Tuesday, 29 September 2009
I don't understand how, in a political atmosphere we call "democracy", a network of politician-influencing lobbyists can even exist. What use are voters if the decisions of the politicians they elect are influenced not by themselves, but by the money of a few? One could argue that the voters could be 'educated' about the 'good' in their representative's lobby-influenced decisions to get later votes, but this is working in the opposite direction of both reason and democracy (explaining an interest-led decision with a selection of supportive facts, instead of the reason-based methodology of examining all facts available and coming to a logical conclusion only afterwards). Lobby-influenced decisions are rarely in the interest or the will of the people, otherwise there would be no need for any lobbyists at all.
The fact that the subservient public continues to support this system irks me to no end; the reason this climate continues to exist is because of the deficiencies of our education and media. People these days are simply not 'trained' to think for themselves, many do not even want to: not only does the politico-corporate alliance take full advantage of this situation, it is doing all it can to ensure that things stay that way.
Higher wisdom does not lie within the uninformed voting masses, but that doesn't mean that the masses shouldn't be informed. Wisdom is there all the same in raw form: facts about the living conditions of all should guide any decision about what would be best for all. To generate a public both informed and involved, all one has to do is to make the facts and statistics used for political decision-making transparently available to the public themselves.
In an era where many even try to apply "new meaning" to the term "is", today's use of the word "socialism" isn't at all what it was in the year that cartoon came out. Socialism was almost a synonym to communism in those years; the 'socialism' term's use even predated 'communism' (look at 'communist' country names for a why of this).
Today's 'socialism' is a buzzword more than anything these days: most politicians who use it eradicate, or glean over, its original definition in relaying it to an audience who doesn't even know what socialism is. It's nothing short of a scare tactic targeting the ignorant.
The 'government controlling things' is all about context: A thoughtless right-winger tends to think of the government as an entity over which he has no control (a fearful attitude almost a faith - and many of this strain elect representatives for their ability to destroy government); a democrat has more of a tendency to see himself as part of the electoral process (the government exists only after the people). So for the fearful former, something government run is out of their control; for the latter, the same is something run by the people and their wishes.
In a perfect world, there should be no need for a government-run system, but today's world is far from perfect: our economic system is rife with both greed and misinformation (or lack of education). There are many (namely those 'special interests' making the most money from the present situation) who would like things to remain exactly as they are. Then there are those who are too uneducated to understand that a better world can exist.
Personally, I'm still indecisive over what role a government should have: Its first and foremost role, and upon this I remain solidly convinced, should be the maintenance and enforcement of law - but how far beyond that should it go? In today's world there exist no laws against misinformation or excess - partly because we the people don't even have a solid definition for the same. If we could determine all that that is detrimental to our economy (in addition to the already-existing laws about our personal selves), the world would be a much better place, but we have yet to do so. The ventures the most prone to abuse and excess are those catering to - or depending on - the largest number of people, as it is logical that this is where the largest profit-seekers go; this explains why the majority of today's riches are detained by so few. We should study our system, determine the excesses that cause its ills, and remedy them through new laws.
I tend to place health care, autoroutes, sanitation, utilities and communications into the same group; all of these should be consistently available to me no matter where I go (or to who I talk to) in my country, and, personally, I am willing to pay for that privilege - that freedom. In this regard, I imagine public services - a name grouping the above - as a non-profit business run by the people, only managed by government - remember that if you don't like how things are run, you can always fire the manager - with your vote. We don't have the same privilege over the private sector (and I'm not suggesting that we ever should), nor do we have a say, in the present system, of which private contractor a politician chooses, or at what price (profit). Something needs to change there, too - something in the order of 'if it's in the interest of all, all should pay'. I don't care where you shop, but I do care about where I am able to go (in the same comfort) and who I can talk to. I'm sure there are many who would define this as socialism, but it is only a very limited small part of its function, and not at all an entire-economy-government controlled system that is 'real' socialism.
My foremost misgiving with Microsoft: it is not a software development company: it is a marketing company before anything else. From its 1981 "creation" of PC-DOS for IBM, in reality an already-existing OS bought from Seattle Computer Products, Microsoft adopted the marketing method to which it owes its fortune: getting their software pre-installed on many computers as possible. They did the same sort of deal with IBM-Clone manufacturers with their re-branded MS-DOS software.
