Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two Columns - Google and Damiangate

Maureen Dowd returns to form. '...the only reason he knew that I wasn't so easily replaceable is that Google had been looking into how to replace me.'
Alice Miles has a withering and brilliant piece on Damiangate. Dead tree political journalists should cringe - 'We knew what he was up to.... and we did nothing to stop it.'
This is truly a turning point.
PS I notice Miles outs Ed Balls as smearer. How odd that he should just have been on the radio condemning this vile practice!


  1. Re Balls, the Brown cabal consists of rather nasty pieces of work: I know that there are a staggering number of cautionary anecdotes out there.

    The fish is certainly rotting from the head too. Re responsibility, Sir Ian Kershaw's concept of 'working towards the fuhrer' sheds light on how a leader can be responsible for actions without explicitly requesting them. Wikipedia summarises the argument:

    " Nazi Germany, officials of both the German state and Party bureaucracy usually took the initiative in beginning policy to meet Hitler's perceived wishes, or alternatively attempted to turn into policy Hitlers often loosely and indistinctly phrased wishes."

    It's surely obvious McB was 'working towards' the PM in this matter. (BTW I'm not comparing Brown to Hitler beyond this narrow area!)

    Just one more historical analogy: Henry II and Becket. Didn't one throwaway comment end up with the King crawling to Canterbury in penance? I don't recall him expressing deep regret and washing his hands of the matter!

  2. As Portillo put it on StW, its only obvious when someone else confirms it for you.

    The lobby needed an outsider to tell them what they really already knew.

    Its interesting that the bankers are in the dog house for taking too many risks, the lobby are in the dog house for taking too little.

    As my gran put it, if you dont dare to be wrong you can never be right.

  3. Yes, that article in the NYT is a welcome reminder of the bigger picture. The big shots at Google may come over as dotty and geeky but there's something highly offensive and de haut en bas about the whole Silicon Valley thang. Words like "human" and "being" aren't ones they seem to understand. Corporations don't do morality so perhaps it's time the Silicon Valley gang stopped pretending they do.

    The current spat in the UK now seems to be all about journos feeling rotten at how supine they've been towards New Labour and towards power and the powerful generally. The story itself isn't up to much: LBJ could have taught these folks a thing or two about really dirty tricks.

  4. Ed Balls resembles Captain Renault from Casablanca:

    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
    Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
    [a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
    Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
    Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
    Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!

  5. Sean, the bankers aren't in the dock for taking too many risks but for being so big - "too big to fail", one of the great lies of the modern world, on a par with anything Goebbels came up with - and so cosy in their blackmail-embrace of democratic governments that they (the really 'anointed ones' anyway) didn't risk anything at all. That is what really pisses off the man in the street. Look at the Goldman Sachs bonus story on the front page of the Mail today. Not that Goldmans are necessarily the worst. They spotted the subprime crap earlier than other Wall Street outfits and deserve some reward for that. But how handy to have their old boss Mr Paulson to lend a helping hand with other people's money when the going got a bit tough last year. Something stinks, we know it, but we also have to face that we're never going to get near perfect justice in that or any other economic endeavour.

    Which brings me to Mark on Silicon Valley and various others on Damiangate.

    I agree with Bryan and Alice Miles that real good has been done this Easter weekend. The 'working towards the fuhrer' point is a good one. Real evil has been exposed and by dint of what? Guido is no saint and doesn't claim to be one. What he is is a talented hack making his name by taking advantage of some very old freedoms and truly transforming new technology.

    Which is why I'd go very carefully in seeing Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin as antichrists in quasi trinitarian form. They're not saints either, in the oldest and most reliable sense. But looking back a few years they are way better than many of the alternatives that have often looked likely.

