December 6, 2016
Concerns over the devaluation of gold currency led the Roman emperor Diocletian to ban alchemy in the third century, and worries about counterfeiting and debased coinage also lay behind the condemnations of the art by Pope John XXII in 1317 and of King Henry IV of England in 1403. ... “Fake” diamonds are cheaper, and for industrial uses they have utterly eclipsed their natural counterparts. But at the luxury end of the market—gemstones for jewelry—artificial diamonds account for only 2 percent of global sales. How come? ... When it comes to luxury and exotic materials, the competition between fake and real is partly a technical, chemical affair: how to create a good imitation, and how to spot it. But, as artificial gold and diamonds show, there is a deeper level to it, which is about something very human and socially constructed: the concept and value of authenticity. ... Mixed up with the human code of privilege and power is an ancient belief in the moral authority of nature’s divine handywork. ... the narrative often insinuates an almost moral authority of the “real” over the “fake.”
Costco acts more like a cheerful cult than a hard-driving business. Its executives are proud of the fact that the company promotes almost exclusively from within. Even CEO Craig Jelinek, 62, plainspoken and without affectation, once collected shopping carts at a Costco predecessor, and 98% of the company’s store managers have risen through the ranks. Its top executives have been working together for 30 years, more or less, which makes them family as much as colleagues. It also means there are a lot of gray heads now at those budget meetings. ... And therein lies the concern. At that month’s meetings, there were warm and wistful send-offs for six of those gray heads, all senior vice presidents, now retiring. And even though they would be replaced by younger Costco lifers, the succession raises a question: As the company approaches its 35th anniversary, will the replacements keep Costco as Costco? ... It is the question. Lots of companies brag about their culture. But few are as proud of it or as dependent upon it as Costco is. Morgan Stanley retail analyst Simeon Gutman calls it a “super-culture,” which he describes as, “If we continue to serve and delight our customers, they’ll want to keep coming back.
He compared his forthcoming transformation to that of a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. “If you are the President of the country, you need to be prim and proper,” he said. His inaugural speech, in June, was obscenity-free. ... The resolution didn’t last. Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in the deaths of more than three thousand people, drawing condemnation from human-rights groups and Western governments. ... Duterte does not, as he has put it, “give a sh*t” about human rights, which he sees as a Western obsession that keeps the Philippines from taking the action necessary to clean up the country. He is also hypersensitive to criticism. ... Duterte has an eighty-six-per-cent approval rating in the Philippines, but his break with America has proved controversial. Opinion surveys regularly find the Philippines to be among the most pro-American countries. ... Although he styles himself a revolutionary, Duterte seems uncertain about what kind of order will replace the one he aims to overthrow, or whether he will be around to see it. He often intimates that he may not live to finish his term, whether because of overwork and age—he is seventy-one—or something more sinister. “Will I survive the six years?” he asked recently. “I’d make a prediction: maybe not.”
- Also: Reuters - Good Shots 5-15min
Wu believes Opendoor can buy and sell homes, in quantity, by employing the type of data analysis that has powered so many Silicon Valley companies and by targeting the broad middle of the market. It deals in single-family homes built after 1960, priced between $125,000 and $500,000. It has no interest in distressed properties, which require too much work, or in luxury properties, which are harder to value. ... Of course, buying up houses to make a market is capital-intensive, and the risks are great. Opendoor has raised $110 million in equity from Khosla Ventures, GGV Capital and Access Industries, among others, most recently at a valuation of $580 million earlier this year. And it has also raised more than $400 million in debt to buy the homes. To succeed, it has to price the homes it buys accurately, without seeing them, and it has to sell them quickly to minimize the costs of carrying them. ... Opendoor is a big, bold play in a market with $1.4 trillion in annual transaction volume that’s been largely undisturbed for decades. ... the model has yet to be tested by a recession or a market crash, which can catch even the smartest players by surprise. Wu says he modeled the business through the 2008 subprime crisis to understand the risk.
There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of influencers making a living this way. Some make a lot more than a living. The most successful demand $10,000 and up for a single Instagram shot. Long-term endorsement deals with well-known Instagrammers, such as Kristina Bazan, who signed with L’Oréal last year, can be worth $1 million or more. Big retailers use influencers, as do fashion brands, food and beverage companies, and media conglomerates. Condé Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vogue, recently announced that it would ask IBM’s artificial intelligence service, Watson, to take a break from finding cancer treatments to identify potential influencers. ... The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence. ... “You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.” ... Instagram doesn’t explicitly ban bots, but its terms of service do prohibit sending spam, which, when viewed in a certain light, is exactly what I was doing. On the other hand, except for a single user who somehow had me pegged and accused me of being a bot, nobody with whom I interacted seemed to mind the extra likes or comments. ... I was already verging into “micro-influencer” territory, a hot new field within influencer marketing where, rather than hiring one or two big-time influencers, an ad agency will simply give out free merchandise to 50 small-timers.