Thursday, September 29, 2011

Is Google+ Really A Googol-Pus?

Is the Social Networking Service Innovative, or a 10^100-Armed Octopus? 

Every day, it seems, you hear another story about Google that makes you wonder if the California-based company is on the fast track to complete global domination

In late September, the company announced that it was opening three data centers in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Right after it was through opening up one in London, that is. And just for good measure, one in Oklahoma, just in case Texas just up and disappears one evening, I imagine. 

That same month, it was announced that the company’s web browser Chrome would eclipse Mozilla Firefox as the web’s second most utilized service. By then, the company had already put in a mega-huge bid to purchase Motorola, and earlier in the month, the company purchased Zagat for a measly $125 million.

And oh yeah, the firm is investing in housing subsidies, solar energy, potentially unwanted face tracking programs, and publication of archaic (and to some, sacrosanct) literature. And also, they have some minor plans to eliminate tangible cash spending by consumers before the end of the decade. Nothing major, really, as far as aspirations go

As of the current, the two major happenings going down for the Goog involve A.) accusations of monopolization in congressional antitrust hearings, and B.) the absolutely MASSIVE success of the recently “open to the public” social networking service Google+. . . and these two, I assure you, probably have more to do with one another than Old Schmidt-Head would want you to believe

The following is a quote taken from a WebProNews article written by Chris Crum entitled “The Ever-Changing World of Social Media.” I want you to pay real close attention to the wording here, and tell me if it sounds even vaguely familiar. 

“Essentially, the point is that Google as a whole – it’s portfolio of products – is the network. Your Google account, regardless of whether you use Google+ itself, makes you a user, because it’s all connected, and will be connected in many more ways as time progresses. Google+ – the streams, circles, hangouts, etc. are simply features of the greater Google social network.”

If that quote rings a certain bell, it’s because you probably heard this line circa 1991:

"In three years, Cyberdyne will become the largest supplier of military computer systems. All stealth bombers are upgraded with Cyberdyne computers, becoming fully unmanned. Afterwards, they fly with a perfect operational record. The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online on August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware 2:14 AM, Eastern time, August 29th. "

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that Google+ will lead us into nuclear Armageddon, but the reality the the Google leviathan is COMPLETELY changing the technological infrastructure of not only U.S., but global culture simply cannot be ignored. At this juncture, you really can't call Google industrial leaders anymore, since there's virtually zero competition for the ever-growing multi-platform juggernaut to trample (unless the name of your company bears the moniker of a certain red and/or green fruit, anyway.)

And as fate would have it, as Google did unto Yahoo, it now looks to do unto Facebook. The thing is, Google has also proven to be the good times killer for scores of other industries, as well. One look at the list of Google holdings lets you know that the organizations intents rest well beyond the domain of online services: not only has Google turned into the largest software baron since Microsoft in the mid '90s, it's probably an even more omnipresent force (or threat?) than the mighty MS could ever dare dream of. 

You go online? Your inbox is maintained by Google. You want to watch streaming videos? Well, you're going to do so on Google's watch. . .literally. Hell, if you want to find anything via the Internet, odds are, you'll have to go through Google, in some manifestation, first. With the success of the Droid O/S, you cannot even escape Google's presence away from the World Wide Web now. As such, Google+ is the natural extension of the company's hyper expansive, hyper aggressive business strategy: apparently, these guys are ripping pages from Bill Gates' old playbook, right down to the antitrust litigation.

The question now is just how much personal information we're giving up to the Goog by signing up for Google+. Being a part of just one Google cog is enough to reel you into the rest of the system: the next time you're on Google+, try opening up a second window and heading to YouTube, or Blogger, or even the Google homepage.

What do you see? Well, what you see is. . .well, you. By accessing and signing up for Google's myriad web services, you pretty much (perhaps unknowingly) create a public portfolio connecting all of your social media profiles together.

In other (and far more dramatic phrasing), Google has become freakin' Skynet

As we all know by now, Google's supposed business motto is "Don't be evil." Now, to some, "intrusion" may not exactly be synonymous with inhumanity (and even less with "robot war," but come 2020, that might all change), but la verdad es las verdad here.

You know, for a worldwide-recognized business, a shockingly few number of people know exactly what the term "Google" actually means. For those not in the know, it's derived from the term "googol," which is the numerical term for one followed by one hundred zeroes.

Mathematicians says that there's no practical use for such a gargantuan number. Methinks if Google keeps on keeping on, we may just have to use 10^100 to list the number of ways the unstoppable Goog permeates our lives, online and off. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jimbo's 2011 Halloween Spectacular!!

An Ode To The Seasonal Halloween Supply Store. . .

Ahh. . . my own personal heaven.  

