Archive for January 2, 2008

The Two Trillion Dollar Spree

January 2, 2008

City of debt shows US housing woe

Steve Carrigan is in charge of economic development for Stockton. He says bank loans made it a party every day.

“People went to the bank and got a loan on the increase in the price of their home. They went out and spent all that money,” he explains.

“Price of the home went up again, they went back to the bank and got another loan. They went out again and spent that money on cars and jewellery and furniture – whatever they wanted.”

With the help of the banks, Mr Carrigan says, people in Stockton “spent their house”.

But that is not how it was meant to be.

Bingo:

Professor Roubini says that even at the low end of the estimates the potential impact on the rest of the economy is massive.

“If you have a $200bn loss, that reduced your capital by $200bn, you have to reduce your lending by 10 times as much,” he explains.

“So you could have a reduction of total credit to the economy of two trillion dollars”.

The professor predicts that a reduction of credit on that scale will trigger a recession in America which could become global as the contagion spreads through the banking system worldwide.

Tell me why I should feel sorry for these specific people who are losing their homes.

No. Don’t even try.

Post-spree housing in Stockton:

loc-photo.jpg
Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, LC-DIG-fsa-8a16194 DLC (reproduced per these guidelines)

Reference: Great Depression 1.0 Timeline

January 2, 2008

TIMELINES OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION:

1945

The top tax rate is 91 percent. It will stay at least 88 percent until 1963, when it is lowered to 70 percent. During this time, America will experience the greatest economic boom it had ever known until that time.

Reference: Dreams

January 2, 2008

Dreams: Night School
A hundred years after Freud, one man may have figured out why we dream. You’ll never think the same way about nightmares again.

In the jungles of the amazon lives a tribe called the Mehinaku. The Mehinaku lead the traditional life of hunter-gatherers. They spend their days fishing and gathering roots. Since they believe that dreams predict the future, they are scrupulous about remembering them and sharing them with others. That makes them perfect for an ethnographic study of dreams. In 1981, anthropologist Thomas Gregor surveyed their dreams and analyzed the content.

As it turns out, the Mehinaku dream profusely about the dangers in their everyday lives: being attacked by wild pigs; chased by jaguars; bitten by snakes; stung by wasps, ants, or bees—all potentially lethal. “Their dreams simulate over and over again what to do and how to do it quickly when they spot these animals in the wild,” reports Revonsuo. Across a tribesman’s lifespan, a single failure to react efficiently could be fatal. If threat simulation even marginally increases the likelihood that such fatal failures won’t occur, it would prove adaptive.

I could do with fewer threat rehearsals while I sleep…

Barry Eisler On Lies And Fake Truths

January 2, 2008

Liars: Expert and Inexpert

Well, at least when it comes to effective deceit, we should be able to count on the CIA, right? After all, deceit is the name of the intelligence game. If you’re in the business of deniably toppling third world dictators and the like, surely you could invent an effective cover for destroying a few internal tapes. Heck, “cover for action” is one of the most fundamental elements of tradecraft, taught to every spy who’s ever graduated from the Farm.

Uh, no.

Barry Eisler was formerly an employee of the CIA and is now clean as a best-selling writer of the Rain series of mysteries. (See prior coverage in the old blog, here and here.)

ThugLit #23 Is Now Out

January 2, 2008

ThugLit #23: Writing About Wrongs

Descending – by Colin O’Sullivan
The Transplant – by Crit Minster
Road Signs to Gibraltar – by Patrick J. Lambe
Party Favors – by Richard Farnsworth
‘Demption Road – by Justin Porter
Mr. Universe – by Glenn Gray

Hard crime fiction not for sissies.

ThugLit publisher Todd R. is also in a fiction competition over at gather.com.

Instructions from him:

1) Go to GATHER.COM and register for the site –

2) Once you’re registered, head on over to THE HARD BOUNCE – CHAPTER 2 for the second chapter.

3) Rate it 10 stars, ya punks!!! Only votes of 10 stars are being counted in the contest, so jerkweeds like me can’t launch minions to sabotage the other chapters. FOILED!!! The stars are beneath the text, but above the user comments.

Obey the man. I want him to win so I can read the entire book!

Has Sony Just Lost Its eBook Battle?

January 2, 2008

The first post at teleread when I hit it today was:

Novelist using Kindle Store to test his wares for P edition: E Ink and the wireless connection could help draw in the right readers

This is a nuclear bomb. And Sony’s just been nuked.

Although I don’t yet have one, I’m still enthusiastic about the Sony Reader (index to my original four-part series at the old blog). I still think it’s the best hardware design for an ebook reader, far surpassing the iLiad, the Cybook, and especially that button-festooned Kindle.

Obviously it’s been a success for Sony because they introduced a second-generation unit last year. While the design is rather boxy and minimalist (perhaps too much so), it has an improved button placement and uses the latest generation of e-Ink screen (the Kindle uses the prior generation).

sony-reader-505s.jpg

And yet… they’ve done nothing with it.

I was aghast when Amazon released the abominable Kindle and suddenly — like magic! — ebooks and reading devices seemed to suddenly exist as a brand new thing, never before heard of, to many people. After having its Reader on the market for over a year, after confirming its success with a new version, Sony was left not simply in the shadows, but out the door in the alley and then in the shadows.

It shouldn’t have been that way.

Apparently those in charge of things at Sony are somewhat helpless in popularizing their nascent success.