Pre-installing OS' on computers has two advantages: it a) assured massive profits for Microsoft even before computers hit the shelves, as the OS shipped with the computer at no visible extra charge to the buyer; b) most importantly, assures Microsoft a captive audience that will become dependant on its product: first-time computer users will "learn" whatever they see in front of them the first time they turn the computer on.
As Microsoft managed to ensure itself a large part of the PC market from the get-go, cross-platform compatibility problems resulted in a network of users that would have to rely on Microsoft's product to communicate 'seamlessly' with each other. Their large market share created another level of dependency on their product: many software developers made the economically-sound decision to create products only for the Microsoft platform. The number of developers making this decision only increased with Microsoft's market share.
Microsoft's marketing scheme in itself is condemnable: it exploits consumer ignorance. Fortunately today there are other alternatives to Windows, but unfortunately, because of Microsoft's enormous market share, these took decades to develop to an equally performant level; only recently do Microsoft consumers have an equally tantalising 'ease-of-use' (at least to their knowledge) alternative, at the same time that Microsoft's own bumbles (Vista) driven its users to seek better, often less expensive, alternatives. Old habits die hard, and Microsoft had a decade's advance in ingraining these into its consumers.
Like I said, the majority of today's Microsoft consumers are well aware of Windows weaknesses and alternative OS'; for this it is no coincidence that Microsoft is setting its sights on developing countries. If I can permit myself a moment of ironic digression, I see a parallel with the behaviour of the Catholic church in face of its dwindling flock of Western-world faithful. Yes, it's all about indoctrination.
Had Microsoft used its lead to make itself the best product in the market, all the above would be (more) forgivable: instead they used. and still use, the majority of their enormous profits for... marketing: patent protection (any idea even not their own, ideas not even in development), advertising, and even underhanded techniques like spreading fake hype (paid bloggers and comment-leavers) and FUD. Microsoft's profits are so huge that all of the above expenditures don't even dent them, yet the company is still unable to create a functional and secure piece of software. Patents and licences themselves are part of the problem: Microsoft has painted itself into a patent-protected faulty proprietary-software corner. Another thing that Microsoft seems to forget: the end user doesn't care how things work "under the hood", but they are easily discouraged when they are made aware that their OS' engine is vulnerable (without ever really understanding completely why). Mac is that mustang with the bold racing stripes (and a cool dashboard) that just works, and that's all the end-user needs - or wants - to know. The end user wants to use a tool to get another job done; having to learn how the tool works itself in order to get a job done, or having to adapt one's work habits around the tool itself, is an unnecessary additional step that many users can do without. Moulding the user around the tool has always been one of Microsoft's major goals, and this is why many of its users are loathe to change.
But to return to the main course of my argument: software development isn't Microsoft's principle trade. This is not the case of other developer companies/communities such as Linux and openBSD; Apple, whose OS today relies on a *nix engine, is difficult to place in the grouping because they also specialise in hardware development. Although most every analyst is comparing the above through statistics based on "market share", I see this analysis as skewed; Linux is free. Linux may have less "value", but today they are quietly running, with the help of Apache, most of the world's web servers. Linux development is constant, community-based, and, because it is open-source, anyone can compile a program for it. But I digress.
I'm sure that you can see now that the companies whose future I do believe in are *nix and Mac. Mac is a case apart: their speciality is, and always has been, the "common user", and all of their development, at least in the "Jobs years", has been wowing/making a simpler/better OS experience for the same. Jobs' innovation seems to be the result of a constant study of how users work today, how they can work better (without being thwacked into a totally new set of work habits), and how the advances in technology can be used to attain that goal. Mac has recently gained an enormous market share with its iPod and iPhone innovations; this was possible largely because to the consumer eye they were platform-independant tools, although apple provided an easy "link" to many platforms with its (sometimes controversial) iTunes music program. Mac puts bettering a user experience before anything else; this in itself can be considered a marketing scheme - but an irreproachable one. Jobs is at the centre of all this, and I won't hide that when I think of an Apple without him, I worry for that company's future as well.
