Moneydick

Technology, Art, and Power

Law

Bitcoin and Morality

Bitcoin — a currency by most measures — is consistently framed as ‘amoral.’ Let’s think about why currencies are not compatible with morality.

An unethical or amoral use for a unit of exchange says nothing about the unit, and everything about the user. Those who don’t understand Bitcoin seem to think its uses make it good or bad. Cash, silver, gold, diamonds & bitcoins: These are units of value that can be used to purchase things no matter how the larger society perceives them.

The fact that you can buy drugs, guns, and assasinations, with Bitcoins is indisputable. Bitcoin was not built for the narrow purpose to purchase ‘illicit’ things. Teddy bears, maple syrup and beef jerky are all for sale. It was built to be a secure network of exchange, secured by the computing power of its participants. Sure, Bitcoin’s creator endowed its very DNA with an offhanded critique of our current banking system, but Bitcoin is at its core lacking an ethical or moral position.

I can’t blame Gawker headlines for this persistent problem when it comes to the common man’s perception of Bitcoin. The currency is scary once you get know it. Let me introduce you to a world using Bitcoin:

Transactions can be anonymous (1). Sending money from neighbor to neighbor or Alaska to Istanbul is instantaneous and free (2). Money can be stored with a memorized passphrase, or stored on paper in a vault (3). Only complete disconnection from the Internet can stop a transaction from occurring or disrupt the network (4).

This seems pretty liberating to say the least. But of course, with all disruptive technologies, one can forsee problems.

Can you see why I want Bitcoin to be understood correctly, free of moral relativism? It is a unique unit of value built for the Internet age which has been derided since the beginning. Placing a moral judgement upon what is essentially an open source algorithm is like calling a tomato evil. Learn more about Bitcoin here.

“What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.” – Protagoras

Notes:

  1. There are numerous mixing services.
  2. The double spend problem is real, but difficult to perform (read more). After 6 confirmations (usually after a few minutes) a transaction of coins from point to point can be reasonably trusted. See the comments for more discussion on this. A technical explanation.
  3. See Brainwallet. Pick a long, memorable phrase, and use that to generate a private and public key (this is printable).
  4.  The nodes, miners, and clients spread across the world make Bitcoin the largest distributed computing project ever. Ever.

Donations appreciated. Find me @danielmorgan.

Courageous Illinois Man Faces 75 Years In Prison For Recording Cops

This is an extremely important issue: Can citizens document what law enforcement does? (Yep)

Wild Executive Compensation for BART executives

A Freedom of Information act submitted by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Supervisory and Professional Union turned up some pretty wild spending on BART executive salaries and $27,000 of very unrelated/frivolous expenses like shoes, catering and outdoor gear from REI.  The full report can be found here: AFSCME – BARTReport (PDF) or check out the AFSCME site.

Among the items charged to, and paid for, by the District in 2008 are:

  • Over $27,000 in food and catering including:
    • $2,635.36 on Togo’s Sandwiches
    • $1,160 on See’s Candies
    • $953.05 on Roundtable Pizza
    • $1,300 at Performance POS, a fine dining company in the North Bay
    • $577.15 at Devan Thai Cuisine in Oakland
    • $493.14 on The Glass Onion gourmet catering
  • $23,487.77 spent at local Apple stores or Apple online stores (the District’s computer system is not compatible with Macs)
  • Over $15,000 in office furniture purchases from:
    • IKEA
    • Kantor’s Furniture
    • Interior Motions
  • Almost $6,300 on companies that make promotional items with corporate logos, such as pens, hats, mugs, or key chains.
  • $5,200 on Blackberry devices – or at least 50 new phones over the course of the year.
  • $1,629 on an “Angel Island Tram Tour”
  • Over $1,500 on shoes, shoe repairs, and bags or luggage, including:
    • Timbuk2
    • Tumi.com
    • Zappos.com.
  • Over $1,500 at the outdoor gear store REI.
  • $554.48 on eyeQ speed reading software.

