Thursday, September 30, 2004


A lot of pundits have been saying that Kerry must present a clear plan for how he would "win" in Iraq or at least provide for an "exit" strategy. If he can't do that then he is through say the pundits.

Well, Kerry is throughly screwed because he can't offer a plan to "win" in Iraq.

On the other hand neither can Bush.

Nobody can provide a clear plan for "winning" in Iraq because the conflict in Iraq cannot be "won."

We are not going to either "win" or "lose" in Iraq because concepts of winning and losing do not apply to this type of conflict.

Culturally the idea of winning and losing implies that a discrete event will occur that one can point to and say whether one has won or lost. We get this idea from ritualized competitions such as sports, trials, elections and some kinds of warfare. In each case, there exist a time or state whereby on competitor can be said to have won or lost. WWII was a ritualized war in many respects in that it was fought between coherent nation states that shared rituals for ending the conflict. We had a V-E day and a V-J day. The Cold War by contrast did not end so much as just putter out. We can say we won the Cold War but we can't definitively point to a certain day when that victory occurred. More to the point, at the time the Cold War was winding down nobody could look at any particular day or event and say, "that's it we won."

This isn't just about semantic. The concept of winning and losing has real political effects. In both Korea and Vietnam, politically significant numbers of people ask, "how are we going to win?" and "we're never going to win." What they were really saying is that they could not imagine any discrete event that would signal that either conflict had definitively ended. They were correct in thinking so. Both conflicts were mere battles in the greater Cold War. Even if America had never abandoned Indochina it is probable that the fighting there would have gone on at some level at least until the fall of the Soviet Union. The basic conflict in Korea is still ongoing even after the end of communism everywhere else.

We "lost" in Vietnam in part because Americans could not adapt to the concept of a fuzzy war, one that had no clear beginning and no clear criteria for ending. We face the same challenge in Iraq. People ask the seemingly reasonable question, "How and when do we win?" but the question is functionally meaningless.

The Cold War and the War on Terror are more like running a business than playing a game. Businesses, and more accurately business people, don't win or lose in the final analysis. If business A has a 60% market share while its competitor business B has a %40 percent share has business A "won?" Usually, we would say no because there is no discrete end to their competition. Both business could be raking in money hand over fist. The people involved could be getting so wealthy that they could not care less what the other guy was doing. Most business competition is like that. A business may have hundreds of competitors in many different areas and seldom does one business gain the type of dominance that would qualify it as winner in the sense of sports or warfare. It's all open ended. You make money, you lose money but it's never really over except one day you look back and think, "hey I did a pretty good job."

Neither Kerry nor Bush will be able to provide a road map to victory because the destination is so ambiguous. If we succeed, we will not realize it at the time. It will be as in the Cold War, we will look around one day and suddenly realize that Iraq is largely peaceful and stable. We will realize that our goals were accomplished and everybody except Leftist academicians will say, "we won, I don't know exactly how or exactly when, but we won."

Check-Kiters for a Clue

Mickey Klause is a centrist Democrat, a good reporter, a good writer and an all around smart guy which is why his posting today on the Check 21 law is so revealing of a generalized Leftist mindset.

The Check 21 law frees banks from the requirement to keep paper checks in existence after they have been scanned and inputed into an electronic format. The law makes the electronic format the legal equivalent of the paper check for all purposes. Banks are still free to do everything the old fashion way but the law will no longer require them to do so.

Kaus believes that the Check 21 law could be used by the Democrats to demonstrate how they approach economic issues and regulation compared to Republicans and I think he is right. It demonstrates that Democrats like regulations driven by the ordinary persons vague and largely emotion understanding of how an economic entity works (in this case banks) substituted for detailed, market-disciplined understanding of people who work closely with entity every day.

One line in Klause's post leapt out at me:

"It's hard to believe a law couldn't have been written that better protected bank customers--by, say, requiring that banks store the original checks somewhere where they could be retrieved in a pinch (even if the checks don't need to be shipped from bank to bank)"

Like most 99% of the population, I use banks but I don't have any detailed knowledge about how they go about their day-to-day operations. I do, however, understand something about information processes and I can say instantly that Kraus's casual assumption that managing both the physical checks themselves and the information about the physical check is a trivial issue is dead wrong. I find it especially revealing that he thinks keeping the checks at the merchants bank would be a simpler task than sending the check back to the customer's bank.

Think of the problem this way: A bank receives thousands of checks everyday. The actual work of banking now is entirely computerized. Once a bank receives a check it inputs the data on the check into it's systems and from then on only the electronic version of the check has any function within the banking system. (Kaus assertion that the new law will shorten the kiting period is incorrect. Banks seldom wait to take possession of a physical check before electronically transferring funds to another bank)

So, now the bank has a slip of useless paper. Klaus thinks it a trivial task to keep track of this paper and store it in such a fashion that it can be easily found and routed back to the person who wrote it in the first place. Not so. First, the bank will need a physical system for the manage the actual paper. Second the bank will need an information system, a type of computerized index, that will let the bank locate the physical check. Third, banks will need a physical infrastructure to ship the checks back to the writer.

Putting the responsibility for keeping the check on the merchants bank complicates this process enormously. Think about how you would go about organizing this. The merchants bank would get thousands of checks a day written by thousands of individuals against hundreds of banks. You would have to create both a physical file and a database record for each check. The database record would have to contain more information than a bank would need just to identify one of its own accounts because the check could come from any bank, anywhere. Request to produce the physical check likewise would come from many possible sources all of which would have to be verified before the check could be mailed. Making this a matter of law would also impose liabilities on the bank that they would have to account for.

The old pre-computer system where checks were bundled together by bank of origin and then progressively routed back to the writer is actually simpler from an information perspective. Once the check has been routed and returned to the customer the bank can "forget" about the physical check.

Kaus has only the vaguest notion of the nuts-and-bolts of how banks handle checks but he is nevertheless willing to substitute his judgment on how banks work for those who spend their entire careers thinking about the problem. Moreover, he is willing to force me to pay for his substitute judgment by forcing my bank to store paper checks whether I personally think that is a useful service or not. He wants to impose his gut level hunch about what makes for good banking onto me via the power of the state.

It's the American Left in a nutshell.

Objective Media?

Objective Media?

Before the 1920's, the idea of an "objective" or "non-partisan" media did not exist. The previous 100 years had seen the reign of the newspaper as the primary news medium and newspapers of that era never portrayed themselves as objective or non-partisan.

Newspapers evolved from the pamphleteers who consider themselves polemist. Their goal was to propagandize for their side. Most newspapers in the golden era of newsprint were publicly associated with a major political party or faction. Many newspapers had the words "Democrat" or "Republican" in their names. It was considered normal. Everybody who bought a paper knew what its biases were.

This standard began to change in the 1920's with the arrival of radio and the socialization of broadcast spectrum. Instead of auctioning off broadcast spectrum the dominate ideology of the time lead to the creation of a system wherein broadcaster functioned as public utilities. The government decided who could and could not broadcast using a politically sensitive process.

Since broadcaster functioned as public utilities and had monopoly use of a public property they could not follow the openly partisan traditions of the newspapers. Broadcast journalist began to advertise themselves as "objective" and lacking "partisan" bias. They had no choice. Nobody was going to tolerate their political opponents having the monopoly on the broadcast media. Also, broadcasting was supported purely by advertising, so the broadcasters had a profound interest in making sure they did not offend any large chunk of their audience by overtly taking sides.

For the first 30 years of broadcast journalism this system actually worked moderately well. Broadcasters did not do lot of original reporting. Quite often they were just repeating stories from newspapers. (The New York Times became the nations paper of record in large part due to having its stories broadcast by the New York based broadcast networks). When the broadcaster began doing original reporting the 60's, however, partisan bias began to leak in. It wasn't any great conspiracy but simply a profound lack of intellectual and cultural diversity within a insular community of a few hundred individuals who researched and broadcast the stories. As broadcasting became the biggest megaphone, the ability of anybody to effectively challenge broadcast media disappeared. If all three of the major networks told the same story, nobody could effective rebut them. The networks no longer had to fear that they would alienate their audiences as their collective audiences had no other place to turn for news. In effect, broadcaster had a government supported cartel on news.

