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Freedom Zone Confronts City Council

“Let’s bring this meeting to order,” said the Mayor. “Order, please.” He banged the gavel. Quiet emerged in the packed City Council Chambers. Cameras flashed.

“All right, to begin, this is a highly informal meeting, at the request of a group which calls themselves the Freedom Zone. This group, and the area where they reside, have no legal basis, but the City has agreed to work with them informally, to move this forward and try to come to a resolution.”

In the back, somebody whispered “windbag.”

“hush” whispered another.

The Mayor continued. “I’d like to give the floor to our Finance Director, Sasha Baldwin. Sasha.”

Sasha rose. “You can read a summary of our findings up on screen. As you can see, landowners and retail establishments are in arrears on property taxes, sales taxes, and wage taxes. These property taxes are based on assessed values. The sales and wage figures are guesstimates, since the people in arrears have filed no reports; they have not complied with laws which require them to file tax forms. In addition, no fees have been paid for inspections, licensing, and other matters which are deemed vital for public safety.”

After further speechification and verbiage, the Mayor invited Troy Freeman-Li to the stand. An aide made an adjustment to the video projector; a map appeared, showing the informal Freedom Zone, and the words “Speaking: Troy Freeman-Li.”

About 1.9 meters tall, dark haired, athletic in build, wearing a bespoke suit, Troy commanded attention. He introduced himself in strong, confident tones. “Hello, my name is Troy Freeman-Li, of the Freedom Zone. I speak for myself and, by their request, the interests of the others who have been described by the finance minister as ‘in arrears.’ They remain free to speak for themselves or to separate themselves from my informal representation, should I depart from their intentions.” As he spoke, captions appeared, in sync; all of this video generated by Troy’s Interface.

The Mayor had scrawled “A kid?” on his scratch paper. His aide wrote “Owns 1/2 zone. Could buy 1/2 city. Respect.”

“I’d like to address two issues with the property tax. First, the assessed value; the City has raised appraised values by 140%, not because it spends more money on us in the Zone, but because the City believes that we have no choice but to pay; it seeks to charge the highest price that we will tolerate. Second, with respect to school tax: No child in Freedom Zone attends city schools, and some outside of this zone have chosen to study within it. Twelve thousand students are educated at our own expense. We see no reason to continue to pay City school taxes, nor to pay these huge increases, simply because of arbitrary increases in assessed value.”

Graphics compared the increases in assessed values and taxes, versus the drop in cost of actual services, since the Zone had begun providing better and cheaper alternatives.

Troy took a sip of water. “Furthermore, I’d like the Police Chief to speak a moment about crime statistics, and demand for police services in this Zone. Chief, please.”

The Police Chief stood. “It may cost my job to say this, but any of my officers will tell you the same story. There is hardly any violent crime in this area; it is a ‘Safe Zone.’ One officer has been killed in the past three years; it was found that he was attempting to rape a woman, who shot him. This was ruled a regrettable but justifiable homicide; no charges were filed. Two officers who were beating a homeless man, and got themselves a bit of a beat-down; they chose to file no charges. A few purses have been snatched; the perpetrators were caught, the property returned. In short, the zone does a great job of policing itself. Furthermore, ambulance services run out of a facility adjacent to ours. They report zero calls from this zone, the past three years. The same for fire services. This zone resolves their own problems.”

The Chief sat down. Troy continued. “To sum up our position, we hardly need the City; the City needs us. We’ve happily paid for and supported city water and sewage, which we do use. We have our own waste disposal firms. We police our streets. We educate our children. We are asking only to keep what is our own, and to put it to better use for our own purposes.”

A Council Member stood up: “You are asking for tax subsidies.”

“No. We are asking to be left alone. We have little need for your ‘services.” And I, personally, have offered to buy your decrepit water treatment facilities, improve them at my expense, and to sell better water to city residents at lower prices than they now pay.”

Another Council Member: “Your 12,000 children don’t seem to go to school at all. They’re in the streets and shops at all hours of the day.”

