Legacy Technology Censorship

censorshipLegacy technology companies, like the legacy media, continue to attempt to disrupt emerging alternative technologies. In early November of 2018, gab.com, the free speech Twitter alternative, was deplatformed from the internet by it’s hosting company, GoDaddy, and cut off by payment processor PayPal. A week later, gab was back online, hosted by epik. Epik’s founder and CEO, Robert W. Monster, posted about Why Epik Welcomed Gab.com:

De-platforming a haven of free speech is not about left or right. Anyone who remembers studying civics is familiar with the concept of inalienable rights — rights that a worthy government can only protect but would have no moral authority to take away. The idea of Natural Law and Inalienable Rights dates back to Ancient Greece, if not before. Tolerance for competing views — including those protected by Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press — is not an American concept even though the Founding Fathers of the United States built a prosperous nation around the concept.

Indeed, the right to free speech is enshrined in the US first amendment, the Canadian charter of rights, and the UN declaration of universal human rights. Companies like Google and Twitter are attempting to use their near monopoly positions to prevent legal speech on the internet. When legitimate alternatives like gab give a platform to anyone who is not breaking the law, other high tech companies like GoDaddy, PayPal, and Joyent take away their right to exist on the internet and to accept payment for services.

Another platform, BitChute.com, had their ability to accept donations revoked by PayPal. They are currently looking for an alternate payment processor. You can read their statement here: BitChute’s Immediate Removal from PayPal. According to it, PayPal gave no specific reason for their termination, but “It’s our belief that it is our stand against the current trend in censorship that has resulted in this action.”

Meanwhile, since CNN released a hit piece on the MGTOW (men going their own way) movement, Google’s YouTube has demonitized (prevented from receiving ad revenue) a score of MGTOW channels. It seems the days when advertisers were willing to allow YouTube to put their ads in front of the users most likely to buy their products is over. In order to avoid outrage over ideas that some don’t like, Google is willing to stab content creators in the wallet. Then, when an alternative platform is started up, Google’s pal PayPal attempts to shut it down.

While BitChute seeks a new payment processor, gab has turned to cryptocurrency, with an ICO (initial coin offering) to investors. Minds.com, a FaceBook alternative, uses the Ethereum cryptocurrency on the site. Finally, Akasha, which is a completely distributed social network that stores meta-data in a block chain and content in the IPFS (inter planetary file system) continues to improve.

It’s beginning to look like its no longer if but when we will see a mass migration to distributed computing and cryptocurrency. Tor and cryptocurrency have already found one killer application in the black market. If payment processors begin banning porn sites, this could fuel the adoption of cryptocurrency in a way we haven’t yet seen. In the words of Princess Leia:

“The more you tighten your grasp, the more sites will slip through your fingers.”

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Denying Guilt Proves Guilt?

guilty-til-provenThe CBC has a new article titled How to spot a pattern of denials in the #MeToo movement. This article seems to make the astonishing claim that denying one’s guilt is actually evidence that one is guilty. Yes, the progressives have become the new inquisition.

When Brett Kavanaugh denied sexual assault allegations, attacked his accuser’s memory, and then described himself as being the victim of a conspiracy — several psychologists knew what they were seeing: DARVO, which stands for deny, attack, and reverse victim order. The term was coined by a research team at the University of Oregon and the University of California, Santa Cruz, who identified the pattern alleged abusers use to deflect attention away from themselves and back to the person making the accusation.

Which is exactly what someone who is falsely accused should do. Assuming the accuser is lying, the “victim order” is not being reversed. False accusers are not victims.

University of Oregon psychology professor and Stanford fellow Jennifer Freyd, said that the reason it gets used frequently is that it works. “I did not expect … that so many people actually found the DARVO convincing. But it makes sense. I mean that’s why people use it,” said Freyd.

What? If you doubt an accusation brought against someone–which you should, if you believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty–why wouldn’t you assume their denial is credible and their attack on their accusers justified, until you see evidence against them?

