Saturday, February 05, 2022

Cryptocurrency, blockchain and the potential future authoritarian world it could create.

Cryptocurrency Might be a Path to Authoritarianism

Extreme libertarians built blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power. It could consolidate their control instead.

By Ian Bogost

I remember reading this Atlantic article when it first came out almost 5 years ago and thinking "this sounds about right" It, and other examinations of what was going on, kept me from getting involved in the whole crypto world.

Now here we are, half a decade later, and I would say that it was a little bit wrong, but a lot more right.

The only thing missing (or is it?) is far right-wing, or far left-wing, governments of the world, to start enacting just some of the imagined uses of an authoritarian state this article lays out. I can see China already starting, and I'm pretty sure Georgia, Florida, or Texas wouldn't hesitate to use this kind of tech to control voter roles, once it decides it can get away with it.

And there are many many more scenarios that have been made possible with the continued advancement of the tech in the crypto/blockchain world.

I've got some very dear friends who've bought in wholeheartedly to this world. I hope they understand what they're really supporting and Web3 (which is what they're calling it) doesn't take the path of the Internet that I was deeply involved in ('web 2.0).

We really believed we were creating something that democratized information for individuals and society as a whole. What we really did, mostly, was create tools for corporations to massively centralize information and turn even tiny bits of it into financial transaction devices, also known as the securitization of information.

NFT's are the current manifestation of that. Laugh at them if you want, but, fiat money (i.e the US Dollar) is no less ethereal (pun intended Ethereum fans) than crypto-currencies and NFT's.

Massively distributed systems may be 'the democratization of X', but, they can be used for the opposite as well. 

The article above sums it up nicely:

"blockchain’s future seems tied to the short-term vision of investors and entrepreneurs willing to speculate on a hypothetical, distributed utopia without hedging against the consolidated autocracy it seems equally likely to realize. “This is what happens,” Greenfield says, “when very bright people outsmart themselves.”

I'm no longer the young idealist that went to silicon valley in the 80's to work for Apple. I've seen some shit. Especially in the last 5 years, I've come to conclude that humans will not, always, pick the best path for all of us collectively, or even, themselves individually. Some days, being a misanthrope is just easier.

I know this sounds like a 'get off my lawn' post, but, every so often, the old geezer yelling that old anachronistic stereotypical trope, is right.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Small Town Politics in 2021

Watching the latest small-scale municipal election unfold here in my hometown of Longmont, Colorado, I'm struck by how things have changed in a relatively short time, effectively, the last two years.

Our town is very blue (Democrat). It was once a Republican stronghold, but no more. Much of liberal Boulder has moved to lower cost and more family-friendly Longmont over the last few years making it as, or more, liberal than the famously liberal "People's Republic of Boulder" town twelve miles to the Southwest.

But you wouldn't think that looking at our latest City Council race and School Board elections.

We had nine candidates for City Council this year. Three for mayor, and six for two open at-large seats.

Of these nine candidates, five were, effectively, Republicans. We're supposed to have non-partisan races, but, it's clear, there's a left and right in Longmont and they're organized. But one is more organized and coordinated, than the other.

Of the six City Council candidates, four were GOP funded and supported. They attended meetings together and strategized with their local GOP supporters at various get-togethers. They even endorsed each other, openly, in debates. The GOP mayoral candidate in our town called out the four GOP-supported candidates running for council in a recent debate, calling for the city to elect them, along with himself, 'to bring balance' back to the City Council.

How do I know the GOP was so organized and funded? Mostly by one obvious example and a few hints. The obvious one is the candidate for mayor in our town is a local handyman. Nice guy. Quite likable, but, he had a 'handler' that's with him at all times. The handler is a lawyer from New York. This handler was writing his scripts and his debate answers as well as coaching him through interviews and video productions. Several of the candidates have also talked about 'a meeting on Sunday (and many other days)' with names of all the conservative candidates, only. It's coordinated.

