On Facebook, Originality, and Billionaires
Inspired by: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/21/mark-zuckerberg-plea-biillionaire-class-anti-democratic
Mr Zuckerberg says without allowing people to become billionaires, we won't see "innovations" and "original products" like Facebook. So, let's have a look at just how "innovative" or "original" his product is, shall we?
The original idea Mr Zuckerberg was exploiting (the "face book") was not his own - his main "innovation", if it can be called that, was transforming it from a print format limited to simply one university campus to an online database version, able to be diversified to many. Facebook (the website) came about because Harvard University created a "face book" for its first year students - a book of photographs of the first year students containing basic information such as names and majors, distributed to the first years, as a way of facilitating making contacts when one first arrived at university (rather than doing this the old-fashioned, plebian way by, for example, asking questions of classmates and dorm mates such as "hi, what's your name?"). Speaking as someone who was there in the 1990s when this was happening to a lot of things, the transformation of something in the real world to an online database was not necessarily an innovative idea - or if it was, it was an "innovation" which occurred to a vast number of different people all at the same time. Basically, a lot of people were figuring out how to use relational databases to create neat web content in the mid to late 1990s - Facebook was just one of the players.
In format, Facebook is largely a web 2.0 version of an old web 1.0 "portal" site - which means it wasn't particularly original or novel even when it first appeared. The main difference between Facebook and the old Netscape Navigator or AOL web portals is Facebook scrapes one heck of a lot more data out of your account, in order to be able to sell you better targeted advertising and make Mr Zuckerberg more money. The site has not added anything either new or particularly innovative to its framework in years. The only real distinguishing feature of the corporate entity's business practices is a tactic of "embrace and extend" ... a tactic which was pioneered by Microsoft in the 1980s.
So yeah, Mr Zuckerberg. Let's have a talk about "innovation", shall we? Starting with what it means, and how your company doesn't actually do any.
(Mark Zuckerberg did the equivalent of winning the lottery, and deep down he knows it. It's why he's so insistent on telling this story, the one where he "deserves" every penny he can get his mitts on. It's why he doesn't want to have to pay more in tax, why he doesn't want the company broken up by a monopolies investigation, why he's willing to conspire with as many people as possible in order to ensure the status quo doesn't alter. He knows he won the lottery, and the odds against him winning it the same way twice are phenomenal. He knows he can't recreate his success if it gets taken away from him, because his success, such as it is, is based on pure, dumb luck.)
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A Government Motto I'd Like To See
I have a dream. I have a dream that someday, some political party will be elected to government on the platform of "It is not our job to ensure your business model remains forever profitable".
( Essay under fold )
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Weekly Update 29 JUL 2017
Gearing up for the start of classes next week, which means this week I've been practicing getting up at 5am (mostly to find out whether I am going to be able to get up at 5am, or whether I'm going to have to shift things even earlier in the morning). Good news: I can get away with a 5am start on the mornings I have 8am classes (8am class means I need to be ready to leave the house by 7.30am). Bad news: by about October, I'm going to have to shift my wake-up time back to 4.30am, because I'm still working on extending my writing time each month, and I don't have too much to spare at present. Today I have plans to clear last semester's readings and work off my uni laptop, and make sure its battery is all charged up and ready to go, and then I'm all set to go.
So this week I'm going to get a bit political.
( Ranting below the fold )
Okay, so, spleen vented. How's everyone else this week?
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On Working For the Dole.
So, I've been unemployed for six months (according to Centrelink, anyway). Which means, lucky me, I'm due to start my "Work For The Dole Phase" of the whole glorious process of being unemployed in Australia in the 21st century.
For those not in the know, "work for the dole" was an idea conceived back in the era of John Howard, by Liberal Party policy-makers who wanted to bring back the workhouses, but who didn't fancy the idea of having to shell out money to feed, house and clothe the undeserving poor (i.e. anyone on an activity-tested Centrelink payment). Basically, in order to impress on the long-term unemployed how important it is they find paying work, they're required to perform up to twenty-five hours a week of compulsory, unpaid volunteer work in order to be able to continue receiving their dole payment. I suspect whoever came up with this one must have woken up in the night and hugged themselves with glee.