However, she said that the number of people who are inclined to believe a DARVO response, lessens significantly as soon as they understand its mechanics. For example, Freyd identified Kavanaugh as someone who used this aggressive retort to shift blame away from himself when accused of sexual harassment by Christine Blasey Ford and other women.

Of course he reacted aggressively. His accusers were attempting to ruin his life. I would expect him to act this way whether or not he was guilty.

“The drinking age was 18 in Maryland for most of my time in high school and was 18 in D.C. for all of my time in high school. I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer. But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

If someone makes the accusation that you drank a lot, then implies that this is evidence that you committed an assault, this seems like the correct way to defend yourself.

“Dr. Ford’s allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a longtime friend of hers. Refuted.”

If her accusation is false, again this seems to be the correct thing to say. If there is evidence that the allegation is not false, it should be brought.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

If you are claiming that false witness is being born against you, providing a motive for the one doing so seems to a good idea. I find his argument weak, but I understand why Kavanaugh made it.

Freyd asserted that while not everyone accused of an accusation is guilty, DARVO is not a good way to defend your innocence. “You don’t have to respond defensively to an accusation, whether you’ve done it or have not done it. And a non-defensive response can really move people,” said Freyd.

Freyd asserts that if you are wrongfully accused, you should not defend yourself. While that might work in a fair judicial system, it seems a ridiculous defence in the kangaroo court of public opinion. I fail to see how she can argue with Kavanaugh’s results.

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Censorship, gab.ai, and the Blockchain

censorshipForbes has an article commenting on The Alt-Right’s Favorite Social Network Gab’s Plan To Use Blockchain To Make Itself Indestructible. I’ll comment briefly on the hypocrisy of blaming Gab for the comments of its users while giving Google, Facebook, and Twitter a free pass, but I find the future of Gab the more interesting feature.

There’s no better example of the power, and the terror, inspired by blockchain than Gab.com, the social network used by the accused Pittsburgh synagogue gunman to threaten Jews.

I think the use of blockchains to create untraceable currencies used on the silk road to buy and sell assassination services if a far better example.

About a month and a half before the alleged gunman made good on those threats by opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killing 11 people, Gab submitted paperwork to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise $10 million via an initial coin offering (ICO). The offering, dated September 18, 2018, has so far received commitments to raise $5.6 million in capital for the “free speech” social network, which is a favorite of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other members of the “alt-right.”

The reason Gab is popular with the alt-right is that it allows free speech. Anyone is free to use Gab to say anything that is legal. In fact, Gab came under fire recently for violating their own principles for banning lolicon (Japanese art depicting young girls in a sexualized context).

Since the shooting on Saturday, Gab has been shut down by a host of mainstream services including payment processors Stripe and Paypal, Web-hosting company Joyent and briefly, domain registry GoDaddy.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it seems that the same censorious mob that chased Alex Jones off social media are now doing the same to Gab.

But that might not matter, because Gab has already taken the first step toward freeing itself from dependence on traditional infrastructure and support mechanisms, thanks to its funding via the ethereum blockchain. Ultimately Gab’s goal is to build an entire ecosystem beyond the reach of centralized authorities—whether Facebook, Twitter or venture capitalists—making it nearly indestructible. On this, the tenth anniversary of the publication of Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper, which gave birth to bitcoin, Gab epitomizes the darker consequences of his vision.

As I said before, funding a free speech alternative to Twitter is hardly in the same league as enabling the hiring of assassins on the silk road.

Gab’s ICO is a vivid demonstration of blockchain’s ability to let people raise money anonymously outside of mainstream financing. But Gab and others now have access to even more powerful tools that could make centralized servers, domain managers, and much of the internet infrastructure as we know it obsolete.

