Capital gains

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The post-vacation stack of mail consists mainly of bills, which means that it’s time for me and the Lizard of Fun to get down to the business of either cutting our expenses or making more money.

"Decisions, decisions," says the Lizard. "What kind of second job are you gonna look for? I hear they’re still hiring for the casinos."

I shake my head, looking at the bills. "Not likely. Don’t you think you could trim back? You know, maybe be satisfied with single scoops of ice cream instead of triples, or see movies just once instead of paying for an Austin Powers marathon?"

"Yeah, baby," says the Lizard, chuckling sardonically. "You’re funny. At least I didn’t run up 957 minutes on the cell phone this month."

"OK, you got any suggestions for getting rich quick? Like, say, before the 15th?"

The Lizard breaks into one of its I-can’t-believe-it’s-taken-you-this-long-to-ask grins, flips open my Powerbook and points to the screen.

"Remember the guy who started a Web site to tell the world that he was pissed off at Starbucks?"

"Yeah. You mean he’s rich now?"

"Not as far as I know. But another guy who started a similar site, only for people who don’t like Dunkin’ Donuts, just sold his site for lots of money – to Dunkin’ Donuts itself."

The difference here is that instead of being like Starbucks and growling a little and then essentially ignoring the site, Dunkin’ Donuts saw tough cookies and decided to crush them into cheesecake crust, or whatever other culinary comparison you want to make. Even in its cease and desist letter to site producer David Felton, the corporation called the site a "lively and open forum for thoughts about Dunkin’ Donuts brand products."

As a result, Felton (presumably feeling more flattered than intimidated) offered to let DD sponsor the site. They responded by buying rights to the domain name, for considerably more than the cost of a box of Bavarian creams.

"Just think of the potential here," says the Lizard, rubbing its paws. "Noam Chomsky would be proud. Instead of manufacturing consent, we manufacture dissent – and then sell it boxed by the dozen. It’s the logical next step."

Indeed. And then consumerism will finally eat itself, with a cup of coffee, to go.

"Say, isn’t this a kind of high-tech blackmail?" I ask. "I mean, that site said something bad about a company, and then turned a tidy profit from it."

"Maybe. But these sites are a democratic exercise and an essential tool of free speech, too," says the Lizard. "And if you can blackmail someone just with public opinions, get me George W. Bush’s phone number."

To its credit, Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t buy the dissenting site just to shut it down, which it could easily have done. Instead, it nobly took ownership of the comments, presumably with the intent of acting on them. ("You think so?" asks the Lizard. "In this century?") In effect, it’s just bought itself a consumer survey that would’ve cost millions of dollars to conduct otherwise.

Hence, the Lizard outlines its moneymaking plan, which is to simply follow the model. It will create Web sites that allow people to complain indiscriminately about popular fast-food franchises, entertainment industry icons, presidential candidates or anything else that might have enough money ("and magnanimity," says the Lizard) to purchase the opinions that we’d gather for free.

"You see, content is everything," says the Lizard. "We gather and produce, they buy. It’s not so different from collecting truffles or making doughnuts, is it?"

Soon, we’re in the throes of investigating the Lizard’s new economic plan. We go over the list of preliminary sites to build:

www.evolution/ and www.ozisgod.comTargeted at the Kansas school board which just decided that creationism could be taught in schools instead of evolution.

"We’ll make two sites for this one, cuz I figure we’ll get dissenters on both sides," says the Lizard. "Leverage, baby, leverage."

www.killjarjarbinks.comDesigned with the assumption that even though Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace didn’t make as much money as it was expected to, George Lucas must be deeply eager to make some sort of reparations to fans who find Jar Jar Binks an outrageously egregious character."Have you read anything at all about the guy?" asks the Lizard. "We need to have this one just on general principle, even – or maybe especially – if he never offers us a dime for it."

So what becomes of online democracy and free speech when anyone with enough money can just buy Web sites they don’t like and use them for their own purposes?

"Well, it works both ways," says the Lizard. "I’m also making a shopping list of sites that I want to buy out, for my own nefarious purposes."

"With all this money we’re gonna make?"

"Either that or with the money you get from your second job."

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