Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Ten Ninety Nihilists

From September 2012 until July 2013, I didn't write on here very much because I was writing an article for the Real News.  It's about independent-contractor status and the tech industry.  I'm proud to say that it ran on Real News at the end of September! And thank you Gifford- it also ran on libcom. Also, very proud to get linked by Naked Capitalism and Tom Slee. Also on a similar theme just a couple of weeks after the story ran, along with my friend Patrick I co-curated an Occupy Forum about disruption, precarious employment and the tech boom, with Darwin Bond-Graham of Counterpunch and Occupy activist and Wobbly Ryan Smith. Thanks to friends who supported me when I was talking about this thing for a year and a huge thank you to my sources. I want to do a something next, but I'm not sure yet what that will be.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

More on that certain tone of voice

I've just been reading about the meetings between George Gilder, Esther Dyson, Newt Gingrich and Alvin Toffler, in Fred Turner's great book From Counterculture to Cyberculture. I inhaled it in 5 days. Actually, I read Gary Weiss, _Ayn Rand Nation_ , Kim Phillips-Fein's _Invisible Hands_ and Turner, all in succession! In about as fast a wave of reading as I could possibly do. I have notes. But here is a quick thing on that certain tone of voice from business. It's the difference between the main event and the sideshow. Suppose you are making arguments for trickle-down and saying there will be a second half where there are lots of positive consequences for a lot of people, but at the same time, you're charging a fee for the whole thing, which frankly, could perpetuate you on its own. This is the whole reason why it's important to look at vested interests. And there is an interesting bifurcation-- let's say you're calling for deregulation, and you're promising great things will happen. You can break up the person doing the telling according to (a) true believers (b) complete liars (c) people who are in some stage of self-delusion. It's more complicated, because maybe you have digested the idea of cognitive dissonance as part of the "can't make an omelette" concept. Rhetoric is a way of attaining your goals, just like everything else. So there's no such thing as lying. It is all part of getting your goal, which also happens to cement you as a winning personality, or a Randian hero: the sort of person who isn't afraid to GO FOR IT! According to Turner, Dyson, Kelly and Barlow's writings "fairly ache with a longing to return to an egalitarian world." So they mean it, supposedly, though they also have lots of financial confounds where they might just be sufficiently tickled that they're doing so well for themselves by telling tall tales that they rationalize any amount of cognitive dissonance. Probably not.. Turner has read the primary sources and I doubt he is wrong. There are lots of complicated intermediate forms of partial delusion, too. Phillips-Fein had a great phrase about the business conservatives, trying to persuade workers that unions were harmful. She's talking about 50s and 60s conservatives, not about the dot-com period, but the phrase is extremely interesting for both: "They believed that the market had given them their power and that the market was inherently democratic. They saw themselves as populists. In many ways they were disingenous even with themselves..."

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Notes on a particular tone of voice from business

I want to get this down before I forget. It has to do with corporate attitudes towards inconvenience or harm to a small number of people. They are setting their own contextualization about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. So there is a message like "we apologize, but this kind of thing is bound to happen given the volume of people/transactions/information that comes through our thing every day." Suppose this isn't true, though. One thing is for sure - they will never contemplate the fact that they actually ought to shut down, or that the harm has outweighed the benefit. No company ever comes to that conclusion. Massive volume could be a smokescreen, potentially. Either as a way to shrug off neglect, or as an excuse and a form of plausible deniability towards a fraud they are quite aware of as it is going on. We ought to be constantly savvy towards situations where the real story is portrayed as a side story. For example, take a fraud having to do with trying to sell unemployed jobseekers a list of job listings. Or other work schemes that involve upfront fees. I think it is sometimes taught as part of Critical Thinking 101 that you never, never, never participate in this. Because these fees actually ARE the core of the scammer's business. If a person is familiar with the fonts/typefaces and the use of hyperbolic claims and other weird attributes of job-related things that are completely un-credible, they might escape unscathed but unfortunately, many people will probably get embroiled in employment scams especially as unemployment remains high. So it's very important to take a look at whether large, established business can engage in a modified form of these schemes. This whole bit of writing that I am doing on this subject is kind of unformed so I want to get the anchor down and revisit it some other time. But here is the basic skeleton of what it's all about. It has to do with the cloud. It runs on volume of people and permits a shrug of the shoulders towards the well-being of any one person. A lovely employment attorney I interviewed last year used the phrase "skimming off the applicants," in regards to Amazon. It probably gets portrayed as a way to make money. It is a turnkey business for the makers, because they have no responsibility for whether or not anyone actually does make money. The term "not a good fit" can always be applied to anyone after the fact. Again, plausible deniability. The participation of the gullible novice is important. You take something that under the hood has nothing to offer, is economically non-viable, and say "what have you got to lose, why not just try it for a short time, with no obligation?" The person being targeted joins up, and in one way or another, provides something for free. It could be an upfront fee, or, it could be participation in a so-called "Web 2.0" website. The subtext of Web 2.0 is that it's attractive to an investor because the costs are reduced by the fact that users create free content, users consume content from each other, and possibly the proprietor makes money through advertising. A story is told about the importance of your social standing and the respect that is afforded to your opinions. Which makes people get the urge to create a bunch of opinions, which are now somewhat fake and made of air, since the pacing was forced. The cart is leading the horse. And also, the work that the person does is done in this environment of work now at the outset, for a promise of future rewards. This is the sleight of hand. The churning present is the real story, not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Suppose it's 2050 and you have a crowdsourced telesurgery service. Surgeons from all over the planet are vetted for their qualifications and the top applicants get the privilege of joining the crowdsourced telesurgeon. The telesurgeon will act through a robotic drone with degrees of freedom comparable to the human body. When a surgery begins, doctors can participate in particular decisions of what to do next, in return for a penny reward. Through the use of massive redundancy, an action (like moving a scalpel five more degrees to the left) only takes place when 99% of the doctors in the crowdsourced telesurgeon have agreed. The quality of the surgery, when redundancy is used in this way, has been shown to be equally as good as having a real surgeon present. The patient doesn't even have to pay the penny reward to those doctors who made an incorrect choice. (Incorrect is defined as going against the consensus.) The proprietors of the telesurgery company are hailed for creating jobs. And the system is so popular (since work for non-crowdsourced doctors is faltering) that anyone who quits will be easily replaced by "skimming off the applicants."