    Take 1987, when The Economist could run a plausible cover story about IBM running the world. At that point the Armonk, New York giant had little but fast-growing Apple of Silicon Valley in its sights. But it turned out it had already handed the crown jewels to Gates and co in the license agreement for MSDOS. Happily though the resulting Seattle behemoth completely overlooked the Web which our own Tim Berners-Lee dreamed up and implemented in Geneva in 1990, entirely open protocols and open source from day one. Netscape came and went, under typically vicious Microsoft attack, but first Google (1999) then Facebook (2006-ish) and now Twitter (2008) have produced a series of techno-social shockwaves, each one coming harder on the heels of the one before. And all based on the elegance and openness of Berners-Lee's seminal contribution to the freedom of us all.

    And of course Apple is back, with iPod, iPhone and rejuvenated Mac, with Stephen Fry and countless others happy to provide free PR for years to come using exactly these new channels of communication and influence.

    Unlike banking, the competition in software platforms now, in other words, is close to perfect for the ordinary person anywhere in the world. (At least if you ignore the billion without electricity, I should add, with all respect for those climate change activists working so hard to keep the status quo in that regard.) And after IBM and Microsoft all of the companies named have been battling it out among the orange groves of Silicon Valley. (Though Fred Wilson and Union Square Ventures, the flexible and innovative venture capitalists behind Twitter, are from New York, interestingly enough, a twist I for one enjoy all the more.)

    I distrust capitalists every bit as the next man. More so, probably. I follow Adam Smith in that - who was very down on them, as I'm sure you remember. But once they're having to compete so strongly for our affections the world is in better shape. I give thanks to God for this situation every day of my life - and I know something of the dark side of the Net.

    So, finally, despite our atrophied, mega-bureaucratic political life and corrupt, supporting social networks - which Alice Miles has done very well to expose today - the radical sunlight of the Web has performed its disinfecting work, even in the mangier places of UK plc.

    It feels like a Falklands moment but I won't try the rejoice line. Hmm, maybe I just have.

  6. Changing the subject somewhat: Hillsborough seems to be very much in the news today, being the 20th anniversary 'n' all.

    What's your opinion on Hillsborough, Bryan. Who was to blame?

  7. As someone who was there on the day sitting in the south stand and at the time being a SWFC season ticket supporter I would say a couple of things.

    1, Duckenfield made a critical but understandable error in opening the gates, his judgment was that he thought that people were going to get injured outside the ground, what happened was unforeseeable. From what Ive seen before and the time and after, I would have done the same.

    2, His reaction to his mistake was to lie, this was morally wrong

    3, What caused Hillsboro was the behaviors of football fans in the 15 years up to the disaster. People died in animal pens, those pens were a result of the culture of football at the time.

    4, I note from the TV coverage time very little opinions from the locals to the ground, this is becasue the media narrative is to be nice to dead and dont upset the liverpudlians.

    5, I saw what happened from about 50 yards and I honestly did not notice any problem till the game was stopped. I gave my statement to the inquriy as too my St john ambulance cousin who stood in front of that end of the ground, we were not asked to go to the hearings as too many neutrals living and working in and around the ground.
    The narrative was set and this has caused a lot of resentment in these parts.

    6, A friend of mine on the day opened his home to hundreds of fans so they could call home as say they were OK, (no mobiles then) he also gave all his and his neighbors shoes to people who had lost their in the push, he has only ever received two cards of thanks, but he did get his road wall knocked down and he lost his fish with fans urinating in his fish pond.

  8. Ah yes, but remember IBM, Richard. They once thought they were the coolest of cats and had all the answers. They ended up supplying card punchers to a death machine. Good intentions are never enough. The nabobs of Silicon Valley have huge power and they too may be tempted to think they have all the answers. They must never be given an easy ride. One hopes the current spat in the UK encourages more journos to approach power and its uses with "Why is this lying bastard lying to me?" At least this might make for more interesting newspapers.

  9. It's been said, Sean, that a dangerous crush had occurred at the same place in the 1981 semi-final between Wolves and Spurs. Is that true?

  10. To be honest Gordon dangerous crushes were happening all over at the time and the lead up to 1989 so I would think that you are right, although I am not aware of that, or just plain forgotton.