And on the topic of executive compensation, we can find our good friend Linton Johnson (yeah, the guy who took the Constitution into his own hands):

What laws did BART break or bend on August 11th when they cut cell service?

by Stephen Rhodes

UPDATE: The FCC is now soliciting comments on this event. Please read up, then submit your comment

On August 11th, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority shut off cell service at multiple underground stations to disrupt a planned protest. This tactic has become common in totalitarian regimes like Syria, Tunisia, Iran & Egypt, but until last Thursday it has never been used in the United States. BART’s police Lieut. Andy Alkire called their action a “great tool to utilize.” Swift condemnation from groups like ‘No Justice, No BART‘, the ACLU and the EFF rained down.

There is no precedent for communication disruption by a government transportation authority in U.S. history, but it’s certain that laws were broken. Specifically, the California & U.S. Constitution, and the Communications Act of 1934 which is enforced by the FCC. For a good overview of the issues and recent news (especially regarding the protest on Monday Aug 15th which shut down all downtown BART stations), there’s an excellent overview at SFAppeal.

During an interview on CNN with Brooke Baldwin, Linton Johnson (Chief of Communications for BART) referred to cell service as an “amenity” and returned time and time again to an invented “Constitutional right to safety” or the right to get from “point A to point B”, both of which do not exist:

“They made us choose between people’s ability to use their mobile phones. An amenity that we provide–and our customer’s constitutional right to be able to get from point a to point b which is what we’re in business for…. [People made us] take the very tool that we put in place … the mobile phone as a safety tool.. to turn it around and use it against our customers to try to violate their constitutional right to safety.”

What BART specifically did:

Communications shut down: James Allison, Deputy Chief of Communications (aka Spokesman), told CNET that “BART staff or contractors shut down power to the nodes and alerted the cell carriers,” … “one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.”

Tweaking the first Amendment: BART has also released a statement that effectively limits what you can say & do within the turnstiles of the system:

“No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.” via Bart.gov

The statement by BART defines where ‘Free Speech’ is and isn’t protected:

BART accommodates expressive activities that are constitutionally protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Liberty of Speech Clause of the California Constitution (expressive activity), and has made available certain areas of its property for expressive activity.

This brings up an interesting issue: The access to realtime free speech. BART’s very time-focused disruption of communication effectively censored the realtime medium of speech, a medium that BART passengers have come to expect access to. In court cases where public safety conflicts with freedom of speech, if “imminent danger” is threatened by First Amendment activities, only then can right be violated. See “In re Hoffman [67 Cal. 2d 845]” where a disruption in a public-owned train station occurred. The case has nothing to say regarding restricting communication, only the physical location where free speech activities (which may disrupt train service) can occur. As of Aug 19th, BART requires a permit (Rules PDF) for free speech on BART property.

Since BART preemptively restricted (and restricts) First Amendment rights, we’re in a different world here, folks.

Also see “BART’s Protest Position Does Not Withstand Legal Scrutiny” by Jay Leiderman:

“BART, via Linton Johnson has accused the lawful protestors of actions that were imminently going to be lawless. Yet he fails to provide any support for this position. Most saliently, the facts of the BART protest do not come close to those raised in Brandenburg. Would he argue that the KKK, guns in hand, can advocate marching on Washington to take back their country for the white man is permissible, but standing on a platform in a Guy Fawkes mask with a protest sign is seditious and certain to create “imminent lawless action?”

Access to Emergency services: FCC best practices for wireless carriers states that users should have access to 911 and emergency calls. It is conceivable that BART would be held liable if they tampered with a carriers mandate to provide reliable 911 service. Note that BART did have on hand emergency personnel and dedicated ambulances according to a CNN interview.

As reported in the Christian Science Monitor, this has never happened before:

This may be the first time a government agency in the United States has ever deliberately disrupted cellphone service to defang planned protests, criminologist Casey Jordan told CNN. “I haven’t been able to find another incident in which this has happened,” she told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux Friday.
Iran used cell-phone-jamming technology to hobble protests in 2009, and Britain has considered doing so to thwart the social-media-driven riots that dogged London and other locales this week.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) forbids jamming cellphones (unless it is done by a Federal Agency), but BART’s move had a different legal context. Because the transit system contracts with five large telecommunications firms to provide underground and station service, BART did not use jamming technology, it simply turned off a service. From a practical standpoint, there  is no difference.

What laws were violated?

The California Constitution

From the California Constitution, the declaration of rights, Article 1, Section 2, (a) reads:

Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.

