Various & Sundry 3/7/08

I’ve scheduled a doctor’s appointment for Athena, so running around with that is going to keep me busy for a good part of the day. So, quickly, some stuff.

* Oh, for the days when incompetence wasn’t rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars. I’m not a huge proponent of limiting CEO salaries, but I really do think when your actions materially contribute to the implosion of the entire American economy, and possibly the global economy, getting millions upon millions of dollars as your reward is not the appropriate response. What I think these guys should get is fifteen minutes in a room with a mob of foreclosed homeowners, and the next CEO has to clean up the room with a mop before his mob of foreclosed homeowners arrives. Repeat as necessary.

* Jeff VanderMeer and PS Publishing are jumping on the free eBook train and releasing Jeff’s upcoming book The Situation for you to peruse and enjoy, and you can find it here, along with an interview with Jeff and his wife (and Weird Tales editor) Ann. Jeff say this about his book: “it’s like Dilbert-meets-Gormenghast, as Margo Lanagan put it.” Hey, Jeff, you had me at “Gormenghast.” If you end up loving The Situation, as I’m sure you will, Jeff has put up some information on how you can procure the signed limited hardcover editions of the book.

* Also for your free electronic reading enjoyment: Butcher Bird, by Richard Kadrey, by the good graces of Night Shade Books. The link to the download is at the bottom of the page I link you too, and is available in a variety of formats. Again, if you like it, consider buying a hardcopy. Authors like to eat, and as much as I like the idea of giving people these free online tasters, I do hope people take to heart that on the other end of these works are people who worked to bring them to you. Reward them if you like their efforts.

* Wait! More online reading! A selection of stories from the John Joseph Adams-edited anthology Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is available for you here. Authors featured: Elizabeth Bear, M. Rickert, Cory Doctorow, James Van Pelt, Richard Kadrey and Tobias S. Buckell. Nifty. Here’s the Amazon page for the whole anthology.

* Jeremy Tolbert is attempting an experiment in getting paid for his short fiction; it’s a neat idea but he seems to be hampered by the fact that the site he’s using to collect payment doesn’t take sums less than $10. Which is not great pricing for short stories, although it probably wouldn’t be bad for, say, novellas or novelettes.

* Happy birthday Ficlets! The short-short collaborative fiction site is one year old today. Although I’m no longer an official part of it, I’m really proud that it’s succeeded and I encourage everyone to swing by there and write some collaborative fiction today. You’ll be glad you did.

* It’s just as well Athena’s not in school today; the school just called to let parents know to pick up their kids early because of the oncoming storm. Joy.

And there you have it.

27 thoughts on “Various & Sundry 3/7/08

  1. I just finished Mistborn – my first free Tor download. I’m glad I’d already bought and read Old Man’s War – because that means I can jump to Spin and I’m only one book behind.But this avalanche of free goodness means that I will be buried in free reading. Which is a really, really good thing.I found out about you because Amazon recommended Old Man’s War to me. But now that I’ve finished Mistborn – I’ll be buying the other two. It is a complete story on its own, but he did such a good job I look forward to going back to the world and characters he created.

  2. Oh, for the days when incompetence wasn’t rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars

    I don’t believe those days existed. Corrected for inflation, of course.

  3. The gov’t needs to develop some sort of “corporate death penalty” to administer to companies that do that sort of crap.

  4. Re: CEOs – Although the sheer size of the money involved is troubling, I think shareholder derivative lawsuits combined with Congressional investigation will chill and deter future CEOs from looting on such a scale. They may even get some money back for shareholders, although not former homeowners.

    I have zero sympathy for the following participants: borrowers who lied about their income and assets or took loans which they knew or should have known they could not pay; the same borrowers who stopped paying the mortgage and lived rent-free for several, sometimes many, months before being foreclosed; mortgage brokers who arranged the loans for a fee; banks who made the loans and resold the loans for a fee; the CDO managers who packaged the loans and sold the loan pools for fees; and foolish investors who believed promises of a 20% return and bought the packages. No sympathy at all.

    There is one class of people who deserve and have my sympathy. Many greedy people who aspired to be the next Donald Trump, bought multiple houses and rented them out, thinking that they could get money for nothing. These tenants paid their security deposits, paid the rent, and have been living their lives quietly doing whatever they were supposed to be doing, but in full compliance with what was expected of them. The landlords took their deposits, took their rent, and didn’t pay the mortgage. They pocketed the money.

    Every single week, I meet some of the tenants in court. They wonder why they’re in court now, say their landlords never told them about any foreclosure, and they are aghast at the fact that they will need to move or be evicted. For these people, I feel enormous sympathy. They have been robbed, plain and simple. These are the people who need help.

  5. Oh man company executives. We went through the nineties when the CEOs were the new heroes and celebrities and were heaped with praise and glory.

