Monday, October 31, 2011

Private Security in the 21st Century

In J. Neil Schulman’s libertarian utopia Alongside Night, our hero, the son of a free market Nobel laureate economist, is on the run when he falls in love with the daughter of the director of the FBI.  He discovers an underground, both literal and figurative, and as the stormtroopers attack, the Boy and the Girl are separated.  He needs to find her, but the private security guards are directing people to safety.  He wants to argue, but they will have none of that. Rather than ordering him to obey the klaxon call to evacuate – which is what he expects – the guard asks him to stand aside for a moment until they can help him find his girlfriend. So it is with private security: we are not cops… at least, not ideally. 

Today, supervisors in private security generally come from the world of public policing.  They follow the Guardian ethos.  However, as security services are increasingly for-profit enterprises, the future of market-driven security will evolve along a different line. 

In Systems of Survival, (see here on this blog) Jane Jacobs outlined two moral syndromes: the Guardian, and the Trader.  They are often different expressions of the same virtues, but, also, often contrary in motives or opposite in goals.  The future of private security lies with eliminating as many of the "power" modes as possible and replacing them with "market" modes.

It is true that Guardians should not trade favors.  That way lies corruption.  However, many of the elements of the warrior path can be replaced with the merchant's course – and to the benefit and profit of the security provider, as well as to their clients and to their clients' communities of customers, who in retail are known as the ultimate consumers.  

Shifting the Paradigm of Private Security
Employee Theft

Physical Security for Data Centers

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Accounting for Civilization

The work of Denise Schmandt-Besserat demonstrates from empirical historical evidence that civilization began with accounting. The first writing began with records of promises and debts.

While not a circulating medium of indirect barter, the early artifacts of accounting nonetheless bear the essential elements of money, showing value and naming the guarantor. Moreover, in a long foreshadowing to the modern era, these earliest tokens functioned more like drafts and promissory notes. When the debt was paid, the recording instrument was discarded. Thus, archeologists found them in refuse pits and middens.

That was one reason that these intriguing evidences of commerce were overlooked. Archeologists brought with them an implicit mindset at once modern (of course), but also, more primitive than that of Jarmo c. 8000 BC: they thought that the media of commerce would be treated like gold treasure and silver coins.

These little clay objects were given scant attention by museums. When art history professor Denise Schmandt-Besserat queried and visited museums for their oldest ceramics, she was surprised to be shown these little bullets, pyramids, cones, and disks. Most were uncatalogued. After a few years of puzzling over them, the truth dawned on her: these were tokens. And they – not pictographs – were the true origin of writing.
Pictographs did, indeed, antedate cuneiform. However, the pictographs themselves show much epistemic development, representing abstractions such as “food” rather than only concretes such as “bread.” As many pictographs mimicked tokens, it was clear that the clay promises came first. The clay tokens show a long development of their own, from simple representations such as “sheep” and “wheat” to differentiations of kind and measure, as well as to manufactured goods such as beer and cloth.

She published her findings first in a large two-volume corpus, Before Writing (University of Texas Press, 1992). The core of that narrative and the essential illustrations were condensed into a popular paperback, How Writing Came About (University of Texas Press, 1996). Focusing even more narrowly on the power of these tokens to enable the creation of civilization, she produced a children’s book, The History of Counting (Morrow Jr., 1999).

Before these tokens, there were no large numbers such as 4, 5, 6, and 7. Today, we accept decimal tallying on our ten digits as “natural” but it surely was not. The first representations of “five” were "three passed one“ and "three one one.” Our modern languages still hint of that earlier time, as in French three is big (trois/tres) or in Hungarian big follows three (nagy/negy). Slavic languages still carry the old Indo-European singular-dual-plural grammar for 1-2-many. (Other languages have other divisions; none at root speaks distinctly of four, five, and six.)

Numeracy is not natural and was invented for commerce and from that came literacy.  What was counted was farm goods owed, i.e., debts – economic, financial, fiduciary, commercial, exchanges.

The barrier to understanding this is easy to show. The broad mainstream of intellectuals across all academic disciplines holds business in low regard. That is obvious by inspection. In the festschrift The Philosophy of Karl Popper (Open Court, 1974), Nobel laureate neurologist Sir John Carew Eccles outlined Popper’s theory of objective knowledge. We have sensora; and we have words for our perceptions. A third world also exists, the writings about our perceptions. This was before Schmandt-Besserat’s discoveries, of course, but resting on the earlier work of Sir Leonard Wooley, Eccles wrote:
“There is undoubtedly a feeling of bathos in the uses to which this marvellous discovery was put initially. Mostly it was used for business documents, contracts, inventories, deeds of sale! But also it was used for Royal inscriptions and at a later stage for recording religious texts.”
In this view only its use by the king (note the capital letter) and priests could elevate writing from the common clay of commerce.

