Miscellaneous Ramblings

Politics and the Mac Web

In which John William becomes hot and bothered about my political musings, and Dan Knight, Mac Observer's Bryan Chaffin, and myself try to calm him down.

Charles Moore - 2001.07.26 - Tip Jar

POLITICS ALERT! If you are annoyed or offended by political commentary an discussion on Mac Websites, may I suggest that you stop now and move on to another article.


From: John William
Subject: Charles Moore

This is an open letter to Charles Moore from a very disgruntled reader of the Applelinks, LEM, and Mac Observer sites (and likely some sites I do not remember at this moment).

Mr. Moore

I wish you would stop writing political pieces on computer information sites. I have read several of your reactionary pieces at various computer sites and have always come away with a very bad impression of you as a person. I do not get this same impression when I read your often very informative computer articles. I am not interested in the often uninformed polemic you so amply supply - find a pulpit on a political commentary site for it and restrict your computer site articles to computer issues. The article that has finally prompted me to respond was the one I just read on broadband access. In it, you manage to slander many thousands (around two hundred thousand in Genoa, Italy, alone) of people who want to stop the erosion of human rights and environmental degradation around the world by referring to them as a "portable mob of criminal yahoos". I, and I'll bet many others, think of the people inside those secret meetings as the "portable mob of criminal yahoos". If "burning cars is not democracy" neither is the mercenary-like evil of forcing people to grow food for export while barely surviving the work day.

As for reports that claim information and communication technology will help overcome "barriers of social, economic, and geographical isolation; increase access to information and education; and enable poor people to participate in more of the decisions that affect their lives", we already know about all these injustices in our own countries as well as elsewhere, so how will these technologies improve anything? Do you think the poor and disenfranchised will somehow rise up and force us to treat them with dignity because they can access each other and other sites at high speed? As for the annual $500 billion US dollar contribution to the US economy - from what? Are rural areas included in this calculation? How will broadband access alleviate the problems of distance to market and reliance on seasonal and cyclic industrial models? Other than access to long distance education (possibly useful) and emergency medical assistance (probably useful), I'm hard-pressed to find any need for broadband except for the purely selfish reason that I want it.

No electricity for a third of the world. Unhealthy drinking water for half. Insufficient nutrition for nearly as many. Picture yourself, as an ordinary human in these conditions, being in one of the majority of countries around the world, with little to no chance of improving your lot because of national political leaders falling in with the rich IMF and World Bank prescriptions (while filling up their offshore bank accounts with money skimmed off from shady deals with transnationals and the rich in their own countries) and usually violently suppressing any attempts at changing the status quo. Imagine what marvels would arise out of broadband access.... Mr. Moore, please keep your uninformed non-computer articles for some other venue.

John William

Rural dweller selfishly interested in Tobin's remarks


From: Dan Knight
Re: Charles Moore

John William writes:

Mr. Moore
I wish you would stop writing political pieces on computer information sites.

Mr. William, Low End Mac and many other computer-related sites realize that politics and technology are strongly intertwined. Examples of this are the Microsoft antitrust case, the copyright issues involved with Napster, the free speech rights infringed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Law, and the social impact of technology on culture.

Asking Mr. Moore to "stop writing political pieces on computer information sites" is really asking him not to write technology articles that have a political aspect. As recent years have shown, there is a political side of computers, just as there is a computer side of politics (remember the Florida recount?).

I appreciate Moore's ability to comment on various aspects of computing, not just hardware and software. In our common emphasis on hardware and software, we sometimes forget the economic, social, educational, psychological, and other aspects of computers and Internet access.

I find Moore's "political" articles thoughtful and reflective, not reactionary. He is welcome to continue sharing his political views on Low End Mac - as long as they have something to do with computers.

The article that has finally prompted me to respond was the one I just read on broadband access. In it, you manage to slander many thousands (around two hundred thousand in Genoa, Italy alone) of people who want to stop the erosion of human rights and environmental degradation around the world by referring to them as a "portable mob of criminal yahoos". I, and I'll bet many others, think of the people inside those secret meetings as the "portable mob of criminal yahoos". If "burning cars is not democracy" neither is the mercenary-like evil of forcing people to grow food for export while barely surviving the work day.

I find it incredibly ironic that the anti-globalists take full advantage of globalism while protesting it. They use the Internet to communicate with each other, ride international transportation to access the latest meeting place of the G8 leadership, and depend on international news coverage to make their point to billions who cannot see their protests in person.

These mobs are not practicing civil disobedience; they are deliberately creating an adversarial relationship. They are not providing reasoned arguments; they are attacking those whose job is keeping the peace.

Even if the G8 leadership is somehow criminal, two wrongs do not make a right. The actions of the anti-globalists do nothing to further their cause. They only cause death and destruction.

As for reports that claim information and communication technology will help overcome "barriers of social, economic, and geographical isolation; increase access to information and education; and enable poor people to participate in more of the decisions that affect their lives", we already know about all these injustices in our own countries as well as elsewhere, so how will these technologies improve anything? Do you think the poor and disenfranchised will somehow rise up and force us to treat them with dignity because they can access each other and other sites at high speed?

