(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)

Saturday, October 25, 2003
Anarchy in Real Life: Terminating property rights by theft

This is from my book Janio at a Point, written in 1988. I'm posting it in reaction to a debate on intellectual property at No Treason. I am amazed and dismayed at how little this debate has changed in 15 years, and how far we all are from acting with respect to human beings as they really are.
There is a third way that property rights can be terminated, and it is one that may be a bit hard to swallow at first. As I said, none of us ever really gives up on that idea of "Cosmic Justice" we hold as children. Evil ought to be punished, right here, right now, and severely. We never truly cease to want that bolt of lightning to erupt from the sky and strike down the wicked. We grow up and realize that it is wrong, causally wrong. And if we are wise, we come to see that it is still more wrong to try to pretend that "causeless" "justice" is possible. But we never really do "forgive" reality for failing us in his respect. We know that Justice cannot be automatic, yet we still find ourselves wishing that it were...

This is the root Madness of statism, which we'll be dissecting next. But what I have to say now ought to be enough to drive the statists right out of their fevered minds...

For property rights can be terminated by theft.

Yes, I suffer from Spasmodic Iconoclasms (grin). But not now. Because, though it may seem paradoxical to say so, it is possible for a person to obtain good title to a stolen value...

How? We said that you own your property to the exact extent you can defend it. You can defend your property. But no one else can be compelled to defend it for you. If you fail in the defense of it, either during the crime or afterward through the courts, no uninvolved person is liable for your loss.

Let's leave theft alone for a moment and just talk about loss. One of the cliches of childhood is the ice cream cone accidentally dropped down the sewer. The patterned adult response is to give the child money for another scoop. One could argue that this is a sort of "Cosmic Injustice", since the child would learn to be more careful for doing without. But leaving out the adult, look just at the loss. It is a terrible thing for the child, and no doubt he is distraught. You could argue that it's not really his fault and I'll plead no contest. The question is: is it anyone else's fault? You could say the child should not be penalized for his inattention. Sure, but I don't think he should be rewarded for it, either. But should someone else be penalized because the child was not attending to his knowledge of causality?

Obviously not. So let's go back to theft. When a person steals your property, he has committed a Crime. He has forced his society upon your person and your values and damaged one or both materially. While the theft is taking place, if you are present, you can act to defend yourself, even unto murder in self-defense if you have cause to believe your life is threatened. If you are absent or if you do not resist, you can pursue Justice through the courts. If a judge agrees you are materially harmed, you have a claim against the person who injured you. Who else do you have a claim against...?

No one. Your injury was caused by a particular person. That person did damage you, and you have the right to have your previous condition restored. You are whole in your person, and you have a right to every bit of it. But you have no rights of or to other people. If you cannot manage to collect your claim from the person who injured you, you do not therefore acquire the "right" to collect it from someone who did not injure you. Nor do you acquire the "right" to force uninvolved innocents to "help" you collect your claim by force of numbers. You own yourself, but you do not own anyone but yourself.

So, what happens? Your car is stolen from a parking lot. You report it to your security service, but they can't find either the car or the thief. No stain on them: the thief drove the car hundreds of miles away. If you had bought that locator they recommended... (grin) Anyway, your car is gone, and, for the sake of the example, let's say it wasn't insured for theft. You are out the car for transportation, but you are also out the amount you paid for the car. This is the thief's fault - but no one else's...

A few days later in another town you see your car, driven by a stranger. You approach him, and he shows you that he has good title to the car and a bill of sale. He bought it the day before from the thief. Do you have any claim of him?

I say you do not. He has not injured you. He has possession of your car, but he has it honestly. He freely exchanged the product of his past effort for the car. He did not know he was buying it from a thief, but he is not responsible for your defense. You cannot claim that he owes you that car, because he does not...

The thief owes you that car, or its equivalent in cash compensation. The buyer is innocent of all wrong-doing and cannot be held accountable for any crime. All he did was buy a chattel on the market. You could argue that he ought to have been more careful in assuring that the seller's title was good, but this could never be more than a matter of good will. If a person is obliged to investigate the title to the goods he buys, then he is the uncompensated detective of everyone and anyone who might claim an injury. What is more: he is not free...