But writing supersedes even this. In truth, as Denise Schmandt-Besserat shows most recently in When Writing Met Art (University of Texas Press, 2007), pre-literate art was illiterate. The ordered narratives which we accept as normal in art – Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, The Raft of the Medusa by Géricault, or Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks – had their origins in the nicely ordered spatial vocabulary of cuneiform inventories and Sumerian contracts.

Money is Speech

Saturday, October 15, 2011


The “Black Swan” refers to the fact that as far as Europeans knew, for thousands of years, hundreds of generations, all swans were white.  Then, after discovering Australia, they found black swans.  In the stock market, the "black swan" is the event no could have foreseen.  This is the problem of induction.  We can collect all the instances we want, but at some level, our knowledge must be admittedly contingent.  Objectivism asserts a positive solution to the problem of induction.

In the lecture series, “The Basic Principles of Objectivism” Nathaniel Branden said that if you disagree with someone on the relevant morality of some current political news topic, if you stay engaged, pretty soon the discussion gets down to philosophical principles at an ever more basic level until you must finally get to metaphysics.  For Ayn Rand, most disagreements centered on epistemology.  
In The Logical Leap, David Harriman provides one solution to the problem of induction:  a single example is enough if your generalization is based on reality.  (See my review on this blog.)
In the Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper makes a plea for tolerance based on an admission of ignorance.  Ultimate knowledge eludes us: all claims are contingent.  Therefore, it is wrong to force your views on another person because you cannot be sure that your claims are not to be falsified at some later date.  This clearly rests on Popper’s statements in The Logic of Scientific Discovery that inductive reasoning is insecure and that falsifiability is the test of truth.  Moreover, says Popper, deductive reasoning is not much help.  The claim that all ravens are black leads to the equivalent claim that all non-ravens are non-black.  Thus, everything you see that is not black validates the claim that all ravens are black; and this is clearly ridiculous.
The solution via Ayn Rand and via David Harriman is that a proper induction is based on the essential characteristics.  In the cases of ravens and swans what was lacking was the knowledge of genetics, of the biochemistry of inheritance.  Indeed, when black swans were discovered, they were not called vorks or gabongs.  They were called swans because whiteness was not essential to swanness after all.  Objective knowledge is not an accumulation of instances.  Objective knowledge integrates reason and experience, theory and data.  It is true that lacking any understanding of physics, we could only say that the sun would come up tomorrow again in the east, but a little bit moved over, only because it always had.  The claim was inductive  only.  After Newton, this was no longer merely an inductive claim, but an objective one.  And, to the point, the problem with the precession of the perihelion of Mercury that was solved by Einstein, did not invalidate the entire body of knowledge.  Inductive claims are contingent.  Objective truths are not.
Admirable as Popper’s passion for an open society remains, the weakness of his argument is revealed by the absolutism of his opponents.  They are not so laissez faire.  They are absolutely sure of their claims.  They unequivocally assert the right to dictate for others. 

I posted this observation at the OrgTheory blog in the Comments for Occupy Everything:
Popper placed our problems in Plato’s lap. These Occupy people are acting out a desire for a coup d’etat by the Philosopher Kings. They know what is best. The idle class is not really the bourgeoisie that shows up to the office every day to trade equities. Those are only workers of a different trade. The true leisure class are the philosophers and writers who proscribe our fuels, our foods, our trades and deals, our monetary media and margins. Those hawks ... always win over the doves because those conflict managers have an agenda while the merchants of peace beg for reasoned debate. So, the Occupiers will push and shove for their goals, while the advocates of reason fail to mount a coordinated defense. In fact, one is not possible.
Perhaps the best thing is just to ignore them. No headlines. No sound bites. No tweets. A thousand years ago, Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw penned an essay titled, “What if they gave a millennium and nobody came?” It was about securing your own personal freedom here and now.
In the news now, the Occupiers of Wall Street demand the power to decide what is best for everyone else.  Admitting that you are not certain will not carry the day.  Is your mind so open that a loose array of slogans from a flash mob can occupy it?  If not, then why not?  If your individual sovereignty is your inviolable right, what is the social extension of that? 
Despite the fact that we survive and thrive through trade and commerce based on productivity, by the nature of self-interest, the bourgeoisie is difficult to arouse.  The guardians march to their battle hymns and anthems, but we have no tuneful lyrics about open exchange or scientific discovery.  Perhaps this is as it must be.  In Systems of Survival, Jane Jacobs delineated the guardian and the trader as mutually exclusive modes.  Perhaps the bottom line only needs to be laissez nous faire. 

