The Tree of Liberty

 Popular political quotes often turn out to be fabricated, misattributed, or at very least taken out of context. But the people quoting Thomas Jefferson's famous "tree of liberty" seem to have his words and intent entirely correct. Thomas Jefferson's famous quote, originally written to William Stevens Smith on 13 November 1787, seems to be even more radical in context:
Wonderful is the effect of impudent & persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, & what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
His language is a little difficult to read, but here's my interpretation of this paragraph. Jefferson is writing ten years after the American revolution and three months after Shays' Rebellion against the recently Confederated United States of America. The British have been telling their press this meant new America was "in anarchy". Hardly accurate, Jefferson says, since there's been only one rebellion which was "honourably conducted" and "founded in ignorance, not wickedness". Even their ignorance was excusable, since "the people cannot be all, & always well informed". Shays' bewildered, ignorant rebels are merely "discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive", a statement which could also be applied to Tea Partiers today.

Jefferson then happily and unapologetically endorses armed, open conflict between government and rebels. "What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? Let them take arms." It's all perfectly natural. The costs are acceptable as well. "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?" But the Tea Party shouldn't expect victory. "The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them." What's important is that the tree of liberty be watered "from time to time" - no fewer than once every 20 years - with the blood of patriots and tyrants in more or less equal measure.

With all due respect I strongly disagree with Mr. Jefferson. First it's the naturalistic fallacy - rebellions are "natural" so they're good. His premise is out of date, too. While it may be as unimaginable to live without rebellion as smallpox or polio, in the last century and a half of *our* time quite a few countries have been peaceful. The countries that haven't are hardly models, failed states at worst, or unstable catastrophes at best. Shays' Rebellion - 1000 rebels openly marching with a list of demands, "studiously avoid[ing] bloodshed" - is a far cry from some widely condemned lone bomber or assassin leaving behind an incomprehensible manifesto. Jefferson asks "what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance", but this seems terribly shortsighted even in Jefferson's day. The consequence of Shays' rebellion was "setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order", causing crackdowns and treason trials, and spurring the creation of the Constitution with its larger, stronger Federal government. In modern days the Oklahoma City bombing or Giffords' attempted assassination have raised police surveillance and "set kites upon the hen-yard" the same way. That the whole episode was "founded in ignorance" and "misconceived facts" made this tragedy a farce. With all due respect to Thomas Jefferson, what he's written here is one of the best arguments against originalism that I've ever read. The original intent of one of our nation's most prominent Founding Fathers was to have armies, state militias, and bands of outraged citizens shooting at each other at least every twenty years, which seems not just absolutely insane but counterproductive to the pursuit of real liberty.

Libertarians are usually about 80% correct

 I like the theory of libertarian/Randian/objectivist politics. They're straightforward, logical, reasonable, and axiomatic. They generally start with "first principles" and derive the rest of their philosophy from those principles through Reason. "You own yourself" is one such axiom. David Boaz of the Cato Institute offers his own explanation:
"The application of science and reason to the study of politics and public policy. ... Libertarians try to discover the rules that govern the world and rules that will enable us all to live together and enjoy the rights in the declaration of independence. Rules like private property, free markets, and tolerance. ... Don't hit other people, don't take their stuff, and keep your promises."
These first principles are totally sensible to me. The axioms that follow are sensible as well. This is a Libertarian sales pitch, and sales pitches always sound reasonable.

There's a point between theory and reality where the rubber meets the road. "Sounds good, but does the world always work that way?" In 1687 Newton came up with a really great theory about planetary motion which people only accepted after seeing that the world really worked that way. In 1905 Einstein noticed that the laws of motion weren't completely correct, and after that was verified Newton's theory was modified with disclaimers for special cases. The whole theory wasn't discredited and thrown out, but it did have to be modified to be compatible with evidence.

