Tag Archives: nation-states

Gross $4,000 a day with Viagra spam

Ever wonder why the flood of emails plugging funny-shaped blue pills for gentlemen shows no sign of relenting? The simple answer is that enough people keep clicking on them to make it an extremely lucrative business – according to Ars Technica, a detailed trawl of sales ledgers reveals that pharmaceutical affiliate spam networks can pull in $4,000 a day of orders:

Samosseiko discovered a wide-open PHP backend to GlavMed that contained evidence that the company is indeed set up to benefit largely from spammers. This involves e-commerce software for spammers to launch their own GlavMed copies or to simply set up domains that redirect to GlavMed. Additionally, some of the documents Samosseiko discovered were sales records, giving a glimpse into the purchasing behavior of GlavMed’s targets.

According to the sales records from GlavMed, there were apparently more than 20 purchases per day per spam campaign, with GlavMed claiming a 40 percent commission on each sale. With an average purchase of around $200, that adds up to over $4,000 total per day per campaign (or $1,600 for GlavMed).

Those are the sort of figures that would make even the most moral code-monkey think hard about trading in their sysadmin cubicle for the easy life. It’s abundantly clear that no amount of effort is ever going to stop people clicking on spam emails, and while the market is willing to line people’s pockets to the tune of hundreds of dollars a day they’re not going to stop coming… all the while funding other organisations with more nefarious aims and purposes.

This also highlights the problem with nation-states in a networked world restricting certain products and services to their citizens, as recent adventures in attempting to restrict online gambling sites has demonstrated. As geography continues its slide into irrelevance, attempting to ban something that’s openly available anywhere else in the world becomes an exercise in bombastic futility that does little beyond undermining your credibility and authority.

Perhaps opening up legal avenues for the purchase of the more popular and controversial pharmaceuticals is the answer? After all, serious thought is being given to relaxing prohibition on more dangerous drugs as it becomes clear that their restricted availability plays into the hands of criminals… why not make the drugs safer for consumers by controlling quality and distribution, and hobble an easy income stream for the underworld?

That said, there’ll always be something that people want to buy but can’t; I guess it’d be a case of finding where the tipping point between easy profits and risk of operation is. Then all we’ll be left with are dodgy refinancing offers and invitations to see fallen pop stars in the buff…

So, how long is it going to be before I have to lock the comments on this post to block the flood of pingbacks? Place your bets, ladies and gents, place your bets…

The next 100 years

Pivot_areaGeorge Friedman, writing in The New Statesman magazine, has an article up on the next 100 years, as seen through the theoretical prism of geopolitics. This is a doctrine that emphasises the importance of the permanently operating factors of geography in determining global dominance:

Thus, the question is how these geopolitical and strategic realities shape the rest of the century. Eurasia, broadly understood, is being hollowed out. China is far weaker than it appears and is threatened with internal instability. The Europeans are divided by old national patterns that prevent them from moving in a uniform direction. Russia is using the window of opportunity presented by the US absorption in disrupting the Islamic world to reclaim its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, but its underlying weakness will reassert itself over the next generation.

New powers will emerge. In the 19th century, Germany, Italy and Japan began to emerge as great powers, while in the 20th century global powers such as Britain and France declined to secondary status. Each century, a new constellation of powers forms that might strike observers at the beginning of the century as unthinkable. Let us therefore think about the unthinkable.

Friedman paints a rather pessimistic picture of a future of exactly the same kind of nationalistic war that took up most of the 20th century.

I’ve never been comfortable with tub-thumping nationalism/patriotism as something to dictate beliefs and action. To me the future of the people living on Earth is as much about cultures, attitudes, and society as it is about the fight for power between specific nation states [1].

But states will remain the single most powerful entity on Earth over the next few decades, and as such it is worth thinking about which of them might gain greater influence in the future.

The central conclusion of Friedman’s article is that “they that control the North American continent, control the world” as they will have access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans as well as the vast wealth of the North American continent. As such he posits Mexico as a potential rival to US power. He also suggests that Japan might engage on further military ventures. Turkey may become the core of an Islamic sphere of influence in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

[1]: Inasmuch as particular states have particular cultures and attitudes (e.g. pluralism, rule of law, liberalism, democracy, individual freedom) I think that it is a mistake to support a nation state because of the attitudes it purports to value, rather than the reality of its actions. You support the people and the ideals first, the countries second.

[from the New Statesman][image from here on Wikimedia]

MMOs: the future of the nation-state?