Like all cartels they grew lazy and sloppy. By the late 60's and early 70's the lack diversity, the insular culture and the lack of economic competition caused broadcast media to collapse into a left-of-center bias. It was not until the rise of cable in late 80's that the cartel cracked and not until the rise of the internet that it collapsed completely. Given the opportunity, their customers deserted them in droves.

I doubt that any single organization can report the news objectively. To do so, they would have to create internally completive teams each attacking a story from a different perspective. Then they would need some system of reconciling the conflicting perspectives into a single story. I don't really see that happening on a reliable basis.

Going forward I think we will return to the pre-broadcast tradition of a more partisan media. I think this will benefit everybody. In the Internet age it will be easy for people to get multiple perspectives on the same problem. Broadcast spectrum will cease to have it's market dominance and economic importance. The political and economic necessity to maintain the facade of objectivity will erode.

Eventually, media consumers will sit like juries in front of dueling attorneys each presenting evidence for their side and hammering away at the case of the other. People will get their final view of a story by an active process of synthesis of conflicting viewpoints.This hyper-competitive environment will in the end lead to a better informed public.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

He's Tan! He's Rested! Kerry in '04!

Image Hosted by

So I'm flipping channels last night and catch a picture of Kerry on the News. The guy has a tan like an Oompa Loompa.

I point this out to my teenage daughter who says, "Tan in a bottle. It's to dark, to even and to orange to be natural."

I scoffed at the idea but not because I know anything about chemical tans but because I didn't think Kerry would be so dumb as to dye himself. The potential blow-back would be enormous were it ever discovered. The mocking would never end.

Then I remember that I had initially dismissed the idea that the CBS Memos were crude forgeries because I reasoned that CBS and Dan Rather would not be that incompetent. Whoops.

Today The Drudge report has a story that the tan appeared suddenly before Kerry arrived in Michigan. He also has a neat before and after collage image.

It is said you can't grow broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. I am beginning to think that you cannot go wrong underestimating the arrogance and poor judgment of our institutional elites.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Three Questions on Iraq

Over at the The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr asked three questions for bloggers who support the war and ask them to post their answers and send him links. His questions are in italics below followed by my answers. This is a big subject and I have tried to be brief so the usual caveats about generalizations apply. I may also tweak and update this as the day goes on.

First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

I still believe it was a good idea. The case for invading Iraq can be divided into two sections: A narrow case based on the direct threat posed by Saddam himself and the wider case based on the regional effects of destroying his regime.

The Narrow Case: The case for invading Iraq was always about Saddam’s potential future threat. Saddam’s Iraq was a rouge state with the technical capacity to create weapons of mass destruction such as nerve gas that could be deployed by terrorist networks anywhere in the world. Saddam had the demonstrated both the ruthlessness to carry out the attacks and the bad judgment to believe he could get away with it.

Everything discovered since the war has reinforced this concept. Saddam had no intention of abandoning WMD’s . One of his potemkin programs involved the creation of ricin and aflatoxin both protein-poisons useless for battlefield use. Their only possible use was as terror weapons. Saddam support of this program shows a clear strategic intent to have a mass-casualty terrorist capability.
Saddam did not have the large-scale extant stockpiles of chemical weapons like everybody assumed he did at the time of the war but this means little to the case. He did not need large amounts of weapons such as nerve gas to carry out a mass-casualty attack. He still commanded the technical cadre that had created the weapons in the past and who could have done so again in short order.

Wider Case: Destroying Saddam’s regime was a necessary step in regional reform of states that give rise to Islamic associated terrorism. No reform could begin in Saudi Arabia while U.S. troops were stationed there to protect against Iraq. Withdrawing U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia has prompted internal reform and even an unprecedented slow-boil civil war. Syria is far more pliable even to the point of beginning to withdraw troops from Lebanon. Terrorism against Israel is drying up and reform within the Palestinians is beginning. The Mullahs of Iran face rising internal opposition. Libya has surrendered its WMD programs. All these effects can be linked to the invasion of Iraq.

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

I think the major media gives about as good an idea about the situation in Iraq as the local TV news gives about the crime rate in your hometown. If all you knew about any community came from TV reporting you would conclude that it was murder central. If it bleeds it leads applies to Iraq as well.

Independent sources of information show a much better picture. A few back of the envelope calculations show that fewer than 1/10 of one percent of the Iraqi population is involved in the active insurgency. Iraq is a nation of 25 million people. If only 1 percent were willing take up arms against the coalition we would have an active insurgency of 250,000 thousand people. The true upper limit is around 20,000 while the best guess is between 5,000 to 10,000. Most of those are the survivors of Al-Sadar’s militia. The active Sunni insurgency is in the range of 1,000 to 3,000. Al-Sadar and the Sunni’s do not coordinate. They are two separate groups with opposing goals.

The insurgency is geographically limited. Most sections of the country see little or no political violence. Most Iraqi have never even seen a Coalition soldier.

If most of the country opposes the Coalition where are the mass protest? Such protests are not illegal and small protests occur all the time. Why don’t the people rise up and vent their true feelings? The Coalition would be powerless against such a tactic and everybody knows it. Why hasn’t the provisional government ask the Coalition to leave or at least registered a protest? Iraqi want the foreigners to leave but only after the country has stabilized. I think that attitude is very healthy.

Also, look at all the nightmare scenarios that many predicted that did not happen. There were no huge masses of refugees. There were no Stalingrad-like battles for the major cities. There was no large-scale ethnic conflict resulting in a nation wide blood bath. In fact, there hasn’t been any significant ethnic conflict at all.

I expected to lose about 2,000 America lives in the war more or less evenly divided between the war and the reconstruction. The resistance seen so far is a bit more than I personally expected but is not off the charts. I expect there will be some violence in Iraq for at least another decade.

It is important to remember that large-scale historical events like the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq always look like an unending series of screwups to the people living through them. Only the distance of history lets us believe that such events are ever carried out cleanly and efficiently.

” Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

I can recommend several criteria:

Net Population Movement: Look how people vote with their feet. The net migration into Iraq today is still positive. More people are returning than leaving. Internal migration of people is also indicative.

Electricity and Oil production: Electricity consumption is the best overall indicator of economic health and growth. Unlike monetary measurements it cannot be easily faked and it can be centrally measures. Electricity trends in Iraq are slow but positive. Many outlying regions are getting electricity for the first time since the first Gulf War. Oil production is also a good indicator. It is hard to produce oil in a war zone where a hand grenade can take out a pipeline. Increasing oil production is indicative of increasing stability.

Secondary Elections: Any thug can get elected to office once. The real test of a democracy is when an office holder loses an election and steps down. Until that happens we won’t know if we have truly succeeded.

Terrorism: Ironically, if Iraq does not suffer from some terrorism in the future we will have failed. Terrorism is only useful as a tactic against democratic or proto-democratic states. Police states do not suffer from terrorism. There was no terrorism during Saddam’s rule for example. Terrorist can only function against a state that has limited police powers and a free press. The occasional terrorist attack in the coming years in Iraq will mean that the power of the state is limited and that the press is free enough to report the attacks.

The key to winning this conflict is persistence. If we strongly communicate that we intend to stay until we succeed the insurgency will lose heart and those sitting on the fence will be encouraged to cooperate.

I believe the next 6 weeks will be telling. The immediate goal of the insurgency is to cause Bush to lose re-election. They will try to increase the tempo of their operations to that end. They will interpret a Bush loss as victory on the chance that Kerry will be more likely to withdraw and as a sign that Americans do not back the war long term. Fearing we will abandon them each, little group of Iraqi will begin to scramble to salvage what they can for themselves and their extended families.

If Bush wins re-election, especially by a wide margin, the insurgency will rapidly wind down. The insurgents will see only at least four more years of fighting Bush. If Kerry wins, it will explode regardless of how effective and determined Kerry is in prosecuting the war. The insurgents and fence sitters will not believe he will fight to the finish.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

See All the Green?