That doesn't happen much in Libertarian circles, where a perverse fundamentalism frequently pervades. Take the recent Rand Paul meltdown  about the Civil Rights Act and personal freedom. Libertarian theory says that businesses refusing service to certain races will serve fewer customers than businesses who serve everyone. Businesses with a better reputation in the community will end up outcompeting the bigots. But for decades that's not what happened, which is why we needed a Civil Rights Act. This is the sort of argument that just won't register with a fundamentalist libertarian, who will concoct some sort of implausible fantasy where segregation would have ended even faster with fewer problems if the government hadn't gotten involved.

Libertarian theories about corporate liberty are also at occasional odds with reality. BP is of course in the business of pumping oil, not spilling it. The recent 290,000 barrel oil spill represents $20,300,000 in lost sales not to mention the destroyed rig, dead employees, and bad PR, none of which BP wanted. The government's "boot heel on the throat of BP" is therefore counterproductive, unnecessary, and un-American, in theory. But in reality, when things go horribly wrong all he can say is "sometimes accidents happen." What about solutions? A libertarian would argue that this can be worked out in the courts. In theory fishermen and beach property owners can sue BP, and making the company responsible for cleaning up the mess rather than socializing the cost of the cleanup. Did the free market clean up the oil yet? Not exactly. Lawsuits drag out for years. Exxon has just gotten started paying for the Valdez spill 20 years ago. This is the sort of argument that just won't register with a fundamentalist libertarian, who will concoct some sort of implausible fantasy where fewer beaches get spilled and cleanups happen faster if the government hadn't gotten involved.

Libertarian theory says that government interference stifles economic progress and promotes economic injustice. Taxing the rich to benefit the poor creates incentives to stay poor and reduces incentives for the poor to get rich. Compulsory education at government-run schools gives people curricula and teachers that they wouldn't have chosen. But surveys of reality show that social mobility is lower in America than in socialist countries. The ability of a hard-working poor person to rise from their humble origins (or the ability of a lazy son of a rich person to fall) is lower in America, where we'd expect the opposite to be true. This is the sort of argument that just won't register with a fundamentalist libertarian, who will concoct some sort of implausible fantasy where America would somehow be even higher than Denmark - the most socialist nation in Europe - if the government hadn't gotten involved.

Social Mobility

I'm obviously cherry-picking notable exceptions to an otherwise reasonable idea, but that's my point. There are notable, important exceptions to otherwise reasonable ideas. I love libertarian philosophy. I'm probably about 80% libertarian. I think that, general case, libertarian decisions are good decisions the way that fresh natural food is good food. But the people who think that every problem has a socialist cause and libertarian solution are about as annoying to me as the people who think that every health proble has a toxic cause and a naturopathic solution. Libertarians play as fast and loose with sneaky definitions of "socialism" and "individual liberty" as naturopaths play with "toxin" and "medicine". I'm objective, not an objectivist, and I don't admire fundamentalist interpretations of principles that aren't actually fundamental. The longer politicians like Rand Paul (or his father) spend trying to fit every problem into that mold rather than approaching the problem pragmatically the sillier they'll look.

Baby Drugs

 I've heard a lot of parents say "once you have children, once you hold your new baby in your hands, you'll understand…", as if there was some sort of concept or mental thought process that could only be engaged in the presence of children. Harrumph, I say.

It turns out they're correct. According to a video by Prof Robert Sapolsky (1:03:50) males of monogamous species have a receptor for vasopressin that polygamous species don't. Repeated mating elevates vasopressin sensitivity, which is pleasurable and encourages pair bonding and paternal behavior. When females give birth, and when monogamous males hold their new baby, males experience a massive dump of vasopressin which causes a post-partuition hormonal change and causes them to imprint on that child. Females experience a similar dump of oxytocin in a massively pleasurable dopaminergic reaction that encourages both parents to take care of them. South American monkeys that pair-bond do the same thing in the same way, but non-monogamous monkeys don't do this. At birth your baby is basically altering your consciousness with a giant dose of baby drugs, a long-lasting mind-altering physical experience that people who haven't been dosed with baby drugs might very well have difficulty relating to.

