rowyn: (studious)
I am a couple of weeks late for Bisexual Visibility Week, but I'm gonna write about bisexuality anyway. I don't think the point of the week was to have us all re-cloak when it was over.
I don't think it's a secret that I am bisexual*. I mention it now and again.  I am, in some ways, perfectly comfortable with my sexuality.

But I noticed, during Bisexual Visibility Week, that I was not that comfortable about participating in it. For reasons that mostly boil down to "this is for Real Bisexual People, not you." It's weird to feel that way, after so long thinking I'd finally gotten over being defensive about my sexual orientation. But it bleeds into other things, too.
Ardent, the female protagonist of The Moon Etherium, is bisexual.  At the start of the book, she's not in a relationship.  Over the course of the book, she almost hooks up again with her ex-wife, and ultimately becomes romantically involved with the male protagonist.

Amazon asks for up to seven keywords for every book, and it's a good idea to use all seven because keywords are one of the main ways for readers to discover your book. One of the keywords for The Moon Etherium is "bisexual".  Amazon chose to put it in two LGBT subcategories (one for fantasy and one for romance) and the Romance > Multicultural subcategory.  I don't know what algorithm Amazon uses to figure out the subcategories to use; if I controlled it, I'd've listed it in three fantasy categories, not one fantasy and two romance.

Anyway, I find myself uncomfortable with having The Moon Etherium listed as an LGBT book.  Sure, it's got a bisexual protagonist and, for that matter, nonbinary supporting cast members.  But is that really what LGBT readers are looking for?  Aren't they looking for MM or FF pairings?  Perhaps MMF or MFF triads? Isn't that last the only way to be really bisexual?  Because everyone knows monogamous people can't really be bi.  They're actually hetero- or homosexual, depending on their partner's gender.

You don't need to tell me those last three sentences are BS.  I know perfectly well that's garbage.  I mean, intellectually, I know that.  Emotionally, part of me believes that sexual behavior dictates sexual preference. Unless you're straight, of course.  You can identify as straight without having dated anyone.  That's fine.  But if you identify as bi or gay, you have to prove that, by having sex with members of every gender you claim to be attracted to. No, no, just knowing that you're attracted to them isn't enough.  And it doesn't count if you've only had sex with that gender as part of a threesome with someone of another gender.  You might just like threesomes or something. And really, do one-night stands count?  Or a short term fling?  Honestly, if you were a real bisexual you'd have both male and female long-term partners. (We'll let you off the hook for finding nb ones. Maybe.)

For each "you" in that last paragraph, substitute "I", because I would never have the unmitigated gall to spew such hateful rubbish to anyone but myself.

I am so very tired of thinking these things about myself, but I do.  Among my past and current lovers are ciswomen, transwomen, cismen, and nonbinary people, and my mind still thinks "you're just faking it".  Really, brain? I'm 46. I realized I was bisexual over twenty years ago. Can we stop having this conversation yet? Can we at least not have it about my fictional characters? Can I at least classify Ardent as really bi even though she's not currently in a relationship with both a man and a woman?

No?

No.

I think part of why I wrote Ardent this way was, perhaps, to grapple with my internalized "fake bisexual girl" feelings.  "Here, she was married for decades to a woman and now she's seeing a man and her sexual interest is just not tied to gender and she doesn't have to prove this to anyone". Maybe I thought I could fight for her in the way that I have not been able to fight myself.

I don't know if I can.

But I haven't taken the "bisexual" label off the book yet.

* I like the word "pansexual" better than "bisexual", all things considered.  I am attracted to cis, trans, and nonbinary people of all genders, and I like the way the root "pan" suggests expansiveness.  But bisexual is the more widely recognized term and most people seem to understand it as inclusive.  I'm pretty happy to revisit using the label if people have arguments against it, though.
rowyn: (sledgehammer)
There's been commentary circulating on Twitter for some months now about how important it is to authors that readers buy the early books in an incomplete series. Things to the effect of 'If you refuse to buy book 2 before book 3 is out, the publisher will cancel the contract and book 3 will never come out and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT'.

