Still Weird, Still Awesome Austin

2015 marked my 4th year not-in-a-row at South by Southwest. My observations from last year still largely hold true, though this year some of the crowds seem to have staved off (Mykel, my Austinite buddy, speculated that some of this may be from key sponsorship changes this year – from Chevrolet to Mazda and from Frito-Lay to…McDonalds…) and I’m not going to disagree: I sure didn’t head over to the Golden Arches area. That said, there is such a plethora of rich, meaningful content and amazing people all in one spot, it still deserves a go. Continue reading →

With Our Eyes Wide Open

In 2008, the U.S. economy tanked. The devastation revealed how little even the “experts” understood our increasingly complex financial system, which we gradually understood to also be gamed by the foxes running the hen house.

Now six years later, the institutions who profited while individuals lost everything are going strong, thanks to some bailouts and a lack of regulatory response.

Humanists may hope that people can self-improve; unfortunately, the passage of time and events does not demonstrate any evidence to support this assumption. In 2014 we seem to be “outing” unethical behavior earlier (that is, before we are plunged into a macroeconomic crisis), but it appears to be technology rather than human virtue or evolution that is driving this phenomenon.

A recent example is the revelations emerging from the recent hack on Sony’s IT systems. These uncovered executive racial biases and, more conspiratorially, an all-out effort (in cahoots with Comcast…) to launch both a smear campaign and what The Verge blog labelled “legally ambitious” efforts disrupt the mechanics of the web to preserve their hold over entertainment content.

Such brazen attempts at manipulating markets may be unsurprising coming from industries that are effectively monopolies; yet they are actually rewarded when they come from those seeking to “disrupt” monopolies. One need only to reference obligatorily-referenced bad Bros at Uber, a firm that sometimes overtly, sometimes obscurely, breaks laws, laughs at the notion of ‘ethics’ and obfuscates commerce for market share. The primary consequence for such repulsive practices seems to be ongoing funding driving increased market share and multi-billion-dollar valuations. If you’ve read about the growing interest in social enterprise, you won’t be reading about Uber.

The tl;dr? Provided the end-game involves lots of cash, anything still goes regardless of whether you are a startup or an established Wall Street player. In an age where all is now available for the public record, shame on us for being shocked when bankers continue to ring in profits after scores of their customers have foreclosed, when crooks get funded, and when politicians back legislation funded by their own campaign funders.

Because it’s all there for us to see. True progress would entail us moving beyond outrage to actually doing something about it.

On a more positive end-note, I would like to end with some hope. Specifically, you can help stop the money trail in politics and business by supporting Mayday. It’s the most fundamental way I know of to address the root cause of so much that is broken in our country today. Merry Christmas!

Humans aren’t rational – and that’s ok

The latest episode in the fierce drama unfolding between ride-renting services Lyft and Uber is certainly distasteful. It’s also puzzling. As my friend Rogo pointed out:

“Uber can’t be killed by Lyft given its far superior resources. And it makes no sense for Uber to actually try to finish off its smaller competitor”

…due to the regulatory battle which they share an interest in fighting together.

I am sure the Travis worshippers credit some insanely brilliant strategic design to this behavior and I look forward to learning what it is if it can help us see a picture more noble than the sleaze that has been exposed thus far. Barring that, I’ll defer to what many say is the source of such conscienceless, greed-absolving behavior: yes, that scourge known as “Objectivism.”

The irony is that for as much as this ideology professes rationality, it is basically a pretense to cloak and justify the basest of human selfishness. Even Rand herself inadvertently exposed how conflicted this pure-rationality paradigm is (when a lover rebuffed her advances – what, love in the realm of the rational? – she later dismissed his “ugly actions and irrational behavior in his private life”).

In today’s iteration of this immature, unsophisticated world view, greed and hubris appear to be compelling a CEO to behaviors that (ironically) just aren’t rational. This is all in the name of ‘winning’ and encouraged at any cost when there is a one-dimensional focus on monetary returns that ignores the complexities of legal and human frameworks that underpin any economic activity.

If this were merely a warped personal philosophy, I could move on. But it’s had (and sadly as we’ve seen this week, continues to have) too much impact for me to ignore.