    After watching this scene for many years my opinion is that the ‘executive club’ is a VERY exclusive club and very hard to break into. Once you are in, though, you are set for life. Your pay is set by your pals with no oversight at all. You simply cannot fail. You are not accountable to anyone except maybe, sometimes, the government.

    Ah the government. Years ago the trust-busters barely got started when the ultra-rich started fighting back, trying to bust the trust-busters.

    So we have a cycle going – some executives inevitably overreach and despite their best efforts the government (not completely owned by the rich) steps in and enforces a couple laws. Things quiet down and the drumbeat starts again – we need to loosen government oversight and regulation – business good, government bad, complete free market is utopia. Like water torture the drums, always the drums, keep pounding and pounding and pounding. Finally things loosen up, workers don’t benefit, and eventually some executives overreach. Back to the beginning we go.

  6. New Kadrey! New Kadrey! Hot diggity damn! Thank you for the tip, John; been a fan of his work since Metrophage.

  7. “the site he’s using to collect payment doesn’t take sums less than $10″

    I’ve often missed the ability to give money to people who freely contribute the results of their endeavours. I’m thinking of the direct equivalent of the busker’s hat / case where people who’ve enjoyed the freely given art can express their gratitude in money.

    A web site (www.buskershat.com?) could provide a link between artists and the public. Anyone could easily get an artist’s account and / or an audience account. The artists account comes with a cut / past link to enable me to toss a dollar (or so) into their hat.

    When I’ve done this for some $10 – $20 the site asks me to cough up real money via a credit card etc and then transfers the money to the relevant artists accounts. When an artist has collect $100 or so in actual paid money, the site contacts them and arranges to pay them.

    Everyone wins:
    Artists have nothing to lose – the set up is minimal.
    I get to rewards artists I like, regardless of whether they’re published or not.
    The site gets to skim 5% or so off the top of the money they pay over.

  8. John—Since you brought up the support “other people who worked to bring” the free downloads again, I was just wondering, while nice to acknowledge those folks (I was one of them once), if conceptually it’s apples and oranges in terms of the motivation to support the free download concept.

    I think supporting the publishing staff via purchase is a false motivation. The publisher is making a marketing decision in the context of a financial strategy. If it doesn’t work, they’ll stop. Staff will still get their paychecks and health benefits, but the author won’t get one dime more than he/she initially agreed (and no benes).

    Of course, purchasing a book goes to maintaining a publishing staff, but it’s ancillary to what is ultimately what anybody cares about in this context—an author’s work. Using a “and support the publisher” argument implies an equally valid motivation—which falls apart if the two needs are separated.

    For example, if Publisher A makes available Authorbook A for free and if the motivation to support publisher and author is equal, then a reader who declines buying the freebie (because they’ve already read it) but is prompted to buy a different book by the same Author but from Publisher B should theoretically then buy something else from Publisher A. That’s not likely (or a rational purchase decision).

    From a karma point of view, it’s not a bad idea, though. ;)

    Or am I missing something?

  9. I’m less concerned with CEO salaries than I am with general regulation of financial markets. This whole house of cards BS needs to stop, because even after we recover from the housing bubble, there’s another pack of these jerks waiting to sell more snake oil and inflate prices over smoke and mirrors.

    Check it out – we just lost a large number of middle class jobs last month, wages are not increasing to match inflation, credit is scarce, and retail sales are down.

    This needs to just not happen again. I’d love for it not to be a political issue. Both parties should be coming up with plans to stop this sort of thing from happening.

  10. Josh,

    Actually the problem is not a political issue. Both parties support the current arrangement because their big financial supporters like it. Even Obama has an economic adviser who has drunk the koolaid.

    We’ve got a court system that has equated a corporation to a person and has equated money to free speech. As they say, money talks. The politicians are not the problem, hence they are not the solution either.

    Even many Economic professors have drunk the koolaid.

    So you’ve got business, politicians, the media and academics supporting this. You’ve got people convinced they can not trust the government, they have no need for unions, and their true power comes from acting as individuals. Yeah, sure, one person against a corporation. CEOs get special treatment. They get an employment contract totally unique and different from what the workers get. Even if CEOs ‘fail’ they are rewarded and then given a new job somewhere else because ‘the supply of CEOs is so limited.’

    Like I said elsewhere, anyone with access to the internet and with a brain and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff can find this out, and even when it started.

    History tells us situations like this will continue and worsen (rich get richer, poor get poorer) until it gets so bad something VERY drastic happens.

    Power corrupts.

  11. Speaking of free books, I just got the latest Tor free book: The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. And it comes with some nifty computer backgrounds made from book covers.

    And, about the CEO pay, where are the board of directors for these companies? You don’t reward someone for screwing up. You fire them. Why are the board members angry at the loss of their money?

