martes, 18 de diciembre de 2007

The Backlash Against Tithing

In accordance with my earlier post, I found this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, The Backlash Against Tithing, and I decided to comment on it from the prospective of a Latter-Day Saint. The article is about the question churchgoers are asking as the tradition of tithing -- giving 10% of your income to the church -- is increasingly challenged. Opponents of tithing say it is a misreading of the Bible, a practice created by man, not God. They say they should be free to donate whatever amount they choose. In response, some pastors have changed their teaching and rejected what has been a favored form of fund raising for decades. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we believe the Bible indicates that God’s people followed the law of tithing anciently, and through modern prophets, God restored this law once again to bless His children. To fulfill this commandment, Church members give one-tenth of their income to the Lord through His Church. These funds are used to build up the Church and further the work of the Lord throughout the world.
In replying to the WSJ article, as I have posted before, it is so weak to change your teachings so that it fits better with the crowd's lifestyle.
Secondly, in the article, John Magrino, a New Jersey lawyer, says he regularly donated money during the weekly collection at his Catholic church, but tithing was a different story. "It's my money to do with what I want," says Mr. Magrino, 39, a father of two. Saying, "It's my money to do with what I want," is a pretty scary thing to say in my opinion. We have God to thank for everything we have including the money that we make, he only requires that we give 10% back and in return The Lord says, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10).
Would any of us intentionally reject an outpouring of blessings from the Lord? Sadly, this is what these people do when we fail to pay their tithing. They say no to the very blessings they are seeking and praying to receive. Especially the story of Kevin Rohr, the employee for the church that was concerned about providing for his family on his $32,400 salary. He would have been able to better help his family by paying the tithing and relying on The Lord than he will ever be able to by quiting his job and driving trucks.
Tithing develops and tests our faith. By sacrificing to the Lord what we may think we need or want for ourselves, we learn to rely on Him. Tithing also teaches us to control our desires and passions for the things of this world. Payment of tithing encourages us to be honest in our dealings with our fellowmen.
The Apostle Robert D. Hales said, "My beloved brothers and sisters, the eternal blessings of tithing are real. I have experienced them in my life and in the life of my family. The test of our faith is whether we will live the law of tithing by our obedience and sacrifice. For, in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

lunes, 17 de diciembre de 2007

Apostle Urges Students to Use New Media

From the Newsroom at – “Two hundred graduating students at Brigham Young University-Hawaii were urged today to use the Internet — including blogs and other forms of “new media” — to contribute to a national conversation about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Elder M. Russell Ballard, a senior apostle in the Church, told the mostly Mormon student body that conversations about the Church would take place whether or not Church members decided to participate in them.

“We cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches,” he said.

“While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.”

“Church leaders have publicly expressed concern that while much of the recent extensive news reporting on the Church has been balanced and accurate, some has been trivial, distorted or without context.

“Elder Ballard said there were too many conversations going on about the Church for Church representatives to respond to each individually, and that Church leaders “can’t answer every question, satisfy every inquiry and respond to every inaccuracy that exists.”

“He said students should consider sharing their views on blogs, responding to online news reports and using the “new media” in other ways.

“But he cautioned against arguing with others about their beliefs. “There is no need to become defensive or belligerent,” he said.

Why I like this: I like how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints understands the impact of “new media” like blogs (and the concept of “The Long Tail” of conversations online: “While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller… there were too many conversations going on about the Church for Church representatives to respond to each individually”) God has inspired people to create these new mediums with the purpose of further spreading his Gospel and doing good. We should be active in keeping up to date and understanding the news and then respond to it through the perspective of a latter-day saint.

domingo, 19 de agosto de 2007

Moms at Work

In 2004, 70.4 percent of women with children under 18 years of age were in the labor force. The more men and women do what they do in exchange for money, and the more work in the public realm is valued or honored, the more, almost by definition, private life is devalued and its boundaries shrink. It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated; not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. The value that mothers add to the world must never be over looked. What else could be as important as molding the lives of human beings? Yet we do not recognize mothers enough. Why do so many mothers spend so much time at work and so little at home? First of all there is the problem of financial stress, which is a definite problem. But more than that I think it is because mothers are not being valued enough and the male role in society is praised too much. Spencer W. Kimball asked a question in an address to Regional Representatives, that we too should all ask ourselves, “How can we help the wife and mother understand the dignity and worth of her role in the divine process of motherhood?”
Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is a truism that children need more of mother than of money. Financial strains are obviously a part of more mothers entering the work force, but in a 1995, a national study found that 48% of American working women and 61% of men claimed that they would still want to work even if they had enough money to live as “comfortably as you would like.”
According to Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her book Time Bind, the real reason for leaving kids at home to pursue a career is that women feel more valued at work than they do at home. Work feels more like home and home feels more like work. At work you get recognized for doing a good job as an “internal customer.” You are made an “empowered” employee to make you feel like the company cares about you, not just about making money. On the other hand, how many recognition ceremonies for competent performance are going on at home? Who is valuing the internal customer there?
And who can blame them? However hectic their lives, women who do paid work, researchers have found, fell less depressed, think better of themselves, and are more satisfied with their life than women who don’t do paid work. “Paid work,” says psychologist Grace Baruch, “offers such benefits as challenge, control, structure, positive feedback, self esteem…and social ties.”
Other than the problem women face of not feeling appreciated for being mothers and house wives is the problem that our society sees the “male” world of work as more honorable and valued than the female world of home and children. Too often women use the world as their standard for success and basis for self-worth. Folklorist Joseph Campbell said, “Women have come to believe that only the aim and virtues of the male are to be considered, and that male achievement is the proper aim for everyone, as though that is what counts. No indeed.”
“In the early stages of the women’s movement many feminists pushed for restructuring of work life to allow for shorter –hour, flexible jobs and a restructuring of home life so that men would get into the action,” explains Hochschild, “but over the years, this part of the women’s movement seems to have surrendered the initiative to feminists more concerned with helping women break through the corporate glass ceilings into long-hour careers.”
As more mothers enter the work force we are increasingly becoming a society taught by capitalistic companies, not by loving mothers. Companies realize that time invested in their employees to make them committed believers in the company, instead of just a cog in the machine, is well worth the effort. People who feel empowered by the company and who feel like they are appreciated for the value that they contribute work harder and longer. Most companies also offer free courses in “dealing with anger” or “how to cope with difficult people.” At home, people seldom receive anything like this much help on issues so basic to family life. Also, some companies stage events in response to loosing customers to competitors such as “Large Group Change Events” held in assembly rooms where they work as a group to talk about problems they, as employees, are facing and ideas for the company. The purpose of all these activities is to convince each worker to renew his commitment not to his spouse or church, but to his workplace.
A re-emphasis of the importance of stay-at-home-moms and a restructuring of work time are good steps in the right direction. It has been proven to work in countries like Sweden, Norway and Germany, which have created alternative architectures of time. Many sectors rely on 35-hour workweeks and continue to have economies that thrive. Swedish and German workers average six weeks of paid vacation a year while Americans average only two and a half weeks. Men must be willing to share in house work, parenting, and community participation while valuing work in the home as highly as work on the job. President David O McKay said: “The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

jueves, 19 de julio de 2007

Choosing Religion

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, In Europe God is (not) dead explains how after decades of secularization, religion in Europe has slowed its slide toward what had seemed inevitable oblivion. Because of this, scholars and theologians in Europe are debating a hot question: Why? The reason may be because centuries-old churches, long favored by the state, are loosing their monopoly grip and Europe's highly regulated market for religion is opening up to leaner, more-aggressive religious "firms." Which, they say, is providing a supply-side stimulus to faith. This article proves to me how the concept of what religion is, is becoming more and more skewed. The idea that wherever churches are a little more energetic and competitive, you've got more people going to church, shows how people are looking for the church that best applies to their views rather than trying to find out what God’s views are, and apply themselves to those.

Continuing in the article, America, where church and state stand apart, has more than 50% of the population worshiping at least once a month. In Europe, where the state has often supported -- but also controlled -- the church with money and favors, the rate in many countries is 20% or less. Historically, in 1776 around 17% of Americans belonged to churches. That is about the same as the current proportion of the population in Belgium, France, Germany and the U.K. that worships at least once a month, according to 2004's European Union-funded European Social Survey. In the U.S., the American Revolution ended ecclesiastical hegemony in the 11 colonies that had an established church and unleashed a raucous tide of religious competition. As Methodists, Baptists, Shakers and other churches proliferated, church-going rose, reaching around 50% in the early part of the 20th century. Now, upstarts are now plugging new spiritual services across Europe, from U.S.-influenced evangelical churches to Christian sect that uses a hallucinogenic herbal brew as a stand-in for sacramental wine.

