October 2006
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Month October 2006

Turning Forty

Well, it finally happened and I turned forty today.  I feel, perhaps oddly, fairly happy about that.  A few moments where you face the serious possibility, or at least the strong probability of…well, of not turning forty seem to be enough to reverse the usual angst about this "milestone."  Unlike the year that preceded it, this last twelve months has been both a lucky and happy one for me.  Despite closing up shop at Network Clarity, I ended up with a great job with a great team at Microsoft, and I ended up able to take some time away from the computer industry, contemplate how to go back to finish my Ph.D., and move into a great house up north.  My brother is healthy and employed, and things appear to be looking good for him as well.  You really can’t ask for much more than that. 

My friends from Saltspring Island came down this weekend by kayak, paddling from Sidney over to Roche Harbor on Friday.  Sounded like a nice paddle, albeit with some tough parts.  We cooked a great meal of grilled pork and asparagus on Friday, served with a Paul Bara NV rose champagne from a couple of years back.  Then, after a mellow Saturday spent at the farmer’s market, going to the art gallery, and taking photographs,Dsc_0060
we had a terrific dinner at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe in Friday Harbor.  Madden had his birthday at the beginning of this last week, and roasted a whole lamb, braised some juicy tender beef brisket, and grilled chicken; last night we explored the seafood aspects of the menu with a delicious tempura rock cod with a sesame apple fennel "slaw," a fish sausage cased in a ring of squash and grilled, and a slab of fresh-caught sablefish on a celeriac puree with what appeared to be a truffled stuffing for the sablefish.  Combined with a Roederer Estates rose sparkling wine from the wine list, and the incredible 2004 Fevre Chablis Les Clos (tight, minerally, but with good lemon cream aromas), the meal was completed with a "smores" with house-made graham cracker cake, chocolate sauce, and the best "marshmallow" I’ve ever had. 

Today, after my friends took the ferry back to Sidney, I went back to Arctic Raven, a wonderful gallery in Friday Harbor that specializes in native American art.  In particular, Lee has recently exhibited both Richard Hunt, and is now finishing a Susan Point exhibit.  Some of the Susan Point works were incredible, especially (in my opinion), the glass or sculptural works.  I finally made up my mind between a couple of yellow cedar sculpture pieces, and found a serigraph/watercolor for the living room.  All in all, a terrific birthday weekend. 

Why libertarians and “modern liberals” don’t make a stable alliance

I’ve been following the Moulitsas thread about “libertarian democrats” over at Cato Unbound and elsewhere (this Catallarchy post has an excellent challenge that I’m working on a response to, for example). Today, Kevin Drum considers the question and comes to the same conclusion I do: modern New Deal liberals and libertarians are not a stable political alliance. He’s correct to identify the mismatch on economic and tax policy as the deal-killer here.

But Kevin goes on to wonder why social issues are less important to libertarians than economic policy:

Now, I don’t quite know why it is that libertarians care so much more about economic libertarianism than they do about social libertarianism. Maybe they believe that Republicans talk a good game about their scary social agenda but aren’t really serious about imposing it. Or maybe they figure that although Democrats are theoretically more socially libertarian than Republicans, in reality they don’t do much about it. And those are pretty reasonable propositions. How many Democrats are in favor of any kind of serious drug decriminalization, after all?

The answer, I believe, lies in the key role that the “minimalist” or “night watchman” state — a state shorn of its regulatory and redistributionist powers, charged only with enforcing common law and providing for the common defense — plays in libertarian thought. Most libertarians I know are deeply concerned about social issues and personal liberties, but remain convinced that there isn’t much difference between “liberals” and “conservatives” on these issues because both appear committed to large, “interventionist” governments. For committed libertarians, influenced by writers like Nozick or Rothbard, civil liberties and social freedoms are best guaranteed by minarchism — restricting the role of the state to its “night watchman” role and keeping it out of social and economic regulatory realms altogether.

Thus, the priority given by most libertarians to “economic” over social alliances is pure strategy, of the “starve the beast” variety also championed by Grover Norquist. It isn’t that social liberties aren’t important, but many libertarians see achievement of the economic libertarian agenda as the means for accomplishing guarantees of social freedom along dimensions that both modern liberals and conservatives still favor regulation (e.g., drug policy).

Basic differences over the role of government and the acceptability of “regulation” as a means of achieving common liberal ends is the real reason why committed libertarians and modern New Deal liberals (Democrats) make strange bedfellows, and why libertarians have occasionally found the Republicans a better electoral option. That electoral alliance does seem strained by the obvious lack of “small government” focus by the current Congress and Administration, but the fact that one electoral alliance is breaking down doesn’t mean that Democrats have much of a chance of forging a new alliance. We may pick up a few libertarian votes in 2006, purely to create the gridlock of divided government which features so prominently in economic libertarian political tactics, but given a Democratic majority anytime soon, we should expect libertarians to either switch their voting patterns back to Republicans or focus on third-party candidates in 2008.

Microsoft Vista, Security Vendors, and “Antitrust” Silliness

The silliness surrounding Vista and its relationship to third-party security vendors seems to be building to some kind of peak, as McAfee and others wave the magic “antitrust” flag around in order to protect their ISV businesses. I’m not one to reflexively defend Microsoft, and despite the fact that I (briefly) worked there, I don’t have a Windows computer on my desktop. But in this particular case Microsoft is doing exactly the right thing, and hopefully regulators will not bow to lobbying by ISVs worried about their business models.

For years, McAfee and others have built businesses around gaps in the Microsoft core offerings, in this case security. All ISVs who build around gaps in the product offerings, know that these gaps, and thus their business models, are subject to change as their ecosystem changes. Especially, in this case, since the entire world — experts, trade press, governments, and customers — have been hammering Microsoft to improve operating system security for years.

Well, Microsoft is doing so, and that inevitably means that some of the gaps in security software will be filled by the core operating system itself. This is inevitable because if Microsoft had not provided their own software, and instead continued to rely on ISVs to fill those gaps, the world would have claimed that Microsoft “wasn’t taking security seriously.” The only way they can take security seriously is to (a) ensure that the core platform contains fewer exploitable APIs and subsystems, and (b) provide needed features and tools in the core distribution instead of bundling “extra” software. And since not all security issues are API exploits but instead are structural (i.e., viruses and other code can enter a system in a variety of perfectly valid ways), tools and features are required, not optional. The only question is whether these features and tools come with the operating system, or need to be provided (at separate cost and sometimes separate distribution) by third parties.

From a regulatory perspective, it might appear that Microsoft faces a tough choice: if they do what’s best for customers (and what customers demand of them) and get “serious” about security, the business model of several major ISV partners will suffer, or they can stay lax on security and protect the ISVs. Regulators need to think carefully about that choice before going along with the notion that this is an “antitrust” issue.

From Microsoft’s perspective, the choice isn’t so difficult at all. The current hullabaloo is merely the predictable whining of companies who face a major change in their business and are still in denial about it.

The best thing that could happen for computer security right now is for customers, experts, and the trade press to tell McAfee and others to shut up and get busy reinventing themselves, because a Microsoft that is making serious strides on security is exactly what its customers need, regardless of the impact on its former partners.