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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 19

"Thought is an invisible and subtle power, that mocks all the efforts of tyranny."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville --


I remembered that Canseco had told me to put on my thinking cap and figure things out.

"Honey," I yelled upstairs, "Where's my Bulls cap?"

"You're what?"

"My Durham Bulls cap."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's a blue baseball cap with the insignia of a bull snorting inside an orange D."

"Did you check the closet in the basement?"

"Of course I did, why would I be asking you where it was if I hadn't already checked out the obvious possibilities?"

"I don't know. Maybe you're going senile."

"No," I grumbled, irritated. "Not yet. Dammit, I can't think straight if I don't have my Bulls cap." She replied something, but I ignored it on the logical assumption that it was some veiled insult.

Eventually I did find it. Unfortunately, it was in the basement closet, I just hadn't done a thorough enough search. Of course, I wouldn't tell my wife that -- why give her the satisfaction?

That Bulls cap is going to be a family heirloom one day, assuming it survives. I purchased it twenty years ago, before the movie with Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner that made the minor league franchise world famous. Those were the days when baseball meant something to me.

Anyway that cap went with me everywhere, on every vacation and every conference, to every softball game and picnic and beach trip. It was, and remains, my good-luck charm. A man who does not own a favorite baseball cap is a poor man indeed.


So now I wear it to try and figure things out.


My father once confided to me the secret to unraveling most Earthly mysteries: "Cher che la buck" (Follow the money). That's always a good place to start.

How does Literati Inc. stand to gain from keeping the Exon Inspiration link open?

I'm assuming Canseco's interest in this is business and not personal. If it were personal, he wouldn't have referred to the Lee Ward persona as "the Australian woman". I don't know that for sure, it's intuitive. It's just the way he said "the one who designed the Internet pictures." There's a certain detachment in that phrase.

Among the many publications of Canseco's empire, the pornography magazines are plentiful. Each one is designed for a specific market segment of gender, age, sexual preference.

This reminds me of an old joke. An analyst asks a corporate human resources executive, "How many employees do you have -- broken down by sex?" "Not many," comes the reply. "Drugs are more of a problem."

Back to the point. So he stands to lose money if the electronic distribution of pornography is limited? Of course. But it's already against the law in the United States and Canada, which of course means nothing. Anyone can access an overseas server for the price of a telephone call. The NSA can't shut down every international telephone call. And even though they have the most sophisticated de-encrypter programs in the world -- rumored to be "organic" -- they can't decipher pornographic content. Because pornography isn't data, it's a state of mind. The only state in the U.S. over which the NSA has no jurisdiction.

So whether the site is banned or not makes absolutely no functional difference to the business of transmitting pornographic files by internetworking.

Another angle. Suppose Literati Inc wants to get into the 3D pornography business. It would want to see what the market is, wouldn't it? So it would have an interest in keeping the site from being removed from the vCity. But twenty days would be more than enough time to understand the market potential. So even if the link were pulled, the information could still be purchased. And why bother to keep a competitor alive?

Hmm. What if Literati Inc. is already in the 3D pornography business. In that case, one would think that Canseco would favor shutting down potential competition.

Unless Literati Inc. owns the site?

That's a real possibility. What was it Lee Ward said, that she liked the job she had? That doesn't necessarily mean anything. The quality of the art design is excellent, however. The whole site is professionally designed, in fact. That hints at something much larger than the efforts of one person. Well, not necessarily. She might have just worked at it a very long time.

How much money are we talking about here? Let's see, a back of the napkin calculation: $30 a pop times one million viewers would be $30 million. A normal referendum might garner eighteen million voters, but most of those would not buy into a site visit. Let's say two million in all. That would be $60 million. But this isn't a normal referendum. The actual voter count will probably top 50%. So a reasonable ballpark estimate would be $100 million.

That's a depressing thought, to make someone $100 million simply by calling a referendum. Depressing because there's nothing to prevent Lee Ward from shutting down her site on the 20th day, and re-entering the same material under a different persona in a new place in the vCity. Then, by the rules of the simulation, I would only be able to call a new referendum, and once again the cash would flow to the Bahamas. Well, there would be diminishing returns, though. Because most vCitizens, having seen it once, would not bother seeing it again. They would just vote yes or no on principle.

Would Canseco bother with something as trivial as $100 million in revenue? Sure, why not? That's not exactly chump change, even to him. He could either own the content or the server, or both. It's probably not the content. I would think that defending copyright on pornographic files would be rather difficult to do in a U.S. court. So it has to be the server.

Maintaining a working server capable of handling monetary transactions is very expensive. Most people don't own one, they just rent file space for a time. It's the companies that own them that make the money from rent. If the server is located outside the U.S., then there is the additional profit that comes from paying only export taxes instead of U.S. federal sales tax. Hmm, interesting. Ideally an off-shore interest would set up multiple servers to handle a truly enormous influx of cash.

So, if that is true, then why would there be a casbar problem with the Exon Inspiration? Literati Inc. would not be so stupid as to use just one server, would it?

There is one way to check on that.

Having revved up the PC, I bookmark over to the Exon Inspiration again. There is definitely no problem with access. Once again the monetary program sniffs me, unaware that it is obtaining a false read from a specially designed program written by the boys and girls in Information Services. My e-checking account is always healthy, but strangely enough, no teledollars ever enter it or leave it. Simply amazing. Illegal? Not necessarily, not unless I pre-authorize a transaction, which in this case I have not. Unethical? Well . . . caveat emptor, babe.

The content looks and sounds pretty much the same ("Oooh, aaah!") and the SeekerPenises are still performing rendezvous and docking maneuvers with vVaginas.

Leaving the vCity domain proper, I delve into the Archives to find some stats. This involves a bit of keyboard action and it is a good ten minutes before I find what I am looking for.

In a nutshell, the site was registered to a Bahamian finance server nineteen days before I noticed it, and it did a desultory business. After I called a referendum, there were periods of frenzied activity followed by long periods of downtime (server crash). She probably still made $1 million as a result of the notoriety. That sum, and the activity, must have gotten the attention of someone. Because shortly thereafter, the downtime vanished completely. It's impossible to trace everything, but I suspect that three, possibly four servers were handling the influx where one had not been able to.

When did the downtime vanish? The morning of the day Canseco called me on the phone.

Interesting. Doesn't prove a damn thing, though.

No wonder the U.S. government is interested in this issue. It's not a social issue at all to them, it's pure economics. They don't care whose avatar is sucking off whom. What they don't appreciate is the fact that dollars from U.S. citizens are being sucked through a Bahamian server at the rate of $5 million a day. Okay, there are export duties, but overall the U.S. is losing federal tax revenue on the sale of goods and services. I'm sure they'd much rather keep that pornography money inside the U.S., where they could tax it at the higher rate. And where there is one offshore site, soon there will be thirty.

Would they bother with something as trivial as $1 to $10 billion in lost potential revenue? Sure, why not? That's not exactly chump change, even to the U.S. government.

Thanks, Dad.

My wife comes into my home office. "I can't believe you are working on a Sunday."

"Not working, just goofing around."

She taps me on the head. "I see you found your cap."

No response.

"Where was it?" she asks, the very picture of innocence.

I growl.

She leans over and kisses me on the nape of the neck. "In the basement closet, huh?"

"Aw, nuts."

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