It almost happened in Tianemen Square with simple fax technology....

As for the annual $500 billion US dollar contribution to the US economy - from what? Are rural areas included in this calculation? How will broadband access alleviate the problems of distance to market and reliance on seasonal and cyclic industrial models? Other than access to long distance education (possibly useful) and emergency medical assistance (probably useful), I'm hard-pressed to find any need for broadband except for the purely selfish reason that I want it.

You may want to hoard Internet access as a toy for the wealthy, but imagine the impact of access to a simple online encyclopedia for someone in a town with no library. The Internet has more potential to create a global village and give the disenfranchised the tools they need to improve their condition than almost any technology on history. Just as governments created widespread postal systems and universal access to the telephone (well, almost), they now seek to do the same with the Internet.

Question: Why do you feel free to share your political views with computer people while at the same time asking Mr. Moore not to share his?

Dan Knight, president, Cobweb Publishing, Inc.
publisher, Low End Mac <http://lowendmac.com/


From Bryan Chaffin
Subject: Re: Charles Moore

John William wrote:

This is an open letter to Charles Moore from a very disgruntled reader of the Applelinks, LEM, and Mac Observer sites (and likely some sites I do not remember at this moment).

Hi John,

Charles has never written for The Mac Observer, though I look forward to the day he does write something for us. Perhaps you are disgruntled with The Mac Observer for other reasons such as my own occasional philosophical and political commentary.

The one thing I have noticed from people who feel the need to tell me personally not to comment about anything political, even if it is tech related, is that the only ones who ever do so are people who disagree with me or think they disagree with me. I would imagine that Mr. Moore has experienced the same thing, but we have never discussed it. From the sound of it, you might fit in the same category, though I have no problem with being wrong about that either. :-)

The truth of the matter is that politics are sometimes related to technology and the Mac platform. For instance, the Microsoft antitrust trial can not be discussed without politics entering the discussion (for good or for ill) at some point. Mr. Moore's piece was also definitely tech related, including the opinions he expressed about the hooligans in Italy (my definition of hooligan is not "a protester," but rather anyone who was actively participating in the riots). He may or may not be right with everything he says, but his comments were appropriate to LEM in my opinion.

Furthermore, I think your request that we keep politics out of the Mac Web is short sighted. You may not like what Mr. Moore or I have to say (and he and I often differ to the extreme), but we get people (like you, me, Charles, and everyone else who is reading) thinking and talking about these issues. Talking about tech related political issues in the Mac Web gets people involved, no matter what side you are on. The discussion that results is almost always positive in that an exchange of ideas occurs. If you want change to happen, then the active participation of the largest amount of people possible is required. To get that participation, you have to have discussion.

So, post in the comments, post in forums (we have a dandy thread on this very issue in our own Rant Room that would benefit from more contrary voices), and encourage more participation, not less. I will add that you should ask the editors of sites like Applelinks and TMO to publish counter opinions as well. We have done so on several occasions, including a couple of pieces by some very angry readers. Being insulting (as you were in your open letter) will, at most, get you ignored.

The one thing you must not ever do is tell us not to express our own opinions just because you don't agree with it. When you try to limit discussion, you become a force for repression, not freedom.

Bryan Chaffin
Editor-in-Chief
The Mac Observer - http://www.macobserver.com


Mr. William;

You and I are obviously very far apart politically, although perhaps not as far apart as you seem to think in terms of concern for the world's poor. I just don't happen to think that rioting, arson, and hooliganism are an acceptable or effective means of furthering the interests of the underprivileged, and I am outraged that democratically elected government leaders and international trade representatives can no longer have international meetings or summits without mobs of misguided and violent morons (along with some protesters who are just misguided) descending and causing mayhem and damage ($61 million worth in Genoa, reportedly).

I have no problem with peaceful protest, and I am a consummate free speech advocate, but as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who will host next year's G8, commented:

"Burning cars is not a demonstration. Burning buildings is not a demonstration. And it is the job of the police to prevent that. We have the obligation to meet. It is not a certain amount of anarchists who will prevent democratic leaders to do their job,"

Chretien warned he will not permit rioting in Canada and said the anarchists will be jailed and prosecuted.

"These are the anarchists. I'm telling you, violence I reject. I'm a democrat, so violence is a criminal act and there are laws for that," Chretien told reporters. "So if the anarchists want to destroy democracy, we will not let them succeed ...We will make sure that those who break [the law] will be punished."

Amen to that.

As for "uninformed polemic," you may disagree with my conclusions, but since I read three or four newspapers a day, plus The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, The Economist, Time, Maclean's magazine, and sundry other reasonably informative periodicals on a regular basis, you can hardly support the innuendo that I am uninformed. It may surprise you to learn that I am also something of an environmentalist, and was recently accused of being a left wing environmentalist whacko nut by readers of an editorial criticizing the Bush-Cheney energy plan I wrote for a newspaper recently, so perhaps your pigeon-holing me is not quite on the mark.