Every time I see this, I think of Neil Gaiman's famous blog post about George R. R. Martin, the one where he discusses how entitled it is for readers to expect authors to dedicate every working moment to producing the next book of an incomplete series.

I do not dispute either point. Publishers do cancel series when the early books don't sell well, regardless of whether or not the series is complete. It is futile at best and counterproductive at worst to browbeat an author because they are not Writing Fast Enough.

But I would like to submit it is also futile to browbeat readers who do not like the format in which you package your product. Envision the conversation like this:

Seller: Buy my chocolate!
Consumer: Oh, sorry, I don't like chocolate. More a vanilla person.
S: Well, in a few years I plan to stock vanilla!
C: Yay! I will buy your vanilla once you start selling it.
S: NO YOU HAVE TO BUY MY CHOCOLATE NOW OR I'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO MAKE VANILLA WHY DO YOU HATE VANILLA DON'T YOU KNOW THAT YOU PERSONALLY ARE DESTROYING THE VANILLA INDUSTRY ;__:
C: [... quietly leaves to buy vanilla from someone else]

Does this really seem like an effective strategy?

Yes, I am aware that it's easier for authors of epics to support themselves if they can sell their epics one book at a time and live on the proceeds from the last book while they write the next. However, "it is easier if" <> "the thousand-page epic will go away if this mode of publishing stops". J.R.R. Tolkien had finished all of The Lord of the Rings before any of it was published. Conversely, Charles Dickens wrote and published most of his novel as serials before they were published as single books. The fact that we currently have "unfinished epic" as a healthy publishing category while "unfinished novel" is only just starting to make a comeback has not stopped the latter from being written.

A market only works because it benefits both buyer and seller. There are lots of readers who don't have a problem with reading books in an unfinished series. If you are publishing Book [X] of [Y], those readers are your target market.  The readers who only want to read complete stories are not. Complaining about the latter group because they aren't supporting you RIGHT NOW doesn't change that RIGHT NOW you're not actually selling something they want.

You have several markteing options here!  You can:

(a) Sell standalone books
(b) Sell books in a series as each one is finished and rely on the support of people who like that format
(c) Release the series all at once at completion for readers who like binging
(d) Try to lure in the people who like completion as well as those who like series by having a quick publishing schedule
(e) Talk about how great incomplete series are! Seriously, books that end in cliffhangers are arguably the most successful book marketing strategy. Obviously many readers love them. If you want to convert the folks who don't, tell them why they should. Talk about how you savor the time between installments as a chance to fantasize about possible resolutions, or a way to connect with other readers and discuss the characters' current predicaments, or a way to get your fix in unintimidating bite-sized chunks, or whatever else it is that makes you love this style of storytelling.
(f) Whinge at potential readers about how the publisher is holding Book X+1 hostage unless they buy Book X RIGHT NOW.

Y'all can probably tell which strategy I would not recommend. -_-
rowyn: (current)

Sexist pseudoscientific crap.

This just pisses me off. Biology is not destiny. Whatever problems you have or create are not an inevitable product of your gender that you “just can’t help”. Fine, I can believe that there are certain traits which are more common to one gender than another in my society. Making that leap to “and they always have been and always will be” is utter nonsense. What my cultures is training people to do today is different from what was inculcated two hundred years ago and different from what cultures on the other side of the world are doing, and I find it very difficult to believe that your little list of anecdotes and small studies generalize to the global population from now to infinity.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that I get so tired of the little gender-based insults and excuses. What exactly is this accomplishing, anyway? -.-

Posted via LiveJournal app for Android.









RTFM

Apr. 14th, 2009 04:25 pm
rowyn: (Default)
So, yesterday, I combed through the help files for our banking software, looking for information on the changes made to a report in the latest version. After several hours of RTFM, and locating some wonderfully detailed information on the report that did not include the recent changes, I logged a call to their support saying "I can't find this information in the help files. Would you please let me know X, Y and Z?"

Today, I spent four and a half hours in a meeting. Four. And a half. HOURS.

When I got out, I saw I had email regarding my support call. I checked it. The response?