But man is free. He ought to make sure that he is not financing Crime by his purchases, but he is not injuring you or anyone if he does not. Criminals are the people who commit crimes. The people who fund them - knowingly or unknowingly - are not injuring anyone by their actions. Crime is injury, and you cannot claim the "right" to collect for an injury from a person who did not cause that injury. Truly, no one should ever buy stolen merchandise, since doing so hides from thieves and potential thieves the value of living as a human being, but that's for later. For now: if something that was stolen from you was sold on the market, you still and always have a claim against the thief. But you have no claim against the buyer. He holds good title, by trade, and you have no claim of him at all.

Now there are some interesting issues in the neighborhood. Consider, for example, intellectual piracy. The creator of a book or record or tape or film or software program certainly has the right to his property. He sells it only on his terms, and he has every right to complain if his terms are violated. But intellectual pirates tend not to be big behemoth organizations, easy to find. Rather, they are little one-man shops, if that. There is large-scale piracy of records and books, but most software piracy is just one friend copying a program for another, one time. Much music piracy occurs in the same way. The question is: how do producers of intellectual values defend themselves from pirates?

However they can, provided it does not entail Crime. If they can persuade manufacturers of their media to build in defeat mechanisms, good for them. If they can convince people to boycott known brigands, that's great. But if they employ force to compel defeat mechanisms or to forbid people to trade with whom they will, then they are committing crimes. It may not be possible for them to recover their losses from casual piracy. If not, I'm sorry for them. But I am not at fault. I cannot justly be penalized for the crimes of other people. I'm sorry that producers of the values of the mind (and I am one of them) are out those sales. I'm sorry the child dropped his ice cream. But I did not cause either to happen, and it would be Crime to hold me accountable for them.

Very close to this is the claim of the Indigenous Peoples. There are a great many people in the world who live on land that was stolen - one or more times. If they have good title to that land, if they acquired it by trading their own honest effort for it, then they owe it to no one. To pick an example close to (your) home, the American Indians at the time of America's settling certainly had large tracts of land stolen from them. Some was purchased, but some was "purchased" by fraud, by swindling people who had no knowledge of European ideas about contracts. And a great deal more was simply taken by force.

This was Crime, and there's no disputing it. But no one alive today committed any one of those crimes. There is no one alive today who can justly be held accountable for those crimes. Moreover, there is no one alive today who can claim to be injured by them...

The Native Americans will tell you that land is theirs, theirs by right of their prior claim. This is untrue. Second, even supposing the claim could still be enforced, it is purely a matter of conjecture that the Native Americans alive today would have inherited that land from the victims of the theft. It's possible they might have sold it. But first, and compellingly, the claim has lapsed. The original claim to the land (itself suspect, since we cannot verify that the ancestors to the present claimants did not steal it from someone else) was terminated by its unsuccessful defense. When that land passed into the hands of a man who traded his honest effort to obtain it, he became its owner, its only Just owner.

The Native Americans now alive have no just claim to the land stolen from their ancestors. The ancestors have a claim, against the people who injured them. But since all of them are now dead, they will have to work it out in The Peoples' Court Of The Damned. There are no people now alive who were injured by those thefts, and there is no one from whom compensation can be demanded. Not even, I should add, the heirs of the original thieves. Their forebears might have committed crimes, and some of their prosperity may owe to gains from crimes. But they have not themselves injured anyone. They cannot justly be held at fault.

You have full right to your person, to your spirit, your mind and your body. You have every right to defend yourself and the things you make with your life. But you have no right of or to another person. If you cannot defend your rights, you yourself or the delegates you hire, you have no right to demand your defense of others, neither as "punishment" for injuries they did not inflict, nor as a salve upon your wounds. You are free and so are they. They do not owe you anything. So if you fail to defend your right to your property, no one else is obliged to defend it for you, or to suffer your loss in your place. Thus can property rights be terminated by theft.