October may very well be my absolute favorite month of the calendar year: the Raiders haven’t been completely eliminated from playoff contention yet, you can pick up delectable-yet-overpriced pumpkin-flavored coffees at the local java joint, and of course, the spirit of Halloween pulsates through the night air like a wondrous, magnificent hot stank. In fact, one of my favorite rites of autumn is that first voyage through the seasonal Halloween specialty shop - a bittersweet moment, no doubt, because alike a certain enchanted snowman, you know these things aren’t going to be around forever.

Some people call these outlets kitschy and campy, but I think they’re marvelous displays of consumer positivism in action. By and large, I’d consider myself a tightwad as for as basic shopping behavior goes, but when it comes to these sorts of stores, I suddenly turn into a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, trying to figure out just how many bags of glow-in-the-dark eyeballs and rubber cobras I can wedge into one shopping cart. Pretty much everything in these kinds of outlets are limited time only items, so that incentive to hoard and stockpile the most absurd of trinkets quickly becomes about as logical as breathing as soon as you realize that this might just be your last chance EVER to pick up a Penny Racer modeled after the serial killer from the Scream movies. Walking down the aisles of the seasonal specialty shop is one of those rare consumer experiences were you actually feel like you’re authentically experiencing something other than being brainwashed by corporate America and its vast array of brain-slurping psycho-analyst market-researchers - you’re not just being coaxed into opening your wallets, you’re taking in a wealth of sights, sounds and scents that makes you feel as if your actually doing something instead of being berated with incessant images and announcements. That’s a rare claim for just about any form of media in this day and age, let alone an entire sector of the retailer-economy. 

 Where else can you see such a vast collection of trademarked characters WITHOUT getting your YouTube channel closed? 

I mean, where else can you amble down an aisle and encounter Michael Myers, Boris Karloff and the Satan-possessed 12-year-old from The Exorcist in ONE DISPLAY? I guarantee you won’t see such trans-franchise intermingling the next time you walk down the potato chip aisle at Kroger, that’s for sure.The sheer amount of stuff going on in these sorts of stores is in-and-of-itself an experience. On one aisle you’re staring down a holographic poster of Jason Voorhees, and on the very next, you’re gazing at an adult size Pac-Man costume. Wing a left, and you’re standing amidst foam latex Charlie Sheen masks, ghost key chains and number two pencils designed to resemble blood-filled syringes. And the entire time, you’re being serenaded by the dulcimer tones of Meat Loaf and Frankenstein while bubbles made out of dry ice pop right over your head. I don’t think the engineers at Disney World could draw up a more entertaining pedestrian experience.

  Much to the chagrin of Bela Lugosi's estate, sadly, there was no Dracula automaton on display.

At heart, Halloween specialty stores are actually museums dedicated to low culture art. You may not see a picture of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films hanging in the Smithsonian anytime soon,but you can visit any Halloween specialty shop in America and admire the intrinsic beauty of such commoner icons as SpongeBob SquarePants and the dude from Hellraiser with nails sticking out of his head. These stores are really temples dedicated to the religion of popular culture - and obviously, the periodic dubious product licensing agreement. 

...yeah, REALLY. 

Full sensory consumption. The seasonal Halloween specialty shop has absolutely perfected one of the oldest (yet sadly neglected) forms of marketing spirit, that old-school, P.T. Barnum-like business strategy that merges salesmanship with showmanship so seamlessly that you ultimately forget that you’re trying to be coerced into dropping dough on stuff no reasonable adult should find so alluring and intriguing. Or then again, maybe these stores are actually touching upon that adolescent splendor we all once felt, and thought we had lost as “adult consumers?”

You don’t just go into these stores, you feel them. Strobe lights shine in your eyes, the odor of fog machines permeates your nostrils, and you want to touch pretty much everything you encounter. You hear the Halloween specialty shop, you smell it, you feel it and you most definitely see it. All of your organs feel interlinked, and you can almost feel the living skin cells trickling up and down your arm.

 Because as we all know, the BEST gum is the kind situated between plastic skulls and rubber tarantulas.

In short? These kinds of stores make you feel young again, back when the shopping experience was more about the latter than the former. I haven’t put a quarter in a gumball machine in almost a decade, but before I waltzed out of the local specialty shop, I just HAD to pick up two eyeball-shaped pieces of candy before I left. Was I returning to a juvenile state, or did I just want to complete the circuit of empirical exposures during the ritual by tasting the Halloween spirit, too?

Beauty - as well as 25 cents worth of artificial cherry flavoring - is still in the EYE of the beholder, apparently. 

I really can’t give you a scientific reason as to why these things have such an appeal to me. . .and perhaps that lack of a well-reasoned excuse just makes my adulation of such stores all the merrier.


Check out these BEYOND AWESOME videos of animatronics-displays I encountered at my last visit to the local Halloween specialty store! 





Thursday, September 22, 2011

Translating the Netflix/Qwikster YouTube Apology Into “Real Speak”

A Thorough Transcription of Reed Hastings' Online Mea Culpa


Earlier this week, Reed Hastings, Netflix mastermind and digital distribution czar, made the announcement that his organization was going to split its services in two; while Netflix will continue to deliver fresh, cinematic classics to your home via your laptop and Nintendo Wii, a newly created service called Qwikster (which, despite the nomenclature, ISN’T a discontinued breakfast cereal from the late 1970s) will provide Netflix subscribers with solid-state goods like DVDs and video games through standard mailings.

