Friday, April 01, 2011

THE INTERNET AS A HUMAN RIGHT?

President Obama has declared that access to the world of information, via the Internet, should be considered a basic human right. This is, of course, something you’d expect me to agree with. In The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom? I made a case for such openness based on multiple levels:

1- It is morally and ethically imperative.

2- It is the best way to achieve justice.

3- Our basic societal “organs”- including fair markets, democracy, science and even art function better when all players can make decisions based upon full knowledge.

4- It creates a situation in which Enlightenment Civilization will ultimately “win.”

Now, we’re being a bit redundant here, since desiderata 1,2&3 are only positive things from the viewpoint of people who are members of an Enlightenment Civilization. These traits are not orthogonal. Even the way some of you reacted to point number four -- by frowning over my chosen words, my notion of one civilization “winning” against its competitors -- even that reaction is itself a trait of having been raised in the Enlightenment’s modern liberal societies.

Few cultures ever saw moral fault in hoping for their own success, at the expense of others. Survival was a zero-sum game, until the Enlightenment discovered positive sum virtues.

The ultimate irony is that, in order for positive-sum thinking to prevail in the future world of our children - and for diversity to reign in peace - the overall worldview of enlightenment values (values that appreciate diversity) will have to “win” in the most general sense. Freedom - and especially the freedom to know and to speak that is embodied in the internet - must prevail... and those forces that restrict freedom must fail.

This is why the world’s despotic regimes reacted so negatively to President Obama’s assertion of a right to internet access. They know that:

a) open information flows, especially a secular trend toward more transparency worldwide, will be inherently lethal to their mode of rule, and

b) increases in light flowing over fully engaged enlightenment nations and their institutions only makes them stronger. Sure, some doses of light can be inconvenient to individual leaders, parties or clades. But the overall societies only get healthier.

Let’s deal with each of these assertions.

== Transparency as an Openly Aggressive Weapon Against Despots ===

We begin by quoting liberally from a recent article in WIRED: U.S. Has Secret Tools to Force Internet on Dictators.

”When Hosni Mubarak shut down Egypt’s internet and cellphone communications, it seemed that all U.S. officials could do was ask him politely to change his mind. But the American military does have a second set of options, if it ever wants to force connectivity on a country against its ruler’s wishes. There’s just one wrinkle. “It could be considered an act of war,” says John Arquilla, a leading military futurist and a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School.

“The U.S. military has no shortage of devices — many of them classified — that could restore connectivity to a restive populace cut off from the outside world by its rulers. It’s an attractive option for policymakers who want an option for future Egypts, between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. And it might give teeth to the Obama administration’s demand that foreign governments consider internet access an inviolable human right.

“Consider the Commando Solo, the Air Force airborne broadcasting center. A revamped cargo plane, the Commando Solo beams out psychological operations in AM and FM for radio, and UHF and VHF for TV. Arquilla doesn’t want to go into detail how the classified plane could get a denied internet up and running again, but if it flies over a bandwidth-denied area, suddenly your Wi-Fi bars will go back up to full strength. That leads to another possibility: “Just give people Thuraya satellite phones,” says John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. The cheapish phones hunt down signals from space hardware.”


I’ve been talking about this concept with John Arquilla and his colleagues for many years. Back in 2001 - at the CIA and several defense agencies - I described more than a dozen methods to cheaply spread key elements of an international civil society into closed or despotic nations, in ways almost-guaranteed to create win-win situations and to corner tyrants, at little risk to ourselves. I cannot claim that the tools listed above originated with those speeches. (I get contradictory reports about that, and in the end it doesn’t matter.) Still, I am glad there’s been movement in the right direction.

There are many other measures, not listed in the WIRED piece, that can be effective across a wide range of circumstances. At one extreme - that of open but not-yet-violent hostility -- calls for particular and peculiar aggressiveness. During the run-up to the latest Iraq war, at the same meeting where I proposed most of the measures listed in the WIRED article, I also suggested the ultimate in people-empowering and tyrant-disempowering technologies...

...developing and then dropping into such a nation several million “volksradios” that would provide Iraqis with an entirely separate system of packet-switched conversation, outside the dictator’s control. Also, incidentally, such a system would provide our intelligence services with vast amounts of information on the ground.

(This is related to my civil defense proposal to make western countries more robust, but simply enabling our cell phones to pass text messages on a peer-to-peer basis. To read about much simpler-cruder methods, have a look here.)

Of course, over the long run, we’d rather not let it come to that. Dropping in several million gifts to a nation’s citizens may not be an act of war - I defy anyone to make that case. But it certainly is a pugnacious violation of sovereignty. So is the freezing of a regime’s foreign assets.