Friday, October 24, 2003
This came up in email...

...but I'll address it in public: No, I do not have any personal interest in prostitution. I'm very happily married, and I'm not interested in anything I can't explain or get rid of. I am interested, though, in everything about Las Vegas, and I think prostitution is an excellent product for Sin City to offer in some kind of supraterranean fashion.

As to how I know East Fremont Street, it's like this, believe it or don't: Cathy and I were staying at the Golden Nugget. There's a Latin Rite Roman Catholic Church on 8th Street, about seven blocks from the Nugget. I wanted to say the Mass in Latin, which we can't do in Phoenix, and seven blocks seemed like a nice walk on a Sunday morning. Bad idea. And you have to think a moment to understand how unsafe a neighborhood is, if it is unsafe at eight o'clock on a Sunday morning.

Finally, I thought of a better slogan for Big Nose Kate's casino-resort-hotel-saloon-and-whorehouse. (Big Nose Kate Elder, for those who don't know, was Dr. John ("Doc") Holliday's companion in the years leading up to the Gunfight at the OK Coral in Tombstone, Arizona. Though she has been portrayed of late in the movies by Isabella Rossellini and Joanna Pacula, contemporary accounts refer to her as the ugliest whore in the West.) Anyway, the slogan is this: Big Nose Kate's--Answering The Call Of The Wild West. Get your money invested now, before the IPO...

BetterVegas: "Hundreds of men leave topless clubs unsatisfied every day"

The quote is from an otherwise unnamed "downtown casino executive" in an article on legalizing brothels in Las Vegas in today's Las Vegas Review Journal. The essence of the piece, not to pun, is Mayor Oscar Goodman's idea of creating a brothel zone on East Fremont Street, east of the downtown casinos. As I've written elsewhere, the whole brothel business model is a dumb idea for Las Vegas, since any attraction that takes clients away from the casino resort hotel where they are staying also takes their money away from that property. Any predilections that Las Vegas proposes to deliver should be delivered on the property, as a profit center for the property.

That notwithstanding, East Fremont Street is dangerous. The part of Fremont Street people know, the four blocks under the Fremont Street Experience canopy, is not that safe. The next block, fronted by the taxpayer's boondoggle known as Neonopolis, is substantially less safe. Continuing east from there--even in full daylight--is to take your life in your hands. Junkies, dealers, whores, grifters, grafters and stick-up men abound, and there is no reason to suppose they are going to vanish unless their haunts are cleaned up with high explosives.

Which is an answer, of sorts. Goodman wants prostitution, both for tax revenues and for redevelopment of East Fremont Street. For reasons I don't understand, Strip properties, or the bigfeet who presume to speak for Strip properties, want the profits from prostitution--the prostitution that everyone concedes is pandemic--to continue slipping through their fingers. An East Fremont Street with free-standing brothels added to its mix would probably be even less safe. Certainly the stick-up men would fare better, taking down bachelor parties in batches.

The solution is to acquire the land Goodman wants to redevelop and rebuild it as full-service casino resort hotels with legal prostitution. BrothelTown. Whore-Z-A-Poppin'. Or best yet: Big Nose Kate's--Putting The Wild Back Into The Wild West. The Law of Somebody's Dinner says that casino managers will do a much better job than pimps at making sure the girls (and boys) are clean, safe, drug-free, efficient and profitable. The pimp's dinner doesn't depend on a reputation for quality, but the casino manager's would. The bachelor and bachelorette parties can stay in, under one roof, leaving all their money there and none with the stick-up man.

