Wednesday, October 26, 2011 116 Comments

The Holocaust: a Nazi perspective

["Your best title yet," a friend of mine declared. Well, certainly my most attention-getting. I'm afraid this post plays a peculiarly nasty Jedi mind trick on you, especially if you're a neo-Nazi or other Holocaust denier. But maybe not only if. In any case, my sensors detected a particularly strong uptick in Moldbug-hating among the "ethnic genetic interests" crowd, whose ire for my Semitic roots runs strong. Always trust content from! It's always easy to tell who's right on these controversial questions - you just have to look at who's frothing at the mouth.]

Western intellectuals spent two thousand years wondering what would have happened if Athens had won the Peloponnesian War. Might modern civilization, iPhones and all, have sprung directly from the society that created science, mathematics, literature and democracy? Was it the victory of the icy, militaristic Spartans over the cultured, humanistic Athenians that left the West waiting until the 1830s for its industrial revolution? If not for the Sicilian Expedition - would Caesar have had an iPhone?

Then we had the 20th century. And we found out what happens when Athens beats Sparta. Reader, you see it all around you. At a certain point the Thirty Tyrants don't seem so bad after all.

The truth, I think, is that by the time the European virtues split into the Athenian and Spartan virtues, the tragedy has already happened. Should we judge a society by the resolution on its iPhones? If so, the task is without interest. Like all reactionaries, I feel we should judge a society by the quality of its men and women - and better yet, its best men and women. Every few centuries in our history sees some new Rome, which always rises because of the virtue of its elite, and always collapses when that virtue is lost. And when we see Athenian virtues without Spartan, or Spartan without Athenian, we know that the two will fight and both are doomed.

The curious quality of the Anglo-German wars of the 20th century is that, while the democrats are clearly Athenian and the fascists clearly Spartan, the 20th-century Athenians are far more Spartan than their grandchildren, and the 20th-century Spartans far more Athenian than their own pathetic remnants. Hitler loved opera. Show me a neo-Nazi who loves opera - I'll show you a neo-Nazi in the AARP. And it goes without saying that Churchill is basically a fascist, at least as compared to David Cameron.

The point was driven home for me at Wilde Lake High School in 1988, where I found myself in an auditorium listening to a long, bathetic string of student awards. "Student-athlete of the year," as I recall, was a 300-pound all-state offensive lineman who'd racked up an incredible 1150 on his SATs. Why couldn't I be competing for this position? Being actually not bad at ping-pong, I was about as much of an athlete as he was a student.

Whereas in the 1500s we see men like the Admirable Crichton or the Earl of Oxford - both of whom are outliers, of course, but not exceptionally anomalous outliers. Both of whom are as Spartan as Otto Skorzeny and as Athenian as Leo Szilard. But, of course - no iPhones.

We still have Spartans. So did Honorius. If anything, it was his Athenians that sucked balls, and indeed you can't throw a stone these days without hitting some 21st-century Symmachus. Not a good omen. What would it take to heal this Athenian-Spartan divide? Can it even be done, or should we just consign tomorrow to God's mercy or the Huns'? No shortage of Huns, either.

But I digress. I was talking about Nazis. Since the Nazis were the Spartans, it's hard to find an eloquent Nazi. We want to know the Nazi mind, because nothing human is foreign to us. The communist mind, the democratic mind (but I repeat myself), springs out at us in great torrents of loquacity. Athens is never lacking in logos - the problem is filtering.

But the Spartan speaks only with his sword. Books cannot really capture him, yet we have nothing else. Still, since even the Third Reich is surprisingly Athenian when you get to know it, the problem is not unsolvable. Most 21st-century intellectuals have a favorite eloquent Nazi: Albert Speer.

There is much to be said for Speer's memoir, though it is not without its disingenuous moments, but the problem with it is that we never get to meet the Nazi Speer - the author, by the time he writes, has completely submitted (with or without internal reservation) to conquering liberalism. So what we read in Speer is a liberal perspective on the Third Reich. We can get this from many other places, even as a primary source, for despite the hard work of Judge Freisler our record is not short of July 20 memoirs - nor was Nazi Germany short of secret liberals. Indeed the Third Reich we know from secondary sources is largely rendered through their eyes.

And without German, I'm restricted to the very limited supply of Nazi writing translated into English. Reinhard Spitzy is certainly worth a look, but I have a new candidate for this position: Hans Fritzsche.

Unless someone else wrote his Sword in the Scales (English edition, 1953), Fritszche - a radio journalist and Goebbels protege, who sat in the dock with Goering and Hess, but was acquitted - is a real writer. He's also, as we'll see, a real Nazi. So I have nothing to do but step aside and let him speak. Chapter 13, "Can Such Things Be?" - complete:
To me the most tremendous point in the whole indictment lay in the massacre of the Jews. This was not a question of conflicting interpretation as was the subject of war-guilt, but of plain indisputable fact.

At first the evidence that several million Jews had been killed in Germany and German-occupied territory was submerged in the general flood of accusations about mass murders at hundreds of different places in which the total number of dead claimed by the Prosecution varied from five to eighteen million. Moreover, a number of the place-names mentioned by interrogators and prison officials as the scenes of these killings were soon shown to be incorrect; they spoke for instance of gas-chambers at Dachau, where, according to unimpeachable evidence, there had never been any. As a result of this sort of testimony a number of prisoners formed the impression that the whole charge was simply an exaggerated description of the pogroms which had been reported in 1941 from several places in German-occupied eastern Europe.

I myself called to mind the principle enunciated by enemy publicists even before 1939 as the essence of war propaganda: the enemy must be portrayed as a monster without relieving features. And I could not help thinking of the legend of children's severed hands in the first World War, while at the same time I remembered the replies given by the German information centres to whom I had submitted all current reports of atrocities, and who had disputed their accuracy in no uncertain fashion.

Were then the present apparently overwhelming charges of mass murder only a continuation of Allied propaganda? The detailed verbal statements by prosecuting counsel of alleged crimes, which often displayed a surprising ignorance of German conditions, were not convincing; and many of the documents produced in their support seemed equally without foundation. Such documents often showed little more than that the same facts can be very differently described, and the same words very differently interpreted.

Then suddenly, surprisingly, came a change of tactics. We found ourselves watching a documentary film.

The hall was darkened and a row of little lamps on the edge of the dock lit up our faces from below so that Dr. Gilbert, the psychologist, who had planted himself in front, was in a good position to watch our reactions. In the face of these preparations many of the prisoners deliberately assumed blank expressions; some turned their backs on the screen, and Dr. Schacht remarked that he himself had been in a concentration camp and needed no film to tell him what it was like. Others however never took their eyes off the ghastly scenes now displayed before us.

One and all we were at first profoundly sceptical as to the authenticity of the pictures, though the rows upon rows of pitiful living skeletons reminded me of my fellow sufferers in the Lubianka. The bales of human hair aroused immediate doubts in our minds as to their origin, and those of us who were watching gazed searchingly at the successive heaps of corpses in an endeavour to light on a clue as to when and where these camera shots could have been taken.

In the end, however, all our resolve to be coolly critical gave way to sheer elementary pity for these tortured creatures. No matter where the pictures had been made, no one could doubt that they were pictures of human beings, men, women, children, who had once lived and breathed, loved and hoped, and had been foully done to death. Did it matter what language those lips had spoken before they were silenced for ever, what thoughts were housed in that brain before it was crushed to pieces? The poor body, so soon to be reduced to ashes, had once lain beneath a mother's heart.

The majority of us, who had looked for some cunning ulterior motive behind this film display, were shaken to the depths. But out of our very emotion there arose once more the persistent question: might not this documentary show more than anything else simply be a new aspect of the blind murderous frenzy of war, of those horrors which in a single generation have grown from the soldiers who fell in Flanders to the women and children done to death in Dresden? Are not these frightful forms of death the work of primitive forces which man himself has unleashed and which have passed beyond his control? Or are they the outcome of individual cruelty and a deliberate will to destroy? The film showed the most hideous defilement of God's image; was that defilement due to some power outside man, or to a brutal and cynical human purpose? Sickened though we were, this question tormented us as we marched back to our cells.

Almost immediately two of the psychologists came in. I begged them to leave me alone; they went away and returned with a doctor who offered me sedatives to help me sleep; I refused them. Confronted with such problems as this day had brought forth, it would have been impossible to take refuge in unconsciousness; I had to face them and come to terms with them.

Some of us did so to the best of our ability. Having no written information at our disposal, we argued among ourselves, basing our discussions on personal observations, conjecture, and posterior inferences. Finally, as a result of these discussions, we came to the conclusion that these harrowing pictures would probably not bear minute investigation; too many extraneous scenes, too many coincidences, appeared to have been incorporated in them so as to enhance their general effect. Moreover, even if the film as a whole did present an alarming image of what had really happened, it still did not constitute proof of any one of the particular mass murders which the Prosecution declared had taken place.

