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I recently went to Utah. Some know this, some don’t, but nearly everyone doesn’t care. I’m not writing as an excuse to post the lovely picture Scott Simpson and I took with Jesus (who knew he was in the LDS visitor’s center giving short talks?), to once more complain about that nutty skier who took me out, or to share the lovely moose shot Coogs and I took.

However I am writing as an excuse to pimp an analysis of FLDS architecture by the gentleman-scholar Adam Marcus. Zion on the Prairie can be found at Museo Magazine.

Go read it now:

all this and more at Museo...

all this and more at Museo...

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On profits

Profit and profit margin are two of the key measures of business. However, should they be important in this time? In classical economics, long-run profit = 0 in an efficient market. Clearly we are not turning towards a classical free market model in any way, shape, or form, but there’s a message in this idea we should pay attention to. While I am likely to be denounced as a socialist, perhaps what the market needs as part of this correction is an expectation of lower profit returns.

Way back in the halcyon days of the 20th century stocks were valued based on the cash that flowed out of them directly to shareholders. In other words, profits were returned to the shareholders regularly. However in recent times the number of stocks that return regularly dividends to shareholders has dropped. Profits are kept within the corporation; used for share buybacks or one-time dividends, investments, a hedge against downturns, empire building or maybe the occasional smart acquisition.

What happens now when the market dips (and let’s remember that there should be no profits in the mythical classic free market) that corporations lay off employees, reduce investments, or otherwise cut costs. Some of this is smart. No one would argue that GM and Ford have severe problems and are going to sell fewer cars in the future. But what about otherwise highly profitable companies?

The TechCrunch Layoff Tracker is littered with profitable and successful companies. Companies like Google, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Citrix and hundreds more have been laying off hundreds of thousands of employees. I’m not soft-hearted enough to argue that every job needs to be maintained, or that there are underperforming workers that perhaps should have been let go years before. Perhaps the smart companies are the ones that make small cuts of right-sizing or business line closures to avoid the big ones. What I question is when the “market” demands moves to keep profits up. Why should companies expect to preserve historic levels of profitability in a recession? They shouldn’t. Managers and shareholders should ask that question the next time they look to cut their workforce.

What screen am I on anyway?

No, that’s not a full reference to my lack of blogging. It’s more of a slight nod. Some friends, or just normal folks would be surprised that I have lived the past 6 months of my life in Seattle without a television. I know I’m surprised, especially given my heavy focus on such staples like the NFL, Battlestar Galactica, and my fondness for mind-numbing shows like 24 or the occasional piece of low budget non-reality filler.

As the headlines tell us, and my sample size of one agrees with, I’m just fine without a tv. I don’t miss seeing the OSCARS, the random newscast, etc. In fact, that extends to the rest of my media choices – I could do without a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, anything.

In truth, despite how much I enjoy a good movie, tv show, album, book or anything of the creative, informing and/or distracting arts, I am just overwhelmed by the choice of them all. The mass of media, filtered or not, is so daunting and large that it intimidates one by its inaccessibility. Let’s take the example of finding a new book to read. Heading over to Amazon or a niche book review site will invariably compare any new book to any number of esoteric books that I have not read. In order to pick from the critical best necessitates that one has to comb the whole catalog first. For an extreme example, just read a Pitchfork review.

We’ve reached that critical mass of content where this is just an overload. Probably why this post goes unread.

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The costs of financial distress

The car crisis has been confusing to me for a few reasons, but one of the main ones is the central justification for the bailout: to avoid bankruptcy. The argument has been that bankruptcy leads to no one buying cars (not they are anyway) because no one will buy from a bankrupt company which will lead to a complete collapse of the auto industry ecosystem (as if it hasn’t already collapsed).