From the Washington Post: How the U.S. Treasury Department froze Libyan assets. They expected $100 million, but found over $30 billion -- mostly all in one bank. To put this in perspective: In 2009, Libya had a gross domestic product of $62 billion.

Say what? Thirty billion dollars? If this cash pile is matched by similar revelations re Egypt and Tunisia and other toppled despotisms, can you doubt that economic transparency will become a truly radical cause during the twenty-teens. Perhaps even as much as I predicted back in 1989, in my novel EARTH?

Only, in this case, we’re talking about a “radicalism of reasonableness.” A militancy of moderation. A fervent and dynamic worldwide call for governments and corporations and oligarchs and rulers and economies and everybody simply to play fair. Compete fair. To rule fairly, the way Adam Smith and F. Hayek and nearly all cogent economists of left and right agree we must, if society is to be healthy at all.

A radicalism that Louis Brandeis spoke of when he prescribed the one thing that keeps a society healthy. “Light is the best disinfectant.”

== The Other Assertion: Light Only Makes us Stronger ===

I’ve long-delayed my “WikiLeaks Analysis.” Events are still surging along. But one aspect that Julian Assange surely never expected - when he spilled a quarter of a million State Department cables upon the world - was the degree to which this leak helped Hillary Clinton and her colleagues, at the exact moment when they needed maximum credibility in the developing world, and especially among Arab youth. The overall positive impression given by those cables -- of skilled American professionals who despised the despots they had to deal with -- overwhelmed all the tiny embarrassments that Assange expected to send heads rolling, in Foggy Bottom.

The crux effect of this openness (one that I predicted at that 2001 speech, and since then) was to so enhance American influence at a vital moment, that I expect the Secretary of State - if she had a chance - would give Julian Assange a great big hug.

This doesn’t prove assertion #b. But it is highly indicative. Indeed, there is only one thing that prevents our skilled professionals, diplomats and political leaders from doing the obvious. From eagerly embracing a broad, general secular trend toward a world with few secrets as the surest way to accomplish their goal -- a “win” for the overall civilization that employs them.

Alas, that one thing is a biggie: human nature.

== An Idea To Further Us Along That Road ==

I would have let this rumination end there. But a fan of The Transparent Society sent in this piece of news and I really must share it.

India’s chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu argues that to reduce bribery we should make the paying of bribes (not the demanding!) legal.

Let’s have a little context here. There are two types of bribery. First comes the kind where the briber and the bribed are in collusion to perpetrate an illegal act. This problem exists worldwide and Basu’s proposal will do nothing about it. In the west, its occurrences are isolated, but extremely severe. Sophisticated schemes of collusion between politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and oligarchs can result in multi billion dollar theft from investors and taxpayers -- and some contend that the last decade has been an especially busy time for such raids. But that’s not the topic here.

Rather, the issue is something that seems rare in the West, but that's endemic across the developing world. It is the sad fact that regular people often have to pay gifts to public officials, just to get them to do their jobs. To issue a business permit, for example, or a rental agreement, or driver’s license. So, here's the idea:

“Under current law… the bribe giver and the bribe taker become partners in crime. It is in their joint interest to keep this fact hidden from the authorities and to be fugitives from the law, because, if caught, both expect to be punished. Under the kind of revised law that I am proposing here, once a bribe is given and the bribe giver collects whatever she is trying to acquire by giving the money, the interests of the bribe taker and bribe giver become completely orthogonal to each other. If caught, the bribe giver will go scott free and will be able to collect his bribe money back. The bribe taker, on the other hand, loses the booty of bribe and faces a hefty punishment.

“Hence, in the post-bribe situation it is in the interest of the bribe giver to have the bribe taker caught….Since the bribe taker knows this, he will be much less inclined to take the bribe in the first place. This establishes that there will be a drop in the incidence of bribery.

“Basu notes that he intends this to apply to bribes where the person paying the bribe is receiving only what they are entitled to receive, e.g. when you have to bribe to get a business license that you are entitled to or to get your rice rations or get an income tax refund."


This is a bit of brilliance, on a scale with Hernando de Soto’s scheme that has worked so well, in Peru, vesting property rights in poor farmers so that they can then use capitalist processes for their own benefit. Moreover -- need I add -- it is a pure and magnificent example of the cleansing, healthy power of transparency.

== Final Note ==

blackmailNow, in closing, let me give you your your assignment till next time. Consider. If we find a solution to bribery, what about its vastly worse twin... BLACKMAIL?

Read this. Ponder it. Spread the word and make every public official... every person who ever THINKS about seeking public office... think about it in depth.

It may be too late. Then again, perhaps it isn't.

