Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Kirsten Bayes (kirsten-bayes) Thu 6 Dec 01 06:04
<pardon the slippage> I'd be interested to hear what kind of organisations people believe might become cyberstates. If the definition of a cyberstate includes a hidden economy, a sovereign legal system and (I'd suggest) the ability to take executive military action, it seems to me that there have historically been three types: - religious organisations: for example, the pre-reformation christian Church, which could command crusades, issue excommunications and trade in prayers for money. - commercial organisations: for example the British East India company, a commercial organisation which could field armies and who (at least in India) was responsible only to itself - nationalist organisations: for example, the Irish Republican Army before partition, which had a vision for a nation which exists now, but didn't then. Again, todays IRA has its own hidden economy and law enforcement, as well as the more high-profile military-style attacks. What others might exist?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 6 Dec 01 06:27
Gail asks about the sense in which al-Qaida is "cyber". That's a good questions, since key members don't even use cell phones and communicate by foot messengers. On the other hand, there are *reports* that al-Qaida has been using steganography (hiding encrypted messages in image files an uploading them to high volume locations on the web -- i.e. porn sites). In my view the real issue isn't the kind of communication being used, but rather the organization of the system. Al-Qaida seems to be organized into a network with good information gathering and sharing, lots of redundancy, and lots of authonomous packets that can continue to operate if communications *are* cut off. The real test will be to see what happens in OBL is eliminated. My guess is that the short term effects on the network won't be very significant.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 6 Dec 01 06:40
Shannon, in #48, suggests that the Lineage phenomenon is just a case of people using RW money to buy RW entertainment. I mostly agree with Kirsten's response in #49, but I have a thought or two that I might tack onto what she said. Notice that this isn't working like typical entertainment. If we play monopoly together, the currency has no RW value and the real estate we buy has no RW value (not even Park Place). You can't become rich playing Monopoly, unless, I guess, there is a contest in which a prize is given to the winner. This is different. You can make an honest living in this virtual space by networking, building tools, and selling them in the local currency (which is in turn translatable into RW currencies).
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 6 Dec 01 06:46
Bruce keeps asking me to give advice to would-be anthology editors. The main advice I have is "don't do it." It's a big pain in the butt and you don't get much cred for doing it. On the other hand, sometimes you can organize essays in away that tells a story in a more compelling way than you could tell the story on your own. I guess that's true here. Barlow and Brin and Dery and Barbrook and May and Bey are all much more compelling writers than I am. Why should I take all of their ideas and restate them in boring academic prose. As with _High Noon_ part of the aim of the project was to have an eclectic collection that would reflect the discourse of cyberculture in style as well as content. The project just had to be done this way.
rankincense and myrrh (vsclyne) Thu 6 Dec 01 08:25
Re Lineage: Amazing! I had no idea there was a such a RW trading market.
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 6 Dec 01 08:43
Well, see, Peter? That's just the kind of helpful advice I was hoping you could give! I like Kristen's list. There's discussion of Lineage in a piece up at Salon that's relevant to this discussion, too. "The return of Lord British: Banished from his own Ultima domains, game designer Richard Garriott is making a comeback, via Korea." By Wagner James Au <wjamesau> http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2001/12/04/garriott/index.html And Julian Dibbell had a dandy piece on OBL and steganography (the art of keeping communications themselves undetected) in Feed back in February. "Pirate Utopia: What does Osama bin Laden's Web porn infiltration have to do with Napster's fight for life?" http://www.feedmag.com/templates/printer.php3?a_id=1624
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Thu 6 Dec 01 11:31
I'll check out Waggie's piece. This is my new favorite subject. I've read Julian's piece and like it quite a lot. He actually cites the _Crypto Anarchy_ collection and draws an independent connection between steganography and Hakim Bey's TAZs. Independently, I've done some research into recent academic writing on Steganography, and it's worth noting that no one has confirmed the use of steganography by OBL. One group of researchers has developed a statistical tool that can identify images that have hidden steganographic files and they used it to search one million images on e-Bay (they found nothing). I'm not clear why they were checking on e-Bay, which would be one of the worst possible places to post such files IMHO.