    I’ve heard it said that you hire CEOs based on experience, but I’d rather have a second-day secretary taking on the position that some of the chumps that suck up millions for wasting money and having no idea what’s going on

  12. Josh Jasper @ 12: This whole house of cards BS needs to stop, because even after we recover from the housing bubble, there’s another pack of these jerks waiting to sell more snake oil and inflate prices over smoke and mirrors. […] This needs to just not happen again.”

    Well, good luck with that, because for every “jerk waiting to sell more snake oil” there are dozens to millions who want a piece of that action. The nature of people is to want to advance their own interests on the tailcoat of a known good thing. The relative beauty of a market economy is that there are always plenty of competing tailcoats to try — including the ones you can create and don yourself! — when one falters.

    But feel free to try the command economy, if you’d prefer. After all, Cuba has only been in a decline we’d recognize as a recession or worse since the mid-1950s.

  13. Spherical time:

    The board members are CEOs of other companies. Like I said, once you are in the club you are set because they look out for each other.

    Where are the stockholders you ask? Usually the actual stocks are purchased as part of a mutual fund and the actual owners have no voting rights. But what about the mutual fund owners you ask? Well, these are the same big companies controlled by a board of, well, I answered that in my first sentence.

    Anonymous – Nope sorry. A truly unregulated free market confers advantages to early winners and inevitably leads to the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few, and ultimately one big winner. Then trading stops.
    Even Adam Smith the Saint of Libertarians knew about this. He also knew about the dangers of fraud and usury but for some reasons Libertarians don’t seem to know that. I can’t imagine why that is.

    And as usual you propose the false dilemma of free market versus command economy.

    How about the market Adam Smith proposed – a regulated and taxed capitalistic market where the regulations prevented fraud and usury and the taxes provided a means to move wealth from the richest to the poorest so the market could continue?

    Don’t any Libertarians actually know about that? Again I cannot image why that is.

  14. “Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse”

    Just a quick word of praise for this book. The stories in it are all very good. I can think of one that I did not like and even the piece by Stephen King – -a writer I have never had any use for — was effective. And it has my favorite post-apocalyptic story –“The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi. I really recommend the collection.

    As for the free market discussion: the natural state of a market is not competition. Either someone wins, leading to monopoly, or a group of someones arrange things so that no one else can play.

  15. Well, thanks for sending a HAILstorm down to Central Florida, Scalzi. I mean, have pity on those poor (500,000) bikers trying to have fun on our streets. Now they have to deal with little dents all over their Harleys.

  16. KIA–Some renters are getting screwed even before foreclosure; landlords who are responsible for utilities have been not paying the bills. So tenants get water or power cut off without warning.

  17. I just wanted to say thanks for Old Man’s War. I found it the other day in a used book store while I was traveling and loved it. I’ll be picking up the other two in the series this weekend and if they are anything like the first I’m sure I’ll be enjoying a couple of days vegged out on the couch.

  18. Patrick, and FAR too much money.

    The rationale has always been that the buck stops at the CEO, so he/she is ultimately responsible, and that is why they get the big(!) bucks. But if that’s the case, then if a CEO gets the big bucks, then they hold the big responsibility.

    But that doesn’t happen, or at least doesn’t often happen. Lay and Skilling fucked over millions of people. Not content with the obscene amount of money he was raking in, Conrad Black stole additional millions from his shareholders. If some low level fraudbag swiped millions of dollars, would he get away with 6 years in jail?

    It’s the Lays and Skillings of the world that really irk me. They have condemned a large number of people to a penurious and difficult retirement.

    I wonder if there’s a mechanism whereby shareholders could sue executives. The points made above are valid: all these guys sit on each other’s boards, and they all wash each other’s backs. They make sure that, no matter what happens, the executive makes off with a trough-full. They award themselves massive bonuses while the company spirals down. Surely there must be a way for shareholders to recover some of that money?

    Note that I don’t think that this is a fundamental flaw of the capitalist system. I happen to think that one of the most powerful forces for good in the modern world is the corporation, but corporations must be run ethically, by ethical people, and we seem to be in a cycle where we don’t reward that. Where, in contrast, UNethical behavior is rewarded.

  19. How am I supposed to stop buying books when all you people do – and yes, I mean you people – is recommend new and awesome sounding ones that I have to go out and buy?! I just got the NEw Weird anthology and now I gotta go buy more books?!?!?

    Damn thee! Damn thee to hecketh!!!

  20. In Re: CEOs

    I find it rather frustrating when CEOs and their defenders claim they ‘deserve’ such exorbitant salaries because of the ‘leadership’ they bring to a company, yet turn around and disavow having had any part in whichever boondoggle is plaguing said company. Either they led their company into the mess or they weren’t doing much in the way of leading — whichever the case may be, it certainly destroys the argument for a huge severance package, and should be grounds for recouping some of the salary already paid.

  21. I find that small company CEOs tend to be the reverse – they created the company, and they aren’t getting paid except in stock, so they give it their all plus some.

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