This is an archive, please visit for current posts.
PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine
Recent Entries
Like PressThink? More from the same pen:

Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

Syndicate this site:

XML Summaries

XML Full Posts

June 28, 2004

Letter to Bill Gates, Soon to be a Weblogger

I heard that Bill Gates may be blogging. In the Seattle Times, which broke the story, Barry Mitzman is identified as "a former public-television host who helps Gates write materials such as position papers." He was told the news. "That's cool," he said. "If Bill were to do a blog, that would be very interesting. I'd read it." But would I? Will you? Advice to Gates follows...

June 28, 2004

Dear Mr. Gates:

Welcome to weblog writing. Since you are the person who least needs my advice, I am perhaps the best person to give you advice on the matter of what your weblog should be about, and how to do it reasonably well.

Instead of, “I need a blog myself,” start at: I need a self to blog with. You are less likely to go awry that way. Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine says: know my blog, know me. This condenses into five words his experience of meeting people who said: man, you’re exactly like your weblog. Jarvis thinks there is something common to successful weblogs in that experience, and I agree.

Dave Winer, who’s been doing this a while, calls it, “the voice of a person.” (A group weblog: the sound of six people.) Joi Ito says: my blog is like my house. People hang out there because they like the atmosphere. Of course, the author has to be comfortable in the house first.

It’s the person that comes through. That’s what these authors are saying. Self filtered through world. (Or be funny. If you can do funny, I will read you.) But just because a blog is inherently personal doesn’t mean it should have tidbits about the private life of Bill Gates. The Seattle Times story was a little discouraging on this point: “He’s expected to share personal details such as tidbits from recent vacations, according to tech pundit Mary Jo Foley’s Microsoft Watch newsletter.”

Now that would be awful—- a celebrity weblog. I say don’t share any of your personal life, not a word. Do share some of your public life, by which I mean your outlook on the larger world, especially problems where you have already taken some initiative, and invested time.

Most people are today assuming that you will blog about Microsoft products, the software industry, and the road ahead for technology companies— the sort of things that are in your speeches. But the “tech biz” is not the right frame or focus. Strike industry talk right away from the comparison list for blogging.

Indeed, there was a certain cluelessness in the Seattle Times account when it came to describing what the weblog “trend” is all about. “Yes,” said your home town newspaper, “the world’s richest man may start his own blog, one of those online diaries that have been the rage among techies for the past three or four years.”

The rage among techies… That might have been apt three years ago. The only rage worth talking about today, in a news story about blogging, is the worldwide rage for personal authorship generally, for self-insertion into the public world, residence in the new media space emerging online, via the incredibly simple device of citizen with weblog, plus digital camera (and so on.) Techies? That’s not the audience. Customers? You have many other forums for them.

I have a different idea: Do a newsy blog. Something like: Bill Gates reads the headlines. Gates on politics and world affairs. Gates on the spread of freedom and markets, war and peace, public education, AIDS prevention, the limits of technology, the misery of Africa, and the difficulty of solving messy global problems. Gates on why the politicians are sometimes a joke. The big picture Gates. The occasionally angry Gates. Even the ranting Gates. The man who had to expand his knowledge in order to extend the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to its practical, global and problem-solving agenda.

Bill Gates the global man—as might appear at the World Economic Forum in Davos—is a little closer, but not there. The weblog, we know, is not a lectern, or a seat on the rostrum. But I’m told you are quite an e-mailer. For me, it is one of the more entertaining legends about you, because I identify, as I think most people would, with the naive receiver: young geek getting his first email from Boss of the World. Gulp.

So in rifling through the possible selves for speaking in, when you start your blog, “Bill Gates, precision e-mail bomber” seems right to me, but switch the premise. It’s an email to the reading public, the intelligent lay audience, the global market for news and commentary. If occasionally, people are startled to find themselves and their problems addressed, then your strikes are hitting their mark. If you have unpredictable opinions then share them. Doc Searls says: Blogging “may be partisan in many cases, but it is also inconclusive.” That means you get to change your mind.

The late night email bomber of Gates lore goes public about events and problems in the world that you know and care about. Bill Gates, real person, rich person, de-illusioned person, satirical person, reads the headlines, edits the Web (Rebecca Blood calls it the “filter style of weblogging”) and sometimes speaks out. Presenting from a certain angle not the man behind the aging boy genius CEO Microsoft Founder persona, but an author’s deliberate and public persona, behind which stands a man with a biography, and in which we can hear the voice of a person.

Should you have ghostwriters? No. Helpers, yes. To go with your new blog, I recommend a new blogger. One body, not a fleet. Hire some kid—or maybe not a kid, a writer you trust—with a feel for the weblog form and its larger, public sphere.

This lucky person’s only job is doing the Gates blog with you, but never for you. Blogger interviews you for five minutes and weaves what you say into quick, biting commentary. Blogger fetches killer links for your three-sentence riff on the Wall Street Journal story you read. Blogger writes in his or her own voice, closely attuned to yours, when you’re too busy elsewhere.

Blogger handles e-mail and comment threads at the blog, turning them into posts. Blogger edits your blog roll, moving items on and off recommended lists and such. Blogger does special section: Gates and His Critics. Every year, recruit new talent to the job, as with Supreme Court clerkships. Fire them if you can’t hear yourself in every detail of your blog.

Two more things, Mr. Gates. In your company there are over 800 blogs by employees. (Partial list.) I know that in your calculations about weblogs and the Net you have factored in business blogging. But that factor begins with freedom of speech for employees who blog.

You speak often as Microsoft as a leader. One of the simplest ways of making this so would be a Bill of Rights for Microsoft bloggers, or at least a determination to widen protection for their freedom of speech. This involves, of course, your own perceived openness to debate and minority opinion— and even controversy from time to time.

It might be good to ask yourself: How political can people be who work for Microsoft and become weblog authors? How personal can they get? How real? You can set an industry standard for openness and dissent allowed in weblog writing, and you can begin at your own blog.

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one,” wrote A.J. Liebling in 1960. Well, increasingly every citizen owns one. This puts pressure on all guarantees. My advice is get out front, and if you have to fight with company lawyers it’s worth it to make a little history.

Finally, a history lesson glancing backward. Rich, famous and powerful people have always had three options in dealing with a micro-inquisitive press. The first is to have it threatened, muzzled, jailed— a method still at large around the world. The second is to simply hide from the press, lock it out. (Think Sonny smashing a photographer’s camera in The Godfather, wedding scene.) The third, more modern and truly American way is, of course, public relations, which is not just a practice but a mentality, the business of selling applied to self and all possible forms of publicity.

An original weblog by Bill Gates—rich, famous, powerful, controversial person—could be a fourth way a business titan deals with the press: as author and critic, reading the headlines, putting certain ideas at risk, inserting himself into public conversation as a citizen of the planet, a reader of the news, (a sharp, funny person) editing the Web like all good weblogs do, and finding a honest voice in which to speak. Cure your blog of public relations, every hint and drop, or don’t do it at all.

Best of luck with it, Mr. Gates.

Jay Rosen

AfterMath: Notes, reactions & links

Okay, what do you think? What should Bill Gates do with his new weblog? Hit the comment button and venture a view.

Seattle Times, Bill Gates could join the ranks of bloggers.

Email exchange with Lawrence Lessig:

Bill Gates may start a blog. My letter asks for a bill of rights for Mircosoft bloggers. What do you think he should blog about, Lessig?

Lessig: That would be very cool. Though no, I don’t think he knows how to speak authentically anymore.

So at a certain point authentic speech becomes impossible for some public figures and their weblog can only be PR or manipulation?

Lessig: Or he should prove me wrong.

Fair enough.