Well, if Stripe and Paypal cut you off, where else would you turn to? If these companies continue to decide what we aren’t allowed to buy using their services, I could see Ethereum becoming the new currency of electronic commerce in time.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to accomplish is to cut out the middleman,” said Gab co-founder and CEO Andrew Torba on a Bitcoin Uncensored episode last year. “I want to see VCs tremble, just crumble.

Makes sense. If your users can reach your service with an application, you don’t need a web site. If you can accept payments via Ethereum, you don’t need Paypal. And if you can raise crypto-currency, you don’t need a venture capitalist. Of course, non of these things is as easy as the “mainstream” alternative, but necessity is the mother of invention.

If it weren’t for Andrew Torba’s associations with the alt-right, his success in tech might be heralded. A Moosic, Pennsylvania, native who graduated from the University of Scranton in 2013, Torba caught the attention of the storied Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator after he created an automated advertising company called Kuhcoon, Inc. Torba’s startup received seed funding from the incubator as a graduate of Y Combinator’s winter Class of 2015.

Torba’s association with the alt-right is that he allows them to use his product without censoring them. This is the same relationship that the telephone company has with the alt-right.

Those dreams fell apart when after the 2016 presidential campaign, Torba, whose company had been renamed Automated Ads, was kicked out of the Y Combinator alumni network for taunting fellow members on Facebook. “I helped meme a president into office, cucks,” flamed Torba, known to wear a green MAGA hat, admitting he spread Trump endorsements over the internet during the months leading up to the presidential election.

Ooh, he endorsed a politician. How edgy.

In August 2016, Torba launched Gab, citing censorship by Facebook, Twitter and Reddit as examples of why he founded the ad-free social network. His initial funding came solely from donations. Almost from the start, membership on Gab took off like a rocket despite that fact that it was rejected by Apple’s App store and Google Play. In July 2017 Torba told the controversial Bitcoin Uncensored host Chris Derose that Gab had 200,000 users. By the time Gab filed its paperwork to use the ethereum blockchain to raise capital, the number of users had almost doubled to 394,000. In an updated SEC filing from last month, that number had grown to 635,000 people. It reportedly now has around 800,000 users.

Now that Gab’s website has been deplatformed, I wonder how badly they will be hurt. Infowars.com became more popular than ever when Jones was deplatformed.

According to Torba, it wasn’t just Google Play and Y Combinator who shunned him, but also venture capitalists who “blacklisted” him, preventing Gab from realizing its true potential and scaling even more rapidly. So Torba sought out StartEngine, a crowdfunding website launched in 2014 that had been taking advantage of Obama’s Jobs Act exemptions to help companies sell equity to small investors. In 2018, StartEngine launched a new ICO funding service, which Torba quickly signed up for.

Makes sense.

Starting in January, Gab offered 2 million tokens issued on the ethereum blockchain at a price of $5 each. According to the most recent SEC documents, a fully subscribed offering would give token investors a 12.5% ownership stake in Gab while Torba and his cofounders would retain the rest. Despite blockchain’s promise of democratization, Gab token holders have no voting rights. Based on the StartEngine website, Gab has so far sold tokens to 1,820 holders, committing $5,630,502.64.

Hopefully Torba has a plan that will let him deal with the fact that gab.ai is under attack.

In terms of financials, Gab’s most recent filings show that it had gross revenues of $93,260 in 2017, mostly from premium subscription services that allow its members to monetize their audiences. Despite donations of more than $116,000, Gab was still losing money at the end of 2017, according to its offering statement. Operating costs were reported to be $364,676, including $65,000 in salary for Torba.

Hence the need to raise money.

While the world has come to know the social network as a place where extremists like the synagogue killer could gather and swap hate speech, the company, as it describes itself in Securities and Exchange Commission documents, paints a very different picture.

Probably because the picture painted for the world by the mainstream media is fake news.