For more on Black Swan Theory see
This blurb from NUMB3RS on YouTube
Wikipedia on the Black Swan Theory here
The orignal work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Google Documents
Taleb's website here.

Is Physics a Science?
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
Hypatia of Alexandria

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs: One of a Kind

Steve Jobs asked, "If you knew that this was going to be the last day of your life, would you do what you are about to do?" 
(This is based on a post to OrgTheory.)
I just came from the monthly CapMac Macintosh user group meeting here in Austin. Perhaps not every Macintosh user is bound by religious ties to Apple and Jobs. In addition to the Stanford Commencement Address (here), we watched two tributes (one created by CapMac VP Michael Sidoric), and then half a dozen people came down to the altar to witness for the affect Steve Jobs had on their lives.
On the sociology and economics blog, OrgTheory, Prof. Kieran Healy of Duke University springboarded the passing of Jobs for a post on the nature of Charisma. I replied that charisma, like entrepreneurship, is going to be sought and argued by sociologists because, ultimately, it is the ineffable quality of an individual. Maybe you can learn charisma; but it cannot be taught at university. And neither can entrepreneurship.

Jobs was both charismatic and an entrepreneur. It may be that the two are causally linked. Which is the cause or effect may finally depend on finding some third factor that brings into existence the other two. We know that different leaders have different styles and yet are separately successful. Different as they were, Hiram Ulysses Grant and George Armstrong Custer both ranked at the bottom of their classes at West Point.  Both excelled as leaders. On the other hand, Richard P. Feynman was obviously charismatic without being an entrepreneur. Neither has he generated a cult of disciples who mimic him. On the other hand Ludwig Wittgenstein did spawn students who copied his affectations, though, again, without consciously building an economic enterprise.
You can learn entrepreneurship or charisma or leadership; you cannot teach them. But we can teach organizational behavior and organization theory. Kieran Healy asked (rhetorically) if the CEOs of Exxon Mobil or Nestlé will be honored the same way: "Apple’s storefronts became impromptu shrines and memorials, something we can safely say will not happen at gas stations or supermarkets when the CEOs of Exxon Mobil or Nestlé pass on." Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and a few others of that generation stand out, as do a few from every generation.

An ice age ago, we were lucky to have one person like that every three or four generations. Now with 6 billion of us, we lesser mortals benefit more frequently from the actions of the blessed and the divine. Tell someone that the universe is not only stranger than we do imagine, but stranger than we can imagine, and they will nod in sage agreement with the deep realization that we are limited in our knowledge. Yet, somehow, we are expected to understand and replicate Steve Jobs. The Marxists thought that a workers' committee could replace Rockefeller and Ford. We think that university graduate schools can generate copies of Jobs or Gates or Soros or Buffett.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Shelley's "Ozymandias" is supposed to remind us that we are dim lights, solitary candles, easily extinguished. And yet, we do know Ramses the Great. It is an easy prediction that Steven Paul Jobs will be known to millions who never know of the pharaoh. Ultimately, all that can matter is that at the end of his life, he knew that he made a difference in his lifetime. It is all we can expect.

Whether Apple endures remains to be seen. Free market economists revel in the fact that the Fortune 500 churns. Yesterdays's giants are gone, perhaps not yet forgotten like Ozymandias. On the other hand, old continuing firms do exist. (Wikipedia here.) Many are hotels. Others are breweries. That Apple produced the iPod (iPhone, etc.) may prove to be more significant than IBM's role in computers as data processing machines. We must wait and see.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

... that goddam Ayn Rand book ...

When Roseanne Barr spoke at the Occupy Wall Street rallies on September 19, she called for a new "people-ism" that combines capitalism with socialism, which, actually, is the definition of fascism.  Barr denounced capitalism based on "that goddam Ayn Rand book."  She did not say which one she meant. 