The new FISA directive and the PRISM story

The Prism story brings my preoccupation with silicon valley together with my preoccupation with false positives and the GWOT. Both of these revelations are awful. Are they going to be received with a shrug? The story of unauthorized location tracking on the iphone was received with a shrug. Warrantless wiretapping was received with a shrug in the sense that Obama voted for FISA and we supported him anyway, plus there wasn't enough outcry for impeachment of Bush/Cheney to make Conyers do it. It seems to me that by shrugging at privacy violations, we are painting ourselves into a corner not only for the present moment, but for the future too. The story of living standards and the basic progressive priorities is just awful. Do we not need some privacy in order to fight these fights? I don't know. Maybe not. Janet reported on Occupy Wall Street after she visited last fall, and she said that there was this move towards radical transparency. The Occupy planners held their meeting on the steps of the police department. If you want to know what we're doing, come and find out. It seems like a Gandhian way to do things ... I have merely seen the movie, and haven't read about him, which I plan on doing eventually, but Gandhi I don't think cared if the cops knew what and where he was going to bring his people to make salt or something else, because they were going to walk right into the line of fire. Was privacy important to Gandhi or MLK? It's not a rhetorical question - eventually I am going to read the histories and find out: Is there anything about our present relationship to information and surveillance in 2013 that would make the Indian independence or civil-rights fights untenable or more difficult? Or does strong encryption take care of everything anyhow? My worry and irritation is that people who fight on principle like Bruce Fein don't have enough ordinary centrists with them. It doesn't mean Fein is wrong, but without numbers of constitutents, the politician just does the cost-benefit analysis and says "I can afford to ignore Fein." My other worry and irritation is that if progressives don't get out in front on civil liberties, libertarians like Rand Paul become the voice of sanity and might get the executive branch and more seats in Congress. Which sounds great on war, drones and surveillance, but their domestic policy is fucking heartless and always has been. And economic issues is what makes people do things that get them surveilled! When Rand Paul filibustered over drone strikes, the heart of civil liberties protection swung to the RIGHT. I called Senator Boxer's office and made the above objection. Cross your party! I want you to be the ones crossing Obama because if you don't, the libertarians will and that's horrible for labor law and workers' rights. The center doesn't seem to care about any & all surveillance. We need to connect it with household economics better. There are going to be more Occupys, and they are going to be fighting over the cost of a loaf of bread, the minimum wage and the fact that minimum wage is a moot point when you're 1099 in the first place. And they're going to be fighting over downward mobility and the impossibility of getting by. And surveillance is going to be turned on THEM, and they're going to be muddied together with terrorism, just like union people in the Red Scares were portrayed as the enemies of the USA. It was something business could get away with. This needs to be emphasized more: the use of surveillance by the U.S. government is really the use of surveillance by business, because of this parallel story of Senator Durbin's remark, "the banks own this place." If the banks own this place, the banks can exert influence over how and where the NSA's resources are used and they can go after whoever they want. It won't be about terrorism - it will be about squelching the economic fights and the workers' fights.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Being an information medium is a shield against scrutiny

If you try to search in a search engine for information about Google the corporation, about Eric Schmidt etc., it's likely that some of your results will have to do with Google the idea or Google the tool. If you try to search a search engine for information about Reid Hoffman and Linkedin, the company, you will come back with a bunch of profiles that use Linkedin the conduit. If you want to know about Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams and whoever else works at Twitter, the physical building, and you try to find information about their belief systems and biases by searching 'Twitter', you're going to be inundated by information that was disseminated over Twitter, the medium. A second confound is that once you do find things about Silicon Valley household words that takes them as office parks and workplaces and places where banal corporate culture happens, the biggest source of information is the tech hagiography press. So you're finally reading about Jack Dorsey, but the story is written by someone who fawns over him. A third confound is that if you aren't looking in the tech press in particular, there is coverage of the big names as corporations and as office buildings in the right-wing business press, like Forbes, Fortune, Inc., Wall Street Journal. A fourth confound is that if you aren't looking in the tech press or the business press, you can find coverage in the mainstream press - USA Today, New York Times, CNN - but the writers, who are probably used to contextualizing Google, Facebook and Twitter as conduits, are often credulous and easily snowed by whatever the tech companies tell them about their goals and purposes. Exceptions: The Register, Jane Hamsher's new thing, Carl Franzen, Valleywag.... with a lot of caveats for most of those.