Microsoft employee and blogger Robert Scoble says in comments:

I can’t tell you what Microsoft’s financial results will be next quarter. I have to represent the corporation in a professional manner — and “being professional” is in the eye of the beholder.

In fact, if Gates were to blog I think this would be the major problem: can Gates be himself? I don’t think so. For a whole raft of reasons.

I still don’t know if Bill is gonna blog, though. It’ll be interesting to see if he does.

“My idea: The Vision Thing Blog.” Over at Scobelizer, Christopher Coulter writes:

I don’t agree with Jay’s advice. Gates as Glenn Reynolds-styled save-the-world political cause-of-the-moment blogger? Ummmmm no thanks. And getting stuck in the daily techie news, comment quip trench is boring and redundant, eternal conversations without going anywhere. And I don’t want a Bill Gates Tour 2004 type of Blog, he’s not a rock band.

I think the Gates blog that needs to be out there, is the “vision thing” blog. Big picture, grand ideas of where things should go, The Road Ahead style; his Essays are a good clue, go in that direction. But then blogs NEED to be personal too, needs to share insights, things not filtered through the prose-killing PR machines.

So Big Picture and the Human, but how human CAN a person who can buy the world a Coke 14 times over ever really be? He’s superhuman. And privacy issues at play here too. But maybe something like letting his kids play with Tablets and insights from that; items like that. Personal, and human, but abstract that still fits into the big picture. (This is Coulter’s site, link wasn’t working for me.)

Julie Leung, What I hope Bill Gates Will Blog.

I’m eager to hear his take on the headlines of the day. Yet when I think about what I want to read on Bill G.’s blog, some different questions come to my mind…
  • What do you do to enjoy a summer day: do you walk barefoot in the grass with your daughter?
  • When you see a homeless person, what do you think?…
  • Where have you seen something beautiful this week?

In “What Makes a Weblog a Weblog,” Dave Winer says about the authors: “they are writing about their own experience. And if there’s editing it hasn’t interfered with the style of the writing. The personalities of the writers come through. That is the essential element of weblog writing, and almost all the other elements can be missing, and the rules can be violated… as long as the voice of a person comes through, it’s a weblog.”

Jeff Jarvis adds: “Who needs to be humanized more than Bill Gates? Who needs a means of talking directly to the people without enough filters to clean up the Hudson more than Bill Gates? What modern business mind would be more fascinating to step into more than Bill Gates? Plus, we fellow bloggers can suddenly find ourselves in the same club with Bill Gates. And we can all hope to get a little Gates link love (a Microlanche?).”

Jarvis suggests the nearest parallel to a Bill Gates weblog would be Mark Cuban’s. He is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and made his money in the technology biz. See his bio.

World Editors Weblog: “…all this assumes that Gates has some sort of higher motivation beyond Microsoft and Gates Foundation PR for (possibly) starting a blog, and that the world at large, or at least a significant group of people, care about his political opinions. Is that so?”

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, Blogs, bosses and bucks: “The blogs you’re going to see from within most traditional companies will be either uninformative snoozes or desperate attempts at butt-covering and -kissing. Not because people don’t have great stories to tell — but because telling the truth has too high a cost.”

Ross Mayfield on the need for a Standard Weblog Employee Policy, with links to some that exist and other arguments for it. See also his post, Corporate Blogging and the Boss.

Posted by Jay Rosen at June 28, 2004 2:37 PM   Print


Bill Gates could perhaps blog about the mention of himself in the introduction to the recent republication of The Communist Manifesto. Little bro'?

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 4:12 PM | Permalink

Whoops. So much for the links. I don't know much about Bill Gates except that he is a proponent of a "frictionless" economy or something like that. Is that another way of saying "remove the noise"?

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 4:52 PM | Permalink

Uh oh, three comments in a row. I've got my York on.

Jay, you welcome Bill to the new, expanding pbulic sphere of the blog.

Now, I looked at the gates foundation Web site, and on first glance it seemed to me like its agenda is in line with efforts to *privatize* education, health and welfare functions worldwide.

Is it possible that the growth of the Web "public sphere" is not really a threat to the shrinking of the real world "public sphere"?

That is, we get a virtual public sphere which stands in for the real one as it fades away (real things are so darn, I don't know, "frictiony"?).

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 6:31 PM | Permalink

My thoughts on Bill-Gates-As-Blogger: Shark. Jump.

What does Microsoft do, as a business strategy? Acquire, co-opt, look for choke-points, monopolize.

Think about it.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 28, 2004 6:38 PM | Permalink

Four comments. This is totally over the top. But I'd never heard much of this Gates fellow before and I did some Web browsing.

Here's some quotes from his book:

The Internet is driving down transaction costs and value of distribution. The Web is moving us toward friction-free capitalism. The middleman must respond or suffer...

In 1995, in The Road Ahead, I used the term "friction-free capitalism" to describe how the Internet was helping create Adam Smith's ideal marketplace in which buyers and sellers can easily find one another without taking much time or spending much money. Achieving Smith's "perfect price" comes not just from eliminating the middleman...

Middleman is an interesting word. Its literal denotation is the middle party in a tripartite business transaction.

I'm trying to think who this abstract middleman is. Middle-class man? Every man? Certainly not superman.

Eliminate the middleman.

The middleman must respond or suffer.

Respond or suffer! Who is this slave-driver? I'm starting to think that this Gates fellow is not so nice, despite his inoffensive geeky looks!

I hope he does blog. We need to learn more about this guy!

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 7:23 PM | Permalink

We could use some of his wisdom.

I mean, Bush just eliminated the middleman - the press - because they don't represent the public anymore.

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 8:11 PM | Permalink

What about the structure of this new virtual public sphere?

Look at the hierarchy of this blog, for instance.

You get the main course, Jay's essay, a solo production; then there is the aftermath, in which Jay quotes the elite bloggers whose ranks he would like to join (the lovefest with Jarvis is especially poignant); then, the comments section, the noise from the stands, not the aftermath, but the excess, perhaps not the leftovers, but the leftunders.

Of course, the sucking up to Bill Gates only reinforces that the Left is over.

I wonder who the first politician that will rise from the ranks of blogdom will be?

Arnold Blogginator?

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 9:04 PM | Permalink

Panopticon: Over or not over, I wasn't aware that the Left had any answer to Bill Gates.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 28, 2004 10:25 PM | Permalink

It doesn't have one answer, it has a multiplicity. The right has totalization, the left has fragmentation.

Not a lack of imagination, but too much.

Gates searches for a way to eliminate the antagonism (noise, friction) inherent to the system, and in that sense, his mission is futile because that antagonism is constituent of the system -it can't exist without it.

The Marxian dream was to recreate this system without the excess (surplus-value). But it stumbled on the problem that when you eliminate capitalism you also eliminate productivity, not just the surplus, but the production too.

So neither party has the answer. It's like Plato before he thought up a way to counter the sophists, or Kant before Hume woke him up. The problem is there, but the copernican turn hasn't occured.

Posted by: panopticon at June 28, 2004 10:46 PM | Permalink

Why does Bill need to blog when he can send out emails to more people than read mine?

But, I like the advice.

By the way, Bill is very open to debate. You will note that I got quoted in Time Magazine asking Bill to split up Microsoft. Not quite a popular opinion.

Unfortunately corporate speech has far more limitations on it than regular speech. For instance, I can't tell you what Microsoft's financial results will be next quarter. I have to represent the corporation in a professional manner -- and "being professional" is in the eye of the beholder.

In fact, if Gates were to blog I think this would be the major problem: can Gates be himself? I don't think so. For a whole raft of reasons.

I still don't know if Bill is gonna blog, though. It'll be interesting to see if he does.

