Friday, July 08, 2005

London's Cameras

I have a question. London is one of the most monitored cities in the world. Something on the order of 10,000 video cameras are in operation 24 hours a day, monitoring public areas, streets and the underground. I've seen estimates that an average Londoner appears on 300 video cameras on an average day. Since these cameras only monitor public areas where the people have no reasonable expectation of privacy, opposition to all of this monitoring hasn't been enough to prevent the deployment, growth or use of this system. Here's my question - are the feeds from all of these cameras available to the public? And, if not, why not? Why can't Joe Londoner pull up the feed from camera number 7061 on his PC at home any time he likes? Why should access to this video be limited to the police or to government agencies, if the area being monitored is a public space? Personally, I'd be much less opposed to this kind of system if it was a public resource that the police had access to, rather than a policing system from which the public was excluded.

Give up nothing, for you will get nothing in return

Security is an illusion.

How can free societies protect their citizens from terrorists? They can't. They never have been able to, and they never will be. Whatever freedoms you surrender on the altar of security are lost, likely forever, and you will receive nothing in return for that loss except the sense of having 'done something'.

Want some more good news? Our government's spies won't ever be able to gather and analyze enough information to prevent more than a fraction of the bad acts of our enemies. All the squawking about 'intelligence failures' after each successful attack is completely useless. As are nearly all of the 'fixes' proposed or enacted to prevent these 'failures'.

So why aren't we all dead already? Simple - the overwhelming majority of people in the world don't want to kill anyone. And the tiny minority of people who do are marginalized and under far more threat from us than we are from them. Want to reduce the threat from them even more? Reduce their numbers, marginalize them further, and increase our efforts to defeat them utterly. Understand - we're never going to win, if we define win as achieving perfect safety. But we absolutely can diminish the ability of our enemies to strike at us. And we must.

It's instructive to consider why most of us feel safe leaving the house while wearing a nice watch, for example. We all know that muggers exist. But we also know that the vast majority of people out there are not muggers, and that mugging is a crime that will, in theory at least, be prosecuted. The police will respond. Arrests will be made. Verdicts will be reached, and sentences imposed. Justice will be done. Not every time, and not perfectly, but where possible. The mugger will be condemned for his crime. Our neighbors will side with us. Our family will support us. We know all this, but we also know that in spite of it all, there are still muggings, assaults, murders, all over a nice watch or a pair of shoes or an iPod. We know we aren't perfectly safe. But we still wear the watch.

Expecting our government to prevent every terroristic attack, or our spies to know about every planned attack before it's carried out, is no more reasonable than expecting our government to prevent every mugging. There has never been a government in the history of the world that has managed that. Even in prisons, crimes occur. We can't buy safety by turning our world into prisons of our own making, and ourselves into prisoners.

Give up nothing. If you are ever safer than you are right now, it won't be because you gave up some liberties in exchange for that safety. All you can buy with those lost freedoms are illusions of safety. Don't settle for illusions.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Do something useful

Bush and Blair should trash the G8 agenda and propose a USA-GB-Democratic Africa free trade zone.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Go directly to court!

AMD is suing Intel, charging that Intel has abused it's monopoly power and denied AMD market access. Sound familiar? You can read the complaint here -

What AMD alleges is very similar to the compaints against Microsoft. Basically, that Intel used it's monopoly power to coerce PC manufacturers and others to sign exclusive contracts or pay higher prices or otherwise suffer competitive disadvantages. Like the Microsoft case, none of the practices being alleged (as far as I know) are illegal unless Intel is indeed a monopolist. So, just like in the Microsoft case, that's going to be the real crux of the case.

Is Intel a monopolist? Are these contracts or tactics illegal? Who knows? One of the biggest problems with the entire area of law is that no one can know if they are breaking the law until they get hauled into court and a judge consults his Magic 8-Ball. And then there are the appeals.

Wouldn't it make more sense to forget this whole monopoly idea and just make these kinds of marketing tactics and contracts unenforceable for everyone? What do we gain as a society by enforcing these kind of contracts? Let Coke and Pepsi compete without being able to offer perks to customers who sign exclusivity contracts. If manufacturers have to offer products on an equal footing to all potential customers without regard to how those customers trade with the competition, then we can forget all of this pseudo-monopoly nonsense and get back to business.


Prescription drugs manufactured by American companies in America are more expensive here than they are almost anywhere else in the world. Why? Because almost everywhere else, national governments act as the buyer for all prescription drugs consumed by the populations of those countries, and these state buyers have enormous market power and so force manufacturers to sell to them at lower prices or risk losing access to that market entirely. Also, if I understand correctly, various governments threaten to violate intellectual property law and manufacture the drugs themselves royalty-free, if the drug company refuses to cooperate. The lost revenues caused by these schemes has to be made up somewhere if the drug companies are going to remain profitable and able to invest in developing new drugs. Increasingly, that entire burden falls on Americans alone. Essentially, we subsidize research and development of new drugs for the entire world with the increased cost we pay for drugs in this country.

Americans forced to pay these higher prices for the prescription drugs they need naturally seek to reduce or eliminate this unfair pricing scheme with re-importation. If drugs are cheaper in Canada, they reason, they'll buy Canadian drugs! Simple, right? Of course not. Government functionaries understand that the rent-seeking behavior they are paid to enable or commit would be threatened if massive re-importation reduced drug company profits in America, since that would force drug companies to reduce the delta between American and Canadian pricing. Mon dieu! The whole evil scheme would falter! Something must be done!

The functionaries are right, but the something that needs doing isn't what they think. What we need is a federal law which would force drug manufacturers to sell into the top tier wholesale market in America at prices equal to or less than they what they sell to these national health-care buyers abroad. If Pfizer or whomever will sell a pill to Canada or England or South Africa for fifty cents, they would have to sell that same pill to the largest wholesale buyers in America for fifty cents. That's only fair. The costs of drug development, manufacture and delivery should fall equally on all who benefit from them. Americans should not bear this burden alone - that's not fair to anyone, even the supposed beneficiaries of this unfair system.