Creative Destruction

February 23, 2008

All Politicians Need One Of These Guys (n/t)

Filed under: Election 2008 — Off Colfax @ 3:10 am

[Courtesy: xkcd]

February 19, 2008

Marketing Niches

Filed under: Blogosphere,Business,Economics — Brutus @ 11:49 pm

This report at Hitwise compares the ages and incomes of users of Yahoo! to those of Google. The differences appear to be negligible or at least subtly shaded, unless I’m reading the data wrong. However, in my circle, the perception has long been that Yahoo! was pretty well eclipsed by Google. That perception is apparently untrue, which accounts in part for Microsoft’s interest in acquiring Yahoo!, which hadn’t made sense to me before.

Best of all, though, are the labels assigned to various demographics in this graph:


What does one do if more than one marketing niche might be a reasonable fit? Here they are in a list:

  • Struggling Societies
  • Urban Essence
  • Blue-Collar Backbone
  • Remote America
  • Aspiring Contemporaries
  • Rural Villages and Farms
  • Varying Lifestyles
  • American Diversity
  • Metro Fringe
  • Small-Town Contentment
  • Affluent Suburbia
  • Upscale America

What’s the difference between Varying Lifestyles and American Diversity, or Small-Town Contentment and Remote America? And don’t all of these demographics have an normal age range?

I’m used to being reduced to a number based on my consumption and spending habits. Undoubtedly, one (or more) of those demographics fits me, despite my knee-jerk disdain for such things. Without a specialization in marketing, though, I still can’t believe that such information is worthwhile to makers of products and providers of services. Maybe someone else knows better.

February 16, 2008

Eating Out

Filed under: Business — Brutus @ 5:28 pm

MSN Money has a brief article, by now rather old (two years is definitely old — shoot, one month is old by journalistic standards), examining the economics of eating out vs. preparing home-cooked meals. Based on a fatuous calculation of the “costs” associated with preparing food at home (time spent shopping and preparing plus the food itself) the article finds that it’s cheaper to eat out.

This is a bizarre conclusion. The reduction of the complex of activities involved in eating to a business calculation is myopic in the extreme. In fairness, other considerations are given some attention, too: the health of restaurant food, the size of portions, and the obesity epidemic in the U.S. But the bottom line for this article appears to be getting oneself fed — as though the most efficient ways of getting that done both monetarily and in time are the best ways of calculating value — in order to return to productive activity, that is, making more money. I suppose eating while working is the most economically efficient way of getting fed by the logic of this article. Or perhaps just forgo eating at all.

It’s worth remembering from time to time that it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. Although not all meals can or should be extraordinary culinary experiences, the entirety of shopping, preparation, consumption, and clean-up offer an enjoyable process that isn’t well suited to an economical analysis by efficiency experts. Notably absent from the article, for example, is the value of sharing a meal in all its aspects. That’s why people host dinner parties. If it were merely about strapping on the feed bag, there are certainly less taxing ways of filling one’s stomach.

February 3, 2008

Car Culture

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Brutus @ 7:50 pm

The movement of middle class whites from city centers to suburbs in the 1950s and beyond is one of the many effects cars and their infrastructure have wrought on social organization and landscape. Those of us born in the baby boom and after (most of us at this point in history) have a difficult time imagining any other possible way of living besides climbing in the car every day and driving where we go. A handful of U.S. cities have significant enough public transportation to enable some to forego owning car, and I know a few die-hards who try to ride bicycles everywhere, even in the winter.

Jim Kunstler has a phrase he repeats from time to time for the acute blindness most of us share regarding the inevitable changes to the economics of owning and operating automobiles: happy motoring. We act as though the era before cars — the one we can’t remember or fully imagine — is permanently behind us and the availability of cheap energy, whether gasoline, ethanol, or electricity, will never disappear. Peak oil experts tell a different story, and because of that, Kunstler has prophesied that the suburb is already dead but we don’t yet realize it. All that remains to be seen, of course. What’s clear right now at least is that we’ve put all of our eggs in this one particular basket, and until the basket is irrevocably ruined, we’ll continue to act like there will be no end to happy motoring.

