While most of the recent coverage of WikiLeaks has focused on Assange’s trial, an important bit of news is the alleged conflict between Bank of America and the organization.
WikiLeaks apparently has some documents that would be damaging to Bank of America. This is hardly surprising, given the sort of financial misdeeds that seem to have been business as usual for many of the big financial companies. Apparently the security company of HBGary Federal saw this as an opportunity and developed a rather nefarious plan that involved attempting to discredit WikiLeaks by submitting false information to the site, to expose those who have contributed to WikiLeaks and by launching attacks on journalists who have expressed sympathy for WikiLeaks. In addition to the security company, it also appears that the well connected law firm of Hunton & William and even the United States Justice Department were also involved to some degree.
In response to this, Anonymous (a self-proclaimed defender of WikiLeaks) launched a counterattack on HBGary Federal and its head, Aaron Barr. Ironically, Anonymous was able to hack the security company and revealed not only the plans in question but also such things as the fact that Barr’s wife intends to divorce him. They even revealed the name of his WoW character, a level 80 Night Elf Druid. That is certainly an interesting nerdtastic touch.
On the face of it, it seems that HBGary Federal and Barr reaped what they had sown. After all, by engaging in such activities and planning to engage what certainly seem to be unethical and even illegal activities, they certainly seem to deserve to be exposed and even subject to punishment. Since the authorities appear to not be inclined to take action in regards to these activities, it could be argued that this was a state of nature situation which justified Anonymous in taking action in its own defense and the defense of others. This could thus be seen as a falling nicely within John Locke’s theory regarding self defense and punishment in the state of nature.
It could, of course, be objected that Anonymous is in the wrong. After all, Anonymous launched some minor attacks against companies such as PayPal for ceasing to do business with WikiLeaks. Also, WikiLeaks itself has engaged in activities that some consider unethical and illegal. On these assumptions, it could be thus argued that HBGary Federal was acting in an ethically acceptable manner by trying to stop wrongdoers and to protect Bank of America and others from the danger posed by WikiLeaks and its allies. As such, HBGary Federal could be seen as acting as a vigilante. Of course, vigilantism might strike many as morally questionable so perhaps it is better to cast the company as acting within a cyber state of nature. In this state, the company has to act in ways that seem to go beyond the law because its chosen opponents (Anonymous, WikiLeaks, supporters, and journalist) are beyond the reach of the law.
The main and most obvious flaw in this objection is that while Anonymous and WikiLeaks have endeavored to remain outside of the reach of certain authorities, the authorities do have the means to impose their laws upon them. Even if they are regarded as criminals, they would thus still seem to be within the state of society and thus can legitimately expect to not be subject to unlawful action and vigilante style attacks. While it might be argued that Anonymous and WikiLeaks act as vigilantes and thus can be justly subject to vigilante attacks, this would be on par with arguing that criminals can be treated in criminal ways because they are criminals. It would also appear to be a case of a “two wrongs make a right” fallacy.
If Anonymous and WikiLeaks were, in fact, beyond the reach of the law and were engaged in wrongful acts, then a case could be made for vigilantism. After all, if the wronged parties had no recourse to the law, then they would seem to have the right (as per Locke) to seek to stop the wrongdoers and gain reparation for the damage done. However, this does not seem to be the case at all.
A second flaw is that the journalists that were supposed to be targeted were obviously not in a state of nature or beyond the law. If the journalists had acted in illegal ways, then they could be dealt with within the legal system. Naturally, it could be objected that since the journalists cannot be stopped via legal means, they must be stopped via what seem to be illegal (and what seem to be clearly unethical means) means. This objection would, of course, have some merit if the journalists were in the wrong and were being protected by unjust laws. However, this does not seem to be the case and the objection has no real merit. As such, it seems that a company was acting outside of the law and was hoisted by its own petard.
Some critics of Governor Walker have claimed that he is trying to balance the budget on the backs of the workers while providing tax giveaways to corporations. This raises an old issue of whether states should provide companies with special incentives in the hopes of attracting business.
