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ExpatPundit

"Five axiomatic propositions of Canadian Nationalism vis-a-vis the Americans:

1. Boy, we hate Americans.

2. We really do.

3. Really.

4. I'm not kidding. We really hate them.

5. So how come they never pay us any attention?"

--Will Ferguson, Why I Hate Canadians, Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997, p.105.





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Thursday, March 28, 2002

"I will not invade Kuwait. I will not invade Kuwait. I...." Today at the Arab summit in Beirut, Iraq "pledged in writing never to invade neighboring Kuwait again." I have visions of Saddam Hussein writing "I will not invade Kuwait" 100 times on a blackboard while a stern 1st grade teacher glares in the background.

Here's an idea. I propose that the U.S. should declare itself satisfied with Iraq's promise, and formally announce that it no longer feels compelled to commit resources to defending Saudi Arabia or Kuwait and consequently will be pulling out its troops from the Kingdom. After all, the Arab world is demanding that Israel take Arafat at his word when he promises that he has no designs beyond the West Bank and Gaza, and Prince Abdullah et al. are mighty indignant that Israel won't trust the Palestinian Authority's word. So it's only reasonable that Abdullah and his Kuwaiti counterpart would be willing to trust Iraq's promise...right?
Family circus of evil. Mark Wickens recently expressed his fondness for Amazon.com's "Just Like You" feature, which "finds a person who's bought several of the same things you have and shows you what else they bought." This is one of several features Amazon has developed to gain a competitive advantage out of their large market share. But these don't always work out quite the way Amazon hopes. I remember when Amazon first introduced its "reading circle" feature, which would enable you to see what the most popular books were in particular cities or organizations (based on purchases from Amazon). Many complained; after all, if you're, say, Intel, you might not want it to be public knowledge that your employees are buying reams of books on Linux.

But the more entertaining unforeseen consequence stems from Amazon's policy of encouraging customers to post reviews of books at Amazon's site. Brilliant idea in theory -- let's generate a "community!" Switching costs, sticky behavior, unique value-added, all the great stuff we talk about in business school.

In practice, a bunch of ruffians persist in posting bizarre reviews about Bil Keane's "Family Circus" books. Amazon now removes these reviews after they build up over time. I know this because, each time I teach the Amazon.com case in class, I re-visit the site and find the previous reviews removed. Examples:

"Are You Awake Daddy?" -- I can only wonder at - and envy - Bil Keane's masterful ability to put so much information on the history and future of humanity into such a short work. Anyone who has read Sigfried Giedion's masterwork "Mechanization Takes Command" is already fully aware of the great struggle of mankind's strenuous effort over the last century and a half to bring ever-increasing speed and efficiency to the common working tasks of the Western World. In 1850, for instance, the butcher still plied his brutal trade by hand; fifty years later, fully-automated slaughterhouses were capable of butchering hundreds of hogs or chickens per day, utilizing the shining power of the machine to pluck feathers, slit throats, dismember carcasses, boil the flesh from bones, etc."

"Can I Have a Cookie?" -- "Can I Have a Cookie" is another example of the giant techno-media empire attempting to indoctrinate our children into being zombies of the corporate mass media consumer society. It is a shame to see a writer such as Keane become just another shill for the techno-industrial-media complex.

In this work, Keane places the need of the individual over the needs of the proletariat, suggesting that multinational global capitalistic greed is a positive force in the world. This Reganistic attitude ignores the many ills sponsored by this sort of thought, including the rape of the environment, the subjugation of womyn, and the destruction of indigenous culture.

The question that little Billy does not ask, or is forbidden to ask, is the impact of that cookie - what of the underpaid illiterate workers in the Haitian sugar cane fields denied a living wage and proper health care? What about the carcinogens produced by the (heavily subsidized with corporate welfare) plastics plant in rural America that go into local streams befouling a previously unspoiled environment? What about the people of the Amazon reduced to begging on the streets of Brazil now that their way of life has been destroyed so multi-national logging interests could secure a supply of cheap pulp for cookie packaging? And what about little Billy himself, slowly turned into another pawn of the global advertising business and making himself unhealthy with the bleached flours and refined sugars of global agribusiness? Have a cookie, indeed!"

"Daddy's Cap is on Backwards" (this book is always heavily reviewed; 10 reviews at the moment) -- "This book fell short of perfection for failing to address a timeless mystery: why has Grandpa been accepted into heaven, while poor lost souls "Not Me" and "Ida Know" are forced to wander the earth as lonely poltergeists, random mischief being their only release from the torment of their eternal separation from God?"

Two generalizable insights come to mind from the Bil Keane review problem. The first one relates to the risk of relying on those outside the firm to generate competitive advantage for the firm; let's forget this one. The other is: how long before such bizarre reviews start showing up here?

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