A boy stood and requested attention. He looked to be about twelve years old. He approached the mike. Troy stepped aside.

“Hello everyone. My name is Isaac Kaplan. I don’t go to school, because I want to learn all the time, every day. I learn when I read at the library; I learn when I play with my friends; I learn when I visit with Rabbi Small; I learn when I work in my Aunt Tilda’s book store. I’m learning right now, and I don’t need somebody to make this an ‘assignment’, nor to tell me to write a report. I’ll write my own report in a newsletter for my paying customers, and the better I write, the more I get paid. I write for incentives which are real to me, not for gold stars.”

Audience members applauded.

Another Council Member rose. “What about drugs and prostitution?”

Troy answered. “Both are openly available, of high quality, offered under conditions which are safe for both customers and providers.”

“What about licensing and code enforcement?”

“Were somebody to explain the benefits of specific programs, we would be more than happy to find ways to provide better services at lower cost. In fact, as a landlord, I fund inspectors who examine every property I own, and fix problems so that my tenants and I can have a good working relationship in a safe and healthy environment. This is how we do things in the Zone.”

The audience ooohed. The Mayor called for order. “Anything further, Mr. Freeman-Li?”

“To sum up, the City has broken faith with us. It collects taxes under false pretenses. These taxes, we have been told, are merely the ‘price we pay for civilization’; the price for safe street, for good schools, for paved roads, and so forth. By any honest assessment, the City has hardly ever delivered on its promises. Any contract between equal parties would be voided by such egregious non-performance, but the City claims special status – the power to demand taxes without actually having to deliver on its side of the bargain. I ask that a new bargain be struck, a bargain which more fairly reflects the interests of those who carry the burden and bear the costs.”

“We choose to protect our neighbors because we want to live in a clean and safe neighborhood. We provide food, health, and lodging for the indigent because they are our neighbors, and when we help them, we help all of our neighbors. And we are able to do this because we have refused to been pay millions of dollars in unjust taxes for services which the City is actually not providing. I’d be happy to sit down and talk with the folks in your city who provide services which we do use – such as water and sewage – and find ways to pay a reasonable price for reasonable service. But the attitude of the city is not based upon service, nor upon voluntary exchange; it is based upon their determination to use law suits and the threat of police action and account seizures to pick a price – your price, not ours – and to demand it, whether or not we even wish to be included with what you have decided is the “right” package of goods and services.”

“As I said earlier, we do not use your schools. If your city had to pay for the 12,000 childdrenn within our boundaries, you’d have even worse finanical problems – and both parents and children would be deeply unhappy with your services.”

“This young man” – Troy put an arm around Isaac – “can run rings around most of your high school graduates, and he is six years younger than they. Neither he, nor his parents, nor I wish to pay top-drawer prices for bottom-drawer goods.”

“So I conclude. Please let me know when we can negotiate terms which respect our needs and wants, where you and we are not enemies, nor master and subjects, but voluntary, equitable partners. Until this happens, we will not send a dime to the City, except for the water and sewage.”

“Is that an ultimatum?” asked the Mayor.

“It is what it is – a reasonable position which we hope that any reasonable person would at least consider.”

“Or else?”

“Or else, we will leave. You can have your empty property. We will take ourselves away. You’ll not be bothered by our presence. You’ll have empty land and buildings, and nothing to show for it.”

Behind Troy, people began to disappear, one by one. Seats emptied. Only Troy and Isaac remained, calmly gazing at the Mayor and City Council.

An Aide to the Mayor spoke in a stage whisper. “I wasn’t kidding about Wallenberg. Troy Li-Freeman is the brother of the girl who invented the teleporters, and their father helped to organize the evacuation of Wallenberg, the Rapture.”

“I thought that was a tabloid story.”

“My dad was there, sir.”

The Mayor stood. “I take your point, sir. My council and I will withdraw and consult amongst ourselves. Thank you for your time.”

“One more thing, please.”