To hear the media tell it, Iraq is disintegrating. Violence is widespread and progress made since the fall of Saddam has stagnated or even reversed. Others, like Iraqi bloggers or returning US military tell a different story. I decided to try to map the violence in the country to try to get an visual idea how widespread the violence was. I wanted to see how much of the country of Iraq was shooting at the Coalition.

First here is a map of Iraqi population distribution. Notice that most of Iraq's population lives east and north of the Euphrates river which nearly bisects the country. The greyish areas in the east between the Tigres and the Iranian border are analgous to the American mid-west, with lot of contiguous habitation, small farms and towns and no major dead zones. The areas east of the Tigres turn rapidally to desert. Population hugs the rivers. Most of the area south and west of the Euphrates is functionally uninhabited. The Al-Anbar province in particular is nearly completely deserted except for the river valley.

I mapped all 58 U.S. combat fatalities for the month of September to date using data made available at The map color codes the number of U.S. fatalities resulting from enemy action in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. Only four of the provinces had any U.S. fatalities. 14 of the provinces had zero fatalities. (The British down in Basra had zero fatalities from combat in September).

Here's the map.

See all the green?

Heres the breakdown fatalities by province:

Baghdad; 21
Salah ad Din: 2
Diyala: zero
Wasit: zero
Maysan: zero
Al Basrah: zero
Dhi Qar: zero
Al Muthanna: zero
Al Qadisyah: zero
Babil: zero
Al Karbala: zero
An Najaf: zero
Al Anbar: 30
Ninawa: 2
Dahuk: zero
Arbil: zero
At Ta'mim: zero
As Sulaymaniyah: zero
Area unknown: 3

See all the zeros?

Of course, other months would have slightly different maps. During Al-Sadar's uprising the province of Al Najaf would have been red for example. But the overall pattern is clear. The "insurgency" is geographically concentrated. Most of Iraq sees little or no violence directed against the Coalition. For example, a minimum of 29 of the fatalities occured within a 50 kilometer radius of a point halfway between Falujah and Baghdad.

The violence shown on TV seems intense but remember that it would take only a few hundred individuals to carry out these attacks. 9/11 was carried out by 19 individuals with a supporting group of another 40 or so. It takes a team of only 2 or 3 individuals to assemble, deploy and detonate a roadside bomb of the kind that has killed the majority of U.S. personnel. Terrorism does not have to involve a large section of the population in order to create a mediaphillic event.

We are looking at a small scale, localized "insurgency" with a very limited operational range. There is no evidence the "insurgency" has wide support within the population either numerically or geographically. Given time, they can be squeezed and destroyed.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Britney Spears vs. The Terrorist!

Britney Spears vs. The Terrorist!

How do you hide, obscure or otherwise manipulate the availability of information in the Internet age?

If you don’t want somebody to know something, how do you stop them? In the past, one could just physically secure the information and watch the bottlenecks that occurred at the physically large facilities used for mass dissemination. That won’t work anymore. Digital technology makes copying information and disseminating it to virtually everybody on the planet a trivial task.

The question has profound implications for everything from national security to e-commerce to personal privacy. I think the answer comes from that person who has provided so much guidance for the citizens of the 21st Century.

Of course, I am talking about Britney Spears.

Yesterday, the Drudge Report had a headline claiming that Britney Spears had faked her recent wedding. (Note: I can’t find a link to the story for some reason). I don’t know what the real story was, neither do I care, but it got me to thinking. Why would a celebrity fake a wedding? What could she gain?

Then I remembered that speculation was rife in some quarters that Republican evil genius Karl Rove had planted the forged Bush AWOL documents. What he exactly he intended to accomplish varies from conspiracy theorist to conspiracy theorist but it got me to thinking.

Then I recalled the story about the guy in San Francisco who produced a fake video of a terrorist beheading that fooled the major media networks. This was just the most recent in a long line of media hoaxes.

Suddenly Britney Spears genius became apparent! The best place to hide a book is in a library. The best place to hide information is inside other information. You hide your information in plain sight but embedded in a mass of false or irrelevant data. The best data to hide in is data that looks very much like the real information but skewed enough to make it false.

Britney faked a wedding to try to gain some privacy for her real wedding/s. Once the media got burned on a fake wedding they would be much slower pursing subsequent wedding rumors.

The same choking a cat to death with crème reasoning applies to Karl Rove. His true goal wasn’t to discredit CBS but to sow doubt about any Bush AWOL document that might someday surface. The fact the opposition was so colossally stupid as to swallow the entire hoax hook, line and sinker was just an unanticipated bonus. (Note: I don’t think Rove was actually involved but if he were I think this the most likely scenario.)

This tactic could be turned against terrorist. Especially against their media driven attention seeking tactics like kidnappings followed by beheadings. If one guy in San Francisco can fool the planetary media think of what the government (or even well funded private citizens could do) to create fake terrorist acts. The goal in this case would be to minimize the media impact of the events by planting a seed of doubt in everybody’s mind about which events actually happened and which were hoaxes. After a time the real events would lose immediate impact because people worldwide would ignore them until they were widely proven as true.

This tactic would be prone to political abuse so some safeguards would have to be put in place. The best safeguard would be to have the perpetrators of the hoax publish online an encrypted message explaining which events were hoaxes and then promising to release the key at a specific date in the future. That would prevent the temptation to create a hoax and then let everyone think it was real forever if it produced a desired effect.

Terrorism thrives on media attention. Cut off from the media all but the largest scale terrorism will whither away. Planting numerous false story would be one highly effective way of doing that.

I think this idea, which is really just an update of an ancient practice of intelligence and military services throughout history, could be used in other areas such as protecting personal privacy. Authorities could create fake identities and leave them vulnerable to identity theft. Trying to use the fake identity would get them flagged immediately. The thieves would have no way of telling the fake identities from the real ones. Computer security gurus already create directories full of tantalizing files called “honey pots” that no legitimate users will have an interest in but that crackers will waste time trying to down load. Their activity with the files alerts the administrator that his system has been compromised.

Fake information will accomplish three things: (1) A lot of it will make the real information hard to distinguish. (2) It will slow an opponents processing time because they will have to double and triple check before deciding a piece of information is real. (3) It will destroy people’s faith in authority. Authorities will now have to carefully explain why they think the data they work with is reliable.

Manipulating the data stream with fake info is the wave of the future. Call it the In-faux-mation tactic. Britney Spears is just on the cutting edge yet again.

*Sigh *is there nothing she can’t do?

Recreating Victoria

Via Instapundit comes a link to a post on Balkinization that proposes to create “A new crime of “reckless sexual conduct…”.

Basically, the idea is to prevent date rape and STD’s by making it a crime not to use a condom during a one-night stand. There are lot of practical and moral objections to such a law. I don’t think it has the hope of seeing the light of day but it is still a good example of a cultural and legal phenomenon that has been going on since the sexual revolution.

A pattern has emerged in the way we treat the rules for sexual relationships: (1) We start with a traditional culture based rules which may or may not be strongly enforced by formal law. (2) The argument is advanced that the traditional rules are irrational, oppressive, no longer needed etc (3) Both culture and law are changed to destroy the culture based rules. (4) To the surprise of everyone except elderly grandmothers, the new rules have unanticipated negative consequences. (5) To address these consequences, new formal laws are created that bring us back to a state very much as in (1).

In short, after destroying Victorianism culturally we recreate it in formal law. What was once enforced by the soft power of culture becomes enforced by the hard power of the state.

(Sweeping Generalization Warning: This is a huge subject and I’m covering a lot of conceptual ground in a short space so don’t expect details.)

Date-rape is a good example of this process.

Traditional culture dealt with the problem of date-rape by trying to prevent situations were it might occur. Men and women were not allowed privacy together unless they were married. The enforcement of this rule was draconian. Women who voluntarily placed themselves alone with a man were simply not protected. The culture basically strung up warning tape across that path saying, “proceed at your own risk.”

Traditionally, people had no choice but to adopt such a strategy. In the era before modern forensics proving rape in all but the most unambiguous circumstances was very difficult. This difficulty also explains the requirement in many cultures that for a woman to claim rape she must have struggled so violently that her attacker had to physically injure her in order to control her. Authorities and the community had no other means of proving a non-consensual act occurred.