This shows that spirituality can be sold as people choose the denomination that is most compatible with their view of life, and then select the particular institution that they feel best embodies that view. But this is not how God works.

Many are unwilling to regard religious teachings as commandments, about which we have no choice, rather than suggestions, about which we are the ultimate judge. Religion consumers shop in the market until they find what they like. But you cannot approach the gospel as you would a buffet or smorgasbord, choosing here a little and there a little. You must sit down to the whole feast and live the Lord’s loving commandments in their fullness. Cecil B. DeMille stated, after exhaustive research for the epic motion picture The Ten Commandments: “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them.” These are the laws of God. Violate them and we suffer lasting consequences. Obey them and we reap everlasting joy.

This is not an easy concept for many to embrace as the “guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center” (1 Ne. 16:2). It is not politically correct and is gives no excuses. It is absolute truth weather you want to believe it or not. Like the scriptures say, the word of God is “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow” (Doctrine and Convenants 6:2). When you are living a lifestyle that is against what God teaches it is difficult to change so people opt to try and “serve two masters” by living according to what they want to do and still trying to live the God wants them to, but it doesn’t work, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24).

sábado, 14 de julio de 2007

Deciding on the War

The war in Iraq is already lost and the president is doing a terrible job according to approval ratings, which are at an all-time low. This seems to be the general consensus of Americans, but how do they come to this conclusion? Are people making educated decisions when it comes to the war and the president or is everyone really confused about the whole thing? I conclude that most people are more confused and riding on the anti bandwagon than anything else. I come to this conclusion by looking at the flawed way that people make decisions in that they are dooped into advertising style branding and falling for the trends of what is most popular. This is happening due to the overwhelming amount of information that creates a paradox of choice.
Opinions are more often bought as a lifestyle than made up in one’s own mind. We make choices based on experience but when it comes to choosing to like or dislike the president and the war we have little personal experience. So we not only use our own past experiences, but also the experiences and expertise of others. While gathering information, we need to know that the information is reliable, and we need to have enough time to get through all the info that is available. Information about current events and news now comes through more sources than ever before which make it neither reliable, nor does it give us enough time to go through it all. TV shows and channels provide information to be gathered but many times news is masquerading as entertainment, and is concerned less about the facts and more about high ratings. Also information is gathered through newspapers, magazines, opinions through music and movies, and now the expanse of the internet. Unfortunately, providing useful decision making information is not the point in all these kinds of news/information sources. Since there are so many options and different opinions, it makes it difficult for marketers to differentiate their products from similar ones. Instead of changing their product, they change the branding of the product to make customers think that its different, which is a lot easier. So now products are sold by associating the product with a glamorous life style. Many people fall for the branding done by advertisers and media companies and are buying into certain opinions because of the lifestyle associated with them instead of reading the facts and coming to their own conclusions.
People also accept what is most frequent and popular instead of accepting the facts. Lets say you may go to the source and read the data/news yourself to come to your own conclusion but then you hear of some vivid story from a friend that is rare but much more attention grabbing than the data you have studied yourself. It’s likely that you will give more weight to this extremely vivid information based on personal, detailed, face-to-face accounts than the information you gathered on your own. In one study, researchers asked respondents to estimate the number of deaths per year that occur as a result of various diseases, car accidents, natural disasters, homicides, etc.-forty different types in all. The results showed that the people surveyed thought that the deaths caused by accidents were equal to the amount of deaths caused from dieses, when in fact disease causes 16 times more deaths. Death from homicide was thought to be as frequent as death from stroke, when in fact eleven times more people die from strokes than by homicide. In conclusion, vivid deaths were overestimated and more mundane causes of deaths were underestimated. Continuing in this study, the researchers looked at two newspapers published on opposite sides of the U.S., and they counted the number of stories involving various causes of death. The frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents estimates of frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated. People mistook the pervasiveness of stories about homicides and accidents as a sign of frequency of the events profiled. The same thing is happening with the coverage of Iraq. It doesn’t take long to see how every other article online is about President Bush’s and the Iraq war’s low approval rating. I think it is because of the regularity of negative aspects of Bush and the War that they have such low approval ratings.
So how come people are so susceptible to accepting trendy opinions and over-played news stories? I think it is because the amount of information is piling up and people are becoming overloaded and no one has the time to go through it all on their own.
Much of human progress has involved reducing the time and energy we spend for each of us to get the necessities of life. We moved from hunting and gathering to subsistence agriculture to when not every individual had to spend all his time everyday on filling his stomach. One could specialize in a certain skill and then trade it for other products. Manufactures made life easier still by selling food and clothing at the same general store. The variety was small but the time spent procuring them as small as well.
The same goes for finding information to make an educated decisions on issues like the war in Iraq. In the past, all information was taken from newspapers or from a few channels on TV. The variety of news was small but the time spent procuring it was small as well. But now thanks to the internet and democratization of information, this is the end of spoon fed orthodoxy and infallible institutions. We now have the tools to question authority. In theory, a society that asks questions and has the power to answer them is healthier than one that simply accepts what it is told from a narrow range of expert and institutions. But with too many sources of information, we become overloaded and opt to take the easiest source of news as the reliable one. If professional affiliation is no longer a proxy for authority, we need to develop our own gauges of quality. But the problem is, with so many choices, choice no longer liberates, but deliberates creating a paradox of choice.
In the past few decades that process of simplifying and bundling economic offerings in the general store, and bundling the news in the limited amount of channels, has been reversed. Increasingly the trend is moving us back to time-consuming foraging behavior once again, as each of us are forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life including making up our minds on the situation in Iraq.
As the number of choices we face continue to escalate and the amount of information we need escalates with it, we may find ourselves increasingly relying on secondhand information. And as communication increases and becomes more global, each of us, no matter where we are, may end up relying on the same secondhand information. News sources like CNN tell everyone in the country the same story, which makes it less likely that an individual’s biased understanding of the evidence will be corrected by friends and neighbors. When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it to be true. And the more people believe that it’s true, the more likely they will repeat it, and thus the more likely you are to hear it. This is how inaccurate information can create a bandwagon effect leading to a broad but mistaken consensus.
Is everyone mistaken? Maybe, maybe not. But make sure its your opinion and not someone else's that your caliming to be your own.

viernes, 13 de julio de 2007

In defense of peer-to-peer file sharing.

I say “illegal” music downloads help music more than it hurts it. It helps bands like librarys help publishers, it the helps radio, and it helps bands on tour.
These music sharing networks are a lot like librarys as explained by Stephen J. Dubner in his Freakonomics blog. Libraries help train young people to be readers; when those readers are older, they buy books. Downloading helps people apprecieate music and when they get older they buy music. Libraries expose readers to works by authors they wouldn’t have otherwise read; readers may then buy other works by the same author, or even the same book to have in their collection. Downloading songs helps young people develop a taste in music. It expands their horizons and gets them to purchase more for their collection. Libraries help foster a general culture of reading; without it, there would be less discussion, criticism, and coverage of books in general, which would result in fewer book sales. Downloading also leads to more discussion and coverage of lesser known bands.
A recent trend is using pirated music to help radios develop playlists as explained in this Wall Street Journal Article. The theory is that the songs attracting the most downloads online will also win the most listeners on the radio, helping stations sell more advertising. In turn, the service may even help the record labels, because radio airplay is still the biggest factor influencing record sales.
It makes sense for bands to give away their music to make more money on tour as explained here by Chris Anderson. The one thing that you can't digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show. That's scarcity economics. No wonder the average price for a ticket was $61 last year, up 8%. In an era when digital products are commodities, there's a premium on experience. No surprise that bands are increasingly giving away their recorded music as marketing for their concerts, which offer something no MP3 can match. Live performance is the fastest growing part of the music industry, up 16% in 2006 to a record $3.6 billion in North America.
For example, starting on June 25th and for 20 days, the band The Format will be giving away their entire 2006 full length, Dog Problems to all comers. The disc will be made available on the band's official website without restrictions. The band explained, “Owning our own publishing and master has allowed us the freedom to experiment,. We’d be doomed if we sat around and waited for things like radio play to come around. We’re just not that band. We understand the reality; kids aren’t buying music. We’re going to see if we can’t pick up 20,000 new sets of ears by offering the album for free. We’re betting that the money lost on those record sales will come back when people come see us live this summer. This will be a chance to share the album with your friends who haven't bought it or fileshared it.”They say file sharing has likely contributed to the continuing decline in the music business. U.S. music sales were down 7% last year after a 3% drop the year before. But I think that is because people have more options of where to get their music from other than the record store. People’s taste in music is becoming more diverse and less mainstream.