Posted by: Robert Scoble at June 28, 2004 11:51 PM | Permalink

Perhaps I'm far too cynical but here's my take on this Gates blog speculation:

Microsoft is rumoured to be about to launch a weblogging application.

What better way to promote said application than have Gates blog?


Posted by: Matt at June 29, 2004 4:51 AM | Permalink


That's what Bill Gates should do. Listen.

Almost a dozen years ago, when called upon to cost justify an internet connection for our newspaper, I explained that most publishers have the advantage of the internet ass-backwards. They saw it as a way to publish. I saw it as a way to gather.

Feedback is critical. Understanding the feedback is even more critical.

Posted by: sbw at June 29, 2004 8:55 AM | Permalink

Jeff Jarvis adds:

It's time to treat Michael Moore as the extremist that he is. Simple-minded, simplistic, mean, venemous, a hate-monger who does nothing to advance the debate and aims instead to divide. Add your nominees on the left.

And the same goes for Rush and Jerry Falwell and others who spew their hate and half-facts and bile and intolerance.

Are you ready for the friction-free debate?

What do you call it when the middle spews its hate against the "extremes"?

Welcome to the public sphere, Mr. Moore. There are no divisions in the public sphere. It is an organic whole. A totality.

Who needs to be humanized more than Bill Gates? Who needs a means of talking directly to the people without enough filters to clean up the Hudson more than Bill Gates?

Not Michael Moore, obviously. He's the moral, inhuman equivalent of Rush Limbaugh or Jerry Falwell.

These fundamentalists actually believe in things!

Belief is not just fiction, it's friction!

Posted by: panopticon at June 29, 2004 9:12 PM | Permalink


I did not think I had a dog in this particular race, so was going to abstain, but you have stirred my interests (again.)

I know Bill (somewhat,) have had meetings, and have developed strategies with him in the tech business (my qualifications for making these remarks.)

The friction, and the middleman, is about removing the 'space' between the producer and the consumer. Or, in socialist terms, between the worker and the worker.

It was quite a socialist thought in business twenty years ago when he introduced this in a speech at COMDEX (a computer show.)

At that time, almost all computers, and his company’s software, were sold through dealers and resellers. It seemed a direct attack on those at the show.

However, his thoughts were not directed specifically at them, but in a more general way, that the producers of goods should, through improved distribution, find ways to directly deal with the consumers of goods (and services.)

A pretty revolutionary thought, at least at the time. Dell took it to heart. So did a lot of internet commerce sites.

Dealers and distributors hated the thought. Most of them are gone now. Prices have lowered and distribution is more efficient as a direct result of his thoughts, and actions. One might criticize the loss of personalized services as a result, but I suspect that this is an unintentional consequence.

Bill is a smart guy. I think you would like him. However, I suspect he will not expose himself directly to a forum such as a blog.

I do not doubt that he is present in blogs, but do believe that he would protect his privacy.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 29, 2004 11:26 PM | Permalink

removing the 'space' between the producer and the consumer.

Funny. Mr. Gates earned his place by being the consumate middleman. Positioned between the author of DR DOS and IBM, Gates made the deal that provided the operating system for the PC but he wasn't the original author himself. His genius is as an entrepreneur, not a computer jock.

Posted by: sbw at June 29, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink

The friction, and the middleman, is about removing the 'space' between the producer and the consumer. Or, in socialist terms, between the worker and the worker.

So you are saying that "producer" and "consumer" are transparent euphemisms for "worker".

Thank you for clarifying. This helps me. Oh boy.

So that explains Bill's tremendous wealth. He is a "worker" not an employer who has figured out a way to sell other "workers" his product which is created by his "workers" who don't actually sell that product but receive a wage for their work which is sold to other workers at a profit above the wages which the workers receive for their work which allows him and his cronies to accumulate immense wealth, which they can then share with workers who buy "shares". Sharing is caring.

You're right. Bill Gates is a radical and radicalism pays!

I guess immense private wealth is just another form of socialism. Thank you for explaining that. Apparently I was confused, but you have shined the laser light of your analysis on that confusion, Fellow Worker. "Capitalism is Socialism" -Emmanuel Goldstein.

I often hope that fellow worker Bill Gates will contact me privately, or post an anonymous message on my weblog, much as I used to wish when I was a mere tot that the Beatles would come to dinner.

Posted by: panopticon at June 29, 2004 11:51 PM | Permalink


The Gates acquisition of software is mythical in proportion.

He and Steve Ballmer developed the Basic computer language for microcomputers while in a Harvard dorm, skipping classes and eventually dropping out to do so.

He acquired DR-DOS from the developer, and seriously scraped intellectual property from Xerox PARC labs. From these two sources, he pushed IBM into a deal for OS/2, the operating system that IBM was putting together for their entry into the PC business.

The story is much more complex than anything you will get from Microsoft's critics. As a businessperson, I find it a fascinating story.

I think Bill earned his position, as head of Microsoft and as a major business player.

As with all such stories, there is lots of room for interpretation, but if you are interested in business history, take the time to dig it up.

"Hard Drive" by Jim Wallace & Jim Erickson is a decent read and reasonably complete in the early story.

All of this, his background, and the 'frictionless' stuff is yesterday's news. He has moved on quite a bit since those days. As has the rest of the world.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 29, 2004 11:53 PM | Permalink



The thought he brought up and promoted was about connecting workers (producing the goods) and those who consume them. That the middleman was unnecessary friction in these transactions.

This stuff is ancient history, at least in the computer business. He has since moved on.

That he is a capitalist is undisputed. As an employer he is a hard driver (no pun intended.)

I am sure that I have offended some part of your belief system, but I did not do so intentionally. Lighten up on the sarcasm and say what you mean.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 29, 2004 11:59 PM | Permalink


The workers of MS got stock options that have made almost all of them multimillionaires.

If there is a single company most guilty about the stock option expensing controversy it would be Microsoft.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 12:07 AM | Permalink

As a systems architect, I've been a long time watcher of Gates. Early on, Microsoft struggled with many technology problems that had already been solved in big computers. There was a strong arrogance in the company - they just didn't care to find out what big computer people had done, because they had no respect for us. The world paid big time for that arrogance. Gates did not. In an economic sense, Microsoft had and has a whole lot of externalities that they should be paying but the world pays instead.

Eventually, they started hiring outside their own little world, and started to get a better vision, but the internet still hit them by surprise, indicating that the culture was too inbred.

Now they have a genuine laboratory, just like IBM or Bell Labs. They are working on serious problems. I hope they succeed in improving speech recognition - one of their priorities. But so far, I have yet to see Microsoft produce a technology that was new (except for Visual Basic) and they are generally inferior in their products (exception: Office).

The last time I was playing the "get venture capital" game, the big question was still "will Microsoft eat you for breakfast?" They have been quite nasty in their practices, letting someone develop an ancillary technology (disk compression, for example) and then releasing an OS version with the same ideas in it, wiping out the little company over time as the initially lousy microsoft implementation gets better and better.

Even Windows NT and family was done poorly. They used an approach that didn't scale past 4 processors, at a time when we were doing systems with 16 processors. We were doing 4 processors in 1970! They still can't scale well, while Linux can. To the technical community, Microsoft is pathetically bad at many things.

The security holes that keep popping up are another issue. I was a hacker in 1969, and we used exploits that Microsoft is still subject to: buffer overruns. There is simply no excuse for Microsoft to have those vulnerabilities. None. I think only their vast power keeps them from being taken to the cleaners by tort lawyers (and yes, the EULA should be breakable - it is often entered into under deuress).

Another idea that Microsoft had is responsible for many security violations, because Microsoft has never evinced an interest in security until about a year ago. This was the idea of software componentization using COM, DCOM or whatever it is called. This let's your web browser run Excell, for example. It was a nice idea except for two things:

1) It was overly complex compared to the Unix way of doing it, and
2) It opened up an uncountable number of security holes.