But this proof was furnished verbally by two witnesses, Ohlendorf and Höss, before whose testimony our scepticism (already shaken) about the accuracy of this part of the indictment gave way completely. They established beyond doubt that a systematic campaign of murder had been launched against the Jews. Ohlendorf described how tens of thousands in East Germany -- men, women, and children -- had been shot, one by one, by specially detailed squads; while Höss admitted having studied the arrangements made by the German Commissioner Wirth at Treblinka (a camp in Poland) so as to be able to reproduce them on a larger scale at Birkenau near Auschwitz, where by means of a vast industrially-organized human slaughter-house the number of slain ran into hundreds of thousands. There was nothing to indicate that either of these witnesses was telling anything but the stark, hideous truth; nothing that I heard at any time was calculated to shake their evidence.

Their statements naturally produced a tremendous effect in the dock. Nobody questioned the honesty of their evidence, but some of the most important details were called into question, and there were heated arguments both about the instigators of the massacres and the various circumstances attendant on them.

The Prosecution now furnished us with stacks of documentary material and produced whole groups of witnesses. There was evidence of atrocities committed on non-Jewish civilians in concentration camps, many of which were conclusively proved to have been carried out on lines similar to those established for the murders of Jews. Many of the witnesses of these events were obviously given to exaggeration and generalization, but there were those whom it was impossible to doubt, and their testimony was entirely sufficient.

These were followed by charges in connection with the treatment of foreign workers in Germany concerning which, in my opinion, the Prosecution were under a complete misapprehension; a point of view which was later justified by Sauckel's examination.

Next came the problem of war-guilt, and I am bound to say that the material submitted by the Prosecution under this head made a deep impression on me, for it contradicted my earlier impression about the aims of the German Government. All the evidence submitted, however, disclosed only the merest fraction of the many-sided developments which led up to the second World War.

The documents furnished by the Allies were barely sufficient for the demands of political propaganda, let alone all the manifold requirements of a trial which was admittedly of supreme historical importance. The historian will have to seek further information, and at present it is only in America that the raw material is to be found for a really unbiased study of the origins of the First World War and the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, a treaty which did not satisfy the victor, and caused the masses of the vanquished to plunge from one radical extreme to another. Moreover, such an investigation would be an essential preliminary for any analysis of the unrest that permeated central Europe in the '20s and '30s, and culminated in the second great conflagration.

The contention that, after a certain date, Hitler was bent on war with Poland, struck us as forced; unquestionably he did not want a simultaneous conflict with the West. Whether he would have provoked such a conflict later, or whether he simply would have put forward claims to more territory and a suzerainty over the western powers, remained one of the most hotly disputed points in the whole of the trial. Certainly none of the evidence showed any conclusive proof that he even entertained a wish to attack the American hemisphere.

But Hitler's determination to smash the Soviet Union was proved. There is no doubt that he aimed at making the Russo-Ukrainian region a political province of a greater Reich; but, on the other hand, the supremely important question as to when, and for what reason, he made up his mind to launch the colossal attack at the moment he did remains open.

Any comments that I was able to make from my own knowledge on the evidence furnished by the Prosecution I wrote down afterwards in the quietness of my cell. These notes [published but only in German - MM] were made without the help of any written material, which was of course in one way a disadvantage, but on the other hand enhanced their value as an unprompted personal account, devoid of the distorting influence that other testimony, constantly referred to, often exerts on such documents. First my own conscience, and then the Prosecution and the Bench, submitted these notes to a very careful scrutiny.

When, after a year in Nuremberg prison, I came to testify in my own defence, and found the searchlight of public opinion focused on me, I was able because of this preparation to answer every question put to me without hesitation. Certain journalists, observing that I showed no signs of being at a loss for the right word (as was usually, and very naturally, the case with prisoners), accused me of lack of feeling, and reported that I had profited by the total breakdown of my former world to adopt a coldly intellectual position, and so build up the best possible personal defence of myself. The truth was that nothing the Prosecution could do in the matter of cross-examination could compare with the gruelling self-questioning which had preceded it. All that I produced in court were the burnt-out ashes of what had once been red-hot lava.
Do you find this treatment enlightening, or self-serving, or a bit of both? It is certainly historically accurate, so far as the facts go. A few pages later, Fritzsche writes:
The Prosecution at Nuremberg had submitted to Bach [Bach-Zelewski] an alleged confession of Peiper's, according to which Himmler -- in the presence of Peiper and others, including Bach -- had drawn up a plan by which, under cover of the military campaign, forty million Slavs were to be slaughtered. At this point Bach -- as he now averred -- turned indignantly to the Prosecution's interrogator and declared that Himmler had spoken of killing "only" thirty millions. In conclusion Bach told my informant that after this admission, he could no longer deny the fact of the proposal, and had to give his evidence accordingly.

Now, at last, we were getting near to the heart of the matter, and the former S.S. Leader from Himmler's staff was able to put the whole story together. He remembered indeed the very occurrence on which it was founded. One evening early in 1941 Himmler and some of his cronies were sitting round the fire in the Wewelsburg; in addition to Bach and Peiper there were present Heydrich, Daluege, Obergrüppenführer Wolff, and Rauter, one of the Gestapo chiefs in Holland. Himmler spoke of an impending war in the east, which, he said, was unavoidable, the only question being when it would start and who would fire the first shot. He warned the company of the difficulty of the coming conflict and said in effect: "Germany is technically, Russia numerically, superior. The Soviet has unlimited power over its citizens and will sacrifice them without compunction: should Germany allow herself to be similarly tempted she will incur instead of strategical victory biological defeat." Later in the evening, Himmler computed the possible casualties on both sides, and estimated that in view of their determination to resist, and taking into account epidemics and famine, the Russians' losses might total anything up to thirty million.

What a revelation! Himmler's calculations of the enormous losses caused by military action and the general results of war were of course something very different from a deliberate and diabolical campaign of murder. I was reminded of Clemenceau's "vingt millions de trop" -- an expression which had been exploited by our German propaganda. But surely we had never distorted that remark beyond the bounds of reason, as this not dissimilar calculation of Himmler's had been distorted! I could see at last how, in the hands of a determined Prosecution, Himmler's thirty million hypothetical casualties had become metamorphosed into thirty million victims of a premeditated murder.

Bach was not the type of man to avoid this kind of thing. His was the sort of mind peculiarly susceptible to the latest impressions it had received, and his outlook, formerly imbued with Nazi ideas, now bore the clear impress of Allied propaganda. This example of a particular piece of testimony, with its background and its sequel, might be cited as how it is possible to shift the emphasis of evidence from one point to another, and so alter its whole bearing and significance.

Sometimes, however, this "shifted emphasis" resulted quite simply from the overwhelming pressure of current public opinion; and for this I was to some degree prepared by my interviews with various leading figures in Berlin and Moscow, and later at Nuremberg, which had made me realise how much a human being's point of view depends on the political climate he finds himself in.

It seems to me as though people can only manage to see things at all clearly when some political wind or other is blowing from behind them; if they turn against it, it blows directly into their eyes, and they become blinded. My first reaction to this discovery was a feeling of profound contempt for my fellows; a feeling which, on closer examination, turned out to be quite unjustified.

For our views about the world we live in are in truth like so many flags, kept flying by the prevailing current of opinion. If the wind is strong enough, they will continue to display their colours in the same direction -- until the weather changes. In the dock I used often to discuss with Speer and Schirach the question of maintaining a happy medium between a too inflexible and a too impressionable political outlook; and we came to the opinion that many of the sufferings of our nation could be traced back to this one question, in which politics, morals, intellect and character all play their separate parts.
Fritzsche, though acquitted at Nuremberg, was retried by a West German court and released in 1950 only to die of cancer. A page translated from German notes:
To his own surprise, it did manage Fritzsche to portray themselves as insignificant before the Nuremberg Tribunal and subject to instructions. He could not repeat this success in the subsequent denazification procedures. The German justice saw him as a leading propagandists, who had hidden at his career's sake, the criminal side of National Socialism. Although Fritzsche was not a fanatical Nazi, but was a loud both staunch supporters of the Nazi party and more efficient. According to tribunal he was a "deceiver" responsible for the prolongation of the war and was therefore sentenced to nine years in labor camp in 1947. For this he was dismissed in 1950. Had he not died shortly afterwards, he could have taken a similar role as a witness, as later, Albert Speer. He "would have it, perhaps even leave a nice impression," said Bonacker.
Indeed. And in case we haven't heard enough Nazi perspectives on the Holocaust, Fritzsche also links us to the very interesting testimony of SS Judge George Konrad Morgen (who came out with a clean enough sheet to later practice law in West Germany):
Q. Will you state your full name, please?

A. Georg Konrad Morgen.

Q. Will you repeat this oath after me:

I swear by God, the Almighty and Omniscient, that I will speak the pure truth and will withhold and add nothing.

(The witness repeated the oath.)

THE PRESIDENT: You may sit down.