When times are good, this might be seen as quite sensible. After all, if the state coffers are well packed, the state can afford to be generous in the hopes of luring in companies that will (in theory) create new jobs. Of course, when times are good folks tend to see little reason to lure in more companies.
When times are not so good, this is often presented as a good idea. In theory, offering companies tax breaks and other incentives will lure them to a state, thus creating jobs and leading to more revenue for the state.
This becomes somewhat controversial when the state is offering these breaks while also cutting budgets, typically those for social programs. This could be seen as balancing the budget by taking from the poor and giving to the rich. After all, the corporations generally do not need the breaks and incentives. Rather, they are offered in the hopes of luring companies away from setting up shop in other states. This is, not surprisingly, a matter that generates some controversy.
On the face of it, it does make sense for states to try to appear attractive to business. To use an analogy, it is a lot like dating and relationships. Corporations are analogous to the prize catches in the dating world and to land such a fish, a person needs to provide incentives. After all, someone who is handsome, rich and charming is not going to settle for someone who has little to offer. The person who can offer the most is, in general, the one who gets the prize catch.So, just as a hot young babe (or dude) might be willing to marry an old man (or woman) who is ugly but rich, a corporation would be wiling to go to a state that forks over plenty of incentives
Just like in dating and relationships, there is also competition. If a man wants to keep that hot babe or a woman wants to keep her sugar daddy (or vice versa) then s/he has to keep providing a reason for that person to stick around and not go off with someone else. Likewise for keeping corporations. If a state wants a corporation to stay and not pack up for Mexico or China, the state needs to put out for the corporation.
Of course, these sort of relationships do raise moral questions. One of the most important is the matter of how far a person (or state) should go in order to get and keep that other person (or corporation). On one hand, it could be argued that what matters is getting that prize (hot babe or hot corporation) and sacrificing other things is thus justified. After all, unless that hot babe (or hot corporation) is properly appeased, she (it) will just move on to another source of incentives. On the other hand, it could be argued that people (and corporations) that are willing to simply go wherever they can get the most or wherever they can get away with whatever they want are not the best people (or corporations) to have around. To use the analogy, if a guy tells his wife that she must allow him to have threesomes while he smokes crack or he will dump her for someone who will, then she should probably divorce him rather than giving in (assuming, of course, she does not want that as well).
This is not to say that people (or states and corporations) should not take into account the benefits of a relationship. However, it should be asked if it is worth it to provide such incentives and whether or not doing so is a moral compromise or not.
To grossly oversimplify things, the conservative view is that corporations are good and unions are bad. To use one example, the governor of Wisconsin is busy lowering taxes for corporations while trying to reduce or eliminate the collective bargaining rights of state employees.
In some ways the dislike of unions is historical in origin. Unions were often associated (in reality or in the minds of the corporate types) with Communists and anarchists. Unions are, obviously enough, almost always considered left wing in nature. After all, they tend to support the workers rather than the businesses. This, of course, gives folks who are for corporate profits a good reason to oppose unions-unions often push companies to pay more, to provide more benefits and to not employ child or slave labor.
Interestingly enough, corporations and unions can actually be seen as being essentially the same. First, both are organizations that aim at benefiting their members. Corporations aim to maximize profits while unions aim to maximize the benefits for their members. They both organize to do this, although corporations rely primarily on financial power and unions rely more on weight of numbers. Second, both are often harshly criticized for trying to do what they are supposed to do-at least when they go too far. Corporations are typically attacked for trying to maximize profits via means that are regarded as wrong-such as exploiting workers, cutting corners in safety and so on. Unions are most often criticized for trying to get as much as they can from corporations and this is seen as harming the corporation in particular and the economy in general.
