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Greedism

Radical self-interest faiths (Libertarianism, Objectivism) -- contrast anarchism.

Aye, Cringely

Microsoft is about money, not innovation. They aren't opposed to innovation and like to be seen as innovators, but what really matters to them as a company is the money. Think of it that way and a lot of what they do starts to make sense. When I give speeches (and why haven't I been asked to speak lately in Oz?) I like to pull out a $US20 note and point out that there is something about that note that bothers Bill Gates - that it is in my pocket. Microsoft really does want all the money and I'm not sure they won't get it.
['Robert X. Cringely', interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald]

Esse Quam Videre

Fast Company: "The cardinal rule at Google is, If you can do something that will improve the user's experience, do it." [Google IPO News Feed - RSS]

That all depends on who the user is, and what they perceive to be an improvement.

If the user is someone who's just bought a buttload of adwords from Google, then, hey, damn straight...

To paraphrase Fernando: To look not-Evil is much more important than to be not-Evil....

Choosing [Real] Life

I used to see a sig-line on a Plastic profile, and debated over it a few times: "The only thing a free man can be forced to do is die." That ends up being the slogan writ in fire that keeps me going -- striving to find new and better ways to articulate how painfully, insultingly wrong it is.

It's trivially true, at best, and yet to most people with enough imaginagation to get out of bed in the morning, it's so plainly irrelevant to actual human lives in the world. In that, it serves as another illustration of the fact that the trivially true is more or less meaningless without some actual understanding of what it would feel like to have it be true for you.

Of course, to the mind that would think up such a slogan, there's no trumping the trivial truth. Such minds think that they actually operate on the rational principles that they espouse. Which makes hard-core libertarian rationalists a ripe target for many types of confidence game....

Collateral Humanity

There's a core rationalization that's shared among many libertarians, hedonists, and a lot of neo-cons and dogmatic conservatives: Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own fate; ergo, I'm not responsible for anything that "happens to" anyone else, as long as it's something they could have avoided. It even shows up in new-agey chestnuts like "we are where we are, doing what we are meant to be doing..."

So the pricks at Enron aren't responsible for the folks who lost their pensions (they chose to take the risks), the U.S. as a country aren't responsible for the fact that people around the world hate us (they can choose to be for evil or for us), and employers aren't responsible for the fact that employees get paid less when their wages are cut (they're "free" to go find a better-paying job, if it be the will of The Market [praise be to The Market, may peace be upon It]).

By extension, the con man isn't responsible for the fact that people lose money in a con. I've backed many libertarians into that corner and they've all gone in smiling like good little sophists -- which is to say that yes, they really do believe that, just like they really believe that only stupid people get conned. (Look at a con-man's victims: It's the vic's vanity, their pride in their own intelligence, that fuels the really big cons. I know. I've been part of one.)

Personal Resposibility dogma (like most or all dogma) ends up being associated with a lot of collateral damage. Oh, well: Gotta break a few eggs to make a perfect world.

And with regard to sex, and the rampant hypersexualization of modern society (a case I'd prefer to make elsewhere, 'cuz it gets long), and particularly with a certain type of hedonism that holds that if everyone were "truly honest", there'd be no relationship problems -- that people should be free to sleep with whoever they want.

It's never happened to me. But I can read between the lines well enough to know that the allegedly-contented parties in these alternative relationships are not all on the same page. That's a fiction, a delusion, that they preserve to keep the ship afloat.

"Open" relationships and marriages and their collateral damage end up like "taking one for the team" wherever you are. The self-delusions that participants perpetuate to keep the ship afloat end up looking like sports team unity, end up looking like military unit cohesiveness, end up looking like unity in a congregation, end up looking like corporate unity, end up looking like cosa nostra....

In the end the basic principle that we're left with isn't "people are responsible for themselves", but "people use other people." But it looks a lot less noble when you put it that way.

