Monday, February 23, 2009

An Odd Problem that Proves the Obvious

The problem with the advertising slogan "diamonds are forever" is that diamonds are forever.

In reaction to the global recession, the DeBeers diamond cartel has reduced rough diamond prices by up to 20%; "...industry sources in South Africa are now estimating that diamond prices could fall another "59-63 percent." (Unwarranted precision, perhaps?)
At the heart of this concern is the reality that, except for those few stones that have been permanently lost, every diamond that has been found and cut into a gem since the beginning of time still exists today. This enormous inventory, which overhangs the market, is literally in - or on - the public's hands. Some hundred million women wear diamonds, while millions of other people keep them in safe deposit boxes as family heirlooms.
In the entire history of economic exchange, that problem has to be unique.

However, given just a bit of thought, pretty darn obvious. And with just twice that much thought, which still does not amount to very much, the moment this notion becomes widespread, diamond prices could crash through that 63% floor like a safe dropped from a vaulted ceiling.

Those safe deposit boxes are holding those diamonds for two reasons: sentimental and monetary. However, once prices start to slide, and the reason for that slide becomes obvious, people are going to get a sudden grasp of the "last fool" problem, and that diamond overhang could hit the market like a tidal wave.

Very bad news, indeed, for jewelers, and DeBeers. Their only hope is aspiration marketing in China and India. Success there could forestall the inevitable for another generation or two.

Good news though, for Africa, where diamonds have been the fuel for many a savage tribal war.

The marketing agency that cooked up this "diamonds are forever" thing was completely aware of the ultimate overhang: "Diamonds do not wear out and are not consumed. New diamonds add to the existing supply in trade channels and in the possession of the public. In our opinion old diamonds are in 'safe hands' only when widely dispersed and held by individuals as cherished possessions valued far above their market price."

In other words, individuals translates into "women", who can be persuaded to form an emotional attachment to a glittery crystal. In part, the validation for the attachment derives from its cost -- we are emotionally blackmailed into tolerating the DeBeers cartel -- and that attachment will, in turn, act to more-or-less permanently remove the stone from the market.

Now, imagine that same marketing campaign aimed at men. Can't do it, can you?

No matter the exhortations of NOW et al, the very existence, and success, of this marketing campaign proves, to the point of making all future "studies" redundant, that girl brains are inherently different from boy brains. The notions that women are narrow shouldered men, or that people are interchangeable units suffering from gender construct issues, bring the term "empty" to a whole new level of nothingness.

This is coated in irony.

Those who most reject evolution would explain this as a completely unsurprising matter of fact: it is true on account of God made it that way.

In contrast, the Left can manage intellectual coherence only by convincing themselves that evolution stopped at the neck.

So, on the one hand, the reasoning is fatuous, but the conclusion sound; on the other, the reasoning sound, but the conclusion fatuous. Probably as good a means as any to restore meaning to the political terms "Right" and "Left".

Regardless, it is probably a wise idea to beat the rush and sell those diamonds now.

The vanity that killed the daily newspaper

Avoiding specifics, because they are not important here, one family member's recent desire collided with one piece of that family member's furniture, which promptly led to a whole lot of falling dominoes.

The family member was not my wife, although she did cause dominoes to be lying around all over the place.

Meaning, in case it is not bloody obvious, that we had a lot of stuff best shoved over the side. The last time this happened, we tried the classified ads in the local paper.

Lack of cheapness matched lack of results.

After that, we hauled stuff over to the Soviet Army (aka Salvation Army, but when my daughter was little she spoonerised it, and it has been Soviet Army to us ever since). Which got us the same results as the first time, without the intervening bother of writing and buying a classified ad.

With this gross weight reduction exercise, though, we had enough stuff of insufficiently little value that perhaps we could have other people pay us to haul it away.

Cue the intra-cranial ding, which alerted me to the presence of a word sloshing about in my mental bilges, but about which I had hardly, until that moment, given a moment's thought: Craigslist.

