"Don’t Be Evil" – Unless There’s Money In It.

One problem with geeks is their tendency to leap in the air and clap their hands when any new technology is announced. Another problem is that given the slightest scent of power they go off on a world domination trip. The guys at Apple have tried it as have the Microsoft people, Adobe, Oracle and Cisco all tried it in their own modest way and many others have tried too. “Hey, the world will be a much better place if everybody abandons independent though and buys one of my widgets,” goes the pitch. But a computer, a web browser, an i-Pod and a web-cam are no substitute for a life.
This does not discourage the nerds of course and now we have the inventors of Google trying to jackboot their technology into every aspect of our lives. OK the metaphor might be distasteful but don’t forget, Hitler was a nerd.
With “Don’t Be Evil” as their slogan from day one Google managed to ooze into the public consciousness as nice chaps who only wanted to help us get better results from our web searches. It was so easy to miss the fact that they were totally focused on the aim of making technology in general and their technology in particular our master and so they are not capable of being anything but evil. And addiction to the web is causing us to help them every step of the way. You should pay more attention when you watch Austin Powers movies.
The first question we should all ask ourselves is “how good is this technology really?”
Back in 2001, just as Google was attracting effusive praise from industry pundits for the way it was elbowing aside other search engines that used different criteria for rating pages by relevance rather than the number of other pages linking in to them, I recall one maverick, an Information Technology veteran of twenty – five years experience saying in his weekly radio slot “Google is the worst search engine possible – except for all the others. The obvious problem was that people were being impressed by sheer numbers of search results and forgetting quality. To reaffirm this for the current article I ran a search on P.C. Plus, a well known UK mag. Google gave me 900,000 search results; one of its rivals that uses similar technology gave 950,000 (figures rounded). Because on the Google search the PC Plus homepage came at the top of the list Google might use that as proof of their efficiency. But on Google the top link was trying to sell me PC Plus, the next twenty were advertisers in PC Plus trying to sell me other stuff. One way or another the owners of these pages had paid money for their high position in the listing. On the rival search engine I found information telling me what kind of readers might choose PC Plus and what other mags covered the same ground. I do not consider an advert can ever be as relevant as an impartial review. Google is therefore not about “not being evil” but making money. And the company is making money – sort of. Ad-words mini adverts that appear alongside search results and ad-wise targeted ads that appear on web pages are pulling in a very respectable revenue stream.
Most business ventures that depended on the web for revenue generation have so far been abject failures (Amazon being the most outstanding exception) and yet the slightest hint of possible future success is enough to ignite the same kind of hysteria as fuelled the dotcom bubble.
Google went to the stock market and was rejected because their figures did not add up. They tehen decided to directly market their own shares and despite warnings from banks and experienced dealers, since their launch stock in the big G has gone through the roof. The financial warnings were based on the fact that Google’s initial share offer was overpriced. Even the most optimistic projections showed the shares would take around two hundred years to repay the capital investment. At the present trading price that is closer to a thousand years. The “don’t be evil” boys didn’t pay a penny for their shares of course and are currently worth around $10 billion each. “Don’t be evil” unless there is serious money in it perhaps?