55 comments:

Tim said...

Blackmail is one threat, and now somewhat understood. What about other problems, like sexual abuse?

Tim H. said...

Another thing the internet does, exposes questionable behavior:
http://consumerist.com/2011/03/meet-your-worst-company-in-america-sweet-16.html
Wall $treet will still reward short-sighted behavior, but whoever wins this "Honor" would rather not.

rushmc said...

I'd be interested in seeing you develop your thinking here a bit further. I have seen no evidence to date that Clinton (or anyone else in the government) considers ANYTHING happening in the Middle East to be a positive development. And yet you are postulating their celebration of the overthrow of their pet monsters?

>>But one aspect that Julian Assange surely never expected - when he spilled a quarter of a million State Department cables upon the world - was the degree to which this leak helped Hillary Clinton and her colleagues, at the exact moment when they needed maximum credibility in the developing world, and especially among Arab youth. The overall positive impression given by those cables -- of skilled American professionals who despised the despots they had to deal with -- overwhelmed all the tiny embarrassments that Assange expected to send heads rolling, in Foggy Bottom.

The crux effect of this openness (one that I predicted at that 2001 speech, and since then) was to so enhance American influence at a vital moment, that I expect the Secretary of State - if she had a chance - would give Julian Assange a great big hug.

Lorraine said...

3- Our basic societal “organs”- including fair markets, democracy, science and even art function better when all players can make decisions based upon full knowledge.

I've been questioning lately whether the internet offers anything even remotely resembling full knowledge.

1. There does not appear to be a "Moore's Law" for bandwidth. If anything, the current short term trend seems to be a structural increase in the price of bandwidth. For example, my 3G provider has just put me under a bandwidth cap (supposedly in lieu of an increase in monthly charges).

2. To the extent that there is a Moore's Law for bandwidth, there seems to be a corresponding Law to the effect that as bandwidth availability goes up, SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) goes down. For example, 20 years ago I used a 2400bps modem, and routine tasks like checking my email, checking my NNTP feeds (today, checking my RSS feeds, whatever) were if anything less time consuming than now.

3. There's always that lingering question of whether the internet itself is some kind of a Trojan Horse upon society. It has its earliest origins, after all, in the spooky corridors of DARPA and the brains of researchers with security clearances. A vessel along the lines of how you describe "Commando Solo" (which you say is classified) is hardly my idea of an informational platform for bottom-up organization of protests, uprisings, alternative economies or anything else authentically bottom-up. I'm also concerned about the Libyans having the Major Power"s" to thank for their uprising.

4. I'm not convinced that Information Wants To Be Free. Clearly the internet makes technologically possible a "catalog" of the entire economy. The fact that catalog-type data are still considered proprietary (i.e. queries across multiple vendors are handled by "shop bots" w. proprietary data models), and the fact that they are dispensed a data point at a time through web page queries ("webstacles") rather than "in bulk" through SQL queries or the equivalent, tell me on no uncertain terms that there is some kind of Law of Economics to the effect that Information Does Not Want To Be Free.

The Internet does offer me a lot of hope, mainly because it is clearly the only means of communication where one can "publish" at least to a limited degree independently of commercial sponsorship (although the trend appears to be toward "can you slap a business model on that?") The end-to-end properties of the Internet are reassuring to me in a 'proof of concept' way, that is, these are features that work, and therefore can be incorporated into bottom-up alternatives to the Internet (itself?), such as all the free wi-fi projects and freenets and the like.

Stefan Jones said...

Off Topic:

The SF spoof Paul is silly and vulgar . . . and surprisingly smart and humane. Any movie that begins and ends at ComicCon can't be bad . . .

There's a huge wealth of SF pop-references that fans will enjoy a lot.

Tim H. said...

Off Topic, in another direction, Joe Bageant, author of "deer Hunting With Jesus" died March 27th.
http://fredoneverything.net/BageantMovesOn.shtml

Paul said...

I'd wondered (and obviously wasn't alone) why DoD/NSA/etc doesn't commission a device (**) for dissidents hard-wired to operate through a US controlled satellite network.

(** A small light, One-Laptop-Per-Child type device, solar-powered/wind-up, modular/easily-repairable, robust-encryption/channel-hopping, tight-focus antenna, encrypted-GPS, etc etc.)

Bandwidth's too low to compete with conventional net access. (Although it could receive broadcast TV/radio via the network, when given an external power-supply.)

But if it's sold cheap enough, it would be useful for the poorest people in the remotest areas to communicate day-to-day. And when things go wrong, it's an unblockable communication/news channel.

(phookee: I am not an alien.)

David Brin said...

