The Null Device


Vigorous competition in the global coffee-bean market has forced growers to find more ways of slashing costs and meeting ever-tighter margins. Some coffee growers in Brazil have found a way of running more efficiently: using slave labour. This typically involved "hiring" poor labourers in one part of the country, shipping them to another part and then neglecting to pay them; not having any money to get home, the labourers would have no choice but to work. Too bad for the growers that the meddling government decided to squash this sterling example of free-market ingenuity.

(Apparently coffee prices these days are unnaturally low, so non-slave-labour using plantations cannot compete on the market and end up going out of business. Not to worry; once all the plantations that are unfit to compete in this market go under and are bought out by an oligopoly of a few gigantic De Beers-like coffee multinationals, prices will go up to more sustainable levels and beyond. The wisdom of the free market corrects all mistakes.)

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Rocknerd's Ben Butler connects the SCO/Linux lawsuit to the recording industry's woes. What links SCO and the RIAA, you see, is that both have seen their markets become commodified, eroding their business models, which depended on them being able to name their own prices and terms.

The process goes something like this: you sell widgets. You are the only company selling widgets. Some other companies enter the widget market. They undercut your price. But yours are the original, superior widgets, so you charge a premium for them. More competitors enter the market. The price drops more. Suddenly widgets are cheap. Your brand value is eroded - people figure out that all the widgets are substantially the same and besides, even if your widgets are better made than everyone else's, it no longer matters - they're cheap enough to throw out and replace when they break.

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Finally, Al-Jazeera's English-language site is up. It looks much like any Western news portal, with clean design, headlines in sectins like Global, Culture and Sci-Tech, special features and stock quotes, and has the usual broad spectrum of news articles you'd find anywhere, from scientific breakthroughs to Hollywood goings-on. Of course, there is a difference; when I looked at the front page, there were no fewer than eight mentions of Israel in the headlines, none of them remotely sympathetic. The criticism of U.S. policies and politics (whilst secondary to anti-Israeli sentiment) was also at a level that makes even the Guardian, that favourite whipping boy of the Patriot Pack, look like CNN by comparison. Having said that, the stories seemed mostly free of polemic and did attempt to take a balanced look at issues, from a Middle-Eastern Arab perspective.

According to the Age article, the al-Jazeera English-language servers are located in France. I'm sure the neocons will have a field day with that.

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