Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ted, TED, Michelle and City Owned Hotels

August 26, 2008, 1:00 p.m.

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Well, Senator Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama clearly stole the show last evening.

There was a pre-convention question as to whether Kennedy's condition would prevent his even attending the convention or, if he made it to Denver whether he would be able to muster more than a wave to the delegates. Well, he did more, much more, and his speech -- that he would even give one, not to mention its content -- was a moving experience not only for those in attendance but for all who've known and worked with him over the years and were among the 50 million watching on television. Adam Nagourney, "Kennedy Adds Spark; Obama's Wife Praises Values," New York Times, August 26, 2008 ("a triumphant appearance that evoked 50 years of party history").

In my new book, Are We There Yet? Reflections on Politics in America, I say of Michelle Obama, "now that's one woman I really do want in the White House." My suspicion is that she's probably brighter (i.e., in intelligence, knowledge, analytical ability) than her husband -- and is at a minimum his equal. And she can clearly be more straight forward and courageous than he -- which is a reason I suspect why we've heard less from her during the past few weeks.
Although I first visited with Senator Obama during his trip to Iowa City on April 12, 2007, his wife was not with him at the time. She first came crashing through to my consciousness when watching her performance at UCLA, February 3, 2008. What I then blogged was that "I found [her speech] one of the most impressive and moving campaign speeches about a candidate I've ever heard . . .." Nicholas Johnson, "I'm Voting for Michelle" in "Obama: Inspiring AND Polls Say Strongest Candidate," February 4, 2008. In any event, she fully carried on in the same tradition last evening at the Convention -- that is, to extent that anyone could while at what the Times described as being "the center of a multimedia charm offensive that may be the most closely managed spousal rollout in presidential campaign history." Which see, for what is perhaps a more balanced journalistic assessment of her speech, role and evolution in the campaign. Jodi Kantor, "Michelle Obama, Reluctant No More," New York Times, August 25, 2008 (with a link to a video of her speech).

And Speaking of Speaking . . .

. . . one of the many wonderful things about the Web/Internet is the serendipitous experience of coming upon a new site that causes you to say, "Wow."

In the course of looking at a Web site/blog this morning, generalpaper.wordpress.com, from which a blog entry of mine is linked (Nicholas Johnson, "Copyright, Fair Use, Blogging & Other Items," July 13, 2007) I scrolled around the rest of the site and discovered to my delight a Web site called Ted.com.

Here's what the site says about itself:

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. More than 200 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.
To give you some notion of the economic value of this gift, while "membership" in TED is free, attendance at the annual Long Beach conferences, near as I can figure out, runs about $6000 per attendee.

The operation is "owned by The Sapling Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation [that] was established in 1996 by Chris Anderson, who was at that time a magazine publishing entrepreneur."

To give you an idea of the nearly 300 talks available to you for free, here is one I clicked on from the generalpaper site this morning, Barry Schwartz, “The Paradox of Choice,” TED, July 2005.Obviously, I can't speak for any of the others (except for Malcolm Gladwell's "What We Can Learn from Spaghetti Sauce," February 2004, which was the other one that I linked to from generalpaper). While Schwartz' thesis is in no sense identical, it is certainly consistent with the "IFD disease" described in "Chapter I: Verbal Cocoons" of Wendell Johnson's People in Quandaries (Harper, 1946).

You either like this kind of thing or you don't. I do. You may not. Anyhow, I found it reminiscent of what we do with the International Leadership Forum, also out of southern California, in LaJolla, with which I've been associated since the mid-1980s, and decided to bookmark TED.

The Reality of "Economic Development"

For those who share this blogger's interest (some would say "obsession") with "what works" and what doesn't with economic development in general, and tourist attractions in particular, and the propriety and efficacy of governments putting taxpayer money on the bottom line of for-profit corporations, The Gazette's editorial this morning, Editorial, "Exploring the Hotel Options," The Gazette, August 26, 2008, p. A4, is well worth a read both for its factual content and its opinion/suggestions. Prompted by Cedar Rapids' troubles with the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel and its franchise agreement with the City, it not only describes that intricate relationship, but the way that Coralville and Dubuque have also put their cities' governments (and their taxpayers' money) sort of half-way into the hotel business.

Yesterday, Jeff Brady's "Morning Edition" piece reinforced another assertion of mine in this department: that local promoters, enthusiasts, cheerleaders and their consultants often exaggerate the profits to be made from an attraction or event (e.g. the Democratic National Convention in Denver right now, an Olympics or Superbowl venue) by as much as ten times. That turns out to be precisely the multiplier Brady's "experts" chose to describe this phenomenon. Jeff Brady, "The Business Outside The Denver Convention," Morning Edition/NPR, August 25, 2008, 3 min. 38 sec. ("Organizers of the Democratic National Convention in Denver say it will pump as much as $160 million into the local economy. Experts say the total will be more like $16 million. Businesses in the Mile High City are optimistic, though some are slashing prices to make sure the convention isn't a bust for them." That's the text on the Web page; transcripts of the entire piece are available for a fee; the audio is available for free. The interviewed expert points out that the predictions often (1) fail to distinguish between gross revenue and profit, and (2) ignore the fact that much-to-all of both end up being shipped out of town to the corporate headquarters of, say, the hotel chains that are operating the local hotels at inflated room rates and full occupancy.)

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