You could even distribute it as a device FOR kids. Would enable millions to flood in before they catch wise.

Paul said...

I'm not suggesting it as a secret. Everyone would know that the NSA/etc decrypts and monitors everything on the network. That the main news feeds/channels are created by them (perhaps in cooperation with volunteers from within each language/society).

(But the vast majority would be bought openly by people in poor/remote areas to use just for very mundane reasons.)

Tim H. said...

Intriguing, maybe iPad-like form factor, monochrome to cut costs, touchscreen front, solar cells back, flip face down to charge, if wall current isn't available. Com via cell networks or wi-fi, enough storage for a semester's worth of textbooks and several other e-books. Far fewer things to break than a simplified laptop, though one more powerful than the old powerbook G3 could be done cheap these days...

Robert said...

Here's a snippet from a recent online argument I had with a fairly conservative friend on taxes and infrastructure:

My friend: any time you add a corporate tax it just gets passed on to consumers. They don't just shrug and sigh and accept lower profits.

Me: So what you're saying is we need to tax the middle class and the poor to ensure that the roads that corporations use remain in good condition so they can sell stuff cheap to us. Instead of taxing the rich for the extra infrastructure they use.

---------

It took him two minutes to respond at which point he started pushing for a national sales tax. When I pointed out that the rich don't buy as much and that it would unduly impact the poor, he didn't care. He didn't even have a problem when I pointed out every aspect of production would be taxed, increasing costs far more: taxing ore sold to be processed, taxing the metal (made from the ore) to make the components, taxing the components used to make the devices, and taxing the device.

He saw no problem with this. Mind you, this friend isn't rich by a long shot. So... it seems like some people honestly believe the rich should be allowed to keep their money even though they themselves are hurting as a result.

I don't know what brainwashing the rich pulled off to do this, but damn it is effective. I still enjoy the fact I dumbfounded my friend by spelling out exactly what he was endorsing - and that he was for taxing the poor and middle class but not corporations so that corporations can sell things cheaply, rather than taxing the corporations instead of the poor and middle class because it would increase the cost of items.

Rob H.

Lorraine said...

It's a word-association game. "Income tax" is a code phrase that is habitually juxtaposed with code phrases such as "1913", "Federal Reserve", "New World Order", etc.

David Brin said...

Robert, the only thing I have found that works is

1) ask him to name once when the predication that lowering taxes on the rich INCREASED revenues and lowered debt. Once ever. Voodoo

2) Name one other time America was at war when the rich did not step forward to help pay for it but instead insisted the middle class pay for it all.

3) The biggie. Roll up random decades and places and ask "who suppressed markets and freedom then?" Then another, another antother.

Keep at it and point out that it was almost NEVER "bureaucrats."

4) Ask him if he ever read Adam Smith, or has a clue who Smith called the real enemy of markets.

Rob said...

Let me offer a little CITOKATE, if only to see it knocked down here.

The counter argument my friends and relatives offer to increasing taxes on the rich, defined as $250k or more, is that many, if not most, small businesses are structured as S-corporations or LLC's whose taxation flows through to the owner's personal income taxes. That raising taxes on "the rich" as defined will sweep up small business in a way that will choke them off, as unable to compete with much larger entities.

I have no idea whether that's a red herring or already excluded through other small business tax credits proposed.

David Brin said...

The answer is simple. Negotiate. Trial and error. Negotiate in good faith attempts to find ways to properly make the rich pay for a civilization that educates their workers and protects them and gave them every opportunity...

...a tax rate that prevents them from shoving us into wars they don't pay for... and that keeps their sons from becoming the inherited aristocracy Adam Smith hated...

...without stifling small business. The crux here is that by making low taxes for the rich a RELIGIOUS mantra, that cannot ever be subject to tweaking , they are behaving like fanatics. Brainwashed fanatics, in service of their puppet masters.

We were a society of negotiation. Experimentation. We can find ways to encourage small business... WHICH ALWAYS DOES BETTER UNDER DEMOCRATS... and still find ways to stop the unfair rape of the middle class. But only if your friends stop being patsies. Like the southern whites who marched off to protect the oligarch's right to own slaves.

Robert said...

Not always, Dr. Brin. A hundred or so years ago, the Republicans were the party of the People, who struggled for the rights of everyone and weren't in the pockets of the bankers. It was during the Presidency of Taft that things got twisted around and the Democrats, finding the Republicans had made inroads on traditionally Democratic powerbases. So they started going for Republican powerbases in return and the parties basically flipped.

Rob H.

Rob said...

Prompts the question, though, David: If that's the way we do it, why didn't the Democrats propose exempting bona-fide small businesses in the first place?

Anonymous said...

