Once upon a time, I was one of the very first people in the United States to get cable TV. We were a test neighborhood because our brownstones in Park Slope were very close to each other and the population was young and hip. I loved cable TV. No commercials! Also, the global depression is getting worse. Shipping data shows another downturn. And I get an interesting email from Japan.
We call this business ‘a camel’s nose under the tent’:
With a service called TV Everywhere, Comcast and Time Warner will give cable subscribers access to “premium” television content via broadband, and later cellphone connections.
To begin with, 5,000 Comcast subscribers will begin testing the system next month, giving them access to Time Warner’s TBS and TNT channels on their computers, and the same channels’ video-on-demand catalogs on their cable boxes.
Cable TV came into my home in a most unexpected way. With no warning from the media, these guys showed up with literature explaining a new concept: cable TV. What was their selling point?
No commercials! I enthusiastically signed on. I hate commercials. For years, I didn’t even own a TV. When we got our first cable, it had little content because the major TV content was not going to appear where there were no commercials. We got lots of cultural content stuff like operas, documentaries. We got lots and lots of foreign TV. This is how I got Japanese TV for the first time and I loved it. We had the earliest ‘all movie’ stuff via the earliest incarnation of HBO. It was absolutely fabulous, for me. Especially the high-brow content.
This wonderful state of affairs grew with the conception of CNN. I watched only CNN for my news. Then, one ugly day, once cable spread all over NYC, I had a shock: commercials began. At first, only once an hour. Then, every half hour. Finally, the dense wall of intrusive, annoying garbage was wall to wall and I began to lose interest in cable TV. Luckily, the foreign media stuck to the once an hour commercials so I watched German, British and Japanese TV nearly exclusively.
Today, we have nearly wired everyone into cable or satellite TV and people pay lots of extra money, especially since the broadcast change over this month, to watch what used to be free. There is absolutely no difference, in ads, between the paid services and what was once free but paid via ads. The consumer has only one advantage over former free TV: a variety of choices. But none of these choices involve getting content without massive and annoying commercial interruptions.
I get zero TV today. I do absolutely everything on the computers. Period. Hulu and others have commercials but since they are on my computer, I simply go elsewhere while the sound is on mute. That is, I move to another screen. Thoughtfully, Hulu provides a little timer in the corner telling me how long the commercial break is. Right now, it is always under one minute, often, only 20 seconds, no big deal.
I suspect, eventually, it will be 3-5 minutes. I remember long ago, when ‘Cleopatra’ starring Liz Taylor was broadcast on TV. It was hilarious. The last 15 minutes of the movie was interrupted six times with commercials! That is, it took over 22 minutes to show the last bit of the movie. And the interruptions were every 3-4 minutes! Ack. I said, ‘I will never watch a movie on TV again.’ And I have kept this vow.
Commerce continues to decline across the planet. As usual, the place that shows this the clearest is in shipping profit levels:
A new forecast from shipping analyst Alphaliner puts the anticipated drop in revenue from 2008 levels at $40bn-50bn. This is broadly in line with Drewry Shipping’s projection of a $55bn collapse in revenue from last year’s income of $220bn, which will catapult the entire industry deep into the red.
Drewry said container lines would only be able to find savings of around $30bn, leaving a gap of $25bn, which will push the industry from a modest collective profit in 2008 to a massive deficit of around $20bn in 2009. This is down from a very early projection Drewry prepared before first quarter results were published.
Alphaliner’s latest forecasts are also based on the performance of top lines in the first three months of the year, when income of those monitored plunged 35% as volumes collapsed by 20% and average freight rates declined 15%. A survey of 11 of the top 20 lines that report a breakdown of their liner shipping results found that revenue in the January-March period shrank to $14.5bn from $22.4bn a year earlier.
The continuing collapse in world trade is due entirely to a drop in US consumption rates. There are many articles this week about how US savings has soared from 0% to almost 3%. Of course, the government mailed all us oldsters free money last month! So we all stick this in our savings accounts. The other end of the spectrum, bankruptcies, has cleaned out the ‘lending’ side of the ledger, too. One thing about us old coots: we are not tempted by commercials to buy stupid stuff like we were when we were young and fell for nearly every temptation that passed under our noses.
So, getting an oldster to buy stuff is much harder. So any windfall we get, we tend to put aside for a while and take our time, figuring out what to do next. So any boost to our bottom lines will sit there for a while. Whereas, young people have pressing needs. For example, when I was younger, I was making a family and needing nearly everything. Aside from the art of dumpster diving, I had to buy all sorts of domestic stuff. Then, there was the needs of the string of children. More spending.