And, in very short order, the bigfeet who presume to speak for Strip properties will discover that legal prostitution and Las Vegas are a natural--or at least cosmetically altered--fit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Peter Pan at the CD rack...
It doesn't matter what I say
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel that I'll convey
Some inner truth of vast reflection
But I've said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don't matter who you are
If I'm doing my job then it's your resolve that breaks
Since I wrote this, I've been thinking a lot about pop music. At the time, I was just writing about The Blues, which literally means the endlessly replicated, superficially variegated, ultimately massively redundantly meaningless Blues that was the focus of the Scorcese documania.
I said something stupid
Then I went and said it twice
Lord, I said something truly stupid
Didn't I go off and say it twice?
I sold you the same old thing again
And suckered you in to paying full price
(I suckered you in to paying full price)
And that's okay, really, because it's stupid and useless and wrong, and just exactly as valuable as the paleolithic pottery people go ape over--for exactly the same reasons. The Blues is a primitive non-art made by people who had nothing to make art from--no instruments, no training, and no real talent except for a knack for hustling suckers. And that's why this is such a wonderful work of art:
Because the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely

There is something amiss
I am being insincere
In fact I don't mean any of this
Still my confession draws you near
To confuse the issue I refer
To familiar heroes from long ago
No matter how much Peter loved her
What made the Pan refuse to grow

Was that the hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely
The song is Hook by John Popper from Blues Traveler. My son Cameron and I saw them over Labor Day at the fabulous sandy-beached wave pool at The Mandalay Bay Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It was a great first rock concert for Cameron, because he got to play in the pool until he wore himself out. Hook was the show-stopper, the catharsis button, and the whole crowd accommodated the moment by singing along--even though the entire point of the song is that both halves of the transaction are inherently fraudulent.
Suck it in suck it in suck it in
If you're Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn
Make a desperate move or else you'll win
And then begin
To see
What you're doing to me this MTV is not for free
It's so PC it's killing me
So desperately I sing to thee
Of love
Sure but also rage and hate and pain and fear of self
And I can't keep these feelings on the shelf
I've tried well no in fact I lied
Could be financial suicide but I've got too much pride inside
To hide or slide
I'll do as I'll decide and let it ride until I've died
And only then shall I abide this tide
Of catchy little tunes
Of hip three minute ditties
I wanna bust all your balloons
I wanna burn all of your cities
To the ground I've found
I will not mess around
Unless I play then hey
I will go on all day hear what I say
I have a prayer to pray
That's really all this was
And when I'm feeling stuck and need a buck
I don't rely on luck because...

The hook brings you back
I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook...
On that you can rely
This is utterly brilliant on a number of grounds. Popper is a virtuoso both as a vocal stylist and as a harmonica player, and Blues Traveler is built around his girthy frame. The tempo is his, very fast, and the wit is his--way over the top, except that you can't keep up with it. Blues Traveler has nothing to do with The Blues, thank god. They're a rock band. But they do have a good deal to do with helping everyone understand what pop music is. It's not going too far to say that Hook is the apogee of post-modern art: Sly, self-referential, warmly engaging and yet simultaneously enlisting the audience into a knowing conspiracy of self-mockery. It is not grimly masturbatory in the way of deadly self-serious art-about-art. It's a delightfully mutually masturbatory celebration of the obvious fact that an outsized and masterful fraud can still be a great hook song.

And that's the point. The Blues is crap. In the hands of someone like Robert Cray, The Blues becomes crap filtered through a virtuoso: Fascinating, even thrilling, at first, but ultimately irritating, as the same spots are tickled in the same ways again and again. When we hear a virtuoso performance at the symphony, it takes our breath away, and we lose sight of the fact that the music itself is breathtaking, even when performed by amateurs or children. An incompetent Robert Cray wannabe is an abomination. But a rap act ripping off Pachelbel manages to create work that at least blows kisses at art.

The point is this: Pop music is not music as such. It is lyrics and attitude. It's a performance literature, like the drama--and unlike opera, which actually can hold its own as music. The London Symphony Orchestra's ill-advised excursions into making pop respectable serve only to underscore how little score there is under pop. And yet there is not a song in the entire catalog of Skip James or Leadbelly that can compare to Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat by Bob Dylan:
Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin' like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, you look so pretty in it
Honey, can I jump on it sometime?
Yes, I just wanna see
If it's really that expensive kind
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances
On a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, if you wanna see the sun rise
Honey, I know where
We'll go out and see it sometime
We'll both just sit there and stare
Me with my belt
Wrapped around my head
And you just sittin' there
In your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, I asked the doctor if I could see you
It's bad for your health, he said
Yes, I disobeyed his orders
I came to see you
But I found him there instead
You know, I don't mind him cheatin' on me
But I sure wish he'd take that off his head
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