At one point, Microsoft had a very neat vision. It was pushed by Brad Silverberg, a major Microsoft techie and VP. The idea was to make Internet Explorer into a good platform for hosting applications, and to run it on all sorts of platforms. Internal politics killed it - it threatened the Windows monopoly which was just not allowed.

BTW... I had a friend who worked with Gates at Bonneville Power when Gates was in High School. Gates is a techie when he wants to be. How good, I don't know.

Another friend works atuSoft as a manager a few levels up, and assures me that security will be greatly improved. I'm not holding my breath.

Supposedly Gates is now the technology strategist for Microsoft. That is a very interesting area, and a blog on that subject, with comments, could be interesting and the feedback could be useful - if he has finally learned to value feedback.

In spite of my criticisms, I own Microsoft stock.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at June 30, 2004 1:08 AM | Permalink

John Lynch

You need to make your statements about stock options in the past tense. Things have changed at Microsoft since the dot-com collapse.

Furthermore, I think that expensing stock options is wrong. How do you value them? Black Scholes? A stock option represents a potential dilution, but the dilution itself doesn't happen when they are issued, and may never happen. I've followed the various arguments in the WSJ and I think that expensing the options will be destructive to the incentive system that has been so important in high tech (and to me personally).

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at June 30, 2004 1:13 AM | Permalink

Correction: dilution occurs when they are exercised, not issued.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at June 30, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink


I guess immense private wealth is just another form of socialism.

D@mn right, you didn't know? Soros sold Gates his Workers Party membership card.

Geez, pan, don't you get the memos?

(I was LMAO for an hour. I'm still wiping away tears)

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 1:29 AM | Permalink

John Lynch: He and Steve Ballmer developed the Basic computer language for microcomputers while in a Harvard dorm, skipping classes and eventually dropping out to do so.

Buzz! Wrong answer. Try again.

History of BASIC: "BASIC (standing for Beginner's All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was written (invented) in 1963, at Dartmouth College, by mathematicians John George Kemeny and Tom Kurtzas as a teaching tool for undergraduates."

BASIC was in use on timeshared computers well before Gates got in to college.

John Lynch: From these two sources, he pushed IBM into a deal for OS/2, the operating system that IBM was putting together for their entry into the PC business.

Buzz! Wrong answer. Try again.

OS/2 happened some 15 years later, around 1987, and was IBM's attempt to introduce multi-tasking and to get out from under Microsoft's thumb.

[John, I grew up a computer jock and worked for a large, unnamed computer company back then.]

It is true that Mr. Gates has been inventive, but that is more on the entrepreneurial side, and we are all wise to pay attention to what he says and does... which could be interpreted positively or negatively.

Posted by: sbw at June 30, 2004 8:42 AM | Permalink



Actually, not wrong on those accounts.

I didn't say he invented the language. I said he and Steve developed it for the microcomputer. Which was not available back in the 60s, but instead was introduced as a technology late in the 70s, and became a hobbyists toy in the early 80s. Doesn't seem that long ago does it?

Anyway, He and Steve did it for one of the first - the Commadore (sp?) if I remember correctly. (1982?) They did a 'road trip' to New Mexico where the almost garage shop type manufacturing of the thing was, sold them the language and supporting software on a per machine basis. The first MS offices and employees were there in NM.

Later he got an initial deal with IBM, using the DS-DOS and the promise of a graphical human interface. By 1987, now five years into the company, he had a somewhat famous meeting suggesting to IBM that they not develop OS/2 (not yet named) but instead license it or at least the core technology from MS.

I also was a 'computer jock' and worked for a large, unnamed computer company. Anyway, the history is interesting - and your basic (no pun intended) that he didn't invent all that became the core products of MS is true.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 9:59 AM | Permalink

John Lynch

Our exchange is an excellent example of how people can, through reasonable discussion, come to a shared understanding.


Posted by: sbw at June 30, 2004 10:13 AM | Permalink

MITS Altair 8800 Computer

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 10:22 AM | Permalink

I don't know his politics, but would expect that he would be fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 10:24 AM | Permalink

Thanks. Those early days are already a blur to me. It was the MITS.

Agreed. More dialog, less vitriol. Sounds like a recipe.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 10:25 AM | Permalink

That is an interesting thought!

We're having fun with this one aren't we.

So, are you going to do the right thing and start the York Foundation?


Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 10:46 AM | Permalink

I agree that OS/2 was later in the history. And yes, Basic was from Waterloo, and Microsoft Basic was developed for MITS, which was from Albuquerque and was the first popular hobbyist computer.

I thought the original Microsoft team was Gates and Allen, not Gates and Ballmer.

At one point, Microsoft had a DEC-10 as their development machine (it was also used at Bonneville). We shared the same salesman. MSDOS had a lot of DEC commands, originally lifted from the PDP-11 for CPM, and then lifted from there by whoever sold MSDOS to Gates. Allen changed the forward-slash to a back-slash, driving nuts any programmer who had used any other system - they all used forward slash as far as I know.

It was the sale of MSDOS to IBM that made Microsoft the winner. It is my contention that operating systems are natural monopolies. The IBM OS, starting with OS/360 was THE operating system for 20 years. It is still, almost 40 years later, for a tremendous number of business shops, although in big computers Unix is now a major system, and IBM themselves are major sellers of Linux (which drives Sun's Scott McNealy bananas, even as IBM is the biggest user of Sun's Java). On microcomputers, there is no question that Microsoft has enjoyed a monopoly until recently, and used monopolistic techniques to extend that monopoly to office software. The challenger to Microsoft on PC's is Linux, which excels in the server arena, while Windows NT (Windows 2003) is poor in that area. Linux is making a drive for the desktop, and is a good solution for single-use desktops such as call centers.

Capitalist that I am, I favor splitting Microsoft into three companies, with appropriate firewalls and ownership structure. One would be operating systems, and would be regulated somewhat like a natural monopoly. Another would be office systems, and would be free to compete, with some restrictions to allow competition to develop - primarily by giving pre-announcements (in detail) of file structures and file structure changes. The third would be everything else. This apparently will not happen, and Microsoft's period of monopoly is finally waning.

It was amusing (and disgusting) to watch Microsoft try to prove that Internet Explorer was a fundamental part of the Operating System. Microsoft defines "operating system" very differently than computer science. To them, an operating system is whatever they package together and call an operating system. This allows them to get away with a lot of trickery.

This leads to the following thought... Since I can't seem to resist doing this here (where the subject isn't Microsoft the Monster, but rather Gates and blogging), one would expect this kind of thing to happen on any Gates blog. After all, one only has to look at Slashdot to see the amount of hatred of Microsoft in parts of the software community. Discussions of Microsoft are like religious discussions - almost like Usenet's This could pose a serious problem to a Gates blog if he allowed comments, and if he didn't allow comments, he'd miss useful feedback.

An interesting problem.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at June 30, 2004 11:50 AM | Permalink

I'm with Warren Buffet on the stock options issue - they're dilutive and subject to abusive use by corporate executives. Additionally, they have been used as part of I'll gladly pay you Tuesday, 5 years from now, for the hamburger you build me today for ordinary employees.

(I was LMAO for an hour. I'm still wiping away tears)

#1. (Several ounces of vitriol.)

Pardon me, John Lynch, Jay Rosen, nothing personal against you or Bill Gates. All I know about him is that he is a very wealthy man. I doubt he "needs to be humanized" compared to a homeless man, for instance.

I'm more concerned about the "construction of self" on the Web. Who gets to do the constructing? Will people without 'net access, people who are poor writers or have personalities that don't shine in typeface, or people who do not care to participate in the Web be "unselfed" in the new public sphere?