In terms of the classic stereotype, corporations are supposed to dream of having slave laborers toiling around the clock in horrible conditions while toxic waste is spewed into the very mouths of spotted owls. Unions, of course, are supposed to crave a world in which corporations funnel all their money to the workers, who show up only to collect their pay and to pilfer office supplies.
While these stereotypes do not generally match reality, there are legitimate grounds to be critical of corporations and unions. Both have done and will do bad things that harm the general good. However, both also provide goods that are worth having. Corporations provide a means by which people can organize in order to make money. Unions provide a means by which people organize to prevent themselves from being exploited and mistreated by those who wish to make money. Ideally, the two would serve t0 balance each other-the corporations would work to keep the unions from becoming too excessive while unions do the same for corporations.
While it is easy (and often fun) to blast corporations or unions, it is well worth considering the value of each and the need to have both. At least for the time being.
Wisconsin, like many states, is facing budgetary problems. Governor Walker pledged that he would address these problems and did so by getting state employees to agree to various cost saving measures. However, he wants to go beyond this by eliminating collective bargaining.
Obviously enough, eliminating collective bargaining does not itself directly save money for the state. There is, after all, no collective bargaining expenditure that the state has to make.
It could, of course, be argued that collective bargaining can lead to situations in which the state has to pay out more money. For example, employees might push for cost of living increases and get them.
It could also be argued that an end to collective bargaining would weaken the position of state employees and thus make it far easier to put cost cutting measures in place. To use an analogy, this would be on par with breaking up an army (or a corporation) and forcing every former soldier (or corporate executive) to fight on his/her own against an organized opponent. This could also create savings by encouraging state employees who can find jobs elsewhere to leave their state jobs (or even the state). Naturally, people who favor collective bargaining consider this a key reason as to why it is important. After all, it provides state employees with a collective voice and makes it harder for them to be pushed around or treated unfairly.
Naturally, there are legitimate concerns about the misuse of collective bargaining. After all, just as corporations sometimes misuse their influence to gain at the expense of others, unions sometimes also use their power to acquire gains at the expense of others. However, this is not an inherent flaw in organizations-they need not behave in ways that are detrimental to the public good.
As such, collective bargaining should no more be eliminated than corporations or other organizations should be eliminated. Rather, the content of what is being bargained for is what should be assessed.
I am generally a calm person, devoid of hate. However, smart phones have earned a place on my hate list through the diligent efforts of their minions. I do feel a bit silly wasting hate on these things, but they seem to have earned it and hence I would be remiss not to reward their efforts.
When I first learned of smart phones, they were not too smart but even then I could see their devilish potential. I say “devilish” rather than “demonic” because they represent an orderly and disciplined sort of evil rather than the chaotic evil of the demonic.
My first significant bad experience with a smart phone (two actually) was on a first and last date. My “date” arrived at the coffee shop talking om her Blackberry and when I tried to greet her, she raised a finger (not the middle one) indicating that I must wait for her master to be finished with her. It went downhill from there. Through the course of the date she shifted between two smart phones and we only spoke for a while. Most of that conversation was spent by her explaining why she was recently single after being engaged. Apparently her former man had arranged a romantic weekend at a beach house with the condition that she not use her phone. He caught her in the closet at 3:00 am working her Blackberry and broke up on the spot. Our “date” ended with her saying that she had received a call that the significant other of a friend was being deployed to Iraq and that she had to go. She asked me if I minded and I did not-I was happy to have that ordeal over. I never called her again-in part because I knew that damn phone would be listening in.
After that most of my annoyance at smart phones were fairly minor-students using them in class, people using them in movies, people shouting into them in public, and so on. I did, however, have another major incident-my truck got sideswiped by a van driven by a woman talking on her phone. I can only assumed it commanded her to try to kill me.
Not surprisingly my girlfriend has a smart phone and it clearly senses that we are rivals. I am, of course, not much of a rival. After all, it is always there and seems to have direct control of her brain. It loves to torture me by bleeping and blorping when I am trying to take a nap and sometimes tries to kill me by distracting her when cars are heading towards the passenger side of her car. Plus it demands and gets her attention during most of her waking hours. Like Heinlein’s puppet masters, it rides attached to her, controlling her. As you might imagine, I hate the damn thing and have a recurring fantasy of tossing it into a wood chipper.
