Monday, January 13, 2014

All Your Attention is Belong to the Google

Version 0.2

All Your Attention is Belong to the Google

This one is actually based on a social meeting and email exchange with one of the googlers I know socially. For the sake of social convention, I think I have to protect his anonymity and also preface these comments with a caution that I think he disavows my conclusion, which is summarized in the title of this blog. However I also feel that he has partially failed to understand my central points. Not sure if it is worth continuing that discussion with him, but for now I'm evidently just blogging my spleen, as they say.

One place to start is with the various kinds of realities we live with. Some examples include mathematical realities (absolute within the bounds of the assumptions), scientific realities (supposedly based on solid evidence), religious realities (where faith trumps evidence), business realities (reduced to the bottom line), and political realities (such as the dysfunction in today's USA). However, the particular kind of reality that is bothering me just now is social reality, where a particular social reality is based upon what some group of people believe about their society. The underlying problem is that a social reality can be wrong, can be changed, or, worst of all, can be manipulated. Today's questionable social reality is that advertising can and even should be shoved in your face.

Plodder that I am, I want to start with an example of a thoroughly discredited social reality. Take the ancient social reality of slavery. I think nowadays we have a pretty solid consensus that human slavery was always wrong, but it still prevailed as a social reality for thousands of years. The exact forms of slavery changed over the millenniums, but the operative conventions were that the slaves were supposed to accept their status (and treatment as property akin to domesticated animals) and therefore work hard for their masters. The exact rationale for their enslavement varied, though racial inferiority was a pretty frequent theme. Sometimes it was defined by their lack of military prowess that allowed them to be conquered or their lack of belief in the proper religion (of the masters), but the important thing was that the social reality said the slaves were slaves and should remain slaves. (Going tangential again, but actually, it isn't clear to me that we've fully eliminated slavery, though we continue to change the branding. About 35 years ago I studied a major church in Houston where South African apartheid was defended as upholding the proper blessed and sacred hierarchy, with the 'niggers' on the bottom (though I'm reasonably sure the preacher didn't use the N-word himself). In the last few years we seem to be developing new forms of indebted servitude and effective wage slavery based on inescapable student-loan debts in an economic environment packed with minimum-wage jobs that can never repay those loans. Separately, there's also the aspect that governments always have a strong preference for citizens who obey the government without annoying questions.)

Anyway, back to the main theme of why I believe "All your attention is belong to the google" is such a bad thing. The discussion in question actually started from my belief that time-based economics makes more sense, as jovially summarized in "Couch Potatoes of the World, Unite!" I was rather surprised or even shocked by his frankness in response. Google just wants the most precious time of all, the time with our attention attached to it. That's the time when an ad is most likely to do the most "good" and result in a paid click for the google and a possible sale for the advertiser paying for the click.

Consider the ethical ramifications of "All your attention is belong to the google". My position is that your time is a vital and precious resource, and you want to maximize the value of it. For example, if you have children, then I think you want to give lots of your attention to your children, but now that means you are intruding on the google's rights to claim all of your attention for more advertising. Yes, I'm overextending his position, but my point is that this claim on my attention fails the most basic ethical test: No one would not want to live in a world where that principle was broadly applied to everyone all of the time. Unfortunately, that is where the google is heading, in a desperate search for new and innovative ways to intrude on our attention and divert our precious and limited time to responding to ads.

My response to that meeting was to conclude that the google has become a kind of Russian Pravda joke. I'm pretty sure things have changed since the Soviet Union went away, but it used to be that the skill of reading the newspaper in the Soviet Union involved projecting backwards from the actual news stories. For example, if there were several articles about airplane crashes in other countries, the sophisticated Soviet reader understood it to signify that there had been an airplane crash somewhere in the USSR.

From that perspective, "Don't be evil" probably represented an understanding that the google was fundamentally an evil enterprise from the git go, whereas my original hypothesis had been that the google only became evil after it reached a critical mass and was 'captured' by the American legal system. (This is actually a diversion, but here is my brief summary of business in America: Most businesspeople are fine and upstanding folks who just want to play the game by the rules. Unfortunately, the rules are encoded as laws written by the most cheaply bribed professional politicians working for the greediest and least ethical businessmen. As 'big' businessmen, they are profiting from and therefore pushing forward a cancer-like economic model that must end with the death of the host.)

In the subsequent email, he had apparently concluded that I was arguing the world is generally evil, whereas my focus is simply on making things better. To be clear, I don't think the world is evil or bad, but that the world is a pretty amazing place and getting better—but only on the long-term average, and none of us live on the long term. For example, I believe that good people generally have better lives, but any individual can have bad breaks, no matter how good. (There are many religious and philosophic books on the theme of why bad things happen to good people, but you should be glad I'm not going there today...) I would diverge farther into consideration of evolutionary versus deliberative progress, but instead I'll just recommend a couple of the relevant books: The Blind Watchmaker, one of the best treatments of evolution, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has a lot on related topics from the perspective of what we eat and how. (Or is this diversion just another aspect of my zen collapse?)

