Archive for business

Mixed Martial Arts

How, and more importantly why, has this sport over the last fifteen years become so popular that people wear tee shirts showing the splattered winner’s faces and set up viewing parties at home?  One answer that I’ve read explains that it all began in New York city with formation of the something called the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championships.  But Wikipedia presents a slightly different explanation, one that may be related to the David Mamet film, Red Belt.  It claims it all started in So Cal with the famous Brazilian martial arts family, the Gracies in collaboration with film maker John Milius. 

Whatever its origins, I personally hold it started with the Romans and probably explains the popularity of such weak film fare as Gladiator.   1993 seems to be the beginning of the current phenomenon.  According to the history of the UFC, gathering enthusiastic competitors from all kinds of fighting sports, the spectacles quickly became competitive events fought in an arena shaped like an Octagon.

 

The octagonal competition mat and cage design are registered trademarks and/or trade dress of Zuffa, LLC and are symbolic of the highest quality mixed martial arts events brought to you under the Ultimate Fighting Championship® brand name.  In 1993, UFC events were the first to feature an eight-sided competition configuration which has become known worldwide as the UFC Octagon™
 
The UFC Octagon is unique from any other fighting arena because the octagonal shape and structure have become inherently associated with Zuffa and the UFC brand name among mixed martial arts consumers, other mixed martial arts organizations and the national media.  The UFC Octagon is regularly featured on UFC Pay-per-view events, UFC® Fight Night™ and The Ultimate Fighter® reality TV series.  The UFC Octagon creates a neutral arena to showcase the skills of UFC mixed martial arts athletes. The UFC organization has established a reputation for providing the maximum safety to the fighters with commission approved ring structures, canvas, and all safety padding and fences.  Zuffa makes major investments to ensure the safety of competitors in the UFC Octagon — as a result, when people see the Octagon they associate it with the reputation and quality delivered only by Zuffa at UFC events.  
Add Las Vegas, males aged 18-34 and their companions, to beer drinking, football loving, and bet craziness and real Americans have apparently found their match.  Fight clubbing, clamoring for more wars, as long as they don’t actually have to enlist, the current followers of this sport brook no interference to their “god-given” right to watch other people beat themselves into bloody unconsciousness.  And then they sit idly by, as Micheal Vick is sent to jail.
What is it in our psychological makeup that somehow does see this violence for what it is?  In this dissertation, I found the following to be of interest:
Ernest Becker is a psychologically oriented anthropologist who focuses on fear of physical death as the mainspring of human behavior. He sees himself as continuing to develop Jung’s idea of the projection of the shadow, but he very emphatically argues that this shadow that is projected is a rejected awareness of one’s mortality. Because human beings are animals, we are mortal. But we also have highly developed brains that give us an ability to be self-conscious and to anticipate the future. We can see that death is our eventual fate, but because we are animals who are basically narcissistic, we want to be immortal. This clash between what we want and what we know is coming overwhelms us. It disturbs us so much that we invent all sorts of personal and social lies in our efforts to somehow pretend that we are immortal. One of the lies we tell ourselves is that if we can triumph over our enemies, we can rise above the limitations of our condition. We can project the shadow, that awareness of our mortality that we have repressed into our unconscious, onto the enemies or the scapegoats we attack in an attempt to prove that they will die and we will not. At root, violence against others is an effort to avoid facing one’s own mortality with existential honesty and courage.
Which brings to mind the film Rollerball and the conflict between the Oligarchs who run/own the games (See Las Vegas) and the players like Jonathan E who enjoy the competition for its own sake.
Am I getting anywhere with all of this?  Will any of what I think change the yearly income of millions this pay-per-view event earns or shift the viewers to whom I appeal for rationality to another choice?  Probably not.  Do I wish someone would comment on my original question?  Most def.