jueves, 14 de junio de 2007

My Independent Movie Theater

I want to start my own independent movie theater and I think it’s a good idea. At the Jackson Hole Film Festival, June 7-11 2007, more than 750 movies were submitted and only 93 were accepted for the festival. What happens to the other 657 movies? Thousands of movies are sent into film festivals that only allow less than one hundred to be shown. With the increase in technology that makes independent film making easier and more widely available, more and more independent films are going to be made. Just look at how many independently made videos are on where in July 2006, they announced that they hit 100 million videos served per day. There is an increase of independent movies being made but there is no increase of venues to show them.
My independent movie theater will also take advantage of strategies that conventional movie theaters can’t. My theater can maximize profits using the economic theories of supply and demand, which states that when demand is high and supply is low companies should raise prices, and when demand is low and supply is high, they should lower prices. Traditionally in a movie theater, a hugely popular movie will cost just as much as a less popular movie that’s on its 5th week of release. This strategy doesn’t make much sense. Just as retail stores mark down inventory to move it, the independent theater can mark down movies to lure more customers. We all know that millions of Americans who won’t shell out 8 dollars to see a not-so-great-movie in the theater will happily spend 3 or 4 dollars to watch the same movie on their home TV when it comes out to rent. To further this argument that lowering prices of less popular movies in the theater will increase box office sales, Americans spent 1 billion more on movie rentals than on movie theaters in 2002, which suggests that there is a lot of cash being spent at Blockbuster that theater owners could be claiming instead. If less people are going to a certain movie that costs 8 dollars, then the price will be lowered to 5 dollars to get more people into the seats. This strategy will maximize profits.
In a traditional movie theater, they only get to keep 25 percent or so of ticket sales in the first few weeks of a movies run. The percentage of ticket sales that the studio takes decreases each week that a movie is in the theater. During the film's opening week, the studio might take 70 to 80 percent of gross box office sales. By the fifth or sixth week, the percentage the studio takes will likely shrink to about 35 percent. This is why movies rely so much on concessions to make a profit.
On the other hand, in the independent movie theater, the price that the theater makes per ticket could be increased. This is possible because instead of having to show a big production studio’s movie in your theater on the big production company’s terms, you can show it on the terms between you and the independent filmmaker himself. Independent filmmakers are used to having to pay submission fees in order to get their movies shown in film festivals let alone make any money back. And more than anything, they just want their work to be seen. So more often than not, the independent theater could collect as much as 75 percent or more of ticket sales beginning opening night.
My independent theater could also make money off charging independent filmmakers to show trailers. Traditionally again, studios pay theaters for showing their trailers after the fact, based on the number of people who saw them. Studios send a couple of new trailers every week to the theater and then the theaters have to call in their numbers every night to the studios, and then the studio gives them 'x-amount' per person. This process could also be side stepped in an independent theater where a flat fee could be charged for an independent filmmakers trailer.
In addition, tidbits like local advertising and concessions can generate revenue for my independent theater as well. The theater could have slide projectors that show ads for local businesses that play before the movie begins. Having 15 advertisements that cost 100 dollars a week each can easily add up to as much as 6,000 dollars a month.
Then it comes down to just getting independent filmmakers to give you quality movies to show, and then getting people to come to the theater to watch them. Since independent films are inherently lesser known, this poses a slight problem. For it to really work, the theater would need to be in a big city where there are film schools and where film festivals take place. You could advertise just like any theater does but emphasize cheaper prices and that the films are independent. Like with any company, the best kind of marketing is through word of mouth. Recommendations that come from your peers are 100 percent more effective than a recommendation that comes from the company itself because your peer is speaking honestly and is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (i.e. they are not receiving an incentive for their referrals.) So, the independent theater would need to translate its idea to the public in a way that it is intriguing enough to get them to interact with it and then share it with others.
To get the news out there that this theater exists you can use pre-existing social networks, chain Emails, electronic mailing lists, a website, and blogs to spread the word, and you can put the theater’s website on every ticket stub and box of popcorn sold to motivate more participation. On the website, the trailers for any independent filmmaker’s movie could be uploaded and then people could vote with their Email addresses on which movie they would want to see most. They could also comment on the movie’s blog and forward the trailer to friends so they can vote as well. Then once the movie has enough votes to sell out a few showings, you email all those people who voted to tell them when the showings would start. Instead of pushing films into theaters with lots of marketing money, audience pull will be the way that more films get into theaters. In addition, to pass advertising onto others, by spreading the message across the Web like a virus, is at no cost to the Independent Movie Theater.
So there’s my idea.