"The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics" shows that corporate taxes aren't always fully passed on to the consumer. Businesses compete for customers by eating some of the cost to offer a lower price.

Jon

Robert said...

Found a rather interesting article on why public sector employees need to have union protection. Of course, I must admit I'm pro-union anyway as my father would have my head mounted on a wall if I were anti-union (when I was younger I once thought it out and couldn't figure out why employees should be allowed breaks or lunch periods or anything at all because it ultimately cut into corporate profits - I was like 16 at the time, which makes me think that corporate thinking is stuck in a juvenile teenage mindset).

Anyway. Here's the article in question, which pretty much explains how governments are monopolies and monopsolies, and need unions to counter their monopolistic tendencies:

http://tullyspage.blogspot.com/2011/04/unions-should-be-stronger-not-weaker.html

http://tullyspage.blogspot.com/2011/04/
unions-should-be-stronger-not-weaker.html

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tim H. said...

On that tax thing, I suppose any historical prosperity during times of high tax rates must have been an illusion.

David Brin said...

Rob: For the same reason it took a while for the dems to demolish the ICC and CAB and to do every other meaningful DE regulation that was ever done.

Because they keep expecting the GOP to come to the table with such ideas and then simply have to do it all themselves.

Ask your pal if he is proud to be a member of the most tightly disciplined, lockstep and ideologically pure party machine in US history. Certainly is impressive.

Paul said...

Tim H. Re: Free-book.
"Intriguing, maybe iPad-like form factor, monochrome to cut costs, touchscreen front, [...] Far fewer things to break than a simplified laptop,"

No. I don't care if it breaks. Provided it can be fixed by someone with a soldering iron (and a working unit to look up the specs.) User-repairable parts. Old-school.

If you went into a village, and saw bits of your units repurposed for things you never expected, you've won.

"Com via cell networks or wi-fi,"

No. Tight focus, satellite. Encrypted between unit & sat. Dedicated DoD/etc satellite network.

(Note: This is specifically for the purpose of having a communications/information channel that can't be blocked, and is hard to detect being used; but also helps the poor/remote parts of world.)

Paul said...

Robert,
"I was like 16 at the time, which makes me think that corporate thinking is stuck in a juvenile teenage mindset"

I remember something similar at that age. I think both the right and left wings appeal to the teenage mindset because they are simple answers. Just complex enough philosophically to not feel childish, but that one single answer for every situation.(**)

As you got older, you discovered that the world was more complex than you thought.

I expect as you get older still, and the complexity of the world moves it away from what you understand, you'll start to yearn for that simple answer again.

(** " My liberal sister and her family were visiting for the holidays. My 7yr old niece was telling my about a homeless man she saw on the ride from the airport. "Why doesn't the government give him some money so he can buy a house?" she asked me. My sister beamed, "She's a little Democrat, isn't she?" I just said to my niece, "Well, if you want to help him, you could get a part-time job after school and on weekends, then send the homeless man your money." She frowned in thought for full minute, then brightened, "But why can't he get the job, and get the money for himself!?" Now it was my turn to smile and say, "Welcome to the Republican party!" ")

Robert said...

Oh, my friend isn't Republican. He considers them scoundrels and thieves. He just is under the delusion that [i]the Democrats are worse[/i]. Republicans are the Lesser of Two Evils in his mind. And it's an ongoing belief among a number of conservatives who blindly vote Republican while despising everything about the Republican party... because the alternative is far worse.

I was once the same way.

The thing is, I have realized that Democrats have moved to the Right. Republicans responded by moving further to the Right. And actual liberals are now an endangered species who have no real power.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Was it the Republicans who responded to the Democrats' 'step to the right', or vice versa?

Who's been pushing Overton windows of late?

David Brin said...

My own view is that "liberals" have always been willing for competitive capitalist markets to function well... following the "first liberal" Adam Smith. Though liberals have always had trouble reconciling the uber-rich. What about any of that has changed?

See: http://www.davidbrin.com/1947.htm

The spectrum still runs from far-lefties to lefties to (across a gap) liberals to conservatives and libertarians to rightists to far rightists.

The difference is simply that all leftists are marginalized. While the far right loons own and operate a political party, vast propaganda empires, one house of congress, the supreme court and -- for an interval that damn near ruined america across every statistical measure of national health, the entire federal government.

Guys see this supposed "elite" biography database:
http://www.nndb.com/people/732/000023663/

Rob said...

Same here as with Rob H's pal. My people don't trust Republicans either, not as far as they can throw their own middle-class homes.

Ian said...

"Moreover, consider this: Bribery is actually far less efficient and reliable than blackmail!