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Let’s Get Stuffed

JD over at getrichslowly.org  sparked a little controversy with the we-are-Number-One-crowd last week when he posted this chapter from the Story of Stuff.  The offence taken certainly indicates how screwed up this whole consumer thing has gotten.  For one thing, we are all tied into the process through our economics (social capitalism) and our economy (the free market) and our politics (based in a fear of communism) and our religion (the failure to recogize the atheist in all of us).  So any discussion of this kind leads almost inevitably to arguements and anger and dismissal of the original idea which was that we all have too much stuff.

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Cars and Trucks

Sophistication has its limits even in the US of A.  Apparently so does Hudibras.  So the news last week from GM was as much surprising as it was long over do:
GM announced plans at its annual stockholders meeting today for new company strategies designed to “aggressively respond” to this increasing demand for fuel-efficient cars that the North American consumer can afford. The company will be focusing on a series of efforts aimed at cutting costs, eliminating jobs, and limiting its dependency on truck and SUV sales.

Unfortunately, the good comes with some bad. Since it is always about profit, and not very often the workers, nothing in the announcement mentions plans for reeducation, or transitional support for the unemployed thousands as four plants will close by 2010.

Investors cheered the decision, sending the company’s stock up about 2 percent in early trading.

What makes this news a Loser is that this decision smacks of not being about what is right and sustainable for the economy but what self-serves the interests of Wall Street and by extention we the stock holders.  Because no matter how you cut it, we are caught up in a web of our own making.  We have to consume, we need to make money, we are invested in the very corporations that we know have only self interest at heart.

Contrast that to this kind of story of a Winner from Alex at YBwhoUR?  It’s about an inventor named Matt Shumaker and his motor bike.  It’s an example of what each and every company should be using as a reason for being.  What do people need not what can we sell them. 

I think that a long time ago that was the way it must have been.  Then came the Mad Men, and the idea that the business of business was making money first and useful products second or even third.  Excessiveness meant success.  The more you made the more you could sell became the business model.  And it worked in two ways.  One, to show that we are a successful and abundant country where everyone has a chance to have more and more stuff.  Two, to set up a way of producing things that explained why we needed to be powerful enough militarily to enforce ourselves upon the rest of the world when the need arose. 

So now, even as we look at the younger generation as the ones who will have to solve this problem, we may be facing, are facing the possibility, that all the excess is about to come back and overwhelm us.  Unless, of course, GM is not too late and then, well, . . . ?

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Changing Venues

I have decided to go back to Blogger for now for a variety of reasons, most of which you can read here at www.itaintthemustard.blogspot.com.   I hope this doesn’t confuse the issue too much but for the time being it is what it is.  Please come visit or at least comment if you will about the change.

Whew!  If you read the above then you’ll have to wonder what is going on now.  The truth, I love, itaintthemustard but I do truly hate the way Blogger is set up.   Too cranky, too unreliable, too lacking in the smooth and articulate ways of wordpress.  So I think I’ll just have to make do here until I can afford an alternative.

So yes I am back.  Ignore the first paragraph, if you will.

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Our Gift from China

It is hard to buy a manufactured product these days that doesn’t come from China or some other sweat shop nation.  But that doesn’t mean much when you are out shopping.  Normally we buy what we need and take the product at face value.  News stories of product defects, of tainted materials used in the manufacturing process, are usually sloughed off by the everyday ordinariness of life.  That’s why it took me by surprise when the reality of the danger struck home.

Here’s the situation:  T and I had started working out in the pool by swimming laps using kick boards.  The weather had turned warm early and we both needed to get back in shape after a winter of stress and strain.  I had noticed though that T likes to float around in the pool after a workout while I get out to enjoy the sun.  So I went back to the store where we got the kick boards and picked up small size belly board that was small enough for pool use but large enough for her to float on.  So much for good intentions.  What’s that saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” 