The 1960’s saw the rapid acceleration of a trend that began in the 1920’s. The cultural and legal prohibitions against sexual privacy for the unmarried were destroyed. By the mid-80’s, many begin to recognize date-rape as a phenomenon. A person, usually female, voluntarily enters a private space with another person, usually male, and gets raped. Even with modern forensics, it is often impossible to tell if a non-consensual act occurred. Worse, some rapes could well be accidental (for want of better word). The rapist might honestly not understand that the victim did not want sex or, one or both of the parties might be so intoxicated that they could not give or understand consent.

Nobody wanted to return to days of no sexual privacy for the unmarried so to address the problem, several different solutions, all based in formal law were proposed: (1) The female was always right. If she said she was raped at any arbitrary point after the act, she was. (2) The “mother may I” strategy. Some colleges tried this idea of requiring explicit verbal consent before advancing to the next “base.” (3) Video recording all sexual encounters. (4) Now we have “if you don’t use a condom it is rape.”

All these solutions seek to inject the power of the State into the most intimate of personal relationships. We are constructing an elaborate set of rules around momentary sexual encounters and then seeking to enforce those rules with the power of the State. It is robotic Victorianism, a Victorianism shorn of its human dimension.

In the end, we end up where we began, trapped in an iron matrix of rules. Only this time, it is not social disapproval we face, but the violent power of the State.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Gigolo Factor

Both Instapundit and Best of the Web reference this NY Times poll showing Kerry losing ground among women. They seem to think it's the "Security Moms" factor that is causing Kerry trouble.

Kerry's life history isn't one that a lot of women would find attractive. Kerry married his first wife, a billionaire heiress, divorced her, had their marriage annulled in the Catholic Church, ran through some girl friends and then married another billionaire heiress. Kerry is not a man who has made his own money. His 3 year sojourn as a private sector attorney and an investment in a cookie company don't seem to have netted him much. His jet setting lifestyle depends wholly on his second wife's inherited Republican money.

Kerry isn't a case of a multimillionaire marrying a billionaire. This guy doesn't have much beyond his $150,000 senator salary. If he hadn't been a Senator he probably wouldn't have gotten to first base. The fact that he married super-rich twice also looks a little seamy.

It's the 21st Century and intellectually most woman wouldn't want to judge a man's character on the basis of the wealth of the women he loves but I can't help but wonder if when they see Kerry with Teresa they hear ever so softly in the back of their minds:

I'm Just a gigolo
everywhere I go
people know the part
I'm playing

Paid for every dance
selling each romance
Oh what their saying

There will come a day
And youth will pass away
What will they say about me

When the end comes I know
they'll say just a gigolo
Life goes on without me

That's got to be good for a couple of points worth of "yech" in the polls.

(cross posted to Chicago Boyz)

The Interviewed Expert

Another consequence of Rathergate could be the end of the era of the interviewed expert.

Heretofore, major media got to decide which experts got to chime in on any particular story. 10 years ago only the opinions of experts selected by CBS and other major media organizations would have been heard. Today, any expert, in any field, can chime in on any story.

The legacy media has long leant credence to some ideas that had little broad scientific or expert following by the simple expedient of giving the minority viewpoint "equal time." The media created the illusion of widespread doubt and conflict by not weighting the time and space given to experts in proportion to their degree of agreement with others in their field.

I think that in the future, experts will spontaneously comment on stories and ideas via the Internet. People will begin to credence viewpoints (in areas where they must rely on authority) based on a broad consensus of the people who know the most about a subject.

Through a Distant Lens

(I originally wrote this in the comments to this posting over at Chicago Boyz)

One of the most eye opening books I ever read was a collection of news stories and editorials spanning the years 1938-1948.

The hostility and suspicion directed against Roosevelt before the war was absolutely stunning. The terror and calling for head lopping in early stages of the war were also a big surprise for me at the time. Criticism of war strategy was rife with retired generals weighing in from every corner. Post-war commentators thought we were "losing the peace."

Wish like hell I could remember the title of that book.

Understanding events through the lens of history distorts our sense of pace and order. It's something like the difference between reading a novel and writing one. One reads a novel very quickly going through dozens a pages an hour. Writing a novel is by comparison a very slow process. Churning out a page an hour is a good clip. I have observed many novice writers getting frustrated because their writing seems to "drag" because their mental speedometer is set on "read" not "write."

Our comparison of current events with historical events suffers in a similar fashion. We compare real time contemporary events with the temporally compressed historical events. The contemporary events seem much more chaotic and mismanaged compared to the historical events even though to the people of the time, the historical events looked just as bad to them as our contemporary events do to us.

Iraq looks like hell to many because that's what all such similar events look like at the time. If we persist, we will succeed and twenty years from now people will think back and wonder how we pulled it off so quickly and cleanly.

Natural and Unnatural Free-Markets?

What a free-market is free-of is violence. Individuals make economic decisions based on the advantage it brings them not out of fear of being hurt or killed by another human. We usually think of the violence as arising from the implicit threat of violence lying behind all government laws but a free-market can also be destroyed by individual-to-individual violence on many different scales. Once people begin making economic decisions based on fears of violence from any source, the free-market begins to die.

The anachro pole views the free-market as a natural phenomenon that exist prior to government and could exist independent of any government. Humans don’t have to carry out any conscious action to create a free-market. The free-market exist until a human takes a deliberate action to destroy it through an act of actual or threatened violence.

The classical-liberal views the free-market as an unnatural phenomenon. The classical-liberal thinks that violence and intimidation are fundamental facets of human existence. The free-market only comes into existence when violence is removed from human interactions by conscious intent. The free-market exist in an artificial and unstable bubble of non-violence created by minimal but effective state. Outside the bubble violence is always seeking to rush back in and destroy the free-market. The government that forms the bubble is itself violence and can grow out of control and also destroy the free-market. The bubble is maintained by counteracting natural violence with government violence. It is always a precarious balancing act.

These two models of the origins of the free-market generate different views on the utility of war.

Anachros view warfare as counterproductive. War is an exercise in violence that attacks the natural free-market regardless of by who or why the war gets fought. If governments stopped acting, the natural free-market would eventually assert itself.

Classical-liberals view some wars as necessary either to protect the free-market bubble or to expand it. Sometimes, if the government does not act, the free-market bubble will be destroyed by violence.

In the War on Terror, Anachros generally oppose it and classical-liberals generally support it. Anachros believe internal security precautions and external warfare are cures worse than the disease. Classical-liberals believe that the precautions and warfare are necessary to protect the bubble. Both views are logically consistent with their axiomatic beliefs about the origins of the free-market.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Property vs. Privacy

It is easy to think that you can own property anonymously. The presumption that “possession is nine tenths of the law” means that anything in your possession is presumed your property unless somebody can present positive evidence it is not. Most of us cannot easily prove we legally own most our possessions and the law in general does not require us to. As long as an item is on our person or within publicly recognized property like our homes or cars, the law presumes that we own it.

This system works well for physical items because ownership of physical items is zero-sum. If one person is using the item then others cannot use it at the same time. A hundred people cannot read the same copy of a book at the same time. More importantly for presumptive property rights, if person A takes person B’s item then person B will notice and complain because they lost the use of that item. If nobody complains, the presumption is that all the property is where it is supposed to be.

The presumption system fails utterly when applied to non-zero sum property. If person A and person B can use the same item without obstructing one another, indeed without each person even being aware of the other, then nobody can assume that anyone will complain if an item is not under the control of the legal owner. The legal owner may not even be aware that someone else is making use of their property without their permission.

All digital media is non-zero sum property. Copying bits is the most fundamental computer operation. Before a digital computer can make any use of any data it must first copy it into memory. Right now, you are not reading this website, you are reading a copy of this website recreated on your local computer. With the right software, you could save that copy forever. Doing so would not interfere with the ability of others to read the website nor would I even know you had done so.