Will computer networked communication with its antipathy to "noise" combined with its global reach and its powerful ability to construct a new, virtual symbolic universe result in forms of social exclusion more powerful than have ever existed? Look at what Jarvis wants to do to Moore, Falwell, etc.

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 12:41 PM | Permalink

Shaking the Foundations

As the new philanthropists urge nonprofits to embrace business principles and venture-capital metrics, some grantees worry about the effect on their missions. How do you measure the performance of a rape-crisis center? Will the demand for measurable results compel nonprofits to take on less daunting tasks -- address the symptoms of big problems rather than their causes? Under pressure to "scale," will small but important niche nonprofits be squeezed out of the marketplace?
"Expertise and money, combined in the right away, can be a powerful lever," says Bradach. "But the innovators who are really going to make a difference are the ones who don't underestimate how different the nonprofit world is from the for-profit sector."

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 1:31 PM | Permalink

Upstarts: Serving Nonprofits

Wouldn't it be nice if people would make impulse donations just as they make impulse purchases? Four months after being struck by that thought while reading an issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, philanthropist and entrepreneur Steve Grossman launched a company to fulfill that vision., in Medford, Mass., is one of at least 17 so-called e-charity portals, which are dot-coms designed to be one-stop Web sites for charitable giving.
Wouldn't it be nice if people would make impulse donations just as they make impulse purchases? Four months after being struck by that thought while reading an issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, philanthropist and entrepreneur Steve Grossman launched a company to fulfill that vision., in Medford, Mass., is one of at least 17 so-called e-charity portals, which are dot-coms designed to be one-stop Web sites for charitable giving.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 1:37 PM | Permalink

That repeat second graph was suppposed to be this from the same article:

Palmer: Although everyone agrees that the Internet has the potential to revolutionize how people learn about charities and decide which ones to support, nobody knows how people will want to interact with charities online. Charities tell us they are being inundated by businesses promising to make them money, and many don't know how to sort out the available choices. In a Chronicle survey last fall we asked nonprofit executives about the issues that would shape charities in the new millennium, and technology came up repeatedly. While some see the promise, others worry about how technology can change the very personal relationships between charities and the people they serve -- as well as the people they depend on for financial support and volunteer time.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 1:39 PM | Permalink

I would assume that the persona on the blog is represented by the initial thesis, essay, proposition that is set forth, as well as the occasional intervention to add thoughts. This would have to be from Bill (in this instance) or it is not Bill's blog.

The mechanical things about a blog - deleting profanity, stopping flame-wars, banning the untoward behaviors or people - this might not have to be Bill, but an assistant operating under some sort of parameters.

The 'construction of self' is, I think, preserved in such a setup.

For those who are on the other side of the so-called 'digital divide,' who don't have access, they remain outside of participation of blogs.

Most of the more recent studies have been less about economic stratification regarding internet access, and more about age stratification. It seems our mothers and fathers (age 70+) are less likely to get internet access than our children.

The economic stratification is real, but is less than expected. Upper incomes may have multiple computers and always-on access, networked together in their home. The lower economic strata is probably working with a single, and older computer via a dial-up line.

In a project for several local schools here, we surveyed the population. We believe that we verified this national level data in several of our local communities.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 1:49 PM | Permalink

This didn't get to the homeless population. If that needs to be stated.

Posted by: John Lynch at June 30, 2004 1:52 PM | Permalink

Returning to Jarvis again, when he writes "When I was on CNN the other night, the only thing I said that surprised Aaron Brown and Jeff Greenfield -- and it took them physically aback -- was when I responded to the old saw that we are a divided nation and said, "It's our fault."

It's our fault -- in media and politics -- when we paint America as a nation divided and it's as if we want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Apart from the incoherence of this tidbit (he is engaging in the "dividing" he is deriding), what's uncanny is the similarity to the rhetoric of Falwell post-9/11. This is a sort "reflexive" rhetoric of division which accomplishes the very same end as that which it purports to criticize.

Rhetoric regarding the "internal threat" was also a prominent feature of 20th century anti-semitism in Europe. It has the same structural basis.

It's odd that Jarvis thinks he occupies the reasonable middle - I'm not a regular reader of his blog, but I did take note of an instance where he refered to Arab Muslims as "sand-nazis" - an obvious allusion to the racial term "sand-nigger". I suppose being present at the WTC collapse may have something to do with that.

Or, as Zizek put it in a discussion of Homo Sacer "Nazism constructed the 'plutocratic-Bolshevik plot' as the common agent threatening the welfare of the German nation. Capitonnage is the operation by means of which we identify/construct a sole agency that 'pulls the strings' behind a multitude of opponents. Exactly the same holds for today's 'war on terror', in which the figure of the terrorist Enemy is also a condensation of two opposed figures, the reactionary 'fundamentalist' and the Leftist resistant."

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 2:26 PM | Permalink

This was an interesting post. I wonder how the writer Bill Gates will hire to ghostwrite his blog will approach the blog. Hopefully s/he will take your thoughts into account.

Posted by: MySQLwebmaster at June 30, 2004 3:17 PM | Permalink

How about a blog where Gates discusses distributism? What do you think, panopticon?

"A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise. But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket is a champion of private property. Capitalism and Commercialism . . . have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets."

"More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as 'neoliberalism' prevails; based on a purely economic conception of the human person, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust." (Ecclesia in America, No. 56, Report of the Synod of America).

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 4:13 PM | Permalink

At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust.

I think the problem here is the conception of the poor as a "policy problem" or victims rather than as rational political/human subjects.

As such, the privatization of welfare and education government functions like those advocated by the Gates Foundation further removes the poor and those social functions from the political/public sphere where they (we) would have input into how those policies are carried out.

Further, this is combined with the virtualization of the public sphere while the real one decays, and the virtual public sphere privileges, at the moment, the technically adept, and the well-off.

In addition, the War on Terror has reinforced a distinction between those who have full citizenship and those who are subject to the law and simultaneously excluded from it. The excluded also not only terrorists, unlawful combatants, but those also on the receiving end of "humanitarian" help - i.e., those not rational political subjects, like the afghans, the Iraqis, the encamped Palestinians, the American poor.

This further reinforces the calls from people like Jarvis that the "extremes" of leftist resistance and rightist fundamentalism be excluded from the public sphere and join the ranks of homo sacer. In this sense, the "center" position has all the structural characteristics of the rightist position.

How Bill Gates blogging fits into this is a very tricky question.

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 5:19 PM | Permalink

Here is an excerpt of a reader review of Homo Sacer:

The locus of Agamben's view of modernity is the (concentration) camp. Agamben stresses the fact that the camp is not only a place where the unspeakable takes place but more importantly and fundamentally where a human being is stripped "Naked", stripped of 'bios' and exposed as mere 'zoe', such that anything--including the unspeakable--CAN be done to him since nothing could be considered a criminal act. The camp, according to Agamben, is "the space that opens up when the state of exception starts to become the rule."

This is not only interesting in the context of Iraq/Abu Ghraib, but also in regard to Michael Moore. And this has web context. I saw Moore speak at the Webzine 2000 conference in NYC four years ago. At the end of his talk, in which he was urging poltical engagement on the part of the Web people there, he ended with a comment regarding attacks against him personally in which he spoke directly from the position of homo sacer, repeating: "What more can they do to me, what more can they do to me?"

They can try to exclude/include you from/in the new virtual public sphere, Michael.

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 6:44 PM | Permalink

Just added, and something to comment on:

Email exchange with Lawrence Lessig:

Bill Gates may start a blog. My letter asks for a bill of rights for Mircosoft bloggers. What do you think he should blog about, Lessig?

