Assange, Trump, and Obama

Yes, president Trump is doing the wrong thing by not dropping all charges against Julian Assange immediately. Very wrong.

Yet, had Obama done the right thing– and he had plenty of time and opportunity to do so– this wouldn’t even be up to Trump. He could have ended this years ago. He is every bit as much to blame. This isn’t just another Trump crime, it’s an Obama crime, too.

Presidents are cancer. Assange is a cure, as are all whistleblowers. Of course presidents are not going to be fans of his.

Coincidentally, and with amazing timing, just sent me a link to their newest: A Historical Guide to the Freedom of Information Act.

It’s perverse that government believes they have a “right” to decide whether or not (usually not) to let you know what they are up to, and that your right to know what these parasites are up to needs an “act” to codify it and give them excuses to hide things. The very notion that anyone working for government has any “right to privacy” where their “job” is concerned is absurd. But this is the world of statists we live in.

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Social Media Regulation: Speak of the Devil and in Walks Zuck

In a recent column on the mating dance between Big Government and Big Tech, I noted that “Big Tech wants to be regulated by Big Governments because regulation makes it more difficult and expensive for new competitors to enter the market.”

Two days after I hit “publish” on that column, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for government regulation of social media in a Washington Post op-ed.

Zuckerberg offers expansive arguments for regulating four areas of social media content, but those arguments are specious. My own claim as to his real reasons leers visibly over the shoulder of each argument he makes.

Zuckerberg’s first proposed regulatory area is “harmful content.” “Regulation,” he writes, “could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.”

Who’s best equipped to build such systems? Facebook, with assets of nearly $100 billion and annual revenues of $56 billion? Or a new site started by some middle class guy (or even an affluent Harvard student like Mark Zuckerberg 15 years ago) with a great idea and some spare time?

The second regulatory area is “protecting elections.” Zuckerberg: “Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors. … We believe legislation should be updated to reflect the reality of the threats and set standards for the whole industry.”

Facebook, of course, has already invested billions in developing technology to identify users and advertisers and connect the two types of parties — all in-house.  Most startups don’t have the money to develop their own such systems. They hook into a third party advertising service or a standardized ad sales plug-in. The effect — and the intent — of those “updates” would be to protect Facebook from those startups (and the American political establishment from its own would-be competitors).

“Third, effective privacy and data protection needs a globally harmonized framework. … it should establish a way to hold companies such as Facebook accountable by imposing sanctions when we make mistakes.”

Facebook can easily accommodate “sanctions” that would kill most potential competitors. It already has big bucks in the bank (unlike a new company that may be years away from turning a profit), and that “globally harmonized framework” will almost certainly be built around its own standards and practices.

Finally, “data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another.” What will the “standard data transfer format” Zuckerberg calls for look like? Existing formats for handling user data. Who handles the most user data now? You know who. New competitors will be forced to build systems like Facebook’s, and forbidden to try their own, possibly better, user data handling schemes.

The Internet’s potential is encapsulated in the expropriated Maoism “let a hundred flowers blossom.” Zuckerberg agrees, but only if each of those hundred flowers is cloned from a geranium grown in his proprietary nursery.

Regulation, not competition, is where monopolies come from. Facebook isn’t a monopoly yet, but Zuckerberg clearly wants to make it one.

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Homeschoolers: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

My eight-year-old daughter and I recently read about the Salem witch trials. She had heard about Salem from a friend who visited the nearby town during its popular Halloween festivities, and she was curious about the witches. We went to the library to get some books on the topic of how 20 innocent people were put to death for “witchcraft” in 1692, with scores more accused and jailed.

What struck me most about revisiting the Salem Witch Trials with my children was the fact that these English Puritans who had recently settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony had no presumption of innocence. Those accused of a crime at the time, both in the New World and elsewhere, were guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence in trials, with court defenders and impartial juries, would take centuries to catch on. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” was coined by an English lawyer in 1791, but even then it took a long while to become the legal precedent we all now take for granted.

