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Re^2: Programming is combat

by toma (Vicar)
on Jul 10, 2004 at 06:19 UTC ( #373313=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re: Programming is combat
in thread Programming is combat

The military metaphors can also get a company into legal trouble, even in the US. There is one well-publicized case where company strategies with cool names like 'Death Star' are paving the way to realtime in club fed.

I suspect that many executives are shocked, I mean *shocked* to hear that the strategies they got from a management book that they found at Borders, a book with stylish references to Sun Tzu, this book has strategies that are downright illegal! I'm shocked, your honor, it should be illegal to print such things.

I agree, greenFox, as programmers we don't need to think or work in the military context, and we would be better off to use a different metaphor.

Make love not war!

Update Hmm.. I tried responding to the node below maybe I screwed up or perhaps it was reaped. Anyway, the idea is that when you get in trouble for something, such as Enron did after they stole billions of dollars from California, it turns out that your state of mind when you did the crime makes a big difference. When you use cool names like 'Death Star' for your strategy (which was used in California and Oregon, not offshore), it is more difficult to claim that you didn't mean any harm. It is the difference between a simple misunderstanding, fraud, and racketeering.

Some energy lobbyists still claim that the 'Death Star' strategy is legal, but they never refer to it by the 'Death Star' name, because it would be a poor legal strategy to do so.

There are numerous articles that you can find on yahoo that explain the strategies and the legal arguments in this case.

I suppose that if you aren't concerned that anything that you ever do will be questioned legally, you don't need to worry about what you call things. As a book author, you would be in good shape.

It should work perfectly the first time! - toma

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Re^3: Programming is combat
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on Jul 10, 2004 at 22:15 UTC
    Which company are you talking about? I know that Enron used a lot of Star Wars references for their offshore activities, but it wasn't the names that got them into trouble. If you are talking about something else, please supply the specifics.
    brian d foy <>
Re^3: Programming is combat
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on Jul 14, 2004 at 20:17 UTC
    I still haven't found anything that supports your claims. No article I ran across said anything about Enron getting in trouble because of their choice of names (which also included "Ping Pong" and "Get Shorty").

    Their name was a poor choice, but as far as I can tell they haven't been indicted for naming a business strategy. If you have specific links to actual articles, please post them.

    You told me privately that the "illegal" activities you refer to are really just things that violate your own companies policy. That hardly makes those activities crinimal. That a corporate lawyer told you not to do something doesn't affect the legality of the action: they just don't want you anywhere near trouble so they draw the line further back.

    Several non-governmental organizations use a military metaphor without legal incident. The Salvation Army even put s it right in their name. Southwest Airline pilots wear bomber jackets. Private security companies are para-militaries. Mall security guards dress like they expect gun battles. US citizens can wear most of our military's uniforms (without identifying insignia) without even getting a second look from a cop. It is simply not illegal.

    brian d foy <>
      You are right that metaphors are usually not illegal in themselves. But if you get into trouble, they can make your trouble much worse. Your state of mind when you commit a crime often determines which crime you will be charged with. Military metaphors can be a worst-case-scenario for your defense.

      For an example, see In this article, it is clear that the state of mind of the enery traders determines whether or not a crime occured. If I was on a jury, and someone claimed to be in an innocent state of mind while executing manuever that they themselves referred to as 'Death Star', I would be skeptical.

      If you aren't accused of commiting any crimes that relate to your metaphors, there should be no legal problems with choice of metaphors. However, many military tactics are in fact illegal when applied to civilian life. Shooting at your competitors, for example, is generally forbidden.

      Perhaps it would help to shift metaphors to illustrate the point with a silly example. I'm not being serious, here, I'm just trying to explain my point of view. If you don't agree or think it applies, that's fine, too. People who debate crime, punishment, and metaphor often don't agree.

      Imagine that I am an accountant. I unwisely call my tax-avoidance system "Fraudulently avoid paying taxes by illegally deducting business lunches." During an audit of an account which uses this scheme, it is found that I should not have deducted an expensive business lunch that was listed as an expense. Now it is the Revenue Agent's responsibility to assess my state of mind when I made this mistake. Was it tax evasion, or a simple mistake? The name of my accounting scheme is going to cause me a problem.

      Not silly enough? Here's one that's even sillier: What if Scott Adams was charged with stealing office supplies? As the author of "Build A Better Life By Stealing Office Supplies" he could have a real problem!

      There is also a more serious risk in using metaphor, and that is that an opponent takes your metaphor literally, and shoots first. The Salvation Army doesn't have much of a problem with that one, but Mall Cops do take that risk, and sometimes pay the ultimate price.

      It should work perfectly the first time! - toma
        I think you have misread this article. Nowhere does it support any implication that the name they gave the activity meant anything to the court. Change every instance of "Death Star" to "Cute Puppies" and the article reads the same. The state of mind of the suspects is important, but they aren't using the name "Death Star" to do that. You're simply wrong, and it's time to concede. Your "silly" metaphors about crimes have nothing to do with the one I presented in the original post because I never suggested that anyone engage in any illegal activity.
        brian d foy <>

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