The Democrats, by contrast, were eating their own in a scene that's eerily similar to the Democrats at a national level in 2021. There are center-left and progressive Democrats running for office here, and they dislike each other more than they, it seems, dislike their GOP opponents.

As noted above, it also is interesting to see the contrast of how well organized and funded, the conservative GOP-supported candidates are in comparison. They meet regularly with each other and their handlers/funders. They're focused, energized, and on message.

They also used tried and true ratf*cker methodology, a GOP-developed strategy for winning that can be mild (as it is in our case) to extreme (mostly used at a national level and exhibited by people like Roger Stone, Lauren Boebert, and, of course, trump).

Our local example has one of the GOP candidates who was allegedly unvaccinated and refused to wear masks in Boulder County, where mask mandates are in place for all indoor activities, running a largely single-issue campaign focused on a 'hyperloop' transportation system that is, at best, 50 years out. It's one of those things that everyone thinks is cool and likes, but, is used primarily as a diversionary topic to keep people off of her position on issues this particular candidate doesn't want to talk about. What are her positions here? No idea, although hints of a Lauren Boebert like mindset did appear. Whenever asked about specifics this candidate would divert back to the 'hyperloop'. That's the point of the strategy. 

Although to be fair, the other side may not be immune to this kind of behavior. I heard from an, at the time, sitting council person, that they had 'suggested he run' to the GOP Mayoral candidate. Apparently, he was this person's handyman. They seemed slightly surprised he actually ran though. Did they really encourage him to run? Was it with the intent to counter the 'not liberal enough' liberal candidate? It's hard to tell. If true, that's a 'clever' way to take out an opponent. As our city's recent ex-mayor likes to say: "Politics in Longmont is a bloodsport", so who knows.

Another big sign was this year's School Board race. The fact that there even was a race is really unusual. There is almost never an election in this town for a school board seat. They have a hard time finding people to run and there's almost always just one person for each seat on the ballot.

Not this year. Several seats were contested, and the 'new' folks are all GOP-controlled conservatives.

The aftermath of the elections was predictable. The conservatives lost, however, they had an effect. 

The Center-left mayoral candidate, who was a likely shoo-in for the job, lost to the more progressive left-wing candidate because of the GOP candidate. How? The GOP candidate took 20% of the vote, including the centrists and slightly center-right folks that would have voted for a center-left candidate over a farther to the left candidate.

The City Council candidates that won were the incumbent everyone already knew and the first black women to ever be elected to a Longmont City Council seat. Both are on the left side of the spectrum. The left-leaning candidate also won the School Board election.

The GOP, this time, actually created a more liberal government by coming out in force to try and take the City Council and School Board over. I'm sure that wasn't the intent, but, that was the end result.

Did they learn from this? I'm very sure they did. 

Boulder County is 80%+ blue so the GOP losing isn't a surprise. However, if we were a 55% or 60% blue county, which it was not that long ago, the results may well have been very different.

There is a national, coordinated, and well-funded effort on the part of the Republican Party to take over local governments. Grinding it out. Learning the lessons. Year after year after year. 

Election Commissioners, County Commissioners. City Councils. School Boards. Municipal Boards and Commissions. 

All of it.


I've seen it up close and personal right here at home. You might want to take a look at what's going on in your town, too. If you don't like what you see, get involved. And for gods sake, vote! 

Everyone, please, vote.

On predicting the future...

An old colleague of mine, Richard Gingras, from my days at Apple Computer wrote an article last year about the dangers of predicting the future. It's very much worth the four minutes it'll take to read

Why predicting the future can be so dangerous

I wouldn't have agreed with this 10 years ago, however, looking back, I have to say he's right.

I would go even farther in my analysis than he does: We honestly thought we were doing great stuff for humanity and the planet back in the early days of online systems and the internet. We believed we would be 'democratizing information' and giving everyone a platform to have a voice.

And, to a degree, we succeeded. Clearly, we didn't think through the ramifications of that and we're experiencing the results now.