Technically, the cost of financial distress is the cost to the big three of lost sales, lost credit, supplier difficulty, etc. that comes as a result of bankruptcy. The problem I see is that the costs of financial distress are here. What consumer is going to buy a Chevy from a nearly bankrupt GM but not the technically bankrupt GM? What supplier hasn’t already begun to insulate itself from the Big 3, cut off credit, imposed strict payment terms, etc? The costs of financial distress are here, and in fact the structured bankruptcy might be a great way to provide some reassurance to customers and suppliers that the companies will survive in some form or another to continue working a year from now. Without bankruptcy it’s hard to see that guarantee when the government debates bailing out the companies for a month or two at a time using the same exact failed model of operations.

I hope someone will call out business leaders and politicians on this one. It’s not like the financial problems of the auto companies are a big secret to consumers and suppliers. Why wouldn’t bankruptcy provide some element of certainty and in fact lower the cost of non-technical financial distress currently being experienced in the sector?

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Musings on the social fire hose

I haven’t posted here lately, especially on something other than the election, and I know some of my six semi-loyal readers miss me. However, I have been keeping up a steady stream of tweets, facebook posted items, google reader shared items, and all other manner of content sharing and production on the internet.

Now, where do people come to see all this stuff? At the original source, or is the tweet seen at facebook, the blog post viewed on friendfeed, or who knows what found at plaxo or myspace?

Since all the internet, including Yahoo!, and even the New York Times is going this direction of feeds, how on earth do you manage the bi-directional flood? Simultaneously, how do you make sure that your work friends on linkedin don’t see those crazy wall posts on facebook when everything is fed through several dozen aggregation services? I think there are lots of nice approaches to the need felt by the weberati, especially friendfeed, but the balkanization and selective sharing problem remains.

What I think is most critical, and what nearly all the services have ignored is what individual content publishers want. By content publishers I don’t mean the influential bloggers like the famed Mama, IP or Sarah South, but just me writing this post, you writing the flaming comment, and the millions of other net snippets going up somewhere each day. When you have something important to share or say, how many ways do you need to syndicate that content out? Email, IM, blog, flickr, facebook, myspace, and the dozens upon dozens of other online portals where someone might share words of wisdom.

What this mass group needs is the evolution of friendfeed and like services to become feedburners of their personal content. Currently they are optimized as viewing portals, and they are pretty effective at that. The next step is that perhaps you can aggregate content generated elsewhere into RSS that can be sent elsewhere. The next step is to be able to consolidate the content and push it back out to all the places where someone might be looking for it. Get it done and you might even make some money.

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American History

I know Alaska only joined the Union recently, so the current Governor of that fine former territory may not know much about the past. It probably gets jumbled in that time when men and dinosaurs roamed the earth hand in paw (or whatever they have), but I digress.

Ronald Reagan did not term America the city on a hill, and neither did anyone using that line since the freaking 17th century! 1630, to be exact.

John Winthrop, he’s one of those pilgrim guys, gave a pretty famous sermon that’s known as City on a Hill, or citty back in the day. I thought Palin might have known about it since it was given in a church, but apparently not. This probably extends to many people and to other areas (like thinking that Dave Matthews wrote All Along the Watchtower or something like that), but that doesn’t make it ok.

Now I may mind when she claims to have the power to rid greed from Wall Street (would love to know how that works, since that’s how it runs, at least according to the movie), or when there’s a claim that the VP needs even more power than Cheney grabbed, but what really gets my goat is when someone attributes one of the most famous declarations in American history to Ronald Reagan. What the hell were they teaching up there in Wasilla? Or maybe that was covered in one of the weeks of her college education when she was skipping from one school to the next?

Willful, prideful ignorance in a politician is shameful. Those traits in one running for national office on a presidential ticket are an embarrassment.


UPDATE: Lee (not me) kindly points out from his trove of Reagan links that Reagan correctly cited Winthrop in his speech. Don’t want anyone to think that I would go so far as to impugn Reagan and his speechwriters.

One other sidenote, full transcript is available at CNN, and Palin makes the rather unique mistake of ascribing the city on a hill view to the rest of the world rather than to America’s own view of its exceptionalism. Not to belabor the point, but Obama does a rather nice job of saying that one of his jobs as President will be to help the world view America as the city on a hill. Believing that is currently the case is just delusional.

