- Because it’s all about “the children”: VR bashers emerge
- Virtual reality in the psychologist’s office
- Three days in a row: An eerie warning from China
- The government’s left hand, clueless about the right’s activities
- Another escalation in the war on cash… America’s kept media… the downside of “Raid for bureaucrats”… and more!
Paranoiac headline of the week: “Virtual Reality Will Completely Transform Children Into Zombies,” says the New York Post.
Not even partially. Completely!
“We have no idea what the effect of putting these headsets on kids will be,” frets columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley.
“And the manufacturers seem to acknowledge that. Samsung’s manual for its Gear VR reads: ‘Not for use by children under 13. Watching videos or playing games with the Gear VR may affect the visual development of children. When children, age 13 or older, use the Gear VR, adults should limit their usage time and ensure they take frequent breaks. Adults should monitor children closely after using the Gear VR if children feel discomfort.’ Ha!”
In search of evidence to justify her apprehension, she tells us “earlier this year, McDonald’s launched a promotion in Sweden of Happy Meal boxes that could be turned into virtual-reality viewers.”
Seriously? “What McDonald’s is actually offering,” counters Scott Shackford at Reason, “is nothing more than an updated version of the old View-Master toys from our own childhoods, using a smartphone instead of little paper-and-plastic reels.”
The Happy Meal Box of Zombie Doom.
[McDonald’s screengrab via YouTube]
But we digress. Back to our point about paranoia: “We will most certainly see the same level of fearmongering about the impacts of virtual reality on children and teens,” writes Mr. Shackford, “as we have from movies, music, video games, comic books, advertising, smartphones or pretty much anything that engages the imagination of the young that is not a parent, government authority figure or school textbook.”
He rightly points out the generation that grew up playing Nintendo and PlayStation turned out OK and surely possesses the wisdom to limit the screen time, virtual or otherwise, of their offspring.
Speaking of paranoia, virtual reality has the capacity to treat people who are diagnosed with severe cases of that disorder. (We’ll refrain from any jokes about newspaper columnists.)
Researchers at Oxford studied 30 patients who suffer delusions of persecution. All got VR headsets and were encouraged to step inside a virtual subway train or an elevator.
The virtual elevator, as seen by patients in the Oxford study.
[Oxford University screengrab]
Some of the patients were told to act as they normally would — avoiding eye contact, for instance.
The rest, however, were told to lower their defenses by approaching the people/avatars — standing right in front of them, or even staring at them. Among this second group of patients, more than half no longer had severe paranoia at the end of the test day. And even the control group that acted as they usually would showed some improvement.
“With virtual reality,” Oxford psychiatry prof Daniel Freeman tells the BBC, “we can help the person to relearn that they are safe, and when they do that, the paranoia melts away.
“I think this a glimpse into the future of mental health care. There is a revolution underway in virtual reality with many headsets becoming available.”
Meanwhile, like water behind a dam that’s about to burst, pent-up demand for VR headsets is reaching critical mass.
We’ve told you about the production delays for the Oculus Rift, made by Facebook. The one we ordered at Agora Financial — on the first day of pre-orders in January! — won’t ship till late next month.
“The Rift is losing some of its first-mover appeal,” says The Associated Press. “Some games originally designed to be Oculus exclusives have now been hacked to work on the HTC Vive, which launched about a week after the Rift but hasn’t experienced shipping delays.”
A handful of those Rifts that were going to pre-order folks like us are instead being diverted to Best Buy this week — the better to generate word of mouth and let people to try before they buy.
Uhhh… What gives?
According to the tech site Re/code, “Oculus says that those waiting on a pre-order can buy a Rift in-store and still get the rest of their pre-order perks (like a game and first dibs on the Oculus controllers, which are also delayed).”
Whatever. As we’ve been saying for weeks, you won’t make money from VR investing in Facebook or Samsung or any of the other headset makers. Better to pursue the proverbial “pick-and-shovel” plays — the companies supplying the headset components. Our Ray Blanco shows you the way to capture maximum upside from an industry with 81,000% growth potential — he has the numbers to back that up — at this link. Or this one: If you’re OK with an angle to the story that’s NSFW (not safe for work) and you’re not easily offended, try this.
The major U.S. stock indexes are marginally in the green as we write this morning. At last check, the S&P 500 has added three points, to 2,054.
Gold’s retreat from near-$1,300 levels continues apace. At last check, the bid was $1,276. That’s not bad in light of dollar strength, the dollar index bouncing back to 93.8.
After a thumping yesterday, crude is up more than a buck at $44.87.
There are no economic data points or earnings numbers of huge significance today. Just in case you were wondering why we hadn’t said anything about it yet, heh…
A quick field note from the war on cash: In case you missed it, the European Central Bank announced yesterday it will cease issuing 500-euro notes (about $570 at today’s exchange rate) by the end of 2018.
We’ve written about the 500-euro note before — usually in the context of pointing out the $100 is the largest-denomination U.S. bill. In February, we wrote about a Harvard study calling for a ban on large-denomination bills.