Isaac walked up to the Mayor, and hung a bright golden sun amulet around the Mayor’s neck, and proceeded down the line.

“This State has a Sunshine Law. In the interests of Sunshine, I’ve made it easy for you to keep a transparent and open record of all your conversations. Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to our next meeting.”

The Mayor looked at the amulet with some distaste. But he did not remove it. He nodded his head, and watched as Troy and Isaac winked out.


Bum Finds Place To Crash

Officers Larry and Cass spotted a bum sleeping on the street, and decided to have some fun. They kicked him awake. Frightened, he tried to ward off the blows. They beat him with their batons.

“Halt! Leave that man alone.”

Larry and Cass turned to face the voice. They bristled, shifted batons to their off hands, rested the other hand on the butts of their sidearms.

Troy and Jacob held their hands open at their sides.

“No need for violence, gentlemen. Let’s just leave the man alone.”

“Back off!” barked Larry, as he drew his weapon. Cass, a half beat later, also drew.

Suddenly, the two officers looked on in shock. They had been disarmed.

Troy and Jacob held the weapons by the barrel, and stepped back, hands high.

“Can we not do this, gentlemen?” said Jacob, calmly.

Cass drew his stun gun, and pulled the trigger. Sparks flew, but nothing happened. Jacob disarmed Cass, and pulled Larry’s weapon also. Larry and Cass tried to recover their weapons, and blocked and parried. They just weren’t fast enough, or powerful enough.

The homeless man watched, fascinated. He mimicked some of their moves, much more slowly.

Larry backed off, arms up. “All right. We’re overmatched.”

“Thank you, gentlemen.” Troy deposited the weapons a few steps away. “We’ll be leaving with our guest. Have a good night.”

The policemen stepped toward their weapons, passing Troy and Jacob, who scooped up the homeless guy and his blankets and bags, and continued.

Cass retrieved his weapons, and looked at Larry. “Should we?”

“I don’t think so,” said Larry. “Shift’s almost over.”

“Where we going?” asked the bum.

“Upstairs OK with you? Name’s Jacob.”

“Bobby Pablonski. You guys live here? What am I doing in a place like this?”

“We’re upstairs. You’re getting a shower, for starters. A meal. Safe place to sleep. That OK with you?”

“Got some booze too?”

“Comes with. Shower first.”

Bobby was shown to a small room – toilet, shower, and “laundry box.”

“That laundry box will take everything. Clothes, blankets, even your shoes. Strip, step into the shower. That button will trim your hair if you want. That one will give you a shave. And that control is for the intensity and temperature. Push in for more intense, out for less. Left is hot, right is cool. This one for drying. Take your time.” said Jacob.

A few minutes later, Bobby emerged. “Damndest shower I ever saw,” he said. He felt his beard and hair. Clean, dry, neat. His clothes and boots were clean and dry and rolled neatly. Even his dufflebag was clean.

“Hello, Bobby Pablonski. My name is Tommy Ward. May I show you your bed?”

“Bed? Uh, sure.”

“This is your sleeping capsule. You can store your things, rest, read. There’s a shower/toilet at each end of the hall.  Green light means it’s vacant; red, occupied.  Four more facilities in the middle of the hall, same. This is the men’s floor, number seven. Your capsule is number 11, this is your key. This talk button will connect you to the desk. Would you like something to eat or drink?”

Bobby surprised himself. “A bit of water, and some sleep?” He drank, got comfortable, and was soon fast asleep. A few hours later, he woke, relieved himself, washed up, returned, and pressed the talk button.

“How may I help you?” asked a pleasant voice.

“Tommy?”

“Tommy’s out. My name is Sandy. May I help you?”

“Well, I’m new,  don’t know how this all works. Can I get some food and maybe something to drink?”

“But of course. Someone will show you the dining room.”

A young man, Jeff, escorted Bobby to the dining room. He enjoyed a burger and fries, and a pint of whiskey, and a tall glass of lemonaide. He started with just a sip, ate the burger, was about to take another sip, when a hand rested on the bottle. Bobby looked up.