Another problem is emerging for Google through its method of gathering revenue. This is “click fraud.” At its most basic click fraud involves people visiting their own sites and clicking on the Google ads, so that they and Google earn a few cents for the referral. The flaw in the Ad-wise business strategy then is that it provides an easy way for the greedy to render it totally ineffective as an advertising medium as there is no chance of a sale resulting from the vast majority of referrals. When the simplicity of automating these fraudulent clicks is considered it quickly becomes clear that advertisers are not getting much for their money.
Like the lead character in a Shakespearean tragedy, the seeds of Google’s downfall are sown in the flaws in its own character. The people behind the company have built much on the fact that Google is cool. Now the idea that technology can be cool may have some currency among the nerdier students in the world of further education but “cool” is a quality always in thrall to fads. And a new generation of nerds may easily latch on to a new fad.
At the heart of the Google technology is the Page Rank algorithm which as already mentioned is determined by links. When, sometime in the next month, Google gets round to indexing this article it will pick up on the phrase “Shakespearean Tragedy” because a lot of pages already contain that phrase, even though my article is of no interest to fans of Shakespearean Tragedy. Thus Shakespeare readers, irritated by the bizarre results their Google searches throw up (!!!) will start looking around for a way to search the web that is relevant to their interests. Such search technology is already well along the development path.
The continuing success of Google really depends on our willingness to delegate all our personal decision making to a piece of computer software. If we can be persuaded to do that however, current development projects which would put Google in a position to destroy the publishing, newspaper, T.V., movie and music industries and replacing their products with an infinite stream of dross. Anyone in doubt about this only needs to take a look at Google Video. Can one company be allowed to weild so much power?
Finally there are the privacy issues some of Google’s business methods raise. Side-stepping those extremist lobby groups who praise the heroism of resisting the U.S. Government’s reasonable requests for access to databases we ought to be questioning why Google think they have a right to gather and store information on all of us who use the search engine. While the United States Government (and European Governments on this side of the Atlantic pond) only desire to identify web users whose use is connected with pornography that involves criminal atcs (child abuse, violent sex, torture, rape etc.); fraud and terrorism and not the pattern of web use by individuals (Governments can already track us as individuals without our knowledge) Google is busy building a profile on each one of us in order that they may better target us with advertising material. That in itself poses a far greater threat to the privacy of anybody who is not a sex criminal, fraudster or terrorist.
The whole business model is built on unproven and very inefficient forms of advertising and the only way to make those ads more cost effective is to identify the users who are likely to respond. So if you use G-mail, your messages are scanned, keywords extracted from what you say to your friends and the information added to both your Google profiles. Thus you can be targeted for a constant stream of unsolicited ads.
For similar reasons your searches are stored and may be kept indefinitely. It is known also that systems are being created to search your desktop and suck up information to the great database.
And people think this organisation is cool.
Web addicts of course are always ready to believe the latest Geek Mythology. The business community is more hard headed however and last week’s near 10% drop in Google share prices should have sent warnings around the world. The Google people may still say “don’t be evil” but in the cloud – cuckoo land they inhabit how can evil be defined in a way relevant to any kind of reality.

