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Looking back

Few days ago, for reasons that escape me, I got curious about the fate of Laissez Faire City. If you’ve been around a while you might remember LFC as a hopeful and apparently well-funded effort to build a libertarian community in Costa Rica. That is, a hopeful, well-funded, and unfortunately badly “mis-mangled” project that died aborning.

Wanting to see if there were any shreds of it remaining, I googled it startpaged it duckduckgoed it and found, sadly though not surprisingly, that it has disappeared without a ripple. The ‘Net that Never Forgets has forgotten it. Even its Wikipedia entry simply redirects to a page on anarchist utopian communities — which then completes the humiliation by not even mentioning it. The scamdog site that once gleefully tracked old, dead, and sometimes criminally misbegotten libertopias is also no more, taken over by a cybersquat operation that offers links to dog medicines, dogs for sale, and dog training.

Right on the first page of the search results, though, was a link to my old Wolfesblog, now kindly archived by Bill St. Clair.

If you’re interested in Laissez Faire City (and it seems nobody is), Patri Friedman has an ancient account that pretty much accords with my slight experience with the project.

But failed libertopias aside (and there’s a mindfield of them littering the recent past), I couldn’t resist clicking through a few weeks of old blog entries made by me and my fellow Wolfesblogistas circa 2003, then clicking through the links I found in those entries.

Lots of links are as dead as Laissez Faire City, of course. But I was amazed at how many are still alive and worth a visit. The scientists of AstroCapella are still making beautiful music about astrophysics despite the RIAA’s hilarously wrongheaded efforts to stop them. My favorite is still the Swift Song, even if it was commissioned by NASA.

Alan Bock still offers his ode to living the principled life.

Lots of good old stuff back there.

The thing that struck me most, though, is what has happened (or not happened) with so many of the beastly privacy threats that were making the news back then. In 2003, I was pretty sure that by now everything we bought would carry an individual RFID tag, and possibly that millions of damnfools would already be lining up for their chip injections. That hasn’t happened. Were we privacy doomsayers just being hysterical back then? Was the threat never that terrible? Or did it not happen because smart, tough people like Katherine Albrecht (and, as Ted Dunlap points out in the comments section, thousands more informed and angry people) fought back?

Other privacy threats … well, who knows? Take DARPA’s lovely [ahem] proposal for LifeLog (and more here) — a program to track every, single e-blip about every, single human being for a lifetime. That’s every email you ever sent, every webpage you ever visited, every report card you got in school, every job evaluation, every cellphone call or text message, every photo ever taken of you, every medical exam, every tax you ever paid, every ticket you ever got, every everything.

Terrible, scary sh*t. So … Was LifeLog among the many “bright” ideas of our SuperSTASI that just went away for lack of initiative or funding? Or are there computers in the Pentagon or deep below Langley whirring our life histories away right this minute? We may never know. Or by the time we find out, the news will earn 20 seconds of infamy followed by yawns. Lord knows enough real privacy threats have burdened us in the meantime.

Anyhow, it was an interesting trip down old bromidic Memory Lane.


  1. Mac the Knife
    Mac the Knife January 26, 2011 8:51 pm

    If anyone is doing it it will be the NSA, not the Pentagon or Langley. They are the ones that have acres and acres and acres of some of the fastest computers in the world.

    The following quote was made by Senator Frank Church of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1975 in regard to NSA’s ability to intercept electronic transmissions:

    “At the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…

    I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over the bridge. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

    If the NSA could do this in 1975 what can they do today? It has been many, many years and a couple of revolutions in the computer industry since then. It is something to think about in the dark of night when the moon is full ….

  2. Standard Mischief
    Standard Mischief January 26, 2011 10:35 pm

    duckduckgo does not have the breadth that google has, but seems to be wide enough for at least 90% of my searches.

    If you get zero results, or you need to use google power-user features (like filetype:doc) you could always use

  3. Pat
    Pat January 27, 2011 3:00 am

    In the Wikipedia article, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is mentioned. My OB/GYN doctor in the 70’s was a part of that revolution, and escaped Hungary with his young family by slithering under barbed wire and crossing borders in the night. I learned a lot of European history from him, and even more about courage and the desire for freedom.

    A list of attempted libertarian communities can be found here.

    I still have a Minerva coin (silver, with gold) from The Phoenix Foundation. All of their attempts to found a new country fizzled, but I did make a week-long trip to Abaco in early 70’s and had a great time. (The Abaconians were interested, and many were receptive to a free country of their own, but I got the impression they would go either way. Sure enough, when Bahamas became totally independent, they simply gave up the attempt.)

