Welcome. This here blog offers what I learn, in commentary for all its worth. Know that I try to know best, when I know anything at all.

Journey onward!!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran Knows: Republicans Want Obama to Fail in the Middle East, Too

Back during the campaign, then-Senator Joe Biden guaranteed that Obama would soon face an "international crisis, a generated crisis," one designed to "test [his] mettle." After North Korea, prophetic proof came again in the form of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, freshly returned as president with damning evidence of election fraud.

But I wonder: is Obama's true test coming from Iran, or actually from Republican opposition at home? Sometimes I'm really not sure.

Driving home from work tonight, I tuned into The Mark Levin Show to find the fiery, preeminent star of conservative talk radio downright abusing an Obama-aligned caller. At the incensed apex, he demanded that the overwhelmed caller read his book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, then call back.

Yet one does not have to read the book to know Levin's response to Iran. His agenda is self-evident in the title, remote but clear.

To the Republicans and some Obama supporters alike, that the American president does not forcefully repudiate Iran is beneath contempt. At stake, of course, are the values and principles all Americans cherish. We elect a man not just to run the country, but to represent us as a people.

Nothing else matters. To hardline GOP hawks, Iran is an existential threat to America, nevermind nukes.

If life was a FPS video game, Obama's choice would be easy: reprimand Iran, denounce the legitimacy of the Khamenei regime, grandstand tall for the world to admire, and march down the glorious path to civilizational war (as expertly narrated by Spengler in 2006).

Unless, of course, the video game is a Sid Meier masterpiece, whereby the game is a portrait of life, not fantasy.

The Republicans badly want Americans to miss the Bush Doctrine, and for Sarah Palin to memorize it well by 2012. By appealing to raw American values, the GOP hits Obama where it hurts the most politically, namely for making an informed choice.

In fact, caution is the only choice Obama could have made. Had he responded to the Iranian election with unbridled indignation, an eventual US invasion is all but assured. After all, if you do not talk to an enemy with words, you talk with bullets.

Had Obama taken McCain's advice, erased are all diplomatic progress overtures in the Middle East to this point, possibly for good. Then we would be back at square one: bomb-bomb-bomb Iran. No McCain, you were not joking.

Yet, all joking aside, it may very well be that bombing Iran will come as the final act, the beginning of the end. But it is also apparent that if you think that, it is very likely you really will end up bombing Iran.

Is there no other way? Bombing Iran would spell the beginning of the end of our so-innocent Middle East enterprises.

The region would be set ablaze, awash in bloody rain beyond all fictitious fancy. Already I hear the first rumblings. Be assured that Iranian proxies Hamas of Gaza and Hezbollah of Lebanon, vis-à-vis the US Army in mighty Israel, are already licking their swords, struggling vainly at the noose leash.

I am not opposed to fighting, since war is how peace is made. Yet I, and many others, should be careful what we wish for.

Do not forget the 2006 humiliation the Israel military puppy suffered against Hezbollah in Lebanon, or, more poignantly, the ongoing Iraq quagmire initiated by the American pit bull. Nevermind the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan the failed state, affectionately known as the Af-Pak war theater recently unveiled by Impresario Obama.

It is painfully apparent that, at present, Iran is not a fight we can win without another Nagasaki. Yet if Iran does develop nuclear warheads, let them beware.

This sobering reality has shaken me enough for a second take on my world view. If we must fight, then we fight. But, given present circumstances, what we should NOT do is guarantee a fight a la Bush Doctrine.

Things are bad enough already.

To think: here is Iran, landlocked by Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a fleet of indomitable American maritime fortresses. All the while, John McCain makes funny about bombs (he should joke about President Oh-bomb-ma).

If I were Iran, I would build me a nuke, you betcha. Why else do you think the US is so convinced Iran is weaponizing plutonium?

I am not an Iran apologist, but a grudging voice of reason. There are realities one must consider before succumbing to professed ideology. This is, of course, my definition of a postpartisan act, as channeled by Obama. If I must sacrifice my precious American values for contingent wisdom every now and then, then let it be so.