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Who Should Resign

It seems strange that at one sniff of a sex scandal the predominantly ultra – right wing tablod press hound an otherwise competent politician to resignation.
Now recently Little Nicky Machiavelli defended Ruth Kelly when she was pilloried because her department allowed known sex offender to get jobs in schools. LNM cannot defend Mark Oaten, he was a fool. But I would like to know why one man should see his career destroyed because he has been dipping it incautiously and another still in his job when his equally trivial offence was to steer the country into an illegal and unjustified war that has cost thousands of innocent lives.
At least Mark Oaten did the only decent thing. When will Tony Blair who is a proven liar ever do anything decent?

The Revolution Starts

There is a little movement going on over at Authors Den, an American site for writers where the fundies have had things their own way for too long.

Quite spontaneously a few of us are saying “well yeah, you can believe in God id you wish, but its out of order to tell lies in order to make him look good.

This short article on the plight of Pakistani earthquake victims is well worth a look. Sign up for a (free) readers account too and leave Rosemary a comment. Remember it takes a lot more guts for an American to speak up than for me coz I am 4000 miles removed from it. Anyway people with pointed hats and burning crosses don’t scare us here in Accrington. It’s the people with pointed hats and broomstickes we worry about.

Machiavelli supports Kelly (um…sort of)

Little Nicky is a bit pissed off with the way Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is being hounded to resign because it has been revealed that a few paedophiles have slipped though the vetting process and got themselves hired as schoolteachers. That such a thing can happen is a shameful indictment of the system of course but is the system the creation of Ruth Kelly? (Apart from that Ms. Kelly’s political demise will deprive Boggart Blog of its best source of self – flagellation jokes.)
We should not have any particular sympathy for the Education Secretary of course, she is responsible, at least in part for the farrago of an education reform bill that will hand over the malleable minds of our next generation to a bunch of starey – eyed religious maniacs who will teach as scientific fact that God created the universe in seven days and whose headlong rush towards Hitler worship in the United States has now progressed so far that some fundamentalist (emphasis on the “mentalist”) leaders are calling for the death penalty for adultery. But if we are going to crucify Kelly at least let’s do it for the right reasons.
If the calls for resignation are successful it will not stop the Education Bill becoming law. Only a mass rebellion of the Labour M.Ps who know what it means to be LABOUR can do that. But if Kelly does go, the people really responsible, the faceless little men in cheap suits, the managers who manage nothing except the gathering of brownie points towards their next career move will had one more evaded responsibility for their incompetence.

My Problem With God

Someone very very dear to me, after having a rough time these past few years has been exposed to a “Christian” mindbending cult and is having her head polluted with the most repugnant nonsense I have ever encountered.
As The Goddess loves my friend as much as I do, I have been given the task of pulling Escalibur from the stone and going to war. My friend lives in Texas so I just hope I can win the battle here in cyberspace, I don’t fancy storming a fortified compound in Waco alone.

Before we start, I only have a problem with one god, the god of the Bible Fundamentalists, let’s not dignify them with the word “Christian,” the God of the Anglicans, Wesleyans, Unitarians, most Catholics, Jah, Allah, Brahmin, Vishnu, Krishna, etc. etc. are all OK with me. It is the God of Hate thy Neighbour I am out to nail.

Some years ago, as most people who have read me will be aware, I spent almost a year hospitalised, much of it in a rehabilitation unit. I recovered from the after effects of a massive brain haemorrhage pretty well but occasionally get messages from people who have read my story and want to tell me how God was with me, and loved me and gave me the strength to get through my ordeal. And those messages really make me really angry.
I guess my responses have confused a few well meaning but misguided people; sorry about that, but you should not assume we all share your religiosity.
When that life illness changed my life I was forty – eight, had a very successful career behind me having got started on that career late following ten years of good times in the valley of hippiedom. Also I have promoted rock bands, owned race horses, worked in radio, had some success as a writer, travelled, had many lovers, brought up a family; in short I had already lived a life and a half when, prematurely, it almost ended.
Once out of intensive care and finding myself in a unit for the newly disabled, reality hit hard; though the therapy was good and the staff very helpful, this experience was more emotionally draining that the immediate aftermath of the haemorrhage.
There were young people in the unit who had terrible problems health problems with no hope of recovery. Worst were the people suffering from degenerative diseases that had been causing loss of body and brain function since childhood. There was one young girl, Susan, whose degenerative illness had started at adolescence. She would have probably developed into a very pretty woman with an engaging personality had things not gone wrong. By the time we met she could not speak, had no control of any muscles, was doubly incontinent ( a medical euphemism that glosses over the utter loss of dignity involved) and yet when I used to read aloud to her, because she could not hold a book, the gratitude in her eyes for that simple human contact often reduced me to tears. She still had a very human need for contact and companionship, so think of the humiliation she suffered every day, isolated in that dysfunctional shell of a body. Yet some people would insist the will of God in his wisdom was somehow involved in prolonging her life – but to look at it from my perspective the intervention of any supreme being was only condemning her to a slow, lingering death.
There was no getting better for Susan, she was in the unit because she could no longer be looked after at home and the unit was the only place that had the facilities to give the care needed until a place in a hospice became available.
In the end time did its grim work before she could be moved. Another thing I remember about her is the guilt of her parents who felt that in some way they were responsible for what had happened.
Around that time a hate – fuelled Pentecostalist preacher (I think it was Falwell) was expounding the notion that people who are disabled are being punished by God for the sins of their ancestors. There are many aspects of “Christian” doctrine I find absolutely repugnant but that is surely the worst, apart maybe from the people who would say that whatever had happened to Susan, God still loved her (if that is how God loves people I hope he hates me.) From what I know of the lifestyle and personality of Yesu bin Yussuf a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth, (which is a whole lot more that most Christians know,) he would be pretty pissed off to hear people connecting his name with such despicable ideas.