"Google is not your friend"

By now Google enjoys a 75 percent monopoly for all external referrals to most websites. Webmasters cannot avoid seeking Google's approval these days, assuming they want to increase traffic to their site. If they try to take advantage of some of the known weaknesses in Google's semi-secret algorithms, they may find themselves penalized by Google, and their traffic disappears. There are no detailed, published standards issued by Google, and there is no appeal process for penalized sites. Google is completely unaccountable. Most of the time Google doesn't even answer email from webmasters. [GoogleWatch, "Google as Big Brother"]

When Google speaks, it is much like Wittgenstein's Lion: They have their own agenda, and it is not our agenda, no matter how much we long to think so nor how easy it is to misread.

What's wrong with this paragraph?

Lycos generated $98 million in revenue during 2003.

Terra acquired Lycos in 2000 for $12.5 billion in a deal that touted the marriage of Internet access and Web content. But soon after the merger, the company [Lycos] was crippled along with its peers during the dot-com collapse. That hardship was further exacerbated when German media giant Bertelsmann renegotiated the remaining $675 million of a $1 billion advertising commitment it made as part of the Terra-Lycos merger.

ZD Net, "Terra considers 'alternatives' for Lycos"

This makes it sound as though the dot-com collapse was some kind of natural disaster, where Lycos's many retail and manufacturing facilities were destroyed or damaged. Or where their many paying customers were rendered penniless.

Instead of a bunch of people realizing that all these guys couldn't be Napoleon...and that, by god, they were all naked, too...

Is It Time For Post-Neo-Marxism?

Over the last two years, I've given a fair piece of my idle-cycle time to thinking about how we go about making people aware of what's in their true economic and personal interest -- and how to organize people to further those interests.

I've been thinking, in other words, about class consciousness.

I toyed with the idea of trying to start a "professionals guild", that people could join to support one another, bargain for health care, provide reference or job-skills services, etc. Each downturn the economy takes brings us closer to the (to me, nightmare) vision of 'jobs and email without borders'; if we were going to end up there, I reasoned, we'd better have a posse behind us when we did.

I thought the August Group might be a start down that path. But what I learned from that was that to get something going, you've got to fight to make it work every day, and what's more, you've got to have an idea of what you want to accomplish. If both of those things aren't true, you've got nothing.

The key for all of this is trust: Do you trust the people you are committed to helping? Do you trust them to be professional (whatever that means)? Do you trust them to validate your endorsement?

Certification doesn't solve that problem. Professionalism is something that's known by reputation, not certified by test or process.

Technology goes stale, and that's especially true for Microsoft technology. (Not a slam, just a fact -- it's designed that way.) Today's MCSE is tomorrow's trivial wall-decoration. Much more of value are the projects you've worked on, and the opinions of their stakeholders.

But of course, getting that information would take time, and can't be automated.

And what's more, when you get it, the impressions are colored by the fact that almost no project is properly defined to begin with, so no one can honestly tell why it succeeded or failed, or who was responsible.

And while that's a truism across modern industry, no groups of professionals in business know more about that than IT and Development.

Tell me again how greed is good?

Narrator: A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Business woman on plane: Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?

Narrator: You wouldn't believe.

Business woman on plane: Which car company do you work for?

Narrator: A major one.

--Fight Club

Of course, as we all know, it's all a matter of free choice -- and the only thing a "free" man can be forced to do is die...

It's all about quality control; ...

...which is to say, it's all about controlling the quality to make sure it never gets high enough that folks are getting something free that they could be conned into paying for.

Online personals are big business. It used to work like this:

  1. You sign up for free, and get to see all these attractive people you could be dating.
  2. Some of them are members. You can hope that one of the members contacts you. But you can't contact them, because only members can reach out.
  3. Eventually you've stewed on it enough; you join, contact the boy/girl of your dreams, and live happily ever after (or not).

In any case, anyone you responded to could respond back to you.
Now it's different: Generally, you can only contact someone if they're a paid member, too. OK, well, I suppose that makes some kind of sense: Self selection of the "serious", and all that rubbish.