Q. Witness, because of the significance of your testimony, I will first ask you in detail about yourself. Were you an SS judge of the Reserve?

A. Yes.

Q. Please speak slowly and wait a little after every question.

What training did you have?

A. I studied law at the Universities of Frankfurt on the Main, Rome, Berlin f at the "Academie de Droit International" at the Hague and the "Institute for World Economy and Ocean Traffic" in Kiel. I passed the first, the senior law examination. Before the war I was a judge at the Landgericht in Stettin.

Q. Were you a specialist in criminology and in criminal law?

A. No, I had specialized in International Law, but later, during the war, when I had to deal with criminal matters and penal law, I did special work in that field.

Q. How did you come to the SS?

A. I was drafted compulsorily into the General SS. In 1933, I belonged to the Reich Board for Youth Training, whose group of students was taken over as a body. I was drafted at the beginning of the war into the Waffen SS.

Q. What rank did you have there?

A. In the General SS I was Staffelanwarter and SS Rottenfuehrer. In the Waffen SS I was latterly Sturmbannfuehrer of the Reserve.

Q. What example can you give that you did not believe you were joining conspiracy when you joined the SS. Very briefly, please.

A. In 1936 I published a book on War Propaganda and the Prevention of War. This book, at a time when war was threatening, showed ways and means to prevent war and the incitement of nation against nation. The book was examined by the Party and published. Therefore, I could not suppose that the SS and the policy of the Reich Government were directed towards war.

Q. How did you come to the investigations in the concentration camps?

A. At the order of the Reichsfuehrer SS, because of my special abilities in criminology, I was detailed by the SS Judicial Department to the Reich Criminal Police Office in Berlin, which was equivalent to a transfer. Shortly after I arrived there, I was given an assignment to investigate a case of corruption in Weimar. The accused was a member of the concentration camp of Weimar-Buchenwald. The investigations soon led to the person of the former commandant, Koch, and many of his subordinates, and in addition affected a number of other concentration camps. As those investigations became more extensive, I received full authority from the Reichsfuehrer SS to engage generally in such investigations in concentration camps.

Q. Why was a special power of attorney from the Reichsfuehrer necessary?

A. For the guards of the concentration camps, the SS and Police Courts were competent; that is, in each case the local Court in whose district the concentration camp was located. For that reason, because of the limited jurisdiction of its judge, the Court was not able to act outside its own district. In these investigations and their extensive ramifications it was important to be able to work in various districts. In addition, it was necessary to use specialists in criminal investigation, in other words, the criminal police. The criminal police, however, could not carry on any investigation directly among the troops, and only by combining juridical and criminal police activities was it possible to clear this up, and for this purpose I was given this special power of attorney by the Reichsfuehrer.

Q. Now, how extensive did these investigations become? You can be brief because the witness Reinecke answered this point in part.

A. I investigated Weimar-Buchenwald, Lublin, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Herzogenbosch, Cracow, Plaschow, Warsaw, and the concentration camp at Dachau. And others were investigated after my time.

Q. How many cases did you investigate? How many sentences were passed? How many death sentences?

A. I investigated about 800 cases, or rather, about 800 documents, and one document would affect several cases. About 200 were tried during my activity. Five concentration camp commandants were arrested by me personally. Two were shot after being tried.

Q. You caused them to be shot?

A. Yes. Apart from the commandants, there were numerous other death sentences against Fuehrers and Unterfuehrers.

Q. Did you have any opportunity of visiting and seeing for yourself the conditions inside concentration camps?

A. Yes, because I had authority to visit concentration camps myself. Only a very few persons had this permission. Before beginning an investigation, I examined the concentration camp in question in all its details, seeing especially those arrangements which seemed particularly important to me. I visited them repeatedly and thoroughly. I paid surprise visits. I was working mostly in Buchenwald itself for eight months. I lived there. I was in Dachau for one or two months.

Q. As so many visitors to concentration camps say they were deceived, do you consider it possible that you, too, were a victim of such deception?

A. As I have already pointed out, I was not a mere visitor to a concentration camp. I had settled down there for a long residence, I might almost say I established myself there. It is really impossible to be deceived for such a long time. In addition, the commissions from the Reich Department of Criminal Police worked under my instructions, and I placed them directly in the concentration camps themselves. I do not mean to say that, in spite of these very intensive efforts, I was able to learn of all the crimes, but I believe that there was no deception in regard to what I did learn.

Q. Did you gain the impression, and at what time, that the concentration camps were places for the extermination of human beings?

A. I did not gain this impression. A concentration camp is not a place for the extermination of human beings. I must say that my first visit to a concentration camp, namely Weimar-Buchenwald, was a great surprise to me. The camp was on wooded heights, with a wonderful view. The installations were clean and freshly painted. There were grass and flowers. The prisoners were healthy, normally fed, sun-tanned, working -

THE PRESIDENT: When are you speaking of? When are you speaking of?

A. I am speaking of the beginning of my investigations in July, 1943.

Q. What crimes - you may continue - please, be more brief.

A. The installations of the camp were in good order, especially the hospital. The camp authorities, under the Commandant Diester, aimed at providing the prisoners with an existence worthy: of human beings. They had regular mail service. They had a large camp library, even with foreign books. They had variety shows, motion pictures, sporting events. They even had a brothel. Nearly all the other concentration camps were similar to Buchenwald.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it they even had?

A. A brothel.

Q. What crimes did you learn about?

A. As I said before, the investigations were based on a suspicion of corrupt practices. In time, however, I was obliged to come to the conclusion that besides those crimes, killings had also occurred.

Q. How did you reach the suspicion that killings had occurred?

A. I learned that the starting-point was the assignment of Jews to the camps after "Action 38." I had to learn all possible facts about this action, and in doing so I was obliged to notice that the majority of prisoners of whom it could be assumed that they might know something about these cases, had died.

This peculiar frequency of killings was noticeable - I noticed it - because other prisoners who were not in any key positions remained in Buchenwald for years in the best of health, and were still there, so that it was rather remarkable that it was just certain prisoners who could have been witnesses who had died. I thereupon examined the files concerning these deceased prisoners.

The files themselves did not then give cause to suspect illegal killings. The dates of the deaths were years apart, and the different causes of death were always given. But I noticed that the majority of these deceased prisoners, shortly before their death, had been put into the camp hospital or were in the detention quarters.

This first aroused my suspicion that in these two places murders of prisoners might possibly have occurred. Thereupon I appointed a special official, whose sole task was to investigate the suspicious circumstances, and rumours which were circulating in the detention quarters, the so-called "Bunker," regarding the killing of prisoners. He was a very zealous and able criminal official, but he had to report again and again that he had not found the least confirmation of this suspicion of mine.

After two weeks of completely unsuccessful activity, the criminal official refused to continue his task and asked me ironically whether I myself believed that such, rumours of illegal killing of prisoners could be true. Only by accident, much later, was I put on the trail. I noticed that in the case of certain prisoners, in the books of the Kommandantur prison, and in the hospital books, they had been recorded in both books at the same time. In the prison book, for example, it said, "Date of release, 9th May, 12 o'clock." In the hospital register, "Patient died 9th May, 9.15 a.m."

I said to myself, this prisoner cannot be in the Kommandantur Prison and at the same time a patient in the hospital. False entries must have been made here. I therefore concentrated my efforts on this and I succeeded in finding out about this system, for it was a system under Kommandant Koch.

The prisoners were taken to a secret place and were killed there, mostly in a cell of the Kommandantur prison, and sick reports and death certificates were prepared for the files. They were made out so cleverly that any unsuspecting reader of the documents would get the impression that the prisoner concerned had actually been treated and had died of the serious illness which was indicated.

Q. Then what did you do after learning of these facts?

A. I found out that the medical officer at Buchenwald, SS Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Hoven, was principally responsible and I had him arrested. I informed my investigating commission of these cunning forgeries and directed their particular attention to investigate systematically the concentration camps which we visited and to ascertain whether such murders had also been committed in other concentration camps. We satisfied ourselves at the time of the investigation, and I am speaking of the second half of 1942, that in the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen and Dachau no such killings occurred, as far as it was humanly possible to judge. In the other concentration camps, however, such cases were found. The persons believed to be guilty were accused, arrested and charged.

Q. Why was this not done earlier?

A. I have already said that these deceptive measures were so cunningly contrived that it was not possible to discover them earlier. Above all, there, was no possibility of clearing up the matter, besides these things were always done without witnesses. These cases had to be investigated by the SS Courts and they were investigated, for every unnatural death of a prisoner was reported by teletype to the central agency. In addition, the specially sworn-in Court officer who was in the camp had to go immediately to the place of the occurrences to question the witnesses; sketches and photographs had to be made of the scene and it was a regulation that an autopsy had to take place in every such case of unnatural death.

