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Originally published April 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 6, 2008 at 9:59 AM

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Sunday Buzz

Lolcats site tries a new critter — politicians

It's been a runaway success with cats, but will it work on politicians? Icanhascheezburger.com, a Seattle-based Web site, achieved cult...

Rami Grunbaum, deputy business editor, and Seattle Times Business staff

It's been a runaway success with cats, but will it work on politicians?

Icanhascheezburger.com, a Seattle-based Web site, achieved cult status online by dispensing goofy cat photos with clever captions written in a quirky lingo.

Fans upload images of lolcats and other furballs. (If you have to ask, Gramps, lol is short for Laugh Out Loud.) Fellow enthusiasts vote for favorites and post hundreds of comments in their shared pidgin tongue, lolspeak. A sample: "Ai will doo a liddle dans ov joi fur yoo."

Pet Holdings, the company behind the site, is now giving the same treatment to politics, focusing on the presidential race.

"At this point we are the world leader in pictures of cats with captions," says "chief cheezburger" Ben Huh with mock self-importance. Extending the product line was a logical step.

Late last month Huh's Pet Holdings launched punditkitchen.com, its political site. It also introduced graphjam.com, which spoofs our mania for charts by applying them to hip-hop lyrics, the interplay of drugs and sexual activity, and other subjects that preoccupy bored cubicle dwellers.

The company is hardly YouTube, but it's not bloggers in pajamas, either. Huh, 30, and his investors bought the main site (ICHC for short) from its two founders in September.

Securities filings show Pet Holdings raised $2.25 million last fall from backers including Rufus Lumry and John E. Cunningham IV, both early investors in InfoSpace and other local companies.

Alexa's Web-traffic service ranks ICHC as 2,271st among the Internet's millions of sites. Comscore reports the site had 495,000 unique visitors in February, a 158 percent increase in nine months. Huh says that since ICHC was acquired, daily page views have more than tripled, to 1.6 million last month counting the new sites.

Advertising revenues are more than paying the bills for Pet Holdings' nine full and part-time employees. "It's profitable, and we're basically taking all of our profits and reinvesting them in the business to create more tools for self-expression," says Cunningham.

The three sites share a vision of participatory pop culture, Huh says — "We are trying to create a model where it's the masses creating for the masses."

ICHC initially attracted two "very vocal" audiences, he says. "A lot of fans are software engineers. You wouldn't think that goes together [with lolcats] but it does. The other group is women who love cats — [ages] from 18 to 55. "And nowhere else on the Internet do those groups meet."

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The lolcat genre originated in the "primordial stew" of the early Internet, Huh says. So did the community's special language, which has "its own set of grammatical idiosyncrasies that people follow."

As for the political site, Huh says early response is good.

There's only a trace of lolspeak in the photo captions for Hillary, Barack, John McCain and others.

All we can say is: Wii hope lolspeak won't ketch on wif da pawleetishuns.

Former WaMu exec exposed a lender's accounting troubles

A former top WaMu exec uncovered improper accounting that quickly led to the collapse last year of a leading subprime mortgage lender.

No, it wasn't WaMu.

Once the nation's second-biggest subprime lender, New Century Financial imploded in early 2007 — just months after Taj Bindra, previously a WaMu executive vice president, joined the company as chief financial officer.

But only now, a year later, has it emerged that Bindra was the one who pulled the thread that started unraveling New Century's reckless accounting and lending practices.

"He was the one who looked at the number they were using (for one crucial measure of financial reserves) and said this doesn't look right, look into this. And that's really what started the first identification of a problem," said Michael Missal, the court-appointed bankruptcy examiner who in late March issued a scathing 581-page report on New Century's collapse.

The problem that Bindra spotted "within a month" of his November 2006 arrival was "a red flag" — one of many — that the company's accounting firm, KPMG, should have recognized during years of auditing New Century, Missal writes in his report. "Such inquiries by Bindra led in relatively short order to the discovery of material accounting errors in January 2007."

The following month the company admitted its previous financial statements were inaccurate, and its lenders began cutting off its credit. New Century collapsed into bankruptcy in April of last year.

KPMG has denied any fault in its work.

The report doesn't portray Bindra as a whistle-blower. He's not Enron's Sherron Watkins, sounding the alarm in dire memos about dirty deals.

Bindra was just doing his job well, Missal said in an interview. "He asked questions that should have been asked."

Help wanted on Paccar's yacht

Here's a job listing you don't see every day: Corporate-yacht stewardess.

There's a sharp slowdown in sales of big trucks, and Paccar has had layoffs in the past year. But right now it's hiring locally to fill about 50 positions, including stewardess and captain, for its imposing fiberglass power yacht.

The stewardess's primary responsibility, said a job description posted last Tuesday, "is to be hostess for guests on the corporate yacht Alliance."

By Thursday the posting was updated to replace the gender-specific terms with "steward(ess)" and "host(ess)."

"We're an equal-opportunity employer," says Paccar treasurer Ken Gangl.

He says the Alliance, normally stationed here, travels in the summertime up to Alaska and to a Paccar-owned lodge on the Canadian coast so the company can entertain customers and dealers.

It's a nice boat, Gangl says, but "nothing elaborate." According to its builder, Delta Marine Industries, it's a 126-foot yacht built in 1989.

The job posting says duties will range from providing "fine dining to Paccar senior management and VIP guests in very formal settings to more relaxed service to guests of a diverse background and on different types of trips."

And, needless to say, working with the captain and the rest of the crew "as needed to meet program objectives."

Comments? Send them to Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541.

Seattle Times researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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