Luckily for me, I'm on a part-time activity test (mental illness, such fun). I only have to do sixteen hours a fortnight worth of whatever the current equivalent of picking oakum, washing bottles, pasting labels or sorting rags is. Normally, the requirement is for fifteen hours a week for someone my age, twenty-five for someone younger. In my case, I'm going to be transcribing old (hand-written) court records from turn-of-the-century-NSW (i.e. early 1900s). Years of translating my mother's appalling medical handwriting into something legible has finally come in useful.
Basically, this sort of thing is supposed to... well, I have no idea what it's supposed to do. Punish me for the sin of not being in employment, one presumes. I have the site induction on Thursday, I suppose I get to find out then whether I'm supposed to be wearing sackcloth and rubbing ashes into my hair to show repentance, flagellating myself with a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whether just walking around wearing a sandwich board that says "I'm SO FUCKING SORRY" will do.
Yes, I am a bit cranky about this.
I'm cranky about it, because it's a bit of deliberate humiliation on the part of a government which has an ideological agenda, and will do anything in its power to get that agenda implemented. I'm cranky about it because I'm being forced into performing unpaid labour in order to ensure wage earners are frightened into accepting lower wages and lower conditions in order to avoid being put into this situation. I'm cranky about it because the penalties for missing work, or not being able to perform whatever work I'm supposed to be doing on the day I'm supposed to be doing it, are all on me (yes, even if my erstwhile "employer" doesn't have enough work for me to be doing, or the computers are down, or the office gets hit by a meteor falling from the sky).
Oh, and I still have to keep looking for 20 jobs a month, same as before. That doesn't change, either. About the only positive thing to note about the whole mess is that since the place I'm going to be physically doing my Work for the Dole placement is the offices of my JobActive provider, I'll be able to drop off my monthly lists with a lot less carry-on.
 Newstart Allowance, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, and Special Benefit.
 If your "volunteering" is organised through your JobActive provider, you get an extra $20 per fortnight on your dole payment to cover costs incurred (transport, lunches etc). If it isn't, you don't. There's a LOT of encouragement to find your own "volunteer work".
 A bit of googling reveals it was the brain-child of Tony Abbott. I must remember to write him a thank-you note.
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It Isn't Real Until It Affects White Americans - Where the "Occupy Wall Street" Movement Started
There's a lot being written about Occupy Wall Street, and a lot being written about the copycat protests which are now springing up in a lot of other countries (including Australia). There isn't as much spoken or written about where the movement to occupy city areas and public spaces, and calling for a renegotiation of the social contract as it is interpreted by the powerful, actually got started, and where it's been flourishing for the better part of a year.
It started in Egypt, in Tariq Square (where it's still ongoing, to the best of my knowledge). Occupation-style protests have been happening in Iceland, in Spain, in Greece, and in a lot of other European countries since at least June this year. And they're still going on there. See this list of articles from Pressenza to get a better idea of the scope of the actual demonstrating, both in terms of global spread, and temporal spread.
However, there appears to be this strong media (and now internet) -fed meme which says something isn't actually "real" until it affects white citizens of the USA - preferably white, middle-class, male, heterosexual Christian citizens of the USA. Unless they're affected, unless they're doing it, whatever's going on in the rest of the world doesn't matter. The global economic crisis didn't affect anyone (even though the economies of many countries were affected for months, or indeed years, before the US banking system was forced to own up to its iniquities at the end of 2008) until it affected the USAlien middle classes. Various World Wars didn't actually "start", in the opinion of hegemonic popular culture, (despite the involvement and devastation of multiple countries) until the USA sent troops. Poverty in the USA didn't exist until it started lapping at the toes of the middle classes (despite the presence of a growing underclass of persons who were born into poverty, and who have lived their entire lives in poverty, and who could not escape their poverty no matter how hard they tried, since approximately the Reagan years) and more particularly the white middle classes.