If you bribe an official or legislator or bureaucrat, they may demand more, next time, or simply say "I helped you enough, this year." But blackmail puts them in your pocket for good. It transforms the relationship, making him or her less a business associate and more your personal servant."

Unless, you know, you get evidence of the bribe and use it to blackmail them.

Ian said...

"The counter argument my friends and relatives offer to increasing taxes on the rich, defined as $250k or more, is that many, if not most, small businesses are structured as S-corporations or LLC's whose taxation flows through to the owner's personal income taxes. That raising taxes on "the rich" as defined will sweep up small business in a way that will choke them off, as unable to compete with much larger entities."

There's a deliberate conflation here between revenue and profits.

Point out to your firend that those personal taxes are based on net income not trunover and that very few small businesses will actually be affected because the average net take-hoem incoem of a small busienss owner is well under $250,000,.

Ian said...

There was a semi-recent article in New Scientist about a proposal to purchase a defunct comsat to provide free internet to the third world.

I thought it was called Freesat but a quick Google search suggests I was wrong.

Also why do people keep trying to reinvent the wheel?

This is an example of a cheap Chinese netbook readily available for $US70 or so:

http://www.dhgate.com/100-high-quality-netbooks-umpc-7-inch-notebook/p-ff8080812e7a9144012ea2d03ca74108.html

Design a dongle for that that lets it connect to the Iridium satellite network,

Tim H. said...

Paul RE; Free-book, simplicity and affordability go together, the function you envision and a logic board that's field repairable might not be very portable. What I'm picturing would involve, front to back, a bezel, touchscreen & backlight, logic board, power board (Because it might be stressed unusually, so a separate part makes sense.), battery pack, antennas and rear cover/PV array, secured with recessed screws. User service would be limited to parts swapping, but no spludger required.
If that satellite network happens (Technically feasible, I hear, but wait 'til the telcos hear about possible free internet from the skies!), sure build that in.

Robert said...

Hackers using the Microsoft Kinect managed to create a working version of the Gmail Motion (the motion-based April Fools Joke Google put out this year).

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/hackers-turn-a-gmail-april-fools-joke-into-a-reality/?src=me

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/hackers-turn-
a-gmail-april-fools-joke-into-a-reality/?src=me

I trust Google takes this return-volley of their prank with good graces. And it was quite innovative for these "hackers" (if they honestly could be called that, I'd say they were inspired programmers seeing that Microsoft has given the green light for non-XBox use of the Kinect while laughing all the way to the bank) to pull this off. :)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

A netbook? Possibly running windows? Cruel. I thought the idea was something useable.

Ian said...

"A netbook? Possibly running windows? Cruel. I thought the idea was something useable."

It's entirely usable, as I demonstrate tomorrow by using the free wifi on QRail while finishing my readng of Elmer Gsntry.

Tim H. said...

I bow to your superior stoicism.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

(when I was younger I once thought it out and couldn't figure out why employees should be allowed breaks or lunch periods or anything at all because it ultimately cut into corporate profits - I was like 16 at the time, which makes me think that corporate thinking is stuck in a juvenile teenage mindset).


Funny, when I was a youngster, I already knew that employees were allowed lunch breaks and bathroom breaks and vacations because hungry, tired, burned-out employees' productivity drops off. There's a point of diminishing returns past which forcing someone to keep working LOWERS productivity.

Treating employees as human beings doesn't HAVE to be a demand that corporations need to fight tooth and nail against. There are ways to make a win-win between employer and employee needs.

LarryHart said...

Paul:

I just said to my niece, "Well, if you want to help him, you could get a part-time job after school and on weekends, then send the homeless man your money." She frowned in thought for full minute, then brightened, "But why can't he get the job, and get the money for himself!?" Now it was my turn to smile and say, "Welcome to the Republican party!


Heh. Cute.

But not entirely accurate. These days, the Republican party would want the guy to have to work in order to sibsist. But if he ever managed to earn enough to stop being homeless, they'd outsoruce the job to India or China. Why pay more?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

My own view is that "liberals" have always been willing for competitive capitalist markets to function well... following the "first liberal" Adam Smith. Though liberals have always had trouble reconciling the uber-rich.


My conservative buddy won't believe me, but I have NO PROBLEM with someone being fabulously wealthy (even the Koch Brothers) as long as they help pay (through taxes) for the infrastructure of the civilization that allows them to prosper. I don't think of (reasonable) taxation as "punishing" the rich any more than I think of my grocery store as "punishing" me by charging money.

The current incarnation of the Right deliberatly conflates EARNING money with HOARDING money, and uses arguments in favor of the former to justify the latter.