jueves, 7 de junio de 2007

The Wal-Mart effect

I finished reading The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman and here is my conclusion.
Wal-Mart, the largest company in history, is constantly being questioned about its practices. The way it treats its employees, the way it treats its suppliers, the way it treats its communities, and its motivation are under constant scrutiny from the public. Yet millions of people vote with their debit cards everyday to keep Wal-Mart around. Whether you shop at Wal-Mart or not, it has an effect on you as a consumer. There are always two sides to every criticism which I will show through this report. The objections to criticisms of Wal-Mart, and their positive sides, make me personally a fan of Wal-Mart.
The statistics of Wal-Mart, the world’s most powerful company, are staggering. Ninety percent of Americans live with in 15 miles of a Wal-Mart and 93 percent of American households shop at least once at Wal-Mart in a year. Wal-mart’s sales in the U.S. are equal to 2,060 dollars spent there by every household in the last year. This year 7.2 billion people will shop at a Wal-mart store. Wal-mart is also the largest retailer in both Mexico and Canada. Wal-Mart has 1.6 million employees. Wal-Mart is not only the largest company in the world it is also is unchallenged by its so-called rivals being as big as Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Costco, Sears, and Kmart combined.
The core of Wal-Mart’s success and everyday low prices stems from founder Sam Walton himself. Hard work, accountability, frugality, and constant improvement are some of Walton’s values that still last to this day. The typical worker at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas puts in 58 hours a week. They work 15 percent more hours than their competitors.
The level of frugality of Wal-Mart is unprecedented as they pass every last penny of savings on to the customer. Suppliers are required to give Wal-Mart toll free numbers to call them, offices at Wal-Mart headquarters are furnished with mismatched office furniture given to them from suppliers, and staffers who travel only have their tipping reimbursed up to 10 percent for a meal. Accountability is emphasized to the point of the dollar performance of Wal-Mart’s sales in every category. For example, Wal-Mart keeps track of the number of items per hour each of its checkout clerks scans at every cash register, at every store, for every shift as a means of measuring their productivity. These obsessive data gathering habits drive home the importance of accountability to the point where there is no hiding.
This culture, instilled by founder Sam Walton, to this day remains unchanged but the scale of Wal-Mart has. Walton died when there were 370,000 employees and sales of 44 billion. Now there are 1.2 million more employees and 240 billion more dollars in sales. These practices of get to work early, check your numbers constantly, and don’t spend money you don’t have to spend, got Wal-Mart to where it is today, but now these practices have transformed Wal-Mart into what seems to be borderline exploitive if not illegal because of its change in size.
Much of criticism towards Wal-Mart has to do with low wages, unrelenting pressure on suppliers, products cheap in quality as well as price, and offshoring of jobs.
First, on the topic of low wages; Wal-Mart declares proudly that the hourly wage of store employees is almost twice the federal minimum wage. However, for a single mom that means that she is taking home only 290 a week, hardly enough to support a family. Wal-Mart says that their retail jobs are meant as supplemental income; not to support a family. The problem with that is for two thirds of Americans Wal-Mart is the single largest employer where they live.
Wal-Mart wields its dominating power to transmit its relentless dissatisfaction with price towards its suppliers to keep those everyday low prices. Wal-Mart has the ability to reach deep inside the day-to-day operations of its suppliers and shape their operations, choices, and product mix to their liking. They form “partnerships” with their suppliers to take down the barrier between vendor and retailer to take costs out of the system. But too often this translates to businesses being chewed up and spit out by Wal-Mart’s bullying system. Wal-Mart takes control away from suppliers of everything from redesigning packages to computer systems if the supplier wants to sell at Wal-Mart. Wal- Mart tells its suppliers straightforwardly what it will pay for their goods. Wal-Mart’s suppliers cant consider themselves serious players unless they are doing business with Wal-Mart, then once they are doing business with them they are doing it on Wal-Marts terms and they no longer run their own business.
Because of Wal-Mart’s constant pressure for everyday low prices, some manufacturers have to make their products cheaper by changing the quality of the products themselves to be able to sell them at Wal-Mart’s low price. The core value of Levis blue jeans for example, is quality and durability. But to sell at Wal-Mart, a cheaper kind of denim is used and simpler designs. This creates a serviceable but utterly undistinguished pair of jeans that are both inexpensive and cheap, which turns inside out what Levis jeans have stood for for 150 years.
Eventually there are no more efficiencies to be wrung out of the supply chain; eventually the only way to lower costs is to manufacture outside of the U.S. There is no question that Wal-Mart is accelerating the loss of American jobs to low wage countries like China. Some people say that we are buying ourselves out of jobs by supporting Wal-Mart but Wal-Mart says that they created 100,000 new jobs in the U.S. in the year of 2004. But the truth is that actually when a new Wal-Mart opens up people don’t buy more products, they just shift where they buy those products. Much of Wal-Marts business comes at the expense of other retailers. So when Wal-Mart “increases” jobs, all it is really doing is taking the jobs away from other retailers that already existed in the community that have gone out of business because Wal-Mart came into town.
Even with all these negative viewpoints of Wal-Mart, I feel that Wal-Mart is the up most example of what is possible within the realm of a democratic free market. Wal-Mart is a testament to what American capitalism is all about. Wal-Mart does affect everyone, even if you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, but I don’t think it is capable of ever taking over completely.
When it comes to low wages; it’s true that Wal-Mart makes 10.3 billion in sales, but if you distribute that across the 1.6 million employees that’s only 6,400 dollars per employee. Wal-Mart makes 3 dollars an hour in total profit spread out over the year, so they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay 12 dollars an hour, even if they wanted to. There isn’t enough money-at least not without raising prices.
Most companies will beg for the opportunity to have Wal-Mart sell their product because Wal-Mart has such a large market share, but that doesn’t mean that a company needs to go through Wal-Mart to be successful. Some companies make it a conscious business strategy to not sell in Wal-Mart because the perception is that things sold in Wal-Mart are not quality products. No one really likes shopping at Wal-Mart; most people just go to buy things. Trekking through a Wal-Mart to find what you need feels more often like a chore than shopping. There will always be opportunity for other businesses to survive if they make their emphasis customer service and quality instead of price. Just yesterday (6/6/07) in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article entitled, “Not copying Wal-Mart Pays Off for Grocers”. It said, “The supermarkets are winning back shoppers by sharpening their differences with Wal-Mart's price-obsessed supercenters, stressing less-hectic stores with exotic or difficult-to-match products and greater convenience. Last year, sales at supermarkets open at least a year rose 4%, the biggest increase in five years, according to retail consultants.”
We have all seen U.S. factories being shut down to go overseas but at the same time, finding cheaper stuff is still too addictive for American consumers to give up and no one connects the two. Consumers will never be able to say no to a lower price even if it means we are buying ourselves out of jobs. What Americans need to realize is that continuing education is the only solution to offshoring. If we are constantly adding value to our work by increasing our ability to compete with the work of the world, and educating ourselves, then less jobs will be lost weather Wal-Mart encourages offshoring or not. Offshoring is not Wal-Mart’s fault.
Wal-Mart’s relentless goal of always low prices may persuade some suppliers to produce under sweat shop conditions or side step environmental rules, but where does Wal-Marts responsibility start and stop? Shouldn’t it be the government’s responsibility to enforce laws? According to Wal-Mart, their responsibility is to obey the law and deliver low prices. Even though they could potentially use their power to solve some of the environmental and labor problems that the industries that it relies on create, where is the line? And once you open the door to considerations other than what’s required by law, to considerations other than what’s required to improve efficiency and decrease cost; where will the demands end? What won’t people ask of Wal-Mart?
I salute Wal-Mart and its efforts to be the best retailer in history. If I start a business I want to be able to know that there is no limit to my company’s potential. I enjoy everyday low prices and I also know that Wal-Mart just ads to innovation, better quality, and better customer service everywhere else.

martes, 24 de abril de 2007

Free Distribution

The one problem I’ve had with the distribution of everything on the Internet has been: how does anyone make any money off of all this? I never pay for anything that I get off the internet. I also never pay attention to advertisements on websites so I don’t see how anyone is making money that way either. The thought came to me after reading a post by Chris Anderson entitled, Ebooks want to be free. What about audio books? Feb 4, 2007. Talking about his book, The Long Tail, being pirated, he says, “My publishers want to make money, and I like them so I usually do what it takes to keep them happy, but in truth I just want to be read/listened to by the largest number of people. Leave it to me to figure out how to convert that reputational currency into cash--just get me in front of the biggest audience and I'll do the rest. My agent doesn't want to hear this, but I'd rather take a smaller up-front advance or lower royalties in exchange for more liberty in distributing free versions, because I think I'll actually be better off in the end.” What does he mean when he says, “just get me in front of the biggest audience and I'll do the rest?” What is he going to do? Because up until now I have read his book, his blog and anything else I can find that he has done and I have yet to pay one red cent. As I looked more into this I discovered that there are some advantages to distributing your stuff for free like more publicity, word of mouth and making revenues in different ways. But from my point of view I would say making money by giving it away is still a long shot. The more stuff is given away for free on the internet, the more people avoid buying the real thing, expecting it to come out for free at some point on the internet anyway. Whenever I hear about anything that has come out I always search for it online first to see if it is out there for free somewhere. And if its not I’m patient enough until it is.
“Free ideas spread faster than expensive ones,” says Seth Godlin in his post called You should write an ebook March 28 2007. Explaining how his first ebook, Unleashing the Idea Virus came about, he says, “I brought it to my publisher and said, "I'd like you to publish this, but I want to give it away on the net." They passed. They used to think I was crazy, but now they were sure of it. So I decided to just give it away. The first few days, the book was downloaded 3,000 times. The next day, the number went up. And then up. Soon it was 100,000 and then a million. The best part of all is that I intentionally made the file small enough to email. Even without counting the folks who emailed it hundreds of times to co-workers, it's easily on more than 2,000,000 computers. I didn't ask anything in return. No centralized email tool. Here it is. Share it. Some will ask, "how much money did you make?" And I think a better question is, "how much did it cost you?" How much did it cost you to write the most popular ebook ever and to reach those millions of people and to do a promotion that drove an expensive hardcover to #5 on Amazon and #4 in Japan and led to translation deals in dozens of countries and plenty of speaking gigs? It cost nothing.” So with this story it looks like giving away your stuff for free serves as a marketing and publicity tool. Bands also use this technique by giving away their music for free and making the profit at the live shows.
Cory Doctorow wrote an article for entitled Giving It Away, where he explains in more detail how profit can be made from giving your books away on the internet. “Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book--those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game.” Many people aren’t going to buy your stuff anyway so you might as well give it to them for free; people like me who are moochers who never buy anything until it is made for free.
The most important thing that an author can have is the peers of others recommending their book. Doctorow continues, “Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation--when I worked in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up...." The friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.” That is a main advantage that free distribution provides-people are a lot more likely to buy something from a peers recommendation than from a companies.
“Having my books more widely read opens many other opportunities for me to earn a living from activities around my writing, such as the Fulbright Chair I got at USC this year, this high-paying article in Forbes, speaking engagements and other opportunities to teach, write and license my work for translation and adaptation. My fans' tireless evangelism for my work doesn't just sell books--it sells me.”
So up until now I may not have paid anything for all the entertainment that I get off of the internet, but I am a fan of some people that I wasn’t a fan of before the internet made it possible for me to discover them. Possibly in the future if they offer something like an event that can’t be ripped, pirated or distributed for free, perhaps then I will end up paying them something. But who knows when or if that ever that will happen.

domingo, 1 de abril de 2007

Who Cares About Privacy?

