Shell Companies

These have probably existed forever – organizations that claim to do one thing, but were set up by other organizations to do their work for them – in secret. These were common in palace intrigues the world over. Wikipedia has an excellent discussion of these.

In our time, one of the vital activities of any businessman or politician – is to figure out who is who – relationships that are constantly changing. They all know things are not as they seem.

Shell companies were part of Big Business, that developed late in the 19th Century, and early in the 20th. Industrialists (also known as Robber Barons) formed plenty of these – but it wasn’t too hard to figure out who was behind them – the guy who ended up with all the money.

With the coming of the Computer, and its Internet – Shell Companies became much harder to detect. Bin Laden used plenty of them – and his network spread everywhere.

People wanted the bad guys to be exposed – but not them, because they are often part of some scam or other themselves.

But separating the two can be difficult.


The Superficial Life

I keep asking myself “What are these people like?” These people being the Americans I grew up with – but was different from. I am strange that way – I want to know how things work. Most Americans don’t.

I’m left guessing what is going on in their minds. Without many clues available to me – and my first assumption is that they have no minds – or if they have them, they manage to conceal them very well. Which doesn’t tell me very much.

I have to go back to my original observation – they are not interested in what is going on. I am sure of that.

I have to ask myself “Why don’t they want to know?” And a lot of answers come to mind – such as “Things are so bad, they don’t want to know about them!” And this seems like a reasonable answer.

But not good enough – they do want to know some things, but only some things. Some filtering of their perceptions is going on – but what kind of filtering?

Here I have use my expertise in Software (in Artificial Intelligence) that does this all the time. It analyzes the inputs and outputs of any black box – and figures out what is probably going on inside it. Note that key word – probably.

I will now share what is probably going on in their minds – they are only interested in a superficial view of things. Nothing substantial.

I quote here from The Bounty Hunter of Wall Street:

In retrospect, it is not coincidental that 2015 was the year Left became famous. His tactics matched our mood. Most of us do not care about a random pharmaceutical company meeting its debt covenants. We care about getting medicine at a price we can afford. We don’t care about organic versus inorganic growth, but we worry that our kids will have no coverage if the Trump administration repeals Obamacare. Left’s very timely gift is to connect our daily human concerns to the convoluted operations of the economy, wrapping financial analysis in a moral, populist language that is calibrated precisely to draw maximum attention in a media environment in which screaming is the only way to be heard.

This superficial knowledge is the perfect knowledge.

Being Different, Being the Same

I got to watch this during my twenty years in the Computer Industry – ten years in Southern California (1980-1990) and ten years in Silicon Valley (1990-2000). There was a lot of innovation during that period – but most people were not interested in it.

There were some intelligent people doing some amazing things – but most were fairly stupid (or even somewhat crazy) – and they were not penalized for being this way. This was normal, and everybody knew it.

In fact, a certain craziness was rewarded – if it impressed the higher ups – who were often not too bright themselves.

The amount of money wasted this way was phenomenal. Huge amounts of money was shoveled toward the Computer Industry – and they burned it up recklessly. And no one seemed to find this objectionable. Money was made to be wasted – and they were wasting it.

This was the end of an era – when crazy things often happen. A successful social process is pushed farther and farther – well past its useful limits – and then everything collapses.

The successful social process in this case was Manufacturing. An affluent Middle Class was employed in making more and more products – especially more and more cars. This was exemplified by Detroit – who went from riches to rags in only a few years.

The people involved could not understand this – their whole way of life was gone!

But I started to write about the Computer Industry, and its problems. They still thought of themselves as being in Manufacturing, when those days were long gone. This is an important point, and I must amplify on it.

Manufacturing involved the assembly of mechanical parts – the Assembly Line. And the Computer Industry started doing the same thing – putting parts together. The result was a huge personal computer, that you added Adapters to – to make it do more things. Mine had every Adapter possible – including one for the Internet, and one for a SCSI hard drive. Big, but not very smart.

But computer hardware and software were moving in a different direction. They were not getting bigger, they were getting smarter. And the result is today’s laptop computer – a few chips, a keyboard, a display, and a power supply. And software components that know how talk to each other. A different device entirely.

The Computer was getting smarter – and people were getting smarter – but only a few of them – maybe ten percent.

