Category: Books

What Bill Gates said

In his book entitled The Road Ahead, published in 1995, Bill Gates said about finding homes for sale on the Internet:

“If you put your home on the market, you will be able to describe it fully and include photographs, video, floor plans, tax records, utility and repair bills, even a little mood music. The chances that a potential buyer for your house will see your ad are improved because the information highway will make it easy for anyone to look it up. The whole system of real estate agencies and commissions may be changed by the principals having direct access to so much information.

At first on-line classified ads won’t be very attractive, because not many people will be using them. But then word of mouth by a few satisfied customers will entice more and more users to the service.

There will be a positive feedback loop created as more sellers attract more buyers and vice versa. When a critical mass is achieved, which might be only a year or two after the service is first offered, the information highway’s classified advertising service will be transformed from a curiosity to the primary way private sellers and buyers get together.” (pg 173)

Super-Freaky: Intellectual dishonesty or disingenuous immorality?

The new Levitt and Dubner Freakonomics book has come out (called, of course, Super Freakonomics) and the buzz has already started. The two authors are making the talk show circuits and they have a scheduled appearance tonight at Town Hall in Seattle.

With the first book, they pissed us off with the “How are real estate agents like the Ku Klux Klan”. But now it gets better with “Why pimps have a greater financial impact than real estate agents”.

“Just as you can sell your body with or without the aid of a pimp, you can sell your house with or without a Realtor,” they write. “While Realtors charge a much lower commission than the pimps — about 5 percent versus 25 percent — the Realtor’s cut is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single sale.”

And more:

“A Realtor and a pimp perform the same primary service: marketing your product to potential customers,” Levitt and Dubner write. “As this study shows, the Internet is proving to be a pretty powerful substitute for the Realtor.”

Of course, the problem with Super Freakonomics is it prefers an interesting story to an accurate one.

It is in the authors economic self-interest to promote sensational and controversial stories, whether or not they are true. Like an intellectual Rush Limbaugh or one of the Fox News toadies, it’s interesting and sensational stories, not accurate ones, that pump up ratings and sell the books.

Making claims that will likely not stand up to serious scrutiny won’t matter after the personable authors sell thousands of books and make the talk-show circuit at $30 a ticket.

Why are residential real estate agents compared to pimps? Why not commercial real estate agents? Why not stockbrokers? Why not retail shopkeepers who act as middleman between wholesalers and the general public? Why are residential real estate agents, mostly women, targeted by these two authors? It’s interesting to note too, that in their new book they bend over backwards not to make any moral judgments about the prostitutes they write about, but wonder why more women don’t make the “career choice” to turn to prostitution. Who knows? Maybe that will be an easier choice for some women if Levitt and Dubner are successful in eliminating real estate sales as a career option.

There approach to their subject isn’t so much research than reducto ad absurdam; it takes the complexities of economics and reduces it down to a simplistic and meaningless vision. It takes the most obvious of targets, in this case residential real estate agents, and attempts to prove their uselessness. Because, after all, that’s how the authors make their points, by proving “conventional wisdom” is wrong, by finding something people believe in and playing the role of contrarian. With the down economy, Realtor bashing and whack-an-agent is popular now days and Realtors make a convenient punching bag.

The Shoddy Statistics of Super Freakonomics

Journalistic Malpractice From Leavitt and Dubner

Does “Superfreakonomics” Need A Do-Over?

Super Offend-O-Nomics

Superfreaky idea pits pimps vs. real estate agents
(Ex-pimp turned preacher gives his take on Freakonomics theory)

Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy

Punk House

While most agents would consider the punk house a nightmare, but there is often artistry and beauty to these kind of squats that I enjoy.

I’ve only seen a few hit the market “as-is”, as most get cleaned up prior to listing. I like the idea of communal living, and did it myself for awhile during my pre-and-post college years, though we were never in one place long enough to amass the kind of squalor and filth pictured in the book “Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy”.

Punk House 2

With the ones that I’ve listed, there is usually so much art on the walls, if we can clean them up, we can usually sell it to another artist.

Punk House features anarchist warehouses, feminist collectives, tree houses, workshops, artists’ studios, self-sufficient farms, hobo squats, community centers, basement bike shops, speakeasies, and all varieties of communal living spaces.