(Although this behavior is well-documented in mammals and primates nobody's done experiments to confirm it with humans, probably because the last thing that a new father or an anxious mother wants to do is get hooked up to a bunch of probes and tubes during their child's birth. Even so, this seems like a plausible and reasonably good explanation for the experience that parents have related to me. It's also possible that some males experience this more than others, since the vasopressin reaction related to monogamy and some men are more monogamous than others. Women too, which might be why women use oxytocin; nature can't have non-monogamous women abandoning their children. Also I'm just a speculating layperson, not someone who knows anything.)

I'm posting this partly because it's interesting to me, and partly because I seem to have a lot of friends and coworkers who have kids or are due in the next few months. I'm not posting this to devalue the experience, but to provide context and explanation for what seems to be a really cool thing. If you're one of my pregnant friends who happens to think of this post while or shortly after giving birth and feel inclined to observe your reactions to the experience I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Patent Medicine

A frequently repeated myth in alt-med circles goes something like this:

Q: If naturally-based alternative medicine __X__ is so cheap and so powerful, why isn't it dispensed or prescribed as medicine by doctors?
A: __X__ is a super-effective treatment for __Y__, but you can't patent it. Big Pharma won't spend funds for research or FDA approval that they can't make money from.

This clever response explains fringe medicine's "fringe" status by "blaming" its own strength: natural cures have been ignored and marginalized because they're so cheap, safe, effective, easy, and natural that nobody could make any money from them. I don't buy this, for several reasons.
  1. Human extractions of natural chemicals have been patentable for over 100 years, starting with the patent for adrenaline filed by Jokichi Takamine on behalf of Parke-Davis in 1900. Acetylsalicylic acid occurs naturally in willow bark, and was patented by Bayer and sold as Aspirin, and has been re-patented over the years in various forms. Even natural genes are patentable, a decision based on the precedent that natural substances were already patentable.

  2. Unpatentable drugs can be re-patented with slight modification. For example niacin may not be patentable, but sustained release niacin is. It's far more profitable for Big Pharma to reformulate and patent promising new drugs than ignore them entirely.

  3. Unpatentable substances can be patented for specific uses. Just as plastic can't be patented but a plastic shape can be patented for a specific use, "use" patents can still be claimed. The substance dichloroacetate is not patentable, but patents have been filed for its use as a cancer therapy.

  4. While you can't patent chicken soup for a cold or renew expired patents, substances which are no longer patentable can still be profitably trademarked. Psyllium husk is not patentable, but has been trademarked and is sold profitably as Metamucil by Procter & Gamble. Ibuprofen's patent has expired, but Advil is still sold profitably under its exclusive trademark and formulation.

  5. Naturally occurring, unpatentable substances are regularly the subject of research. For example PubMed currently lists 23,700 papers researching the various effects of caffeine, and many caffeine preparations are trademarked and profitably sold.

  6. Even if there was a Big Pharma conspiracy in America, there are substantial incentives and alternative funding sources for research. Organizations like the NIH, FDA, private charities, and countries with taxpayer-funded medical systems regularly fund mainstream medical research into otherwise unprofitable therapies. Budget-crunched hospitals in the UK would love to find cheap unpatentable replacements for patented medicines rather than close hospitals and lay off nurses and doctors.

  7. Unpatented medications are already profitably manufactured and sold as generics. Generic medicines must apply for FDA approval separate from the original medicines, requiring  the same  bioequivalence tests showing the same safety and efficacy. Big Pharma may not appreciate Little Pharma, but Big Insurance makes sure that these alternatives are chosen by their members.