The offering documents portray Gab as a supporter of free speech and a defender of “the free flow of information,” mirroring in many ways the rhetoric increasingly used by promoters of blockchain to describe the democratizing benefits of the new technology:

“We empower creators, support free speech and defend the free flow of information online. We stand for bringing folks together of all races, religions, and creeds who share in the common ideals of Western values, individual liberty and the free exchange and flow of information. Our mission is to provide people with the tools they need to create and shape their own experience.”

And this does indeed reflect Gab more accurately than the media’s smear job.

What tools? GabTV, for example allows members the ability to build followers and tip revenue by streaming video programming on Gab’s platform.

I’ve heard that this technology is less than stellar at this point. However, due to censorship by Twitch, some content providers have been driven to GabTV.

Today, Gab tokens are still being sold on StartEngine.

Why wouldn’t they be?

Earlier this week, as the FBI and Department of Justice investigated the Pittsburgh shootings, Paypal, Stripe, Joyent and GoDaddy terminated service to Gab. In a post on his disabled website, Torba claims the company is cooperating with the authorities “to bring justice to an alleged terrorist.”

Four technology companies colluded to deplatform Gab even though the company was cooperating fully with the authorities.

Of course, Torba hasn’t stopped ranting against the establishment. “No-platform us all you want. Ban us all you want. Smear us all you want,” he says on Gab’s homepage in response to being shut down. “You can’t stop an idea.”

You cannot prevent free speech forever. The Soviets tried. Now big technology and the mainstream media are doing their best to slow it down as much as they can.

Torba may be right. There are blockchain alternatives to every single service currently disabling Gab. Paypal and Stripe may not want Gab using their services, but Gab can easily accept payments directly using bitcoin, ethereum, or privacy cryptocurrencies like zcash and monero.

Correct. Blockchain currencies are also becoming increasingly easier to use.

And Gab can also use other blockchain services if mainstream providers try to kick it off the internet by refusing to provide critical services. If Gab needs to replace GoDaddy for domain service (the addresses people use to find websites), Ethereum Name Service provides domains for decentralized applications built on the ethereum blockchain. Web hosting? No problem. Ethereum’s Substratum provides a decentralized alternative to Joyent. Others have already pioneered the idea. PeepEth is a nascent ethereum-powered social network, and Mastadon is a blockchain-based Twitter.

In creating an unserved market (of sites like infowars.com and gab.ai), censorious technology companies are creating their own competition.

If navigating all of those blockchain alternatives seems daunting, Gab and other blacklisted entities could simply tap into Blockstack, which is creating an entire stack of Web services designed to create an uncensorable web. Earlier this year Blockstack, which is backed by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, announced $1 million in grants specifically for social networks that could one day put Facebook and other centralized social networks out of business.

Kind of a blockchain/free speech version of Amazon web services.

As we mark the tenth anniversary of bitcoin’s birth, it may not be the corrupt banks and totalitarian regimes envisioned by Satoshi that we should be fearing most, but the dark corners of the internet and the dark minds that inhabit them.

I fear corrupt banks and totalitarian regimes a whole lot more than I fear a site that allows free speech. By deplatforming Gab, the establishment is merely insuring that the white nationalists move to a platform that is more difficult to monitor. This reminds me of the destruction of Napster, which led to bitorrent and the never ending game of whack-a-mole between copyright holders and torrent sites. Destroying Gab will only lead to new sites that don’t have the standards that Gab did.

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Review of “Mercury Rising”

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mercury-risingMercury Rising is a mediocre thriller about an idiot savant, Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes), who is able to break a top secret US military code. When the NSA man in charge of the code, Lt. Col. Nick Kudrow (Alec “The Shadow” Baldwin), finds out, he targets the boy for assassination, wiping out his entire family. FBI agent Art Jeffries (Bruce “McClane” Willis) goes rogue to protect Lynch.

This is a straightforward thriller. What has become a Hollywood trope, the exceptional autist, which was fresh when it was done in Rain Man, has too much time spent on it. The romantic subplot with love interest Stacey (Kim Dickens) seems tacked on simply to serve the plot and is completely unbelievable.