Skip forward about two days.  T says “Look at this.”  She is pointing to a small row of pimples on her right side.  “And this.”  She turns so I can see a similar breakout across her chest.  I can tell from the way she is looking that she thinks this is more of the same weirdness that has happened to her body since the gall bladder surgery in February.  In another two days the breakout has spread to the backs of her knees and all across her abdomen.  “I don’t understand what could be causing this.” she tells me.  “I stopped using any medications over a week ago.”  So we go back to the doctor, who prescribes a steroid ointment, and then, either Benadryl or Zyrtec, whichever works since he really doesn’t know what the cause is but sees it as some sort of allergic reaction.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to figure out what could have caused this to happen.  Could it be more post surgery body stress?  Was it the sunshine, the pool water, the combination of both?  It didn’t make sense.  Then I looked at the belly board I bought for her to float on.  China, tainted lead-based paint, asbestos, flash across my mind and I suddenly realize that the pattern of the breakout actually matched the way she would lay on the board as she floated in the pool.  Shit.

“There are generally three types of product liability cases: negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty” say the folks at lawyers.com.

Strict Product Liability

If you can prove that a product is “unreasonably dangerous” – that it has a design or manufacturing defect – then you may be able to establish that the defendant is “strictly liable.” Unlike negligence cases, you may not have to prove the manufacturer knew about the danger, because even if they didn’t, they should have. (One of the main purposes of this provision is to hold manufacturers accountable for developing safe products). You still, however, have to prove that the product caused your damages.

Is this the case?  How can I even start to prove it?  Yes, the board was made in China, but how do I pursue a product liability case with so many other factors involved?  Maybe it wasn’t even mis-manufactured but just made with latex in the processing.  She is allergic to that.   The lawyer.com site recommends talking to several lawyers, and warns that the whole process of pursuing a claim will be extremely expensive.

No, for now I’m stuck with this.  Blogging about it in hopes that the blogosphere might have a response.  I’m also going to take this question over to JD’s getrichslowly forum and see what the folks there might suggest.

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What goes around, comes around, pt. 1

I’ve written before about the credit crunch, most recently in a six part review of Charles R. Morris’, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown. I’ve also mentioned my love of irony a time or two.  So this article in the LA Times just seemed too funny to be true.  The LBO industry is in deep trouble.  Of course, so are we because of it but that is the other story.

. . . some experts predict that buyout funds launched in the last two years will generate poor returns because they overpaid for the companies they bought and some of those companies will run into deep problems if the economy keeps weakening.

This seems to me more proof that the wizards who run these top funds are no smarter than the ordinary home buyers who somehow convinced themselves that the hype they were creating by buying and trading up was true and the ride up the roller coaster slope would never head down.  Oops!  Overpriced and now the search is on to find a buyer before they lose anymore equity.

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Scooterville

For several months T has been looking at bikes.  Harleys, Vespas, Yamahas, and now at our local Costco, a Schwinn.  Yes, they all have motors which works just fine for her since she really doesn’t like pedalling a bicycle very much.  Says the seat is too hard, or there are too many hills, or it’s too much like exercise to be fun.  Weird eh?  Anyway, as gas prices have continued to rise, we’re at $4.05 today in California, she has become more and more concerned.  It takes $50 to fill her little run around BMW and that lasts about a month.  But the truck we have to take to the field to pick up our produce every other day costs $100 a tank and has to be filled weekly.  So her awareness has risen.  She also likes to think of herself riding a motorcycle, roaring around the curves of the road that leads from our produce stand back up to our house.  But that’s just a dream because the lightest Harley is way to heavy for her to balance.  Hence the Vespa or the Yamaha.

Vespa has a new model, the 2008 Vespa S, that sells for around $4,200 and weighs in at 243 lbs and get about 69 miles to the gallon.  While Yamaha’s 2008 Vino comes in at $2700, weighs 229 lbs and claims to get 96 MPG.  Both fit her needs but the extra $1800 has her leaning towards the latter though she likes the history of the former.  Strange but true, if she can’t get the big bike then she’d like to get the one everyone knows.  But neither one of the above has a wind screen so since bugs in her teeth isn’t her style either, we have been forced to widen our search.

