Monday, May 31, 2010

Steal back BP

BP's negligence has caused untold damage to America. We'll probably never know the full cost. And they'll probably never pay the estimated cost.

So fuck em! Let's seize all BP assets in America. All physical infrastructure, any patents based here, any accounts, stock, bonds, anything and everything. Let's take their suits after they get done lying to Congress.

We'll call it even and promise in the future to have a more effective means of containing anger.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

White flight, anti-redlining, and the mortgage crisis

I had planned to start this post with the popular story, that the Community Reinvestment Act caused the mortgage crisis. The general story goes something like this: in the name of equality CRA forced banks to give mortgages to people who couldn't pay them back, leading to a surge in home prices out of proportion with income and inflation, peaking with the bubble that we just saw burst. And somewhere I'd seen the graph of home prices, incomes, and when CRA was enacted. It all fit. So obviously I had to prove it wrong.

So please accept this strange assumption: let's assume that the narrative which I disagree with is based on facts, but draws the wrong inferences.

Cancel that, this works. Sort of. It places the bubble at around 1995. But that doesn't fit the data so well. Let's not let facts get in the way of our opponents. Oh the comment makes me laugh.

Let's look at the other side of racism in real estate: where you can buy a home. Once upon a time people would write and accept contracts which stated that they would not resell the home to black people. This was an effective way of keeping white neighborhoods white. At about the same time that CRA went up, so did segregation contracts become illegal. Combine that with legislation for race-neutral lending, and suddenly black people can move into white neighborhoods.

If they can afford it. In fact there was not a flood of poor, uneducated, criminal blacks to white neighborhoods. Instead the black middle class, who wanted to go somewhere better and to get out of that mess, they moved. But why didn't they move to good black areas? Well, there weren't a whole lot, since race-based lending tends to bring down the middle class along with the poor who they are stereotyped with.

But white residents weren't entirely clear on the "middle class black people will not rape your daughter and rob your house while smoke pot" thing. So they left. Simple supply and demand, even without any discounting due to urgency, will drive down prices. That allows a lower class of black people to move in, driving down prices even more, bringing in more, and so on. Meanwhile the middle class blacks see that the neighborhood has gone to shit, so they leave too.

On the surface this would appear to cause prices to drop. On the contrary, it's actually a perfect scenario for both oversupply and higher prices.

Moving out means a new home, driving construction. There's also a rush, meaning the new houses will cost more. Meanwhile in the previous neighborhood the home values are plummeting, after they have been bought, resulting in upside down mortgages. Walk away from that and buy a new house.

Why would the banks give loans for this? Well sure the white people might seem to be overpaying and rushing, but they're responsible middle-class people who have been paying off their loans and have savings accounts and whatnot, so it would seem to make sense to loan money to them. The black middle class, well it is black, but it's middle class and they can't legally discriminate. As for the poor coming after, everything is so cheap, there's nowhere to go but up. It helps when you can just mislabel and sell off the loans if they don't look as good as expected.

So a wave goes out from the city, driving prices up at the front, crashing them behind, and creating the Alice in Wonderland scenario of overpriced homes, oversupply of homes, and a whole lot of unoccupied places.

This shouldn't be taken as factual, and hopefully hasn't, but just as a "maybe this is it?" theory. I'll have to do some more digging to see if it's actually worth anything.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Have some of my wireless

A while back I got into a bit of an argument with my brother regarding unsecured wireless networks. Most of what I concluded is that law should not be written by people with next to no experience in the field, as is most internet/electronics/computing law. He's a law school graduate and has passed the Georgia bar, so one can assume he has some concept of the relevant legal concepts. The problem is that there are almost no relevant concepts for this strange new world.

All current notion of theft involves exclusivity: what I have you don't have. In the physical world theft is very straightforward: you have what I own without my permission. In a digital realm, it's not so simple. I can have what is yours without you not having it. We can both have it. I didn't earn it, but I didn't deprive you of it either, so while there is clearly something wrong, theft is not the right word. Incidentally, I believe this is part of why the record companies have so many problems: they keep accusing people of theft when they haven't. Switching to calling it piracy isn't much help when we all think pirates are awesome, and pirates are thieves anyway.

To the point: I felt that it was not theft or trespassing to use an unsecured wireless network as long as the use was not reducing the effectiveness of the connection for the owner. If they were using it at something near capacity, then outside use of it would be limiting their service, and that would be theft: the bandwidth someone else has, they do not have.

I could think of no good analogies at the time, though I was confronted with many terrible ones. But finally I have it. Broadband connections are like a water pipe to the house which is always open, always running, and tends to spill out onto the sidewalk and evaporate. Most if it is excess, wasted.

There is one major problem with my assertion that use of someone else's network is not innately theft: we can't easily measure their usage. Wouldn't it be great if there were a way to ask a network and connection, "Are you busy?" But let's not stop there.

Here are the features I'd love to see:
Password/key to be 'inside' the network.
Guest access to 'outside' the network, but retaining internet access.
Outsiders could not see anything inside: no information on the computers, router, or anything besides remaining bandwidth and network name.
Insiders would have absolute priority. Outsiders would only get leftover capacity, so insiders are never slowed down.

Have this built in to every wireless router and make the default "No one without the key can use this network for anything". After all, people have the right to decide how their own resources are used. Instead the sharing would be an option, a way to make some use of excess or unused bandwidth without going totally unsecure with no password or priorities.

If you happen to run into a network like this and use it a few times, drop a dollar on their doorstep and a note thanking them for the generosity.