Kirsten Bayes (kirsten-bayes) Fri 7 Dec 01 11:18
Of the three broad ways that ObL might have hidden his messages, - secrecy coding (cryptography) - channel coding (steganography) - source coding (pre-agreed code-phrases, shared referential framework) steganography is the least likely, I think. As post-event analysis has apparently revealed, many of the messages associated with the Sept-11 attacks were sent in clear, in Arabic. And why not? After all, anonymous or one-time e-mail boxes are easy to set up, and the people sending messages to each other would have so much in common, that they would find source coding much easier to do. All it would take would be to make references to obscure parts of the Koran in Arabic, and all the readers of a note would know instantly what the message meant, while the NSA's scanning computers would just pass the message by. Or they could just refer to past shared experiences. As Star Trek fans would say, it would be like "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra"... http://www.chaparraltree.com/sflang/referen.shtml
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 7 Dec 01 12:21
Deep esoterica coding?
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Fri 7 Dec 01 13:16
I've wondered for some time now whether the claims that these folks were using steganography were some kind of attempt to drag the encryption bugaboo into the argument in the complete absence of proof. Since the overzealous law enforcement and anti-privacy types couldn't point to any smoking guns (encrypted messages) and made the mistake of admitting such, maybe they felt that they really needed somehow to have an unprovable but conceivably plausible encryption-related claim which they could repeat to the press and public until gradually the meme would be established that ObL et.al. had used "some kind of encryption" -- and then, of course, after a suitable delay to allow memories to blur they could resume their same old tired and fallacious arguments for outlawing encryption and probably get a lot of benefit from that remembered association. Paranoid conspiracy theory? Maybe so, maybe so. Run-on sentence? Definitely. ;-)
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Fri 7 Dec 01 13:28
I'm with Kristin and Bob. Some number of pre-9-11 stories used OBL as a hook for a stego or crypto story. "These guys could be using steganography. What's that? It's [insert story here]." Ashcroft came on all tough about crypto and privacy when he was a senator looking for additional modica of support for his presidential aspirations. Now that he is the nation's law enforcer that kind of talk gets your patriotism questioned. Peter: you've said above that you're more concerned about abuse of users by overzealous sysops than about a lack of means of enforcement within cyberspaces or -states. Could you say a little bit about due process in cyberspace, where things stand, how you think things might or ought to develop?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Sat 8 Dec 01 11:41
About #60, I've also wondered whether the OBL+steganography story wasn't being floated as a way to discredit crypto in general, although I couldn't see what is supposed to be gained by such stories (anti-crypto legislation? -- but the genie is out of the bottle). Steganography software is trivially easy to use so I supppose OBL *could* have used it, but why would he/they bother? The only thing I can think of would be it's potential value in screwing up traffic analysis. About due process in cyberspace, it tends to be a mixed bag, doesn't it? Here on the WELL, for example, it's not really clear if there is a set process for booting problematic users. I'm also not clear on whether there is an appeal process. Other place have had executive councils, but these have met with limited success (here I'm thinking of MediaMOOs experiment with this) or with ballot initiatives (LamdaMOO). One thing that is clear is that the person who owns the machine seems to have the last word. One other point to consider is that in cyberspace, the possible laws and enforcement mechanisms tend to be constrained by the software running on the system, so that there is no clear distinction between legal decisions and technical decisions (I guess this was the lesson learned on LambdaMOO, forcing Haakon to reintroduce wizzardly fiat.) There's other stuff going on (for example, as far as I know the Virtual Magistrate project is still up and running) but I'm not sure how much success they've enjoyed.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Sat 8 Dec 01 15:02
Here's a pretty interesting review: http://www.popmatters.com/books/reviews/c/crypto-anarchy.html
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Sun 9 Dec 01 15:53
"The person who owns the machine seems to have the last word." Which gives leverage by the boatload to powers in the political jurisdication in RL where the machine resides. (I'm thinking, for instance, of penet.fi and the contrast between the Bavarian govt. leaning on CompuServe some years back and the ongoing French case over Yahoo! and Nazi memorabilia.) Although it doesn't surprise *me*, of course, some people might be surprised to find work like this being turned out by a guy in a philosophy department. How'd you end up in philosophy, <ludlow>? What do your colleagues make of this wacky cyber stuff you've been up to?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Sun 9 Dec 01 18:45