Apparently, wisdom is no longer a virtue for the GOP crazies, not in matters of foreign policy. If we have to prove this factoid with blood ONCE AGAIN to the American people, I'm moving back to Hong Kong.

We have already leveled two Middle East countries; how many more before hardline conservatives learn a lesson? How many more before ALL Americans know folly when they see it?

If no one else, Obama has learned from the Bush Doctrine. Yet, the average American, who will never be as smart or engaged as our president, can glean as much from the writing on the wall.

Namely, when one model of reality is proven false, it's time to try something else. Insanity, as Einstein sagely suggested, "is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Please, someone pass this timeless bit of wisdom on to the neoconservatives, who have long had their chance on Capitol Hill.

My hope is that enough voters know better. Obama's timid response to Iran is, of course, part and parcel of his vague campaign promise of "postpartisan change." Clearly, Obama supporters who now regret their vote did not think through the matter of Iran. More than that, these people—who cannot stand up to the Mark Levin's and John McCain's of the world—should be careful what they wish for.

"Peace through superior firepower," they say? Yes, but not in a war wherein nukes are involved and the odds are stacked against our favor, please.

In a way, Iran gave a test to the American people, not Obama. Unwittingly, the Republican party has become Iran's surrogate mouthpiece.

The Republicans know Obama's is an informed choice, which is precisely why they can attack it. After all, the average voter does not have the time of day to be informed. Between the "smart" and the "right" thing to do, there is a 50/50 chance the GOP will hit blackjack, and they know it.

Apparently the GOP wants to roll Obama in the same Middle Eastern mud that they are still choking on.

How I wish that 17 year-old caller on the Mark Levin show could have read this post first, and how I long to be in that caller's place, forcing Levin to reveal his true face (see picture of Bush at top) to the talk radio masses.

Listen, forget all that. Moving forward, our choice is simple: do we bomb, or don't we bomb Iran? If you cannot make this decision, just shut up and listen to Obama, OKAY?????

UGH stop fucking with me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Buyers Be Aware: The Real Apple Premium

Luxury goods come at a high price. By being remarkably superior to the competition, consumers are willing to pay a cost premium simply because they merit the price. Apple revels in this business model, etching out a powerful niche in the PC market against which rivals cannot yet hope to compete.

Most Mac users testify to a peerless computing experience. Spurning the headache that is Windows, they are more than happy to pay an expensive premium for a superior product.

Yet there is much more to the superiority of Apple computers than meets the eye. That the Mac experience merits its price is only one half of the Apple premium.

The other half is unadvertised and often unthought of. It demands that users pay extra to help Apple uphold its market exclusivity, something vital in ensuring the superior Mac computing experience.

In this unusual and brilliant reversal, the Apple premium actually merits the product.

No one should buy a Mac unless they find both realities palatable.

Reality One: Product Merits Price
This post is not a piece of anti-Apple propaganda. Consumers are not mistaken to recognize the superior quality of Mac machines.

With little exception, Mac users say the computing experience more than justifies their investment. In a nutshell, the Apple experience is everything the PC is not. Macs promise to 'just work' out-of-the-box, retain its 'youth' over time, require little maintenance, and resist malicious attacks.

Many Mac users testify that, for the most part, these promises hold as advertised.

Deep down, no child hardened by the Microsoft age can be unmoved by such promises. For many, the Apple experience cures the persistent headache that is Windows. To them, Macs are not overpriced, but merit an expensive premium that is worth every penny.

It is hard to disagree with them. Besides, Macs are mad sexy.

Reality Two: Price Merits Product
In singing the Mac's praises, its secret ingredient to success is often overlooked: exclusivity in the PC market.

Mac computers are luxury products, occupying a tiny piece of the PC market pie. Yet, in the face of economic recession, Apple's high-rolling pricing strategy remains unchanged. Clearly the company is not interested in growing beyond the niche PC market where it dominates unchallenged.

This strategy may dumbfound economics students, but I suspect it is precisely what Apple wants.