It's nice that the USAlien middle classes have apparently finally decided they're part of the world majority. It's nice that they're finally joining in with the rest of the people on the planet to demand a bit of equity, and a bit of fairness.
It would be even nicer if they would just, for once, publicly acknowledge that the problems existed before they'd noticed them or been affected by them; that the movement they've joined (and effectively hijacked) existed before they started to participate; that they were, once again, late to the party, and only joining in once other people had got things started. It would be really good to have this acknowledgement that not everything happens in a vacuum, and that the world outside the window of the USAlien white middle classes is actually present. It would be really good if the ongoing efforts of people outside the USA to renegotiate the social contract weren't erased, or ignored.
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Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want it? "A couple of hundred years or so back, when it would have made a difference"
Not the rallying cry of the century, is it? But that's what should be screamed up at the windows of Wall Street; it's what should be rattling the windows of the privileged around the world.
One of the dirty little secrets which isn't often aired about the upper echelons of the rich and powerful (particularly in the USA, where the myth that anyone can come from dirt poor to stinking rich in a generation is still a powerful memeplex, peddled by extremely powerful myth-building corporations) is that by and large, they got where they are now by building on the gains of their ancestors. They didn't get where they were from nothing. They didn't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They pulled themselves up using a rope braided from the bootstraps of many ancestors, over countless generations, on both sides of their families, and reinforced by the bootstraps of countless non-family members as well. In the ranks of the extremely powerful, there's often a certain degree of both metaphorical and literal kinship.
Another dirty little secret: the secret to getting rich quick is to get rich slowly, over three or four generations, and then explode on the scene, flashing the wealth in an obvious way. This isn't to say there aren't the occasional rapid accumulators - people whose financial, technological, scientific or marketing genius was in the right place at the right time, people whose cultural input hits the zeitgeist in the correct spot to send the jackpot rattling down - but they're as rare as the lottery millionaires or the ones who broke the banks in casinos. By and large, the ones who are at the top now are the ones whose ancestors have been accumulating steadily since the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
( It's different for the rich )
(Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want 'em? "A couple hundred years ago, when it would have made a difference!")
( It's different for the working-class )
Another dirty little secret of the rich and powerful: not many of them have had much exposure to people outside their social class in a context which isn't employment-related. So when they speak of the lives of ordinary people, it's usually from a position of profound ignorance. Marie Antoinette, when she said "let them eat cake" (or more accurately "well, why don't they eat cake instead?") was speaking from a similar position of ignorance - the ignorance of the very possibility of a reality where both bread and cake weren't in ready supply. So when they speak of how "simple" it is to make money, or stay debt-free, or whatever, it's because they really aren't aware of the full context of what's going on here. They've never had to learn that context, and for many of them, unless they absolutely have to face it, they never will learn that context.
They had the right ancestors, you see. Simple as that.
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Some Thoughts from a Non-Economist regarding the Global Financial Crisis (Ongoing).
I'm starting to suspect what's needed is a global "Jubilee Year" - in the Old Testament sense. A single date, where everyone's debts are zeroed out, where all transgressions are forgiven, and where everyone starts again with a clean slate.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
I also think that the way debt is thought of has to be restructured as well. A loan has to stop being a business asset for the banks, something they can trade from one person to another. Instead, it has to be an arrangement between two parties, to be maintained between those two parties until the loan has been paid back. So instead of trading loans as assets, businesses will be required to retain them as a mutual loss on both sides until the debt is paid back in full. No matter how long that takes.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
There also needs to be a recognition that high interest rates and freely offered credit are inherently inflationary. They effectively increase the money supply, but devalue the money which is circulating, making the money earned by working people effectively worth less. So credit and high interest have to be heavily regulated, rather than offered on an "open slather" policy.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
I'm also thinking the old Hebrew and Muslim thinkers who put up the religious prohibitions on lending at interest were actually onto something. Possibly they'd seen what happened in other societies when such things are permitted to flourish without restriction - the way it acted as a temptation toward bullying and thuggery. "The love of money is the root of all evil" as the wise man said.