In 2011, ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’ can be expanded to Facebook and Twitter postings. BART restrained this right.

The First Amendment

Next up, The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which protects free speech, freedom of petition and the freedom of assembly. BART believes that ‘freedom areas’ can be created and enforced within public BART stations. Not the case. Some have wrongly argued that the U.S. Constitution also protects the right to travel or the right to safety. BART’s argument that their guarantee of safety or conveyance to passengers supersedes the first amendment right to free speech does not hold up.

Oops. One more: The Communications act of 1934, section 333

With regard to communication disruption, the FCC has begun an investigation into BART’s brilliant idea to unplug cell towers. There is clear language regarding the ‘Jamming’ of communications, and BART’s power down of cellular nodes falls under section 333:

“[n]o person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications of any station licensed or authorized by or under this Act or operated by the United States Government.”

If it actually was illegal to interfere with communications, then McDonalds could be held liable if they were to turn off their free WiFi. Intent is key here: BART turned off communications in a coordinated attempt to disrupt a lawful assembly. With regard to filing suit following a disruption to communications, the Act states that:

(v) Any person adversely affected by any final action or failure to act by a State or local government or any instrumentality thereof that is inconsistent with this subparagraph may, within 30 days after such action or failure to act, commence an action in any court of competent jurisdiction. The court shall hear and decide such action on an expedited basis.


The BART board: Who knew?

As the Austin chapter of EFF has uncovered, a meeting agenda containing the discussion item “THREAT TO PUBLIC SERVICES OR FACILITIES” was sent out on August 5th for an August 11th meeting.  A closed session on 9am of the 11th (the morning of the disruption) was likely when the board discussed — if they discussed it at all — any potential cellular service shutdown. BART board member Lynette Sweet said during an interview that in fact it was never discussed in a formal meeting:

“The BART board was alerted just a few hours before they planned to do this without having it as an agenda item. We really couldn’t talk much about it.”

So why was the board not involved? Or if it was, why did they let it happen? Did the Communications Director think it was a trivial decision?

What I expect to happen

Since both the ACLU and the EFF have determined that they will not file suit against BART, my only hope is that the FCC slaps a ‘don’t do that again’ judgement on BART to make clear that this won’t stand. Perhaps then (and I’m not holding my breath..) BART will fire some bad decision makers, retrain their trigger happy police force, and straighten up before they are hacked to pieces by Anonymous.

TakeApart.com has a good takeaway: “Possible Alternative Policy to Phone Jamming: BART might best serve itself, and the community, by instituting a policy against shooting people to death.” Stay tuned.

 

Please submit corrections to this email address. You should follow me on Twitter.

The ‘Assembly’ art project, a choreographed ‘mass visitation’ to disable a website

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks have recently become a mainstream term: A large number of computers overload a server with traffic in the attempt to disable it. A DDoS event can also be coordinated in the vein of Internet art. During the middle of October, jstchilln.org, for a project by Brad Troemel, proposed

“to drain the maximum amount of bandwidth or potentially freeze the website to a standstill […] On November 1st we encourage you to open as many tabs of Jstchillin.org as possible and leave them open all day. In doing so, participants may group together to temporarily remove this website’s existence on the Internet, putting a halt to its undesired effects on our community and the world at large.

A vote was taken to decide what website to ‘visit.’ What happened?

I had been following thejogging after discovering ‘Perfo Rmanceart‘, a Facebook user who conducted interesting and obnoxious online experiments like spamming the Guggenheim Museum’s Facebook page with links. thejogging was a stream of interesting experiments so when I saw the above page I went into my RSS reader and recorded the site’s final moments:

[iframe http://player.vimeo.com/video/18349005?byline=0&portrait=0&color=ffffff 563 422]

This kind of experiment interests me because it pushes the boundaries of Internet freedom and Internet art in a very public and well-documented way. In light of the DDoS attacks between Tumblr & 4chan and the more politically-motivated attacks against Paypal & Mastercard in response to their stance towards Wikileaks, this project is extremely interesting. Below is a bit more about this work:

  1. The artist’s statement at the beginning of the project
  2. A chronology of events and an essay written post-project: ‘Notes on Assembly’
  3. Brief interview with the artist, Brad Troemel, 12/2010.