The above is why Microsoft has always dogged in Mac's innovation footsteps - it is a company focused on what a consumer will buy (or how he can be made to buy), before anything else. Take windows (second to adopt the mouse, "mac-like" gui, amongst other features) and the Zune for examples of coming in second (or in the latter case, almost last) innovation-wise. Because they didn't come up with the idea in the first place, they are forced to do it "differently"; because of their patent/licence restrictions, they have to (reverse-)engineer their "new" product from scratch, and a "different but the same" look design-wise usually ends up in failure if the result is not up to par with the widely-accepted product that (cough) inspired the design in the first place.
I think my earlier Catholic-church analogy was a good one: the more educated we become, the more choices we have; both Microsoft and the Vatican rely on the lesser-educated/indoctrinated (and loathe to change) for their income, and this is why both are setting their sights on developing countries today. Not only is the west better educated about its choice of tools, but its communication/community habits have changed as well: we no longer have to rely on salespeople to tell us what's good or not, and a product's real quality, no matter the magnanimity of its ad campaign, can be exposed and spread to all within a number of days. Vista was a prime example (victim) of this.
Microsoft has little chance for continued success in the environment described above. If they had any b*lls, they would switch their sights to making a computer experience better for the end user, just as Mac does. This would involve a total change of ethic, staff, and branding - but the most major change by far would be their scrapping their buggy/virus-vulnerable over-patented core - just as Mac did. I don't see this happening anytime soon, but I really hope they use their still-large lead and still-huge resources to a good end.
I think I can sum up the increasingly shrill right-wing's motives into one phrase: Keep the money flowing into the same pockets.
For that the benefits of the American economy continue flowing into the same pockets, there would have to be a sort of managed stagnation: as we are a naturally progressive society, the only means of preventing us from moving forward to newer technologies and ideas would be to submit our populace to a constant barrage of misinformation and dumbing-down about the real value (and existence of) of all that is available to us in the world today. This is what the right-wing is all about, and this is exactly what has been happening since decades.
Those on the economic recieving end of the above are the most silent players in the same story. The loudest and most shrill pundits of the right-wing agenda only feed off these: most of the feeders a) see themselves as being one of the 'well-connected' or 'privileged elite' or b) are getting some sort of financial support for their 'points of view' that benifits the financial supporter or c) see themselves as the 'enlightened leaders' over, to the benifit of the leaders, an optimally mindless society (message: "here's what you should think") or d) a mix of any of the above. In all cases, the goal for all the above is: keeping things exactly as they are.
Reality is what you make of it based on your own knowledge and experience - there's no alternative to this. You are you. Yet today many would like to convince us that we "don't see it right" and provide their spun "explanations" as an alternative - this shouldn't even be given consideration if the base problem remains the same, but many swallow it wholesale, then - most importantly - move on, leaving the problem uncorrected between the hands of (or behind the backs of) the spinners.
Worse still, many seem to be HAPPY to remain thoughtless, biased, blindly supporting those who profess to "think better than they" - what is going on? Do they think themselves "privileged" in some way? Are they hoping for a "piece of the pie" that the horrible events engendered by their "masters" will generate? If it is Iraq we are talking about here, I think hardly anyone will get any real benefit at all - for now, their only "right" is to send their children to die for their own "right" to consume the stolen petrol sold to them by the same private companies that are imposing oil-driven cars. Hello? Elephant? Room?
Where is the rationale in all this?
Let's have a look at it from the bottom up, beginning with the very fundamentals of any economy. This would be the single unit - the work one man (of course by this I mean women as well) must do for himself to maintain his own existence. It is a common fact that, no matter the trade, one must at least fulfil this prerequisite to be categorised as one earning "an honest living". There's work of the body and work of the mind, but I'll develop that further on. For now we can say that, in the years of early humanity, an economy was limited to trading the fruits of one's labour against that of another, usually within a limited community. The invention of money was just a step up from this basic level - it allowed one to trade directly instead of trading chickens for grain for bricks as we used to.
All economies were "local" until the first 18th-century industrial revolution. Steam power and new metal alloys mixed with human inventiveness made it possible to make a single "type" item millions of times over. I suppose we could call this the beginning of the "factory economy" period.