After a few minutes of camera work and a few more of massaging a little text, I got the ads up.

In less time than is required to make even an amateurish peanut butter & jelly sandwhich, two things became glaringly obvious

The prices I set were waaay too low -- I would make a cr*ppy capitalist. Anchorage is a smallish town. Despite that, we got the better part of a hundred emails offering to come immediately with cash in hand.

Second, our vanity etc. demonstrated what is really killing the newspaper industry. Never mind the lazy, incompetent, ignorant and biased reporting1. All true, but not the real problem, since most people themselves are so lazy, incompetent, ignorant and biased as to not know the difference.

I'm going to hazard a guess that that subscription revenue really only covers printing and delivery costs. That means ad revenue is what keeps newspaper operations going.

I'm going to further guess that of ad revenue, the classifieds accounted for 20-ish percent: Craigslist put the hole below the waterline, singlewebpagedly causing classified ad revenue to sink faster than a greased safe.

The newspapers could replace bad management, or conclude reporting actually matters.

But there is no competing with fast, free, and with pictures.

Which means the real question facing newspapers is how to cope with a permanent reduction in revenue per column inch. It is perhaps worth nothing that this echoes, nearly syllable-for-syllable, how the internet and bandwidth caused airline revenue per passenger mile to plummet.

There was not a comfortable answer for the airlines; there is no reason to suspect there will be one for newspapers, either.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No wonder

Through a leak in the AOG administration, I obtained this home movie from the AOG family archives.

Pretty much explains it all.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

As if words could suffice

I first met Robert Duquette very nearly five years ago.

Update. Working the search function a little harder, I found that I first met Robert nearly 6 years ago.

The intertubes provide an entirely new conduit to meeting people and forming relationships. So, despite the disembodied aspect, I will not put scare quotes around the word met. His essential self was clearly visible, no matter the intervening keyboard, silicon, wires, photons, and pixels.

One of the true measures of a man is how he acts when no one is watching.

This is all too obvious on blogs, where ranting and vicious insults are so often the rule. Under the cloak of anonymity, the real person is clear for all to see.

Duck was a rare exception. Always calm and articulate, he obviously gave a great deal of thought to everything he said. Even when provoked, he was always reasoned and civil. He could do sarcasm as well as anyone, but it was never cruel, and always had a point.

After enough discussions over a wide enough range of topics, even though conducted with someone you have never seen and whose real name you probably don't know, it is impossible to avoid wondering if the simulacrum bears any resemblance to the real person. The answer is: Yes.

How do I know?

Experience. Due to the rather unique attributes of my job, I have been able to meet a pretty fair number of people who have become post-it friends.

In person, he was everything you would expect from what he wrote. Smart. Knowledgeable. Honorable. Intrinsically decent. Excellent company, whether over dinner, or on a road trip.

Rather than accept pat answers, he worked hard, and, in my opinion, successfully at discerning what was really going on underneath superficial explanations of human nature, morality, philosophy, reason and religion. He had the courage to squarely confront unwelcome answers to difficult questions.

For that alone, he was a a rare man: he had brains enough to learn, and concern enough to make the effort.

Rest in peace, Duck.

Due to occupational imposed vagaries, I am writing this days later than I wanted. Consequently, I find others have already said what I wanted to, only better.

On Random Distractions, 60 going on 16 said: Such sad news, M. And ToE's tribute is so eloquent. One of the most positive aspects of blogging is the new dimension it has brought to the nature of friendship, as we and many others have discovered.

Brit proved once again that there are few writers as good as he is, and none better.

David was a model of concision: I resent this death. We do not have so many good men that we can afford to spare one.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but its sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in the relative way, but youre older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the english way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought Id something more to say

Home, home again
I like to be here when I can
And when I come home cold and tired
Its good to warm my bones beside the fire
Far away across the field
The tolling of the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spells.


Lyrics by David Gilmour and Roger Waters