And in case you were wondering, you’re going to need separate accounts for both services.
Now, a lot of irate Netflix customers (perhaps still seething over the fact that the company had the gall to increase subscription fees after it was announced that a number of television programs would no longer be carried through the digital service) are up in virtual arms over the company’s decision to essentially charge customers double for the service they are currently receiving. Now, you’d think that such a call would be corporate suicide, but what do you know? Hastings and his right hand man/sacrificial lamb Andy Redich decided to play damage control by the most logical means fathomable:

By releasing a condescending YouTube video that told customers it’s not really that big of a deal.

As of Sept. 21 (6 p.m., EST), the YouTube video (published by the not-at-all ironically titled NetFlixPublic, with the super-duper-mega-not-at-all ironic title “An explanation and some reflections”) has been viewed about 170,000 times, receiving well over 3,500 dislikes since it was posted on Sept. 18. For a little perspective on just how unpopular Netflix is on the World Wide Web right about now, consider this: an upload of Hitler’s first speech as chancellor of Germany only has 250 dislikes.

I recently decided to watch the three and a half minute long clip myself, and yeah, it’s pretty bad. Hastings’ and Redich’s attempt to spin the news into something positive has to be the most audacious instance of a corporation trying to right the ship in the public eye since British Petroleum pleaded its case as an eco-conscious organization; I surmise the guys that hold the lease on the Fukushima Power Plant will probably have an easier time winning back public support than this operation.

If nothing else, the video is a pretty entertaining example of corporate “newspeak” - you know, that Orwellian concept that people will tell you the exact opposite of what something means and expect you to swallow it like a delicious, delicious candy bar. For those of you that have a hard time translating newspeak into “real speak,” I decided to transcribe the video for you: try playing the video and reading along, why don’t you?

(00:09 - 00:15) - - “Hey, remember all those good times you used to have, streaming Z-rate horror movies and having to wait three weeks for a DVD mail-in when you just could’ve driven to Blockbuster and picked it up in five minutes?”

(00:16 - 00:23) - - “Well, uh, we may have sorta’, kinda’ screwed over our clientele base a few months ago when we decided to charge existing customers for far less content.”

(00:24 - 00:38) - - “…and since Starz told us to go take a hike, that means we’re going to have to charge you even more money for even less content now!”

(00:39 - 00:51) - - “On behalf of Netflix, I apologize. . .for not explaining why this is actually a REALLY, REALLY good thing for customers.

(00:52 - 01:16) - - “As we all know, changes in technological capabilities leads to pricier services. Well, even though Netflix HASN’T employed any new service technologies, we’ve decided to go ahead and bill you as if we did.”

(01:17 - 01:33) - - “Long story short, since we’re losing most of our TV content to Hulu, we’ve come to realize that more expensive, less manageable forms of distributing content is what our customers really want.

(01:34 - 02:04) - - “As to meet the overwhelming request for new, in-demand content, we’ve decided to start billing you twice for the same service you’ve been using for the last five years. So anyway, let’s hear it from the new whipping boy...”

(02:06 - 02:19) - - “We’ve grown dramatically over the last 12 years. So much so that today, we’ve decided to go back to using the same service model that we were using in 1999.”

(02:20 - 02:38) - - “I mean, I really don’t know what all the hubbub is about. It’s basically the EXACT same service you’re using today, just that you’re being charged twice as much for it.

(02:39 - 02:52) - - “But that doesn’t mean we’re not closing ourselves off to tertiary streams of revenue. After all, we’re now offering you video game content, so we can now charge you three times as much as we used to.”

(02:53 - 03:01) - - “Look, I know it sounds bad in theory, but in reality. . .”

(03:02 - 03:19) - - “. . .OK, OK, I admit, it does sound kinda’ bad. . .”

(03:20 - 03:24) - - “. . .yeah, we’re going to be out of business by this time next year. Thanks for fattening up our pension plans over the last decade, though.”

 Qwikster czar Andy Redich displaying the organization's new envelopes/demonstrating how to bankrupt a company in one year's time.

Sheesh, what a load of it.What a barrel of half-truths, distortions, and outright lies. What an egotistical, impudent display of corporate arrogance. . . 

. . .what a career these two guys would have if they ever went into politics!
on September 22, 2011 by Your Friendly Neighborhood Jimbo | 1 comment  Edit

Monday, September 19, 2011

"The Morality of Capitalism"

A Review of Libertarian Propaganda
If you thought the social ramifications of free-market ideals on the human experience COULDN'T be fully addressed in 122 pages. . .yeah, you were pretty much right. 