Now, I don’t need furniture. Or much of any stuff. I have other needs, of course. But I can take my time unlike when one has a growing child and like my son, for example, whose feet would grow an inch a month, it seemed, I can buy shoes and wear them for several years. Children change size and shape nearly nonstop. So you can’t just buy something and use it for 5 years.
Japan is one example of a country that is like the elderly population here: the entire country is now in the ‘no need to buy’ mode more and more due to the baby dearth there. And the depression which was fake for 5 years as the export sector became one of the biggest profit powers on earth, is now back to a real depression. And nothing is more depressing, psychologically, than a country that has fewer and fewer youths. I got this wonderful email from a reader in Japan:
From J.M. in Japan:
Over the last 20 years that I have lived in Japan, the one thing that struck me is that there has been essentially zero inflation (unlike in the US). Prices of food here seem to be unchanged. My rent is the same. However, in the last few months, there seems to have been a sudden crash in housing prices and rents that is unreported in English even by googling news for Tokyo real estate and rents. I live to the northwest of Tokyo, just over the border, about 25 minutes by train from downtown.
My 600 square foot apartment, built 16 years ago, rents for $1,200. Five units out of the 25 in this building have been, on average, empty over the last few years, probably because so many new buildings have gone up nearby. The landlords of my building finally panicked in January and had the building repainted and the halls refloored (which, actually, I think was not really necessary), and they had cable and optical fiber put in and security cameras installed, which is standard for new buildings now.
The apartment next door to mine was advertised at $1,100 in December, then $1,000 in March, then $950 in April, and finally $900 in June, when all units in the building suddenly rented. Other comparable apartments in this area, which used to rent for $1,200, are also now going for $900, so this is not happening only in my building. Needless to say, I am asking my landlord to reduce the rent or else I am moving. Last year, I would receive ads for condos about the same size as mine. If they were new, they were typically going for $300,000. In February, the ads for the same new condos said $200,000.
Last week, the ad said $150,000. This is quite extreme, and I do not mean to suggest that this is happening to all the condos (downtown Tokyo seems to be stable… so far), but looking at the ads posted at the local Century21 shows a number of houses and condos marked down 10 to 20% by hand with a pen. Although some advertised rents and condo and house sales prices have clearly come down when looking at postings at real estate agencies, in many cases, the rents and prices appear to be unchanged from a year ago. However, I strongly suspect that whereas the advertised price was fairly firm last year, it is now VERY negotiable.
If this is so, it is masking the true amount of deflation in rents and condo and house prices. There will be substantial delay in the data coming out, and of course that data will be buried in other data to make it look not so bad. Japanese people I have casually spoken to seem to be unaware of this deflation, but they seemed very interested in going to look now.
Office vacancies seem to have increased by a percent or so, and there seems to be deflation in office rents downtown. In 2011 and 2012, it seems that a lot of new office space is coming on the market, and that should depress prices even further. The local Seiyu/WalMart closed recently, but there is another one on the opposite side of the train station. There are few empty stores here or downtown, certainly nothing like New York and New Haven in the last 70s, but there used to be almost no empty stores here, certainly nothing like a closed WalMart.
It is amazing to be paid a Japanese wage and to pay WalMart prices. In that sense, the price of certain types of goods, like kitchenware, has come way down, say 50 to 80%, over the last decade. Costco is doing a booming business. They solved the problem of the need to have a car to shop at Costco by employing the parcel delivery system here. A large box, up to 60 pounds, will be delivered to your door in one to two days anywhere in Japan for about 6 dollars.
Yes, that is not a typo. Six dollars. In Hawaii, the time lag in the drop in real estate prices seem to be up, and houses and condos dropped at a 30% annualized rate in the first quarter. This is very typical and has happened many times in the past. What happens in California takes one to two years to come to Hawaii, during which the delusional confuse “it hasn’t come yet” with “it won’t come ever”.
The global asset and equity deflation spiral was not stopped by vast government/central banking spending. Japan tried this in the 1990’s and it failed. Today, the government of Japan has one of the biggest per capita debt loads on earth. Nearly triple our own. But unlike the US, this money is owed nearly entirely to the increasingly elderly population of Japan. One thing the Japanese keep talking about is how to make humanoid robots that can replace the missing children:
The Japanese Robotics Association estimates the size of the worldwide robotics market to be US$24.9 billion a year now, more than double what it was worth in 2005, and it is expected to triple to $66.4 billion by 2025.
Japan’s aging population has ignited a parade of efforts to design fully functional robots to aid in nursing homes. Knowing that a companion can relieve stress and elevate mood, researchers at Waseda University in Japan have released Kobian, an “emotional humanoid robot,” to therapeutically promote health for nursing home patients.