The damn things have even managed to intrude into my gaming. Interestingly, the one player who has the king of smart devices (the iPad) pretty much just uses it for the game. However, the other players caress their little masters throughout the game, whispering their love to them. I can actually see them struggling: pay attention to the demon that is trying to kill them…or stare at their own little devil. Eventually, the little devils win. It starts small-a player uses his phone to roll dice and then plays an audio clip that he claims “matches the combat.” Suddenly, the sounds of a South Park clip ring out. Goaded by their fellow, the other little devils command their servants to surf the net in search of even more inane clips to play at full volume and soon even the plastic demon figure is weeping from the pain of being ignored.
Other social gatherings are also cursed by the damn things. While some people have the will (and sense) to keep their little devils shackled at such events, others give in to their little lords. As soon as a conversation at a restaurant hits a natural lull, someone will whip out a smartphone and start playing Bejeweled or checking their email for the 666th time that day. This used to bother me, but I now use the opportunity to help myself to the person’s appetizers.
I had thought that running would be safe from them. After all, while people do drive with their master pressed against their head running while using a smart phone seemed to be a bit much. But not so. While some people do use their iPhones as music players while running, I have run with people while they are using their phone as a phone. The first time it happened, I just sort of stared in amazement. In part I was impressed that the person could dial and talk while maintaining a decent pace. In part I was horrified that the power of the masters had grown so much.
I do have a sort of smart phone, but it spends its time turned off in my backpack. I got it after being badgered for years to get one and I just carry it for when I travel (so I can call people to tell them my flight will be late) and for emergencies. I did look at getting an actual smart phone, since I like my iPod touch, but seeing what they do to people convinced me to not take the risk. So, my phone no doubt is mocked by its fellow devils and surely plots my demise.
As revolution and rebellion sweep the Middle East, Americans watch as their gas prices creep upwards. Oil is, of course, the defining factor of the Middle East and the foundation of our interest in the region. Oil and the money it generates have helped create and sustain autocratic leaders and dictatorships. It yields the funds needed to maintain oppressive states. It also provides the influence needed to ensure that other nations will be willing to support almost any regime that can keep the oil flowing.
Speaking of oil, given that the region is so volatile, one might wonder why we are still so reliant on oil and why major companies are quite willing to stick with it as their prime source of profit. One obvious reason is inertia and investment-the economy grew on oil and is designed to run on oil. Switching over is seen as costly and difficult and hence there is little inclination to do so.
Another possible factor is that the volatility provides a built in price enhancer. After all, almost as soon as news of trouble in the Middle East makes the news, oil prices begin to rise. For example, the unrest in Libya is currently used to justify a significant increase in the price of oil. These surges in prices provide excellent sources of profit boosts and they happen often enough that they can be counted on.
Of course, the unrest does present some risks. Facilities can be damaged, people can come into power that are not friendly to the oil companies, supplies can be cut in a way that actually interferes with profits and so on. However, it does seem that a crisis in the Middle East is generally money in the bank for certain companies.
For the rest of us, the fluctuation of oil prices would seem to give us yet another reason to get away from an oil based economy. Of course, such attempts are slammed as being unrealistic, leftist, unnecessary or otherwise defective and hence little or anything is every done.
Like most people, I have many fond (and some repressed) memories of playing Monopoly. I always tried to be the battleship, because, well, it had guns. I generally lost, but this was obviously an omen that I was intended for something other than a life of commerce.
While much of my gaming today is computer or console based (I even have a copy of Monopoly for the Xbox 360 in my house), I still have a boxed set of the classic game in my closet, along with my copy of Axis & Allies, Clue and other such games. After all, there is a lot to be said for gathering around a table with friends, snacks and some dice.