I’ve written about libertarianism a couple of times before, and the feedback always seems to come in two varieties: it’s either hate mail from lunk-headed college kids that consider themselves in the upper tax bracket even though they work at Starbucks, or it’s quasi-well thought out (if not someone surprised) reciprocal praise from blue stater slackers that actually know what the heck (to a certain, degree, anyway) they’re talking about.

Honestly, I don’t really like criticizing libertarianism, primarily because there’s just so much to renounce. Do I begin with the hypocritical, egotistical libertarian tank-thinkers that consider themselves monopolists on issues like reason and logic, or do I go after the fact that one of their canonized philosophers is the absolute worst science fiction hack this side of L. Ron Hubbard? How about Ron Paul and his grandiose visions of reverting back to a double eagle-dependent economy, or how about all of those basement-dwelling ne’er-do-wells that blame the Federal Reserve Board for the fact that they can’t get laid? Just skimming the surface of libertarianism is like running your finger down the slimy curtains of a campground shower, and actually getting into their “literature” is akin to taking a swan dive into a septic tank: you know you’re dealing with crap from a mile away, and when you get knee-deep in it, the only thing more overpowering than the stench of intestinal butter is the repugnant stench of hypocrisy.

I’ve always considered libertarianism to be an illogical, anti-philosophy. For guys that go on and on about the merits of “rationality” and “common sense,” isn’t it just mildly ironic that they’re ideology is fundamentally BUILT open a heap of contradictions and double standards? Reading libertarian propaganda is filled with more paradoxes than a freaking cyberpunk novel: inconsistent terms like “creative destruction,” spontaneous order,” and “compete-to-control” litter the libertarian lexicon with the same sort of casualness and regularity that normal folk say “hello” and “good day.” Try counting up the contradictions and examples of charlatanry in the standard libertarian rant, and there’s a pretty high probability that you’re calculator will run out of battery power before you can add that final +1 to the tabulation.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that someone was leaving a bunch of free copies of an “intro to libertarianism” rag all around campus, so being the masochist that I am, I decided to swoop up a copy and give it a good look-see. At first, I was just going to skim through it and scribble down a couple of turd-tastic quotes here and there, but after pushing myself through all 120-something pages of the pamphlet sized manifesto, I decided the abomination of nature/waste of printing press lubricant deserved a thorough, chapter by chapter lambasting on this very blog. Believe you me, some of this stuff is downright AMAZING.

To begin with, the “book” itself is called “The Morality of Capitalism: What Your Professors Won’t Tell You.” The cover of the book looks like something Desktop Publisher puked out, with a dove carrying a Benjamin and a Yuan in its clutches while nose diving into a globe that consists of ONLY the United States and China. The tome, edited by a fellow named Tom G. Palmer (don’t worry, there’s more rabblerousing from him later on), is basically a collection of super-brief essays on why capitalism is great and poor people deserve to be poor. You know, the standard nonsense we’ve been hearing for years and years. Apparently, the book was published by an organization known as the Atlas Network  (boy, I wonder what that could be referencing?) and looks like it has funding from a number of organizations, including the Cato Institute’s version of the Hitler Youth (just remember kids: if you spew out cockamamie drivel about the free market and “the morality of value exchange” in YOUR school newspaper, you might just win yourself $500 from a bunch of nerds, ding-dongs and crater-faced  dweebs that think student loans are a form of Trotskyism.)

At first, you kind of think to yourself, “how bad can this really be?” and before you get past PAGE ONE of the introduction, you’re already on the verge of punching a hole in the nearest wall/face you encounter. Palmer begins the tract by stating that capitalism is a “system of innovation, wealth creation and social change” that has “brought billions of people to prosperity” - which, of course, explains why a good 33 million people in the United States are jobless while another 48 million are incapable of securing anything above part time labor. From there, Palmer goes on a euphemism spree, discussing libertarian ideals like elitism (“careers open to talent”) while championing inherently faulty concepts like “voluntary process of market exchange” - you know, because it’s totally our CHOICE to be involved in the economic cycle. If Palmer had a hard-on for biology, he’d probably lecture us on the “voluntary process of breathing,” as well.

 Nothing says "marketplace efficiency" quite like having to GIVE away your product to get people to consume it...
He then goes off on a tangent about “state imposed monopolies,” concluding that capitalism has resulted in a system in which people can “commonly become wealthy without becoming criminals.” Well, considering the number of Wall Street crooks and swindlers that get busted for insider trading, book cooking and tax evasion (not to mention all of the human rights violations most of them get away with like overseas sweatshop labor and rug-swept D.O.L. infringements), perhaps it’s just that we wait until we already make our fortune before we let all of those antisocial traits flare up. Palmer spends a couple of pages going after Marx and Werner Sombart (yeah, you tell those long-dead socialist scribes what-for!) and he concludes his introductory spiel by advocating an economic system based on “choice and consent” instead of “birth or status,” saying that we can only get rid of “poverty” via “wealth creation.” Apparently, nobody clued Palmer in on the fact that despite being the wealthiest nation on Earth, we actually have a pretty sizable homeless population here in the States: maybe if we cut property taxes by one percent, all of those makeshift hobo towns in New Jersey will magically dissipate, huh?

