Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tom Palmer has new anthology, "Why Liberty"

Author (editor): Tom G. Palmer
Title: “Why Liberty: Your Life, Choices, Your Future
Publication: 2013, by Jameson Books, Atlas and Students for Liberty; ISBN 978-0-89803-172-0, 143 pages, paper, indexed, A Preface and twelve essays.

Mr. Palmer is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and is Executive Vice President for international programs at the Atlas Network.

The book comprises essays by a number or authors : three by Tom Palmer himself, as well as John Stossel (former ABC News producer and reporter), Clark Ruper, James Padilioni, Jr., Alexander McCobin, Sarah Skwire. Aaron Ross Powell, Olumayoma Okediran, Sloane Frost, and Lode Cossaer and Martin Wegge (together).

A few high points need to be stressed.  Tom Palmer’s “The History and Structure of Libertarian Thought” talks about the “Libertarian Tripod”: individual rights, spontaneous order, and constitutionally limited government.  The idea of spontaneous order occurs with social insects, and Palmer seems to have more confidence than some that it can generate eusociality (see the concern by Charles Murray about social capital in his “Coming Apart”, March 14, 2012 here).

The chapter “The Political Principles of Liberty” by McCobin seems to get at the deepest controversy.  McCobin compares these to other political principles, which stress ideas like “fraternalism” (or “fraternity”), the idea that people have an intrinsic responsibility to provide for others outside of the scope of their own personal choices or voluntary “contracts”; and “equal outcomes”.  McCobin goes on to discuss the difference between politics and ethics.  McCobin writes that the heart of ethical behavior is to act as if “you” respect the other person as an independent moral agent. That sounds pretty much like the “Golden Rule”.

People who are “different” (like me) often report that others expect them to take responsibilities that they did not elect, and that these responsibilities compete with or interfere with their own personal goals, pursuing things that they are good at.  This may happen even though they think they are honest and ethical in the narrower sense understood by libertarian.  They experience  “coercion”, which may be from the state (the military draft, previous anti-gay social policies), from family or sometimes other agents like employers.   Libertarians obviously focus on not letting the state apply coercion in personal matters.  But libertarians may not want to interfere with the ability of families or employers to implement their own notions, as they trust that a properly functioning free market inhibits irrational discrimination.  This often works, but in some areas, “different” people find that they experience resentment or indignation from others who claim that “the special” benefitted in the past from the unseen sacrifices of others, who started farther back in line.  Parents, when making wills, may want unmarried or childless adult children to be prepared to help raise the children of siblings or care for other family members, and could stipulate that in wills, and libertarians would not interfere with estates.  Libertarians might have an issue when debating  “filial responsibility laws” if the result of such coercion is to save the taxpayer from supporting other people’s elders (but you have the same concept with mandatory individual health insurance under Obamacare).  I think that the ukase (or lack of ) to be prepared to take care of others when necessary (and not just when you “choose” to have children) is a fundamental moral issue, transcending ethics even as Palmer and McCobin describe it. .

Okediran (“Africa’s Promise of Liberty”) discusses libertarian principles in more rural, primitive communities and maintains that libertarianism can be commensurate with commutarianism, found in intentional communities (with “income sharing”), which is not the same as communism.

Sloane Frost (“The Tangled Dynamics of State Interventionism: The Case of Health Care”) gives the usual conservative arguments against nationalized heath care and traces our current problems to preferential tax treatment in the past to employer-sponsored health care with pre-tax dollars.
Aaron Ross Powell introduces an interesting notion of humility in politics with “The Humble Case for Liberty”.
Amazon does not have this book yet.  There is a similarly titled book by Marc Guttman. Students for Liberty has a site for it here. Palmer handed this out at a GLIL gathering Sunday September 8, 2003.
The video above shows Palmer talking about an earlier book, “The Morality of Capitalism:: What Professors Wont Tell You”.

This would be a good place to mention a pair of companion books by David Boaz from the Free Press in the 1990's, "Libertarianism: A Primer" and a companion "Libertarian Reader", a book of essays.  

