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Internet Culture Politics

Day 326 and The Long Now

A culture lacking optimism is a culture without a future. Even before the pandemic, American youth had plenty of reasons to temper their optimism. Inequality, corporate dominance, rising debt particularly for school, unaffordable housing, lack of social support for family, the changing climate and the frequency of natural disasters all tend to weigh on you.

I’m a optimistic person so I always presumed I’d find a way around things. And I largely did. I got an education. I started my own company. I sold it. I found I had developed a valuable skill set. I met a man through one of my best friends and we got married. All was well in my American dream for many years.

But cracks had always been there. Little details that made me question common cultural, social and political assumptions. I discovered the limits of modern medicine with a chronic disease. I saw the disaster that financialization could wreck on families with a bankruptcy. I wasn’t naive about the systems and their their inequalities.

But the knowledge that the future could be worse than today wears on you. Once you start living in a liminal state it gets worse. The pandemic made it harder for me to believe in the future because the present became a holding pattern. Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory calls this The Long Now.

The more we put off investing in a future the more the long now stretches on. We borrow against all the things that could build us a better tomorrow. And we fall back. We put doing things that would make our future better because it’s rational to do so. What if things get worse?

I’m tired of living in the long now. I’m investing in myself. I have been investing in my body and my health. And I’m ready to invest in a home. Not because I particularly want to own property but because I want to stop the long now and believe that my future is something I can build.

Categories
Politics

Day 245 and Vigilante Justice Is Not Justice

Texas seems determined to make itself unfriendly to business as it thumbs it’s nose at the basic idea of the rule of law. You know the kind of thing where it applies equally to all of us and it isn’t in the hands of private citizens to carry out vigilante justice? Yeah that thing that makes America great. The SB8 abortion bill should concern everyone regardless of their views on abortion. Here is a TLDR if you aren’t following the news.

Every element of this law was written to weaponize the courts and will allow literally anyone to abuse and harass the vulnerable without ramification. Shit like this undermines the rule of law for all of us. And if you think this won’t be the blueprint for many further laws, by both the left and right, you are deluding yourself. Populism isn’t big on principles.

I believe in the rule of law. I would never live in a state that is intentionally enabling the abuse and harassment of its citizens. Texas is rapidly making itself an i hospital place for democracy.

It is not just that they have created the private right of action, it is that every element of the law has been written to be as painful for the defendant as possible and as consequence free for the plaintiff, regardless of how bad faith the complaint may be. The right used to care about frivolous lawsuits. Businesses still do. All startups should oppose this bill independent of their views on abortion. This is bad for business.

The precedent that this is setting in developing laws that allow the courts to be used for such blatant and consequence-free attacks should be particularly concerning for startups as they do not have the money or teams to defend against frivolous lawsuits. Current-day Uber could deal with the harassing lawsuits but your 25 person startup can’t. This privileges big business so there is a lens through which this simply further entrenches dominant corporations.

The entire aim of the populist and theocratic right is to create a convoluted mess of weaponized legislation to punish and harass anyone they do not like. A good example of this was pointed out by Mike Masnick in that under the populist’s right ideal version of this abortion and their social media bill that they are considering, if someone posted on Facenook how to get an abortion then Facebook would get sued for leaving that information up but would also be liable for taking it down. Which one is it guys?

I think the curbing of the voting franchise is part of the same trend. Using convoluted legal policy to further your religious or political ends undermines the rule of law upon which businesses rely.

It is a truism that one should only give powers to the government that you are happy with your worst enemy wielding. This is why I am a small government conservative. Is anyone happy with their worst enemy wielding vigilante justice?

The issue even pro life people should have with this precedent, is that people on the left can use the exact same model to attack constitutional rights they do not like such as gun rights. Just as the right is dodging the protections of Roe, the left could use the same technique to dodge the protections of Heller. Not great Bob!

It is a bad precedent because if something that is so clearly political where the specific intent of the law is to allow private parties to use the courts to harass people they do not like, if that works, and it achieves their end, then this is a model that will get replicated in other areas. Imagine if you are a business. No reasonable business wants to endure this type of unpredictable risk.