Up next, we have a real treat as Palmer interviews Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey; and much like his diabetes-flavored comestibles, his diatribe is sure to have you lunging towards the commode in a hurry.

According to Mackey, there’s a false dichotomy between altruism and selfishness (Translation: “I really, really, really like having money and the fact that the guy next door is starving makes it even better.”) Mackey thinks that capitalism has been the greatest source of good for the world over the last 300 years - so if you’re a slave, a displaced indigent, or a four year old working in a Nike factory in Manila, just remember your ON THE SIDE OF GOOD, AMIGO. He says that he supports creating a culture that supports purpose, stakeholders and leadership, meaning, of course, that he supports creating a culture that’s more profitable for him and his company shareholders. And no, he actually DOES say that in the book. To reiterate the point that the free market is great and totally without fault, he says that only 20 percent of the world population is currently living on less than one U.S. dollar per day. He refrains from mentioning that means 2 billion people across the globe are living in so much abject poverty as to be considered economically invisible, nor does he bring up the fact that about HALF of the planet makes less than three U.S. dollars a day - or heck, even the fact that in several major metropolitan areas in the U.S., gargantuan portions of the populace make less then three dollars a day right here in freaking America. Mackey does some more cheerleading for the free market, saying it made us “a prosperous, authentically rich country,” and with it, “everybody ultimately rises over time,“ - you know, more claptrap that makes it sound like rampant poverty is a petty, trivial issue compared to the MASS suffering of these conglomerates and subordinate creepozoids that think cutting mental health facility and adult literacy programs are a “good start” to the rebirth of American industrialization. It should really come as no surprise that Mackey concludes his segment with praise of Ronald Reagan, claiming that deregulation is THE artifact that led to American prosperity (which may or may not have also led to an economic implosion twenty five years later, but really, who cares about something that insignificant, huh?) I guess Mackey didn’t pick up the newspaper when the Gipper gave S&L billions in government bail bonds, or take note that while Reagan crusaded for a Constitutional Amendment to “balance the budget,” the two-faced wad did more deficit spending than any administration in history. Then again, it is sort of a fitting conclusion, with one hypocrite paying ode to his hypocritical forerunners. 

Because you have the individual freedom. . .to develop type 2 diabetes before you're in middle school.

We follow that up with an essay by Deirdre McCloskey. There really isn’t too much to talk about here; according to her, the Industrial Revolution is one of mankind’s greatest moral paradigms (well, after you discount the slave wages, black lung, daily dismemberments and child endangerment, I suppose you can consider it that), notes that the average capitalist citizen makes OR consumes $100 a day (without a source detailing where she got such an estimate, of course) and calls the fact that there has been a 2,900 percent increase in food production, travel and educational development since 1700 the “Great Fact of History.” Of course, by that same token, you can say that the SAME production levels just prior to the Industrial Revolution were about 2,900 percent higher than they were in 1400, which had 2,900 percent higher production levels of 1100. Feasibly (and using McCloskey’s exact same line of logic), you can say that mercantilism and the Crusades produced the same increase in production levels as did the Industrial Revolution, but COME ON! That’s just plain crazy talk about arbitrarily selecting points in history and gauging lineal progression as  unfounded, presumed-to-be-direct outcomes of those same points, isn’t it?

David Boaz decides to stroke Adam Smith’s long dead ego in the next essay, stating that a “Great Society” is based upon “self-interest, limited generosity and resource scarcity” - essentially, three different ways of justifying the fact that you’re acting like a self-absorbed putz. Boaz says that state associations are instinctively “coercive” while every other possible form of association is both natural and voluntary. Because as we ALL know, private industry and civic organizations NEVER, EVER use force or fear to motivate people. Like I said, NEVER.

Parker then returns with an essay entitled For Profit Medicine. Basically, he’s giving us the same argument Thomas Szasz gave us in The Myth of Mental Illness - “in a free market economy, the profit motive may be but another name for the compassion motive,” he declares. Well, I think we can all agree upon that, since it’s a common facet of knowledge that ALL businesses EVERYWHERE act with the best interests of their clients and customers in mind AT ALL CONCEIVABLE TIMES.

From there, Mao Yushi gives us The Paradox of Morality, which includes, among others, these cheery quips:

“Looking out for the interests of others, it is a breeding ground for vile characters.”

“If humankind were to directly and exclusively seek the benefit of others, no ideals would be realized.”

“Those who act contrarily to their own self interests during the course of an exchange suffer from an incoherence of motives.”