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Is it all about the registrations?

In what must irk Obama, now that McCain/Palin have adopted/copied/swiped/stolen the change mantra, the Democratic website to register voters could be receiving some unwanted guests. … Maybe the change in tune from Palin/McCain was all just a bid to avoid developing their own website? In any event, the site was pretty slick in helping me switch my registration from NJ to WA so take a look if you just moved, especially to one of the seven states that has a say in electing the next president.

Obviously everyone should then vote (see note above for geographic emphasis), except economists because they derive no private utility from it, but that’s another story.

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I like small towns

Paul Krugman is one of my favorite economists, no surprise to any of my friends, and I’m sure I will address that topic at some point in the future. What is nice is that he will venture into right field, left field or just way out of his area of expertise with a theory that sometimes hits home — for example his September 5 column.

Elite bashing is a time-honored American sport. One can safely argue that both initial waves of emigration to this land and the Revolutionary War were reactionary movements against the appearance of domination by home-country elites.

In today’s society where economic outcomes are increasingly based on the ability to attain certain elements of elite status, particularly related to education, the ability to play the populist card is perhaps as easy at any time since the Depression. What is remarkable is that it is the Republicans who are able to play it so well. Arguably, this is the party whose policies have furthered class and economic divisions in the country, and whose policy goals would continue to deepen that rift. Yet, Republicans also have been able to benefit from them by appealing to those left behind on a separate level, whether it be faith, values, or according to Krugman, sheer resentment at being told that one is the loser in this economy. For the GOP, waving the bloody flag is a time-honored rite and one that they have employed to great electoral success.

This argument makes sense given Clinton’s success at pointing out that, “It’s the economy stupid” in plain language that preserved both the ability to advocate for change as well as membership in the class of the resenters.

All this makes me wonder if today’s Pandora’s box would contain vitriol instead of hope.

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Living on the edge

In what I could barely believe to be happening, I nearly collected my first jay-walking ticket today. While crossing a not-so-busy street in Redmond to make it to a meeting, one of Redmond’s finest halted me in my tracks.

“Whoa, what do you think you’re doing?”

I had a reply ready, “Crossing the street.”

As did he, “You can’t do that, it’s illegal to cross the street. It’s not safe.” I should point out here that he was saying this while holding up a big red stop sign in the road for oncoming traffic to allow a construction vehicle to maneuver.

I neglected to tell him this, figuring that he already knew what he was doing. Instead I asked him to clarify a statement I found odd. “Excuse me, did you say it was illegal to cross the street?” If this were true, I would be in a lot of trouble to make it to my first meeting of the day.

“Excuse me? What did you say? Say that again!” The Officer was now daring me. I declined to get into a pissing match with an angry man with a gun who had nothing better to do than stop traffic for large trucks but not people.

“I was just asking where it was legal to cross the street,” I surrendered.

Welcome to Washington State. Here you can be involved in a gang war, run the border, grow pot, cook meth, or just invent your own kind of crime. One would think that with far less cops here than for New York City (probably a comparison that many states can make) there would be better things to do than prevent jaywalking. But no. That’s crime that’s worth fighting.


A vast right-wing media conspiracy

That’s all this here P.U.M.A. thing is, and I’ll tell you why. I was listening to the convention on NPR while driving back from Hoboken and that bastion of conservatism put a clip from the P.U.M.A. website. At first it was just ridiculous. The commentator, in an aside, said "Well there will always be some people who will be absurd" before recovering to put in resistant or something like that. What got me was that the P.U.M.A. clip ended with the Northwestern wildcat growl that is played after every first down, good play, or loss that isn’t a blowout (very few and far between). Amateur hour. Just like one of my favorite bloggers telling me that a wrong clock is right twice a day. Trite.

I hate that wildcat noise, it’s like fingernails, chalk and all manner of annoyances grating on a chalkboard. Somehow it also gives rise to the awful screeching noise of the media in covering a fringe astroturf group full of such loonies that they do not even realize that McCain is a staunch pro-lifer.

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