Atlas Shrugged is the easy answer.  The movie came out this year.  The book has been selling well ever since the Bush Bailouts.  The election of Barack Obama only fueled the engine, not so much because of Obama's own beliefs (though there is that), as his continuation of the domestic and foreign policies of the previous administration.  Objectivists are not conservatives.  To Ayn Rand, faith and force were mutually required aspects of mysticism and collectivism.  So, the strong news from Washington, regardless of the parties in power, could only echo passages in Atlas Shrugged.

But then I wondered, how about Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology?  After all, Rand taught that any political system - and any change to one - must be based at least implicitly on a theory of knowledge. 

Moreover, in our post-modernist era, claims of objective knowledge are radically contrary to the intellectual mainstream.  Note that "objective" does not mean "absolute."  While absolutes do exist, human knowledge and human action are contextual.  Knowing right from wrong and acting rightly depends on what we commonly call "the scientific method."  Another label for that is rational-empiricism, which in classical academic philosophy is a synonym for objectivism (with a small o).  In short, theories are supported by facts; and facts are explained by theories.  In the famous words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "You have a right to your own opinion.  You do not have a right to your own facts."  It is an easy prediction that most of the anti-Wall Street protestors would claim both epistemological relativism and moral absolutism. 

Over on Rebirth of Reason, artist and musician Joe Maurone offered The Virtue of Selfishness as perhaps the cogent reply.  The study of politics rests directly on the study of morality and ethics.  For Ayn Rand, selfishness had a specific meaning and  it is about the same as "enlightened self-interest."  Not every whim that pops into your head is in your best interest.  Morality does not begin with "I want" but with "It is."  In other words, morality rests on metaphysics.  But it is an easy bet that you would hard pressed to find adherants to an objective metaphysics  at these rallies.  For them, reality for you is not reality for me.

It is not likely that Roseanne Barr was denouncing The Romantic Manifesto, but she could have been.  Romantic fiction portrays heroic action by confident people.  It deals with conflicts of values, values that are stated explicitly.  Born in 1905, Alissa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) found her heroes in the works of Victor Hugo.  The college students drawn to her novels in the 1960s pointed to Casablanca, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and High Noon.  Today, posters on Objectivist message boards and blogs tout History Boys, The King's Speech and X-Men.  ... and debate the merits of John Aglialaro's Atlas Shrugged.

Certainly Roseanne Barr did not mean Philosophy: Who Need It?  She missed her shot.  The title essay was delivered to a graduating class at West Point.  In other essays in this book, Rand denounced duty and tied egalitarianism to inflation.  She also demonstrated that federal regulaton of communications (via the FCC) is nothing less than censorship. All of that might be too complicated and difficult for people who cheered Roseanne Barr.

Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal is probably the other title that best would compete against Atlas Shrugged as a target for the ire of the Anti-Wall Street gang.  The defense of robber barons and child labor is clear enough, but the capstone would have to be Alan Greenspan's essay, "The Assault on Integrity" in which he explitictly asserts stock brokers as paragons of virtue. 
"Securities worth hundreds of millions of dollars are traded every day over the telephone. The slightest doubt as to the trustworthiness of a broker's word or commitment would put him out of business overnight. Reputation, in an unregulated economy, is thus a major competitive tool." (CUI, page 113) 
  "Government regulations do not eliminate potentially dishonest individuals, but merely make their activities harder to detect or easier to hush up. Furthermore, the possibility of individual dishonesty applies to government employees fully as much as to any other group of men. " (CUI, page 115)
After defining capitalism as the only moral political system, Rand then identifies collectivism (not the profit motive) as the cause of war.  The third essay "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business" hallmarks the book.
If a small group of men were always regarded as guilty, in any clash with any other group, regardless of the issues or circumstances involved, would you call it persecution? If this group were always made to pay for the sins, errors, or failures of any other group, would you call that persecution? If this group had to live under a silent reign of terror, under special laws, from which all other people were immune, laws which the accused could not grasp or define in advance and which the accuser could interpret in any way he pleased—would you call that persecution? If this group were penalized, not for its faults, but for its virtues, not for its incompetence, but for its ability, not for its failures, but for its achievements, and the greater the achievement, the greater the penalty—would you call that persecution? ...   That group is the American businessmen . . . (CUI, page 38)

BTW:  Joe Maurone has a couple of efforts going.  Objectivish is one blog, and Space Player Music  is another presentation.  The picture he posted on RoR of The Virtue of Selfishness was from videos he shot of Occupy Philadelphia, to be found on Objectivish.