For the Week of March 10, 2003
We know what drives economic growth in the Internet Age. Liberty, democracy, an open society, laws that are respected rather than feared and (sometimes contradictorily) stability all drive Moore's Law forward.
These are the enemies of Al Qaeda and, increasingly, of the Bush Administration. The Bush people don't get it. They are turning the U.S. into what Stephen Douglas once called "the terror of the world." The fictional response from Douglas' opponent on that Hollywood soundstage, Abraham Lincoln (Raymond Massey), is telling. "The Judge says that we can be the terror of the world. I don't think we want to be that. I think we would prefer to be the encouragement of the world."
This fault line was renewed 50 years ago, with roles reversed, and became known as McCarthyism. Republicans never fully renounced Joe McCarthy, who so feared Communism he put freedom under a reign of terror in the first decade of the Cold War. But Richard Nixon was a McCarthyite, and there's a straight line from Nixon to George W. Bush. These are the domestic policies now being pursued in the War on Terror, War on Drugs, and (increasingly) War on Copyright. At heart, they are Soviet policies.
The true Face of Evil isn't the mad man. It's far more banal. The Face of Evil believes sincerely he is doing nothing but good. He is saving you from The Other. His enemy must be your enemy, and if it's not then you are the enemy, and he must crush you. It's a mercy, don't you see?
Against this we have the American system of checks and balances. The American system doesn't assume all men are good, or evil. It is simply set up to assure that no one man, or group of men, will seize total power for long. Someone is always watching - Congress, courts, journalists, even lone whistleblowers. You will never get perfection from such a system. Unless the people are truly unified you will get only muddy answers to your questions.
McCarthyism stands against that. McCarthyism sees the world in black-and-white, up-or-down. It's a world of absolutes. Those who aren't on your side are The Other. There have been many McCarthy eras in American history, many actors on our political stage who felt they were doing nothing but good, but wound up as oppressors. From John Adams and his Alien & Sedition Acts to the southern Filibusters , the Comstock and Volsted morals police, Jim Crow, the Red Scare , even the Politically Correct - we all pay the price for intolerance, because in time the balance always re-adjusts. That is how America has survived, and thrived. We're not better than other people, in some ways we're far worse. But we change, we learn, we acknowledge and reject the zealots who would destroy liberty, even in its own name.
In time this will happen to John Ashcroft. It will happen to George W. Bush. They and all their works will be overthrown like Ozymandias . I am absolutely confident of this, not just because I believe in America or Americans. It's because of the medium you're using right now.
The Internet, and the technologies it represents, nurtures liberty. It spreads its benefits first to those people who embrace free inquiry, free enterprise, and freedom of action. It is America, but as we've seen the last few years (and this is very important) it doesn't depend on America.
Anyone can build tools for this medium, build a business on this medium, or express themselves on this medium. Growth comes to anyone with a better idea. You no longer have to be in America to be part of the global economy, or to participate in the American market. Thanks to the Internet, progress can come from China, from Japan, from India, from Australia, from anywhere in Europe, even from Africa or Latin America. All you need is knowledge, and courage, a connection, and you're in. (English still helps, too. But that requirement, too, is disappearing.)
The Bush people are angry that other countries are pushing-back regarding Iraq, but they don't know the half of it. The harder our McCarthyite Administration fights liberty at home, the bigger the opening it creates for other economies to let up, even if just a little, on their thinkers and entrepreneurs. It's money, not power, that talks in the 21st century, and as that money flows to China and India, American power is diminished.
This is not altogether a bad thing. A new balance is being created, and a new competition. Since victory in this battle goes to those who practice liberty, who check and balance power, who not only protect property but nourish the intellectual capacity to create property, the eventual victory of freedom is guaranteed.
Capital can move, people can move, ideas can move, and they will move henceforth into wherever they will find the most freedom, democracy and stability. If Europe offers more of these things than Bush' America, growth will move there. If new leaders here offer more, growth will move here.