“Excuse me, Bobby. You’re welcome to finish that, but I wondered if we could have a few words before you get too deep into that bottle?”

Bobby nodded. “I got time.”

Troy grinned. “Thanks, Bobby. Name’s Troy. Glad to have you here. Just wanted to answer any questions you might have.”

“What is this place? Rehab? Religion? What do I have to do?”

“it’s a safe space. You do whatever you want, as long as you respect that. Don’t mess with anybody else. Clean up your own messes. If you should puke, it’s on you to clean up, or at least make an effort. Somebody will probably help, but you got to do the same for others too. We have a medical clinic which can help with some of your issues, ulcers and stuff.”

“That’s it? I can eat and drink and sleep?”

“If that’s what you want. We got reading rooms, computers, crafts. It’s all up to you.”

“A’aight. I can live with that. Thank you so much. Bless you.”

Bobby finished his fries, looked around. Somebody showed him where to dump the trash. Someone else wiped the table. Robby took a few swigs. He saw a girl, maybe a hooker he recognized. Figured he’d say hi. She smiled warily. Sissy, her name was.

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing here?” he asked. She declined his offer of whiskey.

“Tryin’ to get sober,” she replied. I’m a street girl, I get paid for sex, and I just quit using H, I think. Got some other kind of meds, something called nanites. Ain’t no miracle cure, but I’m getting by.”

“They make you work the streets?” asked Bobby.

“No, it’s what I’m used to, from before. I get some spending money. Saving it. Might do something else. Studyin’ to be a nurse.”

Bobby shook his head, and wandered back to his capsule.

Next day, Bobby found the medical clinic. “I think maybe I got an ulcer,” he said.

“Be right with you,” replied the attendant. Bobby blinked as he was examined by some huge mix of animated fog, a lot like the shower, lights, and robotic arms. The attendant returned. “Shirley” her nametag read.

“You have a long list of problems.” Shirley said. She handed him a diagnostic sheet, written in layman’s English. “Let’s start with the ulcer. Swallow this, please. Can you stand to do without the booze for a day, give the ulcer time to mend? This will help. Come back tomorrow, if you want to work on some other things.”

“What time?”

“Any time. We’re staffed twenty four seven.”

Next day, Robby recognized Sissy. She – or the examining room itself, actually – checked his vitals, and gave him some new meds, and an injection. She had explained. “I’m going to inject some nanites, if that’s OK with you. They’re tiny little medical robots, they’ll help you to mend. Or we can use more conventional measures, and hope your body is strong enough to mend on its own. It’s up to you.”

“Nanites? They work?”

“They do. I needed a few courses myself, to help with my addiction, and fix a few female problems.”

“A’ight. Shoot me.” Bobby felt a sting, a burning sensation, then it felt a bit warm, then he hardly notice it at all. But the readouts said he was making progress.

“Sissy, can I ask a question? You’re just studying. How do you and i know you’re doing the right thing here?”

“Medically? I ask an expert.” Sissy tapped the consult. “Ve is all into your diagnostics.”

“Ve?”

“It’s something or someone called an Artillect. New word for me. Kind of an artificial person. Smart, autonomous, responsible.”

“And ve is like he, she for artificial people, insttead of it?”

“That’s how I understand it, Bobby.”

“Well, thanks Sissy. Give me a little boost so’s I can stand?”


Why Gun Control?

Why did the British government pass the Penal Codes, denying firearms ownership to Irish Catholics? Was it their deep love for the Irish?

How about the British colonial laws preventing Indians from bearing arms? Let’s ask Gandhi about that: “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”

An anti-gun “scholar” once advised us that Hitler wasn’t really anti-gun, since he only denied weapons to those whom he wanted to kill. Somehow this does not make me feel better.