World of Warcraft screenshotFinally! While not much of an MMO player myself (I don’t have the time to set my highly addiction-prone personality loose in alternative realities at the moment), the time I’ve spent in Second Life has convinced me that the metaverse is a hugely important sociopolitical step for us as a species. [image by fernashes]

So I’m really pleased to see social scientists like Aleks Krotoski of The Guardian saying that MMOs are harbingers of the doom of the nation-state:

Now, I don’t imagine that any of my mates would be willing to pledge allegiance to Azeroth, the fictional setting for their escapades and dance parties, but without question they experience a sense of togetherness celebrated by academics and philosophers for its emergent governance. Warcraft, Second Life, EverQuest, even the text-based LambdaMOO – all have unregulated telecoms services and thriving and exchangeable unregulated currencies. They also have hierarchies and power structures, justice systems and benevolent dictators.

These spaces threaten world order. Traditional governments have spent the past four years back-pedalling, trying to regulate these spaces, in the name of national security. In fact, they’re just trying to make sure that they don’t lose control of the people who have gathered together in these consensual hallucinations. And their money, of course.

Yes. The internet itself is corrosive to geography, but virtual worlds increase the potency of the reagent considerably. Interesting times ahead, I think.

New Aussie drinking game – “spot the wetback”

Texas-Mexico border fenceHere’s an odd twist on crowdsourcing; the publicly-accessible cameras along the Texas-Mexico border have attracted amateur border guards from a number of the southern states… and beyond. In fact, it seems to be quite the international pastime:

So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.

“We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, ‘Hey mate, we’ve been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia’,” he said.

Not everyone is quite so impressed, however, especially considering the system’s cost measured against its successes:

Opponents have dismissed the project as “the perfect Google border” and say the cameras do little to deter criminal activity. “Border security deserves trained professionals, not pub-goers in Perth,” said Eliot Shapleigh, a state senator from El Paso, Texas, who claims that the programme has resulted in only a handful of arrests. “It’s wholly ineffective for the governor’s stated goal of security, it panders to extremists for political purposes and it’s not an effective use of $2m for just three apprehensions.”

One has to wonder whether all the people who’ve signed up to watch the border are sincerely interested in reporting transgressions rather than turning a blind eye to them; the barriers to entry are pretty low, after all, and not everyone wants to take America’s side these days. [image by Daquella manera]

But what interests me most about this story is that it seems to highlight one of my current obsessions, namely the fragmentation of nation-states into parts that borders on a map just can’t represent. If an Australian is voluntarily watching a piece of land at the edge of Texas (which, a long time back, was part of Mexico) to make sure that no Mexicans (or Guatemalans or Hondurans or anyone else) cross that fence-line, could he not be considered a temporary US citizen? Or is he merely a form of contractor, or neither?

Think about it – to enforce a geographical boundary, the US is using tools that contribute to the ongoing erasure of geography; meanwhile, non-citizens on the other side of the globe do work that a citizen would need to be security-screened for… and do it for free, or for kudos. What does being a citizen actually mean, beyond defining who you pay your taxes to? Where does citizenship actually take place – on the ground, in our own minds, or in the network of mutual assumptions that we call society?

Isn’t it possible that one day that one way to cross the conceptual border of the US and become a citizen thereof would be to have spent a considerable amount of time and effort ensuring that other people didn’t cross the geographical border?

[26/03/09 – Note: it has been brought to my attention that the term ‘wetback’ is a lot more fundamentally racist than I – unused to some of the subtleties of US slang – initially thought; had I thought it referred to anything more than person who attempts to cross the Rio Grande, I wouldn’t have used it, and I’d like to apologise for any offence caused.]

Could Mexican narco-terrorism produce a massive open-source insurgency?

The news is full of the escalating war between Mexican drug traffickers and that country’s government, and it’s not a pretty picture – especially not for Mexico’s more northerly states and cities.

But what if the problems could spill over? Apparently they already have – there are claims that Canadian gang violence is connected to the Mexican situation, as is often the way with complex illicit supply chains.

John Robb hypothesises that it wouldn’t take much to spark an open-source insurgency in the region – one that could turn the northern states of Mexico and the southern states of the US into a no-go zone for the military forces of either country.

By itself, it’s doubtful that a narco/smuggling open source insurgency could accomplish this goal, although it would make a very good run at it (particularly given the declining budgets of their opponents).  However, the prospects for successful achievement of the plausible promise would radically improve  if the coming global depression drives

  • the creation of new violent groups — new primary loyalties formed from fear, revenge, and necessity — and
  • the economic deprivation necessary for a vibrant bazaar of violence — this is a marketplace that forms when, due to a need to purchase food and shelter, there is an endless pool of people willing to kill for a couple hundred bucks.

It’s not really that implausible an idea, and an illustration of the way that nation-state borders are being broken down by modern technology, economics and realpolitik.

When a nation can’t control an insurgency at this sort of scale, what will that do for its credibilty among its more stable neighbours?