The law is meant to treat everyone equally, it is not meant to further religious or political aims. We are not a banana republic. This bill undermines the fundamental rule of law. All right minded people should oppose it.

Categories
Finance Startups

238 and DAO Ethics

Are smart contracts freeing us from the tyranny of the legal class just to toss us into the maws of the developer class? Sure we think of lawyers as being inherently worse because they are bourgeois and protected by credentialism and regulatory capture.

But as crypto gets more complex and smart contracts involve more intricate provisioning ,will it become just as exclusionary as the ecosystem of white shoe magic circle legalese? It’s getting to be mighty hard to afford Solidity developers!

Sure we tend to think of developers as friendly self trained indie types. Anyone can learn to code! Let us not lean on heavily on the benefits of decentralization as a panacea for human nature. Power aggregates and money likes influence.

When describing the benefits of how DAOs will outflank traditional corporate governance structures we need to look out for how we avoid the self interest of a protected class of Mandarins forming. We need to think ahead on how to keep smart contracts legible. I don’t have any of the answers here. Governance is just barely coalescing in crypto but it’s never to soon to think ahead.

Categories
Finance

Day 225 & Explaining DAOs to Moms

My mother is a sharp woman. She’s interested in economics but if you asked her to explain securities law she’d probably shrug. Not her expertise. She did survive our family bankruptcy during the tech IPO implosion she’s got a slight intuition of securities law in the context of consumer protection but that’s about it.

So I was impressed that she was able to sum up the recent infrastructure bill’s attempt to make crypto foot the bill very neatly.

So they are trying to convince us that people who program computers to run math problems are actually bankers?

That’s…actually not too far off. She seemed to grok that this was a misunderstanding of the basic technology, who builds it and it’s purpose. She was glad the amendment didn’t pass. Clearly people who build computer applications are not the same as the guy at Charles Schwab who looks after her retirement account.

We were discussing it, as I was trying to explaining PR DAO and why I wanted to help organize an activist group of folks whose purpose was execute public relations campaigns to tell stories about crypto. I explained to her that rather than having a bunch of executives who make decisions we would write a set of rules that automatically determine how we make decisions. Those rules would let all members of the organization vote on how we wanted to deploy our assets and pursue our agenda. She liked the tag line “rules not rulers” a lot. She’s pretty into freedom. A smart contract was pretty intuitive to my mom.

Where she got confused was the governance tokens. Not how they worked. Again it was intuitive to her that depending on what you contributed and how invested you were in the organization that you would a different say in what got done. Maybe each token represents one vote. Maybe some people have more votes because they are more invested. Presumably we figure that out in our smart contract. What she didn’t get was why the government thinks a voting mechanism is a security.

“So the government treats the way your group organizes decision making as if those little voting symbols were stock in IBM? That’s fucking stupid”

Now granted my mother probably can’t explain what a security is (she’s got the basic idea that they are like a type of money and Boomers like to own stocks). She gets why they are regulated the way they are in a general sense. She’s lost money on badly governed companies. So sure it’s fine that the government has some rules for that sort of thing.

But even to a lay person like my mom it seems pretty clear that something meant to represent ownership in a money making enterprise and something meant to help organize voting and decision making are separate ideas. She seemed to think maybe they ought to distinguish between the two ideas. Because you know the last time we came up with clever ideas like the corporation the whole world changed. Evolving them again to be autonomous could make for the same level of change. If my mom got that in a half an hour phone call seems like maybe the professionals at the SEC could work it out too.

Categories
Chronic Disease Politics

Day 142 and Optimism

The pandemic has done more to improve my life than to it has hurt it. I have a little survivors guilt as I am not far from family and friends that have suffered but I was lucky. Part of my luck has been tied to my privileged place in society. I was able to enjoy housing flexibility and leave behind an expensive city apartment for a townhouse in my hometown. I was always able to work from home with little fear my income would be impacted by disease or even negative secondary effects. Nevertheless I haven’t felt much optimism until recently.