For that, I, personally, am deeply sorry.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sometimes old technology is the best solution to the problem

This is an interesting use of old technology to circumvent new technology restrictions by an oppressive government: the military in Myanmar. In this case, when the government shut down all internet, the people turned to Pirate Radio.

These are the messages of a psy-ops campaign called Operation Hanoi Hannah, one of many digital fronts opening against the military in Myanmar, whose creators said would be broadcast over pirate radio in hope of persuading soldiers and police to side with the people – and to not rely on the internet, which the authorities ordered shut down yesterday.

For the full story Click Here.

For an actual pirate radio guy in the US's blog click here.

For a pirate radio community on reddit, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2021

A great argument for having a public service broadcast company like the BBC in the US

On Public Service Broadcasting:

Public service broadcasting.

The BBCs remit is to serve the public. There have been several commissions over the years to define what "public service broadcasting" actually means. The most recent one reiterated some of the old definitions but added that part of it was to serve the needs of people who are not normally served content. This is why they show niche content. It's their purpose.

(If you want to know more about the benefits of public service broadcasting keep reading. It's all half remembered knowledge so sorry if I fuck anything up.)

This was part of the reason Channel 4 was created. The goal was that small cultures and subcultures within the UK would be served. Afro-Caribbean, Irish, Asian, Grime, Garage etc. That's why Father Ted (Irish) The Big Narstie Show (grime) The Kumars at no. 42 (Asian) and other shows were commissioned.

And guess what happened? They were successful! The prevailing wisdom was that you aim everything at the largest possible market. And more specifically with commercial television the richest, youngest market. But these shows could be huge.

What happened was they would capture a huge portion of these target markets and that was enough people to drive the other markets that the show wasn't aimed at to embrace it. 2 Irish lads in the office talking about how funny Fr. Ted is and soon enough it's one of the biggest shows in the country.

So what happened next? Commercial channels noticed. Moone Boy (irish) The Kumars(asian) on sky and other commercial channels and other shows tried to capture that success for monetary gain. Not to mention stuff that wasn't designed for minorities necessarily like natural history programmes and good quality current affairs content. Sky and Netflix now do great natural history series. It never would have made financial sense until Planet Earth was one of the most successful BBC series ever.

A good public service broadcasting system raised the quality of ALL broadcasting. It's a quantifiable and repeatable phenomenon. You could argue that the success of stuff like Black Panther and other content that would never have been made a few years previously has shown this phenomenon can absolutely work in America too.

I'm Irish, we have a relatively shitty public service broadcasting system compared to the UK but it has still had an unbelievable impact on our general broadcasting landscape.

I see so many people asking how you solve the huge issues in US media and I think the answer is a robust, independent and well funded public broadcasting service.

A rising tide raises all ships. One of the purposes of the government funding stuff is to try to show private enterprise that these things can be worthwhile. And even without the private sector you get amazing results from a service that is meant to serve the people. Even if only a few thousand people watch something the service has been successful and every so often the service can show commercial entities how to do it properly.

Anyways rant over. Sorry but believe it or not I'm quite passionate about public service broadcasting. PBS should be heavily funded by the US government and possibly exclusively. Of course the issue is independence. Even the mighty BBC is feeling the pinch of government interference (please fight this people of the UK). But with some safeguards you can prevent this from happening.

-Hyippy An Irish Reddit user

As an aside for those of you who say PBS is the same. No, it's not. It's a private corporation. It's funded almost entirely by donations that work a lot like advertising in the for profit world, which means big donors get to help decide what the programming is. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of PBS.

But it's biased by the same issues for profit broadcasting and media is.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

US and allies to build 'China-free' tech supply chain- We're heading into a very different phase of world history

US and allies to build 'China-free' tech supply chain

And so it begins.

You're watching the beginning of the splitting of the world into two major power centers that aren't that different than what we had before the 1990's with 'communist' Russia, China and their vassal states.

The difference is that it's fascism that's in charge now. China may call itself communist, but it operates just like Stalin's fascist-like extreme version of communism.