The power resides with the person who owns the machine, but not with the powers that be in the RL political jurisdiction where the machine resides. After all, the machine *can* be moved anywhere (or the software and data can, which is all that matters). The only effective way to deal with an evil sysop is through virtual attacks on the system, and users could do this just as easily as a terrestial power. Ending up in philosophy was easy; it's the only thing I could do well. I only got into cyberspace ethics issues when a Stony Brook Dean attempted to "detrack" me (i.e. remove me from tenure track). As far as I can tell, the Dean's motivation was that my work was, and I quote... "mechanistic, realistic, monistic, reductionistic, empiricistic, and methodologically behavioristic...and in profound logical and conceptual conflict with contemporary religious doctrine concerning human morality." Did I forget to mention that he was a Jesuit priest? Anyway, some months into this situation, the Dean decided that I had hacked into the university e- mail system and was reading his e-mail (why he thought this is beyond me). Anyway, it taught me a lot about techno-paranoia and how it leads to false accusations and harrassment. I subsequently wandered onto the WELL and the eff conference, where I think the first person on the WELL to talk to me was Steve Jackson. I hung out in that conf., and learned a lot. Later, I was in Italy when the Italian Hacker Crackdown broke (this is discussed in an appendix to _High Noon_. Um, that's how it started. Now it's just something I do. Since the attempt to detrack me (back in 1991) failed, people at Stony Brook have let me do whatever I want, and, truth be told, I think they like this stuff better than my "straight" philosophy. Or at least they understand it better. On the whole, however, these books don't count for much in the philosophy community, which is something that doesn't really bother me. This is just something I do. It doesn't really take philosophical training. Just thought.
Mike Godwin (mnemonic) Mon 10 Dec 01 12:38
"mechanistic, realistic, monistic, reductionistic, empiricistic, and methodologically behavioristic...and in profound logical and conceptual conflict with contemporary religious doctrine concerning human morality." Of course, he couldn't help but say that.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Mon 10 Dec 01 14:00
If only I had thought to tell him that!
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Mon 10 Dec 01 14:06
You couldn't help but fail to. Mike made me smile. You've got some pieces in the book, Peter, that come down hard on the ideology said to be behind (to have been behind?) Wired magazine. Can you give the gist of them for those following at home? Why was it important to you to include them?
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Mon 10 Dec 01 14:26
I wasn't trying to pick on _Wired_, it's just that _Wired_ was spewing the bulk of the extant utopian rants, and consequently drew a lot of fire. Or rather, the authors of those rants drew fire. I guess the two essays that you're thinking of are the ones by Purdy and Jacobs. Barbrook's target is more general, and Dery is very specifically aiming at Negroponte. Dery's essay is without question the toughest of the bunch. Here's one of my favorite passages from his essay: > > Troubling thoughts of social ills such as crime and unemployment and homelessness rarely crease the Negroponte brow. In fact, he's strangely uninterested in social anything, from neighborhood life to national politics. Despite his insistence that the Digital Revolutiontm is about communication, not computers, there's no real civic life or public sphere to speak of, in his future. There, most of the communicating takes place between you and talkative doorknobs or "interface agents" such as the "eight inch-high holographic assistants walking across your desk." In the next millennium, predicts Negroponte, "we will find that we are talking as much or more with machines than we are with humans." Thus, the Information Age autism of his wistful "dream for the interface": that "computers will be more like people." Appliances and household fixtures enjoy a rich social life in Negroponte's future, exchanging electronic "handshakes" and "mating calls": "If your refrigerator notices that you are out of milk," he writes, "it can 'ask' your car to remind you to pick some up on your way home." Human community, meanwhile, consists of "digital neighborhoods in which physical space will be irrelevant": knowledge workers dialing in from their electronic cocoons, squeezing their social lives through phonelines. > >
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Tue 11 Dec 01 04:26
Yes. That's on a line with the Brin and Barbrook essays from the first section, where Brin closes with (roughly) "I am a member of a civilization. Try saying it aloud sometime." (I just looked it up, and am interested to note that I recalled it as "of a community," which is different than "of a civilization.") Jacobs responds to a series of quotations from Kevin Kelly, Doug Rushkoff, Barlow, Louis Rusetto, "What redistribution of power? I can't believe Kelly, Rushkoff, Rosetto, and Barlow don't know better. I can't believe they don't understand that the electronic culture in which they operate is still laregely run by white men . . . and still dominated by big corporations such as ATT, Microsoft, and Sony." That seems to me to be at the heart of some of the biggest beefs with a lot of Internet utopianism: that it promises a new world in which meatspace marks of privilege don't matter and in which the free association of each allows the flourishing of all, but it can't deliver. Is that something worth ranting about, or is this just whining? Is the Net "woman-friendly" or "race-blind," or do those questions even make sense? Is it a surprise how RL power plays out in virtual spaces?