  8. Doctors happily embrace zero-profit and/or 100% natural solutions - as long as they're demonstrably effective. Chicken soup provides protein for cell repair and fluid replacement so it's good for colds. PubMed lists 63 academic papers studying its effects, and doctors recommend it so often it's a cliché, even though no pharmacy will ever make a dime from it. Doctors work with patients to establish and follow exercise schedules even though they never make a dime from it. Red wine and omega-3 oil supplements for heart disease, calcium supplements for osteoporosis - literature is extensive and recommendations are common. There is no Big Pharma denial or coverup of anything.
The "unpatented miracle medicine" myth is cut from the same cloth as the 300mpg carburetor, ever-lasting lightbulb, or the free energy perpetual motion machine. If Company X released awesome product Y it would kill demand for other products. Ridiculous. Computer companies didn't suppress $200 netbooks that took sales from $1000 laptops. Movie studios don't suppress the release of really good movies that take ticket sales from really crappy movies. Toyota didn't suppress the sale of the Corolla to increase demand for its Lexus brand. It might happen to a small degree or for a limited time - Apple might hold off releasing its new generation iPhone until shelves are empty of their current-generation iPhones - but no corporation would pass up an opportunity to drive their competitors out of business by trademarking and releasing a product so good and so cheap that nobody would ever want to buy any other product but theirs. A better explanation for why these products don't get approved by the FDA and prescribed by doctors is the simplest and most obvious explanation: because they have not been shown to do what their proponents claim that they do.

Update: Because software is unpatentable in New Zealand I suppose that Big Software won't make or sell programs there anymore.

For the last time

Next (and my last!) quarter's schedule:

IS417 Capstone Project
   Credit Hours: 4Section: E1M9/13/2010 - 12/5/2010
   Main - TAMTHEORY 6Monday6:00 PM to 10:30 PM
IS415 System Foresnsics Investigation and Response
   Credit Hours: 4Section: E1T9/13/2010 - 12/5/2010
   Main - TAMLAB 10Tuesday6:00 PM to 10:30 PM
EG452 Economics and Change
   Credit Hours: 4Section: E1W9/13/2010 - 12/5/2010
   Main - TAMTHEORY 13Wednesday6:00 PM to 9:24 PM

Advice to employees on the proper use of the System Administrator's valuable time