    I am aware that there was a couple of fatalities at the ground before or after the war, for much the same reason.

    the layout of that side of the ground was a major point of the disaster. the 90 degree turn in the road funneled people to turnstiles which was at the time very narrow to the tunnel enterance to the standing area. Most of the deaths were in or near the tunnel as they could not move to the side out of the way there was a lot of injuries at the front of the fences with a couple of gruesome ones.

    Yes it certainly was an accident waiting to happen thats why I dont believe the police can take or should take the hate that's dished out from the Mersey.

    While there we booing today they ought to have spared a thought for the police and Stjohns who saved many lives that day

  11. "Sean, the bankers aren't in the dock for taking too many risks but for being so big - "too big to fail"

    Sorry Richard that's not correct, its the regulators and governments responsibility to make sure the banks are not too big in the first place, this one government did, Australia, who did not allow their banks to take each other over, thus they were better capitalised and stronger when the collapse turned up.

    The basic problem is if they are too big to fail then they are too big to regulate also, thus smaller banks that dont share their risks too much with the other banks is the desirable solution to the problem, then we can guarantee the deposits and let them fail in future.

  12. Cheers Sean, that's very interesting.

    I'd read that emerging from the turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end, the only apparent entrance to the terraces was a subway. This subway led only to the central terrace, but those who were familiar with the ground knew that a short walk either side of the subway provided access to the pens on either side of the central terrace. On the day, there was plenty of room in these pens, but people weren't being directed towards them.

  13. Sean, agree with all you say about Oz and the solution, agree too that my language was a bit loose. But behind it was the belief that the bad regulation that led to "too big to fail" didn't exactly pass unnoticed by the banks in question, who were active donors, lobbyists and suppliers of 'expertise'. There was a mighty cosy relationship in the good times leading to a nasty case of blackmail in the bad. I'm implying that some of the worst offenders had a strong hunch that they were too big to fail, that they would have to be bailed out. That reduced the real risk being taken something rotten. That was my point. Of course government was to blame for buying the dummy. But it's naive to think they were operating in a vacuum.

  14. Mark, completely agree re IBM, their wretched history during the Holocaust and about media, old and new. asking the hardest questions today. The only good thing is that nobody - including Google - is dominating in quite the same way right now as IBM and Microsoft in their time did. That I believe naturally keeps the worst behaviour in check. And some Silicon valley billionaires surely have good reason to turn the spotlight on the corrupt areas in Wall Street, having lost much in the crash. For all these reasons I live in hope!

  15. Thats true Gordon, but I am unaware that directions were ever given to the crowds coming in previous to the disaster,they let them sort it out themselves as did most grounds. This is why all seating was brought in to make sure people did not end up in the wrong entrance or part of the stand.

  16. Richard, the nexus at the heart of this is the fact Gvt kept their mouths shut as they were bringing in 50 billion plus in tax revenue a year, And the bankers kept stum for two reasons mainly most of them are thick and dont understand risk and the other is as you say the clever ones knew it would end in tears so filled their boots.

    Remember Tony Blair's big Tent approach to politics, consensus over friction? well it was just another name for corporatism. From bankers to the lobby its been a disaster.

  17. If there is any difference between us it's in our perception of the exact distribution of thickness! The resulting corporatism is the key - as you say, a disaster.

    Thank you too for the very revealing comments on Hillsborough, showing media weakness in yet another direction. The 'bad taste' widely accepted as the price of freedom on the Web has real value to add in such situations, no doubt, painful though it can be.

  18. Richard, there is always media weakness, no one has the absolute truth we all just have versions of it.
    All I can really say, is beware of first reports.

    I am not trying to be hard or clever, at the end of the day 96 mainly young people died doing something pleasurable on a fine and sunny spring day, thats the real tragedy. And I think why it resonates down the years.

    Accidents happen, ive been to the funeral of a young family member who died in a road accident, ive looked at the evidence, searching for answers, trying to explain what is at heart unexplainable, ive heard the cries and seen the tears of bereaved mothers.

    Strangely enough I think thats why I linger around Bryans blog, at the end of the day, there is no such thing as fairness.