Here Come the Usual Suspects!

by Henry Farrell on July 10, 2008

Matt Yglesias “gets political spam from Airtran”:

AirTran got ahold of my email address somehow or other over the years and sends me occasional doses of spam. Normally, it’s to promote some deal or something. But now they’re giving me rants against the evils of oil speculators

But it turns out that this is part of a much larger campaign. Cue “Zephyr Teachout:”:

I got an email this morning from United, asking me to go to a petition site, which asks me to enter my zip code and send a note to my MOC to “Stop Oil Speculation” and lower energy costs. Tracy Russo reports she got the same email from Northwest. The entire coalition list is at the bottom of this post, and includes the Petroleum Marketers Association of America and Agricultural Retailers association, as well as Delta, Continental, US Air, American, Airtran…

I don’t think this is big news in the good way, mind you–its important because it signals that corporations are willing to use their massive databases to try to leverage political will in Washington. I’m sure this isn’t the first of its kind, but its the first of such a scale that its caught my attention (I’m happy to be rebutted in the comments). We’re talking tens of millions of emails (possibly nearing a hundred million? Jose Antonio Vargas, can you find out?) if all the airlines’ lists are involved. This is clearly just the beginning, and its a crude one–a few years from now you’ll see more organizing, including international organizing, to leverage corporate databases to influence policies that help corporate wealth.

This is an interesting challenge to Clay’s account of how the politics of group formation is changing (all the more so as one of his “key examples of group empowerment”: is airline customers who are annoyed at their treatment. I think that Clay’s fundamental claim – that the transaction costs that have hitherto often blocked group formation have been lowered dramatically – is both important and indisputably correct. But this doesn’t necessarily have a levelling effect on power relations, as Clay sometimes seems to suggest when he talks about mobilized consumer groups, protesters etc.

My impression is that we still don’t have good concepts for figuring out the consequences of lowered transaction costs of group formation and communication, partly because we are fighting a set of tired arguments between techno-evangelists (Glenn Reynolds’ dreadful _An Army of Davids_ standing in for multitudes here), and techno pessimists (Andrew Keen, Sven Birkets and other guardians of traditional hierarchies) about whether the Internet is a generally empowering or disempowering phenomenon. It’s neither, of course, and it’s in the detail of which _particular_ groups get empowered and disempowered, and under which circumstances, that the interesting questions lie. I’d be very interested in Clay’s views about how to move forward in this direction (or in another, of course, if he thinks I’m wrong)

Self-plagiarising myself on self-plagiarism

by John Q on July 10, 2008

After reading this piece on self-plagiarism in the Times Higher Ed Supplement, I couldn’t think of any better response than to reprint verbatim this piece from 2005 (now with a new improved 2008 publication date), including a self-link to a piece which is simultaneously self-referential and self-plagiarising.

It’s over the fold:

[click to continue…]

Fortune magazine and the N-word

by John Q on July 10, 2008

Nationalization, that is. In this piece on doomsday scenarios for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (H/T Calculated Risk) the cutely named and quasi-private mortgage packagers and guarantors, Katie Benner says

So what might it look like if the government had to lend a hand? Outright nationalization is an unlikely option given that neither the current administration nor the presidential candidates could afford to support such a move in an election year.

but goes on to imply that the likely alternatives could be far more costly, citing a Standard & Poors estimate of a trillion dollar cost to taxpayers, and possible loss of the US government’s AAA rating. Agency ratings aren’ t reliable indicators, but the US government has been in the category of issuers who are assumed to be exempt from scrutiny. A change in this status would be a huge problem for a big debtor like the US.

Either a bailout or a nationalization of Fannie and Freddie would make the Northern Rock fiasco in the UK pale into insignificance. The Northern Rock case shows that a policy towards financial enterprises in which both failure and nationalization are regarded as unthinkable cannot be sustained. The shareholders of these companies have been happy to accept the higher returns associated with an implicit government guarantee and they should pay the price when the guarantee is needed.

Another question about relevant social science literature, before they revoke my posting privileges:

I spent a lot of time talking to BigCos and people in the Gummint who are evaluating social software. Evaluating Open Source tools poses a problem for them, because they are cheap, simple to set up, and easy to use. These characteristics  defeat the normal IT evaluation process, which is supposed to start with an RFP, take the Office of the CIO 9 months to review the available features, and another 6 months of deployment and training. Free, easy, and good confuses them, and ‘Just try it and see how it goes’ is actively upsetting.

Part of the problem is price signaling — how could a free weblog tool, say, be better than this Very Expensive Content Management System? Part of the problem is feature creep — how could more features not be better? Part of the problem is the imperative for control — the stupider you think your employees are, the more features you will need to constrain their ability to act. Part of the problem is trusting vendors more than your own IT staff, and so on.

And, in the way of these things, the overall effect of this is an unspoken institutional commitment to the expensive and mediocre, simply because alternatives that may be cheap but good are assumed not to exist, and because there are tight social bonds with the vendors who sold them the last round of expensive stuff.

I bring this up because one of my former students, a very smart guy who used to work for the Gummint and now consults for same, is observing this same thing in his current work, and I wonder if anyone has studied this problem — not just price signaling, but the whole constellation of organizational behavior that makes evaluating Open Source tools in comparison with closed source so problematic?

I could be wrong

by Chris Bertram on July 10, 2008

Here’s “a sentence”: from a leader in _The Economist_ :

bq. If Mr Brown had fattened the public finances during the good times, *as he should have done* [emphasis added] , then this [mounting a fiscal rescue package] would be no bad thing.

Now what Brown actually did during the good times was to invest in public services that had been underinvested in for decades: fixing the roof whilst the sun was shining. Maybe some of that money was unwisely spent (I don’t doubt it). Here’s what I’m interested in: did the _Economist_ call, back then, for the use of tax revenues to “fatten the public finances”? Or did they favour lower taxes?

The Anxiety of Cookie Monster. I mean, Influence.

by Kieran Healy on July 10, 2008