Lessig: That would be very cool. Though no, I don't think he knows how to speak authentically anymore.

So at a certain point authentic speech becomes impossible for some public figures and their weblog can only be PR or manipulation?

Lessig: Or he should prove me wrong.

Fair enough.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at June 30, 2004 7:15 PM | Permalink

Why should he be required to speak authentically?

If a blog is part of the public realm, why is authenticity - which is entirely personal - required?

If a blog is part a realm that dissolves the distinction between public and private communication how could authenticity be possible?

Or, is the requirement that one's opinions be enunciated from a position of authenticity a way of discrediting the "ideological" - a position from which Gates, as an avatar of capitalism, can only speak?

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 8:02 PM | Permalink

I tend to think Lessig's correct. The three areas which readers would probably most want to hear Gates blog about -- vision/tech, philanthropy, socio-economics -- he probably has the least freedom to speak authentically.

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 8:30 PM | Permalink

C'mon. The idea that if only he could, he would speak from his heart, is ideology.

Whereas, if he were simply to assume his public role, and speak according to those "ideological" terms, would be the height of honesty.

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 8:51 PM | Permalink

A few comments here...

Anybody in the country that wants net access has it. Every library has computers and high speed internet. I used to take advantage of this when tornado chasing in rural America (now I have mobile access to data). So even the homeless, if they can drag themselves out of their drug stupors, or get clean in their schizophrenia for a bit, can access the net at high speed. I believee it was a Gore initiative to wire the libraries.

Hence the digital divide is what one would expect: there are many people, even entire subcultures, who have no interest in the internet.

As to the homeless in America, one must understand that rarely is a person homeless who does not want to be. Homelessness is a result of substance abuse (but even substance abusers can normally find a place to stay in shelters) and mental illness. The latter is a result of an odd correlation of interests between the left and the right. The left believed that involuntary commitment in mental hospitals was greatly overdone; the development of new antipsychotics led the left and the psychiatry profession to believe that the severely mentally ill could be managed by neighborhood clinics. The right was happy to empty the asylums - they were expensive. But a couple of things broke the vision: a failure to fund outpatient clinics; and, the refusal of many psychotics to take the antipsychotics or avail themselves of the clinics.

Moving on... as one who has benefited greatly from employee stock options, I have a reason to be in favor of them. In the companies I was involved in, there was no fraud or hidden dilution - the final event was always the sale of the company, with the dilution priced into the deal. So it is clearly possible for options to be beneficial, and in fact many companies have used them that way. The problem with the options is really the same problem as other corporate governance abuses - boards of directors failed in their fiduciary dutires, or mutual fund owners failed, and the result was excessive executive compensation, whether in salary, options, bonuses, or whatever. This isn't the fault of the options, but the fault of an overly incestuous capital market and the failure of modern business schools to emphasize ethics and morality.

Expensing an option is clearly incorrect. No immediate reduction in share value occurs as a result of the issuance of the option. A potential future dilution is made possible by the event, although it is not guaranteed. Hence the cost of issuing an option is not zero, but something that cannot be well deterrmined unless there is a market trading the same instrument.

To me, the way to price the option is very simple: report the issuance of the option and the conditions of it, and let the market price it into the stock however it sees fit.

As far as privatizing programs for the poor, it is almost certainly better than having the government do it, if the right organizations do the job. Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, St. Vincent's de Paul are all effective. I am sure there are many other suitable private charities. They run lower overheads than the government (at least the religious based ones do).

However, the safety net cannot have holes in it. However the program is done, government has a role to insure that holes are plugged.

And none of this has anything to do with journalism or Bill Gates' blog.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at June 30, 2004 8:52 PM | Permalink

As to the homeless in America, one must understand that rarely is a person homeless who does not want to be. Homelessness is a result of substance abuse (but even substance abusers can normally find a place to stay in shelters) and mental illness.

That's an excellent illustration of the Homo Sacer thesis. Very astute to point out the connection between shelters and camps. One slight disagreement: homelessness is the result of the unwillingness or inability to pay rent or purchase land, a condition which has an extremely wide causal field. The mistake is conflating the growth of homelessness which was abetted by the health policies you reference, with the ongoing economic history of homelessless, which reaches back to itinerant workers (hobos) in the 19th century, and extends to members of the economically-displaced or itinerant/illegal working class at the present. Also, the health conditions that impact homelessness are not limited to addiction/mental illness, but also include "regular" illness as well, which tend to be costly.

Otherwise, an excellent illustration of Agamben's thesis.

Posted by: panopticon at June 30, 2004 9:53 PM | Permalink


One slight disagreement: homelessness is the result of the unwillingness or inability to pay rent or purchase land, a condition which has an extremely wide causal field.

Can we include the fragmenting of the extended family into nuclear families with the rise of industrialism and finally the collapse of the nuclear family?

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 10:21 PM | Permalink

Let's throw that in! Although it is class/culturally-specific. Adios, *Nucular* family!

Posted by: panotpicon at June 30, 2004 10:28 PM | Permalink

"3 acres and a cow"

Posted by: Tim at June 30, 2004 10:33 PM | Permalink

The incidence of involuntary homelessness outside of the mental illness and substance abuser group is very small, because there are systems in place to provide housing for anyone. I once had a homeless employee (1977) who chose to live in his camper. I have a friend who was totally disabled by mental illness and who had spent all of his assets on medical care (This conservative finds our medical insurance system to be inadequate, and I work in the field). I was able to get him benefits equivalent to $50,000/year - an apartment, full medical care, and enough money that he could afford to have a care. This was all through SSI. The good news is that he will be rejoining the work force as his illness (non-psychotic) is now under control.

Hence in his case, the safety net worked. Charitable organizations also provide housing.

This is why I assert that homeless people are almost always voluntarily homeless (except for a short time or due to bureaucratic screwups) - typically their mental illness keeps them from wanting to stay in shelters.

What this has to do with concentration camps is beyond me.

That they choose not to buy or rent lodging is typically a symptom of their illness, although some eccentric but non-crazy people choose that lifestyle.

Tim's comment about the dissipation of the extended family is no doubt another causal factor - in the past, the "crazy uncle" might be kept at home.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 1, 2004 12:12 AM | Permalink

You really need to look beyond your personal anechdotal to the facts. Here's a starting point:

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 12:24 AM | Permalink

Is this the public role you had in mind, pan?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 10:57 AM | Permalink

Is this the public role you had in mind, pan?

So maybe he should change his name to Hell Gates?

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 1:03 PM | Permalink

Hmmmm...and his ghostwriter should be named Buffy?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 1:20 PM | Permalink

Buffy as editor? No way. She'd put too many stories on the spike.

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 2:02 PM | Permalink

Did you mean spike, with a lowercase "s", or Spike?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 2:11 PM | Permalink

When I started the comments in this thread I didn't know that this was where I would end up:

OK. Bill Gates as the proponent of "Friction-free capitalism" and "eliminating the middleman".

One definition of fascism floating aroud out there is that it is a desire for "capitalism without capitalism" - capitalism without the friction, and without the excess of social change, cultural permissiveness, and the constant redefining of the socio-economic horizon.

As far as the middleman, in the previous century, an entire people was subject to the ethnic stereotype of being characterised as middlemen, and the Fascist powers undertook the project of eliminating the middleman, as a means of ridding their societies of internal division.

Agamben proposes that "space which opens up when the state of exception becomes the rule" in the 20th century was the concentration camp where the "middlemen" were eliminated. Bill Gates characterizes the internet as the locus of friction-free capitalism where the middleman must respond or suffer, or be eliminated.