Further on the whole "love of money" thing, I also feel there should be an absolute ceiling on profits - particularly the sorts of multi-billion dollar profits which aren't re-invested in the company or the community. I mean really - what are these companies doing with that money? They're not spending it. They're not turning it into bullion and stacking it under the back patio. They're not filling a swimming pool with banknotes so their executives can play Scrooge McDuck (or maybe they are and we're not hearing about it?). No, it's just being accumulated for the sake of accumulation. So maybe there needs to be a ceiling on profits, too - a 10% profit is fair and equitable (that being 10% gross return on investment), but after that, it needs to be either re-invested in the company, or taxed heavily (with the taxes being paid each financial year or face punitive fines).
And if that one ever gets taken seriously, not only the banks, but the entire business community will go up in flames.
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An Open Letter to WA Senator Michaelia Cash, regarding the Carbon Tax
Dear Senator Cash,
My partner recently received your lovely little screed in the mail - the one about the carbon tax and how this is going to cost local employers and local industries vast amounts of money, and leave them vulnerable to excessive competition from overseas interest. You cited a total of ten companies which employed people in the electorate of Brand (or, more specifically, on the Kwinana industrial strip) by name. Curious, I decided to do a little bit of research on the internet.
Of the ten firms your leaflet mentioned by name, precisely two are actually based and headquartered here in Western Australia (Wesfarmers and Coogee Chemicals - both of which are fairly large companies). Of the rest, six are owned pretty much entirely by multi-national corporations. The other two are Australian-based, but one is based in Queensland, and the other is based in Melbourne.
To give you a quick run-down of the rest:
* BHP-Billiton is a joint Australian-Dutch company (so no, it's no longer the Big Australian, and you'll notice BHP-Billiton doesn't use that slogan any more);
* Alcoa is an alumininum mining and refining multinational firm, with the overall headquarters for the company based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;
* Tiwest is a joint-venture between two Australian subsiduary companies of two different multinational firms - Tronox Incorporated (USA) and Exxaro Resources Limited (South Africa);
* BOC is part of the Linde Group, a large German-based multinational corporation;
* Air Liquide is part of the Air Liquide group, a multinational corporation first incorporated in France, and headquartered in Paris;
* Bradken (while having a wholly Australian company name) is actually owned by a combination of Castle-Harlan Australian Mezzanine Partners (a subsiduary of Castle Harlan, a US-based private equity firm); ESCO Corporation (US owned and based multinational) and Bradken Management (as minority shareholders);
Forgive me for seeming sceptical, but aren't these multi-national corporations exactly the sorts of international competition that your leaflet is implying our local industries and employers will be attempting to match? Given this information, I doubt they'll be having huge amounts of trouble.
(Incidentally, finding all this information took me approximately thirty minutes all up. It's amazing what you can find out from the internet. The information was on the websites of the companies concerned - all it took was a few seconds on google to find each one).
I took a look down the rest of the list of "facts" you provided, and noticed you failed to mention the various tax offsets which were planned (an important part of the carbon tax package) in order to compensate average Australian householders for the increased expense. Since these offsets and compensation are being introduced at the same time as the carbon tax, not mentioning them seems a little disingenuous, to say the least. Particularly since energy bills (both domestic and industrial) in WA have already risen by at least 10% thanks to the actions of the (Liberal) state government.