Well, I see you got a new boyfriend
You know, I never seen him before
Well, I saw him
Makin' love to you
You forgot to close the garage door
You might think he loves you for your money
But I know what he really loves you for
It's your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
It's The Blues, although it violates the 1-2, 1-2, 3-4, 4 verse structure endlessly replicated, superficially variegated, yackety-smackety blah-blah-blah. What it has that is found nowhere in the sacred canon of The Blues are the essential elements of pop music: Lyrics and attitude. Dylan takes an inherently stupid musical form and makes something fun if not awe-inspiring from it by turning it into comedy. This is the same thing Popper is doing, but he insists that you laugh at yourself--and treasure the hook song at the same time.

There's more, more, more to this, much more than I can cover here. The most grievous omission, here and in every discussion of American pop music, is the incredible debt rock, folk, country and bluegrass owe to the English and Scots ballad. The perfect irony is Bob Dylan writing and performing a gripping ballad called Blind Willie McTell.
Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying, "This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem."
I traveled through East Texas
Where many martyrs fell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, I heard the hoot owl singing
As they were taking down the tents
The stars above the barren trees
Were his only audience
Them charcoal gypsy maidens
Can strut their feathers well
But nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

See them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
(And) see the ghosts of slavery ships
I can hear them tribes a-moaning
(I can) hear the undertaker's bell
(Yeah), nobody can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

There's a woman by the river
With some fine young handsome man
He's dressed up like a squire
Bootlegged whiskey in his hand
There's a chain gang on the highway
I can hear them rebels yell
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell

Well, God is in heaven
And we all want what's his
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is
I'm gazing out the window
Of the St. James Hotel
And I know no one can sing the blues
Like Blind Willie McTell
It's a ballad, not The Blues, and it's amazingly better than everything the real-life bluesman Blind Willie McTell did in his entire career. Better as literature. Better as performance. And therefore better as art.

Who is 'protecting' the poor black people of Oakland from affordable groceries?

Damned if it ain't the Union Man. From KRON-TV in Oakland:
"It's the largest California city where an ordinance like this has passed," said Daniel Beagle, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 870, which represents grocery store employees in Alameda County. "It's sending a message to Wal-Mart that Oakland doesn't want that kind of predatory competition."
Predatory competition would be terrible. Especially if you're poor and black and don't have a lot of money to spend on food.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Just when you thought the pictures couldn't get any bigger... And this is one-sixth the size of the real finished product. These suckers will be huge.

I apologize if I'm boring yo with all this real estate stuff, but this is literally all I am doing right now, 18, 20 hours a day. Making lemonade, when the Arizona Department of Real Estate threw a spanner in my works, they conferred upon me a gift of time, at least. This particular problem, the problem of yard signs, was one I had put off. And since any signs I make now will have to be replaced in May, when we can lawfully use the name we want to use, that also gifted me with a 'Free Play' card for experimentation. The name we're working with here, Bloodhound Home Marketing Group--that ungainly mouthful--is under consideration by the ADRE. I'm using it on spec, because I have to have something to work with. If I get lucky, I won't have to change it yet again.

Anyway, what's going on here is a pretty radical marketing idea. Marketing is not mere advertising, and marketing is not throwing spit-balls up against the wall and hoping that something sticks. Profitable marketing originates in a central idea of a business that drives every decision: This is who we are. In every way we can think of, we're saying, "We are not like everybody else." The name, the dog, the logo, the color scheme, the look and feel of our printed pieces, the confidential style of persuasion in the text, the repeated in-your-face challenges to preconceptions about Realtor marketing--all of it is devised to call attention to the differences we bring to the table. Even the "we," which belies all the "me, me, me" of Realtor advertising. But this sign is as far as we've pushed things--and it may prove to be too far.