A walking humanoid robot that is able to use its whole face and body to express emotion was unveiled on Tuesday in Japan.
The robot was created by scientists at Tokyo’s Waseda University and is thought to be the first of its kind according to its makers.
It is able to express a range of different emotions, including happiness, fear, surprise, sadness, anger and disgust, by opening and closing its eyes, moving its lips and eyebrows, and using its arms and legs.
Instead of bringing in foreigners or making families whole again, the millions of missing children who were never born will be replaced by machine replicas. Japanese animators have been creating many stories about robots replacing humans. It is all very tragic. Robots are, in general, ‘better’ than humans because they are without emotions. They follow logic systems. But their logic doesn’t exactly match our own needs and using this logic, robots will obviously, in order to survive, will eliminate humans entirely most likely, as Asimov’s pioneering stories starting with the ‘I, Robot’ series.
One famous pioneering Japanese anime series which I watched on my early cable TV is Galaxy Express 999 – Joost. Ah, Maetel! A sad and charming woman! The entire series is a long, long meditation on death, children’s desire to be strong and live forever and the hazards of a robot universe. It is well worth watching. It made me very sad, watching it, but I learned many things from it. A true masterpiece about the dangers of wanting to transfer one’s entire self into the shell of a robot. The very first episode makes this very clear. The human cyborgs are bored and spend their time, hunting humans for sport, for example.
It is most important for us to understand this! Rich people want to live forever because of the earthly delights. They think, if only they can be having fun all the time, this is the most satisfying result. This death wish is extremely powerful in the human psyche. The Galaxy Express anime series inspects this particular matter. And it should be inspected. Maetel is a Death Goddess. She is also sexy. And sad.
Michael Jackson wanted to be a sex goddess. So did the Charley’s Angels pin up starlet. Both had domestic disasters and created domestic chaos. Indeed, nearly all pop idols of various sorts and kinds have the exact same results: domestic bliss rapidly evolves, as the money flows in and then flows out, as the surgeries to make one into a cyborg increase, as pills are popped to keep the organism dancing and having ‘fun’, as the human body becomes less and less human, as the restrictions of aging are surgically removed, the human mind, if it is released from the restrictions of time and space, goes totally insane.
The idea that we can transport our brains to another place and thus, become gods, flounders on this particular rock. We evolved into what we are today because, during the Long Emergency which was the Ice Ages, we had to be very clever and build up very strong clans in order to survive. This meant, human brains got bigger and bigger. And one of the earliest concepts we got was the business about death.
For example, chimps and gorilla mothers might carry around a dead baby for weeks before losing the pathetic remains. Obviously, these mothers are very disturbed by the loss of their beloved babies! Human mothers, on the other hand, are considered insane if they do this. The clan community has magical ceremonies to transit the dead to the Other Side. So, the entire group would perform very elaborate ceremonies surrounding this journey and it is the root of all our religions.
The evolution of this process has created neural paths which are deeply embedded in our brains. The need to prepare for death is a paramount process for us. It overshadows all other things. Even in the midst of joyous celebrations or drunken orgies, it lurks. All our arts have this as the ultimate basis. All religions are connected to this. The closer one is to achieving pharaonic control over the Afterlife, the more hideous it gets. Absolute rulers who command all the resources of their community fall into a death spiral like we see in North Korea, for example.
They often begin yelling about killing off all humans! This is the danger of our nuclear arsenal. Will we go insane as a community and try to kill all living things, as despair overwhelms us? The joys of thoughtless youth evolve into dread of the specter of Death. And yet, I have seen, all my life, how people who embrace their future deaths end up living very joyous lives! Even as they age, they can reach back in time to the children and love the littlest ones. The concept of nurturing the young because they carry the future and they are the true bounty: coupled with this is the need to not indulge in our children so they begin to think, they are masters and all others are servants!
Spoiling humans is very dangerous. The dark parts of our psyches take over. Self centered, spoiled humans are extremely dangerous. They trend towards putting their brains in cyborg machines and then hunting down humans for fun. They want to live in Neverland. Neverland is part of the Cave of Wealth and Death. It is where a man who looks like a skeleton showers free cars, free jewels, free money on parents willing to sell their sons into prostitution. Fawcett’s mansion is where she indulged her Caligula son so he grew up to be a dangerous addict and thus, couldn’t be at her bedside when she made her transit to Maetel’s domicile, the Galaxy Express that never stops.
We should hold up all these icons not as heroes but as horrors. The dangers they show us are dangers buried inside our own minds. The ‘Id’ as Dr. Freud so clearly saw.