The only way to establish that an individual legally owns an instance of digital media is to permanently maintain a data trail connecting the creator of the digital media to the individual. To enforce their rights, the creators will need the ability to inspect any data trail at anytime. Practically, this means using an automated system. All current and proposed Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems use this basic concept.

The political problem is that people think of media as small physical items that they can purchase and own in near total anonymity. Until the Internet age, buying information meant buying the physical media it was embedded inside of. People think that when they buy a book they are buying the information in the book but what they really legally own only the physical paper of the book, not the unique pattern of information printed on the paper. The legal presumption of ownership is based on the physical possession of the paper, not the information on it. The physical paper is zero sum property. The information is non-zero sum.

Increasingly, more and more information is created, distributed and consumed purely in digital form. It never, at any time, exists in a non-volatile physical medium. The consumer never has in hand any kind of physical, zero-sum property that the presumption of ownership can be based on. People want the law to treat an MP3 file on their hard drive the same way it treats a CD on their rack but the two are in no way functionally comparable. They strongly resist all attempts to treat digital media differently from physical media but realities of the two media so diverge that applying the physical rules to the digital causes a complete breakdown of property rights. The only way to preserve property rights in digital media is to destroy anonymity in the purchasing and holding of digital media.

There are many valid concerns with the loss of anonymity in the consumption of information but without property rights the free-market will cease to operate in the creation and distribution of information.

The economic, social and political implications of the extinction of free-market information are staggering.

I will cover these implications in future postings.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Monday, September 20, 2004

A Nifty flashlight

What didn't I think of this?

Also, how the flashlight got it's name.

Crossed Fingers

Reportedly, CBS will announce today that they concede the infamous Bush AWOL documents are forgeries.

Once that happens, the story will then become the providence of the documents. Many believe that CBS has been slow to declare documents forgeries because then they would be obligated to say who they got them from. Speculation is rife CBS does not want to reveal the source because it is a high ranking member of the Democratic party like Max Clealand. Such a scandal would most likely destroy the Kerry campaign.

I typing with crossed-fingers now hoping that no major Democrat was involved. I think it would be a disaster long-term for the nation and for the policies that I support if Kerry goes down due a scandal, especially a scandal that he was unaware of. There are two major negative outcomes from Bush winning by default.

First, winning by default can seriously undermine a winner's mandate. It's hard to claim you have widespread support for your policies when you won office because the other guy didn't show up or disappeared. Bush needs a firm mandate to finish the war and to advance the ideas of the "Ownership Society."

Second, the Democratic party needs some serious self-reflection and reform. It needs new 21st century ideas and new leaders. Getting trounced in a fair fight will prompt this reform while losing due to scandal will delay it. It will be easy for democratic stalwarts to say, "We would have won if only it were not for the scandal."

I think everybody assumes that the source of the forgeries is rooting for Kerry for whatever reason. I just hope like hell it's nobody on his payroll.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Sunday, September 19, 2004

To Thy Own Self Be True

I think that Bush has a significant advantage over his opponents in the AWOL story.

He knows what really happened.

Everybody else is just guessing, but Bush knows. This gives him an enormous strategic advantage. His opponents don’t really know what happened so they expend a great deal of resources chasing mirages and basing strategy on them.

It is not just that Bush was involved with the actual events but that he remembers them without advantages. He has stuck to the exact same line for 10 years: he fulfilled his obligations. Nothing fancy, just the basics. He deftly flips the ball back across the net each time, basically saying, “I fulfilled my obligations, prove I didn’t.” He feels safe doing so because he knows that while he might have bent some rules, he never broke them. He can safely let his opponents poke around all they want, there is nothing to find. He knows he is safe from attack from that direction. He did not panic when the forged documents came out because he understood they would ultimately be an ineffective attack.

I think Kerry got blindsided by the Swiftvets because he doesn’t really know what happened. He was there, but he remembers with such advantages that it never occurred to him that others that were there as well would have anything but glowing memories of his service. Nobody ever seems to have questioned his “Christmas in Cambodia” story and he retold it so many times I think he honestly believes it himself. The same holds true for his anti-war activities. He remembers the adoration he received from the Leftist intelligentsia but not the fury and hatred he engendered in the majority of veterans.

Bush and Kerry are like two opposing generals. Bush has a realistic understanding of the disposition of his own troops but Kerry does not. Kerry cannot predict the consequences of an enemy movement because he doesn’t know where his own forces are. Kerry ignored the Swiftvets because he never understood that he was in anyway vulnerable to attacks on his wartime service. The attack fell upon a weak point he did not even imagine existed. Worse, it was a weak point he believed was a strong point.

Bush’s business and personal failures in the mid-80’s forced upon him a self-reexamination rare in people involved in politics. I think it knocked the arrogance out him and let him look at himself in a ruthlessly honest fashion. He understands himself and this in turn gives him a good idea of how others see him as well. That’s a tremendous advantage for a politician.

To defeat Bush, Kerry must first truly understand himself. I don’t think he has the inclination, nor the time left, to do so.

(cross posted to Chicago Boyz)

Friday, September 17, 2004

Evil Aye

"Four memos to fool them all, four memos to blind them. Four memos to bring Bush down and Rather will provide them!"

Eye sea

Envelope Backs

From watching the news one could safely assume that Iraq is a nation up in arms and that the situation is spiraling out of control. One could assume from continuing Coalition causalities that opposition to the Coalition is widespread and popular.

How can we test that idea? Well, we could try a few back-of-the-envelope type calculations to try to get at least a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Iraq is a nation of roughly 25,000,000 (twenty-five million)

If 1% of the population was willing to take up arm against the Coalition, that would mean an active insurgency of 250,000 (two hundred fifty thousand). That’s roughly 1.5 insurgents for every Coalition soldier in-country.

If 1% of those insurgents attacked the Coalition on any given day it would mean that 2,500 (twenty-five hundred) insurgents would be attacking every day.

If 1% of those insurgents managed to kill a Coalition soldier, that would mean Coalitions causalities would run at a rate of 25 (twenty-five) dead a day.

The Coalition actually loses around 3 killed per day.

Working from above backwards, that implies that the number of insurgents attacking Coalition per day is around 300 (three hundred).

That implies that the total active insurgency is comprised of 30,000 (thirty thousand) individuals.

(That’s an upper bound by the way)

That means that the percentage of the Iraqi population actively resisting the Coalition is somewhere around 0.12%

Wow, were obviously doomed. Time to throw in the towel I say.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Dotcom Democrats

The Democratic Party has been losing political power slowly but surely for the last 30 years. Arguably they have not won a straight out Presidential election since 1964. Carter won because of Watergate, Clinton won because of Perot. In the Congress, Governorships and elsewhere there has been a steady and constant erosion of power as they have lost election after election.

Democrats convince themselves they lose due to Republican dirty tricks? After all, everybody agrees with them on the issues don’t they? Well, yes and no.

It’s the “No” they won’t recognize and its killing them.

An old computer industry joke that mocked the slipshod business plans of many Dotcom startups portrayed their business plans as:

Step 1: Slap random content on a web page
Step2: ???????
Step 3: Profit!

Step 2 was always the problem. How to make money off web content was a challenge that few businesses met. Eventually, the industry wide failure to implement Step 2 prevented Step 3 and the bubble popped. For a time though, Step 1 and a desire for Step 3 seemed all you needed to get investors.

The Democrats and the political Left in general have followed a similar plan trying to win political power:

Step 1: Tell people you understand their problems and that you will solve their problems.
Step 2: ?????????
Step 3: Win Elections!

Step 2 is always the problem. It’s as easy to identify problems and concerns as it is to slap content on a web page. Solving the problems efficiently and effectively is as difficult as making money off that content. Like the Dotcoms, the Democrats desire to solve people’s problems got them votes for a time but eventually they had to deliver solutions.

They can’t solve the problems in a manner acceptable to the electorate because the mechanism they always choose to do so no longer works. They always choose a large-scale, highly centralized, government program. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, the solution is always a large-scale, highly centralized, government program.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, the electorate no longer believes that the government can deliver services that way efficiently and effectively.