First the easy stuff: The average Realtor yard sign is really a brokerage sign. It is red-white-and-blue, its type set much too loose in clumsy gothic sans serif faces. The phone number will often be the broker's main switchboard line, rather than the lister's cell phone, which I think is just plain stupid. The sign will normally be 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep, 216 square inches. It will say nothing about the house. The lister will put his name and phone number and a few features of the home on 'riders' strung beneath the broker's sign. One of the riders will say, "I'm gorgeous inside!," which cannot be parsed in any way but this: "I look like a dump from the street!"

In contrast, the Bloodhound signs you see here are white and delicate in color. They use ITC Clearface, every letter of it set and kerned by me. The phone number is mine, and I never promote any other number. (Realtors seem to be proud of how many phone numbers they can cram on their business cards. They must think it makes them look important, like those jackasses who walk around all the time carrying dozens of keys. To me, it says, "I have contempt for your time. I want you to waste all afternoon trying to track me down." That, incidentally, is how you interpret the marketing message behind what looks like a simple, perhaps unconsidered, decision.) I have to mention my broker "prominently," but I ain't spending one cent more than I have to on him. As to size, I think bigger is much better. The top sign is 24 inches wide by 9 inches deep--the same 216 square inches as the main brokerage sign. The bottom sign is 24 inches wide by 36 inches deep, 864 square inches. Taken together, the two signs are 1,080 square inches, five times the size of the brokerage sign. There will be no cheesy riders slung below.

But that's just mechanics: A Howitzer can be as inaccurate as a sling shot. The question is: What makes the frog jump? Forever and always, Realtors have treated their yard signs like billboards. After all, the traffic is driving by, so all you can hope to do is let them know this home is for sale, right? Well, maybe. Writing a billboard that sells is a monstrous job precisely because your prospect is inherently isolated from any possible point of sale. Is that true of a potential home buyer? More significantly, isn't the information on a Realtor's sign at war with the billboard idea? Who takes down a phone number from a billboard? And who can read text from a Realtor's sign that might run to 30 or 40 words, all told, without stopping?

And why, dear god, would anyone want to encourage people to not stop?!?

The whole point of a Realtor's sign is to get people to stop and look at and buy the house. If the whole point of the exercise is to promote a fleeting visual awareness that some particular house is for sale, with no action sought or expected, then the whole effort is wasted. On the other hand, if a Realtor's yard sign is not really a billboard, but is instead, in fact, an advertisement--then what?

Our signs are our answer, for now at least. That top sign does the bullet-point selling for the drive-bys, with a 5x7 photo of Odysseus to snag their eyes. My friend Richard Riccelli has suggested varying the tag-lines we use (to achieve surprise, thus causing people to look for the variations), and this smaller sign enables us to do this cheaply (and to keep the four-color printing fairly cheap, too). If you ignore the paragraph of text in the middle of the bottom sign, it is not hugely different from a normal Realtor's sign: Who we are and how to contact us.

But it is that paragraph of advertising in the middle of the sign that will mark me as either a genius or a dunce. No one can read that while driving by--and that's the point. That paragraph is there to get people to stop. To read the copy. To read the flyer. To listen to the Talking House radio broadcast. Most especially to look at the house. And, ultimately, to call me to buy the house.

The purpose of a Realtor's yard sign is to get people to stop, to look at and to buy the home. The purpose is advertising, not announcement. I think ordinary Realtor's signs are a form of Sales Call Reluctance--passively excusing customers from buying the product. Our sign, by contrast, is very aggressive: If you want to know what we have to say, you're going to have to stop. When you do, we're going to keep presenting until you either relent or run away. We're going to call for your action in every way we can, and we're going to call for you to act with us, not some random Realtor. All of this is done by passive devices--the signs, the flyers, the Talking House transmitter, and the house itself--but the objective is always action, and now, not later.

From the seller's point of view, all this activity should be welcome. This will sell more listings for us. And the buyer calls will help us sell either our listings or those of other Realtors. Our competitors say, "Drive on by and forget all about me." We want to say, "We are not like everybody else." And that is what marketing is for.