What we hadn’t seen till yesterday is this sentence from the Harvard study: “It should be no surprise that in the underworld, the €500 note is known as a ‘Bin Laden.’”
That factoid (with no supporting evidence in the study) got a lot of play in the news coverage yesterday. Just in case the message didn’t get through that only terrorists, drug dealers and the like use large bills.
Maybe the debt meltdown in China is closer than we think: We reproduce the following lead from a Bloomberg story verbatim:
“China’s authorities, seeking to forestall potential social unrest due to growing failures of investment firms and online lenders, are ordering many to break leases and close their storefronts on busy streets — lest they become magnets for protesters.”
This is the aspect of the China debt crisis there wasn’t time to tackle within the confines of our 5 Mins. on Tuesday. It comes back to something Jim Rickards wrote about five years ago in his first book, Currency Wars. The leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are obsessed with keeping people employed and off the streets.
“No one knows better than the Chinese Communist Party leadership what would happen if… jobs were not available,” he wrote. “The study of Chinese history is the study of periodic collapse. In particular, the 140-year period from 1839–1979 was one of almost constant turmoil” — the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the Japanese invasion, the Cultural Revolution.
Gotta keep the people placated. That’s what’s behind the crackdown on Chinese financial analysts who don’t toe the party line, which we mentioned yesterday. The Bloomberg story today tells us last month the government suspended registration of “all new companies with finance-related names.”
Feels like events are starting to move more quickly. We’ll stay on top of it…
“We are not doing much better in the USA,” a reader writes on the subject of that Chinese crackdown on economists, analysts and the media.
“Our mainstream media, the MSM, is also under gag orders from those in high places. This is evident by listening to and reading what they say and print compared against reality.
“How many MSM pundits ever challenge ZIRP or the GDP numbers put out by the government every month, let alone the ‘official’ unemployment rate. Regarding ZIRP, most have called for additional measures every time there is a decline in the stock market or some other financial event. Maybe some of the answers might be found in the large number of people working for those in high places who have close relatives working for all the major MSM outlets.
“I recall several years ago where one of the major news networks was banned from future presidential new conferences because one of the journalists had written an article the president did not appreciate. This ban was soon reversed, but the mindset of the administration was made known: If you publish something contrary to our point of view, we will respond.”
The 5: Yep. Did you see Larry Wilmore’s bit at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner last weekend? It went over with the crowd like a lead balloon — because he called out the media, however subtly, for failing to do its job of holding the powerful to account.
And Wilmore wasn’t nearly as cutting as Stephen Colbert was 10 years ago: “Let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type.
“Just put ’em through a spell-check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!”
Memo to the Obama administration: Can y’all make up your minds about this Iran sanctions thing? Your indecision is bad for business.
First, the essential background from Reuters: “The United States and Europe lifted sanctions in January under a deal with Tehran to limit its nuclear program, but U.S. sanctions unrelated to the nuclear issue remain, banning dollar transactions with Iran and making it harder for companies to access finance for business in the Islamic Republic.”
Yesterday, a State Department flunky named Jarrett Blanc addressed a luncheon of business leaders in Zurich. He told them if they’re reluctant to do business with Iran, it’s not Washington’s fault. “It turns out that your business decisions, not surprisingly, in fact take into account concerns well beyond sanctions.”
He did not specify what those concerns and other “risks” are. “Don’t take the easy way out, by just saying, ‘U.S. sanctions, U.S. sanctions, U.S. sanctions,'” he hectored.
Funny, the Treasury Department has been bragging to Congress about how it continues to limit Iran’s access to the global banking system. Legions of global companies are lined up to start doing business in Iran again — including Boeing — but that’s hard to do if international banks won’t give Iran access to dollars. And those banks fear if they allow that access, they’ll face — drumroll, please — U.S. sanctions.
Well, consistency is way too much to ask of bureaucrats. On which subject, we return to the mailbag, following up on the “Raid for bureaucrats” concept…
“The problem with a Bureaucratic bug spray is you just have to keep buying more,” a reader writes. “It solves a symptom, but it doesn’t cure the disease.
“The French, on the other hand, found a wonderful contraption that reduced bureaucratic recidivism down to zero and started using it in 1792… what was that thing called again???
“Love you guys (as always).”
The 5: What is it with the affection some readers have for the French Revolution? Remember, in time, the guillotine was used on many of the revolutionaries!
“If someone develops Raid for bureaucrats,” writes our final correspondent, “then the schools of public administration will start turning out Roundup Ready bureaucrats… and the Brave New Worlders will start working on GMO bureaucrats. Escalation may not be the answer.”
The 5: Boom. Can’t top that. You get the final word today.
The 5 Min. Forecast
P.S. Some of readers tell us Jim Rickards’ breaking video goes too far.
Inside, he exposes the next major attack against the U.S. dollar. But here’s the scariest part…
According to Jim, this new surprise attack will come from one of America’s sworn allies.
If you can stomach it, I strongly urge you to watch immediately.
Click here to watch Jim Rickards’ controversial presentation.