The rest were getting dumber. They were made to function in an economy that was no longer – and their skills were no longer needed.

Is Socially Responsible Capitalism Losing?

New Yorker

Many factors contributed to the troubles of these companies, but Cappelli notes how “vociferously the investment community seems to object to being nice to employees. It’s a reminder that, in the corporate world, things are constantly yielding to the finance guys.”

I would put it differently – we live in a society that is hostile to people – but friendly to Business. Business enhanced by the Computer, the Market, and the Media. And the fast buck.

Morality does not matter.

It takes guts to stand up to this monster – and most companies do not have this.

Understanding the Impact of Software

The World is now run by Software, and it has changed us entirely – but we believe it has not changed us at all!

Probably this was due to the Christian belief in the soul. This is what people really were – the rest of them was unimportant. Technologies (such as the Computer and its Software) could not change the soul – and therefore could not change who we were! This belief is also shared with Islam – with the most radical elements of Islam – having the most radical beliefs. We cannot defeat these beliefs – because we have them also.

Let me return to my first statement – that software has changed us entirely. This has to be changed – Software had changed our Economy entirely. And this has changed us, in subtle ways, that we do not want to think about.

To be blunt, it has made us stupid!

Software has made Business all-powerful.  And to be all-powerful – Business has to know everything, and control everything.

This does not bother us much, because we have always believed that other forces ruled the world – religious forces. And Business is our new religion.

Massive Immorality

This, it seems to me, is the problem with our world. It has become so bad, its immorality cannot be seen – because it is so shocking.

We have to start over – and recognize that moral behavior is essential to our survival – especially in business.

And this means we have to define what moral behavior is. And we have to take this task seriously – and not just brush it aside, as an unimportant consideration.

Our prevailing attitude seems to be “We have to concentrate on making money!” With the implicit assumption, that morality is less important.

Throughout history, people have struggled to make power moral – usually unsuccessfully. And this time will not be any easier. Power Corrupts – and now we have more power to deal with – with the introduction of TV and the Computer.

We have to take a hard look at this new power.

Consider this:

Technology is a powerful force in our society. Data, software, and communication can be used for bad: to entrench unfair power structures, to undermine human rights, and to protect vested interests. But they can also be used for good: to make underrepresented people’s voices heard, to create opportunities for everyone, and to avert disasters.

But this is followed by:

Computing is pop culture. […] Pop culture holds a disdain for history. Pop culture is all about identity and feeling like you’re participating. It has nothing to do with cooperation, the past or the future—it’s living in the present. I think the same is true of most people who write code for money. They have no idea where [their culture came from].

Both of these are from Designing Data-Intensive Applications. A book about designing software.

The second quote is more important – people have no idea where their culture came from – or, for that matter – what it is. They just act it out.

As a person who once wrote code for money, and wrote much else for money – I developed an allergic reaction to it, and dropped out. The people I left behind, who had the same problem – simply ignored it.

The problem was too big for them to deal with. So it continues.

Stupidity can be Overcome by Power

This is a common belief, when any organization (an empire, for example) has passed its peak, and is in decline. The decline is always caused by a collection of stupidities – but the organization thinks it can overcome these by brute force – often military force.

Or it can use political force – forming coalitions that unite against a common threat. Or it can use both together – a very effective strategy – but one that always fails, eventually. The classic case was the rise and fall of the Roman Empire – that tried everything, but eventually failed completely.

Or let us take as an example, the late British Empire that made the British the most powerful, and the richest people in the world – for about one hundred years. I traveled in England in the Seventies, and noted how the Brits had not gotten over their fall to the poorest country in Europe – in less than twenty years.

The same could be said of the American Empire – that controlled much of the world in the Fifties and Sixties. Through a series of stupidities, it has gone into a steep decline. It still exists, but has to share power with other empires in decline – such as Russia.

I saw this in California, in the Eighties and Nineties – when I worked for a series of computer companies – all of whom failed. I began to wonder if a black cloud was following me around.

Computer companies (and software companies) are now beginning to see their stupidity – to see what they had been doing wrong – and figure out how to do it better. This progress is spotty – some parts of some companies have got the message – and other parts have not.

Whether this trend will continue in other industries remains to be seen.