Needless to say, Christmastime at the Yushis has to be all kinds of awkward, I’m guessing.
And from cynical egotists of the Chinese variety, we get a look at the same love of self and moolah from Leonid Nikoniv. “Economic freedom,” Nikoniv states, “that is, equal standards of justice and equal respect for the rights of all to produce and to exchange, is the right standard of justice for moral beings.” Now, such a definition certainly can be applied to non-capitalist systems, as text book socialism attempts to create just such an equality based on moral justices, too, but . . uh, well, Nikoniv never really explains why capitalism is inherently a better means of achieving said equality and justice, but it’s not like you have to make valid points to win an argument or anything, right? Nikoniv then goes off on a long tirade about the evils of “forced redistribution”, and I think you could get about as much as insight out of an unplugged air conditioner as you would the sputtering rhetoric about “deontic modality” and how the Pythagoreans gave gender traits to certain numbers.

There’s an essay about Adam Smith up next. The only really noteworthy thing about it is the line “markets make possibility the charity of the charitable” as a universal defense for promoting one’s financial self-interests over the well-being of others. Of course, the counter-argument is that such greed-oriented business policies ultimately end up costing others their livelihoods, which results in formerly self-sustained individuals becoming dependent on redistribution because. . .DING-DING! The freaking market put them out on their keisters to begin with. In that, the statement that the market makes charity possible is an inadvertently truthful one in well more ways than one

As we all know, your stance on the legality of black tar heroin makes you either a champion of freedom or the modern day equivalent of Joey Stalin. 
As an added bonus, the pamphlet came with two complimentary political quizzes, which were provided by some self-government advocacy group (which I guess explains the why and how of how the darn books ended up on campus, anyway). Needless to say, the quizzes themselves are pretty biased and steered towards generating a “gee whiz, I’m a Libertarian!” answer. The quiz asks you such vague questions as “are you in favor of a national identification card?”, which, somehow, determines your rank and file in the political system. Not that there’s a lot of room for analysis with these things as it is,  but I find even the questions asked here to be prone to false positives. Isn’t a “driver’s license” and a “passport” basically a “national I.D.,” anyway?

The real centerpiece of the book is an essay by David Kelley entitled “Ayn Rand and Capitalism: The Moral Revolution.” Kelley gets off to a good start, noting the tried-and-true-trifecta of things that made the modern world great (liberalism, “spontaneous order” capitalism and the Industrial Revolution) before heading into the Randian platitude that altruism as self-sacrifice OR “submersion of self into the collective” is B-A-D. Welfarism? BAD. Egalitarianism? BAD. Egotism? BAD, not because it hurts other people, but because it may inadvertently be bad for the individual. The only social good we have going for us, per Kelley, is the system of “voluntary trade,” and if you’re poor, he has the following for you to chew on:

“There is no ground in justice for holding the poor or the meek in any special esteem or regarding their needs as primary.”

Kelley concludes his essay by saying that if given the choice between a “free” society and a society in which people did not starve, “the free one is the moral choice.” Obviously, Kelley’s proposition is a false dichotomy so massive that if you peer out your window, you might just be able to see it over the horizon, as it doesn’t even attempt to define the parameters of what a free society is, nor does it even remotely consider the reality that a society can have capitalistic markets and still have soaring poverty rates (Hint: if you’re reading this in America, try taking a stroll outside sometime for empirical refutation of Kelley’s assertion.) Kelley’s kicker is that he believes that privatized “charities” outside the market should be in charge of non-state-funded welfare and public assistance programs - basically, the social service equivalent of equipping firefighters with squirt guns instead of fire hoses.

After that we have a long string of micro-essays. Ludwig Lachmann’s essay is the only entry in the compilation that recognizes the whole idea of “inherited wealth,” even if he (from a rhetorical standpoint, wisely) refuses to discuss it at length in promoting the free market as “socially equitable” and all that jazz. Temba A. Nolutshungu says that “economic wellbeing is a consequence of freedom,” and that capitalism ensures “trade without force or fraud”. . .which is, well, yeah. According to Julie Arunga voluntary exchange is a “natural act” and that a free market somehow off puts monopolies and collusion in society. . .which is, well, also kind of yeah. Drawing upon the framework of noteworthy black person hater David Hume, Vernon Smith says that we have “nothing to fear” from outsourcing, stating that it worked just fine and dandy for textile mills in the southeast in the 1960s (up until the factories were shipped off to Thailand thirty years later, anyway) and that from 1999-2003, that good old “creative destruction” created two million more “service sector” jobs than it destroyed in the United States. Of course, Smith doesn’t say what exactly “constitutes” a service sector job, nor does he state whether or not technically American jobs outsourced to international personnel “counted” in his findings. In defense of multinationalists, he says that for every dollar a Fortune 500 company invests in foreign markets, they typically invest around three dollars in the U.S. market. The thing is, the market of which he speaks consists of the multinationals themselves and not the American public, many of whom have had their jobs (and in some extreme cases, entire career fields) whisked away to Southeast Asia so that their ex-employer can preemptively save a dime or two on forecasted losses.

  A photograph of the elusive Tom G. Palmer. . .who looks so much like that cigarette-smoking dude from The X-Files that it HAS TO MAKE YOU WONDER.