While Mercury Rising passed the time, I can’t recommend it.

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Review of “A Wrinkle in Time”

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wrinkleI read A Wrinkle in Time in high school. It was a decent young adult fantasy. The Disney film attempts to capture it’s air of wonder and dark fantasy in bringing it to the screen, but manages to produce something that’s just OK. Through most of the film, I found myself thinking that the director,  Ava DuVernay, was trying too hard.

The main character Meg is well played by Storm Reid. I found the actor chosen to play her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) a bit wooden. He was probably the most important casting choice other than Reid. The three angels are all miscast/misplayed. Reese “Elle” Witherspoon is overly gushy as Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling is annoying as Mrs. Who, and Oprah is solid as Mrs. Which, but not nearly dark and scary enough.

The film does a good job with the It (David Oyelowo) and its world. It’s hard to say what doesn’t work. I think that it’s probably the tone. There is too much focus on awe, and not enough on the confusion and fear that the main characters, Meg and her side kick Calvin (Levi Miller) should be feeling as they are torn from their world and taken across time and space.


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Meritocracy is not Sexism

robert-borkCanadian Donna Strickland has one the Noble prize for physics. Instead of celebrating, the CBC’s Emily Chung laments that the Rare Nobel Prize win by a woman is a ‘stark reminder’ of sexism in physics. Is she implying that Strickland didn’t deserve to win and the physicists are sexist toward more deserving men?

A woman won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the first time in 55 years. But while Tuesday’s announcement is good news that could inspire young girls and women who aspire to be physicists, it highlights the sexism that endures in physics.

OK, so its good news. How then does it highlight sexism, considering that a woman, not a man, won? If Strickland was passed over for a man who made a lesser discovery, I could understand such a statement.

Canadian Donna Strickland, an associate professor in physics at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, became the third woman ever to win what is widely considered the top honour in her field. She and her former mentor, Gé​rard Mourou, split half of the $1.29-million award for an important discovery in the field of laser physics that led to the development of laser eye surgery to correct myopia.

Sounds like a worthy discovery.

American Arthur Ashkin took the other half of the award for a separate discovery in the same field. He invented “optical tweezers” that can grab tiny particles such as viruses without damaging them.

This also sounds pretty awesome.

I have a hard time imagining there haven’t been women worthy of the prize in those 55 years.– Christin   Wiedemann , past president of  the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology

Well, Christin, discoveries are a matter of record in all sorts of publications (the journal of Physics for example). Why don’t you find some examples of more deserving women who lost in their back issues before smearing the men who won?

In response to criticism about the predominance of white male prizewinners, the Nobel Foundation is asking nominators for 2019 prizes to consider their own biases when putting forth nominations.

Good for them. Every discovery should be considered on its merit.

On Monday, Alessandro Strumia, a high-energy physicist at Italy’s University of Pisa, was suspended by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, after giving a seminar last week at a workshop on “High Energy Theory and Gender” that the organization deemed “highly offensive” and “unacceptable in any professional context.”

I’d comment about what he had to say, but all I could find were articles attacking him. What follows is commentary from a BBC article, Cern scientist: ‘Physics built by men – not by invitation’.

At a workshop organised by Cern, Prof Alessandro Strumia of Pisa University said that “physics was invented and built by men, it’s not by invitation”.

Well, it was certainly built by men. And, being that it is science, it is not by invitation. You need to show that you are truly able to contribute. If you can’t, you don’t deserve credit.

He said male scientists were being discriminated against because of ideology rather than merit.

Feminists have been attacking the gender imbalance in the STEM fields for years. I believe him.

Prof Strumia has since defended his comments, saying he was only presenting the facts. Cern, the European nuclear research centre, described Prof Strumia’s presentation as “highly offensive”.

That is not an argument. Are they saying he was incorrect?

He produced a series of graphs which, he claimed, showed that women were hired over men whose research was cited more by other scientists in their publications, which is an indication of higher quality.