So, is the growth of the new public sphere on the internet a further case of "space which opens up when the state of exception becomes the rule"? Not merely meaning that those without access are excluded from the space, but the space also provides a "lawless" zone where anything goes, and is characterized not merely by the "construction of the self" but also by the destruction of others (e.g., Moore, Falwell) who represent a divisive threat to the desire for an organic totality of a new "sphere". A threat to the perfect circle of the social?

For all its potential for the expansion of democratic practice, is there also the very real danger that what is opening up is really a vast new space with unmatched potential for the practice of social exclusion? A globalized "camp"?

A space where the "agonism" necessary to democratic practice dissolves into useless "antagonism" where the opponent can only be defined as the evil enemy to whom anything can be done?

And is the truth of the internet not that it eliminates the middleman, but it expands the category - we are all middlemen? i.e., the speculative flow of global capital no longer requires our presence? It has become abstracted from the production and sale of goods and is now mostly about shifting money around? And we are no longer needed?

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 5:05 PM | Permalink


Perhaps, partly in answer and partly to provide a more familiar analogy, we can use a different term?

Rather than discuss in broad terms the agnostic (or ideally irenic) rhetoric (and commerce?) of the Internet could we start with a discussion about fisking?

Might we get to where you are from there?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 6:27 PM | Permalink

I'm not really familiar with the fisking phenomenon. Cursorily, I understand it that right-wingers have detected a pro-palestinian bias as well as a masochistic rhetorical slant in Robert Fisk's reportage, which they then tediously "deconstruct". They call it fisking because "fisking" sounds like the sadistic sexual practice of "fisting" and the right-wing personality is prone to sadism, stereotypically?

I'm more interested in how capitalism is implicated in the scenario I outlined than in the antagonistic minutae of internet rhetoric., e.g.:

capitalism + internet = symbolic holocaust

socialism + internet = symbolic utopia

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 7:00 PM | Permalink

Correction to my previous post: agonistic not agnostic

They call it fisking because "fisking" sounds like the sadistic sexual practice of "fisting" and the right-wing personality is prone to sadism, stereotypically?

That's not the etymology I read, but I'm sure yours was not meant antagonistically.

capitalism + internet = symbolic holocaust vs. socialism + internet = symbolic utopia

How is it different than the pony express, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, ...?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 7:16 PM | Permalink

OT, sort of: IBM and the Holocaust

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 7:58 PM | Permalink

Fisking is a generic term for deconstructing, inline, text from an opponent or from someone of an opposing point of view.

It goes far beyond Robert Fiske, but it was named for him. Anybody can Fisk - left or right. Here is a fisking I did last year to the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.

I find your symbolism bizarre. I have no idea why capitalism + internet should lead to a holocaust. Just because Jews were called middlemen in Nazi Germany (I am assuming that), doesn't mean that capitalism (which Nazi Germany wasn't) would cause a holocaust.

There is the phenomenon of disintermediation, which means removing the middle man. But it doesn't mean taking the middle man out and gassing him or something. It doesn't mean symbolically gassing him.

In business, the term "middleman" doesn't usually refer to an individual, but to a business or a function of a business. The internet, by allowing people to interact directly (at several levels) removes the need for some middlemen.

For example, in travel reservations (an area I spent many years in), the internet reduces the need for a travel agent, and for people at reservations call centers. Those intermediaries have to provide additional service (other than their former monopoly access to the reservations computers) or go away.

The same can be true any time access to processing power or data is an item of trade. There are other phenomena like outsourcing (for example, sending medical imagery to India for reading rather than to a local radiologist), which don't represent disintermediation but rather internationalization - for many purposes, geographical location is much less important than in the past.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 1, 2004 8:00 PM | Permalink

That's not the etymology I read, but I'm sure yours was not meant antagonistically.

Not at all. I was basing my impression on the article you linked:

I suppose, we are more fascinated by the machinery of cruelty and power than we are by angels...

"fisk" does not refer to what Fisk does, but rather what is done unto him...

Eugene Volokh, who recalls an article in which Fisk "(1) recounted how he was beaten by some anti-American Afghan refugees, and (2) thought they were morally right for doing so...

Also the relish with which the term appears to be used suggests that there is at least some unconscious association of "fisking" with "fisting" or "fucking". I saw a Volokh refer to a "group fisking" etc...

Perhaps this is a reductive Freudian reading and never forget that Freud has been discredited.

Also, it is a commonplace that there is a distinction between liberals and conservatives that can be simplistically reduced to the oppositions "fool/knave", "masochist/sadist", etc.

Jacques Lacan wrote:

Everyone knows that a certain way of presenting himself, which constitutes part of the ideology of the right-wing intellectual, is precisely to play the role of what in fact he is, namely, a 'knave'. In other words, he doesn't retreat from the consequences of what is called realism...

He had worse things to say about the left-wing.

John Moore, your literal objections are noted.

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 9:12 PM | Permalink


For all its potential for the expansion of democratic practice, is there also the very real danger that what is opening up is really a vast new space with unmatched potential for the practice of social exclusion? A globalized "camp"?

Imagine being socially excluded from the Internet? Get a life? A girlfriend?

The horror!!!

(OK, just kidding.)

Disintermediation in Question: New Economy, New Networks, New Middlemen, Mar/Apr2001

Deconstructing the Internet's digital comics holocaust: The Comics Journal, July 2001, Scott McCloud

Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates, October 2002

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 9:13 PM | Permalink


So, what you're saying is, liberals liked being "spanked" (or fisked) by conservatives, and conservatives enjoy doing it to them?

That explains a lot.

It's ideological role playing!

Is there a segue back to Buffy and Spike here somewhere?

Posted by: Tim at July 1, 2004 9:22 PM | Permalink

More or less. For instance, the useless ad hominem exchanges on this site.

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 9:57 PM | Permalink

Imagine being socially excluded from the Internet? Get a life? A girlfriend?

That's a good point, but I think I was referencing social exclusion *on* the internet, ala what Jarvis was proposing for Moore and the "extremists".

But in any case, if you want to discuss the intersection of politics and sex, I think you're assuming with your question that I am a male heterosexual. I would contend that there is resonance with the desire to exclude people characterized as "one-dimensional" political extremists on the Web with the Fascist project to eliminate "one-dimensional" homosexuals, as well as Jews, Gypsies, the homeless, and the mentally ill.

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 10:45 PM | Permalink


What is your analysis of homelessness in America?

I gave you mine. I can add more personal experience, since as one of the state organizers of Hands Across America (1985) I worked with homeless whom we used in our call center. And of course, unlike the implication, I have been known to read, and the reading corresponds with my analysis.

So instead of the veiled ad hominem, how about your answer?

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 1, 2004 10:49 PM | Permalink

It was not a veiled ad hominem, it was impatience with someone who should know better.

The homeless population is in flux. A large portion consists of crazy people and drunks. But there is a historical trend away from itinerant mostly white males (hobos tramps and bums) to women, children, African Americans and illegals who are homeless for a variety of reasons. You are correct that the more or less *permanent* and *visible* population of the homeless consists of lunatics and druggies, but that's not the whole story.

Posted by: panopticon at July 1, 2004 11:04 PM | Permalink

Tim: Get a life? A girlfriend?

panopticon: ..., I think you're assuming with your question that I am a male heterosexual.

Not at all. The question was introspective. I might also have been trying (unsuccessfully) to be Zizekian in terms of movie stereotypes.

That's a good point, but I think I was referencing social exclusion *on* the internet, ala what Jarvis was proposing for Moore and the "extremists".

You mean like deKosing, deLinking, and fictitious Blog Wars?

I would contend that there is resonance with the desire to exclude people characterized as "one-dimensional" political extremists on the Web ...

I'm not sure if there is a resonance to exclude polemicists, propagandists or open-minded "one-dimensional" ideologues.