(In following examples, we will substitute the name "Brandon" as the System Administrator)
  • Make sure to save all your MP3 files on your network drive. No sense in wasting valuable space on your local drive! Plus, Brandon loves browsing through 100+ GB of music files while he backs up the servers.
  • Play with all the wires you can find. If you can't find enough, open something up to expose them. After you have finished, and nothing works anymore, put it all back together and call Brandon. Deny that you touched anything and that it was working perfectly only five minutes ago. Brandon just loves a good mystery. For added effect you can keep looking over his shoulder and ask what each wire is for.
  • Never write down error messages. Just click OK, or restart your computer. Brandon likes to guess what the error message was.
  • When talking about your computer, use terms like "Thingy" and "Big Connector."
  • If you get an EXE file in an email attachment, open it immediately. Brandon likes to make sure the anti-virus software is working properly.
  • When Brandon says he coming right over, log out and go for coffee. It's no problem for him to remember your password.
  • When you call Brandon to have your computer moved, be sure to leave it buried under a year-old pile of postcards, baby pictures, stuffed animals, dried flowers, unpaid bills, bowling trophies and Popsicle sticks. Brandon doesn't have a life, and he finds it deeply moving to catch a glimpse of yours.
  • When Brandon sends you an email marked as "Highly Important" or "Action Required", delete it at once. He's probably just testing some new-fangled email software.
  • When Brandon's eating lunch at his desk or in the lunchroom, walk right in, grab a few of his fries, then spill your guts and expect him to respond immediately. Brandon lives to serve, and he's always ready to think about fixing computers, especially yours.
  • When Brandon's at the water cooler or outside taking a breath of fresh air, find him and ask him a computer question. The only reason he takes breaks at all is to ferret out all those employees who don't have email or a telephone.
  • Send urgent email ALL IN UPPERCASE. The mail server picks it up and flags it as a rush delivery.
  • When the photocopier doesn't work, call Brandon. There's electronics in it, so it should be right up his alley.
  • When you're getting a NO DIAL TONE message at your home computer, call Brandon. He enjoys fixing telephone problems from remote locations. Especially on weekends.
  • When something goes wrong with your home PC, dump it on Brandon's chair the next morning with no name, no phone number, and no description of the problem. Brandon just loves a good mystery.
  • When you have Brandon on the phone walking you through changing a setting on your PC, read the newspaper. Brandon doesn't actually mean for you to DO anything. He just loves to hear himself talk.
  • When your company offers training on an upcoming OS upgrade, don't bother to sign up. Brandon will be there to hold your hand when the time comes.
  • When the printer won't print, re-send the job 20 times in rapid succession. That should do the trick.
  • When the printer still won't print after 20 tries, send the job to all the printers in the office. One of them is bound to work.
  • Don't use online help. Online help is for wimps.
  • Don't read the operator's manual. Manuals are for wussies.
  • If you're taking night classes in computer science, feel free to demonstrate your fledgling expertise by updating the network drivers for you and all your co-workers. Brandon will be grateful for the overtime when he has to stay until 2:30am fixing all of them.
  • When Brandon's fixing your computer at a quarter past one, eat your Whopper with cheese in his face. He functions better when he's slightly dizzy from hunger.
  • When Brandon asks you whether you've installed any new software on your computer, LIE. It's no one else's business what you've got on your computer.
  • If the mouse cable keeps knocking down the framed picture of your dog, lift the monitor and stuff the cable under it. Those skinny Mouse cables were designed to have 55 lbs. of computer monitor crushing them.
  • If the space bar on your keyboard doesn't work, blame Brandon for not upgrading it sooner. Hell, it's not your fault there's a half pound of pizza crust crumbs, nail clippings, and big sticky drops of Mountain Dew under the keys.
  • When you get the message saying "Are you sure?", click the "Yes" button as fast as you can. Hell, if you weren't sure, you wouldn't be doing it, would you?
  • Feel perfectly free to say things like "I don't know nothing about that boneheaded computer crap." It never bothers Brandon to hear his area of professional expertise referred to as boneheaded crap.
  • Don't even think of breaking large print jobs down into smaller chunks. God forbid somebody else should sneak a one-page job in between your 500-page Word document.
  • When you send that 500-page document to the printer, don't bother to check if the printer has enough paper. That's Brandon's job.
  • When Brandon calls you 30 minutes later and tells you that the printer printed 24 pages of your 500-page document before it ran out of paper, and there are now nine other jobs in the queue behind yours, ask him why he didn't bother to add more paper.
  • When you receive a 130 MB movie file, send it to everyone as a high-priority mail attachment. Brandon's provided plenty of disk space and processor capacity on the new mail server for just those kinds of important things.
  • When you bump into Brandon in the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, ask him computer questions. He works 24/7, and is always thinking about computers, even when he's at super-market buying toilet paper and doggie treats.
  • If your son is a student in computer science, have him come in on the weekends and do his projects on your office computer. Brandon will be there for you when your son's illegal copy of Visual Basic 6.0 makes the Access database keel over and die.
  • When you bring Brandon your own "no-name" brand PC to repair for free at the office, tell him how urgently he needs to fix it so you can get back to playing EverQuest. He'll get on it right away, because everyone knows he doesn't do anything all day except surf the Internet.
  • Don't ever thank Brandon. He loves fixing everything AND getting paid for it!

Twitter Convo

This convo is too hilarious not to repost for prosperity! Thanks to @Beaker for initiating it!
I think we should have to show up to security conferences wearing sashes/vests like girl scouts with our certification/award patches on em

RT @andrewsmhay: @Beaker alright...but I'm not selling cookies. < You really shouldn't give me straightlines like that, you know... ;)

RT @jack_daniel: @Beaker I wear my A.S.S. hat, does that count? < Doesn't it always?

RT @jack_daniel: @andrewsmhay @Beaker OTOH, would that just give another source of "mine's bigger" competitions? < ABSOLUTELY! More cowbell!

What do you mean you don't have the 'I parse ROT-13 encoded, little-endian, Octal-base, IDS Alerts' badge!?' What a loser.

SECURITY FLAIR! If you have less than 27 pieces you must be a newbie. Or a CISSP. HA!

In terms of security merit badges, the "penetration tester" badge might be hard to explain at parties.