A Pattern of Privacy Invasion

Of course, this legal designation is still imperfectly applied, particularly in cases of fear and bias against certain groups. The US PATRIOT Act, for instance, allows law enforcement agencies the authority to conduct surveillance on individuals and groups by monitoring personal phone calls, emails, and financial documents without a court order. First passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and reauthorized since, it is intended to root out the evils of terrorism but does so by violating individual liberty and presuming guilt over innocence.

We see this pattern of privacy invasion by the state and presumed guilt in other areas, as well. In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been such a dramatic rise in the number of homeschoolers that the state believes it must regulate and monitor the practice. Estimates suggest that the number of homeschoolers in the UK increased 40 percent in just three years, and it is thought to be the fastest-growing education option in the UK, with approximately 60,000 homeschooled children in 2018.

The rapid growth of parents taking back control of their children’s education has led to calls by government officials to create a “compulsory register” of homeschooled children and to monitor their education. The UK’s Department of Education told the BBC through a spokesperson this week:

Where children are being home educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job. We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be.

The idea that all homeschooling families in the UK must now be presumed guilty of neglect because a “very small minority” might be is not a legitimate reason to violate the privacy and personal freedom of law-abiding citizens. There are already laws to protect children from abuse and neglect in the UK and elsewhere, and those laws should be duly enforced; but subjecting all homeschooling families to regulation and oversight because of fears of a few is a blatant example of state intrusion.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Families often choose the homeschooling option because they are especially attentive to their child’s well-being. As The Guardian reported last fall:

Many parents who opt to homeschool their children say they are avoiding bullying, exam pressure and stress. Others have concerns about special educational needs, not getting a place at the school of their choice, or the school environment.

In other words, most of these homeschooling parents are going above and beyond to provide the best education for their children and should not have their decisions questioned and educational approaches monitored.

Supporters of homeschooling regulation, both in the United States and abroad, frequently say that it’s really no big deal. If you’re one of the vigilant homeschooling families then you shouldn’t mind state oversight. But that’s like saying if I have nothing to hide, it’s okay for the government to search my house and read my emails—without a warrant. It presumes guilt over innocence.

Intentions may be good. The Salem Puritans wanted to root out witchcraft and what they saw as the work of the devil. The PATRIOT Act aimed to prevent terrorism through government surveillance. Monitoring homeschooling families is presented as protecting children. But in all cases, innocent people are suspected of guilt and must prove themselves worthy. It’s antithetical to the values of a free society.

I wanted to tell my daughter that we’re so much better now than those Puritans, that “innocent until proven guilty” now prevails. But I’m honestly not so sure.

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Why I am Still a Cryptocurrency Enthusiast, 2019 Edition

Cryptocurrencies had a rough ride in 2018. As of January 7, 2018, the total market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies tracked by came to more than $800 billion, its highest point ever. As I write this on January 3, 2019, that total market capitalization is down to about $130 billion — about 1/6th of the market’s high point.

You might be surprised to learn that I’m still a cryptocurrency fan. But, just to be up front, yes, I am.

Not because I’m sitting on a huge pile of the stuff (as of this moment, my cryptocurrency holdings are worth less than $100 US), nor because I expect to make a killing speculating (when I get some crypto, I generally spend it without waiting very long to see if it increases in value).

I’m still enthusiastic about cryptocurrency because I’ve seen what it can do and make plausible predictions about what it will be able to do in the future. Cryptocurrency seizes control of money from governments and puts it in the hands of people. With improvements in its privacy aspects, that’s only going to become more true. In short, cryptocurrency fuels freedom.

But can it last? Will it win? I think that the last year, far from dispelling that notion, reinforces it. Let me explain.

Two kinds of noise related to cryptocurrency seem to have faded in tandem with the market cap’s downward trend. As one might expect, the ultra-bullish “Bitcoin will go to $100,000 real soon now!” voices have gone down in number and volume. But so have the voices comparing cryptocurrency to a Ponzi scheme or to the 17th century “tulip bubble.”

