Monthly Archives: August 2008

Quote Of The Day – National Greatness Conservatism

From NYT:

“We are fast becoming a nation of alienating individualists, unwilling to put the unifying values of patriotism ahead of our narrow self-interests,” Mr. McCain warned in a speech during his 2000 presidential campaign. He added that “cynicism threatens to become a ceiling on our greatness.”

The only people “alienated” by my individualism, as far as I can tell, are nanny-state bureaucrats. I suspect I’d alienate John McCain to a great degree. But hey, when people spend their time telling me what to do for the common good, I don’t mind being a thorn in their unifying greatness.

Open Thread — A Free-Market Solution To Spam

If the myriad of emails coming into my inbox every day are representative of reality, there are many reputable universities willing to offer an easy path to a degree, many “nice girls” would love to share their pictures with me, Africa is full of rich orphans looking for an escape (along with a nice reward to help them get their father’s wealth out of the country), and someone on the internet is dearly concerned with the size of my… ahem. I’m referring, of course, to spam.

Spam is a bit of a scourge of the internet. Given that the internet is largely a lawless medium, our government has very little recourse to fight spam originating overseas. The cost of creating spam is nearly zero, the upside of even a very low hit rate is pure profit, and thus spam doesn’t seem to be a phenomenon that is solvable. After all, as long as gullible old ladies really do believe that the Nigerian prince is willing to give millions of dollars as a reward for getting their wealth out of the country, there’s really no way to stop this phenomenon, right?

The other day, though, I was thinking about it. These Nigerian phishing scams are not rocket science. There is a way to defeat them, without requiring government force. I thought of it as a merely personal idea: I would reply to every Nigerian scam email I receive, stringing the spammer along (making him think he’s swindling me) for several days or weeks, until eventually the spammer leaves me alone as he realize he’s wasted his time. Get enough of them to realize that they’re wasting their time by inducing a high rate of “false positive” responses, and they might look for other ways to scam people out of income.

Frankly, though, I just don’t have time for that. I barely have time to respond to important emails any more; I certainly don’t have time to engage in this sort of counter-spam behavior. The amount of effect I could cause would be miniscule in relation to the number of emails they send out. I simply can’t create enough false positives to dissuade them from their task…

But hotmail/yahoo/gmail can! Think about it. They make their living by doing things such as spam filtering, and as someone who receives a great deal of spam on a daily basis (the downside to having a publicly-accessible email address), an effort by the major email service providers would have both the scope and the size to effect some change. They have the incentive– competition with other email providers and protection of their users– and they have the resources.

For the scam artists, the keys to success are a high target rate (to maximize response), a low false positive response rate (because it does no good for non-dupes to respond), and a high conversion rate extracting the money from respondents. Creating a situation where there would be an overwhelming number of false positives in the system would increase the response rate, and thus reduce the conversion rate. Thus, it dramatically increases the cost of attempting to extract money, because the spammers will need to treat both the dupes and the false positives equally.

For a major email provider to assign a bank of interns to a job like this may even improve their subscriber base, as they can advertise a more spam-free email experience than their competitors. The spammers aren’t dumb. If they realize that sending spam to hotmail is likely to result in wasted time, but gmail and yahoo aren’t participating in these counter-spam tactics, they’ll stop sending to hotmail. The major email providers have the size and efficiency to engage in behavior such as this when busy guys like myself simply can’t afford the time to attempt it. All this, without relying on Congress.

So tell me… Would such an idea work? Would it make sense to create so many false positives in the system that the Nigerian Scam simply ceases to operate? Can it be done?

LEAP’s First Billboard Advertisement in Omaha


Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has posted its first billboard message in Omaha, Nebraska. To me this is the “right” message we libertarians should be spreading regarding the war on (some) drugs.

LEAP’s homepage has a very interesting statistic from a recent Zogby Poll.

The question: “If hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine were legalized would you be likely to use them?”

The answer: 99% answered “no.”

Hat Tip: Richard Combs

Federal Bill To Decriminalize Marijuana Use Introduced

Reported by Norml:

Members of Congress called on lawmakers to enact legislation that would limit the government’s authority to arrest and prosecute adults who possess marijuana for their own personal use.

The federal government should “not lock people up or use scarce federal resources to arrest people for using or possessing … marijuana,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) announced at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday. “The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the government’s business. I don’t think it is the government’s business to tell you how to spend your leisure time.”

Rep. Frank, along with Reps. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), called on lawmakers to support legislation, HR 5843, which would eliminate federal penalties for the possession and non-profit transfer of marijuana by adults. Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), William Lacy Clay, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Jim McDermott (D-WA) are co-sponsoring the bill, entitled “the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008.”

The legislation is the first proposal to be introduced in Congress in 30 years that seeks to eliminate federal pot penalties.

I don’t expect this to pass. But with many legislation, the very fact that it could be introduced without political backlash is an indication that a bill like this might gain traction over time and pass in the future. Kudos to Barney Frank for introducing this bill, and for Ron Paul for being a cosponsor.

Perhaps this is something that we can use to ask RLC members (other than Paul, of course) to cosponsor. If they want to talk the talk, let’s make sure they walk the walk.

To A Politician, Vocalizing Opposition To His Policy Is Lying

From Paul Jacob, always a fan of citizen initiatives and ballot measures*:

Lying is objectionable, of course. But only certain kinds of lies — perjury, or lies used to steal from someone — should be punished by force of law.

Some people, however, are forever seeking new ways to harass other people. Especially, it seems, when it comes to perfectly legal activities that these busybodies happen to dislike. For example, petitioning to post a question on an election ballot. A process already suffering a multitude of burdensome restrictions in many states.

Arizona has just passed a law to penalize petition circulators who deliberately misrepresent the content of a petition they’re passing around. Anyone who does lie about a petition is behaving badly. But how can this law be enforced without sending intimidating “truth squads” to follow petitioners around, making their job even tougher? And how does one distinguish between “lies” and the often very sharply different understanding of issues that we always observe in political debate?

Jacob, being a fan of citizen initiative, understands that this is a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate or derail potential initiatives that politicians don’t like– such as term limits. As he points out, the definition of “lying” can easily be expanded from saying something contradictory to provable facts, to saying something contradictory to the government official’s interpretation of the purpose of a ballot initiative.

But I’ve got another idea. If it’s good for the gander, why isn’t it good for the goose? How about we start prosecuting elected officials for “lying.” Or, perhaps, for being duplicitous and deceptive enough about their true motives to be considered a lie by those of us who disagree with them. Like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (for starters). We could even go back to the meaning of the terms “sexual relations”, “no new taxes”, or “I am not a crook” for the historical perspective.

I think politicians might want to reconsider making “lying” a crime, and stick to the known definitions of fraud. They have enough trouble keeping their noses clean as it is.
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