In the PC world, a small market share translates into fewer external pressures. For one, it is a natural security shield against malicious software. It reduces the interest of third-party software developers, thereby minimizing end-user headaches and OS bloat. It also gives Apple more freedom to design and control its OS as it pleases.

In this view, a small market share is a matter of existential importance to ensuring the peerless Mac experience. It is perhaps why Apple must continue to charge high prices, even during an economic recession.

After all, why else would students buying an expensive Mac net them an iPod Touch freebie? Apple would try anything before a price drop.

That the high price of Macs puts a natural limit on the number of its adopters is no coincidence. The Apple premium, which some call the "Apple Tax," is what creates the exclusivity vital to the Mac's overall success.

Put another way, the Apple premium actually merits the product.

These realities, I suspect, are not lost on Steve Jobs. From the shadows of irrelevance, he shrewdly observed Windows come of age, noting its myriad strengths and weaknesses. A man of his brilliance must see that Apple can simply price itself above the storm that mires Windows, provided that consumers are willing to pay the premium.

To Jobs and company's great credit, many people can't be happier to buy into Apple's vision of the PC world.

An astute friend of mine likened Macs to a serene country club vìs-a-vìs Windows to an overcrowded public park. The analogy cannot be more apt. Paying the Apple premium does not only get you a good computer, but also residence in a digital gated community.

Having been a prospective buyer, I went as far as to put back-of-the-envelope numbers to this theory. With the baseline 17" MacBook Pro costing $2,500, I certify that it is entirely possible to get a comparably spec-ed, coupon-free Windows machine for $1,500, probably less. In this scenario, the Apple premium is $1,000 in total, of which $500 gets you a superior OS, able first-party apps, and a damn sexy machine.

The other $500 of that premium, of course, is your ticket into the Apple country club.

Prospective buyers should be aware that, while apt, the fallacy in this analogy is self-evident.

On the one hand, parkland is a fixed space and cannot be scaled to fit more people. Competing against free but overcrowded public parks, the expensive country club is merited by intrinsic value, namely open space.

On the other hand, in the digital world, the concept of open space does not exist. Virtual scalability is the name of the game; whoever scales better, faster, more ingeniously, wins. Just ask Google, Microsoft, or Wikipedia, all "public parks" who merited their success by scaling its services to as many users as possible.

Yet this is exactly opposite of the Mac business model. By pricing its machines as luxury goods, Apple thrives on high profit margins while limiting its user base. Platform scalability—the traditional yardstick for innovation in software engineering—is rendered nearly meaningless by the Mac's market strategy.

There is nothing unusual about the luxury goods business model, except that it is being applied to the PC industry.

Steve Jobs laughs in the face of Windows' struggles because, in a "country club," economies of scale are irrelevant. Apple can and will continue to thumb its nose at the industry, provided that enough willing people pay the Apple premium to keep the Mac club exclusive.

Personally, this strategy feels like a cop out for a premier OS developer like Apple.

Still, no matter how one looks at it, Steve Jobs is the only man who can eat off Microsoft's table. At present, Apple's strategy is brilliantly successful. The quality experience and soaring popularity of the Mac brand all but ensures its persistence in the foreseeable future.

My Conclusion
There is nothing wrong or evil about the Mac business model, or with paying the Apple premium to perpetuate it. Beyond question, Mac computers merit the price premium. Be aware, however, that the premium you pay is also meriting the product.

By paying the Apple premium, YOU erect the walls around the Mac gated community, making it serene and desirable. Apple only pours the foundation, and decorates walls better than anyone.

That Apple users have paid many hundreds extra to help Apple maintain its market exclusivity is not my idea of an honorable business model. It should be the producer's responsibility, not the consumers'.

In a sense, Apple passes the true cost of innovation on to the consumers, and it will do so until a worthy competitor emerges.

If you find this reality palatable, then by all means, buy a Mac. You won't be disappointed. Though bear in mind: in the amoral marketplace, you can feel a winner and yet be a loser all the same, both consumer and producer alike.

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