"RTFM."*

So that's been my day. How was yours?

* No, the support response said nothing about where to find it, or give any indication that the person who wrote it had taken any action to verify that the information she was claiming was there was, in fact, there.
rowyn: (sledgehammer)
Okay, here's what I hate about mainstream financial reporting.

It throws around big numbers with no context. It tosses about terms without defining them and misleads readers, very badly, about what's actually going on.

I'm going to try to explain what happened with AIG. I may even try to do it without ranting. Bear with me.

The AIG deal has been described as a "bailout" which "cost $85 billion". From this, one might conclude that the Federal Reserve gave AIG an $85 billion present with no strings attached. This is ... not true. See, I said I'd try not to rant.

The Fed gave AIG an $85 billion loan at a rate of Prime + 8% (that's currently 13%, and is a rate my bank would be ashamed to offer on unsecured loans). In return for this loan (not an investment, mind you, a loan) the Fed also received a 79.9% equity stake and forced the ousting of AIG's CEO*.

This is the Fed's "bailout" of AIG. It takes control of the company, dilutes AIG's shares, and charges an onerous interest rate. This is not a sweetheart deal. This is not something you want to have happen to your company. The directors' reaction to the offer was not "Praise the Lord! We are saved!" It was "... come to think of it, bankruptcy's not that bad." In fact, AIG's directors almost didn't accept. And yes, their only other alternative at that juncture was bankruptcy. The Fed's offer was so bad that it's just marginally better for AIG's shareholders than a bankruptcy filing, which would wipe them out completely instead of just mostly. It is significantly better for AIG's creditors and customers than a bankruptcy filing, since an AIG which is still in business is much more likely to pay them back in full. This is as it should be: shareholders get most of the benefits when a company does well and accordingly should shoulder most of the burden when it plunges. The deal was not offered for the benefit of AIG or its shareholders. It was extended for the benefit of AIG's creditors, customers, and the broader market. (Whether or not it is good for the broader market is debatable. It's supposed to calm fears but it's questionable whether it actually does, and moreover nationalization under any terms is usually bad for the overall economy).

Now, as a good little libertarian, I don't want my government in the business of selling insurance or leasing airplanes (those two arms of AIG's operations are in fine shape, btw) or engaging in credit default swaps** (which is what killed the company). So as a libertarian, I don't want them to own the company even at fire-sale prices.

That said, as a good little capitalist I gotta say that Mr. Paulson drove one heck of a bargain. I think he's appraised the risk well and that the deal for AIG was not only a reasonable valuation of its worth, but probably undervalues it. In other words, I think the taxpayer is going to make money on this deal in the long run, not lose money. That's not a guarantee of profit: this is a deal made under the capitalist system and this year's lesson is "Capitalism Involves Risk". Just because the odds are 60:40 in your favor doesn't mean you will win on any given bet. This is a bet. It may well lose money.

But what it's not is a gift. It is not an $85 billion Christmas present from Santa Federal Reserve to AIG. It is not an excuse for every other company to whine "but where's my present?"

You want what AIG got? Then bend over and grab your ankles.

And when Detroit automakers come complaining that they deserve a loan too, well, you can tell 'em this from me: if they want to offer an 80% equity stake in return for a loan at 13% interest, I bet they don't need to go to Washington to find a taker.

...

OK, I didn't manage to do that without ranting. Sorry.

* This last is a shame, actually, because the poor guy had only had the job two months and AIG's collapse was hardly his fault. I think giving him the sack was a political move, part of the Fed's message to other companies in dire straits: "do NOT let this happen to you or you WILL regret it".
** "Credit default swaps" are bets between two companies on whether or not a loan will default. Insitutional investors in loan securities, like those lovely subprime ones you've heard so much about, would buy credit default swaps as protection in the event of a default on their investment. AIG was on the side of the bet that said these wouldn't default. Obviously, this did not turn out to be a winning bet.
rowyn: (sledgehammer)
I am not an expert on financial matters, but I've been following financial news for the last ten years or so. I read it because I find the workings of the market and businesses ... fun. Some people like to read about politics or international incidents or local crime; me, I like hearing about why companies are succeeding or failing, why they're making the decisions they do. Business, at its root, is all about the things people do every day; maybe that's why it interests me.