And Russia, well, Putin IS Stalin all over again. He's running a mafia state (i.e. fascist state) and has been for over a decade.

The only difference between Hitler's fascist/Nazi Germany and todays fascist states is they're better at handling information in general and the media in particular both inside and outside of their respective spheres of influence. Especially China.

This is going to completely disrupt commerce, politics, education and pretty much everything that's been developed the last 30 years or so that's global in nature. Late stage capitalism is showing it's cracks more and more.

It's also going to fuel a re-charging of the military industrial complex like we haven't seen in decades.

All that's old is new again.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Funding Local News

I recently wrote an email to a few colleagues (one an executive at Google, one an executive at McClatchy Newspapers and one to a fellow I've worked on and off with in various media entities over the years). This post is based on that email.

Just for fun, I worked out a 'thing' that's been running through my head for a few months now. Particularly the last few weeks with the insanity happening with our government.

It's also obvious that the consolidation of the existing private news infrastructure is more than a little problematic. It's become dangerous to our democracy. The far left publication Jacobin actually did a pretty well reasoned and not too far left in it's analysis of the situation in an article published this week titled "Capitalist Finance Is Incompatible With A Free Press'. 

With the Chicago Tribune's publishing company on the verge of being swallowed up by the hedge fund industry, capitalism’s ongoing destruction of the free press through downsizing and asset-stripping has become the number one threat to American democracy.

I believe one of the base issues with the threats to our democracy we see now is a lack of common understanding of what's happening, particularly at a local level, and one of the primary reasons for this is a lack of local news that provides local news, opinion, commentary and investigative reporting as well as connecting local businesses with local consumers.

But you know all this. My guess is you've already had these thoughts and, like I just did, run some numbers.

When I look at what it would take to create a national network of local news entities, it's not cheap, but, it's not THAT expensive either. Not in todays world where Airb-n-b hit's a $100B valuation on day one.

I came up with a cost of around $6.7B a year using a really simple model (simple can be good: occams razor solutions tend to work best).

With that money you could put a local virtual newsroom (no office, all online), like the compass experiment, with real staff in each town, focused on that town and building trust in the system in that town.

I'll bet that either a private consortium of billionaires with a social conscience, large companies with a guilt complex and government, if we positioned it as a key to how you fix our broken social and political system and was essential to saving our democracy (because it damn well is), could put together that kind of money reasonably easily. Either through commitments they make to support it, or funding an endowment ($115B earning 6% would throw off that much each year).

There's about $20 trillion (with a T) sitting, uninvested, right now. $42 trillion in the stock market. All just in the US.

Harvard and Yale, between them, have over $70B in endowment funds, for instance. That's just two institutions.

I know R-------'s doing a lot along these lines with Google, but, I'm not sure just one company can do something like this and have it be trusted by people. Not in todays 'Big Tech is scary' world. I also think the Compass Experiment* is thinking along these lines, but, I don't think a hedge fund owner with it's tendency toward predatory capitalism will have much interest (or capacity) either.

Alternatively, I also think you could fund it by creating a national tax of some sort that we all paid into. It would work out to about $3.58 a month per US worker in the country ($43 a year), assuming about 156M working people (2018 number). That's about what we each pay now for our local public libraries (usually via a tax as well; sales tax in our town. Property tax in many others).

Anyway, I know it's a little nuts. I just wanted to get my thoughts down and see if it even made sense to anyone else. Feel free to ignore this if you think it's too out there.

Note: everyone did respond and the conversation is ongoing.

I also, still, think the idea of creating a Library Information District that includes a newsroom built into the new 21st century Public Library, is more than a little viable. 

*Shortly after writing this to them, the Compass Experiment (a collaboration between McClatchy and Google) was disbanded. Apparently, the new hedge fund owners of McClatchy don't like Google and killed off the partnership.

Cryptocurrency, blockchain and the potential future authoritarian world it could create.

Cryptocurrency Might be a Path to Authoritarianism Extreme libertarians built blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power. It ...