In over 300 images of fifty houses in twenty-five cities in the US, photographer Abby Banks finds the already weathered face of a seventeen-year-old runaway; the soft hands of a vinyl junkie (record collector); the mohawked show-goer; the dirty dishes in the sink; silk screened posters on the wall; and many other revealing glimpses of these anarchist interiors.

“Punk House” in New York Times

Where Lou Reed Peed: CBGB’s toilet

Ruminations on the Scab: RIP Jack London

Jack London, 1902

Jack London, who died today on November 22nd in 1916, was an American author most famous for writing The Call of the Wild. He was a pioneer in the world of commercial magazine fiction, and he was one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from his writing.

One of London’s most famous writings is The Scab“.

What is a scab? Simply, a person who purports to do the same amount of work as another person, but for less money. According to Jack London, anyone who undercuts another person, as far as wages or compensation for labor, may be considered a “scab”.

In a competitive society, where men struggle with one another for food and shelter, what is more natural than that generosity, when it diminishes the food and shelter of men other than he who is generous, should be held an accursed thing? Wise old saws to the contrary, he who takes from a man’s purse takes from his existence. To strike at a man’s food and shelter is to strike at his life; and in a society organized on a tooth-and-nail basis, such an act, performed though it may be under the guise of generosity, is none the less menacing and terrible.

It is for this reason that a laborer is so fiercely hostile to another laborer who offers to work for less pay or longer hours. To hold his place, (which is to live), he must offset this offer by another equally liberal, which is equivalent to giving away somewhat from the food and shelter he enjoys. To sell his day’s work for $2, instead of $2.50, means that he, his wife, and his children will not have so good a roof over their heads, so warm clothes on their backs, so substantial food in their stomachs. Meat will be bought less frequently and it will be tougher and less nutritious, stout new shoes will go less often on the children’s feet, and disease and death will be more imminent in a cheaper house and neighborhood.

Thus the generous laborer, giving more of a day’s work for less return (measured in terms of food and shelter), threatens the life of his less generous brother laborer, and at the best, if he does not destroy that life, he diminishes it. Whereupon the less generous laborer looks upon him as an enemy, and, as men are inclined to do in a tooth-and-nail society, he tries to kill the man who is trying to kill him.

Before someone writes in complaining that this definition of a “Scab” is defamatory, consider the following:

After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue ….

This passage figured in a 1974 Supreme Court case, in which justice Thurgood Marshall quoted the passage in full and referred to it as “a well-known piece of trade union literature, generally attributed to author Jack London.” A union newsletter had published a “list of scabs,” which was granted to be factual and therefore not libellous, but then went on to quote the passage as the “definition of a scab.” The case turned on the question of whether the “definition” was defamatory. The court ruled that “Jack London’s… ‘definition of a scab’ is merely rhetorical hyperbole, a lusty and imaginative expression of the contempt felt by union members towards those who refuse to join,” and as such was not libellous and was protected under the First Amendment.

Jack London wrote The Scab in 1903 and died in 1916 at the age of 40…..

Degrees of separation

I love juxtapositions and reciprocity and capillaries of connections. I like to look for patterns and order and the weave, web and wiring between people and events. Relationships, correlations and networking connect the people, places and things in our lives.

Walt Crowley 2007

If you’re a Seattleite, you may know Walt Crowley, founder of, a journalist, a social services director, a policy planner for the City of Seattle and the Municipal League of King County, a television news commentator, a freelance writer, communications consultant and networker extraordinaire.

In a sad twist of fate, this former radio and television commentator, lobbyist and public speaker was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer on July 15, 2005. He began treatment at Group Health Cooperative in August, but chemo and radiation therapy ultimately failed to kill the disease, necessitating removal of his larynx on February 9, 2007. Luckily, word is he did well and is now in recovery. He’s not seeing guests quite yet (not even recent visitor Mayor Greg Nickels), but he’s making good progress. Slowly, he will learn to use one of those hand-held voiceboxes and will communicate with his multi-layered network of friends, political cronies, writers, artists and other assorted ne’er’-do-well’s in that way.

In the weeks before he went in for the surgery, he recorded his words so his wife, friends, family and, more importantly, he himself, would not forget how his own voice sounded.