You failed to mention whether carbon emissions will continue to be rising by the same amount under a carbon tax package as is currently forecast. You failed to mention whether overall carbon emissions per capita will be rising, falling, or remaining steady (and whether there are any changes expected in the size of the Australian population between now and 2020 as well). You fail to mention whether the rise in carbon emissions overall between now and 2020 (from 578 million tonnes to 621 million tonnes) will be a greater or lesser rise than the equivalent period between 2002 and now.
Your leaflet also fails to mention anywhere (a grievous omission, given your final "fact") that you, in fact, represent the political party which gave the Australian political environment the terms "Core" and "Non-Core" promises. It was the Liberal Party of Australia, under John Howard as Prime Minister, which made it excessively plain to the Australian people that the majority of political promises made by them during an election campaign were in fact "Non-Core" promises - or in other words, outright lies made in order to get elected.
I therefore find it somewhat hypocritical, to say the least, that it is the Liberal Party of Australia who are now harping non-stop on a single "broken" promise made by a member of the ALP.
(Again, this internet thingy is amazing.)
Having said all of this, here is my statement as a voter living in Brand, and a voter living in Western Australia.
I support the carbon tax as an overall good not only for people Parmelia, not only for people in Brand, but for people in Australia, and people the world over. Global climate change is occurring, and we here in the south-western corner of Western Australia have been seeing the effects of it for the past thirty years or more. Something needs to be done to at least begin to tackle the problem. The carbon tax may not be the optimum solution to the problem, but it's better than nothing.
I find the highly negative style of advertising, polling, and campaigning used by the Liberal Party of Australia to be highly offensive. The Liberal Party of Australia has a strong tendency to provide such negative statements particularly surrounding policy areas where their own solutions are lacking either in detail or in existence (I checked your party's website - the last constructive thing I can see about a climate change policy is dated almost a year ago - all the more recent stuff is basically slinging off at the ALP, without offering constructive solutions). I'd be more willing to at least listen to your side of the argument if your party showed any signs of willingness to either fish or cut bait. Instead, the Liberal Party of Australia gives the strong impression of a bunch of whiny toddlers who are sorely in need of being put down for a nap while the grown-ups get on with business.
Meg Thornton (Ms)
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The scandal over the phone message data theft in the UK is terrible, and one of the questions which is being asked is "who is responsible?". Who is responsible for this terrible thing happening? Who should take the blame? Who should we punish?
Well, from one angle, the Murdoch family and their News Corporation bear at least some of the responsibility, for creating a news climate where such things can happen, where they can be tried, and where they can be covered up with such success that the true depth of the scandal is only starting to become visible five or six years later. This means everyone in the chain, all the way up from the first journalist to pay the PI for information, right the way through the corporate hierarchy to Rupert Murdoch himself. They profited from the misery of others, and they haven't paid the price. Some of the responsibility is theirs.
From another angle, some of the responsibility lies with the advertisers, who are always seeking the ideal vessel to purvey their product - they want something which will attract a lot of people to see or hear their ads, but they don't want their precious product associated with anything bad. So the advertisers play their part in this, through demanding both the high circulation that the News of the World achieved, and through also demanding the cover-up of sources, and the hiding of illegal behaviour. They were willing to accept the high circulation figures, without asking what was done in the name of achieving this circulation. So some of the responsibility is theirs, also.
From a further angle, there's the responsibility of the telephone companies to provide education and data security for their users. In a large part, the crime of hacking into the message databases was caused by the lack of knowledge on the part of people who owned phones - they didn't know the pass-code existed, didn't know they could use it, didn't know they could alter it. So the pass-codes were left at their default. A simple procedural change, such as ensuring that the account was locked to external access should the user not attempt this within a month of opening their account, would have secured the vast mass of this data. That there was a back-door left not only unlocked, but practically gaping wide open, is not decent data security. So the phone companies bear some responsibility, too.
The journalists who paid for the stolen data bear responsibility, because they knew this data wasn't coming from kosher sources. They knew they weren't respecting the privacy of the people involved. They knew they were effectively breaking the spirit of the law, if not the actual letter of the law, by using this data in order to create their stories. They knew they were encouraging further breaches of the law by paying for the data.
