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"Anyone at the bonus line at Goldman Sachs died and went to bonus heaven."—Michael Holland, chairman of investment firm Holland & Co., on the $16.5 billion (equal to $623,418 per employee) Goldman Sachs will award in total compensation this year, as reported by The New York Times

Some Republicans complain that it's payback: The House's new Democratic majority, led by incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), is planning to create a "Truman-like" committee next year to probe war profiteering, modeled on the panel President Harry S Truman created as a senator to investigate contracting waste and fraud in World War II.

Kevin Madden, spokesman for outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), deems it "revenge" and "government by investigation." Democrats—including Representative John Tierney (D-Mass.), who came up with the idea—deny that. "It's part of our responsibility," Tierney says.

Senate Democrats are considering setting up their own version of the panel. And Pelosi is also endorsing plans to renew an investigative panel on the House Armed Services Committee that was dissolved in the 1994 Republican sweep in Congress. "The corruption in contracting in Iraq is staggering," she says. The Dems will focus their subpoena powers on Iraq contractors, as well as on Defense and White House contracting officials. Truman's Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program held 432 hearings, issued 51 reports from 1941 to 1948, and saved taxpayers some $15 billion.

Socialite Paris Hilton has been a hot property for Parlux Fragrances (PARL), the Fort Lauderdale company that has nabbed licenses to make perfume, handbags, and other items carrying her name. That partnership helped push sales at tiny Parlux up nearly 30% a year in the three years ended last spring, and landed the company at No. 63 on BusinessWeek's Hot Growth ranking of small companies.

How swiftly an up-and-comer can stumble. On Dec.6, Parlux announced it would sell one of its other top brands, Perry Ellis, back to Ellis. Sales of Ellis perfumes had accounted for 31% of Parlux's $40.8 million in revenues in the most recently reported quarter, and the stock plunged 15%, to 5.77, on the news. Ellis was "one of their better brands," gripes Ivan Feinseth, an analyst for Matrix USA. "This is bad management."

Parlux has also been late with some SEC filings, leading to several NASDAQ delistingthreats. The stock has dropped 47% in six months, and a major shareholder, Glenn Nussdorf, has announced he wants to acquire Parlux and make changes "at both the board and management levels." Nussdorf, Parlux CEO Ilia Lekach, and COO Frank Buttacavoli did not respond to interview requests. At least they'll always have Paris.

If you've ever had a conference call interrupted by a doorbell, barking dog, or wailing baby while working at home, you know that some sounds aren't conducive to doing business.

Cue Thriving Office, a CD that aims to give home businesses instant credibility by masking background noises with those of a bustling office.

Bill Freund, a San Francisco marketing executive, came up with the idea several years ago after feeling self-conscious about making sales calls from home. He recorded the sounds of people murmuring, walking, typing, answering phones, even shutting file drawers, then arranged them "like a symphony," using digital editing software.

The result: two 37-minute tracks—the basic Busy and the amped-up Very Busy—that create the audio illusion of a dynamic office. "Controlled chaos," Freund calls it. Since September, when the product was first offered online at www.thrivingoffice.com for $12.95 ($5.95 for a shorter downloadable version), sales have been "positive," says Freund, who guesses that most buyers are entrepreneurs or remote workers. And he adds that customers say the soundtrack has turned out to have an unforeseen benefit—the busy hum seems to boost their productivity at home when they're off the phone.

As anyone who enjoys spirits can attest, ice cubes can melt into bad-tasting water, compromising that pricey single-malt Scotch.

Enter specialty ice. Aquaice, based in Dublin, Ohio, sells purified water in sealed trays to restaurants (and some retailers) and recently got private equity funding to go national with its $5 packets of 50 cubes. Then there are Icerocks, "spring water ice cubes," sold unfrozen and hermetically sealed by Miami-based Water Bank of America: $3.99 for 48 cubes.

Analysts say upscale ice cubes should remain a healthy niche business. "You can make purified ice at home just like you can make coffee at home, but we are a culture of $4 cups of coffee," says marketing consultant Dennis Keene.

Some bartenders are getting as picky about ice as chefs are about beef stock. At New York's Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, a Hennessy Cognac on the rocks (if you must have ice) comes with a purified ice "globe" from a mold provided by the spirits maker.

Tinnitus, a chronic ringing, whooshing, or buzzing in the ears, affects up to 50 million Americans, says the American Tinnitus Assn., including 49% of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. (In 2005, disability payments to veterans with tinnitus reached $418 million, says association CEO David Fagerlie.)

Some 12 million Americans with the condition—linked to exposure to loud noises and certain drugs, hearing loss, and aging—seek treatment. But most get little or no relief from existing herbal or masking therapies.

Now an Australian health-care company, Neuromonics, has come up with a treatment that seems to be getting good results using an mp3-like device. With $12 million in venture capital, the company, founded in 2001 by a clinical audiologist, now has a U.S. operation in Bethlehem, Pa. Its six-month treatment is being used in 33 U.S. clinics, with plans to expand to 165.

The Neuromonics device uses a patient-specific mix of music and high-frequency white noise to ease symptoms. Later, it habituates sufferers to their tinnitus. The idea is to train the brain to block the noise even when the device isn't being worn. The treatment (device and audiologist time) costs about $5,000. Neuromonics says more than half of 700 patients who have had the therapy report relief months after completing treatment. Ear and Hearing, the American Auditory Society journal, will publish an article next year on the company's clinical trials.

At Ohio's Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Craig Newman has used the system with 25 patients. Though "it's still very new," he says, "it seems to have worked better than existing treatments." The device, says Ian Bund, a partner at Innovation Capital, one of Neuromonics' investors, has "the ingredients that make venture capitalists very excited," among them, a big market and "a great deal of interest from practitioners."