Bob 'rab' Bickford (rab) Tue 11 Dec 01 12:30
That's pretty obviously just the same old tired whining that certain people have stuck with for decades. In point of fact the Net has been adopted by and become available to the non-rich and non-white far FASTER than any technological innovation in history, and if we can keep the existing meatspace power elites from regulating and taxing and controlling it out of existence then it's going to be the greatest equalizing force in history as well. (I suspect that some of those elites know that very well indeed, and it has them seriously frightened for their positions.)
virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Tue 11 Dec 01 15:03
(Reminder for those following this discussion who are not members of The Well: If you want to ask a question or comment, you can communicate with the hosts by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org .)
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 12 Dec 01 17:19
Hi, Peter. What a lot of fun it must have been to collect the people and pieces for this book. I've been thinking about what you said about machines being portable. I think in the context of legal or unnoticed activities, that's pretty true, and the owner or one in physical posession plus root password possession has a lot of power. There is some community power based on contracts with users, when there is one, but those are usually one-sided, since they are typically modifyable by the site owner at any time. But governments can seize machines, and threaten, fine, jail, or even kill people who are seen to be a threat. "Just move the box" is not at the level of a law of nature or a basic human right, even if it works when nobody is concerned. And even if the act was pre-emptive, it might be stoppped. Exporting a pirate community might be a move a government would want to defeat.
democracy being a left thing, anyway (ludlow) Wed 12 Dec 01 18:37
Gail, you're right to press on this point, since machines *do* have to be somewhere in meatspace, and setting up a new one after being busted is not a trivial matter -- especially if the terrestial power is persistent. But on the other hand, there is nothing to stop the members of a virtual community from reuniting elsewhere on somebody else's machine, and any government that wants to squash a virtual community out of existence will be chasing it for quite a while. For example, if you shut down Napster, gnutella rears its heads (it's like trying to slay a hydra). There's no reason why a virtual community like the WELL needs to be located on a single system. It someone tried to pull the plug on it and all other servers we could always go to a distributed architecture (like fidonet). Then the gov. is in this impossible possition of having to bust every single user. As the Italian government learned in it's fidonet bust some years ago, this is not easily done. As for the nasty sysop who changes the rules on the community members, well the community members can always move to another location with more favorable rule sets. This is an idea that's is considered in the essays by Post and Johnson -- one might get a kind of competition among rule sets, with the sysops offering the most equitable rules getting the customers/citizens. Virtual migration, if you will.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Wed 12 Dec 01 19:32
The main problem I have with that argument is that it seems to imply that a virtual community is somehow invincible. That just seems like idle boasting - there are countermeasures to everything. If an organization is sufficiently determined they can probably keep it together, but at what cost? It has to be a pretty important cause for their members to be willing to pay the price. It's so much easier not to get into such a conflict to start with. For example, as I understand it one tactic being used against Gnutella users is to get their ISP to disconnect them. Sure, they could get another connection, but that's already a lot to pay for free music.
Members: Enter the conference to participate