Part of my lack of optimism has been tied to my health challenges. It’s been two years of working to get a diagnosis, stabilize my spine, and get the secondary symptoms controlled. There were low points when drug regimens didn’t work. Or when it seemed like the fatigue or pain would keep my life away even when primary concerns were improving. I was genuinely terrified going into the pandemic as it did cut off my access to typical doctors visits and more hospital setting delivered care.

But I’ve found significant improvement over the past six months thanks to excellent remote care I was able to receive from functional medicine doctors. It’s almost as if with the operational and physical logistics of care removed the actual outcome of my care improved. I was able to get to the heart of a diagnosis and hone in on effective treatment protocols more quickly. Thanks to this improvement I’ve come to find my optimism again.

Not that I think the world is getting better. If anything I’m far more worried about the many axis of American failure. Our politics has become authoritarian. Our economy increasingly serves only the entrenched and already wealthy. Our interest in mitigating climate change remains low. It’s so bad the best we can do is chuckle at why millennials don’t have kids. It’s because they are selfish right? Nothing to do with how hard it is to trust that the system will ever work for you so why bother investing in the future?

But I am intrigued by the opportunities afforded by the chaos. There is money to be made adjusting us to new realities. Maybe by dint of accidental or unexpected changes we find innovations that change our world. Maybe those will be for the better. And maybe I can help nudge along the better outcomes. And for the first time in a while o believe my body will be up for the challenge. It’s nice to be optimistic.

Categories
Finance Politics

Day 135 and 4 Quadrants of Crypto

I’m on my own this weekend so I had some time to listen to podcasts on my daily walk. I stupidly decided to listen to a podcast entitled “best crypto debate ever” which was vastly overselling both participants capacity to engage in productive debate. Not because either wasn’t smart but simply because they were both approaching the topic from entirely different vantage points. One had reasonably well founded concerns about about the how existing powers will fight to preserve their interests and the other was too fixated on proving that the market was the only player that matters. I am beginning to think that crypto, and in particular Bitcoin, is having a “blind men and the elephant problem” that makes discourse challenging.

I’m not pretending to have a full understanding of the future of cryptocurrencies or Bitcoin, merely articulating to myself as an exercise (it’s my blog after all but maybe my thinking helps you too) the four expertises required to wrap one’s mind around how cryptocurrency will evolve and what consequences we need to consider. Because there are no “right” answers at the moment merely different vantage points to consider as we stumble into the future.

1. Macroeconomic: understanding central banking, treasuries, monetary policy and macroeconomic actors is a specialized skill set. I studied it at arguably the best university on the planet for the subject and I still find the ins and outs to be heady stuff. Who decides what money is worth? When do we change those valuations? How does one country’s currency impact another’s? You hear a lot of buzzwords tossed around like “rules not rulers” but the practicalities of it are in fact hard problems. Just tossing off that you think “fiat currency” is bad isn’t enough.

2. Geopolitical: governments need money to provide services and security which makes them economic actors in addition to being political ones. America’s political ambitions are distinct from China’s. How we make make our money and how we spend it both at home and abroad will affect how we perceive other currencies. You need to understand things like how the dollar’s reserve currency status operates (ideally it’s history) to even begin to understand the geopolitical implications of cryptocurrency. Much hay was made of Peter Thiel suggesting Bitcoin could be weaponized by China against the US. Clearly any currency, especially one not run by Americans, will have geopolitical consequences. That anyone got hysterical about it suggested to me that our understanding of monetary policy and its political implications is limited in the general population. One needs to understand how the many actors on the political stage intersect their interests, political and economic, to even begin to comprehend how a cryptocurrency, particularly a decentralized one like Bitcoin, might evolve. In other words you have to understand how it works before you can do any predictive work.