Starting in mid-December, Paris' two main airports are offering a service they say is unique for major hubs: 20 personal shoppers who help harried travelers buy holiday gifts at the 200-plus shops at Roissy (known as Charles de Gaulle) and Orly airports.

Stationed at kiosks in bright pink-and-black outfits, the young women offer their aid free of charge in more than a half-dozen languages. And thanks to a study previously conducted by the airports' managing group, Aéroports de Paris, they're also versed in national gift-buying habits. (Japanese men go for luxury watches, many African men buy perfume, and Yanks and Brits favor items that say "Made in France.")

Aéroports de Paris hopes the personal approach will encourage some of the 3.5 million travelers expected from Dec. 15 to 29 to open their wallets even wider than usual. In 2005, the group's 25% share of sales at its airport shops, including luxury goods purveyors Cartier and Hermès, came to $339 million. If the experiment is a success, a spokesman says, the personal shoppers may become a seasonal fixture.

From "How to Explain What You Do for a Living," posted Dec. 11 on Bankersball.com, a blog for investment bankers and financiers:

It's the time of year you have to repeat who you are and what you do about a billion times.... Which is why we've come up with a handy 20-seconds or less response tailored to each person you might encounter over the holidays...

Parents: "I have a job."

Uncle Marty: "Buy Google."

Younger brother: "Whatever you do, don't do what I'm doing. People will tell you it's awesome but it's not."

Person at party you want to get rid of: "You ever see American Psycho?"

Hipster/trustafarian: "I work at JPMorgan—just like your Dad."

Girl at bar: "...I quit to start my own line of T-shirts. We just got picked up by Barneys so it's really a breakthrough year for us..."

Another banker: [secret handshake]

In the space of a few weeks, recently: Fidelity Investments introduced MyPlan, an online retirement savings tool that gives users asset allocation advice. Wells Fargo (WFC) rolled out its My Savings Plan, a Web service that gives users a consolidated view of their spending. And American Century unveiled the "My [Whatever] Plan," a Web-based line of investment products. Why is cyberspace becoming myberspace? "My" has become shorthand for today's interactive Web, says Martyn Tipping, president of brand management firm TippingSprung. "My' is the next i,' which was the next e,' which was the next cyber,'" he says.

Corrections and Clarifications

"My, My, My" (UpFront, Dec. 25/Jan. 1) incorrectly described My Savings Plan as a Wells Fargo service that gives users a consolidated view of their spending. My Savings Plan lets users set up automatic payments into an account to reach a target savings goal.

Corrections and Clarifications

"My, My, My" (UpFront, Dec. 25/Jan. 1) incorrectly described My Savings Plan as a Wells Fargo service that gives users a consolidated view of their spending. My Savings Plan lets users set up automatic payments into an account to reach a target savings goal.

On Dec. 4, the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development released a bombshell: In 2006, for the first time, China outspent Japan on research and development, forking out $136 billion, the agency calculated, against Japan's $130 billion and ranking second only to the U.S. (with $330 billion in R&D expenditures).

That figure came as a shock—not least to many in China. "You do have a general improvement in the quality standard across the board in research institutions," says entrepreneur Anne Stevenson-Yang, a former managing director of the U.S. Information Technology Office, an industry lobbying group in Beijing. But as a percentage of GDP "China's R&D spending is still quite low." That percentage: about 1.3%, or $33 billion, vs. Japan's 3.17%.

So how did the OECD arrive at its $136 billion figure? By adjusting for purchasing power parity. Because labor and other R&D costs are so much lower in China, researchers in the People's Republic were calculated to have gotten four times more for their R&D expenditures than their counterparts across the Sea of Japan. Some Chinese scientists point out, however, that the purchasing power theory doesn't reflect reality in the lab. The Shanghai Center for Antibodies, for instance, spends more than a third of the $10 million it receives annually from the government on expensive equipment, most of it imported from the West and Japan, according to Dr. Guo Yajun, the center's director. And those payments have to be in hard currency, not China's yuan (which still isn't freely convertible). It's "a lot," Guo says.

The OECD stands by its figure, but acknowledges that business claims the bulk of China's R&D spending. Most of it goes to "short-term projects, closer to the market," instead of to basic research, says OECD senior economist Mario Cervantes. He says that it is also true that a disproportionately large share of R&D spending in China is for equipment and infrastructure, including expensive imported items, so that in the short term it may appear that Chinese labs are getting less bang for their research buck.

He adds that starting from scratch this way gives the Chinese an advantage. "They can build a new system and avoid the ivory tower problem" of more-developed countries, where academic research is often far removed from the needs of business, he notes. "China is not yet an innovation powerhouse," Cervantes says, "but there's a potential for that."

The Wal-Mart ad account is up for grabs again. What would be your pitch to the company for a new campaign?

"My advice: Focus on what's important to your customer, not just the next ad trend. Price has been the magic button, but do the researchfind out what else resonates with Wal-Mart shoppers."—Robyn Waters, president, RW Trend; author, The Hummer and The Mini

"I'd tell them that their poor public image matters and that becoming a better employer, a model corporate citizen, is what people truly value. Once they do this, the ad pitch is easy: Wal-Mart: We've Changed for the Better'."—Chris Kofinis, communications director, WakeUp Walmart.com, an anti-Walmart group

"Wal-Mart has made it very, very big by recognizing that it must create the impression and the reality that it is the retailer with the lowest price. It must stick to its guns. It still has to beat the low-price drum."—Kurt Barnard, president, Barnard's Retail Consulting Group


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