Tuesday, January 10, 2023

#10 / Elon Musk And The "Administrative State"


The New York Times ran an article on Friday, December 30, 2022, which I found somewhat chilling. I don't have a lot of personal investment in Twitter (though I have a seldom-utilized Twitter account), but I realize that for many people Twitter is truly an online utility upon which they depend, and which provides them with significant positive benefits. Problems? "Yes." But benefits? Also "Yes."

The Times' article was headlined like this: "What’s Gone at Twitter? A Data Center, Janitors, Some Toilet Paper." If you can evade the paywall, by all means click on that link to read the entire story. For those whose access to the article will, indeed, be blocked by a paywall, here are a few excerpts, which give the flavor of what's happening at Twitter, as Elon Musk, who now owns this social media utility in its entirety, makes what he says are "necessary cutbacks."

Early on Christmas Eve, members of the billionaire’s staff flew to Sacramento — the site of one of Twitter’s three main computing storage facilities — to disconnect servers that had kept the social network running smoothly.

The company has stopped paying rent at its Seattle office, leading it to face eviction, two people familiar with the matter said. Janitorial and security services have been cut, and in some cases employees have resorted to bringing their own toilet paper to the office.
Speaking on a live forum on Twitter last week, Mr. Musk compared the company to a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire and the controls don’t work.”
Those cuts may be yielding consequences. On Wednesday, users around the world reported service interruptions with Twitter. Some were logged out, while others encountered error messages while visiting the website. Twitter has not explained what caused the temporary outage. Three people familiar with the company’s infrastructure said that if the Sacramento facility had still been operating, it could have helped alleviate the problem by providing backup computing capacity when other data centers failed. 
Mr. Musk has sought to save about $500 million in nonlabor costs, according to an internal document seen by The New York Times. He has also laid off or fired nearly 75 percent of the company’s work force since completing the purchase.
The shutdown of the Sacramento data center, known as SMF1, set off alarm bells at Twitter, with employees being summoned to work on Christmas Eve as internal systems went down, according to Slack messages viewed by The Times. While users did not experience any immediate disruptions to the social network, three people who used to work on the company’s infrastructure called Mr. Musk’s moves reckless, potentially leading to the loss of internal data and about 30 percent of the company’s computing power that could be needed in times of high site traffic.
I am quite willing to believe that Twitter, as a business, ought to be reformed. One expense item mentioned in the article is the company's provision of "egg and sperm freezing and in vitro fertilization" services for employees. A nice thing for employees? Definitely. Arguably, however, these kind of benefits are perhaps something that the company, itself, doesn't need to get involved with. 
That said, reforms being needed and desirable, the way in which desirable reforms are carried out makes a difference. What was somewhat "chilling," to me, was the significant possibility that a service that millions of people around the world depend upon might simply "fail," cease to work, because of the way that the job of reform is being approached. 
What I thought of, as I read the article, was not only Twitter but the United States government. There are a lot of people (people who are admirers of both Elon Musk and former president Donald Trump) who believe that the United States government (the "Administrative State," as they often call it) is in need of drastic reform and redirection. Well, I think there is a lot of truth in that claim. 
However, just as in the case of Twitter, where the stakes are not very high, precipitate "reform" efforts,  not well thought-through, could "crash the plane." As I say, crashing Twitter, which The Times' article seems to say is increasingly likely, won't have any truly dire consequences. 

Crashing the United States government would!

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