  4. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty January 27, 2011 6:23 am

    And I remember 1950 very well. My family had a radio. No TV or telephone. We didn’t even have an automobile until 1954.

    Also, no DHS, DEA, NSA, BATFE, or a lot of other nasties.

    Feeling my age this morning. 🙁

  5. Ted Dunlap
    Ted Dunlap January 27, 2011 10:29 am

    “Were we privacy doomsayers just being hysterical back then? Was the threat never that terrible? Or did it not happen because smart, tough people like Katherine Albrecht fought back?”

    You seem to walk right by the open door without inviting us in to take a bow.

    Perhaps it is in part because a handful of us paid attention, brought attention to them, shouted about them from the rooftops, publicized and supported resistors, educated the educatable one-on-one and en-masse as best we could, that the inevitable didn’t happen [yet].

    Recognizing that we might be making a difference certainly keeps some of us going.

  6. Claire
    Claire January 27, 2011 11:08 am

    Ted, you’re right. I always give Katherine a lot of credit because she deserves it. But so does everybody who shouted to the rooftops and made it clear that blatant privacy invasions would be resisted wholeheartedly. Mea culpa.

  7. Victor Milan
    Victor Milan January 27, 2011 11:50 am

    I wonder if the failure of “libertopias” may have to do with the fact most of them seem top-down, rather than organic, self-growing? In other words, to all practical extent, attempts at centralized social engineering not ultimately that different from what statists do? Still, with the best will in the world (at least sometimes.)

  8. bumperwack
    bumperwack January 27, 2011 12:56 pm

    lifelog,eh?…more where that came from

  9. -S
    -S January 28, 2011 9:36 am

    I admire Ms. Albrecht and appreciate her efforts. I’ll give her some credit for the path of RFIDs, but I think much larger forces are at work.

    Her book was interesting but bordered on hysterical in multiple areas. There’s nothing wrong with sounding the alarm and pointing out possible harms, but all too often she painted a picture of evil intent and complete inevitability that was simply not true.

    What’s truly limited the expansion of RFIDs is money. They cost too much for the functions they can perform. Walmart did, AFAIK, implement their plans to require suppliers to put RFIDs on every PALLET of goods. So did DOD. Ms. Albrecht quite literally extrapolated that to RFIDs in every pair of underpants. But while it is worth while to track a pallet of several thousand items, there was never much benefit or potential for profit by flagging each set of knickers.

    The one place where RFIDs have invaded our privacy and reduced our security is passports. They all have RFIDs now, and they can be trivially hacked. Note that this application is in a sphere where rational economics and consequences of bad decisions do not apply.

    Companies are sensitive to privacy concerns – when their customers demand that they pay attention. Facebook and others have made serious missteps that are as bad as any of the breathless alarms concocted by Ms. Albrecht, then backed down when the howls of protest arose.

    I don’t know of any instance where a company substantially changed or eliminated plans to use RFIDs because of public outcry. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that it never caught my attention.

    So she and her book played their role, but it was a small one. It didn’t keep RFIDs out of passports.

    If and when the cost of RFIDs and their supporting infrastructure drops a factor of 10 or so, some of the dreadful scenarios she postulated will come to pass. When that day comes, the free market will provide solutions to those who object to those particular forms of privacy invasion, and are willing to pay to protect themselves.

  10. Pat
    Pat January 29, 2011 6:08 am

    I see a difference in the rationale behind RFIDs being put into passports and in, say, clothing. Government in its paranoic data-chase will do everything it can to get information; whereas Walmart, e.g., does indeed pay attention to its money——product-control being why it wanted the RFIDs in the first place.

    No matter how big companies may grow, they do pay attention to negative responses, if those responses are loud enough. The trick is to get enough people to recognize and understand why something like RFIDs and information-gathering are a threat to privacy.

    _Spychips_ is an educational tool, and was written to wake people up to the *potential* danger of RFIDs. If there is some hyperbole (she euphemistically says) in the book, it was for a good cause, and certainly no worse than the daily newscasts we hear on MSM – which are frequently outright lies!

  11. Philalethes
    Philalethes January 29, 2011 10:09 am

    This is OT (but related to the discussion): If anyone here has a Macintosh computer, you might like to know that the indispensable (for privacy concerns) utility Little Snitch is on sale at 50% off ($15) this weekend:

  12. anon
    anon January 30, 2011 10:24 am

    please look into / disseminate – this is an effort to create a real digital currency that could kick-start a shadow economy.

    free of taxes, untraceable, systemically incapable of being inflated away. SERIOUSLY interesting work that needs more early adopters.

    darknet credits are here, folks.

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