The lines between what is private and what isn’t are being blurred for individuals and companies alike. More young people are putting more personal information out in public on sites like Facebook and Myspace than any adult would ever think of and yet they are fine with it, along with their entirely different definition of privacy. Businesses also are being pushed to go naked for all to see. In the April issue of Wired magazine they have an article called The See-Through CEO, which says, “The Internet has inverted the social physics of information. Companies used to assume that details about their internal workings were valuable precisely because they were secret. If you were cagey about your plans, you had the upper hand; if you kept your next big idea to yourself, people couldn't steal it. Now, billion- dollar ideas come to CEOs who give them away; corporations that publicize their failings grow stronger. Power comes not from your Rolodex but from how many bloggers link to you - and everyone trembles before search engine rankings.” They told me in high school that the days of graduating from college and working for one company that will take care of you until you retire doesn’t exist anymore. To be successful you need to start marketing yourself like a business, having versatile skills and abilities to compete in an ever changing work field. Now the tables have turned as businesses start to market themselves more like people who post everything about themselves on sites like Facebook and Myspace. We are all living in public more and more everyday.
The other day me and my friend Matt signed up to live at an apartment complex together for the summer semester where there are six people per apartment. They sent us an email showing us the other roommates that we would be living with. Having random roommates assigned to live with you can be a little weird since you have no idea who they might turn out to be. So we decided to look them up on Facebook to see if they would be types that we would get along with. It was a little weird how easy it was to look up a stranger on Facebook and see everything about them willfully posted on the internet, including: where they’re from, their pictures, favorite movies, bands, friends, and what the last thing they posted on a friends page was. This got me thinking about why we willfully publish what would normally be private information on the internet for everyone to see. Maybe it is the side effect of everyone being obsessed with reality TV shows for so long that everyone wants to, and now thinks they can be a star. Whatever the explanation is it’s not going to change anytime soon.
In an article called, Say Everything, by Emily Nussbaum in New York Magazine, she says, “And after all, there is another way to look at this shift. Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.”
For a long time it seemed that people were very serious about having their lives be private. The Patriot Act and Spyware are two good examples. The Patriot Act was signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001 and was formed in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States. It dramatically expanded the authority of American law enforcers to investigate and prosecute the supporters of terrorism. People threw a fit about the Patriot Act because on March 9, 2007, the US Justice Department released an internal audit that found that the FBI had acted illegally in its use of the act to secretly obtain personal information about US citizens. Spyware is another example of the public’s fear of invasion of privacy. Spyware is computer software that collects personal information about users without their informed consent. The complaint about Spyware is that internet companies track your business on the internet so that they can modify their marketing tactics towards you to personalize them. People say these things are an invasion of privacy, but who cares about privacy anymore? Everyone wants to be spied on. Everyone is just loading up all their information about themselves anyway. There is so much information out there in the first place that I don’t have time to read it all. As far as I’m concerned Spyware can spy on me as much as it wants if it means figuring out what I’m most interested in so that it can sort out the crap that doesn’t concern me and give me all the recommended stuff that I will want to read.
Somehow it feels like all these networking sites are creating a false identity in everyone. I’m having a hard time figuring out what I think about it. It’s like everyone can now finally be a part of reality TV. The fact that people change their relationship status on Facebook for everyone to see as soon as they start going out with someone new is odd. As if they have a huge fan base that just can’t wait to see what their relationship status is. Too often pictures are taken at parties or events for the sake of making sure that everyone sees how cool you are on your Myspace page rather than serving as memories, like most pictures should. It’s dumb to do something just for the sake of taking a picture to make sure everyone knows about all the cool stuff you do. In essence, every young person in America has become, in the literal sense, a public figure. Everyone wants attention and wants to think that they have lots of fans but the truth is, as Dr. Phil puts it, “You would care a lot less about what people thought about you if you knew how little they did.”
No one is more confused about this whole thing that parents. They keep saying that this lack of privacy is dangerous because there are stalkers and perverts out there that can find you. But obviously kids don’t think so because it hasn’t deterred millions of them from doing it. In Say Everything once again, Emily Nussbaum says, “that’s pretty much the standard response I’ve gotten when I’ve spoken about this piece with anyone over 39: “But what about the perverts?” For teenagers, who have grown up laughing at porn pop-ups and the occasional instant message from a skeezy stranger, this is about as logical as the question “How can you move to New York? You’ll get mugged!”
The benefits are obvious for both the individual and the company. For the individual the public life is fun. It’s creative. It’s where their friends are. It’s theater, but it’s also community: In this linked, logged world, you have a place to think out loud and be listened to, to meet strangers and go deeper with friends. For the company, getting people to talk about them is good for business because recommendations from peers works 100 percent better than recommendations from the company itself. Chris Anderson says in a blog, In Praise of Radical Transparency, “The small cost of some competitor getting early wind of a new feature is more than outweighed by the good will generated among customers by candid insights into product development.” And Jeff Jarvis says in his post, Radical’ transparency, “The point is that what you really want to do is open the windows on either side of your house and let the people standing around talk directly to each other, with or without you. You do your job, still, creating some stuff that people want to gather around. But then you enable them to share more. And now you have a new role — helping them.”
So I guess it’s time to get used to having no privacy. Because the truth is, we’re living in frontier country right now. We can take guesses at the future, but it’s hard to gauge the effects of a drug while you’re still taking it. Will this lack of privacy get worse or will it die out? What are the long term side effects to companies and individuals posting everything about themselves for everyone to see? Who knows? But until then, lets get naked.

jueves, 29 de marzo de 2007

In Search of the Good Stuff

Somewhere along the way everyone’s tastes stray from what are the “hits” and go into “niches”. We are all interested in different things at different levels. When there was limited shelves, channels, and airtime, the depth at which we could indulge our deeper level interests was limited to what was available on the limited shelves, channels, and airtime. So people had to take what they could get and settle for less. Jeff Jarvis, in his post entitled Wither Magazines? Says, “General-interest anything is probably cursed. For the truth is that interest never was as general as editors and publishers thought it was, back in the mass-media age. Old media just assumed we were interested in what they told us to be interested in. But we weren’t. We’re proving that with every new choice the internet enables.” Once we realize that the deep stuff that truly interests us is out there somewhere, we begin trying to find something that helps us find the good stuff, as each of us defines good. And as the democratization of technology and distribution becomes more and more wide spread I know that more and more good deep stuff that I like is out there somewhere for me; I just need to find it.
Trying to find the good stuff is easier said than done. Google helps you get closer and Wikipedia helps you define it, but it still takes a lot of work. Most of the time you find corporate websites that give you recommendations based on their own agendas for making money. What you really want to find are people with the same interests as you who can recommend to you what is good. They are much more trust worthy than companies. 1,000,000 heads are better than your own at finding what you really want. Jeff Jarvis talks about this concerning his relationship with magazines, he says, “But I’m just too busy reading — or listening or watching — fresher, more focused, more personal, higher interest content on the internet. But some of that is still from or around magazines. I still have a relationship with these brands, only not always in print anymore. And even when I do still read the magazine in print, I want a relationship with the magazine — and, more important, my fellow readers — online.” That’s the trick; get recommendations from the people who are interested in the same stuff as you.
For example, I like music a lot but I am very picky with what I will listen to. But I know that the good stuff is out there somewhere waiting for me to discover it; it has to be. I go onto Myspace and listen to random bands in search of something good and rarely do I find anything of worth. My favorite bands have links to other bands in their “top 8 friends” but that provides weak results. When a band has 20,000 friends, who can you trust? At when you look at any product it gives you a column on the left hand side of peer generated lists of what they would recommend for those who like the product that you are looking at, but these are all really random and many times not very concise. These techniques are close but no cigar. How do I know how deep I am? Have I found everything within my niche that would be of worth to me? There has to be still more out there and I’m thirsty for it. And trying to find the good stuff goes beyond music; I also need help finding the coolest new independent digital movies, insightful blogs that talk about what I’m interested in, books worth reading, ect.
The solution would be to be part of a community of people with the same interests as you who can recommend to you what they like. Maybe a personal Facebook-like page where I blog and where members of my community blog as well. Together we sift through the vastness of cyberspace and recommend to each other where the good stuff is that we find. There would have to be someway to make it so that not just anybody could make recommendations in the community; they would have to pass a test or be referred by someone else or something. We could have our own “cool kids only” community where only the people with the best tastes-our tastes-are invited to contribute. Maybe something like this already exists?
This is what companies are being encouraged to do through radical transparency as explained in the April issue of Wired Magazine. On the topic of radical transparency, Jeff Jarvis once again says, “The point is that what you really want to do is open the windows on either side of your house and let the people standing around talk directly to each other, with or without you. You do your job, still, creating some stuff that people want to gather around. But then you enable them to share more. And now you have a new role — helping them.” So help me already.

miércoles, 28 de marzo de 2007

What is culture?