I had heard that Hasbro was updating Monopoly for the video game age, but did not think much about it until I saw a video of the new game. It struck me as some sort of horrible science fiction scenario: the beloved land of Monopoly had apparently been conquered and the black and red tower of the new master surveys the vanquished land.
This new monarch purports to be a benign overlord: it replaces the dice, money and rules of the game, thus freeing the players of the strain of rolling dice and the burden of basic math. Players play at its behest and obey its commands (or, presumably, Daleks are summoned to exterminate the transgressors).
The folks at Hasbro see this as bring a video game like experience to the game. However, I think they are fundamentally misguided.
First, as I mentioned above, there already is a Monopoly video game. So, people who want to play Monopoly as a video game can do that. There seems to be no real need to make a board game that tries to be a video game as well.
Second, the board game experience is fundamentally different from the video game experience and this difference provides something valuable. In video games, you are at the mercy of the rules set in the game (aside from using mods or hacking). With a board game, part of the game is agreeing on and applying the rules as a social group rather than having the rules inflicted by a small plastic tower. True, players sometimes try to be little dictators about the rules-but those are the game sessions that tend to really suck. As such, the new game seems to capture one of the worst aspects of live games while not providing the compensation that good video games provide in return for their lordship over the rules, such as impressive graphics. Thus, the democracy of the live game is replaced by the tyranny of the computer, without any of the awesomeness of actual video games.
Third, that tower set up looks stupid. Vaguely menacing, too. Red and black? Seriously?
One common filler in the news these days is the study story. These are the stories about various studies, often in psychology, that purport to tell us things on the basis of rather limited samples and often with somewhat amazing inferential leaps. One recent filler piece I came across is one that purports to show that women are more attracted to men whose feelings are not clear.
This study was originally published in Psychological Science, where one may find a plethora of similar studies.
Obviously, academic types have to keep the gears of the research machine going. Status, funding, promotion and tenure all depend on this.
The study mentioned above was conducted by Dr. Erin R. Whitchurch and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virgina and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University. In the study, 47 female UVA undergrads were told that male students from other schools had looked at their profiles and that each woman would be rated. Each woman was given “fake” profiles of four men. For the study, the women were divided into four groups. Group one of the woman were told that the four men gave them high ratings, group two was told that the men ranked them as average and the third group of women were not told which rated them high or average.
The women were most attracted to the men whose ratings they did not know. In second place were the men who rated them as attractive and last were the men who rated them as average.
While this study is somewhat interesting, the media coverage certainly outstrips the foundation that it provides.
First, the sample is extremely small and this makes inferences to the general population of women questionable at best. Second, the sample consists of undergraduates at a specific university. This raises the obvious question of whether the sample is adequately representative of women in general. After all, the age of the woman, their education, and so on could be factors that affected the outcome of the study.
Another concern is that some folks presented the study as if it provided findings relevant to dating and relationships. While using the fictional Facebook scenario might tell us something about psychology, making inferences about what would occur in dating or in relationships from such a scenario would be quite a leap.
However, the study did make good press and spread widely on the web. Perhaps someone should do a psychology study on that.
I’ve posted links to articles about the study below.
- The Key To Getting Your Date To Like You Revealed (psychworld.com)
- Why playing hard to get is the key to a woman’s heart: Men who keep their feelings under wraps are ‘more attractive’ (dailymail.co.uk)
- Wray Herbert: Online Dating: The Power of Romantic Uncertainty in a Facebook World (huffingtonpost.com)
- Playing hard to get: Men who keep feelings under wraps are ‘more attractive’ (dailymail.co.uk)
- Men should play hard to get, find psychologists (telegraph.co.uk)
- Uncertainty and Romantic Attraction (psychologytoday.com)
- Why Women Go for Guys Who Play Hard to Get (healthland.time.com)
- Women Are More Attracted to Men Whose Feelings Are Unclear, Study Finds (aolhealth.com)