Arnold Kling notes that technology that makes laws easier to enforce will draw attention to those laws which we don't really want to be consistently enforced -- laws he terms legamorons. He writes:
I would argue that many laws are the legal equivalent of oxymorons - legamorons, if you will. A legamoron is any law that could not stand up under widespread enforcement. Laws against marijuana use are a prime example. Rigorous enforcement of these laws on middle-class college campuses would cause a furor.
There are many other legamorons, where we have become accustomed to low levels of enforcement.
laws against sexual harassment
laws against betting on sports
laws against music sharing
laws requiring people to pay social security taxes for household workers
In fact, the entire tax system could be viewed as a legamoron. Congress deliberately underfunds the computer systems and audit department of the IRS. Otherwise, if households and businesses had to get everything on their returns exactly right, the cost of tax compliance probably would eat up the entire Gross Domestic Product, and there would be nothing left to tax.
Better enforcement technology, as in the trackable society, would cause us to rethink our legamorons.
I hope we could jettison those laws which would be untenable if consistently enforced! But I worry: both hypocrisy and selective enforcement (against disfavored groups) are deeply ingrained habits of our society. We might get both legamorons and oppressive levels of enforcement.
NASA's page says "No natural reactors exist today, as the relative density of fissile uranium has now decayed below that needed for a sustainable reaction." A geophysicist named J. Marvin Herndon would disagree: he believes the earth's core is a natural nuclear reactor. See:
Discover Magazine: Nuclear Planet "Is there a five-mile-wide ball of hellaciously hot uranium seething at the center of the Earth?"
OK, so let's say the core's a nuclear reactor. On to the sci-fi premise...
What if the core nuclear reactor is not 'natural', but rather was intentionally created as a power-rich habitat for someone? Hell, let's say for a race of super-intelligent computational nanomachines who took up residence billions of years ago. We live -- indeed all surface life has evolved -- on their waste heat and the elemental byproducts of their reactor, as those byproducts have slowly risen to the surface.
But why did these in-dwellers choose a shielded power source at a planet's core, instead of the more plentiful energy from outward-facing stars -- a "Dyson sphere" approach? Well maybe the in-dwellers are prisoners. Or better yet fugitives -- yes, fugitives hiding from a terrible power. They were safe inside, hidden from a vengeful universe, our Earth utterly undeserving of attention from Those Who Would Do Them Harm. But they didn't count on humanity popping up, sending up rockets and radio signals that will be noticed and investigated. Now they've got a problem. And we've got a problem, too... because if the in-dwellers don't decide to snuff us out to maintain their cover, the Vengeful Powers might arrive... and they would judge us as harshly as the in-dwellers...
In Congress, Right-wingers Strongest Opponents of Law-Enforcement Power Grabs
The New Republic: Civil Right ("Thank Goodness for Dick Armey")
And when the history of the response to September 11 is written, it will record that evangelical and libertarian conservatives--with their instinctive suspicion of federal authority--did more to defend liberty than mainstream liberal Democrats, who were captives of the public demand for security measures above all.
I am a skilled designer, implementor, troubleshooter, and promoter of innovative Internet applications. Areas of special expertise involve web and custom protocols, highly distributed/heterogenous systems, and object-oriented design and programming. Check out my resume:
Ideal engagements would include permanent employment in San Francisco, medium-term contracts (3-6 months) throughout the bay area, or short-term or part-time contracts (<4 months) here or in other interesting locales.
(FYI: My startup, Bitzi, is still operating and growing, and improvements requested by users and partners will continue to appear with regularity. The web site, web service, and contributor community are self-sustaining and financially self-sufficient. However, you know what they say about watched pots never boiling? The same thing goes for oceans. It could be a long time before Bitzi's business operations can justify a full-time, salaried career in its service.)
Miko Matsumura last night mentioned an important concept I hadn't heard before: negative target fixation. Here's an explanation of the term I found on the web (excerpted from deep within this "Miracle Zone" page):
An interesting illustration of the fact that focused attention creates results consistent with that focus of attention is found in a research study that was done to determine the cause of airplane crashes. The study found that 70 per cent of airplane crashes could have been avoided; that is, they were due to pilot error. The study also found that in those crashes that resulted from pilot error, about 70 percent of the pilots had been focusing on where they did not want to land--not on where they wanted to land. For example, they were focusing their attention on a tree or on the roof of a building that was in the way of where they wanted to make their emergency landing, rather than on the space where they wanted to land. The researchers termed this phenomenon �negative target fixation�. The study points out that by focusing on what we do not want to occur, there is a strong tendency to produce the very thing we are trying to avoid.
In the context of entrepreneurship and other endeavors, negative target fixation highlights the danger in concentrating on what you most fear happening, and thus helping make exactly that happen, instead of the range of other possible outcomes.
I think there's another somewhat related phenomenon in the current tech business doldrums, a sort of negative target saturation. Over the past couple of years, we've been treated on a grand scale to a public lesson about the many hundreds or even thousands of different ways a company, product, or strategy can fail. These failures have affected companies young and old, rich and poor, small and large, experienced and inexperienced, dynamic and static. There are so many failures, top-of-mind, that anything now coming along can be quickly associated with multiple, "oh, that's like X, and X blew it" precursors. This leads to a "white-out" in people's ability to discriminate between good and bad courses of action. To extend the flying analogy above -- this negative target saturation doesn't so much lead to self-fulfilling crashes, as much as it deters takeoffs altogether. The airport is fogged-in.
Great short-story about a bunch of neat things, including: evolvable software, online chat, ubiquitous networking, turing-test-like situations, epistomology, and paranoid schizophrenia. Originally appeared in a Forbes publication (I think Forbes ASAP) in 1997.
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