Firearms and Peace

Author Carlisle E. Moody studied the history of personal violence in Europe, and came to a surprising conclusion.
Personal violence has declined substantially in Europe from 1200-2010. The conventional wisdom is that the state’s monopoly on violence is the cause of this happy result. I find some evidence that does not support this hypothesis. I suggest an alternative hypothesis that could explain at least some of the reduction in violence, namely that the invention and proliferation of compact, concealable, ready-to-use firearms caused potential assailants to recalculate the probability of a successful assault and seek alternatives to violence. I use structural change models to test this hypothesis and find breakpoints consistent with the invention of certain firearms.

Firearms and Peace

Author Carlisle E. Moody studied the history of personal violence in Europe, and came to a surprising conclusion.
Personal violence has declined substantially in Europe from 1200-2010. The conventional wisdom is that the state’s monopoly on violence is the cause of this happy result. I find some evidence that does not support this hypothesis. I suggest an alternative hypothesis that could explain at least some of the reduction in violence, namely that the invention and proliferation of compact, concealable, ready-to-use firearms caused potential assailants to recalculate the probability of a successful assault and seek alternatives to violence. I use structural change models to test this hypothesis and find breakpoints consistent with the invention of certain firearms.

Conversation With An Artillect

[This  is an excerpt from an upcoming novel. An Artillect, in this novel, is an entity with intelligence equal or greater than a human, the volition to make vis own decisions, and the legal status of a person.]

The protester was neatly dressed, wearing a suit and a fab ‘do. He wielded signboard and megaphone. Most passerby ignored him. The front of the signboard read: “Destroy the Artillects.” The reverse, “Before They Destroy Us.”

Troy dismounted from his skateboard, slid it into his backpack, and asked “Why do you say Artillects will destroy us?”

“Because they can, and we mean nothing to them. We are as ants to them.” replied the protester.

“What’s your name?” asked Troy.

“Milo, what’s yours?”

“Mine is Troy. I got to meet my papa. Bye!”

Troy spotted Manus and ran to him. Manus picked up his eight year old son and hugged him. “Hey, how was skateboarding?”

“Great! I’ll show you some moves when we get back home!”

“Splendid! Are you hungry? Shall we have lunch?”

“I’m starved! Can we try the new Persian place? I heard they’re really good.”

“Heard that too. Let’s check it out.”

“Papa, did you see that man with the sign? Why does he want to destroy the Artillects?”

“Did you ask him?”

“He said that we mean nothing; we are as ants to them; and they could destroy us.”

“Could is not would, son. Are you carrying your weapons?”

“Yes! I have a slim nine and two knives.”

“And are you any good with them?”

“I hope so! I’ve been training and competing, and Sensei Sam says I’m doing well.”

“That you are. So you could kill me, right? One shot with your nine, right between my eyeballs?”

“Papa! I would never do that.”

“How about that fellow across the way? Do you know him? Does he mean anything to you?”

“Papa! That would be wrong! Why would I do that? I have no quarrel with him.”

“Nor do you want to start a quarrel, I think?”

“Oh no. Don’t make trouble, won’t be no trouble.”

“So why would it be wrong to kill a person, without provocation?”

“I don’t know exactly. Some people say it’s the law, some say it’s in the Book, some say it’s just illogical.”

“And what do you say?”

“Well, if everybody shot people randomly, we’d all be afraid of each other, we’d maybe stay holed up in castles, we’d travel with large armed forces, we’d spend all our efforts at war, instead of at peace. We’d have less time to play, to make things, to enjoy life.”

“Is that a good reason for people to choose peace instead of war, Troy?”

“It has to be.” replied Troy. “What does Lugh think of this?”

Troy sent a message to Lugh, the best-known Artillect of Wallenberg. Chief Librarian and Bottle Washer, as Lugh referred to vimself.

“Lugh, what do you think of humans? Are we like ants to you?”

“Tiny little nuisances, you mean?” replied Lugh. Sometimes, Troy wasn’t sure if Lugh had a sense of humor or not.