When the Berlin wall fell down America was the first one out the gate to jump on the globalization train. Some countries are right behind America and others still haven’t left the starting line. Why was America first? Because right off the bat America was the most prepared, with a democratic government and free market capitalistic system already in place, which is essential to be successful in the new fast paced global world. So when it came time for America to do business with other countries they were never on even playing fields. America is much more advanced and experienced with capitalism and business than other countries. So when America puts a Wal-Mart in Mexico all the other similar Mexican businesses go belly up because they can’t compete with the advanced American businesses model. It’s survival of the fittest and only the strong survive in this new world. This may look like America is taking over and ruining cultures, but really it is the more advanced American businesses that are out performing the weaker foreign businesses.
What is culture anyway? Wikipedia defines it as the patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance. Most general, the term culture denotes whole product of an individual, group or society of intelligent beings. It includes technology, art, science, as well as moral systems and characteristic behaviors and habits of the selected intelligent entities. In particular, it has specific more detailed meanings in different domains of human activities.
Understanding and recognizing your own culture is difficult because you live in it everyday. Its like how the last discovery fish ever made was water. It’s only after you go to a different country that you recognize how your country does things differently.
I think too often what people call culture may just be traditions caused by a lower standard of living or their type of government. Maybe this explains why it is so hard for me to define American culture. When I’m asked what a common dish in America is I have a hard time finding an answer. It has to do in part with the fact that America is made up of a country of immigrants, so it’s a big mix of everything, but maybe it’s because we don’t have as many eccentric habits caused by poverty or deep rooted attitudes that are caused from oppressive governments.
Globalization threatens the distinctiveness and cultures that locate and anchor people in the world. But what is the different between culture and living standards? In Mexico you can buy drinks in a plastic bag instead of a cup; is that culture, or is it their lack of money? Surely they would serve drinks in cups if everyone could afford it. Are the public busses that are falling apart part of the culture, or is it because they can’t afford new ones? If the standard of living rose 100% in Mexico, what so called cultural things would disappear? People would still eat tacos but instead they would eat them in nicer restaurants instead of in the street. You wouldn’t be able to buy pirated stuff all over the place because with more money Mexico would have stricter piracy laws. What really defines culture? Where is the line between culture and the amount of money you make?
What is the difference between government and culture? Many cultures are based off of communism or socialism and they say they are losing their culture but maybe what they are really losing is they perceived right to have generous welfare from the government. Are they losing their culture or do they not want to adapt to a world where they have to go to work 40 hours a week like those capitalistic Americans? If the socialist governments switched to democracies, what so called cultural traditions would be lost?
In the Mexican culture they are very close to their families. They also believe that in the American culture families are not as close as theirs. They think this because in America when you turn 18 it isn’t unusual for the 18 year old to move away from home to go to college or go to work. If someone is 25 years old and still lives at home with Mom and Dad that person is considered to be a loser or a nerd. But it is not uncommon for Mexicans to live at home well into their twenties, usually not moving out until they are married, and even then they may still live with their parents after marriage. When you tell a Mexican that in America you move out at age 18 they think Americans aren’t very close to their families and that Americans are just workaholic capitalists that can’t wait to forget about family to start making money. But do Mexicans live at home for so long because they are close to their family’s, or is it because it makes more sense economically? As more young Mexicans start to adapt to the capitalistic economy I bet that they will move out of home at an earlier age.
When you take away the traditions that are caused from a lowered living standard and a socialistic government what’s left? Losing differences in cultures if sad but it almost seems inevitable. Its bad not just because foreign vacationers will feel like they can never get away from home, but because those things that we associate with home that anchor us in the world will be lost and therefore we will feel lost as well.

martes, 20 de marzo de 2007

Job Security Weakens the Soul

There are a lot of people complaining about globalization these days. They are complaining about globalization but really they are mad because they can no longer be lazy and rely on others for support. Today, everyone thinks that somebody owes them something. They want to blame America for their problems but they really have no one to blame but themselves and their lack of work ethic. They think working in a company for a certain amount of years means you deserve job security. Being born into a certain country means you deserve special benefits. But now globalization threatens these ideas. Many people have tried to counteract through implementing unions and building higher walls around their country but they are just falling behind faster and faster. Job security is not something that someone gives you. Job security is defined by your ability to continually add value to your work. Unions are a disease and job security weakens the soul.
The world is changing so fast that you can’t rely on your company or country to support you. You have to learn how to depend on yourself which means having the integrity to square your shoulders and go to work. Thomas L. Friedman in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree says, “Every worker needs to understand that economic security in this world without walls cannot come any longer from largesse of welfare state or from holding fast to a union card. It can only come from holding a report card. In an age when technological change is so rapid, and the walls around companies and countries so small, only new skills and life long learning can ensure job security.”
It is true that free market capitalism destroys old orders and hierarchies, produces income gaps, and puts everyone under pressure and stress from not knowing weather or not they will have a job tomorrow. But this is the system that has raised living standards higher, faster and for more people than at any time in history. The cruel aspects of free market capitalism are why many people throughout history have tried to find ways to cushion workers from their affects. They have tried implementing a government that would centrally plan and fund everything, and distribute to each worker according to his needs and expect from each worker a contribution according to his abilities. This was socialism, communism, and fascism. These plans don’t work. And the people who say they don’t work are the very people that lived under them. The only alternative today is free market capitalism.
The ones fighting against capitalism and globalization aren’t the poor; but the people living in the lower and middle classes that found a great deal of job security in the protected communist, socialist, and welfare systems. The unemployment benefits in many countries are changing so much so that people actually have to go to work. Now the fast paced world is taking away the confidence they once had that their job will always be there for them. They feel like they are not just losing benefits, but are losing their rights to receive generous unemployment services. Now in the gloabalized world it is time to realize that jobs come and go, and those that survive are those that are constantly improving to add value to their job. Again in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Alan Greenspan says, “Sure, 300,000 jobs are getting destroyed by new technologies in America every week, but 3000,001 new jobs are also being created by these technologies each week, which is why Americas aggregate unemployment rate was holding at a steady low level.” It takes constant learning on the employee’s part and a flexible labor market that will find them work somewhere else for everything to work out; that’s the way America is designed. It is also the way the rest of the world needs to be designed if it wants to keep up.
This resistance to free market capitalism and globalization is futile. Free-market capitalism is the only alternative and is the best system for generating rising standards of living. As the use-to-bes dig in their heels to try and save what they used to enjoy and resist the inevitable, the poorer population is realizing the benefits of globalization and the freedoms it provides. Creating a stable political, legal and economic environment friendly to entrepreneurship, in which people can start businesses and raise their productivity, is the precursor for effectively fighting poverty anywhere. It can push down to the local level and to the weakest individuals more power, opportunities and resources to become shapers than ever before. These people may not like a lot of things about globalization, but they know that the alternatives are a lot, lot worse. If you give them a system that makes it possible for them, with hard work to reach the level of success that the see on American TV, they will stick to the game.
So its time to stop complaining about Americans taking over your country and time to start realizing that you can’t depend on anyone but yourself anymore.