Though it is more complicated, the production of any given product can be thought of as a "micro-economy" in itself: From its raw material roots, it engenders the work and techniques through its many stages until its appearance on the store shelf. The math is simple if we look at a factory's "top level" profitability - the money it spends to make its product is money going into the economy; the money it takes for the sale of its product is being taken out of the economy. The difference between the two, of course, is loss and profit. Therefore a company who takes much more than its production costs is taking money out of the economy.
If you would like to complicate this "top level" example, apply the same principle to every company involved in a product's "sub-production" - the mining company that provides the raw materials, the machine company that provides the factory's machines, the transportation company that carries the raw materials to the factory and carries finished product from the same to the store shelf. Now imagine that every company in this pyramid wants (at least) a 10% profit margin. By time you get to the top you will find that a product's "real" value is most often less than half of its price on the store shelf. It is mainly for this reason that the "first world" economy, as it stands, will be incapable of competing with the likes of China.
Now, about that profit margin. It would be next to impossible to even try imposing any means of control upon it (and I would be totally against the idea), but it is possible to determine whether it is "justified" or not. Were we all but beasts of labour an economy would be a simple matter, but thanks to our minds this is not so. It is thanks to our inventiveness and technology that we are able to create machines that lessen our physical burdens; it is exactly here where profit is warranted: when an invention lessens its user's workload. An inventor has every right to the time and money he saves his customer - and this at no damage to the existing economy. One is a maker of progress, and the other a benefits from it. If work is money, the balance there is pure. With this system only the inventive would be rich. But shouldn't this be so? There is still the impossibility of calculating the "how much work saved" side of things. (Aside - Outside this realm is entertainment, and in any well-educated society this should be democracy at its best - outside of the cycle of "need and sustenance", a customer will pay only if he's willing; that is to say if the product is good and the price is right.)
Our lives today are much easier thanks to generation after generation of inventors, but not all of them got a return for their work. Rather, mainly and namely from the second industrial revolution (1840's-1920's), it was the appropriator and producer of an idea who made the money - for the main reason that he already had the capital enough to produce. This already would instigate cries of "Unfair!" but there is little we can do but to brand such 'gleaner-profiteers' as the thieves they are, and hope that this would have a repercussion on the product sales. There is no feasible means to protect an idea - patenting has this intention in mind but there are always thousands of "almost" loopholes and ways around it. Though it is a basic truth that a product could have no better than its inventor as producer, in today's market it is he who pays that plays. Period.
The question to ask is "Why do those able to produce have capital enough to do so in the first place?" Again, I must stress that I am against 'taking' anything from anyone who already has it - we can't unless it was unjustly taken, and as things stand there are no laws to say that the existing greed-motivated system is "bad" - so we can't. Besides, once taken, the only rightful person a property could be returned to is the person from whom it was taken. In today's system, yet another next-to-impossibility. But I digress.
I think an idea of regulation may be based around an idea of "Squatting money". Capital that, once removed from the production cycle of a functioning economy (think of it as labour energy taken from the whole of a functioning "even trade" community), causes it imbalance.
True that most profit rarely "sits still" and is usually re-invested somewhere. Here we get into another sticky subject - is "investment" labour? Is loaning money labour?
The answer to the latter is easy enough, if one would calculate a bank's profit-earning as that of any factory in comparing its "production costs" against its profits. Yet is this really applicable in this way - does a bank's functioning and services save their clients any work? When one thinks about it, the answer is no; In fact, in total accumulated labour, though it is spread over time, the bank takes much more than it gives.
Investment is another matter more complicated. If a party give X amount of cash to a company, allowing it to expand its research/production to make new products, and based on this expansion makes new profits, giving the X cash invested a plus-value of the profit gains since its time of investment, is this labour? My first reaction is to ask "does the product save work for those who buy it?" If the answer is yes, that initial investment could be treated as "venture capital" which itself is positive in my books. If the answer is no, then more than likely it's pure speculation. Think record labels, petrol companies, etc.