Except, if that were the real goal, you'd provide some kind of an indicator that said "this person can't respond to your messages". Except, you can't do that, because then the potential subscriber would realize that they were looking at a pool of potential mates that was actually quite a bit smaller than they thought.

In other words, it's a swindle -- a bait and switch. You can join for free, and post a profile, but all you're doing is providing the company with more bait. No one who sees your profile can talk to you, even if they paid for the service.

Now, this is clearly bad usability design, and bad customer service. After all, people think they're buying one thing (access to all these attractive people), and what they're actually buying is another, lesser thing (access to some unspecified subset of these attractive people).

Of course, it's all legal, because they don't lie to you: Somewhere on their site, you can bet, there's a FAQ or a short paragraph that says this is how it works. But they don't go out of their way to tell you the truth, either; with a relatively simple change to the UI, like a green-dot or a red-dot next to a profile, you'd be able to tell whether your messages to this Other of your Dreams was going into their inbox or into a black hole.

The bottom line is that businesses like Yahoo and Match and AOL do their calculations and make their bets -- and by now, those formulae have gotten pretty good. They pretty much know how many people are going to get fooled, and take the bait, and how many people are going to see through it and get pissed off enough to quit. And, more important, how many people are going to see through, get pissed -- and take the bait, anyway.

The 'net was supposed to empower everybody to participate in a global conversation about what was being bought and sold -- what "they" (really, their companies) were buying and selling. In the process of all that irrational exhuberance, a few things got forgotten: Money can still buy power; somebody else always owns the physical plant, or can get to; all else being equal (or inferior), big is still better.

And you can still fool all of the people some of the time. And that's good enough. Or bad enough, as the case may be.

The American Foreign Legion

Some things are a better idea than they sound like, at first. That doesn't mean they're a good thing.

Take the Bushie plan to "outsource" peacekeeping to African armies [original story @ WP - reg req'd]. From the WP:

A plan approved by Bush earlier this month calls for the United States to commit about $660 million over the next five years to train, equip and provide logistical support to forces in nations willing to participate in peace operations.

The campaign, known as the Global Peace Operations Initiative, will be aimed largely at Africa by expanding the peacekeeping skills of African forces and encouraging international military exercises in the region, where U.S. officials said much of the need exists.

But African forces developed under the program could be used in peace operations anywhere in the world, officials said. And the program also sets aside some assistance for armies in Asia, Latin America and Europe to enlarge their peacekeeping roles as well.

The potential up-side, here, is that if these peacekeepers were to actually go to different parts of the world, it could foster international connections among the emerging nations of the world, and lead to the development of an educated (albeit militarily) class that could help to draw up the standard of living in their countries.

But of course, I didn't spot the siginificance of the fact that this initiative is centered on West Africa:

...Africa is the growth center for the future for the oil industry. The Arabian sources are all in decline, having been pumped for decades now. West coast of Africa (not sure if they prefer offshore sites since that keeps them away from "unstable" land sites or if that's just the only place they've looked so far) is the new boom zone.

A lot of dots are sitting there waiting to be connected. That troop transport plane (US owned) that was full of mercenaries on their way to stage a coup in one of the equatorial countries ....don't have my sources at hand for links but I've been seeing this stuff for months now. This is the new US Colored Troops (Civil War reference there) to lock up our hegemony over resources again. Disguised of course as a benevolent attempt to stop the admittedly awful conflicts in the region.

I said to a friend yesterday that the U.S. is engaged in an enterprise that makes us look much more like 18th/19th C. Britain than it does like Rome. That's nothing new; people have been saying that since the turn of the last century, and more loudly still since the end of WW-II. What's new is that now it happens outside of the Cold War framework. We can now move unopposed by a great state ideology; Capitalism is now regarded as the only moral system that matters.

Unless, of course, you count wahhabism....

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