Your letter exemplifies the spirit and motif of the politically correct left in all contexts: if you don't like the message, then do your damndest to shut up the messenger, whether it be the G8 leaders, the World Trade Organization delegates, or me. I, on the other hand, really believe in free speech, for everybody, including those with whom I disagree.

If I had written some boilerplate leftist twaddle about Genoa, you wouldn't have complained about politics on Mac websites, would you? Be honest.

Regarding the article that caused you to fly off the handle and stick in the wall, I was to a large extent quoting with approval sources such as the United Nations Development Programme, whose Administrator Mark Malloch Brown warned: "Ignoring technological breakthroughs in medicine, agriculture and information will mean missing opportunities to transform the lives of poor people; and Klaus Schwab, founder and President of the World Economic Forum who said "Digital technology is... the key that opens the door to the knowledge economy. And if we fail to provide access to digital technology to countries in the developing world [and rural areas of the developed world] we are, essentially, denying them an opportunity to participate in the new economy of the 21st century."

I also noted that the international bandwidth for all of Africa is less than in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. The total bandwidth for all of Latin America is roughly equal to that of Seoul, Korea, and that much older technologies have yet to reach the world's poor either. Electricity, in widespread use since the invention of the light bulb in the 1870s, is still not accessible for some two billion people, a third of the world's population. Two billion people also do not have access to low cost essential medicines such as penicillin that were mostly developed decades ago.

I am not an uncritical cheerleader for capitalism, and certainly not for big business, but I do believe that freedom is a good thing, and that includes free trade. The economic record and standard of living in countries that have endeavoured to live behind trade barriers, such as North Korea or Albania under Enver Hoxha, is not encouraging. I also believe in order and civility in society, and stuff like "Black-hooded anarchist groups fought with riot police Friday and Saturday, smashing windows, throwing rocks and firebombs, and torching cars and trash bins.... Banks stood gutted. Charred hulks of cars lined the streets... Police seized a stash of sledgehammers, pitchforks, knives, axes, wigs and black hoods," does not fit the paradigm. The sort of tactics employed by the mobs in Seattle, Melbourne, Washington, Prague, Nice, Davos, Geneva, Quebec City, Stockholm, and Genoa over the past years are worthy of nothing but contempt.

I happen to think that advocating access to the Internet as a means of providing information for the poorer people of the two-thirds world is a lot more positive approach than trashing cities and chucking fire-bombs at police. The UN report notes "new opportunities for poor people in terms of political empowerment (such as the global email campaign that helped topple Philippine President Estrada in January); health networks (as in Gambia and Nepal); long distance learning (as in Turkey); and job creation (as in Costa Rica, India and South Africa). Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, the lead author of the Report, argues that this is just the beginning: "ICT is truly a breakthrough technology for democracy and expansion of knowledge for poor people." The Report points to low-cost computers and low-literacy touchscreens as examples of technologies now under development that have great potential for empowering the poor.

I have been following the street riot idiocy intensely since Seattle, and I remain mystified as to exactly what it is these people want, other than to destroy our political and economic system, which, while surely imperfect, is a lot better than no system at all, and, as Winston Churchill observed, "than all of the other systems that have been tried from time to time." I have never heard any of the movable mob of violent rioters ever suggest any policy ideas that might make things better. They just rant against "capitalism" and "globalization." These folks are perfectly free to form political parties and try their hand at getting elected, but they would rather tear down and destroy than to put their shoulder to the hard and painstaking work of actually trying to build something.

I believe the great bogey of "globalization" is a straw man and stalking horse for advancing a lunatic fringe left/anarchist social engineering agenda. Free trade ultimately benefits the common good, while protectionism, isolationism, and tariff barriers to trade destroy efficiency, competitiveness, and innovation, and are bad for businesses and individual citizens alike. The only ones who benefit, temporarily, are minority vested interests like labor unions and companies provided with protected markets by trade barriers.

Last spring, British Prime Minister Tony Blair - hardly a right-wing poster boy, being as he is leader of the Labour Party - noted in an address to the Canadian Parliament:

It's time I think that we started to argue vigorously as to why free trade is right. It's the key to jobs for our people, prosperity and to development in the poorest parts of the world.

The case against (free trade) is misguided, and worse, unfair. However sincere the protests, they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of rational argument. We must start to make this case with force and determination."

Hear, hear.

"I don't believe in these kinds of protests any more," said Fabrizio Fioretti, a 26-year-old art director from Italy, commenting on the Genoa debacle. "Dialogue would be better. Now is the moment to show what the protest movement can do with ideas. Maybe we should create a new movement."

Hear, hear to that too.

As for restricting my commentary to purely technical issues, forget it. I endeavour to be topical within the broader context of IT issues, and this article certainly qualifies in that context, but I'm an intensely political person, and I don't draw hard boundaries between various aspects of my experience and interest. If you don't like my occasional forays into political commentary, you can always click past without reading.

Yours sincerely
Charles W. Moore

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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