What’s Up with WhatsApp?

It’s missing an apostrophe for one thing, but who’s counting?

Warning! Some math will be involved in the following paragraphs. Or numbers anyway. Large numbers with dollar signs fore and lots of zeroes aft.

By now you’ve heard that a five year old company with 55 employees named WhatsApp  has been bought by Facebook for $19 billion.

Wow, that’s amazing. Who knew Facebook had $19 billion. For what? Letting people share pictures of their vacation or the fact that their dog has got the mange? So what does WhatsApp do that’s worth $19 billion? Cure cancer? Stop climate change? Eliminate poverty?

No, apparently it lets people send text and videos and pictures of their mangy dog to others who have subscribed to WhatsApp for 99 cents a year. But get this! It hasn’t got ads getting in the way of your shared narcissism.  A breakthrough.

The valuation of $19 billion (roughly the same as the market cap of Macys, Michelin, Chipotle, Autozone, Kellogg, Kroger or Sherwin-Williams) means each of the 55 employees is worth $345 million – equal to four Bill Clinton’s or one Beyonce. (By way of comparison, the net worth of the average American is $38,000) Not that the dough will be shared equally by all WhatsApp employees. This isn’t a communist country, you know. It’s more like Russia where a few oligarchs control all the wealth. Except here they are cyberarchs.

The WSJ quotes another Valley Boy cyberarch who has devised a way to store data online (you know, so tweets about your dog’s mange or pictures of it can be preserved forever). On hearing of the deal, he was crestfallen since he is about to go public for a puny $2 billion. “It makes you depressed if you’re not selling at $20 billion.”

Whoa! If that’s depression, what should minimum wage workers who Wal-Mart and Republican congressmen are teaming up to stiff  be feeling? Or 15 or 20 million un- and underemployed people? I’d tell you, but I don’t want Mark Zuckerberg’s mother to wash my mouth out with imported French-milled soap. Besides, Kurt Vonnegut described our present dystopia in 1952’s “Player Piano” complete with techno haves and everybody else. Check it out.

Not that I’m a Luddite. Yet. I believe technology has the power to create a utopia for all of us. Just as soon as the 1000 gigawatt brains of the cyberarchs are devoted to something more useful than Candy Crush, Facebook, or WhatsApp. Like eliminating cancer, poverty, climate change or even the dog’s mange.

Not in My Frack Yard

Pity the poor PR man.

In Texas there’s been a recent embarrassment. Bartonville is a Dallas suburb where the wealthy relax on their hobby horse farms posing as hobby cowpokes. But some of these J.R. wannabes have had their idyll disturbed by the local water utility’s plan to build an immense 15-story water tower. They’ve sued to stop the project on the grounds that it would create ”a noise nuisance and traffic hazard” according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

Turns out all that water is needed not for the drinking and bathing needs of the population of 1600, but because of the increasing number of hydraulic fracking wells being drilled in the vicinity. There goes the neighborhood, as they say.

An anti-fracking protest in oil besotted Texas is already news, but it gets better. Or worse, if you are doing PR for the oil industry, because one of the plaintiff’s is Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil. Oops.

To be fair, Tillerson (his lawyer actually), clams his objection is not to the fracking, the traffic, the noise but because the tower would be an eyesore reducing the property value of his 83 acre horse farm and 18 acre homestead.

Well, maybe it is all aesthetic and economic concerns motivating Tillerson, but one can’t help suspecting he and his neighbors don’t mind fracking, drilling and refining so long as they take place where less wealthy people live. People whose property hasn’t got much value to lose and whose health is worth risking in order to make Exxon Mobil a buck.

But we already know that. This is the same XOM that was responsible for despoiling Alaska with the Valdez spill. It has also been fined $105 million recently for polluting ground water in New York and $236 million for doing the same in New Hampshire. It has illegally pumped 10 million pounds of pollutants into the air over the largest refinery in the United States near Houston. And the attorney general of Pennsylvania is investigating the spilling of 57,000 gallons of fracking pollutants in his state where a study has found 115 of 141 wells near fracking sites have been contaminated with methane.

Not a peep from Tillerson about aesthetic or property value issues in Alaska, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania or Houston, however. Only about eyesores in his Bartonville backyard. You can’t be too careful of your property’s value when you’re scraping by on a paltry $40 million a year. You may want to stick to Perrier or Evian, too. Maybe even for the horses.

Rock Throwin’ All Over the World

There is violence in the streets of Kiev and Bangkok just to name the latest venues. “People everywhere just wanna be free.” Their “elected” representatives, their autocratic overlords, their maximum leaders want them to sit down, shut up and do as they’re told.

Nothing new there, but the media reports are breathless with surprise (and thrilled by the bloody videos). Wise men are assembled to examine the roots of the disease, offer a diagnosis and deliver a prognosis. But they seem almost as surprised and certainly can’t say what will happen next.

Really? The protesters will be crushed. Or reforms to defuse the situation will be promised and never delivered. Or the evil autocrat will be replaced by a shiny new model. Or the popular uprising will succeed and the bumbling revolutionaries will prove so divided, disorganized and generally incompetent to govern that the old boss, or oligopoly or junta will soon come to the fore once again.

It’s sad. Tragic, really.  Especially since all that these people really seem to want is a land where every man is able to sit “under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.”

But is it really a surprise? With no history of the rule of law, private property rights, self-determination, electoral democracy, capitalist economics, religious freedom, a free press, civil rights, universal literacy the odds are long against a happy outcome.

Those who report on or parse the meaning of these endless, miserable instances of ruined hopes adopt a judicious, measured, objective tone in the face of calamity. They want to be invited back to opine again and don’t want to appear naive by wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Or radical by caring for the oppressed. Or cynical by saying what we all know to be true.

The people are throwing rocks, but the oppressors have the tanks. It isn’t going to end well. No one will come to the aid of the embattled. And next week, surprise will be expressed at the latest photogenic ka-boom.