Those reports of unnatural deaths, or of deaths suspected of being unnatural, were sent regularly to the SS and Police Court; but as I have already said, these reports were so cunningly contrived and the files were in such good order that even an expert could not have suspected an illegal killing. Of course, frequently proceedings were taken against members of the concentration camp, some followed by sentences, even death sentences. But these deaths appeared to occur at quite a normal rate.

If nothing at all had been reported to the SS Courts from the concentration camps, it would of course have seemed suspicious, just as it would also have been suspicious if too many such reports had been made to us. But it was a normal average and one could have no suspicion that the concentration camps were a hotbed of such dangerous crimes. It was through my investigation, which as I said was caused by accident, that we received our first insight into the true state of affairs.

Q. How did you come on to the track of mass killings? You have just spoken of individual killings.

A. I found traces of mass killings also by accident. At the end of 1943, I discovered two trails at the same time, one leading to Lublin and the other to Auschwitz.

Q. Please describe the Lublin trail first.

A. One day I received a report from the Commandant of the Security Police in Lublin. He reported that in a Jewish labour camp in his district a Jewish wedding had taken place. There had been 1,100 invited guests at this wedding.

As I said, 1,100 guests participated in this Jewish wedding. What followed was described as quite extraordinary owing to the gluttonous consumption of food and alcoholic drinks. With these Jews were members of the camp guard, that is to say some SS men or other, who took part in this function. This report only came into my hands in a roundabout way, some months later, as the Commandant of the Security Police suspected that the circumstances indicated that some criminal acts had occurred.

This was my impression as well, and I thought that this report would give me an indication of another big case of criminal corruption. With this intention, I went to Lublin and I went to the Security Police there, but all they would tell me was that the events were supposed to have happened at a camp of the "Deutsche Ausrustungswerke." But nothing was known there. I was told it might possibly be a rather peculiar and "opaque" (this was the actual term used) camp in the vicinity of Lublin. I found out the camp and the commandant, who was Kriminalkommissar Wirth.

I asked Wirth whether this report was true and what it meant. To my great astonishment, Wirth admitted it. I asked him why he permitted members of his command to do such things and Wirth then revealed to me that on the Fuehrer's order he had to carry out the extermination of Jews.

Q. Please go on, witness, with what you did.

A. I asked Wirth what this had to do with the Jewish wedding. Then, Wirth described the method by which he carried out the extermination of Jews and he said something like this: "One has to fight the Jews with their own weapons, and one has to cheat them."

Wirth built up an enormous deceptive manoeuvre. He first selected Jews who would, he thought, serve as column leaders, then these Jews brought along other Jews, who worked under them. With those smaller or medium-sized detachments of Jews, he began to build up the extermination camps. He extended this staff, and with them, Wirth himself carried out the extermination.

Wirth said that he had four extermination camps, and that about 5,000 Jews were working at the extermination of Jews and the seizure of Jewish property. In order to win Jews for this business of extermination and plundering of their brethren of race and creed, Wirth gave them every freedom and, so to speak, gave them a financial interest in the spoliation of the dead victims. As a result of this attitude, this extraordinary Jewish wedding had come about.

Then I asked Wirth how he killed Jews with these Jewish agents of his. Wirth described the whole procedure that went off like a film every time. The extermination camps were in the East of the Government General, in big forests or uninhabited waste lands. They were built up like a Potemkin village. The people arriving there had the impression of entering a city or a township. The train drove into what looked like a railroad station. The escorts and the train personnel then left the area. Then the cars were opened and the Jews got out.

They were surrounded by these Jewish labour detachments, and Kriminalkommissar Wirth or one of his representatives made a speech. He said: "Jews, you were brought here to be resettled, but before we organize this future Jewish State, you must of course learn how to work. You must learn a new occupation. You will be taught that here. Our routine here is, first, everyone must take off his clothes so that your clothing can be disinfected and you can have a bath so that no epidemics will be brought into the camp."

After he had found such calming words for his victims, they started on the road to death. Men and women were separated. At the first place, one had to give his hat; at the next one, his coat, collar, shirt, down to his shoes and socks. These places were set up like check-rooms, and the person was given a check at each one so that the people believed that they would get their things back. The other Jews had to receive the things and hurry up the new arrivals so that they would not have time to think. The whole thing was like an assembly line. At the last stop they reached a big room, and were told that this was the bath. When the last one was in, the doors were shut and the gas was let into the room.

As soon as death taken place in, the ventilators were started. When the air could be breathed again, the doors were opened, and the Jewish workers removed the bodies. By means of a special process which Wirth had invented, they were burned in the open air without the use of fuel.

Q. Was Wirth a member of the SS?

A. No, he was a Kriminalkommissar in Stuttgart.

Q. Did you ask Wirth how he arrived at this devilish system?

A. When Wirth took over the extermination of the Jews, he was already specialist in mass destruction of human beings. He had previously carried out the task of getting rid of the incurably insane. On behalf of the Fuehrer himself, whose order was transmitted through the Chancellery of the Fuehrer, he had, at the beginning of the war, set up a detachment for this purpose, probably composed of a few officials of his, I believe, the remainder being agents and spies of the criminal police.

Wirth very vividly described how he went about carrying out this assignment. He received no aid, no instructions, but had to do it all by himself. He was only given an old, empty institution in Brandenburg. There he undertook his first experiments. After much consideration and many individual experiments, he evolved his later system, and then this system was used on a large scale to exterminate the insane.

A commission of doctors previously investigated the files, and those insane who were considered to be incurable were put on a separate list. Then the institution one day was told to send these patients to another institution. From this institution the patient was transferred again, often more than once. Finally he came to Wirth's institution. There he was killed by gas and cremated.

This system which deceived the institutions and made them unknowing accomplices, this system which enabled him with very few assistants to exterminate large numbers of people, this system Wirth now employed with a few alterations and improvements for the extermination of Jews. He was also given the assignment by the Fuehrer's Chancellery to exterminate the Jews.

Q. The statements which Wirth made to you must have surpassed human imagination. Did you immediately believe Wirth?

A. At first Wirth's description seemed completely fantastic to me, but in Lublin I saw one of his camps. It was a camp which collected the property or part of the property of his victims. From the quantity - there were an enormous number of watches piled up - I had to realize that something frightful was going on here. I was shown the valuables. I can say that I never saw so much money at one time, especially foreign money - all kinds of coins, from all over the world. In addition, there were a gold-smelting furnace and really prodigious bars of gold.

I also saw that the headquarters from which Wirth directed his operations was very small and inconspicuous. He had only three or four people working there for him. I spoke to them too.

I saw and watched his couriers arrive. They actually came from Berlin, Tiergarten Strasse, the Fuehrer's Chancellery, and went back there. I investigated Wirth's mail, and I found in it confirmation of all this.

Of course, I could not do or see all this on this first visit. I was there frequently. I pursued Wirth up to his death...
"Q: You caused them to be shot? A: Yes." I mean, the man is a playa. Who, in 2011, causes anyone to be shot? At best we execute them with a joystick. We came, we saw, he died!

It's really not entirely clear to me that the rest of human history will, like Judge Morgen, find the 20th century even credible. But this indeed is how it was. I hope I've done my part to make the Holocaust seem a little more like the real event it was, not the screenplay legend it's become. Perhaps the Elders of Zion will be pleased.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 61 Comments

Personal cloud computing in 2020 (or not)

I know it's rare that we have a technical discussion here at UR. But every once in a while the urge prevails. If nothing else, it attracts the right people to the rest of the cult.

(For readers of that Wolfram Alpha post, it seems almost superfluous to remotely diagnose today's tech-media darling, Siri, as yet another tragic case of the hubristic user interface (HUI). Then again, if anyone can pull off hubris and exceed the gods themselves... but in my much-refurbished crystal ball, here is what I see: Siri works beautifully 98% of the time. The other 2%, it screws up. Half of these screwups are hilarious. 1% of the hilarious screwups are blogged about. And that's enough bad PR, fairly or not, to restrict usage to a fringe. As with all previous attempts at voice-controlled computing. Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

No tool can achieve the natural "bicycle for the mind" status of a mere mental peripheral, unless the mind has an internal model of it and knows when it will work and when it won't. This cannot be achieved unless either the mind is genuinely human and thus understood by empathy, or the actual algorithm inside the tool is so simple that the user can understand it as a predictable machine. Between these maxima lies the uncanny valley - in which multitudes perish.

The only exemption from this iron law of expensive failure, a voracious money-shark that has devoured billions of venture dollars in the last decade, is a set of devices best described, albeit pejoratively, as "toys" - applications such as search, whose output is inherently unpredictable. Ie, inherent in the concept of search is that your search results are generated by an insane robot. This is not inherent in the concept of a personal assistant, however. Also, while search results are inherently heuristic - search queries are inherently rigorous.)

In any case - computers. When I went to grad school to lurn computers, it was way back in 1992. I was pretty sure that, in the future, we would have cool shit. Instead, twenty years in the future, I find myself typing on... the same old shit. Yo! Yo nigga, this bullshit, yo.