In a degree of bravery I have rarely witnessed, the evening before his surgery he invited some of the friends, cohorts, sidekicks, well-wishers, patrons, advocates, supporters, politicians, ex-hippies and rabble-rousers he’s known, to come by one last time to hear him speak and for a going-away party for his voicebox.

Norm Rice, Walt Crowley, Jean Godden

There were several past mayors in attendance, including former Seattle Mayors Wes Uhlman and Norm Rice. Here is a photo of Walt, ex-Mayor Norm Rice and current City Councilmember Jean Godden.

Walt Crowley and Nick Licata

There were also many City Council members there, including President Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck and ex-Port of Seattle Commissioner Henry Aronson.

Danny O\'Keefe, Walt and Milo Johnstone

The place was packed. Writers such as Paul Dorpat. Artists such as David Kane (having his own battle with Hugo). Other writers like Milo Johnstone (The Magic Decade) and singer/songwriter Danny O’Keefe.

Walt and Marlow

Walt is also the author of several historical tomes about Seattle University, my alma mater. He wrote “William J. Sullivan, S.J” , a celebration of Seattle University’s renaissance during 20 years under its 20th president and “Seattle University, A Century of Jesuit Education”.

Hubert Locke and Walt Crowley

Also in attendance was Ken Bunting, associate publisher of the PI, Tracy Rowland, Maura Donahue, Kurt Geissell, owner of our favorite brunch spot, Cafe Racer, and Quintard Taylor, Dr. Hubert Locke, Professor of Public Affairs, Dean Emeritus, and Marguerite Corbally Professor of Public Service and author of Learning from History: A Black Christian’s Perspective on the Holocaust and Searching for God in Godforsaken Times and Places: Reflections on the Holocaust, Racism, and Death

John Carlson and Walt Crowley

Walt used to have a show on KIRO-TV called “Point/CounterPoint” with John Carlson, who is still a talk show host on conservative talk-radio, KVI. The show consisted of exchanges between the conservative organizer John and left-wing writer Walt. The mini-debates aired two or three times a week and covered a wide range of political and social topics.

Walt Crowley and John Carlson

John stopped by for one last verbal spar with Walt, the night before the surgery.

One of Walt’s great successes was the founding of History Link, a fabulous State of Washington history website, with over 100,000 visitors a day.

So what does any of this have to do with real estate

The seed money for came from a $100,000.00 grant from Paul Allen, owner of Vulcan Real Estate, the builder of 1000’s of condo’s in the Seattle area and also owner of Vulcan Capital, the main funder of Redfin.

Also, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors created the First Citizen’s Award in 1939 to honor outstanding community and civic leaders who’ve made a contribution to improve the region where we live. (The Gates Family were recipients in 1995, Jeff Brotman, founder of Costco in 2005, the McCaw’s in 2004. Dale Chihuly was a recipient in 2006. (Read “Glass Artist = Realtor?”).

The Association of Realtors created a relationship with Walt’s organization,, to memorialize the 1st Citizen Award event and most importantly, the contributions of the past recipients. Walt helped write the biographies to provide a new, authoritative, and easily accessible historical reference. created 1,500 word biographies for each past recipient.

This past week, Crowley took his voice on a farewell tour, appearing on public radio and local TV news stations:

Cancer claims radio host’s voice on NPR

Historian’s voice still fighting to be heard

NPR (KUOW) radio interview with Walt Crowley

Seattle historian loses voice (KOMO-TV)

A voice of Seattle faces a challenge (Seattle Times)

To send get-well wishes and to check up on Walt’s progress, you can visit Driving Mr. Walt.

Lolita Turns 50

lolitaLolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel, is 50 years old this year. Lovely prose, frightening imagery, beautiful sugary words hiding nasty acts and defiled innocence. This was the first book I read, noticed and marveled at the writing style. I first read it at the Lolitaesque age of 15 (though Lolita was 12 when she first met Humbert Humbert and she was 14 when their “affair” ended.)

Another book with faint echoes of Lolita is Tom Robbins Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. I love Robbins work, the tales and pictures he spins with convoluted sentences and slippery words, but sometimes his course talk and earthy metaphors leave me raw from the rubbing. And he claims to love women. But I don’t know. But I can forgive him pretty much anything (except the pedophilia) when massaged with synchronistic plot twists and his exquisite agility with metaphor., Tom Robbins fan site

Tom Robbins interview from January Magazine

How to Write Like Tom Robbins