Exposition: backing away slowly

Those of you who’ve been reading since I returned to online journalling six weeks ago are on notice that the constant navelgazing is finally on hold. Over the past couple of days I’ve found a sorta-happy place similar to the one I discovered eight years ago when I stopped dreading the tumble out of bed.

What I cease to dread this week is criticism. Thank Amazon, Simon, and one of my uncles. All of those have brought me various kinds of closure over the past few weeks.

The conversation with Jim was especially important, because it illuminated exactly how awful the conditioning was.

That closure gives me a bit more belief that can push back against the anxiety.

In any case, I’m ready to hold forth about other stuff. I don’t know if any of my ideas will be seen as original or interesting, and I might as well be honest: an audience would be nice. So here goes.

TCP/IP for dummies

The Internet has been loosely engineered from its earliest days on the proposition that “all bits are created equal” regardless of origin and move about the network on a first-come-first-served basis. That’s the simplest definition of “net neutrality,” which may be useful to those few of you reading who are not Internet professionals.

When a packet of those bits cannot reach its destination it’s “timed out” and effectively disintegrated into the æther. Wanting for a reply of some kind, the sending host tries again, sometimes repeatedly. That’s not the most efficient way of doing things, but it’s easily made failsafe.

The revocation of net neutrality doesn’t alter this behavior. Instead it makes some packets less likely to time out than others — a distinction that can be enforced with trivial engineering.

What that distinction means to the end user is that instead of paying only for the quality of service at the near end of a network transaction, users and publishers will also be called upon to pay for the quality of service on the long stretches of the Internet between their local point of presence and the recipients of network transactions.

Those who can’t pay, don’t play — meaning that their bits and packets, and the content they comprise, will be more likely to disintegrate into the æther than before.

Free markets and fiduciary duty run amok

The pickle in which we — that is to say, the vast majority of everyday Internet users and Web publishers — find ourselves is the result of worship to the idols of Free Market Commerce.

By its very nature the free market attempts to put a price on everything. If it can be sold, you can work out a price for it. Add to this the civil liability of publicly-traded companies for any failure to preserve shareholder value, and you have a recipe for constant, legally permissible encouraged larceny. Every last red cent that can be squeezed from one’s customers — up to the screaming limits of the law of supply and demand — must be, according to this prevailing notion of what it means to be a publicly-traded company. The Ferengi would be impressed.

America’s long, not-yet-ended post-Cold-War hangover doesn’t help matters, because it tars most notions of collective economy as Communist or Socialist… and that includes such notions as would result in a massive net benefit to society.

The revocation of net neutrality is a free-marketeer’s fantasy made truth, because it allows the extraction of revenue at yet another stage of network service.

How a non-neutral ’Net would work

Think of your Internet bill: you pay a set number of dollars per month for a theoretically constant level of access to data throughput from your point of presence, to which taxes, fees, and (in some cases) overage charges are added.

Content publishers work under substantively similar contracts. What none of these contracts do is specify how network traffic is to be handled over backbones — the long stretches of fiber between the local networks that connect the Interneet’s various hosts. Revocation of net neutrality ends that interdict, which then puts access to those in-between pipes on the market.

The basic ethical underpinning of the notion of ending net neutrality is a fair question: the backbone providers have sunk capital into their plant, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to maximize their revenue from that investment?

Checks and balances

I see three problems with any simple answer to that question:

The population of Internet content consumers is already subject to an ethically odious condition: a single household or business is limited to as few as two vendor choices for terrestrial network access. That’s not competition, it’s travesty.

Future abuses, meanwhile, might result in the freezing-out of some content publishers altogether. My personal nightmare is the institution of auctions for time-limited network quality-of-service agreements, which in the worst case could drive some content publishers out of business. Refusal to legislate and enforce transparency of such agreements is another, only slightly less stark nightmare.

Doom or justice?