Here’s where price makes a difference.  Honda has its Silver Wing ABS for $8,600, and Suzuki has its Burgman 650 executive at $9,000.  Both are more solid and good for freeway traffic if you have to but since she doesn’t we are now taking a long look at Yamaha Majesty.  It’s priced at $6,000, gets 51 MPG and weighs in at 432 lbs. 

Once we make a pick though the fun really starts with the training.  First, it’s highly recommended that you practice first by doing some bike riding.  Get used to the balance required and the comparitively easy shifting.   I have to laugh as I tell her this but she doesn’t appreciate the irony.  Then take a safety course.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers a 4 hour scooter school but we found out it’s not available in Cali.  Luckily, California has its own Basic Ridercourse offered through the California Motorcyclist Safety Program.  A 15 hour course leading to the M1 license that’s required here if you want to drive a bike that engine-sized over 49 cc. 

Still I have one bike I have been leaning towards that I think may be our best option.  It’s a motor bike.  It’s light in weight and is offered at least 8 different models all priced at below $2,000.  To be truthful, every time we see someone riding a motor bike, that’s really the one that T seems to like. 

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New bet, the same old tax?

But first, that was just too easy.  Lakers over Spurs and the starters rest for most of the fourth quarter.  Hmmm.  Seems similar to the Spurs in New Orleans.  I’m just saying.

Anyway, perusing the LA Times OpEd page on Friday and came across this item about how the state and the gov think that the best solution to the current budget problem is to float a bond issue against future lotto revenues.  Here are a few factoids from the opinion:

  • a 1999 national study conducted by Duke University concluded that families making less than $25,000 a year spent roughly $1080 on lottery tickets.  10% of their income.
  • Families earning between $50,000 and $100,000 spent only $495.  1% of their income.
  • The state of California spent over $93 million the last three years in advertising the lotto.

As the writer, Michelle Steel – BOE member for the 3rd District, points out, “the governor’s plan to pay for the state’s irresponsible spending rests, ironically, on getting Californians to spend more irresponsibly.”   I really do love it when things get ironic.

Remember last summer when everyone in the personal finance blogs, well maybe not everyone, was posting about how to save on fuel while driving?  Drive slower, plan your trips so that you do more on each one, carpool, use public transportation, and go ahead, ride a bike to work.  Remember.  Well, one of the tips I remember had to do with going to the pump early in the morning or late in the evening because the day’s heat affects the gas by expanding it.  You get less gas more hot air in the middle of the day.  Well, yesterday it was reported that “a survey shows that Californians could be overpaying as much as $3.4 million a day as heat makes gas expand.”  More irony.  You moved to California for the hot weather only to find that the automobile state is costing more to live in because of it.

And then there is this.  A long time ago I read a novel by Calder Willingham called Eternal Fire.  It was a fine trashy, sexy novel about a sociopath and his love life in the New South.  Yes, I read it mostly for the sexy, trashy part.  But there is a section the story that chronicles how a court trial is rigged so that an innocent person is besmirched.  The scripted actions of the community leaders and the judge has always stuck in my mind and is frequently brought to the fore when I read things like the headline story about the Congress defying Bush by passing the Farm Subsidy Bill or the Military Spending Act.  Who are they kidding?  Bush who has favored these programs all through his two terms now gets to act all righteous while the bills still get passed and the Congress now run by the Dems gets to seem defiant.  Wow! What a script.  The bills still get passed though.  $630 billion for defense, $10 billion for not growing crops.  What’s ironic is that our media actually purports to be covering the real story.  Hah!

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The Wasteland revisited

Okay, before we get started today I need to say a couple of things about well . . . luck.  First, the Lakers 89-85 win over the Spurs was a dream come true.  Kobe played the way I have been hoping he would play since the very first time I saw him take a pass from Vlade (the old one) Divac and 360 a dunk.  In today’s LA Times, TJ Simers took his usual sardonic look at the game by recognizing the maturity of Lamar Odom but the truth is it has taken twelve long years for Kobe to teach himself how to use his superb talents to really play the game.  It was nothing short of great.

