Nov 15, 2000

The Invincible(?) United States
Personal Commentary
11/15/2000; 8:14:37 PM

Nothing much seems to be happening in this site's topic area today, but I wanted to make a comment about something I've found increasingly disturbing over the past few years, and this political fracas over who the next President is isn't making me any more comfortable about it. This Camille Paglia Salon article, Becoming president under a noxious cloud, got me thinking about this.

As a country, we've had about 50 years of sustained prosperity, ever since World War II where the United States became a world power. That's a little over an entire generation. Those who at least had parents in the Depression are leaving power in this country and being replaced by those who think that the 1970's was as bad as economic times get. (Oh, it was bad, but compared to what is possible, it wasn't really that bad.)

These people have a mental image of the United States, and it is this image I find scary. The United States is Strong, the United States is Powerful, the United States is essentially Invincible.  Consider the strength of a country as a bank account, upon which deposits and withdrawals can be made... these people think that this bank account is essentially infinitely full, that we can never withdraw so much that we will not have enough to cover the next need.

The problem is not so much that these people are wrong, it is that they act like they are right; this is a case where it's all about perception. Too often, we're drawing on this account for selfish, limited gain for a few people.  Our President trades his good name for a tawdry affair; he traded his good name for getting off the hook, too.  Our Presidential candidates bicker and bicker and erode trust and confidence hourly.  Our foriegn policy is erratic. So many withdrawals... so few deposits.

Our bank account is not infinitely large. We are indeed strong. But we're like nouveau riche, who do not have a deep understanding that there's a big difference between "a lot of money" and "infinite money". I'm afraid this country will end up like a lot of people who hit the lottery jackpot: Prosperity for a time, then debts far bigger then what they would have ever incurred if they had not had the courage that money grants.

This no-holds-barred battle between the candidates over who will be the President... can we afford it?   The Watergate scandel cost us dearly, far more then I expect people could have understood in the week after the event. Will this cost us as much?  Can we afford this loss of trust?  After Lewinsky and a whole series of other serious scandals?

I'm worried. Yes, I do think we'll survive this, but I personally can't see this pathological behavior continuing much longer without some serious consequences. If I tried to spell them out, I'd look like a fear-monger; that's part of the problem! Nobody believes that we can really be hurt or even destroyed.  Why not?  Do me a favor if you're an American, and ask yourself that.  Are we so strong that we can act like we're invicible?

(I wrote the bulk of this earlier today, before Gore's offer to stop suing and abide by the results (I don't yet know if it was accepted). Regardless of the motives, that's exactly what we need to do. If the candidates had agreed to this from the get-go, perhaps we could have emerged with a net profit; as it is, it's time to cut our losses.  We have bigger battles to face out in the real world, and they are not growing smaller while we bicker about who gets to be the head clown. You notice how everyone's talking about how weak the next President is going be? This is why; both candidates firmly stand for withdrawing and don't believe in depositing.  But they're going to need everything they can get...)

Nov 14, 2000

iRights in
Personal Notes
11/14/2000; 4:53:55 PM

Scripting News announces, from Tim Bray.

I think a lot of people are going to be looking to see who their "neighbors" are. Update: OK, maybe not.  Anyhow, here's a pic of what the 3D mode looks like...

iRights in

Nov 14, 2000

The Internet’s chastened child
Privacy from Companies
11/14/2000; 4:49:27 PM

'As in a Greek tragedy, it was the characteristics that had brought Mr O’Connor so far that eventually failed him. A belief that he could write the rules for advertising on the web, because “there were no rules,” led him to miss the wider social and political impact of what DoubleClick was doing. The trigger was last year’s $1.7 billion acquisition of Abacus, America’s largest off-line database, which contains profiles of 90% of households, compiled from magazine subscriptions and store receipts. Unlike DoubleClick’s data, which is entirely anonymous, Abacus had 88m real names and addresses. Mr O’Connor realised that, by marrying the two, he could identify individual web users and not only track, but also predict their behaviour—making online advertising even more science than art. And he would have data that advertisers would pay through the nose for.

'Mr O’Connor has exposed online advertising and the Internet as a whole to the thing he hates most: interference from bureaucrats that could sap its ability to evolve and adapt. In July the FTC launched its own online privacy guidelines, and it is lobbying Congress for legislation. Worse, by giving the impression that surfers are under constant surveillance by companies such as DoubleClick, he may deter people from using the Internet altogether. The notion that Mr O’Connor has turned from free-wheeling arch-capitalist into a latter-day Big Brother is ironic indeed.'

Nov 14, 2000, Universal Settle
Music & MP3
11/14/2000; 4:40:10 PM ' will pay $53.4 million in damages to Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, to resolve the copyright infringement case between the two companies, a judge ruled Tuesday.

'Separately, and Universal struck a deal for Universal to buy "a significant amount" of MP3 warrants, the chief executive of MP3 said.'

Nov 13, 2000

Cybercrime Treaty Draft: Take 23
11/13/2000; 12:11:14 PM

'The world's first cybercrime treaty is being hastily redrafted after Internet lobby groups assailed it as a threat to human rights that could have "a chilling effect on the free flow of information and ideas."...

'"We were surprised by the violence of these comments," said Peter Csonka, deputy head of the Council of Europe's economic crime division which oversees the drafting.

'"We do not want to pass a text against the people," he told Reuters. "We have learned we have to explain what we mean in plain language because legal terms are sometimes not clear."...

'Last month, 35 lobby groups -- ranging from Internet users to civil liberties activists and anti-censorship groups -- wrote to the council urging it to hold up the treaty.'

I'm not convinced that the legal terms are unclear; I'd still lean towards the possibility that the drafters really have no clue how to assess the impact of various provisions... though I guess this is merely par for the course for regulators.

You know, after multiple thousands of years of government, and a couple hundred years of dominance by the scientific method, you'd think the two would be put together and it would be common practice to analyze laws and treaties to see what effects they might have.  What are all those so-called Polical "Scientists" doing with their time, anyhow? (Ah yes, figuring out how to con the public into electing a candidate ... how glad I am to have Political Scientists!)

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