Take health care for example. Everybody, and I mean everybody, has some economic incentive to socialize health care cost. Big corporations would love to offload their crushing obligations for employees and retirees onto the government. Smaller business would love not to have to compete with corporation’s medical benefits. Freelancers and entrepreneurs would love to be able to take a chance on a new business without putting their family’s health at risk. Lower income workers would like to get benefits that their employers can’t afford. Everybody is paying through the nose for health care already so fear of higher taxes per se is not an obstacle.

Democrats look at this and say, “We’re a shoe in! We promise government funded health care and everybody from street people to CEOs will vote for us!” But when they run on the idea the electorate says, “Right, I’m not turning my health care over to the functional equivalent of the post office!”

What is killing the Democrats is not the issues but the nuts-and-bolts of the mechanisms they advocate using to address those issues. People believe that the mechanism that the Democrats advocate will provide inferior service at a higher cost. Democrats cannot or will not change the mechanism. They advocate the same mechanism over and over and lose elections over and over.

In the end they are like dotcommers reduced to ripping copper cables out the drywall to pay for their instant raman all the while thinking, “What went wrong? We were on the Internet! We wanted to make money! What else was there?”

(cross posted to Chicago Boyz)

The Paranoid Left

(Note: Reason seems to be having server problems, again)

Over on Hit and Run, Nick Gillespie points to an article on Slate about Lewis H. Lapham defense of his analysis of the Republican convension he wrote and published before the convention occurred.

One bit drew my attention:

"The paranoid-reductionist formula goes like this: People connected by money, greed, and ideology are building institutions to foist their self-centered agendas and corrupt ideas on the easily hoodwinked masses. These people are so unscrupulous and cunning that they're willing to present the most outrageous untruths as fact."

I have noted a generalized paranoid and conspiratorial tone on the part of the Left in many areas. It's gotten so bad that I think that even Kerry gives off this creepy Nixon vibe.

Where does this paranoia come from?

I think this paranoia springs from the Left's statist world view. If you believe that the world is easily ordered and centrally controlled and you are losing a competition badly, your immediate assumption will be that you have been out-organized and out-controlled. Since they can't see the levers of control that their model says must be there, the levers must be hidden and therefore part of a conspiracy. It's very logical given their statist axioms.

Their axiom is flawed. The contemporary world works just fine in a highly decentralized fashion. It's quite easy for previously unassociated people to organize themselves for political action. No shadowy manipulator is required.

More broadly, Leftist ideas are not failing due to some Rightwing propaganda campaign. Most people are not sheep and make political decisions based not on the dictates of think tanks but on their own personal experience. The Left is losing today because fewer people work as drones carrying out the decisions of others and more people work as independent decision makers. A broader swath of the electorate has direct experience with the real world information management and this has made them increasingly leery of centralized solutions. They have seen to many centralized solutions fail in the real world.

The Left appears unwilling to entertain the idea that history has passed them by. They have become the conservatives in the political spectrum but they have the idea that they represent the forward thinking progressive segment so en-grained into them that the only explanation they can entertain for their electoral failure is some grand conspiracy.

It's actually kind of sad.

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Prescient Bloom County

From a Bloom County comic strip I found while researching another matter. It originally ran in '82 or '83.

Image Hosted by

Image hosting by ImageShack

Berkeley Breathed intellectual property rights grossly violated

(cross posted at Chicago Boyz)

Happy Idiots

Tradition says that, “Ignorance is bliss.”

Will Rogers said, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

So how come everybody isn’t happy?

Perhaps our unhappiness springs from the corollary to Rogers observation, “Everybody is knowledgeable, only on different subjects.”

Perhaps, the more we know about a subject the more it’s real world state discomforts us but I recall a study done back in the ‘80s that showed that the less a person knew about the science and technology behind nuclear power the more afraid of it they were. Anecdotally, I think this true about global warming and other environmental subjects as well.

In politics at least, people are usually most upset that government doesn’t take some concrete action in an area in which the person knows the least about. People desire to bring government power down on the heads of others, not themselves. Artists think that government should regulate business and business people think the government should regulate artist. You never see giant protest where people scream, “Please tell us how to run our lives!”

Another Will Rogers’ quote might rescue us, “It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so.”

The more you believe the world works in a fashion that it does not, the more you are doomed to unhappiness. You will constantly compare the real world against the fantasy model in your mind and find the real world wanting. Your attempts to control or alter the world will repeatedly fail. You will eventually have to either discard your broken model or resort to some conspiracy theory to explain why it failed.

I have often observed that political extremist of all stripes are often very angry and hostile people. This is especially true of Leftist. The writings of early-20th century Marxist are filled with a pure white rage. They were enraged because they sincerely believed that all the negative consequences of poverty were easily avoidable. Every child that died from poverty did so wholly unnecessarily. The immediate application of Marxist remedies would have virtually instantly solved all the economic and social problems of the world. Refusing to do so was tantamount to standing over a child dying of an infection while holding a syringe of antibiotic but never using it.

As Sowell has observed, the belief in the capacity of humans to understand and control the economic world is a central facet of Leftist thought going back to the 17th century. Each generation of Leftist has firmly believed it understood the world nearly perfectly and if given power it could fix nearly everything. Looking backward we can see they were doomed to fail. Many of the brightest minds of humanity “knew things that weren’t so.”

Free-market economic theory, from Adam Smith onward, is grounded in the idea of ignorance. No human or group of humans, no matter how intelligent, can reliably predict how the economy will evolve in the future. No one can predict the consequences of government intervention. Real time knowledge about the economy is so poor that any attempt to operate on the basis of that knowledge is more likely to cause harm than good.

Economic happiness comes from carefully mapping out the boundaries of ones knowledge. It comes from admitting to oneself that one is ignorant of how the economy behaves outside of ones narrow specialty. It comes from admitting to oneself that humanity collectively is functionally ignorant of the real world, real time economy. It comes from building economic and political system premised on this lack of global knowledge.

Embrace ignorance. Be happy.

Fences and Audiences

At its heart, terrorism is theater.

Each act of terrorism has an intended audience. Most acts of terrorism have at least two audiences. The terrorist who struts bloodily across the boards plays not only to the greater world out in the stands but to his own local community who watch from the wings. In many cases, the audience in the wings is the most important one to the terrorist long-term goals.

Many analysis of Palestinian suicide bombing mistakenly believe that the primary audience for the terrorist is the Israeli electorate or the wider world but the primary audience is actually the Palestinians themselves and their supporters in the Islamic world.

The security fence closes the curtain on this show. That’s why so many Palestinians and their enablers oppose it so strongly.

Palestinians have no functioning government or institutions at all. The Palestinian Authority is a joke. The Palestinians are ruled/oppressed/plagued by various gangs or warlords masquerading as anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. The various groups all hate each other and struggle internally for the mindshare of the Palestinian people and for financial support from the broader Islamic world.

Heretofore, they competed with one another primarily by attacking Israel. The more Israeli each group murdered the greater its prestige, power and financial reward. This dynamic produces the sickly comical scene of various groups clawing over one another to take credit for this or that outrage.

The Israeli security fence threatens to change the fundamental dynamic and destroy the rule of the gangs forever. If the gangs cannot use terrorist attacks against Israel as a proxy they will be forced to fight each other directly for power. If they can’t kill Israelis, their external financial support dries up. This is happening now in the Gaza strip. A civil war has broken out between competing gangs desperate to survive by physically dominating the Palestinian masses. The same thing will happen in the West Bank when the fence is completed there.

Theater is all about illusion and one creates an illusion by controlling perspective. From the middle seats and from the darken wings the terrorists look like noble heroes struggling against the evil Israeli villains but when the curtain comes down and the backstage lights come up they are revealed to be selfish prima donnas in too much grease paint.

This is one show I can’t wait to see close.

(Note: I don’t know how original this idea is but it bears repeating)

(Update: Steven Den Beste pursued similar themes in several postings)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Blogging-25 hours later

I started this blog 25hrs ago and heres a few things I have learned in the interval. (In no particular order)

The rest of the blogsphere may not need professional editors but I sure as hell do.

Most people seem to assume your wearing pants.

Apparently, having a memorable name really helps people keep track of you in cyberspace.