It's been an interesting time for business news recently, in the Chinese proverb sense. Some of this raises the kind of passion in me that most people reserve for political issues like abortion.

So just to warn you: this is a rant. I am ranting about mortgage lending, which is very topical if not normally considered the subject of ranting. I will endeavor to give some useful information and not be boring, but my biases will color my presentation. But I do know that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn't really eat babies, kick puppies, cause global warming, or single-handedly destroy the global financial system. Honest.

*

Nine or ten years ago, when I was still new to banking, my boss talked to me about Baby Bank's plan to hire a new loan officer. "He's going to make mortgage loans for us to sell on the secondary market."

"Oh? How's that work?" Baby Bank did very few home loans, and I'd always wondered why not.

"We find borrowers who want loans against homes, and make them loans according to Fannie Mae's standards. Then we sell them to another bank, who pays us a fee. Then that bank sells them to Fannie Mae, who pays a fee to that bank to service the loans, and packages the loan together with other loans and sells them to investors as securitized investments ... bonds, basically."

"Investors ... like ... banks?" I said. "Like us?"

"Yes."

"Doesn't this sound ... unnecessarily complicated to you? Why don't we just lend the borrower the money ourselves and keep the loan?"

"They offer much better rates than we can. Twenty or third points better. We can't match their rates, so the only way for us to do these kinds of loans is to offer their rates and sell them the loans."

"Which are paying fee slices to two other parties and making a profit for Fannie Mae too? How do they do that?"

"I have no idea."

Thus began my distrust of the FMs. I learned more about them over the years, none of which made me like them any better. After we hired the new loan officer, I went to a seminar with him on how to make loans that met their guidelines. This would've been in '98 or '99. They touted products for customers with high credit scores that required downpayments of only 5% of the sale price and waived requirements to provide proof of income and other documentation they deemed superfluous.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are, or rather, were, government-chartered institutions with a mandate to increase home ownership through loans to American home buyers and owners. However, they were not government-owned nor government-guaranteed. They were a private company. ("Private" here in the sense of "not government owned". They're publicly traded on the stock market, like Microsoft or Lehman Brothers.) When they made money, their stockholders benefited. If they lost money, their stockholders, in theory, lost money.

Except that no one ever expected the latter to happen. The FMs offered rock-bottom rates for their loans to consumers. Those who bought the securitized investments received commeasurately low rates for the investments. Because everyone, and I mean everyone, thought that if those investments ever nose-dived the Feds would bail out the FMs.

Meanwhile, the FMs worked at gobbling up the market, which is easy to do when you're offering the best rate in town. They doled out tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress for less oversight and extensions to their charter. They wanted to raise the cap on the size of loans they could make, and lower their standards for the quality of loans they could make.

They are, as a result, huge. They own or guarantee roughly half the housing market in US. That's about six trillion dollars. Not billion. Trillion. 6,000,000,000,000. Fun comparison: the entire United States debt is a bit under ten trillion. But bear in mind that this six trillion is not money owed *by* the FMs -- it's money owed *to* them or to the investors they've sold it to. The money gets funneled around every which way. Also, $6 trillion is the face value; a substantial fraction of that portfolio is severely devalued as the result of the mortgage market meltdown. How much of it? No one knows yet. That's part of the problem. This isn't because the FMs are evil and trying to hide their losses, incidentally. It's because the market is still melting down and no one knows when it will stabilize or where.

However, the FMs, like everyone other lending institution in the world, is leveraged. The right analogy isn't "I took $10,000 out of my savings account and lent it to Bob, who didn't pay me back and now I'm out the money, wah." The analogy is closer to "I borrowed $10,000 from my bank and lent it to Bob, who didn't pay it back and now I have to file for bankruptcy." But it's more complicated than that, because the investors have varying levels of recourse. So: "I took $100 from my savings account, had Mary chip in $8000 that she'd only get paid back if Bob paid me back in full, had David chip in $1000 on the condition that he'd get paid back by Bob first, and borrowed $900 from a bank myself, and lent $10,000 to Bob" is a little more accurate. I am both simplifying and making up the ratios; I don't know the exact details of Fannie or Freddie's tens of millions of deals.