The private eye who figured out how to hack into the phone message banks, and then sold on the data to the News of the World, also bears responsibility, as the one who committed the crime. According to reports, he was paid 100,000 UKP for his services.
There's the politicians who permitted the Murdoch family to purchase so much of the world's news infrastructure (the world's largest news gathering organisation is a privately owned family company). There's the police, who didn't understand the magnitude of the crime when it was presented to them (not to mention the police who were bribed into silence). There's the various managements and journalists of other news organisations, who let their concerns about their own profitability over-ride their interest in the privacy and rights of the people they purport to represent. All of these people are responsible, and all of them will probably be mentioned in articles regarding the whole scandal.
But there's one responsible group the news media won't mention. One group who will be allowed to skate by scot free. One group who won't ever be expected to look their responsibility in the face and name it for what it is. And that's us.
If you've ever bought a newspaper, if you've ever clicked on a link to a news site, if you've ever listened to news radio, or watched the news on television, you bear some responsibility for this as well.
As viewers, listeners, readers, we create the demand for news articles. As viewers, listeners and readers, we've fed the Murdoch machine, given it the money it needed to create a monolithic view of the way news "should" be, a monolithic view of "what sells newspapers, what sells advertising space". We have allowed our news to become tawdry, cheap, nasty, vicious, invasive, insensitive. We have allowed this, because we haven't spoken up and said no. We have allowed this because we've purchased the products the advertisers sell. We have allowed this because we've bought the papers, listened to the radio stations, clicked the links, watched the programs, bought the magazines. We have allowed this, we have facilitated this, by demanding more and more and more and more from the news media; by not criticising it enough; by continuing to feed the maw.
If you feel sickened by the actions of the News of the World; if you feel angry about the actions of the Murdoch family; if you feel self-righteous about the way the advertisers are fleeing the sinking ship, remember: we asked for it.
We asked for it. Now we have it.
Maybe we should start asking for something different.
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Thoughts on the Australian Election
No, I aten't dead. I've just been staying quiet due to things like the beginning of a new semester at Uni (three programming units and a maths unit which requires a lot of programming - if I haven't been in larval mode before, I will be by the end of semester) and lack of interesting stuff to say. But there's an election on Saturday, and I figure I'll just give a short (okay, very long) rundown of the way I'm seeing things.
( Longwinded political ramblings below )
So this election, I'll be voting Green, with preferences going to the minor parties before either of the two big ones, and with Labor getting a higher preference than the Liberals. Much the same as last time, in other words.
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There but for fortune...
I've been thinking lately about why I have such strong left-leaning sentiments, and why I get so annoyed by the unthinking conservatism of others I see around me. And the best explanation I can come up with is this: I have enough imagination and enough empathy to realise how damn lucky I am. I was born at the right time, born in the right place, born to good people, and blessed by knowing so many other good people throughout my lifetime. I don't have a perfect life, but the life I have is a damn good one, and it could easily have been so much worse.
So, a song which has been reminding me of this lately:
"All God's Beggars" by Kavisha Mazzella . Taken from her album "Silver Hook Tango".
This is the song which has been spamming my mental playlist. The lyrics are below the fold.
( All God's Beggars - lyrics by Arnold Zable and Kavisha Mazzella )
Ms Mazzella is a second generation child of immigrants (rather like my own parents... of course, my three immigrant grandparents were all immigrants from England) and she rather neatly skewers the attitude I loathe so much about the notions of so many overly-vocal Australians toward those persons who want to emigrate to this country now. I was born in this country. I'm lucky. Call me superstitious, but I don't want to try and deny anyone else the chance to grab a piece of this luck themselves, because that may kill the luck altogether.
Link leads to sendspace, feel free to grab the song if you want it. If you like it, you might want to consider buying her albums - her website is Kavisha Mazzella.
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