August 27, 2009
The following was first posted on the TMF Editor's Desk Blog ... where the Fool's editors go off on market happenings, serve up the inside scoop, and occasionally get snarky. You can find it right on the Fool's homepage (you may have to scroll down a little).
Extending our string of great guest speakers at Fool HQ (including Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI ) head honcho John Mackey, ex-Pixar University dean Randy Nelson, and Moneyball/Liar's Poker author Michael Lewis), we got a visit earlier this week from James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic.
You can read his uber-impressive and varied bio here, but he focused (mostly) on China in his talk to us. Makes sense, since he recently wrote the book Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China.
The coolest nuggets (five from China, two from elsewhere):
- Did you know that Ctrip (Nasdaq: CTRP ) , the Chinese version of online travel booker Expedia, has someone personally deliver your tickets and receive payment after you book online? As Fallows noted, a lot of things are different when the cost of labor approaches zero.
- Chinese search engine Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU ) plays on xenophobia in its battle with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . In one ad, it depicts Google as a fat American gunslinger, and itself as a young, elegant Chinese man. You can guess who wins that battle.
- Clippy, that annoying animated paperclip that used to pop up automatically to offer unhelpful help in Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Office, was a fixture for so long because it was originally conceived by Melinda Ann French ... the woman now known as Melinda Gates.
- A huge challenge for China will be to transform itself from a country that performs many of the world's low-wage jobs (an upgrade from peasant farming) to a country that makes sought-after brands. Fallows noted the disparity between all the popular South Korean brands and the relative dearth of internationally renowned Chinese brands.
- We asked Fallows three buy, sell, or hold questions. He's a Buy on the print version of The Atlantic sticking around, a Hold on the Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Kindle (though a buy on the category), and a Sell on Twitter. As he said, in far fewer than 140 characters: "Has gimmick written all over it."
- The unintended consequences of China's one-child policy? No cousins, a nation of only children who don't have to navigate dealing with siblings, and a Baby Boom-like demographic shift that has an increasing number of older folks relying on a small base of young folks. Fallows noted that most people he talked to acknowledged that something needed to be done about the policy.
- On freedom of the press in China, Fallows noted that local events that people can see are given some latitude for coverage. But for international events, China's news is like Fox News, only with fewer blonde, impeccably groomed anchor people. (For the sake of being fair and balanced, I will note that Fallows was once chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter.)
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