3. Technical: concepts like distributed ledgers, hash rates, decentralized computing, and cryptographic keys are all crucial subjects for understanding the mechanics of a cryptocurrency, who owns it, and how it’s transacted. The chances that you understand the above geopolitical and macroeconomic problems and also understand how to code say your own token or have the wherewithal to acquire and set up hardware for a mining rig are slim. Maybe you grok it but being an expert in all is vanishingly slim. Computer science, political science and economics are all separate disciplines. Sure Bitcoin mining basically operates like loot crates in a game and who am I to say whether it’s a better system to have dorks with a lot of hardware run our money instead of Steven Mnuchin.

4. Microeconomics: the final area expertise is how markets and all the different players in them will value a currency and use it both as an asset and as a payment system. The elaborate financial systems that exist to determine what you think something is worth versus what someone else does is elaborate. We’ve got Byzantine financial products that decide everything from your mortgage to your salary to the cost of a sandwich. And while it’s not intuitive the folks that work on currencies, monetary policies and macroeconomic issues are not equipped with the same skill sets at all as the folks who trade on financial markets, cut deals between market participants or work out balance sheets. I’m much more studied in the macroeconomic issues than the financial ones and I wish that weren’t true. It’s a lot more lucrative to work in futures, arbitrage and market making.

When it comes down to it these four quadrants all require distinct skills and very different areas of study. Much of the debate and disagreement may simply come about because we are seeing different possibilities. Wrapping your head around the whole is difficult and no matter how brilliant you are having exposure to all areas is a lifetime of work.

Categories
Chronicle Politics

Day 107 and Mountain States

My family made its way to Colorado in the 70s. That makes my brother and I second generation. While we may not have deep roots it’s not arriviste either. This is a concern as roots matter now. Every western state seem to worry about the influx of Californians on their culture. My family participates a bit in this too. Despite me having spent the last 15 years in Manhattan I have plenty of opinions about policy.

So I was fascinated by a series of essays showing what was driving the changing demographics of mountain states and who are actually the California carpetbaggers.

The thesis of the tweet storm by David Neiwart that drew me in was that Tucker Carlson and the recent obsession with replacement theory (in this case Mountain state “natives” are being replaced by liberal Californians but it’s actually code for brown people) was actually ass backwards. It’s the white evangelical population who have been moving from California and resettling in the mountains West. The actual demographic taking space from folks already there isn’t California liberals it’s California conservative!

In Colorado the urban areas of the front range won out over the deep red of the western slopes. Other states in the mountain west may have gone red but we managed to be purple without turning into a California hellscape. So our influx of red have blended with new urban blues for a relatively well governed state.

I do find the entire crisis over those coastal elites coming into the mountain states to be pretty funny. As if the politics of the west were ever really totally homogeneous. Plenty of towns have been liberal and we had Democrats and Republicans representatives. This need to always push narratives of polarization doesn’t do anything for the American people. It’s just more bullshit to entrench for us in our corners.

My politics are traditionally Western states. I’m a small government libertarian and I’m also inclined to let people to do what they want with who they want. Going too much to either side just doesn’t appeal to a lot of mountain state folks. I won’t vote for the Republicans till they drop the fascist populism so while I’m not thrilled by Democrats they have my vote for the moment. Maybe the western states are the moderates we thought were a fantasy all along.

Categories
Chronicle Politics

Day 48 and Rush

My high school years had some ups and downs, which is how I ended up in Manhattan as an 18 year old, making up credits from the year I dropped out. I had an interest in news, so I talked my way into a job at a talk radio station 77WABC.

I’d take the 1 train down from 116th St to Penn Station and l, without even going outside, went up into one of the Penn Plaza towers where I screened calls for the block of radio programs that took the afternoon and evening hours. Some of the programs were pretty shoddy “left wing white guy vs right wing white guy” and announcing for New Jersey Devils hockey games.

But the marquee talent was Rush Limbaugh.

In the back of the rabbit warren of sales team cubicles and behind the other recording studios for B-list talent (which at the time included Sean Hannity), Rush had his own recording studio. And yes, the golden microphone was real. It stunk of smoke. His producer had somehow struck a deal with building management to allow him to smoke his cigars when the rest of the station had to plod down to 34th street for a cigarette.