miércoles, 14 de marzo de 2007

The Difference between Globalization and Americanization

Too many people in the world see globalization and Americanization as the same thing. Their idea is that America wants everyone to be just like them and adopt their way of doing business, but it is not America that is trying to get everyone to change, it is the new globalizied world. Before the Berlin wall fell there were two superpowers: the Soviet Union and America. Countries could get by on the resources provided by either one of these superpowers without having to be democratic or capitalist, but instead by just choosing a side and receive funding from them. When the wall came down only one superpower was left: the power to tap into the global stock and bond markets, by seeking out multinationals to invest in your country and by selling into the global trading system that your factories could provide for. And this global marketplace is made up of anonymous stock, bond, and currency traders and multinational investors connected by screens and networks. Not America. Nobody is in control of it and it doesn’t play favorites like the old superpowers used to. It only follows the rules. America doesn’t force anyone to be capitalistic, democratic and global; globalization does. America can’t stop it either-except at a huge cost to their society. And America didn’t set the rules; they are just the best at following them.
These rules that globalization asks for are those that will attract this group of anonymous stock, bond, and currency traders to invest. And to make them want to invest, your country needs to show stability, predictability, transparency, and the ability to transfer and protect its private property from arbitrary or criminal confiscation. And they don’t cut anyone any slack. America is at the mercy of this new superpower just as much as everyone else. Countries cannon thrive today without plugging into the global system and leaning how to make the most out of this new superpower.
America doesn’t choose who is rich and who isn’t; every country chooses its level of prosperity. It really is a choice that can be consciously made by putting the right policies in place. And more and more people want to do it because they more fully understand how other people, particularly successful nations, live by watching them on satellite TV and surfing the internet. Too many people see globalization as a threat to their way of life when in reality that isn’t the threat at all; the threat is their own lack of not applying themselves to the new rules of the system to increase their freedoms. Countries that have fallen behind say that it is America’s fault. But really it is because they failed to put in place even the minimum political, economic, and legal infrastructure to take advantage of globalization. Prosperity didn’t run away from them, they failed to make choices that would encourage it to say.
People have a hard time making the distinction between Americanization and Globalization because America is the country that best fits the new globalization role and is having the most success with it. The American model is the one that the rest of the world is being pressured by globalization to emulate. For many people this Americanization globalization is an attractive way to raise their living standards. But to others it feels like America is whipping everyone else to speed up, web up, downsize, standardize and march to America’s cultural tunes in the fast world. And they will have to if they want to compete in a globalized world. America insists that the rest of the world be like them for their own good.
America is a democratic country which is the kind of government that best applies to globalization. The new superpower of global investors is driven to get inside certain countries not because it values democracy per se. It doesn’t. It values stability, predictability, transparency, and the ability to transfer and protect its private property from arbitrary or criminal confiscation. But to secure these things, the global investors need developing countries to put in place better software, operating systems and governance-which are the building blocks to democracy. Globalization creates a much higher cost for any country that tolerates corruption.
Many people fear that they will be left behind trying to chase after Globalization or they will lose their identity trying to catch it. People detest the way globalization homogenizes people, brings strangers into their homes with strange ways, and erases distinctiveness of cultures that locate and anchor you in the world. These are legitimate concerns but instead of throwing all the blame on George Bush and those blood sucking Americans, its time to start pointing the blame at globalization itself, where it rightly belongs.
(Source: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas L. Friedman)

martes, 13 de marzo de 2007

Critics Don´t Count

Since I have been living in Mexico for the last two months, I have been hearing all kinds if anti-America and anti- Bush sentiment. First of all, everyone has jumped on the hate-George-Bush-bandwagon, and I don’t get it. I’ve been trying to educate myself about the war on terror and what the President is doing but all I can seem to find is bias opinions and unsubstantiated rumors which leads me to believe that everyone else is going off of the same allegations as well. Today I read at about how the Mayans in Guatemala are going to “cleanse” their Mayan sites after President Bush visited them on his Latin America tour. One disgruntled Guatemalan said, “That a person like (Bush) with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked is going to walk in our sacred lands is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture," Juan Tiney, director of a Mayan non-governmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, (
What is wrong with these people? How do they come to the conclusion that by being pissed off and hating others it will help them get their way any faster? Instead of educating themselves about the topic, and discussing ways to solve it, they decide to fall for all of the hate Bush propaganda that surrounds them and arrogantly decide that the best course of action is to cleanse the site that Bush, the great Satan, supposedly defiled. I’m sure there are problems, but hating, complaining, and criticizing isn’t going to get anyone anywhere fast. So this is me complaining about the complainers.
As Dale Carnegie said, “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment. … Instead of condemning people let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. To know all is to forgive all. Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain - and most fools do.”
There are a lot of critics of the war, everyone seems to have chosen someone to blame for their problems instead of working at figuring out the solution for themselves. Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” So all you critics don’t count at all in my book. Keep your mouths shut until you have something to say that is less about complaining and more about solving.
I love America and all this anti-America stuff is starting to get to me. That’s my country and president that you’re criticizing. And next time your in the streets shouting “Death to America!” remember not to wear your blue jeans and don’t forget to leave your iPod at home. Like Gordon B Hinckley said, “Cynics don’t contribute, skeptics don’t create, doubters don’t achieve.”

viernes, 9 de marzo de 2007

Revenge of the little guy

For a while it seemed that the small mom and pop businesses were doomed and that there was no way for them to survive the Wal-Marts coming into the neighborhood, with their economies of scale and rock bottom prices. But now it seems that there is still a chance for these smaller places to survive. Small won't replace big, of course, but small will add up to considerable new competition. And that is because small can now succeed. The little guy now has in his quiver customer service and loyalty, niches, the drive to succeed, and flexibility to fight back.
The increase in big conglomerates like Wal-Mart increases people’s desire for more personal service. And with the increase of available technology and the decrease in cost of running business; the revenue you need to be successful thus declines, so more people are willing to fit the roll of the small personal business. This is a new definition of value built on trust. In the person-to-person marketplace the internet enables, you do business and converse with those you trust. Small businesses value that trust and earn it. They greet you by name, tell the truth in their blog and answer your emails personally. The small guys will win because everyone is getting sick of not being treated like a human. The small guys are banking on customer service and loyalty.
The increase in niche markets due to the internet also causes the tastes of consumers to be more wide spread. When you buy something off of or rent a movie from Netflix you get recommendations of other products that might interest you, pushing you further down the sub-genre pipe and off the beaten path. As Chris Anderson puts is, “The compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly appeal perfectly to anyone. It is the paradox of plenty; walk into Wal-Mart and it looks like there is so much choice, but look a little closer and the thinness is revealed. They carry a little something for everyone and therefore don’t have anything particularly perfect for anyone.” People’s tastes are now out growing what they can find at Wal-Mart. The small guys will win because they supply the more niched-based variety that is in demand.
There is no loyalty from employer to employee and there is also no loyalty from employee to employer. In the business world today you can anticipate changing jobs at least 5 times in your professional life time. We'll see more and more people trying to make it on their own now that more and more can. The small guys will win because they have the drive to win and innovate, because they realize that they can’t rely on their day jobs to support them anymore.
The smaller companies create a way for the founder to make a far greater percentage of the interactions with the customer; meaning that he is closer to the decisions that matter and can make them quickly. When a big conglomerate wants to change something they have to invest in new products and new staff. The executives don’t want to spend time raising projects; things need to be big to compete for attention and pay for the big infrastructure and new equals risk. So new things don’t start. Being small is very important as the ability to change with the fast paced world of today means having the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.
Even with all these advantages I’m still a little skeptical that the small company can endure against the big guys. Any more ideas about how the little guy can survive that I have left out?

viernes, 2 de marzo de 2007

End of the semester excuses

There is a tendency at the end of the semester to put off meeting new people, making new friends, or asking people out on dates. The thought is, “Well, the semester is almost over so what’s the point?” The point is this, using excuses to keep from going out of your comfort zone does nothing but build up those comfort zone walls around you even thicker. Your ability to get out of your comfort zone is like a muscle. The more you work it out the stronger it gets. The more you don’t the weaker it gets. When you make excuses to not go out of your way to ask that girl out, then not only are you not building your “ability to step out of comfort zones” muscle, you start to work out your “procrastination and weak willed” muscles, and they will just keep getting stronger, making it that much harder to step out in the future. The saying goes that you water what you want to grow, and your always watering something, weather its more strength or more weakness. And the better you are at finishing out the semester strong, stepping out of comfort zones, the more that strength will carry over into your next step in life. So for craps sake, even though it’s the last day of class for the semester, go sit next to that hot girl in the front row!

jueves, 1 de marzo de 2007

The Voice: the little student paper that could (if anyone gave a crap)