I do understand how the Internet could be used as an organizing tool, an echo chamber, or even a platform for shouting down and uncritical discrediting.

Posted by: Tim at July 2, 2004 12:20 AM | Permalink

Dreck's law: The comment section of any post criticizing destructive political rhetoric ultimately provides more vivid examples thereof.

Posted by: Tim at July 2, 2004 1:40 AM | Permalink


The term middleman can be construed numerous ways.

In capitalism, there are producers, consumers, and the markets that facilitate the transfers of goods and services from one to another. Additionally, there are markets that facilitate the allocation of capital from one enterprise to another. Finally, there are institutions that facilitate the collection, collation, and flow of information. Each of these are necessary parts of a working capitalist system.

In such systems, there is a progression of the types and complexities of goods and services, there are successes and failures of enterprises, and there are fallacies and workable thesis that come and go.

Even in a working system, there are dislocations of people, failures of industry, capital lost, and branches of discredited thought.

Add to the dynamics of such a working system the concept of ‘friction.’ There are numerous reasons to not have a completely efficient capitalist system. All the needs of society and its environs are not naturally protected by such a system. Capitalism may enable, and incite, efficient production; and may allow and motivate large populations to engage themselves in society; but does not naturally protect those who cannot engage, nor prevent over- or inefficient- use of natural resources. All of these are good reasons to add ‘friction’ of one sort or another to the system. The friction may be in the form of taxes. It may be legislation and regulation. It may be litigation and activism. It may be changes in labor force or changes in information gathering and reporting. Any or all of these may, by some sort of magical process be deemed by society at large to be ‘necessary’ frictions to manage the monster that a free-running capitalist engine can become.

Unnecessary frictions, usually deemed unnecessary after the fact, through rear-view mirrors, might be antiquated technologies, inefficient processes, slow or incorrect information flow, and inefficiencies in the market(s.) These frictions impede the capitalist engine without purpose and hamper both the engine, and the ability to tax the engine in ways deemed useful to society.

Market inefficiencies can include too many parties in a transaction; parties that add no ‘value’ to the consumer of the good or service, but add to the apparent cost. This is the sense of the ‘middleman’ that Mr. Gates was referring to in his ‘frictionless’ addresses in the late 80s.

I do believe that the internet and other changes to the global communication structures have some play. They will in some ways improve the efficiencies of markets: goods and services markets; capital markets; and information markets. There may, as well, be unintended negative affects. Is this what you are attempting to explore in your earlier post?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 10:58 AM | Permalink

I think, John Lynch, I was getting at something more than "efficiency".

Retroactively, we are all becoming the middlemen that capital no longer needs. That is, the economy in the developed world has moved beyond the production and sale of goods to an information-based economy where capital no longer inheres in material products, but a virtualized flow of pure speculation. The result is a downward economic shift in the workforce as the "middlemen" or middle-class are eliminated. Information is a lot easier to concentrate into the possession of a few hands than material goods are. Intellectual property law as form of exclusivity. Corporations can own your genotype. The internet as a virtual public sphere which actually disables political activity by inducing "interpassivity". The "construction of a self" instead of the "construction of a mutual cause."

the inherent structural dynamic of civil society necessarily gives rise to a class which is excluded from its benefits (work, personal dignity, etc.)--a class deprived of elementary human rights, and therefore also exempt from duties towards society, an element within civil society which negates its universal principle, a kind of "non-Reason inherent in Reason itself"--in short, its symptom. Do we not witness the same phenomenon in today's growth of the underclass which is excluded, sometimes even for generations, from the benefits of liberal-democratic affluent society? Today's "exceptions" (the homeless, the ghettoized, the permanent unemployed) are the symptom of the late-capitalist universal system, the permanent reminder of how the immanent logic of late capitalism works.

full text

The internet as widening that field of exception and exclusion.

The Gatesian promise of postmodern capitalism would seem for Zizek to leave just the faintest trace of subjectivity, subjectivity existing, if at all, as a virtual image of a virtual image, a simulacral remnant kept in place only to maintain the smooth running of the system.

Posted by: panopticon at July 2, 2004 1:39 PM | Permalink

I'll chew on these thoughts for a bit. However, first thought: capitalism does not bend to the pleadings of being a subjectively eliminated reality. The reports on it's demise are premature.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 1:48 PM | Permalink

There cannot be a transition, nor a downside, until there is something better to take over. I see no sign of anything better, or functioning, or even attempting to replace capitalism. Well, maybe postmodern forms of denial, but that is not replacing the reality, only the preception.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 2:34 PM | Permalink

Very fun detour! The author, both Zizek and his critic Hurley, have taken a walk on the wild side, perhaps outside of Plato's Cave, and now seek to explain the view to us inside. I'll look for a more complete, coherent system before abandoning the precepts that imperfectly describe what we have working now.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 3:27 PM | Permalink


I am still chewing on some of the juicier parts of your earlier post.

Capital not inhering to the production of material goods.

I am not sure that this is a bad thing; however, I question the premise. Much of today's intellectual property - information product - information - knowledge - much of this is in fact capital-intensive to create. You bring up genomes, but I could also cite software, movies, and big science research as examples where capital allocation may be necessary. But, as most employment, and most innovation comes from small businesses and individuals that do not attract capital, the emergence of products that do not require capital is not an alarming, but a pleasing trend.

The result is a downward economic shift in the workforce as the "middlemen" or middle-class are eliminated.

I do not equate middlemen with workforce, nor with the middle-class.

Middlemen in the context described earlier may in fact be employees of some company, therefore a worker, and they may be getting an income commensurate with the middle-class. However, the elimination of middlemen (those who do not add value in the perception of the consumer) cannot be equated with the elimination of either the middle-class, nor the workforce.

If they, or other workers, lose employment because the functions they are performing are no longer useful, then other work must be found. It is a difficult reality that the benefits of society are earned by those participating in it. For those who cannot engage in it, the taxes on the engine can be used in transference programs to support them until they can - if society at large has created such transferences programs.

The unfortunate reality is that economic laws have not been repealed. There is a limit on what the engine can produce, and how much it can be taxed. There are few limits on what society would like to do. Wishing otherwise is futile.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 7:56 PM | Permalink

I am still chewing on some of the juicier parts of your earlier post.

I guess you could call that "mental mastication."

This thought occurred to me:

We think like this:

I earn money. I use money to make more money.

We actually live like this:

Money uses me to make more money.

We are becoming this:

Money makes more money. It doesn't need to use me. The money machine can "think" for itself.

Probably total bullshit.

Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 1:17 AM | Permalink


We think like this:

I earn money. I use money to make more money.

We actually live like this:

Money uses me (my critical intelligence, my physical body) to make more money.

We are becoming this:

Money makes more money. The money machine (the network) can "think" for itself. It doesn't need to use me, except as Network Automata, and I respond to network input at the "Speed of Thought" - deprived of the reflective time to use critical intelligence, devoid of subjectivity.

The Digital Death Rattle of the American Middle Class

Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 6:07 PM | Permalink

Bill Gates

Posted by: Tim at August 10, 2004 4:16 PM | Permalink

hello sir bill.
I like you beacase you are succesfull inventor in life.

Posted by: meh ky at August 21, 2004 12:14 PM | Permalink

I teach in an urban high school that is being "redesigned" with money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I'd LOVE for BIll to blog, because it would be fascinating to hear what he thinks his foundation is doing--the farce of teacher-led reform when they begin with 15 non-negoitable items that leave very little room for automony is...intellectual rape and insulting to teachers. But what do I know--I'm just a public high school teacher, obviously not worthy to blog with the big man himself.

Posted by: JJ at October 2, 2004 10:41 AM | Permalink

From the Intro