Susan was not the only tragic case of course, diseases that cause damage to and degeneration of the brain are made worse by their unpredictability. There was a woman who would deliberately spill food onto the table and sit banging a spoon in it in order to get attention (regression to infant behaviour is quite common), a man who could only say “when,” a woman who would scream like wounded animal but could not tell anybody why she was screaming, a young mother who some days did not recognise her children, many others; most younger than me and none of whom had had my advantages in life. There were people who had lost all power of communication as familiar words would just not come on demand, people whose memories had been wiped out, people who just slumped in chairs twitching and dribbling.
And you know something, none of these were bad people, they were just unfortunate. Chance plays such a huge role in our lives it is constantly surprising that the religious cannot see as such most of what the ascribe to God. The proof that any superior being that might exist plays no part in our lives lies in the randomness of misfortune, so often the bad, the amoral and selfish seem to sail though everything totally unscathed while it is those who try to treat everybody fairly, who show tolerance, who “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” who get shafted by cruel chance. It is the sheer inconsistency with which good fortune is distributed that condemns the God of Abraham and Ezekiel as the creation of charlatans, confidence tricksters and control freaks. This explains why they are such liars, constantly concocting false evidence and claiming it proves the Bible is true, or naming a real person and passing it off as proof of the Bible’s veracity. Yes, there was an Emperor Tiberius and a Governor of Palestine called Pontias Pilate, there was also Kings Macbeth, Duncan and Malcolm but it does not makes Shakespeare’s play a documentary, the fact that there was a Scottish renegade called William Wallace who rebelled against King Robert the Bruce and led an army against King Edward the First of England does not make the film Braveheart factual. There was actually a King Midas. Did his touch turn his daughter to gold? Decide for yourselves, there is no evidence that it didn’t but it seems unlikely. See what I am getting at?

What did you think of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Did you say “Hallelujah to that!” each time some preacher of the Pauline gospel of hatred and bigotry stood up and said that God had punished the city of New Orleans for the sins of its gays, prostitutes and drug users? Or did you think “hey, hold on, weren’t there a lot of evangelical Christians killed too, a lot of innocent children and many people who had just worked had and tried to live good lives, people who did not deserve to suffer (not that the gays, prostitutes and druggies deserved to suffer anyway. I am not aware of any preacher saying that the shyster lawyers, the crooked accountants and financiers or the corrupt officials, the people who do untold harm, deserved to suffer.) Yes the Hurricane and its attendant flood killed indiscriminately. Randomness again you see, we know why hurricanes and tsunamis happen but cannot stop them or control the damage they do. Could a natural disaster ever single out the Al Quaeda activists and spare the people who are Muslim simply because they were born in a Muslim country just as many of us are nominally Christian just because we were born in a Christian country.

Look at the third world. Now I accept that some of the arguments that the problems of Africa and Asia are self inflicted, certain traditions do not help in the fight against hunger and disease. African witch doctors who recommend having sex with a pre-pubescent virgin as a cure for Aids should be locked up as should Indian politicians who support forced marriage and “honour killings”. But they should be locked up with the Christian loonys who say that anyone who uses a condom will be cast down into hell. Such ignorant and Neanderthal attitudes are not exactly going to help solve the problem are they?
Malaria is Africa’s other great killer of course. It would be very simple to eradicate Malaria due to the fact that the mosquitoes known to carry the infection tend to get the munchies between one and two a.m. So if people are asleep under their mosquito nets at that time they are much safer. It costs less than $10 per home to provide netting impregnated with a slow release mosquito repellent. There will still be some infections of course but the numbers would be so reduced that the drugs needed to treat those cases could easily be funded. Yet what did one European aid worker find when she asked the congregation in a Ugandan Baptist church what they needed to fight Malaria? She reported that they replied with one voice, that of the pastor, “We need Bibles and Prayer Books and a new church.” It makes me want to swear. But you have to give them credit for consistency. If there are a thousand sensible solutions to a problem and one that is idiotic, they will go for the idiotic one every time.
If we did eradicate Malaria and Aids there would be a population explosion and ensuing famine. This is why we need to get reactionary Christian groups attached to the Catholic and Pentecostalist factions out of Africa. They do more harm than good.
Surely malaria has been around so long even the most idiotically insane religious maniac can understand that empty prayers thrown at an empty sky will never solve anything. Take God out of the equation and we have a chance of getting somewhere. If there is a God and he loves the people of those African and Asian states, truly loves them, he would get out of their lives and let the modernisers and project managers get on with the job of changing things.
The reality is that as time goes on torture is heaped on torture, misery is piled on misery until it seems this God creature created humankind simply so that he would have somebody to be mean to. Preachers of all the Abrahamic religions must accept that people will have sex, its what we are programmed to do. When the hormones call no holy book can make our ears deaf. The message of the three Abrahamic religions and of some forms of Hinduism though is a message that makes us loathe our humanity, as if it is flesh rather than the holy book that stands between us and our Holy Grail.