But the question of the origin of the money invested also counts. Money of privilege is not money of labour. Nor is inherited money. Inheritance if fine; I see no problem at all with someone who had no need to live a life of labour thanks to a gift of someone else's who is no longer there to profit from it; yet I do see a problem if this capital is used for purely speculative purposes, especially investments in companies dealing in the market of "sustenance". Think petrol. Think metal. Think grain. Let the inheritors spend their parent/donor gains, thus, as the inheritor contributes no labour of his own, putting the economy back into the economy.
Again, how to apply this to law? I myself am totally against inheritance taxes - what right does someone have to claim half of the earnings of someone who had already spent his life paying his "just due" in taxes on those same earnings? Totally besides the point and quite unwarranted.
All of the above put together may seem confusing, but there is a thread through all of it - a division between sustenance, inventions and entertainment. Sustenance is our basic requirements for survival, inventions (machines and medication) ease our struggle to survive, and entertainment, well, entertains. (Just to clarify: energy is sustenance). Should we divide the market along these axae, discerning speculation and monopolies is a much easier task.
Now the relation between business and government. In any real democracy there should be none, only the impartial, un-biased and people-voted "anti-abuse" laws to protect both businesses and consumers alike.
What is a government? It is supposedly, within given borders, the guardian of laws demarking and enforcing the lines between all its people consider "good" and "bad" for its proper function. In some societies it is also the guardian of the 'collective security for the individual' meaning unemployment insurance and health plans paid in advance out of money pooled from a country's "collective wealth".
Before going further, but still concerning the above, I should pause to say that I see a country as a company that you yourself belong to that you yourself invest in. By that I mean that, should you agree with how a country functions: Its laws, its demands on its people and what it gives in return, you may choose to remain there. This for now is only an ideal, and granted that not all people have this choice, and certainly not at an early age.
I could even go as far as to suggest that everything in a given country open to "public use" be run by the government through funds invested by its people. By this I mean things health, transportation, and perhaps communication. Of course the government should run companies such as these - a democratic market is a free market and who uses one company or another should be up to the people themselves. I also agree that all could be privatised, but I do not at all leaving things like health and energy open only to those driven by the greed factor - a country's single non-profit nationwide infrastructure would be much cheaper to run and more stable (re-routing) than independent company-owned localised networks. Government energy of course would be paid as it is consumed, government health through an average base-plan (perhaps with options for higher coverage), government transportation paid for in a localised/national manner depending on the population concentration (aka local services provided) and government communication paid equally by every person who wants to use their network. Of course anyone can unsubscribe to any or all of the above for another service.
I see the above as a country in itself. Utilities used by all should be governed by all - meaning through democracy - for a lower cost per capita and a better gestation through custodians chosen by vote. Who would refuse to put their money into a system where they have a say in who's doing their job towards the services they get in return? In the present system people have the feeling they have no control over anything governmental (or commercial or consumer-oriented), and it is for that they don't vote. If you were giving your money to a company who has the job of giving you what you pay for, and you knew you would have your say about its success, would you pay? Would you vote? Damn right most would.
The same goes for laws. The guardians of the "public good" should be a minimal, network, vote-maintained from its tip to toe. To hell with politically-motivated judge designations and "bad" laws packaged with "good" ones for a unique senate vote - to hell with secrecy and closed-doors negotiations. The whole, save perhaps only the deepest defence infrastructures (and I stress defence), should be open to public scrutiny. Secrecy is "under the table", a sign of trickery, condescendence or mistrust; any of these inflicted by a politician towards the very people who put him in office makes for a sad and scary situation indeed. Is a country like this one worth investing in? Go figure.
Of course, for the above to work, we have to change our means (and raison d'être even) of education. School should be schooling towards the trade most interesting to a student - not a means to a minimal-effort "star job" often promised by the very same system. In fact, for the above system to work, individual thought must reign - proven fact must be taken for proven fact and tried and proven by he who is learning; anything opinion can come only after. In fact, in schooling, we must do away entirely with anything opinion. Give our young a chance to decide for themselves before subjecting them to the decisions of others. I can already hear the nihilists and right-wing nuts stampeding at that prospect.