Security Flair/Merit Badges: I'm all about security innovation. Perhaps we can have the kids @HacKidCon design them!

RT @andrewsmhay: RT @Beaker The "penetration tester" badge might be hard to explain at parties < wear on the front of sash, never on the back

RT @rmogull: @Beaker I'd have an awfully empty sash- unless you count all those random medical/rescue certs

RT @rmogull Let's see. I don't have any security certs, my degree is in history, and my presentations usually count as continuing ed credits

Don't worry @rmogull...we'll have a separate badge for analysts. You'll like it. It's just like the Joker's insignia...a giant ? mark ;)

You people and your cynicism! I can't believe you're trying to quash my innovative security concept. THIS is why people hate our industry!

Speaking of which, you should see what you have to do to earn the "I survived @samj" security merit badge. I'm still itchy.

RT @mortman: @Beaker You just need to make up hoffacino badges then everyone will get a sash < did you mean rash?

Oh, right...@rmogull...I didn't mean 'Joker,' I meant 'Riddler.' Both are, however, strangely applicable in your case. (/ht @cji)

Thank you, Microsoft for the MVP Award & VMware for the vExpert. 'twas rude of me not to say so earlier (& now I have more merit FLAIR!)

How'd you like the way I slipped that in there? Pretty crafty, right? ;)

@davidoberry You asked "Who is behind @HacKidCon?" < I dunno. It's a fantastic idea, however. Perhaps I shall get involved!

I wonder how many merit badges LIGATT would have on his sash?

RT @grey_area: @Beaker what's the badge for internal security? coffee cup and beer bottle? < cyanide pill

Update Bio

After two years I've updated my bio. It is as follows:
This is a blog. That fact means nothing. It is not a peer-reviewed journal, a final archive of my writing, a sponsored publication, or the product of gatekeeping and editing. That does mean something... it means that while the ideas and thoughts are often vital and the product of a long gestational period, the writing itself is not. It is essentially as it came from the keyboard: spontaneous, unproofed, unrevised, and corrected afterward only when necessary to address mistakes that grossly effect the intent. Where such changes have been made they are explicitly noted.

It would be distinctly unwise–-not to mention uncharitable–-to play connect-the-dots with my physical life and work and my "life of the mind," as scanty as either might be. My attitude at work, my reaction to ideas, the length and tone of my discussion at the coffee pot, the intensity and duration of my lovemaking, the time it took for me to return your letter or email, and the quality and quantity of my response to you in any medium are probably not tied to anything you read here... at least not in a way that you will be able to confidently assume without sharing years of psychotherapy and the bills that come with it. And even then, keep in mind the next (and last) paragraph.

Opinions and characterizations of fact here are my own and represent no one else. They do not represent my employer, my family, my friends, my children, my ex-girlfriends, the baristas at the coffee shops where many of the longer entries were written, the irritated owners of said coffee shops who want tables to turn over, the repressed or "the man," alien life forms, any movement (political or intestinal), the women I want and can’t have, the women I’ve had and shouldn’t have wanted, or a coherent and consistent philosophy or aesthetic. In fact, it’s quite possible that by the time you read the words here they won’t even represent me.

If I contradict myself, very well then, I contradict myself. I am not Whitman, but like him I am large (if not physically) and my girth contain multitudes. Catching me in a contradiction is probably not the result of your steely grasp of logic and it’s almost assuredly not a product of hypocrisy. I’m a human being and my blog reflects that humanity.

16 Credit Units, yet again

If you thought Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri was bad, check out this:
Monday6:00 PM - 9:30 PMEG468Ethics
Tuesday6:00 PM - 10:30 PMIS411Security Policies and Implementation Issues
Wednesday6:00 PM - 10:30 PMIS317Hacking Techniques, Tools and Incident Handling
Saturday9:00 AM - 1:30 PMIS416Securing Windows Platforms and Applications

Really? A Saturday class?!? In my 4 years I've been able to avoid Saturday classes up until now. Dang, not cool!