The grand finale for the tome is a reprint of Mario Vargas Llosa’s January 2001 essay “The Culture of Liberty,” and boy, did they ever save the best for last here. To begin with, Llosa wants us to know that we all have the terminology wrong - it’s not globalization, it’s modernism, and we’d all have to be a bunch of buffoons to reject modernity, wouldn’t we? Per Llosa, cultural identity is dangerous, and no form of cultural identity is more dangerous than nationalism, which Llosa says creates a dominant culture which is forcibly imposed upon local ones. “Globalism must be welcomed,” Llosa writes, “because it notably expands the horizon of individual liberty.” But, for all of you traditionalists out there, don’t worry, because according to Llosa, globalism will usher in a grand, new era in which “all that is valuable and worthy of survival in local cultures will find fertile ground in which to bloom. This is something, Llosa states, “we must be happy about.”

I think Llosa’s essay pretty much sums up why libertarianism is at best mendacious and at worst flat out schizophrenic as a philosophy. Let’s count up the contradictions here, shall we?

For starters, Llosa says that national identity is bad because it imposes culture on local populations. However, Llosa doesn’t say a dadgum thing about how local identity imposes culture on individuals within that locality. Speaking of impositions, how many times did Llosa say that we had to embrace globalism? For a philosophy that supposedly espouses human choice, Llosa has no interest in giving us, well, a human choice regarding the matter - alike a “vegetarian” chomping down on a steak and chicken quesadilla, we’re getting a severely mixed message here. Ultimately, my biggest complaint with Llosa’s argument is my biggest complaint about libertarianism in general: just what the hell constitutes “liberty” to begin with? Surely, you are not in favor of complete and utter freedom, but it’s next to impossible to gage the parameters of liberty we’re talking about here. At one point does individual liberty become a negative? Is total and complete liberty, abolishment of any regulation from another human being, the eventual goal of such an ethos? Since we have no control over the economic system we’re born into, doesn’t that make capitalism itself an imposition upon the individual? Surely, we can’t choose which economic system we want to partake of in a given society, so what gives? The libertarian folk seem to want both individual rights and unfettered capitalism, and you don’t need me to tell you that those AREN’T ideologies that go firmly knuckle-through-knuckle. As a result, and “The Morality of Capitalism” demonstrates this to a big, fat “T”, libertarianism is a system that thrives on contradictions and obfuscation through euphemisms, because, hey, that’s the ONLY way this [expletive deleted] racket can get off the ground at all.

A decentralized government? Great, now let’s replace it with centralized industry. Promotion of civil knowledge and understanding? Let’s get started, but first, let’s starve off all of those undesirables in the trailer park and barrios. A better world can be created, but only if “the capitalist elite” are the ones calling all of the shots. Most libertarians think that industry should supplant government as the main overseer of the peoples, and to me, that’s about the most ­absurd thing I can dare fathom, for as much as the government sucks, at least they never went out of business before. All libertarianism is is exchanging a spork for a foon. . .and it’s a way worse foon than the spork we’re currently using.

The last page of the book includes and ordering form for copies of the tome. “This book will give you that power,” it promises would be bulk-purchasers. And then, after yelling and moaning and complaining and bellyaching and raising cane about “wealth redistribution,” you know what the final sentence in the book is?

“Illinois residents, please add 6.5% sales tax.”

If you ever wanted a primer on what libertarianism is all about, that’s pretty much all you need to know about it right there

Just remember: The Morality of Capitalism is cheaper than toilet paper (although nowhere near as readable.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Look At Internet Dating In The Modern Era

...yeah, it's still pretty creepy

For as long as the Internet has been around, it seems, the industry of computer dating has been a driving force behind the growth of Web use and technology. Chat rooms, web cams, and social media sites are all inadvertent spin-offs of applications and clients formerly dedicated to helping pimply Oregonians hook up with thunder-thigh Floridians through the magic of a 56K modem; in fact, one can make the argument that almost ALL of our major web addictions of the current (YouTube, Facebook, Craig’s List, etc.) stem from technology either lifted or stimulated via internet dating sites and services 20 years ago.

Although we tend to believe that internet dating is a passé, ’90s relic comparable to Blind Melon and Ally McBeal, online sites aiding and abetting in helping people hook up are still pretty lucrative and heavily populated sectors of the Internet. . .even if the demographics for such services have, ahem, changed considerably since the Clinton Administration.

The biggest change in Internet dating site trends over the last decade has been the age range of who’s actually uploading profiles to services such as eHarmony and Simply put, online dating isn’t exactly a hobby of spring chickens anymore, as the aggregate age of the modern American Internet dating service user is MUCH closer to being around 50 than 20. . .meaning that randy profile cruisers are more likely to end up with Blanche from “The Golden Girls” than they are some 20-something seductress as so many a lackluster late-night HBO-movie has promised them. And speaking of weirdos and mouth breathers, one of the most commonly cited reasons as to why the Young Turks left dating sites en masse is because of the overabundance of creeps and Silence of the Lambs-ish figures lurking about in popular databases. Ever the proactive industry, it only took until last month to begin checking the backgrounds of clientele for trifling matters like “criminal records” and “accusations of abuse” - a business policy enacted when a service user discovered that her “dream date” just so happened to be a registered sex offender with a rap sheet longer than Veruca Salt’s birthday wish list.