Thursday, September 05, 2013

"Gridlock": former US Senator pens novel warning that cyberattack could destroy the electric power grid, permanently

Authors: Byron L Dorgan and David Hagberg

Title: “Gridlock

Publication: New York: Forge, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7653-2738-3, 431 pages, hardcover (also available as e-book), 4 Parts, 76 chapters with Prologue and Epilogue

Amazon link is here
Mr. Dorgan is a former US Senator and Representative from North Dakota, and Mr. Hagberg is a former U.S. Air Force cryptographer.
Let’s cut to the chase.  The authors propose a scenario where enemies of the American people (and it seems to be our “way of life” as much as our government) – specifically Venezuela and Iran (and maybe Putin’s Russia) – try to cripple the US power grid permanently with a single computer work coded by a “gifted” and sociopathic hacker in Amsterdam.  It’ a little confusing as to how it is delivered, and I’ll get back to that in a moment. There’s also a physical attack on a transformer farm in South Texas, a concept which sounds a lot more probable. 
The book is fast paced, written in short chapters, and has a number of character, including a hired Russian assassin, and a young sheriff in North Dakota, himself a Special Forces Afghanistan combat hero who lost a leg to IED but knows how to use his prosthesis as an additional weapon – along with his girl friend, a determined journalist. 
The novel refers to Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad, both out now, as forming an alliance to teach an arrogant American people a lesson.  It’s interesting that Senator Dorgan sees “rogue” states (which would include North Korea and now Syria) as a bigger threat now than decentralized terrorists downloading do-it-yourself materials from the Internet (as with Boston). 

The authors lay out a scenario where occasional rural vandalism against power stations happen, as from disgruntled ranchers.  In this scenario, a lineman is sent to repair damage to a truss in a river valley near the Badlands in western North Dakota (I was there myself in 1998).  Through a computer hack, he is electrocuted when he thinks the line is de-energized.  (Can you imagine doing the job of a lineman?  I couldn't do it.)  Nearby visitors are sniped, setting up the chase.  A good part of the novel text does involve the hunting and chasing of the Russian assassin Yuri Makarov (who reminds me of Clive Barker’s Pie ‘o’ Pah from “Imajica”).  The action is crisp and well-written, but considerable (and happens in many locations and countries).  This book would generate a four-hour screenplay, which could present a problem when Hollywood gets it (unless it’s a TV or cable miniseries).  Who plays the nimble sheriff Nate Osborne?  Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  Ryan Gosling?   You wonder if Mark Parrish, Lucas Till or Reid Ewing should try for a part like this.  Oh, maybe Till could play the hacker.  How do you deal with Nate’s leg loss and prosthesis in filming?  For Makarov, you need an actor who normally seems meaner.  Maybe Ciaran Hinds.  Directing him would even be harder.

Okay, let me get back on subject.  (I’d love to cast my own novel.)  How was the virus delivered?  If it was conveyed by a flash drive (I think that’s how Stuxnet was placed in Iran), you need a “saboteur”, Hitchcock style, inside the electric utility industry.  (The Prologue of the novel hints at this, as does the denouement, but in between the details aren’t shown.)  What I don’t buy is the idea that a remote hacker could transmit a virus through the Internet to a power grid station.  That would say that a hacker could log on to my laptop (where I type this review) and use my Internet connection (soon to be used to upload it) to reach the power station.  I think that this simply should not be possible.  There is a branch of mathematics called graph theory, part of topology, which can calculate whether such a connected path exists.  I think it should not.
As for the “blackmail” and the announced rolling blackouts, why can’t the power industry, with the help of the NSA if needed, neutralize the virus since it knows what it is and knows that it is coming. 

Dorgan is right in suggesting that replacing the three large transformers in Texas would be very time consuming, because in part they have to come from India.  But that tells me that the biggest threat to the grid comes from physical attack, or perhaps an electromagnetic pulse (as in “One Second After”, reviewed July 20, 2012), or even a severe geomagnetic storm.   A physical attack could come from large scale vandalism and conventional explosives, or even from radio frequency flux guns.  I don’t think that the electric power industry is as well prepared for these more physical threats as it is for computer viruses which would have to get through some super secure server farms (one of which is nearby in Ashburn, Loudoun County VA; there are various others in North Carolina, Texas, Utah, Colorado, etc). 

Dorgan says he has changed some details about the power industry so as not to write a “blueprint” for an attack.   
Wikipedia attribution link for Theodore Roosevelt National Park 

Update: Oct. 9, 2013

Look at this story about power grid attacks in Arkansas in the real world, much as in this novel, link

Update: Feb. 5, 2014

The Wall Street Journal discusses an attack on the Metfcalf power substation near San Jose CA on April 16, 2016, blog posting on the Issues Blog today, WSJ link here