It would be one thing if all the bullshit actually worked. Or at least if it didn't suck. At the very least, it would be better if our entire system software architecture - from the '70s database at the ass end of the server room, to the '90s Flash player playing ugly-ass Flash in your face - though it sucked giant tubes of ass like Hoover Dam in reverse, at least this was a secret. At least no one knew it was ass.

But alas. It's even worse than that. Everyone knows the whole Internet is ass.

It's the 21st century. We should be soaring like eagles above the 20th-century legacy bullshit, expressing only the purest of functions in the pure language of mathematics. But somehow it hasn't happened. The technology just isn't there, or at least it isn't deployed. All we have is the same old assware, and no alternative but to live in its crack. Brendan Eich took what, two weeks, to build Javascript? And it has no long integers - just floating point. Millions of brown hours, deep in Brendan Eich's valley. To be fair, the fellow appears to be sorry. Not that this helps.

So - we're just going to assume that God won't tolerate this shit. Not that he spares the rod. But there's always a limit. So we're just going to pick an arbitrary year, 2020, by which the 20th-century assware will all be gone, all of it. And software will instead be great. From top to bottom, server to client, cloud to mobile, end to end and ass to elbow. (Note that 2020 is two years before the famous HTML 5 deadline.)

The question then becomes: with this great new software infrastructure, scheduled for 2020, what the heck will we be doing? How will we be living our wondrous 2020 digital lives?

I actually have an answer to the question. The answer is: personal cloud computing. I mean, duh. Yes, I know it sounds like yet another Palo Alto buzzword. Blander, in fact, than most. Google even finds it, a little bit, in reference to various BS.

Actually, I think the transition from 2011 computing to 2020 computing - if 2020 computing is personal cloud computing, as per my buzzword, which I claim in the name of Spain - should be at least as radical a disruptive break as any previously experienced in the seismically unstable Valley of Heart's Delight.

Consider a classic San Andreas tech-quake: the transition from minis to PCs. Cloud computing in 2011 is a lot like all computing in 1971. Why? Because industrial and consumer computing products are entirely disjoint. In 1971, you can buy a PDP-11 or you can buy a solar calculator. The PDP-11 is industrial equipment - a major capital expenditure. The solar calculator is a toy - an information appliance. The PC? The concept is barely imaginable.

In 1971, you already exist as a database row in various billing and banking systems. (I lived in Palo Alto in 1976 when I was 3. My parents apparently had Kaiser. When an employer in the late '90s put me on Kaiser, I was amazed to be asked if I still lived on Alma Street.)

Is this Kaiser miracle personal cloud computing? No, it's consumer cloud computing. It's exactly the same kind of consumer cloud computing we have today. It's your data, on someone else's computer, running someone else's code - an information appliance. Care for another helping of ass, Mr. Chumbolone?

What's an information appliance? Any fixed-function device, physical or virtual, whose computing semantics the user does not control. An IA is anything that processes data, but is not a general-purpose computer. (A non-jailbroken smartphone is about half an IA and half a computer, because the user controls the apps but not the OS, and the interface is app-centric rather than document or task-centric - the OS as a whole is little more than an app virtualizer, ie, a browser.)

To generalize slightly, we can say that in 1971, there was a market for industrial computing, and there was a market for information appliances. Not only was the connection between these two product lines roughly nil, it was more than a decade before the PC emerged to replace "smart typewriters," and the early 2000s before Linux effectively merged the PC and workstation markets.

Today, in the cloud, you can go anywhere and rent a virtual Linux box. That's industrial computing. You also have to cower in your closet, like me, to avoid having a Facebook profile. That's a virtual information appliance. So is just about any other consumer cloud service. Therefore, we have industrial cloud computing that isn't personal, and we have personal cloud computing that isn't computing.

In fact, if you use the cloud at all seriously, you probably have 10 or 20 virtual information appliances - each one different and special. If you are especially well-organized, you may have only two or three identities for this whole motley flock, along with seven or eight passwords - at most four of which are secure. Welcome to the wonderful new world of Web 2.0. Would you like some angel funding? Ha, ha.

In the future, in 2020, you don't have all these custom information appliances, because you have something much better: an actual computer in the sky. Instead of using Web services that run on someone else's computer, you use your own apps running on your own (virtual) computer.

I realize - it's completely wild, unprecedented and groundbreaking. But let's look at an example.

Let's imagine 2011 software is 2020 software, so we can see how this works. In 2020, of course, you use Facebook just like you do now. Facebook still rules the world. Its product is a completely different one, however - personal cloud computing.

This started in 2012, when Facebook introduced a new widget - Facebook Terminal, your personal Ubuntu install in the cloud. Everyone's Facebook state profile now includes a virtual Linux image - a perfect simulation of an imaginary 80486. Users administer these VMs themselves, of course. In the beginning was the command line - in the end, also, is the command line. Moreover, just because it's run from the command line on a remote server - doesn't mean it can't open a window in your face. If you're still reading this, you've probably heard of "xterm."

Terminal will simply bemuse Joe Sixpack at first - Facebook's user base having come a long way from Harvard CS. But Joe learned DOS in the '80s, so he'll just have to get used to bash. At least it's not sh. It has history and completion and stuff.

Furthermore, Joe has a remarkable pleasure awaiting - he can host his own apps. All the cloud apps Joe uses, he hosts himself on his own virtual computer. Yes, I know - utterly crazed.

Today, for instance, Joe might use a Web 2.0 service like Beautifully crafted personal finance software on teh Internets. Delivered in the comfort and safety of your very own browser, which has a 1.5GB resident set and contains lines of code first checked in in 1992. Your moneys is most certainly safe with our advanced generational garbage collector. Admire its pretty twirling pinwheel as merrily your coffee steeps. Mozilla: making Emacs look tight and snappy, since the early Clinton administration.

But I digress. Where is Joe's financial data in In, well, Suppose Joe wants to move his financial data to Suppose Joe decides he doesn't like, and wants to go back to With all his data perfectly intact?

Well, in 2011, Joe could always do some yoga. He's got an ass right there to suck. It's just a matter of how far he can bend.

Imagine the restfulness of 2020 Joe when he finds that he can have just one computer in the sky, and he is the one who controls all its data and all of its code. Joe remembers when King Zuckerberg used to switch the UI on him, making his whole morning weird, automatically sharing his candid underwear shots with Madeleine Albright.

Now, with Facebook Terminal, Joe himself is King Customer. His Facebook UI is just a shell - starting with a login screen. Joe can put anything in his .profile or even fire it off directly from /etc/rc. He changes this shell when he damn well pleases. And where is his personal data? It's all in his home directory. Jesus Mary Mother of God! It can't possibly be this easy. But it is. So if he wants to switch from one personal finance app to another - same data, standard data, different app. He's a free man.

Suppose Joe wants to go shopping on teh Internets? He doesn't fire up his browser and go to He stays right there on Facebook Terminal and runs his own shopping application on his own virtual Linux box. Heck, he probably downloaded it from source and tweaked the termcap handling and/or optimization flags. (It's a general principle that anything written for termcap won't work on terminfo, even if it says it will.) Through an ASCII curses telnet in his Facebook Terminal - or, better yet, a Javascript X server in a Mozilla tab - he executes his shopping application (in C++ with OSF/Motif - that ultra-modern 3D look).

How does Joe's shopping application, which he hosts himself on Facebook Terminal, communicate with Amazon and other providers? Of course, book distributors in 2020 no longer write their own UIs. They just offer REST APIs - to price a book, to search for books, to buy a book. All of online shopping works this way. The UI is separate from the service. The entire concept of a "web store" is so 2011. Because Joe controls his own server, he can use classic '90s B2B protocols when he wants to replenish his inventory. I wouldn't at all rule out the use of SOAP or at least XML-RPC.

So. We have a problem here, of course, because Facebook Terminal is a joke. If Facebook users were a group of 750 million "original neckbeards," the system above would be the perfect product. Also the world would be a very different place in quite a number of ways. But let's continue the thought-experiment and stick with this spherical cow.

Consider the difference between the imaginary Facebook Terminal and the real Facebook Connect. The former is a platform - the latter is a "platform." There is a sort of logical pretence, at the user-interface layer, that a third-party site which uses Facebook authentication to commit, of course with your full cryptographic approval, unnatural acts upon your private data, is "your" app in just the same sense that an app on your iPhone is "your" app.

But you control one of these things, and not the other. When you host an app, you own the app. When you give your keys to a remote app, the app owns you. Or at least a chunk of you.

It's almost impossible for a Web user of 2011 to imagine an environment in which he actually controls his own computing. An illustrative problem is that chestnut of OS designers, cross-application communication. Look at fancy latest-generation aggregators like Greplin or ifttt. These apps work their tails off to get their hooks into all your data, which is spread around the cloud like the Columbia over Texas, and reconstruct it in one place as if it was actually a single data structure. Which of course, if you had a personal cloud computer - it actually would be. And "if" and "grep" would not seem like gigantic achievements requiring multiple rounds of angel funding, now, would they?