Odds are, if a college-aged user is on a dedicated dating site, he or she is probably a member of one of the myriad “niche interest” sites on the ‘net. Sure, sure, we’ve all seen the banner ads promising us hot Protestant boys and sultry females with proclivities for Republican politicking, but if you ever did some sleuthing. . .I mean some SERIOUS Web scouring. . .you’d come to the realization that youth-targeted dating services are specific to the point of absurdity. An example? Try the contra to E-harmony,, a dating database designed exclusively for fans of the perplexingly popular, hyper-violent rap group the Insane Clown Posse. The site, featuring the heartwarming tagline "dating for the wicked," doesn't seem to be reeling in the clientele in droves these days: as of Sept. 12, 2011, the site seems to be more of a glorified thumbnail ad for generic "weed-rap outfit #2,224" than it is a place for the grease-painted and the GED-educated to mingle and mix.

And lastly, there’s perhaps the last truly great steward of online love-connections, Ms. Gong Haiyan, founder of the EXTREMELY popular website Jiayuan. Jiayuan is the far and away the nation's premier online service for Hans hankering for some hanky panky, with approximately 1 million users signed up for the service. Unlike most American dating sites, Jiayuan users are charged a small fee (about $0.30 USD per message), and according to the Gongster, the aggregate Jiayuan client drops about 30 messages a day through the service. In case you aren't too keen on math, that equates a TON of Yuan for the operator and maestro of the service, whose labor of (e)love has an estimated market worth of $400 million. I don't know about you, but when I hear about numbers like that, it's enough to make me pine for the good old days of American courtship. . .you know, back when parlaying a Facebook friend request to that one girl you knew back in the eighth grade into a torrid, short-lived, and generally regret-filled romance was the only way to make magic happen. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Paranoia = Profit$

Why Conspiracy Culture on the Internet is Big Business

Yep, it’s that time of year again. Time for all of the basement dwelling, tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy weirdos to emerge from their subterranean lairs to tell all of us “sheeple” the TRUTH about 9/11.

It was a false flag operation perpetrated by the Bush Administration to get us into Iraq. No, it was actually a controlled demolition arranged by the Bilderbergs. NO, it was really a set-up by the Illuminati involving a fighter jet equipped with cruise missiles. So, does it sound just a little delusional to accuse a shady, underground cartel of Swedish international bankers and governmental puppet organizations backed by the Knights Templar of orchestrating the September 11, 2001 attacks?

Well, not to millions of people across the globe. Yeah, that’s right, millions. As it turns out, Internet-born conspiracy culture is no laughing matter. In fact, many of the superstars of online crack pottery are laughing all the way to the bank.

Alex Jones' YouTube videos have had more than 100 million views. The Zeitgeist Movement channel has received over 15 million, and the creators of Loose Change have sold over 2 million DVDs since 2006.  Apparently, not only has Internet "conspiracy culture" gone mainstream. . .it's literally turned into a cottage industry over the course of a decade.

So what does this say about new media? Well, for starters, that there sure are a lot of people on the Web that feel disenfranchised and disempowered. Now, I’m not saying that types like Alex Jones and the TRUTH Movement folks are necessarily exploiting people with all-too-apparent social issues, but. . .well, no, never mind, I guess I am. The psychosocial dynamic here is pretty obvious; a lot of people out there that feel beat-up and left-out take solace in attaining “knowledge” that a.) explains, rationalizes and neatly shifts the finger of blame for the individual’s foibles and failings to a universal culprit and b.) gives said individual a sense of empowerment via obtainment of said knowledge. Why do so many people “believe” in such far-fetched, unfounded and generally cockamamie ideas to begin with? Because those same ideas give them a smidge of comfort. It makes them feel like they “know” something the general population doesn’t, and that, by proxy, gives them a social edge over all the people they encounter that seem to be enjoying life way more than they are. We often talk about how the Internet, especially with the advent of social and mobile media, has made us a single “collective” of users and producers, but judging from the staggering number of people buying into the conspiratorial agitprop of the present, it’s quite clear to me that a true unification hasn’t exactly taken place on the Information Superhighway. Judging from the sensation WikiLeaks stirred, it’s quite obvious that new media can be used for genuine social empowerment (just ask the ex-leaders of Egypt and Libya if you get the chance.) However, the ‘net can also be used as an apparatus that exploits, beguiles and generally swindles people into believing and following any number of odd movements and agendas. Sigh. . .if Jim Jones were alive today, he probably would’ve made his congregation sip poisoned FlavorAde through an iPhone app.