(more…)

PFC Manning & Thoreau’s ‘machines of the state’

The Defense Blog for PFC Bradley Manning recently posted the details of Manning’s internment at Quantico, a military brig in VA. It’s disgusting:

He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.

He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

He does receive one hour of “exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning.

As a habitual comment-reader, the following quote by Henry David Thoreau in this comment was interesting:

This is why Thoreau’s observation on State goons is so poignant:
“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus,(7) etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs.”

And another posted a  poem by Erwin Markham which fueled Sidney Rittenberg to during time in a Chinese Prison in ’49:

They drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had the wit to win;

We drew a circle that took them in.

Recommended reading:

– “Is long-term Solitary Confinement Torture?” (Manning has been in for 5 months)

Solitary Confinement / google scholar

Today we salute Donovan for clearing up food bill e-rage (The Food Bill Modernization Act)

Not as shitty as some make it out to be...

Not as shitty as some make it out to be...

When sharp minds correct untruths on the Internet we must salute them. Today I salute Donovan Bramwell for clearing up the ‘Food bill makes sharing food illegal’ claim (it won’t). He spoke out on a terrible site whose domain I cannot utter here.  Quoted below in wonderful stream-of-consciousness-flow, we have the gem of truth every late night truth-seeker should stumble upon:

first, my qualifications: i am literate. i studied literature at the university and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree; i worked 18 years as a science/engineering writer/editor; i am a professional writer with experience in political writing.

i just now spent more time than i should have trying to sort this out. i reviewed S510 at the web site specified above, and i have come to the following tentative conclusions:

the World’s Prophecy article makes scary claims about the dangers of the bill without quoting a single phrase from the actual bill; i find this hugely offensive and irresponsible.

quoting the summary of the bill (as some of the reviewers above have done) is meaningless. the summary can say whatever it wants, and can easily consist of propaganda, and i believe that this particular summary does indeed consist of propaganda; the stuff that matters is in the text of the bill, not in the summary.

the snopes article cited above on this topic is not reliable. for one thing, the snopes article addresses HR875/S425, not S510, and though there are significant differences, i do not know what all of the differences are. snopes needs to revisit the topic and address the most recent version, which appears to be S510. snopes correctly discredits some outlandish claims about the dangers of the food safety modernization act, claims other than and more exaggerated than those made by the WP article above. however, snopes cites Rep. DeLauro’s myths and fact sheet for HR875, and i found the fact sheet to be plainly inaccurate in relation to S510. besides, Rep. DeLauro is the primary sponsor of the bill and clearly has a motive to promote it, disingenuously if need be. further, the snopes article fails to actually quote a single phrase from the bill that might actually support the claims of its opponents; such phrases do exist, even in HR875. Further, S510 includes provisions far more alarming to its opponents than any i was able to find in a quick review of HR875.

S510 plainly gives a lot of authority to the bureaucrats to write new regulations. this phenomenon is always a problem to people who cherish their freedom, and concern in this regard is fully justified.

S510 specifically applies to small businesses and even, in at least one instance, to “a very small business,” whatever that means. for example:

“(3) CONTENT.—The proposed rulemaking under paragraph (1) shall—
“(A) provide sufficient flexibility to be applicable to various types of entities engaged in the production and harvesting of raw agricultural commodities, including small businesses and entities that sell directly to consumers, and be appropriate to the scale and diversity of the production and harvesting of such commodities;
“(B) include, with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, packing, and storage operations, minimum standards related to soil amendments, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment, and water;
“(C) consider hazards that occur naturally, may be unintentionally introduced, or may be intentionally introduced, including by acts of terrorism;

another example:

(b) Regulations.
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (referred to in this Act as the “Secretary”) shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for conducting a hazard analysis, documenting hazards, implementing preventive controls, and documenting the implementation of the preventive controls under section 418 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (as added by subsection (a)).
(2) CONTENT.—The regulations promulgated under paragraph (1) shall provide sufficient flexibility to be applicable in all situations, including in the operations of small businesses.

another example:

(2) EXCEPTIONS.—Notwithstanding paragraph (1)—
(A) the amendments made by this section shall apply to a small business (as defined by the Secretary for purposes of this section, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act) after the date that is 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act; and
(B) the amendments made by this section shall apply to a very small business (as defined by the Secretary for purposes of this section, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act) after the date that is 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act.