The second thing I want to note is the my old friend Serendipity is still watching out for me.  Yesterday’s post, titled Real Estate, the new wasteland, brought TS Eliot’s poem to mind.  So imagine my surprise and delight to open up my Times later in the day to web critic David Sarnov writing about the mystery of so many searches last week for TS Eliot.  Apparently though, people have been misusing the Google Hot Search program to route views to themselves so the big G has started punishing the abusers.  Wow!

 

Now to get on with it.  In my first post, I passed on my thoughts about some different ways that a person could look at the current real estate landscape.  Things are changing even as you read.  Congress may actually put a bail out bill on the President’s desk before Memorial Day.  I pointed out that even though 38% of the homes sold in SoCal in the first quarter had been through bankruptcy first a seller could avoid that fate by learning how to short sell the property.  A part of solving for this might be to get yourself a new appraisal from which point you could then decide whether to sell or figure out with your lender how to hold on.

Meanwhile, lets lead our horse to a look at the following:

  • Carry Back Loans– So you have decided to sell but with the market so depressed it is a hard decision you have to make about how much you are willing to cut your asking price.  Say you bought at $200,000 but a recent survey of homes sold in your area shows that your property now might be valued $150,000.  That is a hit to your equity that might be recoverable.  If you sell now, the carry back option may be the way to make it back.  In a typical carry back deal your home buyer might only qualify for a certain amount and thus might need to take a second loan out to handle the down payment, closing costs, and the difference between the sale price and what they can qualify for.   In the previous over-priced market, this type of owner-held loan was used to fascilitate a sale when the buyer couldn’t qualify for the whole price.  The owner carried back a portion of the loan at a lower interest rate which the buyer then paid of in monthly installments.  Any problems and the property comes back to the original owner to sell again.  But that was then.  Now in an upside down market, you need to sell, the property value has gone down, and you may have to take a loss.  But it need not be a permanent one.  By carrying back a part or even all if you’re lucky, you can be the bank that earns the interest.  On a $400,000 property where you originally put 20% down you have $80,000 that you can play with.  Drop your sale price to a market value that entices a buyer, say $350,000, and carry back $30,000 as a down payment.  You pay off your mortgage and your $30,000 at 6% earns $38,000 for the 30 years. 

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Popcorn, $6.50 for a small

She had a smile in her voice as she told me, “Boy, I just saved $6.50.”

“What?” I asked.

“I told you I wanted popcorn when I went out to the lobby but when the guy told me, $6.50 for a small, I just laughed in his face.”

I can imagine this little scenario being reenacted all across America especially when someone asks for a family-sized tub at just $20.  Bio-fuel is messing with our movies.  But here’s the thing.  I don’t know much about genetics but it seems to me that if we can clone sheep and design our future children we should be able to come up with a super-sized corn that is designed specifically for fuel so that the regular white and yellow stuff could stay just for human, and sometimes cattle, consumption.  Maybe fix it so it could be grown in super fields that double or triple the yield per acre and will even grow in soil not suitable for anything else.  Heck, with just a little research I found this.  And this.

I had to laugh at the cartoon strip I saw yesterday, Lalo Alcaraz’s La Cucaracha.  A street vendor says,”My prices now reflect the fuel companies demand for Ethanol.”  The customer then points out, “This is just meat.”  To which the vendor replies, “Tortillas are ten bucks.” 

Si si.  It’s a case of follow the money.  Why are the prices going up on biofuel-possible products?  Because there is money to be made.  Look at the futures market and the commodity exchange reports.  But when you look at commodity futures keep in mind who and what controls those markets.  If the hedge fund investors leverage futures options what happens to the prices, they go up.  If the prices go up on futures, then the actual trade prices go up too because the futures prices are used as an index to reference what the producer should be selling the product for.  The deal is sweetened by the fact that a hedge fund by its nature always covers it own ass.  It buys short and long and collects the difference.  When we are talking world wide markets and billions of dollars, then it is not so hard to see why the cost of popcorn at the movies is moving up.

 

See it yes.  Pay it, well as T so aptly put it, “I just laughed in his face.”

 

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