1. Press Release Me, Let Me Go

Gosh, we were wrong last week. Spectacularly so.

Yes, it was just seven days ago we predicted months or years of litigation between EchoStar Communications ( DISH) and Hughes Electronics ( GMH) following the inevitable death of their star-crossed merger deal.

Well, we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab were a little off -- maybe a few months or a few years off. Only two business days later, you see, the two companies officially terminated the merger, announcing that EchoStar would pay Hughes a $600 million breakup fee. A clean break.

A clean break, yes. But we doubt the separation was exactly amicable.

See, we couldn't help noticing the press release the companies put out to tell the world they were going their separate ways. The two press releases, to be precise.

The two announcements, released seven minutes apart on Tuesday morning, said nearly the same thing. But what they said was in different order.

The first bulletin, headlined "Hughes and EchoStar Terminate Proposed Merger Agreement," led with Hughes throughout. In other words, Hughes and EchoStar reached a settlement to end their merger. A quote from Hughes CEO Jack Shaw preceded a quote from EchoStar CEO Charlie Ergen. A boilerplate description of Hughes preceded a boilerplate description of EchoStar. The phone number for a Hughes spokesman preceded that of EchoStar's.

The second release, headlined "EchoStar and Hughes Terminate Proposed Merger Agreement," was a modified mirror image of the first. EchoStar and Hughes settled the merger deal. EchoStar's Ergen preceded Hughes' Shaw. EchoStar's description preceded Hughes'. Ditto for the phone numbers.

In other words, you have two companies here that can hammer out a 100,000-word merger agreement and come to terms on a $600 million breakup fee. But when it comes to writing a simple 500-word announcement, they can't even decide who should get top billing?

All we can think is that everyone at DirecTV who still has a job next year should be thankful that the merger didn't go through. We always suspected that Ergen would take a scythe to the Hughes staff once he got control. Now we're sure.

2. Sick Transit, Inglorious Monday

This week, the auto industry was celebrating the imminent death of the automobile luxury tax. But forgive us for not dancing the victory jig.

See, those of us who work in lower Manhattan are wondering if we'll be able to make it to work at all next week, let alone travel in the lap of luxury automobiles.

In one of those lovable New York moments that make this place the Greatest City in the Free World, city transit workers have threatened to go on strike Monday. The subways won't be running. The buses will be idled. And no one will be driving into Manhattan in a private car carrying fewer than four people.

As much as we would pay good money to see Maria Bartiromo riding to work on a bicycle, we're not happy about the impending mess. So we were less than thrilled this week to learn that a car dealership lobbying group was crowing about the Jan. 1 phaseout of the auto luxury tax.

Extremely excited about the expiration is AIADA, a self-described "lobbying and communications force" for dealerships selling "international nameplate brands," or what we still quaintly call "foreign cars." AIADA -- members of which include dealers of Ford's ( F) Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, General Motors' ( GM) Saab and DaimlerChrysler's ( DCX) Mercedes-Benz -- is dancing on the soon-to-be-filled burial plot of what it calls "an unfair tariff that has plagued American consumers, families, and small businesses for years."

OK, OK. We at the Research Lab recognize that it's every American's right to try to shift the cost of running the government onto someone else. We are also mindful of the patriotic value of spending money so as to support the living of other Americans who import, manufacture or sell luxury cars.

But understand why we might not be sympathetic here. As it stands, this vile levy amounts to 3% of a car's purchase price over $40,000. Thus, somebody plunking down $45,500 for a new Lexus GX will have to spend $165 extra for their new sport utility vehicle.

Gosh! Our hearts bleed for you!

Yes, as we trudge through the cold Monday morning during our new two-hour, public-transportation-free commute, we'll remember to feel the pain of people who have to haggle with their dealer over who pays the $1,300 luxury tax on their $84,000 Maserati Spyder.

Then, as we trudge homeward we'll reflect on AIADA's current crusade to eliminate unfairness in the U.S. tax code: the elimination of what it calls the "death tax," or what we usually term inheritance taxes. Now, the funny thing about that one is that the anti-"death tax" folks usually couch their arguments in terms of preserving small businesses, the lifeblood of the nation, blah blah blah. But, thanks to AIADA, we see what's really the goal here: Let's help Junior to grieve for Pop by tooling around town in a Bentley.

