Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Complexity is the Enemy of Social Justice

Edgar Cahn has a fantastic analogy but he could have taken it a lot further. Cahn says we have a social operating system which consists of family, neighborhood and community. It is the non-market economy upon which the market economy depends. National money is a computer program that runs on this operating system like MS Office runs on your Windows system. We notice there are problems with our system so we create other programs in vain efforts to fix the problems.

If you're a hacker, you know the best way to screw a system is to replace components of the operating system. You install a rootkit. National money is acting like a rootkit, replacing functions that used to be performed by the operating system. You can't restore operating system integrity with more programs. In particular, people tend to trust money instead of each other. Trust leaves a community when money leaves it. So, instead of your Windows 98 crashing, your society crashes.

Any security guy worth his salt uses attack trees. The time during which your attack tree does not represent new threats is called a vulnerability window. The whole point of Windows Update is not to add new features to your Windows system but to minimize vulnerability windows. A case could be made that the window has been about 100 years.

The majority of security incidents are caused by unnecessary complexity in code design. How does this work with the social system? Lessig taught us code is law.

Today's example concerns Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention:
Corn, the Army's former legal expert, said that Common Article 3 was, according to its written history, "left deliberately vague because efforts to define it would invariably lead to wrongdoers identifying 'exceptions,' and because the meaning was plain -- treat people like humans and not animals or objects." Eugene R. Fidell, president of the nonprofit National Institute of Military Justice, said that laws governing military conduct are filled with broadly described prohibitions that are nonetheless enforceable, including "dereliction of duty," "maltreatment" and "conduct unbecoming an officer."

Retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000 and now dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, said his view is "don't trust the motives of any lawyer who changes a statutory provision that is short, clear, and to the point and replaces it with something that is much longer, more complicated, and includes exceptions within exceptions."
In Enron's pursuit of profit, computer programs calculated the cost of rewriting regulations to determine which changes would be profitable. These programs were called the Matrix. Perhaps similar ones are suggesting amendments to the War Crimes Act.

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