who is under pressure to save the company and his job, as reported by The New York Times

Frank Gehry once said he was "freaked out by going on the road and being marketed like Yves Saint Laurent," but that didn't stop America's best-known architect from accepting one of the fashion world's most exclusive gigs. Tiffany's (TIF) unveiled its new Gehry-designed jewelry line on Mar. 26 with a Beverly Hills blowout worthy of any Paris runway show. A-list attendees Owen Wilson, Quincy Jones, and Michael Eisner strolled the red carpet. Behind a wall, models wearing almost nothing but Gehry's jewelry could be glimpsed through strategically placed peepholes.

Gehry worked with nine Tiffany designers for three years on the collection, which ranges from $125 silver rings to a $1 million diamond brooch shaped like the floor plan of his landmark Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. To design the jewelry, Gehry made sketches and manipulated metal models, a process akin to the way he designs buildings.

Tiffany hasn't used an outside designer since it launched its Paloma Picasso line 26 years ago. "We just couldn't find anyone that made sense," explains CEO Michael Kowalski.

The line rolls out over the coming months at Tiffany stores in New York, Tokyo, and London. Expect Gehry to hit the road and help promote it.

Facebook, the Web site where students around the world socialize and network, has been creating a fair share of gossip on its own these days. The company has been in informal talks with Viacom about possible deals that could have valued Facebook at up to $750 million. (VIA) Viacom, owner of the MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central cable networks, declined to comment. CEO Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in 2004 with Harvard classmates Chris Hughes and Dustin Moskovitz. The site is now the seventh most heavily trafficked on the Internet.

According to one investment banker active in technology deals, Facebook's owners would want $1 billion in a merger. A senior media executive puts the pricetag at $2 billion.

Those are controversial valuations. "Facebook won't get $2 billion or $750 million," argues Rafat Ali, editor of PaidContent, an online digital media journal. But Netscape founder Marc Andreessen says that he "wouldn't be surprised" by a big payday for Facebook's founders. After all, he says, the company is on a growth tear at a time when traditional media outlets are losing steam, and top-tier Net properties are in high demand and short supply.

Are class actions like hurricanes? Researchers are looking into whether techniques used to predict the risk of a big storm slamming into the Gulf Coast can be used to assess the odds of mass litigation striking a company or industry. Risk Management Solutions, a private risk-modeling firm based in Newark, Calif., uses historical data on natural catastrophes -- so-called Nat-Cats -- to develop computer models showing when and where the next disaster will likely strike.

Now social scientists at think tank Rand are teaming with RMS to see if data drawn from court files and insurance records can help predict "L-Cats," or liability catastrophes. Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at RMS, defines an L-Cat as something that results in a financial exposure above $100 million.

Rand is interested in the project because big lawsuits tend to have an impact on public policy. RMS hopes to sell its findings to insurers providing liability coverage to companies. "In the past, these policies have been written fairly blind," Muir-Wood explains. The L-Cat project will take up to three years to complete -- in time, maybe, to prepare for the next legal storm.

Japanese comics meet the World Bank in 1 World Manga, a graphic-novel series the bank commissioned to teach youth about global ills like poverty and AIDS. The novels, created by VIZ Media of San Francisco, feature Rei, a 15-year-old street kid. In the first of six planned books, he urges a woman to join a cooperative after a drought wipes out her yam crop. Despite dialogue like "That foreign company promises to give us fair trade payment," the comics entertain. Jeff Yang, who analyzes Asian trends for consumer-research firm Iconoculture, says they'll attract the many kids reading manga who increasingly see them- selves as global citizens.

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WHY READ IT

For an overview of macroeconomic trends, leavened by the pop-culture musings of market strategist Barry Ritholtz.

NOTABLE POST

"Lately, I have been noticing that many economists, analysts, and strategists have been having some sly fun by naming their research after songs. My own contributions...have been the past two commentaries: Bad Moon Arising and Been Down So Long (It Looks Like Up to Me)...I also noticed [analyst] John Roque's past two comments were titled BRIC House and R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And Morgan Stanley asked: Will the Real Slim Saving Rate Please Stand Up?"

Betting that snackaholics prefer fixed-portion control to self-restraint, the food industry is selling more of America's guilty pleasures in 100-calorie packs. Just a few weeks ago, PepsiCo's (PEP) Frito-Lay announced its 100-calorie line -- Mini Bites bags of Doritos, Fritos, and other chips to be rolled out nationally over the next year. It joins, among others, Campbell Soup's (CPB) Pepperidge Farm, which offers 100-calorie pouches of its Goldfish, and Kraft Foods' (KFT) Nabisco, which in 2004 brought out 100-calorie packs of Oreo crisps, Wheat Thins, and Chips Ahoy! cookies, a lineup with $100 million in sales in its first year.

Frito-Lay's entries bring the number of 100-calorie snack products to 33, up from 9 in 2003, says Tom Vierhile, director of Datamonitor's Productscan Online. Why 100 calories? "It's a nice round number" that delivers "the calorie punch" needed to give a sensation of being full, Vierhile says. If it doesn't, you can always tear open another pack.

Mass market retailers have always carried inexpensive versions of the designer fashions their customers have glimpsed on the red carpet or the runway. That's because clothing is considered a "useful article" under American copyright law, not something whose design is to be protected as intellectual property.

But that distinction may be on its way out. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), a nonprofit trade group, is lobbying for legislation that would extend copyright protection to fashion designs. Under the proposed bill, designers would submit sketches and photos to the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of their design's "publication" -- its first public appearance on a catwalk, for example. Designs would be protected for three years. Suspected "plagiarists" could be sued.

Other industrialized countries, such as Japan and European Union members, already recognize fashion copyright. (France's legal system has protected garment designs since 1793.) "This law will make it reciprocal, by giving all designers protection over their work in this country," says Alain Coblence, the attorney representing both the CFDA and two other sponsors of the bill, the French Federation of Haute Couture, Ready to Wear & Designers and the National Chamber for Italian Fashion.

To make its case on Capitol Hill, the CFDA hired Liz Robbins, a lobbyist who has taken on intellectual property issues for the music industry. And CFDA members such as couture designer Zac Posen have visited members of Congress to talk up the bill. Coblence says that when designers have shown lawmakers their fashions alongside the knockoffs, "it becomes spectacularly clear" why these imitations are a form of flattery they can live without.


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