That's a true check, a true balance, not just on power within America, but on power all over the world. And as we move from today's world of wired browsers to tomorrow's world of always-on, ubiquitous broadband, the power of this check on power will only grow.
If the Bush Administration remains opposed to the fuel our Internet needs - to liberty, to democracy, to power always checked and balanced - the Internet's growth will simply move elsewhere. This economic pressure will take the Administration down. If it tries to steal the 2004 election the way Mugabe stole his re-election in Zimbabwe, the power drain will accelerate.
The assumptions of absolute power made in Washington today have been rendered inoperative by the nature of this medium. There may be trouble along the way, but this will be proven true in time. I guarantee it. This medium is the balance of anti-terror.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
The reviews (well, some of them) are in. "Dana, it is GOOD," raves Pete duPont, lawyer, futurist and once a candidate for President. "This is some really powerful 'stuff.' I think you've got a winner," says Drew Kaplan of DAK Catalog fame.
Find out what the excitement is about. Buy The Blankenhorn Effect at Amazon.Com , then go back and say nice things. You can use the ASIN number, 1553953673, and recommend it to readers of other, similar books. You can also save on shipping when you buy the book at Amazon, over the cost of buying it elsewhere.
If you can convince some more published reviewers to read The Blankenhorn Effect and recommend it to their readers, please send me a name and address. In exchange, you'll get the PDF version of my second book, The Blankenhorn Effect: Boom, Bust & Beyond. This is a collection of columns from a-clue.com, organized chronologically and by subject, with additional commentary from yours truly.
I presently write for MediaPost , BtoB Boardroom and Mobile Radio Technology . You can follow the continuing story of The Blankenhorn Effect on my Moore's Lore blog . I also contribute to NowEurope and GreaterDemocracy .
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Takes on the News
U.S. Asserts Three-Digit Sovereignty
Forget ICANN, and forget the global nature of the Internet. The U.S. government formally asserted sovereignty over the .com, .org, .net and .edu name-space recently as Attorney General John Ashcroft seized dozens of domain names on a claim their owners were violating U.S. law.
Ashcroft wasn't just seizing the DNS to enforce drug laws. He was also going after sites whose owners (he claimed) were violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) . (He was even seizing sites providing coverage of the piracy issue. )
This is important because, while most major countries ban drug paraphernalia, most haven't passed the DMCA.
What does this mean? As a practical matter, people who might be in violation of U.S. law in any way need to switch their domains to a registrar who accepts what they're doing. If you're offering information on gambling, try Antigua or the UK. If you're against the DMCA, go to the Netherlands. Transfer your sites, provide pointers from your old .com domain, and essentially abandon U.S. jurisdiction.
Research these questions carefully, of course. When you leave in fear of the U.S. law, you also lose its protection. I fully expect other countries to start following Ashcroft's example very soon, trying to enforce local law globally, including countries that do not provide full judicial review, notice, or civil liberty protection.
Those violating "normal" legal standards, of course, will have to leave the Web, encrypt all e-mail, practice stenography, and hide in various corners of the Internet like Al-Qaeda. From the point of view of law enforcement, Ashcroft has just sent tens of thousands of people into the enemy camp. In defense of their own liberty (or what they see as their liberty) savvy Internet users will aggressively perfect, use, and distribute the tools they need to hide from Ashcroft's sight. It is certain that these "protections" will fall into the hands of our enemies. It's just another backward step in the War on Terror.
Why I Took The Job
Starting next Monday I have a real, full-time job, as a reporter for Mediapost. Regular a-clue.com service will not be affected.
Why did I take the job? Like most of you, my income has plunged the last few years, and recently it hit the final floor, zero. Sure, my lovely bride of 25 years still has a job, a very good one, but it takes two incomes (even if one is marginal) to keep a kid in private school, to provide for summer camp, and do all those little maintenance chores on the house, car, and family that make life fun.