The funny part of him having his own private recording studio is that Rush had already moved to Florida. Sure he recorded at the station, but even at the time he was enough of a star that he maintained multiple private studios. Such was the power of the EIB Network. Dittoheads had made Rush a fortune even before 9/11 and the rise of the neoconservatives. I can still recite the ditties. I can hear Rush recording his commercials. The way he would say Ruth Chris Steaks will stay with me till I die.

I have complex feelings about having spent time in talk radio. I didn’t stay long, I saw the money wasn’t particularly good in media and I decided a college degree was worth pursuing. Conservative chit chat hadn’t yet fully diverged from the overall skepticism of mainstream media into its own behemoth yet. 6 o’clock news on broadcast probably still mattered. Facebook hadn’t been invented. People got their hard news from real television and the side opinions of grumpy white men hadn’t fully turned to grievance culture yet. Sean Hannity was still partners with Alan Colmes.

Seeing what Rush Limbaugh wrought on America has been hard. I don’t doubt that without him January 6th wouldn’t have happened. Trump might not have been president.

But without Rush and my experience in talk radio maybe I wouldn’t have studied economics. Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued business. I might have stayed a comfortable Silicon Valley liberal. But spending my afternoon talking to the weirdos that call into talk radio was an experience I value. I had come from crunchy hippie comfortable white upper class towns like Palo Alto and Boulder. I hadn’t ever considered the kind of politics that bred Republicans and subsequently Tea Party reactionaries and eventually Trumpist alt righters. A lot of ground got covered in the years.

I doubt Rush (or Sean) would have liked where my politics landed. Libertarians are frowned on in “real” conservative circles. Probably worse than the kind of pleasantly socialist left wing politics I had when I arrived.

I hope no one takes any of this as affirmation or justification or even acceptance of what talk radio culture birthed. I’m not even sure how to feel about Rush Limbaugh’s passing. Not that we were close, heck I doubt he knew my name. I was a teenager doing shit work and I spent much more time on other programs. But I still had to take the afternoon off as social media rushed to rejoice in his death. Even knowing the scope of his legacy I just couldn’t take it. My life path might have looked very different without encountering the EIB Network.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Politics

Day 45 & Noblese Oblige

With great power comes great responsibility” is a comic book classic known as the Peter Parker principle. If you are bestowed with gifts, you must gift them back to your community. Noblese Obliege or “nobility obliges” suggests that nobility comes with a responsibility to fulfill obligations to the people who guarantee your status.

This sounds like a social good, and sure it anchors all the great heroic narratives of our modern age, but it appears to be unraveling in modernity. It used to be that we believed the morally good are the ones with gifts, if you weren’t wealthy it was because you didn’t deserve it. It was a bit of a religious and heroic tautology. But it worked! The nobles and the superheroes felt an obligation to their subjects insofar as publicly demonstrating their inherent goodness was crucial to demonstrating their nobility.

A key component of noblese oblige was showing off moral worth by giving to the people without the insistence that the people be inherently good. The people didn’t need to be worthy to get anything. Being worthy was the job of the nobility not the peasants. Which meant that all gifts from nobility to peasants were inherently gratuitous. No one deserves to be given gifts. Gifts were bestowed at random and in significant largess.

I’d suggest the reason our institutional trust is breaking down is not because we are wising up to inequality, but because the narrative arc of nobility living up to its responsibilities have broken down. America’s first robber baron class understood this with their grand social gifts of libraries, parks and endowments. Some of our Billionaires still do. But we no longer feel the gifts match the obligations. No matter how much this new nobility gifts, the rabble is still pissed.