In the city of Rexburg, located in eastern Idaho, is the small university Brigham Young University – Idaho. The town of Rexburg has a population of about 22,000 to give you an idea of the size of community we are talking about. At BYU-I, like most university campuses, there exists a campus newspaper ran by the faculty and students majoring in journalism called The Scroll. The Scroll consists of articles written by students for a grade; not for writing what they want to write about. As you would imagine with any university endorsed paper, The Scroll has a lot of red tape to go through if you want to print anything that could be considered questionable. And for this reason, The Scroll lacks passion and creativity. Ask any student and he will tell you that the few times he has actually picked up The Scroll, he found it pretty boring and predictable, with weak student opinions, and watered down journalism.
This sorry state of The Scroll, along with the lack of any other student paper that actually represented the students, was the inspiration of The Voice: Rexburg’s Independent Student Newspaper. For all the complaining that the scroll generates you would think an alternate paper created by students would attract a lot of attention and you would think many students would immediately grab hold of the idea and take advantage of all the opportunities that an independent paper offers that cant be offered through a faculty ran paper. Opportunities such as: a source to freely question the status quo, announce a party that they are throwing that weekend, network with other people with their interests, and learn about local bands and their shows in the area. But the sad truth is, even after 5 months and 5 issues, still no one gives a crap about The Voice.
One could say that it is still a new paper and these things take time to snowball, but how long should it really take? Getting feedback and finding people who are willing to participate with articles and art work has been like pulling teeth. How come students don’t care about this new medium to express how they feel, read inside Rexburg joke humor, or network with other students? First we’ll look at why The Voice is obviously a better paper for students than the faculty ran alternative, The Scroll, and then we’ll look at some possible reasons for why The Voice is still staggering to stay alive.
The Voice offers many benefits that the faculty ran university paper can’t due to its heavy censorship and red tape. First of all, The Voice is independent meaning we can print what ever we want. Everything that a student has ever wanted to say can now be said, printed, and distributed in 5,000 copies. There are no staff writers meaning the entire student body is encouraged and invited to participate with their opinions, articles, and art work. The long standing slogan of The Voice has always been: “Do you think the articles in The Voice suck? Then write some that don’t suck, this is YOUR paper.” There has always been the complaint by students that there is nothing to do in the small town of Rexburg which was the inspiration for the calendar section where anyone who is throwing a party, event, or activity could spread the word. There is also the section of the paper called The Cracked Voice which is a section dedicated to making fun of the news and making you laugh. There is the free classified section where anyone could post their stuff to sell for free. But even with all of these advantages, the paper still struggles for people to get involved. When the idea of the paper was conceived, it was thought that finding people to write for it would be the least difficult part, since there are many journalist type students and others who are opinionated. But on the contrary, struggling to find writers, artists, photographers and feedback has been the bane of The Voice from day one. What happened to everyone? Doesn’t anyone care anymore about being involved with the local scene?
Reason one for kids not caring about the paper: Kids are already so saturated with the different forms of entertainment, be it TV, video games, and the internet, that the simple act of picking up an independent paper delivered to your door is not worth the time and energy. In an era when digital products and websites are commodities, you would think that there would be a premium on the experience of having a real paper delivered to your door. But it doesn’t look like it. Why try to get involved with the current state of things by picking up the paper on your door step when you got reruns of Friends on TV to watch? It is in fact a sad state of affairs when the average college student spends 3-5 hours watching TV a day during the time in his life when he should be learning, exploring, and being more active than ever. But instead most students and preparing themselves to be mediocre employees that fit into the system.
Reason two: The paper is somewhat of a nitch paper which lowers the amount of people who would be interested in it. With a student body of only 13,000 students it is hard to find a group large enough to support it. This is why in bigger cities with thousands of residents, you can find not only one independent paper but a different one for every type of sub-genre. If you go to any other large university you don’t have to look very hard to find the underground paper of the area, but in small town Rexburg, there just isn’t a big enough nitch audience for it. To be the type of cool underground type of paper that The Voice wants to be requires some independent thinking that not all students would be into. Chris Anderson writes in his book, The Long Tail, “The more compromises made to make something appeal to everyone, the less it will appeal perfectly to anyone.” The Voice doesn’t compromise or water down its articles so that they will appeal to everyone, so therefore; the crowd it does attract needs to be big enough to support it. This crowd just might not be big enough.
Reason three: For one reason or another, there are just some kids that would not be interested in an independent student run paper. It was thought that these indifferent students would not outweigh those that would like to get involved, but it seems to be the contrary. There isn’t enough DIY spirit in this town. Too many kids have been raised in sheltered homes and are taught to fit in instead of speaking out. Too many kids are just apathetic to life. Also I think many kids are just altogether unfamiliar with underground papers and zines to begin with. While passing out the paper to apartment complexes many students give back a blank stare when you tell them that a new independent paper has been made for them, as if it were an alien idea that they had never considered. Many students show their lack of involvement with anything at all when they fail to see the difference between The Voice and The Scroll, asking questions like, “Isn’t there already a student paper at the school?” They obviously have never thought outside the box long enough to recognize that there may be more to say than what the uptight school paper has to say.
So will The Voice live on to reach its first anniversary this coming November? With an increased budget to advertise the paper, time for it to snowball and constantly searching for new ways to reach students, there is hope. But weather or not the students are on board we will yet see.

miércoles, 28 de febrero de 2007

I Love Piracy

I have been reaping the benefits of piracy for a while now. Ever since I discovered downloading music off of peer-to-peer fire sharing sites like Napster, Kazaa and Limewire, I have been addicted. Downloading music is one of my favorite things to do. I can spend hours looking up new bands, seeing if any of their songs are good and then ripping CDs. Threats from record labels to sue peer-to-peer file sharers on these programs has hardly deterred me from continuing to download. Youtube also has been a great source to find rare episodes of shows or chunks of stand up comedian’s routines to watch to pass the time; but it too has been under attack for letting subscribers upload copyrighted material for others to see. And now more recently, since I’ve been living in Mexico for the last month and a half, I have discovered a new love that is buying pirated DVDs off of the street.
There are a lot of people who criticize piracy, namely the FBI, but does piracy really hurt anyone? If so, then how come so many bands willingly put their songs on the internet to be downloaded for free? And does Youtube and pirated movies really pose that much of a threat to the movie and entertainment industry? More than anything it poses a threat to the record labels and entertainment companies, and who gives a crap about them?
Musicians put their music on the internet to download for free because, as Tim O'Reilly puts it, "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy". In a recent blog by Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, he explains the musician’s mindset in giving away their music for free, with the goal of making more money from their live shows. “They [the artists] understand the difference between abundance and scarcity economics,” says Anderson, “Digital products enjoy near-zero costs of production and distribution--classic abundance economics. When costs are near zero, you might as well make the price zero, too, something thousands of bands have figured out. Meanwhile, the one thing that you can't digitize and distribute with full fidelity is a live show. That's scarcity economics. No wonder the average price for a ticket was $61 last year, up 8%. In an era when digital products are commodities, there's a premium on experience. No surprise that bands are increasingly giving away their recorded music as marketing for their concerts, which offer something no MP3 can match.” And there is big money in live shows as well. 92% of the Rolling Stones' revenues come from their performances, not recorded music. Sadly for the labels, they don't get any of it. No wonder they're so against free music. It only helps the bands and the consumers.
Shortly after Google invested billions in acquiring Youtube, the video uploading and downloading website, it announced that its users were watching over 100 million videos per day. Then three days after celebrating this traffic milestone, the popular video sharing site was hit with a lawsuit alleging that Youtube allows users to upload and view copyrighted video. Youtube instructs its users not to upload copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder or without the rights to do so. But because of the sheer number of videos and massive daily traffic, that admonition is widely ignored and kids like me can have a treasure trove of stuff to watch. There are many things that keep Youtube from taking over the industry any time soon. First of all, the size of the video that can be uploaded is limited making the quality of anything that is too long highly diminished. So no one is about to watch entire movies on the website. Most videos are under five minuets. Also watching snippets of TV shows or stand up comedians are like appetizers to get you to want to buy and watch the real thing. Once again this helps the artists and customers and leaves the CEOs of the entertainment conglomerates behind.
And now we come to pirated movies. True, selling pirated movies on a large scale, as is the case in Mexico, does break the law and may keep people from buying the real movie. But if you’re a big fan of the movie that you want to buy, you won’t get the pirated version. Many of the pirated movies that are sold are really, really bad quality. The quality is equivalent to someone holding a camcorder in a theater, and having people standup in front of the screen to go get popcorn. With everyone being so into high definition and surround sound these days, pirated movies will never be satisfactory. They also never have the supplement material of commentaries or deleted scenes that store bought DVDs provide. I justify my buying of pirated movies by the following: I would rather help Juan on the street buy food for his family by buying his 20 peso DVD than pay 20 dollars for an overpriced movie that just stuffs money into the already over stuffed pockets of 20th century fox or any other billion dollar movie conglomerate.
So yes, some people are hurt because of piracy, manly the record labels and big movie studios. Their backlash to peer to peer file sharing programs and websites like Youtube are more due to them realizing that the monopoly they once had at controlling what everyone watched and listened to is quickly slipping. They have grown rigid and stale in their progression and if they would learn to adapt to the changing way that the public is being entertained they would devise plans the innovate technology to better please the public instead of holding tighter to their old ways. I could care less about these rich fat cats at the top so I’m not about to stop enjoying my piracy any time soon.