Ayn Rand (righly) posits that Hank Rearden deserves his wealth because he acquired it by providing society with an innovation (Rearden Metal) that lifted everyone's standard of living. A win-win situation, similar to that of Bill Gates in the real world.

However, she also argues for the gold standard, which means that (absent new finds of gold), the total amount of value that all citizens can possess is a constant. Under such a system, Hank Rearden CANNOT lift everyone's standard of living (except by providing a source of gold). The more wealth he accumulates, the less is available for everyone else.

You can't have it both ways.

Robert said...

Except that due to the increases in wages in China and corruption concerns keeping non-Indian companies from investing in India, the United States is once again becoming an attractive place to stay in business.

Africa is too unstable politically for reliable outsourcing, and has significant anti-imperialism sentiments that view foreign businesses with suspicion. Russia is wrought with corruption to a level worse than India. The other asian-pacific nations are suffering from political instability, higher costs, and the realization that it won't be cost-effective to move into the region only to have wages rise up in ten years and force them to go elsewhere.

Heck, I have a job (and have had it for four years) because the outsourcers proved to put out a product that wasn't up to the quality standards of the company (much of the work is still outsourced, but products where quality is considered vital, the U.S. workers are picking up the slack).

What's more, Mexico is becoming politically unstable, Latin America isn't exactly the most stable of regions, and those parts of Latin America which are... tend to have higher costs.

While global corporations will continue to have operations in all parts of the world, it will become less for reduced cost and more because they can achieve market footholds in these emerging markets and thus not pay high import fees or the like.

Rob H.

Robert said...

Politico has an interesting article on how the Tea Party is threatening to destroy Republican chances of winning the White House in 2012 with a Goldwater-style defeat. (Now if only this would also hold true with Senatorial elections... I'd love to see some Republican incumbent Senators lose to Tea Party candidates and then face genuine competition from the Democrats in "Red" states.)

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/52442.html

David Brin said...

A new series in Scientific American asks science luminaries "Describe a hard problem that may be impossible - or almost impossible - to investigate." This initial essay deals with printing human organs. Some time later, my own contribution will be about (you guessed it) uplifting higher animals to sapience. http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=too-hard-for-science-making-astrona-2011-04-04

Robert said...

Here's an article on how progressives are starting to wake up and organize in the wake of austerity cuts and the Tea Party activism. Though the title seems more cheery than the actual content from my cynical perspective.

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/04/04/winant_labor_new_haven

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/04/04/
winant_labor_new_haven

Rob H.

kalism: the philosophy of female divine destruction

Corey said...

On a slightly different note, the Republican Party has just hit a giant oops in their campaign against climate science.

Paul Krugman gives a pretty good column on it in the NYtimes

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/opinion/04krugman.html

Tacitus2 said...

Well, as we prepare to apply condiments to the Rich, perhaps a brief reminder of the nature of our financial challenges, especially at the state level where one cannot simply print magic unicorn dollars...

Ships of State

The seas are rough and icebergs abound.

The USS Indiana is making good speed, her financial trim even and everything ship shape. Captain Daniels is said to be in the chart room, pondering a course change to the Potomac…

Back a bit is the USS Wisconsin. She was actually holed beneath the fiscal waterline some time ago but her previous skipper maintained the illusion of stability by stealthy counter flooding below decks. Now she is low in the water, engines laboring.

The new captain, a chap named Walker, has taken stern measures. The rum ration for the crew has been modestly reduced. And he has ordered that all non essential baggage be pitched over the side. Much grumbling ensued, as it was claimed that this was applied more vigorously to the passengers in the middle decks than to those in first class.

The situation aboard the Wisconsin is difficult, but not past redemption, so even those who mutter mutinously and vow that they will see Walker swing from the electoral yard arm when they reach port are at least tacitly acknowledging that if they bend their backs to the pumps and work hard, safe harbor will be attained.

No such optimism can be found on the USS California. The grandest ship in the fleet is wallowing, barely making headway. The passengers, who for years had believed that a ten degree list to port (left) was a good thing, are becoming alarmed.

The causes of trouble are many. Who knew there were so many extra people jammed into steerage? Many lack valid tickets. And while the pump crews are large and well paid, they are hindered by strict regulations barring the actual discharge of bilge water into the sea. Civilians are advised that it is their job to fill buckets, not empty them.

Captain Brown, a relic from the Windjammer era, paces the bridge dreamily. A multi ethnic calypso band plays a stirring version of Nearer My God to Thee. Passengers according to their inclinations pray, curse, drink up the good brandy from the First Class Saloon, or stand patiently on the Promenade deck, their aluminum foil party hats doing little to keep the driving rain off their upturned expectant faces as they await the Saucers that will bear them to safety.
Tacitus2
DetritusofEmpire

David Brin said...