The Facebook of 2011 - and more broadly, the Web application ecosystem of 2011 - is not a personal cloud computer, because it's not a computer. Generalizing across your state in Facebook itself, plus all the external apps that use your Facebook identity, we see a collection of virtual information appliances, mutually unaware and utterly incompatible.

Even if Facebook becomes the universal authentication standard of the Web, a feat it would surely like to achieve, and surely a great advance at least in usability over the status quo, its users' lives in the cloud would not be anything but a disconnected salad of cloud information appliances. They would not have a personal cloud computer, or anything like one. Moreover, if one of these information appliances somehow evolved into a general-purpose computer, its users would realize that they no longer needed all the other information appliances.

Comparing the consumer cloud computing of 2011 to the personal cloud computing of 2020 is like comparing the online-services world of 1991 to the Web world of 2000. It's easy to forget that in 1991, Prodigy was still a big player. Prodigy: the Facebook of 1991. In 1991, you could use your 2400-baud modem to call any of a number of fine online services and other BBSes. By 2000, your 56K modem called only one thing: the Internet. The Internet, seen from the perspective of the Bell System, was the killer online service that killed all the other services.

Another difference between 2011 and 2020 is the business model. The Web 2.0 business model is first and foremost an advertising model. Or so at least has this present boom been built. Yo, bitches, I've seen a few of these booms.

Advertising is a payment model for information appliances. Your TV is an appliance. You see ads on your TV. Your PC is not an appliance. You'd find it shocking, disgraceful and pathetic if the new version of Windows Vista tried to make money by showing you ads. In fact, there have been attempts at ads on the PC - in every case, heinous, tacky and unsuccessful.

Advertising ceases to exist where an efficient payment channel arises. Why does TV show ads? Because the technical medium does not facilitate direct payment for content. It would be much more efficient for the producers of a new show to charge you fifty cents an hour, and most people would easily pay fifty cents per hour to never have to even skip past ads. Or to put it differently, fairly few people would choose to watch ads for fifty cents per hour.

Thus, if payment is straightforward, the whole inefficient pseudo-channel of advertising evaporates and the digital Mad Men are out on their asses. Taste the pain, algo-bitches! (There's only one thing I hate more than algorithms: the pencil-necked geeks who are good at algorithms.)

In 2020, how does Joe pay for computing? He pays for three things: content, code (ie, content), and computing resources. Probably his ISP is his host, so that's a very straightforward billing channel for resources, easily extended to code/content. Joe would never even dream of installing an app which showed him ads. So there's no use in figuring out what his buying patterns are, is there? Sorry, Mad Men. Go back to the math department.

Consider search in 2020. In search, too, PCC (not to be confused with proof-carrying code) separates the UI and the service. Joe uses one search app, which can be connected to any number of remote back-ends. If he doesn't like Google's results, he can Bing and decide, without changing his user experience at all. Result: brutal commoditization pressure in the search market, which has to bill at micropennies per query and has no channel for displaying ads - except in the results, which sucks and won't happen. Consider Mexican bikers, cooking meth in a burned-out Googleplex.

Alas! All that is great passes rapidly away. In this imaginary 2020, we see nothing left of Silicon Valley's existing corporate giants, except possibly a Facebook on steroids, whose information-appliance profiles have morphed into virtual Linux instances. Death by commoditization. Hey, it wouldn't be the first time.

But wait! Can this actually happen? Is it really possible to turn everyone's Facebook profile into a general-purpose computer? Frankly, I doubt it. If I worked at Facebook, which of course I don't, I would be extremely skeptical of Facebook Terminal, for reasons I think are quite obvious.

In real life, this apocalypse just isn't going to happen. In real life, 2020 will be pretty much just like 2011. And why? Because we just don't have the software technology to build 2020. And we're probably not about to get it, either.

Let's look at this issue in a little more detail. But the point is obvious. Hosting is pretty much a full-time job for the guys at Expecting Joe Sixpack to download their code, for free or for pay, and set up his own server, is just absurd.

Of course, Joe is unlikely to have a serious load issue on his private server - because he's the only user. But still, Joe is not an Ubuntu administrator, he doesn't want to be an Ubuntu administrator, and frankly he probably doesn't have the raw neurological capacity to be an Ubuntu administrator. Scratching his balls, booting MS-DOS and typing "copy a:*.txt b:" is about the limit of Joe's computational ambitions and abilities. You could put a visual interface on his console, but frankly, this would probably only confuse him more. I want to serve Joe's needs, but I won't let myself overestimate his qualities.

We're starting to answer the essential question here: why hasn't personal cloud computing already happened? Why doesn't it work this way already? Because frankly, the idea is obvious. It's just the actual code that isn't there. (Here is the closest thing I've seen. Let's hope Joe Sixpack is a good node.js sysadmin.)

Let's go back to 1971. The idea of a personal computer was also obvious to people in 1971. Moore's Law was reasonably well understood in 1971. So it was clear that, if in 1971 you could build a PDP-11 the size of a refrigerator and sell it for $20,000, in 1981 it would be possible to build a PDP-11 that fit under a desk and cost $2000.

But this irresistible logic ran into an immovable object. Who wants a PDP-11 on their desk? The PDP-11 evolved into the mighty VAX. Who wants a VAX on their desk? Even if you can build a VAX that fits on a desk and cost $2000, in what way is this a viable consumer product? It's not, of course. Similarly, turning 700 million Facebook profiles into virtual Ubuntu images is not, in any way, a viable product strategy - or even a sane one.

The "Facebook Terminal" example is ridiculous not because the idea of personal cloud computing is ridiculous, but because "Facebook Terminal" is a ridiculous product. Specifically, the idea that, to build a virtual computer in 2011, we should design a virtual emulation of a physical computer first produced in 1981, running an OS that dates to 1971, cannot fail to excite the mirth of the 2020 epoch. (And I say this as one who still owns a copy of the seminal BSD filesystem paper, autographed by Keith Bostic.)

Again: who wants a PDP-11 on their desk? Here we encounter Gall's law:
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.
If you want an Apple II, you don't start by shrinking a PDP-11. You have to build an Apple II. If you want not an Apple II but rather an electronic typewriter, there's a market for that. I recall that market. In the long run I'm afraid it didn't compete too well with the PC.

But why was the Apple II simple? Because its inventors understood Gall's law, or at least its Zen? Well... possibly. But also, simply due to the limitations of the hardware, it had to be. Early microcomputers simply did not have the computational power to run a PDP-11 OS. Thus, there was no choice but to build a new software infrastructure from very simple roots.

This is of course a notable contrast from our present age, in which your Ubuntu image, carried on the back of a sturdy Xeon, smiles cheerfully from under its seven gigabytes of crap. The Xeon can run seven gigabytes of crap - but Joe Sixpack cannot manage seven gigabytes of crap. Amazing things, of course, are done with this assware. Amazing things were also done with VMS. Amazing things were done with Windows. Don't take it personally.

So: we've identified one existential obstacle to personal cloud computing. We don't have a cloud operating system, or anything like it, which could be remotely described as simple enough to be "personal" - assuming said person is Joe Sixpack and not Dennis Ritchie. No OS, no computer, no product, no business. The thing simply cannot be done. And Gall's law says we can't get there from here.

But actually it's not the only such obstacle. If we somehow surmounted this obstacle, we would face another insurmountable obstacle. It's not just that we need a new OS to replace Unix - we also need a new network to replace the Internet.

Managing a personal server in the sky is much harder than managing a phone in your pocket. Both run apps - but the personal cloud computer is a server, and the phone is a client. The Internet is already a bit of a warzone for clients, but it's digital Armageddon for servers. You might as well send Joe Sixpack, armed with a spoon, into the Battle of Kursk.

An Internet server is, above all, a massive fortified castle in alien zombie territory. The men who man these castles are men indeed, quick in emacs and hairy of neck. The zombies are strong, but the admins are stronger. They are well paid because they need to be, and their phones ring often in the night. Joe is a real-estate agent. No one calls him at 3 in the morning because Pakistani hackers have gotten into the main chemical supply database.

So long as this is true, it really doesn't matter what software you're running. If network administration alone - and if on a real computer, user-installed apps talk to foreign servers directly, and vice versa - is a job for professionals, no cloud computer on this network can conceivably be personal. It is an industrial cloud computer, not a personal one.

So: serious problem here. By 2020 - two years before the apotheosis of HTML 5 - we're going to need (a) a completely new OS infrastructure, and (b) a completely new network. Or we can also, of course, remain in our present state of lame.

Can it be done? Why, sure it can be done. If anything, we have too much time. The simple fact is that our present global software infrastructure, ass though it be, is almost perfectly constructed for the job of hosting and developing the upgrade that replaces it. All we have to do is make sure there is an entirely impermeable membrane between assware and the future. Otherwise, the new infrastructure becomes fatally entangled with the old. The result: more ass.