And God loves me does he. You may have guessed by now that the feeling is not mutual. I would like to know why the mean old bastard hated those other hopeless people that he tortured so randomly, the poor, the ignorant, the sick, the unfortunates who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, because most of them had not had the chance to sample the things I had enjoyed. Why did he not show a bit of compassion to the kid in the rehab unit whose nervous system was decaying, or to the little girl whose body was pictured floating face down in a New Orleans street. I refuse to abase myself before an imaginary being who is simply the vehicle for politicians who seek to rule through fear and preachers who seek to inflate their own importance by undermining the self – esteem of ordinary people. I refuse to give credibility to that imaginary being. Does anyone apart from me deserve credit for my recovery? Yes, my family and friends who never let me give up and never allowed me to lose my sense of humour, the doctors, nurses and therapists who responded brilliantly when I said “let’s forget the textbook, my vocabulary does not contain words like impossible. I am going to walk again, end of story.” I did walk again and built a decent quality of life but only through sustained effort, self – belief, pride and the encouragement of human beings. For the first time in their careers those health workers who cared for me had someone with real leadership qualities to respond to and they responded brilliantly. Its the human beings who do great things when something can motivate them to work together. and when human beings join together great things are bound to happen. Once God is involved because some self – serving preacher insists on giving God credit for what people have done, everything falls apart. God never does anything. Look at the history of the world over the last 2000 years if you do not believe me.

If anybody had said to me that God was punishing me for things in my life I could have accepted it although I would put it rather differently; living too fast for too long caught up with me, God had nothing to do with it because God only exists in the minds of those who believe. I know I am right because were I to give God any credit for my recovery it could only be on condition that he accepted responsibility for Susan and all the others, for the victims of earthquake, tsunami and hurricane for all the bad things. You can’t be omnipotent and have Teflon shoulders. Unless we all forget about God, and start working together regardless of creed, colour and nationality, things can only get worse. Pray as much as you like, God is never going to save our world.
Now those people who want me to accept that my recovery is all thanks to the intervention of God will be rushing to make excuses for him, the idea that an omnipotent, omnipresent super being who needs mortals to make excuses for him will not strike them as ridiculous, they will remind me that we are “not meant to understand the ways of God”, that “the will of God should not be questioned,” and that the Lord moves in mysterious ways his woodwork to perform, (or something like that.) I challenge you to stop protecting God. Let him be subjected to critical analysis. open your eyes and see. Believers will not agree of course, because once God is subjected to examination it becomes clear that the God of Ezekiel and Abraham is purely the invention of a politically motivated priesthood.
You have two options, (1) Gods is an incompetent clown (2)God does not exist.
but being a generous kind of guy I will give you a third, one that Jesus would not have a problem with; God, Jah, Brahmin, Allah, Manitou, Cronos, Awen, call him what you like is a being without consciousness, a unifying idea or energy that can only help us when we learn to help each other regardless of colour, creed, sexuality or language. You may believe what you like but you prove your beliefs false the moment you start to say that there is no other way of viewing the world but that decreed by your religion.

END

AND IF YOU ARE AFRAID IAN HAS LOST HIS SENSE OF HUMOUR CHECK OUT GOODBYE CHARLIE #2