Not sure how to bring all the threads together, but I strongly believe that "All your attention is belong to the google" is a joke of the sickest sort. Feel free to react, and my apologies in advance for the moderation (but I will not support the spammers).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Neo-GOP Bully Christie versus Teddy

Version 0.5

Neo-GOP Bully Chris Christie versus Bully Pulpit Teddy Roosevelt of the Real GOP

This blog is mostly a response to a column on "BridgeGate" by John Dean. His surprising focus struck me as being on relatively trivial aspects, since there is an EXTREMELY direct link between the latest neo-GOP scandal and his own experiences with President Nixon. The only lesson the neo-GOP "learned" from Watergate was that the ostensible leader should be kept in the dark about the dark stuff.

Reagan provided the best example (to date) of how the deprincipled neo-GOP applied this lesson. As long as people perceived "the big boss" as a personally nice guy, then it didn't matter what crimes his subordinates committed—as long as they didn't tell the boss. Dubya was mostly following the same line, but he was largely undercut by the visible "evil genius" of the big Dick Cheney glaring over his shoulder.

Governor Christie was (and is) simply applying the same lesson of "Nixon knew too much" and was thereby too personally involved in Watergate. Based on the Nixon lesson, Christie's staff understood what to do and when NOT to tell the boss about what they did. Since I believe that Christie is relatively quite competent and even perversely intelligent, I am certain he understood full well the kind of environment he was creating. If Christie is now claiming he didn't understand what kind of vindictive person he had promoted to such a position of authority and power, then he is lying—and he is STILL responsible. Even if they can't find a law that applies specifically to closing a bridge for politically-motivated punishment, threats and intimidation are still considered crimes in most of the so-called civilized legal codes. (Your mileage may differ in today's America.) No, you can't criminalize the promotion that enabled a future criminal to commit crimes, but you can (and should) hold Christie personally responsible for crimes committed by the government (or even by a company) he leads.

Which political party is the one that keeps emphasizing "personal responsibility"? Oh, yeah. The neo-GOP (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party or Teddy Roosevelt's GOP).

I think the best way to demonstrate the ultimately personal nature of the vindictive and intimidating policies of his administration would be to make a "best of the bully" video compilation from the YouTube videos Chris Christie himself has been ordering his staff to make. He actually orders aides to be ready to film his attacks on possible liberals and their progressive ideas, so he can publish those videos and gain so-called street cred with the neo-GOP fanatics. Yes, from Christie himself they are only verbal attacks, but he uses his aggressiveness and sheer size to make them seem quite threatening and on the edge of hate speech. After all, extreme hatred is what the extremists want to see—as long as they personally hate the targets of the speech.

However, it has long been OBVIOUS to me that Christie is a BIG bully, and I also believe he is an insecure coward, though the evidence of his personal cowardice is weaker and more circumstantial. Didn't you see the video of him viciously attacking the little woman who dared to ask him if he had any personally vested interest in the public schools? A simple "No, my children go to private school" would have sufficed. If he was as honest as his defenders claim, then he would have added an honest clarification: "... and it's just too bad YOUR children have to attend those lousy public schools I despise." However, what the big bully Christie actually did was get her name and go after her in a quite personal way, OBVIOUSLY seeking to intimidate her and threaten future intimidation to her and to anyone else who would dare ask him such nasty questions about his behavior and his beliefs. It was obvious that Christie is just a nasty BIG bully.

That his gang of junior bullies sometimes gets out of control is only to be expected with BULLY Christie as the leader of the gang. Why not close a bridge to punish the citizens who dared to elect a Democratic mayor? How dare a Democrat refuse to endorse Chris Christie just because he belongs to the so-called Republican Party?

Another aspect makes this bridge thing an even larger scandal to me. That's because Christie personally made the transportation problems worse by vetoing a new tunnel and other bridge projects. Instead of working to improve the traffic situation, he first makes it worse, and then his staff jumps on top of that badness and they use the transportation mess Christie had exacerbated to "punish" a trivial mayor. Apparently Christie's aides regard any trace of political loyalty to the Democratic Party as the kind of crime that deserves creative punishment.

However, I also think they followed the Nixon Rule and were quite careful NOT to tell Christie about their illegal actions, which is precisely what Christie expected them to do. Based on working with him and watching him in action, they were basically thinking that Christie certainly would approve of their thinking and actions, though he couldn't say so and MUST not be told, and they quite probably even expected him to pardon them even if they did get caught. I think they were wrong on that last expectation, and it doesn't matter if that's because Christie is a coward or cunning or a cunning coward. As for Christie's claim that he's standing on principle... Well, since when has politically safe BS been an actual principle? Oh yes. Ever since we had professional politicians.

That leads back to Teddy Roosevelt, who was such a highly principled but amateur politician that his last political act was to take the White House away from the GOP. That was the end of the first permanent-majority project of the GOP politicians. Unfortunately, now that looks like another one of those lessons no one learns from history.

New Jersey has a bad reputation, and Christie just made it a whole lot worse. Oh, and did I mention he's a big bad bully.


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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...