Lastly, the place for religion - not in government. Religion is a political system in itself, a system whose laws are for the most part created for the preservation of its very same political hierarchy. Very few exceptions aside, religion is belief - belief in unproven theories of living man, and not at all a practice of a rational, logical and utilitarian thought. To state otherwise would be a heresy against humanity and all it has accomplished until now. Nor can we impose one improvable theory for another. Trade reason for belief and you've given up your role in any democratic system. But, as in any democracy, that should be for you to decide.
Through all of the above life would be business as usual, we doing our trades and trading what we earn with that of our neighbours. Oversimplified: Yes, Utopian: Compared to today, perhaps, but Impossible - not. Through the above I have but outlined only the base of what a country should be. I would like to see people return to working for a living and liking their jobs - their reason for living - instead of the conniving, arranging, fixing and indoctrinating "greed is good" period we are in today. Might I remind you that even the latter is a "reason to live" for some and the pride in that has today's world to show as a result.
People who think are rarely violent, and those conscious of what they accomplish in life (and its value to others) even less so. I think it is time that we, for now the majority, come forward to make our world our own. For all of us.
So those who would put the tool above what it creates are not only missing the point - they've obviously missed out on the experience of having an idea of their own.
LOL, no, the fact is that, since I'm new to Slashdot, it took me a bit to "get" that the best way for what you write to be seen is to answer someone else's post. Or post earlier. Anyhow, this isn't even an answer to anything, it's how I see things, so I guess the best place for a rant would be here anyways. Here goes...
I think much of this discussion about the tax levy, as well as the tax itself, is besides the point.
This is far from the first time we've heard the record industry's "Eeek they're pirating us!" screech - remember when cassettes came out? Ask your grandad about the record industry hullaballoo when radio started airing music. And ask you're great-grandad what operetta owners had to say about the invention of the gramaphone. Each "old technology" thought that the new would be the death of it. The market did indeed change, but this was never so.
What makes the game different this time around is not only the government's "trying to help" in a very undemocratic way (and "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", my grandaddy always loved to say), but also the state of the music industry. it is a wreck.
As far as I'm concerned all this whining and grubbing is for the sake of stockholders only. Music sales are indeed going down the tubes but it's not only for the piracy. Granted many young'uns have been brought up with the "if it's online it's free" mentality, but we all seem to be forgetting one major major detail - sound quality.
When I was a kid I was happy with the sound of a tape recorded from a friends LP - or from the radio - but could I stand that flat muffled quality on my hi-fi today? Methinks not for more than ten minutes, and that's leaving lots of room for the nostalgia factor.
If they really, really wanted to crack down on "piracy" as they say, they would make it illegal to swap music online above a certain bitrate. This would not only draw the line between "sampling" and piracy, but as I suggested with my first adverb, it would most probably even help the sale of "real" music. Think to the "hearing it on the radio" days: Many of those who did and like the song would go to their Dr. Disc and shell out for the album. Mp3's are exactly this for me today.
If the music companies really wanted to get their [expletive]s out of the hole they'd go back to letting people make music instead of trying to mold the entire industry, from creation to sales, to what they think their increasingly younger lemming-audience are most likely to buy.
As for the tax bit: In any democracy, any charge taken from one party can only be justified by the costs it makes for another. This tax law is none of that, as it takes from an indistiguished everyone to deliver to a pre-prescribed... cause. Whether it be for the government's "anti piracy squad" or to the record labels themselves, any such law will but thievery to more than a few - rightful owners of music, for example, who like the handiness of an mp3 player - and thievery it is. I'm not sure who started this ball rolling, but as far as this law is concerned, I see it as one government copying another's (they did it first and no-one complained so it must be OK!) legislation.
Really, to be honest, I haven't the slightest how things should be set straight again. Toss it all and start from scratch, perhaps. I've still got my Fender and a wicked hair-do - anyone good on the drums?
It is completely possible to make a fast-loading flash presentaion, but to do so one must load it in bits - like any web page. All it takes is a bit of thought beforehand - while the first sequence is playing, the second is loading, or the images or films for the rest of the movie (think "streaming") are loading.
I think this "start to end" Flash assembly-line way of working has to end - a way of working that, most probably after being published after a satisfied in-computer viewed "there" from its webmaster creator, loads into any remote viewer's computer like a bowling ball through a garden hose.