Assware has one great virtue: ass is easy to glue. All useful software today is at least 37% pure glue. You can just count the spaces between the letters. For instance, when we see a LAMP stack, we see four letters and three gallons of glue.

It is perfectly possible to create and even deploy an entirely new system software stack, so long as it entirely eschews the charms of Unix. If your new thingy calls Unix, it is doomed. Unix is like heroin. Call Unix once - even a library, even your own library - and you will never be portable again. But a Unix program can call a pure function, and indeed loves nothing better. You can't use ass, but ass can use you.

When people created the first simple operating systems from scratch, they had only simple computers to build them on. This enforced an essential engineering discipline and made the personal computer possible. No forces enforces this discipline now, so there is no economic motivation for creating simple system software stacks from scratch.

As for new networks - phooey. Layering a new peer-to-peer packet network over the Internet is simply what the Internet is designed for. UDP is broken in a few ways, but not that can't be fixed. It's simply a matter of time before a new virtual packet layer is deployed - probably one in which authentication and encryption are inherent.

Putting our virtual computer on a virtual overlay network changes the game of the network administrator, because it splits his job into two convenient halves. One, the node must protect itself against attacks on the underlying network by attackers without legitimate credentials for the overlay network. Two, the node must protect itself from attacks by legitimate but abusive overlay users.

Job one is a generic task - DOS defense of the most crude, packety sort - and can be handled by Joe's ISP or host, not Joe himself. Attacking an overlay node at the Internet level is a lot like trying to hack an '80s BBS by calling up the modem and whistling at it. Job two is a matter for the network administrators, not Joe himself. All of the difficulty in securing the Internet against its own users is a consequence of its original design as a globally self-trusting system. So again, we solve the problem by washing our hands completely of any and all legacy assware.

Let's review the basic requirements for a personal cloud OS - in case you care to build one. I see only three:

First, that motherfucker needs to be simple. If there's more than 10,000 lines of code anywhere in your solution, or the compressed source distribution exceeds 50K, Gall's law says you lose. Various kinds of virtual Lisp machines, for instance, can easily hit this objective. But, if it's Lisp, it had better be a simple Lisp.

What is a simple cloud computer, when introduced, version 1.0? Can it be a personal cloud computer? It cannot. The Apple II cannot exist without the Altair. With 10,000 lines of code or less, you cannot compete with Ruby on Rails for hosting the newest, greatest Twitter ripoff, just as the Altair cannot compete with the VAX - at the job of being a VAX. But the VAX also makes a pretty crappy Altair.

If history repeats itself, the 2012 ancestor of the 2020 personal cloud computer is neither the 2012 cloud information appliance, nor the 2012 industrial cloud computer. If it exists at all, it can only exist as a hobby computer - like the Altair.

A hobby computer doesn't try to serve the needs of any existing user base. It is its own need. It exists to be played with. As it is played with, it will naturally mature and learn to serve needs. But at first, it is much more important to remain simple, than to solve any specific problem.

Second, your virtual OS needs to be semantically isolated from the host OS. Anything that can call Unix, is Unix. That's why the Javascript/browser ecology, for all its stank, succeeds: it can't call Unix. It could invent its own compatibility disasters, but at least it didn't import Posix's. If Netscape had cut a hole into Unix, it would have died without a trace - as perhaps it deserved.

The natural consequence of this restriction is that Joe's virtual computer is, or at least should be, portable across hosts. This is a delightful service which can of course be implemented by assware with yet another layer of complexity, but should emerge naturally from any really simple system.

Third, your virtual computer needs to be a computer, ie, capable of arbitrary general-purpose Turingy goodness. It can compute, it can store data, it can communicate with other computers - it can even talk to the old legacy Internet, albeit via a gateway. Think of any Web app you use. If Joe's computer can't implement this app, at least logically, it is not in some sense a computer. For example, can it virtualize itself? If not...

So my view is: not only is personal cloud computing solvable, but it's simple by definition. So it can't even be hard. Some nigga should just do it. He's got eight years.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 26 Comments

Professor Krugman on maturity transformation

There's always time for a short lecture on UR's favorite topic. It's important to remember that Paul Krugman is an idiot, but he's not a fool:
Like a lot of people, my insights draw heavily on Diamond-Dybvig, one of those papers that just opens your mind to a wider reality. What DD argue is that there is a tension between the needs of individual savers — who want ready access to their funds in case a sudden need arises — and the requirements of productive investment, which requires sustained commitment of resources.

Banks can largely resolve this tension, by offering deposits that can be withdrawn on demand, yet investing most of the funds thus raised in long-term, illiquid projects.
I face a similar tension between going to Reno every weekend, and buying strained carrots to feed my one-year-old. The Fed could largely resolve this tension, by printing fat stacks of benjamins for me to blow on coke and whores before I hit the Safeway for some Gerber. I note also that the policy would create demand - a favorite consequence of Professor Krugman's.

Just as the entire purpose of a monetary system is to decide who gets to go to Reno and who has to scrimp and save for strained carrots, the entire purpose of an interest-rate market - as well understood when Professor Krugman was eating strained carrots - is to match the supply and demand of loanable funds and eligible borrowers at every duration.

If you convert loanable funds of one duration into loanable funds of another duration, either by wholesome George Bailey banking or by synthesizing collateralized instruments (a category which logically includes nominally zero-term demand deposits), you are taking this elegant market signal, the yield curve, and raping it in the ass. You will give it AIDS. It will give you AIDS back. This will become known as the "business cycle" - a sort of historical quartan ague. Though no one understands it, it exists.

And both Wall Street and Main Street will exhibit a pattern of unending financial crises for all of modern Anglo-American history - from Walter Bagehot to Secretary Geithner. I'm sure this couldn't be due to a defective, archaic banking system which wasn't even redesigned for the 20th century, let alone the 21st.

Indeed, as Bagehot's Wiki - not cattily - notes:
Bagehot’s observations on finance remain relevant and cited by central bankers, most recently in the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2007.
Indeed. I could hardly put it better myself. I've proposed before that classic Lombard Street banking, borrowing short and lending long, should be forever known as a "Bagehot scheme." Isn't it fascinating that while so many other 19th-century English institutions - like slavery, the gallows, and impressment of sailors - have met their demise, this one continues merrily on? Talk about a barbaric relic!

Professor Krugman is unintentionally wonderful on this point:
The problem, of course, is the vulnerability of such a system to self-fulfilling panics: if people believe that a bank will fail, everyone will in fact want to withdraw funds at the same time — and because the bank’s assets are illiquid, trying to meet those demands through fire sales can in fact cause the bank to fail.
Actually, Professor Krugman, the Diamond-Dybvig model is not a true multiple equilibrium. The maturity-matched model - in which long-duration asset prices are much lower - is the only free-market equilibrium.

If you can fix asset prices, of course - whatever. But in a free market, the value of a synthetic asset is always epsilon less than the value of the equivalent real asset. By definition the synthetic asset can default, whereas the real asset can't. (In a George Bailey bank, for instance, your demand deposits are loans to the bank collateralized by the bank's portfolio of burned-out Section 8 New Deal ghetto towers.)

No perfect system of collateralization can be constructed. Epsilon exists. As free markets become frictionless, epsilon becomes tradable. The bank run happens automatically. Intervention is required to prevent it:
This then leads to the need for policy: deposit insurance and/or lender of last resort facilities to head off bank runs, and bank regulation to reduce the moral hazard from these explicit or implicit guarantees.
Unless the lent asset is USG shares - ie, dollars. USG can issue and lend as many USG shares as it wants. By engaging in this practice, it can lower interest rates to zero across the duration curve. Indeed, it is in the process of doing so. In theory, Google could just as easily operate a Bagehot scheme in GOOG shares. They are neither idiots nor fools, so they don't.

In the end state of this pernicious practice, there are no "private" banks at all. There is just one big bank: the government. Congratulations, Professor Krugman! You've reinvented the Soviet Union. Could you get a second Nobel for this mighty discovery? When the zero bound is hit across the curve, there is no lending even at zero interest rates, and capitalism is officially flatlined. Instead of infinite stimulation, this is the point of infinite stagnation. All economic organization becomes the task of the government. Soy Cuba! Yo, Cuba!

A "lender of last resort facility" is a crucial piece of machinery in the Bagehot scheme. In all cases, "loan guarantees" can be modeled simply as loans. If A guarantees B's loan to C, what is really happening is that B lends to A, and A to C. A in this case being our friend, tha USG. Or more specifically, the Fed.

So, when you "deposit" dollars "in" a bank, not only are you really lending them to the bank - you're really lending them to the Fed. Moreover, when a bank lends you dollars, you are really borrowing from the Fed. Yo, Cuba! Never in the history of Bagehot schemes has this been more clear. Fortunately, at least we're not on a gold standard, under which no Bagehot scheme can survive (USG being a perfect credit risk for USG equity, and nothing else). Naturally, this is Professor Krugman's most devastating argument against the gold standard.