There's also some ego involved. I like to feel useful. Checks do that for me. So do regular assignments. And I have found that, as my income has dropped, my phone calls are being returned less and less often. To some extent this is a function of the economy - there are fewer people whose time can be wasted answering a reporter's questions. But those who are left must set priorities. If "The New York Times" calls, you answer. If a vertical business monthly calls, maybe you don't. You certainly wait until the end of the day, when you hope to get voice mail, so you can claim you answered even if you didn't really answer any questions or take any time. (That's an old trick.)
But there's also the opportunity. From the beginning of my relationship with Mediapost it has been emphasized to me that my beat is "old media" - newspapers, magazines, TV, cable (maybe a little outdoor). My readers will be ad buyers, my sources agencies and sellers. On the whole, this is new stuff to me. And not many 48 year old reporters get a chance to reinvent themselves in this way. It's a chance to learn a whole new beat, to be part of a team, and to get my journalistic juices flowing again.
If someone wants to pay me to have fun, even if it's a starting teacher's salary, I'm still able to take that opportunity. I'm very fortunate. I hope my new employers will share my enthusiasm, and forgive my learning curve.
Hard Economic Truth
The 4A meeting I covered last week opened its convention pamphlet with a reference to "the ongoing recession." Not lingering, not recent, ongoing.
Washington and New York may argue, but the fact is this is the worst general recession since World War II. The reason this doesn't seem clear is because of many shock absorbers built into the economy since that time. Millions of people are living on their savings. The unemployment of freelancers and contractors doesn't go into the statistics. Low interest rates extract more savings through re-financing.
America has been living on its Clinton-era trust funds, but those are now exhausted. We have now spent all the progress the 1990s made on the federal budget deficit. All the "growth" we've seen has come from military spending (with its low, low multiplier) and housing (with its tax advantages, stolen from tomorrow's collections.) Many people are now living on retirement savings or kids' college funds, and it could get worse.
The return of inflation is a warning. Commodity inflation could be followed by a rush out of dollar-denominated assets (with a war unpopular the world over), sinking the markets, destroying purchasing power, and causing real hardship by this fall. Even Moore's Law may not save this economy. China is stealing the hardware industry, India the software industry. If Japan learns marketing what's left?
It's a long way down to the conditions of the Depression, and an even-longer way down to the conditions faced by Africa now. But all the ingredients are there - armed thugs, disrespect for law by those in power, short-term values, and religious fundamentalism. We won't get all the way there, but we could get closer than anyone now imagines.
Correction -- Dan Bricklin and Blogger
In my recent coverage and speculation here concerning the Google purchase of Pyra Labs I mentioned Dan Bricklin -- Visicalc co-inventor, creator of Trellis, the Clark Kent of the Internet. (You may follow the further adventures of this mild-mannered superhero here .)
Bricklin's Trellix Corp. helped Pyra in 2001, when Pyra was in financial hot water, and I had guessed from that he might be involved still. I was wrong.
A note from the man himself reads in part, "We helped Pyra out with a contract that brought in much needed money to them. (We actually helped pay for -- and ask for -- the conversion to Java, etc., that makes them more standard and more valuable, among other things.) I don't believe that Trellix got any ownership of Pyra. I'm not part of the deal with Google, though I do wish them the best of luck with it. I see lots of good potential there to help regular Google needs, but that's not my area right now."
For those who have not been keeping up with Dan's adventures, by the way, Trellix was bought by Atlanta-based Web host Interland early this year, and he now serves that company as its chief technology officer. He is scheduled to come here twice each month. My hope is to deliver this apology personally. (That might make the mistake worthwhile.)
Clued-in is Dan Bricklin . He reads a-clue.com. You should, too.
Clueless is the Kentucky court (near Lexmark's office) that gave the company a preliminary monopoly on ink-jet cartridges for its printers. Why should anyone seek a patent when you get more protection, on a longer term, simply through copyright?
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