This would seem to back up his claim that men are being discriminated against. Were these graphs incorrect?

He also presented data that he claimed showed that male and female researchers were equally cited at the start of their careers but men scored progressively better as their careers progressed.

Scientific papers are cited based on their merit as the basis for new work. If his data is correct, this means that men are producing more valuable science than women. Is the accuracy of his data being disputed?

Prof Strumia pointed to behavioural research which he suggested may account for the disparity.

Men and women do behave differently.

One study, he told his audience, indicated that “men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people” and another, he claimed, suggested that there was a “difference even in children before any social influence”.

This seems reasonable.

Prof Strumia said that these conclusions may “not be fully right… (but) the opposite assumption of identical brains is ideology”.

The brains of men and women are not identical.

As evidence of discrimination against male researchers, Prof Strumia claimed that “Oxford University extends exam times for women’s benefit” and “Italy offers free or cheaper university for female (research) students”.

I heard about the extension of exam times for women at Oxford. Is his claim that tuition is lower for women in Italy in dispute?

Dr Jessica Wade, a physicist at Imperial College London who was at the meeting, told BBC News that Prof Strumia’s analysis was simplistic, drawing on ideas that had “long been discredited”.

How so? The news from Oxford is only a year old. If Wade wants to dismiss Strumias claims as “long discredited”, she should be specific.

“It was really upsetting to those at the workshop,” she said.

Facts don’t care about your feelings.

Here are some more claims presented by Strumia:

  • There are scholarships for women only
  • Melbourne University has STEM positions for women only
  • In many places, administrations want 50% women regardless of merit.
  • Women are preferred 2:1 for STEM faculty tenures
  • The European Research Council (ERC) has a 40% gender quota

When the BBC contacted Prof Strumia he said: “People say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn’t, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so.”

If his claims are in dispute, why not refute them?

Last month, Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell told the BBC she believed that unconscious bias against women prevented them from getting jobs in physics research.

Based on what evidence? It seems that the opposite is true if Strumia’s claims are correct.

“Physics has not at all been built by men,” Wiedemann said, “but men have gotten all the glory in the past, and that’s what we need to change.”

Bullshit. The vast bulk of physics was built by men. If you want credit, you have to do the science.

Ivie coauthored a study five years ago looking at the fact that all 57 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics between 1990 and 2013 were men. Given the rate of physics PhDs being awarded to women, they calculated that the chance of having only male winners during that period was less than two per cent.

Presumably this assumes that men and women who get PhDs in physics are equally likely to make discoveries worthy of the prize. Since discoveries are published, if the dominance of males is due to bias, she should be able to point to the women whose discoveries were passed over.

“This is not a problem that can be fixed by women,” Ghose said. “It’s more of a structural, systemic problem, and unless we get everybody involved we’re not going to be able to deal with it.”​

If you want more women to win the Nobel, setting quotas will not help. If the Nobel prize ceases to be awarded based on merit (as has happened to the peace prize), it will suffer the same fate as the Oscars. Only things that truly have merit will stand the test of time.

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Review of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”

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Benicio Del Toro is back as Alejandro, a lawyer turned sicario (hit man) after his family was killed by the Mexican drug cartels. This time around, his CIA handler, Matt Graver (Josh “Thanos” Brolin) has been given the go ahead to start a war between the cartels, and to do so, kidnaps cartel boss Carlos Reyes’s daugher Isabel (Isabela Moner). Things go horribly wrong when their Mexican police escort turn on them and Graver’s men are forced to kill them.

The relationship between Isabel and Alejandro, which is the centerpiece of this sequel, works well. Unfortunately, the plot is bare bones, and lacks the mystery of the original. Like the first film, there is a separate plot thread that links up with the main thread in the end. However, that ending was unsatisfying, unlike the excellent ending of the first film. If you liked the first film, you may enjoy this one too, but expect less.

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