In the meantime, a couple curious behaviors related to car culture have caught my attention. In Chicago, we get a couple heavy snows each winter that pretty much grind traffic to a halt. Many people park on the street, and when they dig their cars out, all sorts of things appear on the street to claim the cleared spot: lawn chairs, broken furniture, orange hazard cones, milk crates and boards, etc. The unspoken contract seems to be “I cleared this spot, now you respect my labor and don’t park here.” It can’t possibly be legal to stake out a parking place, and it only happens in the winter after a snow, but it seems pretty clear that one would have to be pretty foolish to remove the lawn furniture, park in the spot, and then leave one’s vehicle worth several thousands (at the least) unattended and vulnerable to whatever vandalism the person(s) who cleared the snow might inflict.

Personally, I would never stake out a spot, though I’ve been disappointed a few times to lose one I cleared, and if I did stake one out, I’d never go the extra step and vandalize the car of someone who moved my lawn furniture out of the way to park. Do I expect others to exercise that restraint? Not on your life. I’m undecided whether this tradition is basically harmless or an instance of hoarding in scarcity. Since I have a dedicated parking spot, I guess I don’t have to decide.

The other behavior having partly to do with car culture is the line of vehicles on the shoulder of the highway into O’Hare International Airport. It’s obvious, I think, that folks are waiting in their vehicles 1-2 miles away from the airport for a phone call from the person they’re picking up rather than circling the terminal or parking and walking to meet their party. It seems like a reasonable approach until one considers that these cars are waiting on the shoulder alongside a highway where people routinely travel 60-80 mph. Blocking the shoulder may not be much of a problem, but merging into traffic from a dead stop is not a maneuver I trust most people to execute either respectfully or safely.

I don’t attend to the local media closely enough to learn that police are ticketing drivers waiting along the highway or that City Hall declared a moratorium on claiming parking spots after snow removal. Perhaps these behaviors pose no particular issue for most. Of course, I’m wondering what will happen when the price of oil spikes and few can afford to rack up 25k+ miles per year. If it’s anything like the horribly stupid movie Blood Car, it won’t be pretty.

February 2, 2008

Making History

Filed under: Current Events,Election 2008,Politics — Brutus @ 12:42 am

There is a curious and growing sense that the 2008 presidential race (and the leadership of the free world that follows therefrom) is the Democrats’ to lose, and considering that the two dominant candidates are a woman on one hand and a black man on the other, the U.S. electorate is in a unique position to make history in either eventual result: we will elect a woman or a black man as president — the first in U.S. history — and establish a new political era. Obviously (or maybe not so), this is a distraction from the real issues of American politics, but that putatively history-making event has nonetheless helped erode our self-determination to the pointless and ephemeral issue of electability over governance. As a result, and in a very real sense, we deserve what we get.

Super Tuesday approaches (a catchy if not stupid and reductionist characterization), and yet we many participate blindly in this awful charade that our votes will have some meaningful impact on the outcome: the selection of a candidate for one party or the other. On the Democratic side (I’m unfamiliar with the Republican side), I’ve been chagrined to learn that delegates and candidates both have agreed to set aside a number of states and refuse to campaign and/or award delegates. I’m too much a novice in electoral politics to understand why, for instance, Michigan and Florida shouldn’t matter, so I remain politically naive and ineffectual. Perhaps someone more expert in the nuances of running a campaign within the vagaries of party politics can explain it to me. Failing that, I recognize my participation in the process as a meaningless drop in a flow that has been prefigured by forces with much more to gain or lose than can possibly be left to the whims of the electorate.

So we will make history of a sort. Big deal. I feel confident that none of the “electable” candidates present a prospect for meaningful change. My cynicism runs so deep that no incremental change or adoption of new window dressing is worth more than a moment’s contemplation. The purposeful candidates — those who propose real, substantive change from politics as usual, which is to say, the politics bought and paid for by the highest paying private interests — have already been winnowed from the contest.

But I empathize still with the winning candidate, Democrat or Republican. He or she will inherit such an awful mess — militarily, economically, and culturally — that no brief period of recovery and prosperity is possible to contemplate. We’ve dug for ourselves as Americans a sizable hole from which to extricate ourselves, and it may take generations (or more) to restore even a few of the advantages we have thus far taken for granted and now squandered.

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