Maybe it’s the insistence on making charity go to worthy causes. Or welfare go to people that deserve it. That is ass backwards. The nobility are supposed to be good. The peons with outstretched arms never had any worth to begin with. If they did then they would definitionally be noblese oblige too. You can’t ask everyone in the system to be good, moral, and true. That’s fucking exhausting. Even Christianity got that sin was so encompassing that literally only God could be expected to be without it. Probably why we used to let nobility get away with bad behavior. That is fine as long as they did their part. The prodigal son got shit without deserving it. That was the moral of the story.

The trouble with a time that has broken with historical arcs of goodness is that now no one is nobility or peasantry. No one is noble or good. Which means nobody deserves anything they get. Which is about as close to the war of all against all as I can imagine. Hobbes would be pleased.

Categories
Internet Culture Media

Day 44 and The Press Culture Wars

While I am a child of Silicon Valley (literally), I came of age professionally in media soaked New York City. The battle of startups versus the press has been one I’ve largely ignored as I think it represents cultural misunderstandings between two very distinct groups. I love startup life and I love media people. But to say they don’t grok their different motives and power incentives is an understatement.

So watching them fight is a bit like watching your two best friends in a spat. It’s awkward, you don’t want to pick sides, and you just hope everyone simmers down. But I’m beginning to think the beef between the 4th estate and the tech sector is starting to have some collateral damage. Not least of all because bad actors have infiltrated both: on the tech side we’ve got blackpilled monarchic misogynists and their jackbooted political protofascist admirers, on the nominally left wing media side we’ve got neo-reactionary Jacobins. Kinda hard to pick a side when those are your bedfellows.

I have generally sided with skepticism of media as I was raised on AdBusters and am vaguely aware there was a time when corporate media really was dominant. I’ve also been in control of large advertising budgets and seen first hand the little compromises that get made to stay in business. But the newest volley in tech versus media has erupted a new low of bickering and ad hominem attacks that have the memetic mobs of both sides are hungering for blood.

All this to say that I’m finally considering picking sides. And I don’t like it.

In the current narrative tension portrayed as techno-optimists rationalist thinkers (lol) versus the new reactionary left wing media, I’m sad to say I’ll end up siding with media. Not because they are right (they aren’t), but because the fragility of these self proclaimed centrists aren’t worth preserving over the 4th estate. We need the press more than we need “‘well, actually’ reply guys.” Feel free to take bets on how fast I get my first reply correcting me.

Too many of the critics of media have been black pilled by operatives that chose to be fascist influencers when they couldn’t make it in the traditional realm. Gamergate brought us the first wave of directed mobs sent to harass nominal new media figures. A lot of that was misinterpreted, but the end result has been that portions of the technologist and web set adopted too many of their rhetorical gambits. Which is not a winning strategy. Mid tier thinkers would rather martyr themselves on the sharp dicks of clout defenestration than actually win anyone over to their cause. So instead of being decent media critics, which we need, they just throw themselves down on their chosen causes.

Like I get it. I too was once a kid who was convinced being right was the only moral cause. Then I realized what “to the victor go the spoils” actually means.

You have to win so being right matters. Being morally right without a win is Pyrrhic victory.

So to the “rationalists” pissed at the New York Times I want to say you are not fighting a righteous enemy. You are fighting bitchy queens who are better at this narrative thing than you. It’s the fucking styles section for Christ’s sake. It’s normally used to skewer ugly clothing and idiot bourgeoisie real estate trends. Yes, it’s often the source of the most incisive cultural commentaries and the best writers are often housed there. So by all means fear it. Actually you should fear it as if one mean queen has it in for you they can do a lot of damage as they are really good at it. Just understand that it’s also a petty mean clique run by the same people that probably tortured you in high school (or for some of you that you bullied so sorry turn about is fair play).

There’s plenty of good reason to be mad at the New York Times or Washington Post right now. They are owned by plutocrats. Their operations are opaque. But so are the companies where you probably work. And I bet you think they do shady shit now and again you’d like someone to bring to light. Human institutions fail because they are run by humans. And no matter how smart you are you can never be free of bias. You can barely be less wrong. But the alternative of having no 4th estate is pretty bleak. So be careful what you wish for as you just might get it.