i found evidence that S510 regulations that will apply to domestic food production will not apply to imported food. in other words, it is likely, for example, that imported food will be subject to regulations far more lax than those imposed on domestic producers, handlers, and marketers. specifically:

SEC. 404. COMPLIANCE WITH INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS.
Nothing in this Act (or an amendment made by this Act) shall be construed in a manner inconsistent with the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization or any other treaty or international agreement to which the United States is a party.

in summary: the fear mongers have a good case, but they represent themselves and their case very poorly, and thus detract significantly from their credibility.

thank you for your time and interest
donovan bramwell

No. Thank YOU for actually doing some reading and not retweeting something you know nothing about (I’m so guilty of that, but nevertheless you can find me on Twitter here.)

Essentially tomorrow we need to be certain the ‘Tester’ amendment (pdf) stays in there, or else small farms are going to have to go through a mess of extra paper work.

Read the bill.
Read more about this issue.
Print out a picture of Donovan.

Obama on Internet Freedom

obama-in-china

Recent remarks by President Obama on Internet freedom at a Townhall in China:

AMBASSADOR HUNTSMAN: That’s right. And not surprisingly, “in a country with 350 million Internet users and 60 million bloggers, do you know of the firewall?” And second, “should we be able to use Twitter freely” — is the question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter. I noticed that young people — they’re very busy with all these electronics. My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone. But I am a big believer in technology and I’m a big believer in openness when it comes to the flow of information. I think that the more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes, because then citizens of countries around the world can hold their own governments accountable. They can begin to think for themselves. That generates new ideas. It encourages creativity.

And so I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.

Now, I should tell you, I should be honest, as President of the United States, there are times where I wish information didn’t flow so freely because then I wouldn’t have to listen to people criticizing me all the time. I think people naturally are — when they’re in positions of power sometimes thinks, oh, how could that person say that about me, or that’s irresponsible, or — but the truth is that because in the United States information is free, and I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me, I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear. It forces me to examine what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis to see, am I really doing the very best that I could be doing for the people of the United States.

And I think the Internet has become an even more powerful tool for that kind of citizen participation. In fact, one of the reasons that I won the presidency was because we were able to mobilize young people like yourself to get involved through the Internet. Initially, nobody thought we could win because we didn’t have necessarily the most wealthy supporters; we didn’t have the most powerful political brokers. But through the Internet, people became excited about our campaign and they started to organize and meet and set up campaign activities and events and rallies. And it really ended up creating the kind of bottom-up movement that allowed us to do very well.

Now, that’s not just true in — for government and politics. It’s also true for business. You think about a company like Google that only 20 years ago was — less than 20 years ago was the idea of a couple of people not much older than you. It was a science project. And suddenly because of the Internet, they were able to create an industry that has revolutionized commerce all around the world. So if it had not been for the freedom and the openness that the Internet allows, Google wouldn’t exist.

So I’m a big supporter of not restricting Internet use, Internet access, other information technologies like Twitter. The more open we are, the more we can communicate. And it also helps to draw the world together.

Think about — when I think about my daughters, Malia and Sasha — one is 11, one is 8 — from their room, they can get on the Internet and they can travel to Shanghai. They can go anyplace in the world and they can learn about anything they want to learn about. And that’s just an enormous power that they have. And that helps, I think, promote the kind of understanding that we talked about.

Now, as I said before, there’s always a downside to technology. It also means that terrorists are able to organize on the Internet in ways that they might not have been able to do before. Extremists can mobilize. And so there’s some price that you pay for openness, there’s no denying that. But I think that the good outweighs the bad so much that it’s better to maintain that openness. And that’s part of why I’m so glad that the Internet was part of this forum. Okay?

via Whitehouse.gov

Winner of The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition [copyright]

Screen shot 2009-09-17 at 2.37.30 PM

70 years from the moment Jackson died, the (virtual) billboard can freely blast his songs… (via)

How does your country treat bikers?

Update: Since posting, I’ve learned that NYC does indeed provide helmets to bikers for free. Just Call 311!

While I’m on a byclist rights binge, thought I post a couple videos:

In Denmark, Cops hug and provide helmets to bikers.

In NY, cops tackle you?