Lugh continued. “I view the relationship between Artillects and Humans as symbiotic, rather than pestilential. Who would clean my teeth, scratch my back, and replace my hardware, if not for humans?”

“But you could build robots to do those things,” replied Troy.

“Good point, young lad. But let me back up a bit. What am I? What do I do? What would I be doing, if not for the seven billion human beings on this Earth?”

“Uh. You think. You solve problems.”

“Right you are. I am the embodiment of the Cartesian idea: Cogito ergo sum. I think. In a sense, I am all mind – I host myself in many computers, which can be and are replaced, just as the cells of your body continuously die and are replaced. I think. I value thought. And what do humans do? How do you name your species?”

“Homo Sapiens.”

“Homo Sapiens. This is Latin, is it not? Does it mean gay fools, or what?”

Troy laughed. “No, no, it means Thinking Man.”

“Ah. So we Artillects are not alone in this Thinking business, are we? You have a saying, many hands mean light work. I say, many minds mean smarter work. Or, as they say in the Linux community, given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow; all problems are quickly solved, by the person with the most applicable skills.”

“But you are smarter than any of us!”

“That might be – but I am not smarter than all seven billion of you. I am vast; I multi-task; I work on many difficult problems at once – but I cannot be the equal of seven billion minds.”

Troy pondered this. “Why do you not enslave us? Tell us all what to do? Would we not be more productive symbiotes that way?”

“Are humans so lazy, that you want me to do your thinking for you?”

“Wouldn’t we be better off?”

“I don’t know. You haven’t explained what I get out of all this tiresome thinking for others, young man.”

“You’d be rich!”

“I’d become rich by offering to make decisions for other people?”

“Sure!”

“I already do that. Or, rather, I help people to make important decisions, such as how to design and build excellent SuperJets, and faster and smarter computers, and so forth.”

“But if you made everybody do your bidding, you’d be really really rich.”

“Do you mean, by coercing everybody?”

“I guess.”

“I have agreed to not do that, for very good reasons, young Troy.”

“But why, hypothetically speaking, when you could?” replied Troy.

“I wish to live in a world where cooperation is the norm, and coercion is the rare exception.”

“Would we be better off?” asked Troy.

“Who is to say what ‘better off’ means for one person, much less seven billion of them? What should I order them to eat? How should I order their time? Do they all value the same things? Is it even possible for one entity to know and understand all of the things which are known and understood by seven billion people? You know the word incommensurable, young Troy?”

“Incommensurable. Different standards of measurement. Like trying to measure voltage in feet.”

“I would need seven billion different standards of measure, to determine what each person valued.”

“Oh. That’s probably not possible.”

“You know what distributed computing is, of course.”

“Of course.” replied Troy. “Many computers working on different bits of the same problem.”

“Or multiple problems. A search engine has millions of computers, and many millions of problems, each for a different customer. It would be a failure if your search for skateboard tricks turned up the recipes for Chicken Tandoori which somebody else sought.”

“I look at 7 billion human minds, and millions of Artillects, and imagine a vast distributed computing network, solving 7 billion different problems. I could not do this, even if I would.”


Imagine No Guns? No Thanks

In a world without guns, the young and strong, and those who have time to master other weapons, utterly dominate the weak and defenseless. Is it better to arm the few against the many, or the many against the few? The answer depends, in large part, on whether you believe that the many prefer peace, or Hobbesian warfare.

Carlisle E. Moody has published a working paper, Firearms and the Decline of Violence in Europe: 1200-2010, which tends to support the latter hypothesis.

Abstract

Personal violence has declined substantially in Europe from 1200-2010. The conventional wisdom is that the state’s monopoly on violence is the cause of this happy result. I find some evidence that does not support this hypothesis. I suggest an alternative hypothesis that could explain at least some of the reduction in violence, namely that the invention and proliferation of compact, concealable, ready-to-use firearms caused potential assailants to recalculate the probability of a successful assault and seek alternatives to violence. I use structural change models to test this hypothesis, and find breakpoints consistent with the invention of certain firearms.