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August 27, 2012

Travel is meant to be epic

In the Bible, the human journey begins with an expulsion. God's chosen people are also those condemned to wander. Not only wander, but wonder: Why are we in exile? Where is home? Can this rupture ever be repaired?

"Gilgamesh," the Icelandic sagas and "The Odyssey" are all about the itinerant life. Yet these characters don't see travel as we moderns do. They embark on journeys of mythic significance -- the literature of travel in the premodern era did not recognize travel for leisure or self-improvement.

Today, our approach to travel is defined not by archetypal imagery but, rather, according to our own mostly prosaic trips. Literature, to be sure, still produces grand quests; likewise, there are still many people whose journeys are precarious and momentous on an epic scale.

For the most fortunate among us, our travels are now routine, devoted mainly to entertainment and personal enrichment. We have turned travel into something ordinary, deprived it of allegorical grandeur. We have made it a business: the business of being on the move. Whatever impels us to travel, it is no longer the oracle, the pilgrimage or the gods. It is the compulsion to be elsewhere, anywhere but here.

St. Augustine believed that "because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him." We often think of restlessness as a malady. Thus, we urgently need to reclaim the etymology of restlessness -- "stirring constantly, desirous of action" -- to signal our curiosity toward what isn't us, to explore outside the confines of our own environment. Getting lost isn't a curse. Not knowing where we are, what to eat, how to speak the language can certainly make us anxious and uneasy. But anxiety is part of any person's quest to find the parameters of life's possibilities.

August 20, 2012


Weasel-wording isn't acceptable - implying something the facts don't support is no more OK than stating it outright.

First, there's the ordinary business of expressing a view about the economy that the reader disagrees with - e.g., "Krugman is wrong, because the government can't create jobs"; or, if you prefer, "Casey Mulligan is wrong, because we're suffering from demand problems, not supply problems." Obviously it's OK to say things like this, and sometimes the criticism is correct. (I'm not wrong, but Mulligan is!) But equally obviously, there's nothing, er, wrong about being wrong in this sense: people will disagree, and that's legitimate.

Second, and much less legitimate, is the kind of wrongness that involves making assertions that are logically or empirically indefensible. I'd put the Cochrane/Fama claims that government spending can't increase demand as a matter of accounting in this category; this is a basic conceptual error, which goes beyond mere difference of opinion. And economists who are wrong in this sense should pay a professional price.

The third kind of wrongness: making or insinuating false claims about readily checkable facts.

-- Paul Krugman

August 19, 2012

Peak Groupon

"There are no real barriers to entry, but there are fairly significant barriers to success."

Jordan Rohan, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus.

Covers about 18 Internet/Media companies.

Yes, there were warnings signs that Groupon wasn't Google. For an Internet company, Groupon relied on considerable labor and marketing costs, which it needed to create and maintain its deals. But there was still reason to think that online coupons were a decent idea whose time had come; that using discounts to let companies more effectively manage their inventory represented real innovation; and that a company whose revenue grew 22X in one year simply had to be superlative at something.

Well, investors are saying so much for that, as big names like Marc Andreessen are dumping the stock, even after it's lost 75% of its peak value. In other words, they are saying: At 20% of the IPO market cap, Groupon still isn't the right price to hold.*

The Wall Street Journal, splashing the Groupon story at the top of its Monday newspaper, declared: "Backers Retreat From Young Internet Firms That Haven't Lived Up to Hopes."

"I once got a Groupon for teeth whitening," one person wrote. "I went to the office and the receptionist gave me some bleach and told me to do it at home. She said it would be extra if I wanted the dentist to do it."

Jordan Rohan joined the Stifel Nicolaus Research Team in connection with Stifel's acquisition of Thomas Weisel Partners LLC in July 2010. Mr. Rohan is a Managing Director and senior analyst covering the Internet Services sector. His coverage includes all aspects of the Internet, including search, online advertising, e-Commerce, lead generation, and online marketing services. Mr. Rohan was named a top stock Picker by the Wall Street Journal in both 2005 and 2007 and has developed a reputation for bold, non-consensus stock calls. From 1999 through 2008, he held similar positions in equity research at Soundview and RBC Capital Markets. Before coming to Wall Street, Mr. Rohan began his career in 1993 with The Walt Disney Company as a Business Development analyst. He earned his undergraduate degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.B.A. from Stanford University