3. Uhura Today, Klingon Tomorrow?

What do you get when you cross Star Trek with a business-school professor?

Why, you get Robert Kozinets -- an assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, a Star Trek memorabilia collector and an anthropologist who has written about the semiotics of Wal-Mart ( WMT) and the utopian yearnings of Star Trek fan communities.

With the latest installment in the Star Trek movie series set to debut today, we figured he could help us divine the prospects for Viacom ( VIAB), the Hollywood overseer of the Star Trek franchise.

At the very least, it couldn't hurt.

Kozinets has a mixed outlook for the new movie, which he says is called Star Trek Nemesis, but what we quaintly call Star Trek Enough Already.

The apparent good-vs.-evil dichotomy in Nemesis (though Kozinets has gobbled up all the pre-release materials, he hasn't actually seen it yet) corresponds closely to a body of thought firmly established in the U.S. these days, says Kozinets. The villain, he says, is "one horrible guy who represents this whole regime that's going to destroy everything that's good about our civilization."

That's a plus for Viacom: The us-vs.-them nature of Nemesis' universe will likely resonate with audiences better than, say, a rerelease of the touchy-feely, save-the-whales Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home .

On the downside, Kozinets notes, there's no shortage of good-against-evil tales and moral clarity at the box office these days; Star Trek will have a particularly difficult time going up against the second installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, due next week. "That's going to mess up Star Trek," he says. "I'm not sure why they didn't release Nemesis on Thanksgiving or delay it until springtime."

Of course, Kozinets acknowledges, unlike the Research Lab, nobody from Paramount asked his opinion.

4. The Guns Also Roses

The problem with rock stars, of course, is that they behave like rock stars.

The latest company to learn this lesson is Clear Channel Entertainment ( CCU), which up until Wednesday had the honor of promoting the first full tour in eight years of the band Guns N' Roses.


OK, it wasn't exactly the band that "originally exploded onto the music scene in 1985," as Clear Channel put it in a September press release. Pretty much, it was bandanna-wearing frontman Axl Rose and some other guys.

And it hasn't turned out to be a "full tour," either. Following two no-shows that raised questions -- more precisely, revived questions -- about Axl's ability to focus on the task at hand, plus a few concert cancellations, Clear Channel this week called off the rest of the tour, giving no explanation.

Axl, rock star that he is, was aware from the start that his reputation for dependability ranks somewhere below Amtrak's. He was quoted in September as saying, "This is a collection of performances I've agreed to. That I have personally authorized, not someone else's good intentions gone awry or a reckless promoter's personal agenda. These shows are important to us, and for better or worse we'll be there."

You know, record companies are always complaining about how online file-swapping will kill the music business. Maybe it will, but maybe a few select musicians will do it first.

5. Initia Public Offering

Like a lot of other childish people this week, we snickered when we read the news that a brothel in Melbourne, Australia, was moving closer to getting traded on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Then we got down to business.

See, anyone can tell you you shouldn't invest in a house of prostitution. But only the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab can tell you why.


First off, if you buy into Daily Planet's IPO, you're not buying into the prostitution business. You're buying into the business of being the prostitution business's landlord. Specifically, you're buying a building owned by a guy named John Trimble, who collects rent from a company owned by John Trimble, which operates a brothel owned by John Trimble.

Second, prostitution has never quite worked out as a publicly traded business. For that insight, we went to an expert: George Flint, government relations representative of the Nevada Brothel Owners Association and a longtime representative of the legalized prostitution trade group.

No Nevada brothel has ever gone public, says Flint, though one came close more than a decade ago. In theory, there should be no problem, he says. "Most people are unaware that a large brothel operates very similarly to any large or medium resort," he says. "It's a restaurant. It's a bar. It's a hotel. It has all of the levels of management that any $10, $20, $30 million business would have."

And yet, he says, people refuse to believe that brothels are run with any sort of business sophistication. They also can't handle the stigma of letting friends or family know they've invested in one.

"Everybody wants to invest, and everybody gets excited about the concept," Flint says. "But when push comes to shove ... nobody really gets their checkbook out."

Ah, yes. For a lot of us, investing in sex is just like sex itself: We're all talk and no action.