You can't have to many blogs. I got invited to post on the Chicago Boyz group blog and so far it's working out well with only one fist fight breaking out.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit is the most efficient human being on the planet. Do not contact him unless you are prepared for an immediate response. I put up one post and then emailed Glenn I had started a blog like he suggested. I assumed he would not see my mail for hours or days and I expected him just to respond with a congratulatory email. Instead he posted a link to my blog literally within minutes and my one little post got slammed like a puppy in the rain colliding with the offensive line of the Greenbay Packers.

I've gotten 3,684 hits on very little content.

It's like my grandfather used to say, "Don't poke the bear until your ready to run."

Digital Barbed Wire

This post over at Slashdot highlights the problems that small software publishers have with the piracy of their products. One publisher was so frustrated he programmed his product to delete the home directory of the user if the product was activated with an illegitimate serial number but even this “nuclear” option did not work. The small publishers lament that only a big publisher like Microsoft can reliably get paid for its software.

This is a critical issue of intellectual property rights and like all intellectual property rights issues it has a lot to do with cows.

Many people image that the era of the Open Range in the American West was the era of the small rancher. After all, nobody could stop anybody from running cattle anywhere. The technology to create a system of fences to demarcate property lines and to contain livestock did not exist. Nobody could build a system of wooden fences across the open prairies of Texas or Montana. It seems obvious to many modern thinkers that this must have been an anarchist paradise. Any wanna-be rancher could take a few head of cattle out on the Open Range and let them fatten on free grass before driving them waddling back to a railhead for a fat profit. The little guy could finally make a buck off the free and open grass lands.

It didn’t work that way.

In reality the era of the Open Range was the era of the cattle barons, massive outfits with tens of thousands of heads of cattle and hundreds of employees backed by the capital of big investors back east. They ran roughshod over the small ranchers. The cattle barons dominated because without property rights the biggest operations gained all the competitive advantage. Without fences managing and protecting a free ranging herd took a lot of manpower and hiring that manpower up front took a lot of capital.

With no means of physically separating herds, small herds had to get out of the way of large herds or risk being permanently commingled. No malicious intent was required. It happened often by accident. Since nobody had any particular right to any particular grazing land or water source, the big herds went where they wanted to and the little herds got out of the way or disappeared. If a small herd did get commingled the small rancher had almost no hope of recovering his losses. Without property rights it was very hard to prove exactly who owned which animals and the barons could afford to fight legal cases or real fire fights must easier than the small rancher.

Small ranchers never stood a chance until the development of barbed wire. Barbed wire made it practical to demarcate property lines on the prairie, it let small operations manage more cattle with fewer hands and it let farmers protect crops from ranging herds. It made practical the implementation of strong property rights on grazing lands.

Barbed wire ended the era of the Open Range and with it the era of the cattle barons but hey didn’t go down without a fight. This was the era of the range wars. Despite the romantic stories, those cutting wire and knocking down fences were far more likely to be employees of cattle barons trying to run over the property of a yeoman farmer or rancher than the opposite. Barbed wire brought the family farm to the Great Plains and the cattle barons and their mega-corporations faded from the economic landscape.

The little guys won thanks to a new technology that enabled strong property rights and brought the era of the Open Range to an end.

In regards to Digital Rights Management (DMR) we are currently in the Open Range era. Anybody can publish software out on the Open Range but only the big publishers have the independent means to compel payment for that software. Neither cultural norms nor the power of the state will assist the small publisher in getting paid.

As the cattle barons hired small armies of cowboys, cyber-barons like Microsoft can hire legions of lawyers and auditors to insure that at least the institutional users of their products pay for them. Microsoft gets a far higher rate of return for each dollar it spends producing software than smaller publishers can even dream about.

One of the most destructive concepts that grew out of various strains of socialism is the idea that strong property rights benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Large and powerful interest can find other means of protecting their economic interest other than relying on the cultural or state enforcement of property rights.

What the software industry lacks is digital barbed wire, a technological means of reliably enforcing property rights in cyberspace. Until we have it, we shall live in the era of the cyber barons.

Hi Jack!

Over at Chicago Boyz, Ken argues that it is counterproductive to disarm passengers since weapons will help them resist a hijacking better. I'm a big fan of personal weapons but in this case I respectfully disagree.

One problem is that since hijackings are extremely rare events letting passengers carry serious weapons like tasers, pepper spray, knives or even guns will be statistically more likely to cause a fatal accident than to be used to resist a hijacking. Also, since any terrorist are likely to be seriously outnumbered by the passengers and crew depriving everyone of weapons would throw the advantage to the passengers and crew. They can just overwhelm the terrorist with numbers.

And, we can be very, very sure that the passengers will fight.

Prior to 9/11 the assumption of the flight crew, passengers and authorities on the ground was that terrorist sought to control the plane in order to pull off an extended media stunt. Going along with the terrorist offered the best chance for everyone to survive because time worked against the terrorist control of the airplane.

The ruthless brutality of the 9/11 attacks changed that calculus forever. Everyone will now operate on the assumption that the terrorist intend to kill everybody on the plane and as many people on the ground as possible. Not even the threat of a bomb will deter resistance. Passengers will know that even if they cooperate with the terrorist there is the high likelihood that authorities on the ground will have the plane shot down if it approaches an urban area and is not firmly under the control of the flight crew.

9/11 made every aircraft “desperate ground.” Every passenger knows that the only way to survive will be to fight to the death no matter how poor the odds. Even the Nazi’s knew that they could not herd their victims into the deaths camps unless they created the illusion that the camps were survivable. The 9/11 terrorist destroyed that illusion for airline hijackings.

I predict that aircraft will be destroyed by bombs, thimblefuls of nerve gas or from bloody fights for control but we will never again see one setting on a tarmac surrounded by soldiers.

Update: Edited to take out a lot of the repetition I seem to be unable to resist cramming into every paragraph.
(Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz)

A Rose by Any Other Name

A lot of people seem to confused about about whether I am male or female. What is the gender of of someone who claims to be named "Shannon"?

The name can be either. It's derived from the old Gaelic and means "Wise One" or "old wise man" depending on whom you ask. The "Love" is most likely and Anglicization of the German Luft meaning "air" or the French "loup" meaning wolf but it might just be the English "love".

I like to think that my name translates as "Wise One of Love" spoken in a sleazy lounge singer's verbal lear. I always regretted not getting a PhD because I wanted to be able to sidle up to to people and say, "Hi! I'm Doctor Loooooovvvve!"

Just to clarify the gender issues, my spouse's name is Michaelynne and my children are named Riple*gh and Ryl*nt.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I’m not who you think I know you think you are

The Internet lets one do all kinds of interesting experiments with identity. It’s easy to create an Internet persona totally different from one’s true self and see how other’s react to it.

Many people believe that people of their particular political persuasion are the rational, polite open-minded people whereas their political opponents are the irrational, rude close-minded bigots. They believe this because they get treated poorly when they debate them, especially online.

It’s easy to show, however, that every segment of the political spectrum has its bigoted jerks. Just for an experiment, create an alternate persona with a differing political viewpoint than your own and then go into one of your favorite forums and pick a fight. Make sure you use realistic arguments and keep your emotional tone calm. I think a lot of people will be surprised how their ideological cohorts treat their persona.

Another fun thing to do is to have raging debates between two or more of your own personas in the same forum. It can liven up an anemic thread and is much less likely to get you locked up than doing the same thing verbally.

Back over at Reason

Reason Hit and Run poster "J" noted my comment and posted a link to a PDF paper on using shrike predation to measure the adaptive function of the spikes on the heads of "Horny Toads"

This prompted me to reply:

That paper is pretty nifty and yes I did mean "Texas Horned Lizard." Evolutionary biology is one of the most difficult fields. It's very easy to get sloppy. This was a very clever idea using shrike predation to measure adaptation. I especially like the first sentence.

'Many descriptions of evolutionary adaptations are criticized as "just-so stories" '

I remember back in college I worked as an undergraduate in a neurophysiology lab. We used the giant nerves in the claws of blue crabs to study changes in potentiation in the nerve cell membrane. It was incredibly exacting work that had to be done in a vibration dampened Faraday cage.