And of course, having all those extra people involved makes the chain a disaster when it unwinds, because at every step of the way someone will look for someone else to blame. Everyone's looking at the paperwork for loopholes, and if they find anything, they sue. The investors sue FM, FM sues the loan servicer, the loan servicer sues the broker. Also, since every loan is owned by a pool of investors and this complex chain of intervening layers, no one actually has the authority to renegotiate with a struggling borrower. The complexity of the chain forces foreclosure even when foreclosure is a lousy option, because the contract allows no other possibility. This problem is endemic to the mortgage market, not unique to the FMs, but it's still one of their problems.

Now, our problem with the FMs is multifold. Arguably, they never should have been chartered. Having been chartered, they should have been stuck with their original mission of increasing home ownership among low-income citizens, and not allowed to expand in every direction. Having been allowed to expand in every direction, they should have been subject to a whole pile more scrutiny. Congress made this problem, and Congress had a multitude of chances to rein it in and chose not to. Anyone who looked could see that the FMs were a disaster waiting to happen. The Wall Street Journal has been preaching against them for years. But the FMs were allowed to sail on. Their meltdown was their own doing: they're the ones who provided the financing for the run-up in housing prices in the first place.

I hate -- and unless you have been watching these people steal business from your bank for years based on lies and political incest, you cannot understand the depth and passion of my hatred -- I hate that the Feds bailed them out. Because, of course, that's the whole reason they had this giant competitive advantage over the rest of the industry; that's the way they drove the rest of the industry into increasingly risky ventures in a vain effort to compete. Because everyone always knew that they'd get bailed out. The feds wouldn't let them fail.

But, even more depressingly, I know that at this stage of the game it's much too late for the feds to do anything else but bail them out. The FMs can't be allowed to simply fail and force all their stockholders and all those buyers of securitized investments to take a bath. Because that's everyone. Everybody holds those investments. They're considered almost as stable as Treasury bonds (because, you know, everyone "knew" the US gov't would guarantee them in the end -- and look! they were right! *FUME*) As bad as the whole premise of the FMs was and as much as they deserved to fail, their collapse would take down the global market. It wouldn't be quite as bad as the US federal government defaulting on its debt (that would be TEOTWAWKI), but it'd be close.

So the US taxpayer will bail them out, because the US taxpayer was already going to get screwed one way or the other and this way is cheaper than another Great Depression would be.

Not that I'm not bitter.

In conclusion:

The FMs are an example of "private profit, public risk". For decades, the FMs raked in the cash for their shareholders and investors. Now that their bets have finally soured, the US taxpayer is going to pay for their risks. This is not a failure of the free market, because the free market didn't make the FMs: Congress did. The FMs represented the worst aspects of the market and government; it didn't even have the benefit of a nationalized institution where at least the taxpayer makes money when the agency.

I'm not saying that everything driving prices in the market down right now is the fault of the FMs. Lehman Bros. filing for bankruptcy is pretty much the result of normal free market forces. But this rant is long enough already. If I muster up the energy I'll write more about that later.
rowyn: (sledgehammer)
What is with this whole soundbite rhetorical argument that, somehow, one's position on the death penalty needs to be aligned with one's position on abortion and/or hunting? Is it so hard to imagine that one could believe that convicted criminals, fetuses, and wild animals are not, in fact, identical creatures and should not, therefore, be treated as though they were? I am so sick of hearing "how can she be pro-life and yet favor the death penalty?" or "how can he allow the murder of unborn children and yet oppose the execution of hardened killers?" Neither one of these positions is ethically inconsistent. They just require a marginally nuanced version of the world that does not do things like, oh, group frogs and plants in the same family because they're both green. No one over the age of ten is going to change their position on any of these things based on this line of argument. Please, stop. Thank you.

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