So I will help.

1) Give away the ebook file format. That’s right. Let anyone and everyone have it, royalty-free. There’s a precedent for this, Sony helped set it, and Sony reaped millions and millions of dollars from that move and created a new worldwide standard. They did it in conjunction with Philips when they introduced the Compact Cassette tape format. Permit me to quote the relevant passage from that wikipedia link:

History

Philips introduced the compact audio cassette medium for audio storage in Europe in 1963, and in the United States in 1964, under the trademark name Compact Cassette. Although there were other magnetic tape cartridge systems at the time, the Compact Cassette became dominant as a result of Philips’s decision (in the face of pressure from Sony) to license the format free of charge. It went on to become a popular (and re-recordable) alternative to the turntable for LP records during the late 1970s.

Emphasis added by me.

Sony, you used to understand these things. Or was it only Akio Morita who did? At any rate, it’s there, it’s part of your corporate history. Learn from it. Do it again.

2) Open your ebook store. Because you’ve held onto the file format, you’ve allowed Amazon a huge advantage here by allowing writers to immediately publish their works and sell them via the Kindle Store. This is really inexcusable, Sony. Do any of you use the Internet? What is the Internet but the largest self-publishing effort in the total history of humanity? How could you have missed that connection? With the year-long advantage you had, your ebook store could have boasted of thousands of titles the Kindle Store lacked. All of them original. And some of them would have remained exclusive to your store because we writers are loyal beasts. We remember who treats us right (and vice versa!).

3) Generate some excitement! You’ve partnered with Borders. Use that partnership to one another’s advantage. Why aren’t there weekly Sony Reader Demonstration Nights at Borders? Why are the Readers all alone, nailed down on a kiosk (so they now can’t even be held in the hand!) in a hard-to-find area of the store? Do any of you realize that — thanks to Amazon! — ebook prices are now competitive with print book prices? And in some instances ebook prices are actually better? Since the introduction of the Kindle, I’ve found many titles below their mass-market paperback pricing. I’d buy them in e, not p, now. And I think many other people would do the same too. If they were educated about that fact. Will you and Borders tell them?

4) Add wireless. Even if it’s just WiFi, that would help greatly. eBooks are lightweight things and even WiFi can handle downloading them. I know there are those at Sony who said wireless should have been built-in from the start. I hope you remember who those people were — and give them promotions. They understand and should be permitted more of a voice in the product. Whoever it was that blocked wireless should get a nice corner office — back in Japan. (If it was an American executive, even moreso. Do us the favor of removing that person from this country so he can’t go on to do such damage at another company!)

5) Get it into other parts of the world. Publishing is global. Your Reader should be global too. eBooks have a huge advantage over print: they can’t be suppressed by governments or conspiracies. By widening the Reader’s market availability, economies of production scale can begin to really kick in and help the price to plummet. Amazon will not stand still with the Kindle. There are already rumors of European introductions. Do you intend to let an inferior hardware product win?

You don’t have much time, Sony. You must make some bold moves to keep the Reader alive. This month alone you will be facing threats on several fronts: the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld Expo.

Don’t surrender! And please start fighting!

Update 01/03/08: As is pointed out in the Comments, I forgot to include a key thing: Mac compatibility! I did mention that in part one of my original coverage:

I think the lack of Mac compatibility is a mistake by Sony. iPod sales really exploded once Apple made iTunes PC-compatible. I think Mac compatibility, in a likewise manner, would make Sony Reader sales explode. Mac people would buy the Reader like mad.

And I think it’s doubly important today. Creative people are the majority of Mac users. Both artists and writers. By ignoring them, Sony has shot itself in the foot. Aside from having conventional text books on an open Sony Connect ebook store, Sony could have graphic novels by the many artists out there who toil on their Macs.

The Urgency Of eBooks

January 2, 2008

While reading The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption by John Perkins, I came across a bit of text that skinned my eyes and which raised ebooks to a level of importance I had never before considered:

After chatting for a while, Jaime [Dr. Jaime Galarza Zavala, intellectual and book author] told me that Confessions [Confessions of an Economic Hit Man] had made a lot of waves in Ecuador and that it was practically impossible to purchase it there. “As soon as it arrives in bookstores, someone buys up all the copies.” He smiled wryly. “This also happened to some of my books […].” — pages 153-154

There is a sequence in the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that illustrates the kind of suppression those in power can wield:

While Smith talks, his constituents try to rally around him, but the entrenched opposition is too powerful and all attempts are crushed. On Taylor’s orders, newspapers and radio stations in Smith’s home state refuse to report what Smith has to say, and even twist the facts against him. Even an effort by the Boy Rangers to spread the news results in vicious attacks on the children by Taylor’s minions.

And from a transcript:

This dissolves to the JACKSON CITY PRESS OFFICE, with MCGANN at a desk, surrounded by a few other men.

MCGANN
(talking excitedly into the phone)
We’re burnin’ ’em up, Jim! Got every paper in the state tied up except the Clarkville Courier up near Sweetwater.

In TAYLOR’S HOTEL SUITE in Washington:

TAYLOR
Well, buy it–or *wreck* it!

Print transforms information into a limited physical commodity. Information when made tangible can disappear. A print run can be bought up and shredded. There is no power in the world that can buy up every copy of an ebook.

e can be infinite. For good or for evil. But it can’t be stopped.

And that is why ebooks are more important than ever.