What I love - what really illustrates the difference between an idiot and a fool - is the bizarre overall thrust of the Professor's argument, which clashes so baldly with the rest of his political idiocy. Graphite-cooled plutonium reactors, Professor Krugman tells us, are essential, because they generate electricity. How else can you generate electricity?

(Obviously, if we did not synthesize loanable funds at 30-year duration, no one would invest in 30-year mortgages, because no one saves money with the intent to spend it 30 years later. Thus, the price of a 30-year dollar would be a present nickel. And we will all be zillionaires when we retire, because each of our 2011 nickels will buy a 2041 dollar. Hey, wait...)

But graphite-cooled plutonium reactors also have a tendency to burn when they melt down, contaminating half the Ukraine. We need electricity, though! So we'll just have to cover the Ukraine with plastic sheeting, which teams of Mexicans in bunny suits can wipe down every time there's another Chernobyl. As an added benefit, this will create demand and stimulate the Mexican economy. Also, tomatoes can be grown under the sheeting.

No fool could come up with this. But an idiot could. Also, one lovely benefit of this dangerous brush with reality is that we have the opportunity to hear the Professor's rare, shy and beautiful libertarian side - the prothonotary warbler of the liberal conscience. Regulation, you see, is hard:
So, are you going to ban fractional reserve strategies by money market funds? Are you going to ban repo? Auction rate securities? Where does it stop?
Professor! I know! I know! Hey, look at me! "Yes," "yes," "yes," and "a long way farther on."
They have an oddly antiquated notion of what money and finance are about, one that misses the “virtualness” of the modern world. They still think of money as being pieces of green paper, rather than what it mostly is now, zeroes and ones in some server somewhere. They still think of banks as being those big marble buildings, in a world in which most banking is a lot more abstract than that.

This is, after all, the 21st century. Things have moved on a bit.
No, actually. They haven't. They should, though.

Now, to be fair, Professor Krugman is a fool but not an idiot. If there are any Austrians left who can't understand that fractional reserve is a special case of maturity transformation, and they prefer to consult living professors, they can ask Philipp Bagus. If they prefer the idol himself:
For the activity of the banks as negotiators of credit the golden rule holds, that an organic connection must be created between the credit transactions and the debit transactions. The credit that the bank grants must correspond quantitatively and qualitatively to the credit that it takes up. More exactly expressed, "The date on which the bank's obligations fall due must not precede the date on which its corresponding claims can be realized."
In other words, a healthy bank - virtual or marble-pillared - expects to meet all its obligations from cashflow, without new borrowing to pay off old loans. Well, knock me over with a feather. If that's not simplistic, I don't know what is. That's what accounting should be - simplistic.

The genius of Professor Krugman is that he goes so near the truth that he makes it obvious even to his commenters - who typically are both idiots and fools, but several of whom spontaneously exhibit the same insight themselves:
Why can't we regulate or even ban the maturity mismatch? Savers would have to make the maturity choice themselves and it would be transparent. Currently, the savers don't understand the huge run risks that the banks have by funding with demand deposits and lending long. It's hiding the risk.
And almost cogently:
I'm not a hard-money crazy, but I have wondered if there's a weaker version of hard money that makes sense: forcing duration matching. Is borrowing short-lending long actually a required service? What if the bank only lent long money borrowed long such that the assets and liabilities matched in duration?

It'd still be fractional reserve banking, but it would not be subject to bank runs. While we're on the subject of hard-money feasibility, can you comment on this variant?
Somehow I don't expect an answer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011 67 Comments

Thos. Carlyle on Steve Jobs

From Heroes and Hero-Worship (1840):

We come now to the last form of Heroism; that which we call Kingship.

The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically the summary for us of all the various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do. He is called Rex, Regulator, Roi: our own name is still better; King, Könning, which means Can-ning, Able-man. [Carlyle's etymology is pretty but wrong - MM.]

Numerous considerations, pointing towards deep, questionable, and indeed unfathomable regions, present themselves here: on the most of which we must resolutely for the present forbear to speak at all. As Burke said that perhaps fair Trial by Jury was the soul of Government, and that all legislation, administration, parliamentary debating, and the rest of it, went on, in "order to bring twelve impartial men into a jury-box;"—so, by much stronger reason, may I say here, that the finding of your Ableman and getting him invested with the symbols of ability, with dignity, worship (worth-ship), royalty, kinghood, or whatever we call it, so that he may actually have room to guide according to his faculty of doing it,—is the business, well or ill accomplished, of all social procedure whatsoever in this world!

Hustings-speeches, Parliamentary motions, Reform Bills, French Revolutions, all mean at heart this; or else nothing. Find in any country the Ablest Man that exists there; raise him to the supreme place, and loyally reverence him: you have a perfect government for that country; no ballot-box, parliamentary eloquence, voting, constitution-building, or other machinery whatsoever can improve it a whit. It is in the perfect state; an ideal country.

The Ablest Man; he means also the truest-hearted, justest, the Noblest Man: what he tells us to do must be precisely the wisest, fittest, that we could anywhere or anyhow learn;—the thing which it will in all ways behoove US, with right loyal thankfulness and nothing doubting, to do! Our doing and life were then, so far as government could regulate it, well regulated; that were the ideal of constitutions.

Alas, we know very well that Ideals can never be completely embodied in practice. Ideals must ever lie a very great way off; and we will right thankfully content ourselves with any not intolerable approximation thereto! Let no man, as Schiller says, too querulously "measure by a scale of perfection the meagre product of reality" in this poor world of ours. We will esteem him no wise man; we will esteem him a sickly, discontented, foolish man.

And yet, on the other hand, it is never to be forgotten that Ideals do exist; that if they be not approximated to at all, the whole matter goes to wreck! Infallibly. No bricklayer builds a wall perfectly perpendicular, mathematically this is not possible; a certain degree of perpendicularity suffices him; and he, like a good bricklayer, who must have done with his job, leaves it so. And yet if he sway too much from the perpendicular; above all, if he throw plummet and level quite away from him, and pile brick on brick heedless, just as it comes to hand—! Such bricklayer, I think, is in a bad way. He has forgotten himself: but the Law of Gravitation does not forget to act on him; he and his wall rush down into confused welter of ruin—!

This is the history of all rebellions, French Revolutions, social explosions in ancient or modern times. You have put the too Unable Man at the head of affairs! The too ignoble, unvaliant, fatuous man. You have forgotten that there is any rule, or natural necessity whatever, of putting the Able Man there. Brick must lie on brick as it may and can. Unable Simulacrum of Ability, quack, in a word, must adjust himself with quack, in all manner of administration of human things;—which accordingly lie unadministered, fermenting into unmeasured masses of failure, of indigent misery: in the outward, and in the inward or spiritual, miserable millions stretch out the hand for their due supply, and it is not there. The "law of gravitation" acts; Nature's laws do none of them forget to act. The miserable millions burst forth into Sansculottism, or some other sort of madness: bricks and bricklayer lie as a fatal chaos—!

Much sorry stuff, written some hundred years ago or more, about the "Divine right of Kings," moulders unread now in the Public Libraries of this country. Far be it from us to disturb the calm process by which it is disappearing harmlessly from the earth, in those repositories! At the same time, not to let the immense rubbish go without leaving us, as it ought, some soul of it behind—I will say that it did mean something; something true, which it is important for us and all men to keep in mind.

To assert that in whatever man you chose to lay hold of (by this or the other plan of clutching at him); and claps a round piece of metal on the head of, and called King,—there straightway came to reside a divine virtue, so that he became a kind of god, and a Divinity inspired him with faculty and right to rule over you to all lengths: this,—what can we do with this but leave it to rot silently in the Public Libraries? But I will say withal, and that is what these Divine-right men meant, That in Kings, and in all human Authorities, and relations that men god-created can form among each other, there is verily either a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong; one or the other of these two!

For it is false altogether, what the last Sceptical Century taught us, that this world is a steam-engine. There is a God in this world; and a God's-sanction, or else the violation of such, does look out from all ruling and obedience, from all moral acts of men. There is no act more moral between men than that of rule and obedience. Woe to him that claims obedience when it is not due; woe to him that refuses it when it is! God's law is in that, I say, however the Parchment-laws may run: there is a Divine Right or else a Diabolic Wrong at the heart of every claim that one man makes upon another.

And when, in the third millennium, we meet an Able-man - to what work do we set him? To building toys. Gewgaws, gadgets, pretty beads for department-store Indians.

And yet - there is a God in this world. There is right, at least, and wrong. In everything. In code. In a toy. And this is our special torture: as the planet rots, as fools rule and hyenas feast, as nations lie prostrate, churches decompose, and the Devil with a knife owns London, Paris, New York after dark, fell in our hairy hands the real work of a real King, an Able-man, Ken-ning - who served God, or right at least, and could bend small armies to obey. And make - a toy. So near we are to salvation; so infinitely far away. Rest in peace, Steve.