One day my professor was reading the school newspaper and he snorted in derision and threw down the paper. I ask him what was wrong and he said (I'm paraphrasing), "Those morons over in sociology think they've got some great new study. It takes me six months to build a profile of single nerve in a controlled environment and they think they can get a handle on human behavior with a couple of questionnaires. They find what they want to."

Huge swaths of the soft sciences in psychology sociology and the like are in my opinion "just so stories." Yet it is these sciences that have the most impact on our political discourse and through that our daily lives.

Cover Your Ass Portal

Over at Reason's Hit and Run Blog they have christened the CBS scandal Cover Your AssGate after the "CYA" at the top of one memo's.

This reminds me of a story:

Once I was complaining to a co-worker about political correctness and I pointed out that recently on a nature show they had featured the Texas Horned Toad. I complained that everybody knew it was actually called a "Horny Toad" and that the name had been altered because the word "Horny" had shifted in meaning over the years (it used to mean rough and bumpy, not aroused).

My coworker who was from England questioned the existence of the beast. I related that they were very common in my youth before the fire ants nearly wiped them out. They're fascinating creatures who can burrow straight down by wiggling rapidly from side to side and they squirt blood from their eyes.

I told my coworker, "I'm a horny-toad lover."

My coworker looked at me for a long moment and then said, "That's a phrase were the hyphens are very important."

I suggest that "Cover-Your-Ass Gate" works better than "Cover Your AssGate"

Nazi Gold!

Since I am getting large amounts of unanticipated traffic I have decided to offer up for internet auction the location of a vast horde of nazi gold that I inherited from my great uncle Farnworth "The Squeaker" Love (don't ask about the nickname).

I have the latitude and longitude down to the second and references to nearby landmarks. This pile of gold is so large you can find it easy. Want proof? Look here, this may look like an ordinary cheap wedding band but it is in fact Herman Goering's nipple ring.

No, really!

Any takers? I mean were talking tons of gold here! I'd go get it myself but I have a bad back and I am allergic to sand.

You know, I've been trying to sell the location of the great Nazi Gold horde for years now but I never get any takers. I wonder why?

It's almost like selling pure information is an extremely difficult transaction to carry out in the real world. You no doubt have paranoiac fears that the twelve numbers I will give you will not lead you to Nazi Gold but to a the parking lot of an All Asian Massage Parlor in Des Moine, Iowa were as I have entirely rational concerns that the cashiers check you will give me from the "First Bank of CBS" might not be legit. I can't show you the coordinates without giving you the information I am trying to sell you. You won't give me the money without some definite proof the coordinates are legit. It's a pickle. Game theorist call this the "Prisoners Dilemma" my grandparents called it "buying a pig in a poke."

Come to think of it, this is exactly the same sort of problem that people trying to sell information on the internet face. Whether were talking about news stories or music it is very difficult to sell information because act of telling the potential customer what the information actually is, is in of itself the act of transferring the information. This is doubly true in the case of digital information because the a digital computer cannot make use of information without first copying it. Right now you are not ready my blog site but rather a copy of my blog site that your browser recreated on your local machine. With the right software you can save that copy for all eternity and I will never even know you have done it.

Even in old media formats like newspapers, once information was published anybody could republish it. The only restraint in the past was that it took a factory and millions of dollars to produce enough hardcopy to reach an audience of thousands. But with the internet those days are gone.

Now if the Nazi Gold was stored in a series of caches I could just give you the location of the first cache free of charge. Once that panned, out you would feel more confident that I actually knew where the rest of the gold was. As we interacted repeatedly, me getting a little money each time, you getting a little gold, we would learn to trust one another. Game theorist call this "The Iterated Prisoners Dilemma." My grandparents called it "don't screw over anybody you'll have to deal with later."

This system would work as long as my information on the location of the gold was always accurate. Overtime I could build a brand "Shannon Love's Nazi Gold Service!" People the world over would pay me sight unseen for the coordinates.

However, if I ever screwed up and gave out the wrong location for a cache of gold I would destroy my brand. People would not trust me. The price I could charge for information would plummet, possibly to zero. I would have to start over giving away the information for free until I re-established my customers trust.

The real bitch of the matter is that my cousin Megan "Goody Three-Shoes" Love is fanatical about returning looted treasures to their rightful owners and is willing to give the location of the great Nazi Gold horde away for free. How the hell do I compete with that?

Quick this could be your last chance to plunk down millions for the location before Megan Love gives it away to everybody on the planet for exactly nothing plus zero change!

Hell, for the first bidder I'll even through in Goebbels tongue stud!

One Freaking Post!

Jumpin Jeebus!

Back in Feburary of this year Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame made mention of a post I did on another blog. I wrote him about it and he suggested I start a blog. After much procrastination I complied just today.

I just sent him a mail within the past hour telling him I started my blog. He published a notice on of my blog on Instapundit.. Now I will get hammered!

I've got one lousy post up!.

Well two now.

I'm going to be up for the next 48 hours inhaling espresso and churning out content.

Did I mention Jeebus is Jumping?

Major Media Parasites?

Major Media Parasites? ,

One of the best objections to the conclusion of my previous post about media secrecy is that the blogsphere is dependent on mainstream media for raw material on which the blogsphere comments. In this view, the blogsphere is like a biological parasite on major media. It can only critique the stories and information that major media provides. It can't generate it's own original information.

At this stage, I think this view is largely correct but I don't think it will last. Major media sets the agenda at present but it no longer controls it. With RatherGate, CBS started the story but the blogsphere raised questions about the authenticity of the memos. Very quickly the blogsphere begin producing new unique information.

First, the INDC Journal contacted a nationally known Forensic Document Examiner Dr. Philip Bouffard, the man who created the databases and software that forensic examiners across the nation use examine documents in criminal, court cases and historical research. Dr. Bouffard's cusory analysis helped trigger the interest major media organizations.

So right out of the gate, the blogsphere began to produce new information. In fact, this story is being propelled forward by original reporting originating within the blogsphere.

At this point in time, the blogsphere may exist as a parasite on major media but this is a temporary condition. I think what we are witnessing is the evolution of a new form of news media. The news media and blogsphere are evolving rapidly into a new form.

I think the critical idea is that the internet will undermine the secrecy that major media relies on for it's market advantage. Without secrecy major media cannot get paid. We will have to develop a new economic model for investigating and distributing news.

Why Old Media Thrives on Secrecy

RatherGate has revealed an ugly truth of old media: It needs secrecy to succeed economically. It must have access to sources of information that no one else does. Secret sources are to old media what physical assets are to smokestack industries.

Media makes its living by revealing what it knows but once a story is in the public domain it ceases to be an economic asset to the organization that originally produced the story. Once an outlet publishes a story anybody in the world can reproduce it and resell it in any form.

It is the sources that go into the production of the story behind the scenes that comprise the true assets of the organization. Each organization differentiates itself in the market by having different sources. The only means of preserving the sources is to have them remain secret from the general public. If the sources become public knowledge anybody can produce the story. Future sources will not cooperate if they believe that doing so will thrust them into the public limelight. This idea is so central to old media that the law grants professional journalist the privilege of not revealing their sources in court. The law recognizes that old media will not function unless it's sources remain secret.

Secrecy is so integral to the production of news stories that several recent scandals have occurred because even the editors and publishers do not always know who all of journalist sources are.

This system only works if the consumers trust the media to honestly and accurately transmit the information from the secret sources. Once an iota of doubt about the reporting arises both the story and the organization's brand is in danger.

The internet era works against old fashion media secrecy. Many more people can ask many more questions about every story. Any potential inaccuracies are brought to light nearly instantly. The old media institutions are then required to justify their stories or risk losing the critical assumption of trust. But they often can't justify their stories without burning their sources. Bloggers have no economic interest in secrecy. They can tell stories in a perfectly transparent fashion. This gives blogs a tremendous trust advantage.

The era of secrecy and unnamed sources will soon come to an end and with it the economic advantage that old media currently holds over the blogsphere. The days of major media will soon be over. The questions is what will replace it?