…I come down on the side of doom. The better part of the Congress has cynically refused to show any will to protect net neutrality, the courts have toed the line of the free-market ethos I described above, and the Executive lacks the electorate’s goodwill in sufficient quantity to effectively guide policy.

I see one way away from doom: push for the addition of mobile phone, terrestrial data, and basic cable television access to the stable of publicly regulated utilities. This is only a partial solution in states where the PUCs and responsible legislative committees are in thrall to the whims of the utilities, but at least it offers some counterweight to the risk of market abuse.

Music

Lemon Demon, “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny”
@lemondemon.com
@youtube
@wikipedia

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Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof

Net Neutrality, or the Lack Thereof —by Ben Henick, 6 August 2010

Job, or hell?

Yesterday I happened on two links. (Good grief, I love the Web.) The first is an e-mail alideshow of sorts aimed at the guts of some hypocrite named Spencer, the author’s (erstwhile imaginary) boss. The second is an article in Slate discussing the (un-) desirability of low- to mid-level service jobs.

…And then there’s the story of the flight attendant who on Monday found a spectacular way to say “take this job and shove it” after being verbally assaulted at length by a passenger.

All three pieces are a kick. Reading them in rapid succession, as I did yesterday afternoon, is a kick in the guts. The article about jobs-in-general particularly evoked from me a visceral response.

Rich get richer, poor get poorer

The sense of entitlement to profit that I raised a few days ago is evident in every talk about compensation I’ve heard about, or participated in, in the past several years. It seems to me like the vast majority want labor for the cheapest they can possibly obtain, while remaining content to throw handfuls of money at senior management and holders of equity — even ones who, as it turns out, contribute little or nothing.

It always seems like the same old story: hire somebody with the basic minimum of proven ability in order to get away with paying them as little as possible, train them up to the minimum needed by the organization, fire the ones who don’t take comfortably to that scheme at the instant they’re identified, and work the others to the bone until they burn out.

I believe that on some level, most people recognize that this is going on. However, I struggle to understand why. It seems axiomatic to me that people who feel valued will work harder, yet the trend moves toward every possible effort to remind people that they’re replaceable and ought to get the best out of things while they can.

Compassion vs. sociopathy

The only fact that adequately explains this prevailing state of affairs is broad, unwitting subscription to the system cobbled together from the amoral rants of a mildly nutty Russian emigré. On balance that would not be so bad, except that like that ethos’ nemeses — Communism and Christianity — “Objectivism” works a hell of a lot better in theory than in practice.

I see two deep flaws with this ethos, deepening my my confusion. First, we can’t all be Howard Roark; lots of us lack the temperament requisite to that outcome. As much to the point, if we all could have and act upon that power, civilization as we know it would rapidly descend into barbarism. One man’s clear thinker is another’s cold-hearted sonofabitch, and the latter type is awfully good at inducing conflict.

Second, human beings possess and act upon compassion compulsively; the ones who habitually refuse or fail to do so are (rightly) called sociopaths. We all recognize that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and communities tend to raise the minimum when given the chance. Cutting loose that weak link instead… goes a bit far.

Meritocracy

The happy finish of the labor market’s neo-Nietzchean race to the botom can be found in two virtues that are compatible with all of the belief systems in play: honesty and fidelity.

As it stands, the realities of social (im-) mobility leave some with first-class tickets, and consign the rest to steerage barring both outstanding luck and superlative effort. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that anyone who manages to climb their way out of steerage won’t be shoved back down by some vindictive asshole.

Rewarding honesty and fidelity in the workplace — and penalizing those who lie, cheat, and habitually cover their asses — would go a long way toward making the labor market a better place for everybody.

We have the technological capacity to discover and promote out of steerage quickly the ones who’ve earned it, as a matter of course. We can do the reverse for those who feel most inclined to rest on their laurels. Why don’t we?

Music

Hey Lewis & The News, “Workin’ for a Livin’”
@amazon
@allmusic