Nice metaphor, Tacitus. Perhaps applicable, if you imagine it is politics as usual... and ignore the nazi (neocon) agents who have been sabotaging the engines, punching holes in walls and egging half of the crew to refuse to cooperate or negotiate with the other half because of trumped up grievances over whether or not the other crew is left-handed or not.

David Brin said...

While the elite passengers no longer use any of the same transportation systems as their inferiors, whether it be airlines, trains, or ocean liners.

They have moved their flags to a nearby neutral Swiss liner, laughing as they tell the oarsmen to "mush! Mush! Goood doggies!"

ZarPaulus said...

By the way, the "Legalizing bribery" link isn't working.

Brendan said...

I thought one of the reasons that people were upset by Captain Walker is he didn't just take the rum ration from the middle and lower decks, but he gave it to the good folks in First Class arguing that they spend more on other services when drunk.

Tony Fisk said...

Except they don't get drunk. (they hoard their ration, or can insatiably guzzle and hold their liquor something powerful!)

Since when are oarsmen 'doggies'?

Metaphor stretching.

rousnock: that terrible sound heard at 2am, usually caused by possums in jackboots!

Paul said...

Re: Bribery vs blackmail.

It suddenly occurred to me that the "legalise bribery" idea has an unfortunate side-effect. If it's not illegal for the briber, only the recipient, it opens the recipient up to blackmail from the briber.

Brendan said...

Tony, I think you will find the First clas passengers with binge-drink their added allowance and throw up on all the carpets, leaving everyone else including the good Captain(assuming there hasn't been a mutiny) to clean it up.

David Brin said...

onward

Corey said...

Tacitus, I feel obliged to point out that from the perspective of the entire rest of the democratic world, [the] California and Massachusetts are pretty much the only states going along on a remotely straight and steady course, while it's the entire rest of the fleet that have pretty much spent the last 30-40 years veering hard to starboard. By this point, most are spinning in clock-wise circles it's become so bad.


I imagine they find a lot of the state of affairs here rather puzzling. The top 3% of passengers get 20% of the space on our ships, and pretty much all of the amenities. Each one can also buy time on a direct line to the captain and crew and tell them how to run the ship, basically holding the captain and crew hostage. The other 97% of passengers have to request changes by committee that gets passed to a public line that the top 3% can override as they please. Half the time, the 3% use their monopoly over demands of the ship crew to demand a bigger monopoly, and make sure even less attention is paid to the rest of the passengers.



On our ships, you have to pay, out of pocket, just to go to sick bay. In some cases, the critically wounded can get in for free for basic treatment, but about 18,000 passengers still die every year because they can never get in to be treated.


Even the distribution of ship services leaves them scratching their head. Many passengers on the US fleet, for instance, are stuck with rooms smaller than 80 square feet, while on the HMAS Australia, for instance, the just legal minimum is about 150 (sorry, hard to work in minimum wage with the whole ship thing).

Our ships also dump massive amounts of toxic waste into the oceans as they sail. It's quite the odd phenomenon. You see, first we request all the fuel from the Middle Eastern vessels, sometimes we even fight wars on them to get it (which we make the bottom passengers mostly fight). Then we burn it, in absurd quantities, and then we dump all the waste into the ocean. Now, most other advanced vessels have already made significant progress in using far less fuel, and even using fuel that dumps no waste into the ocean, but the elite 3% of passengers insist that our far more costly method of hoarding it from the Mideast ships is superior, on account of them largely making profits from using it.


We have quite the odd fleet, indeed. I'm not sure exactly how anyone could go about considering it an efficiently managed one, but the richest 3% of passenger do a good job of assuring us that we are, but only so long as they continue to be allowed to unilaterally tell the crews how to run the ships. Onboard the USS Wisconsin, it's gotten so bad, that a passenger named Koch actually FLEW OVER from the USS Kansas to make sure that the Wisconsin was running the way he wanted. He was actually the one who demanded all the Whiskey be taken from the normal passengers and given to the elite, and then demanded that the normal passengers get less attention and bargaining rights, and he's not even a passenger on that ship!

It's no wonder the rest of the world looks at us and shakes their heads.

Ross said...

The concept of distributing communications against the will of the local government, as a means of subversion, has cropped up many times in SF. For just one, consider "High Yield Bondage" (1975).

Gilmoure said...

Larry Hart said... There are ways to make a win-win between employer and employee needs.

Well, that's a problem, if some folks don't even see win-win as an option. To some, it's zero-sum game with the only way to rise is for others to sink. Makes negotiating kinda' difficult.