Yes, there are exceptions. One is Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman, who still seems to think that transaction costs and lack of “tethers” to fiat government currencies will make crypto a bad bet. Of course, Krugman also said, in 1998, that “[b]y 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.” So however expert he may be in other areas, I doubt I’m alone in discounting his predictive abilities when it comes to technological advancements.

This year-long market correction has been exactly that — a correction toward real values. After a period of hype (“Initial Coin Offerings” based on bizarre use cases) and scams (“pump and dumps” cons based on new fly-by-night “altcoins”), the wheat is separating from the chaff, the fraud is settling down to a level consistent with the rest of human activity, and the financial “mainstream” attitude has gone from dismissive to curious to “how do we get in on this?”

Cryptocurrency is getting better and better at what it was meant to do. It facilitates transactions without regard to political borders, it safeguards the records of those transactions through a distributed ledger system (“blockchain”), and to varying degrees (depending on which currency and the individual user’s habits) it protects the privacy of those who use it from prying eyes.

Cryptocurrency, and the freedom it entails, are here to stay. Welcome to the future.

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Best to Be Smart About Social Media

Social media gets a lot of well-deserved criticism. It’s presented as a service, but with the vast majority of social media platforms, you and your information are the products being sold.

Even worse than selling your information to advertisers, it opens its back door to government spies so they can come in, snoop around, steal your data, and watch everything you do. Definitely not the behavior of someone who’s on your side.

When they say “your privacy matters” they are lying. They may as well be saying “your life matters” while dumping plutonium into your drinking water.

You might insist “If you’re doing nothing wrong, what do you have to hide?” but this puts the burden on you to prove your innocence and that’s not how it works. Your privacy matters more than government interests. Your butler can’t be allowed to spy on you, not even “for your own good” or to further the butler’s agenda.

Recently we’ve also seen how social media manipulates opinions by what it allows you to see; promoting its own biased views as news, and any opposing views as “fake news” to be suppressed and banned.

Yet social media isn’t all bad. It deserves a little praise, at least on a couple of things.

Social media helps people reconnect with those they once knew, and stay in touch with friends they no longer live near. In today’s highly mobile society this is a valuable human service.

Another small thing I really appreciate is when it helps find lost pets so they and their owners can be reunited.

I appreciate how it helps people advertise yard sales, services, and social events. This is the free market in action. And it helps people organize.

Social media users frequently shut government and its laws out of the loop. To a point. You’ll still usually be prohibited, for example, from the perfectly ethical act of using these platforms to sell a gun to someone who wants to buy it. And if your group is planning something the politicians have made up rules against, regardless of whether it’s actually wrong, someone may report you to the political authorities. Yet there are still ways around almost all these barriers.

It’s not necessary to shun social media; just be smart. Don’t offer too much unnecessary information that the bad guys can use against you, but take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Opportunities beyond any the world has ever seen.

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What’s in a Lie?

As time goes on I become less confident in people’s ability to spot a lie.

I was a skilled liar growing up. I had no problem looking you straight in the eye and with every emotion and conviction I could possibly display, I would lie to your face without the slightest feeling of guilt. However, as my childhood went on I realized there were many holes in my strategies. I got caught, not because I lacked sincerity, but because of a problem creating plausibility in motive and narrative. My lies fell apart under interrogation. What this made me do was refine my strategies.

I added subtlety and embarrassment to my lies. Rather than telling your teacher you are sick and coughing a couple of times, you could get a little quite, infer a desire for privacy, and then tell them that it hurt when you peed. The teacher doesn’t expect you to be playing several moves ahead and will believe you.

The more complex the lie, the harder it is to create a believable narrative. As I became I teen I abandoned lies that were too complex since I knew I lacked the preparation to carry them out. However, I always thought about the cost/benefit of my lies and analyzed the plausibility of carrying them out. At the time I found them highly valuable, and in retrospect I vastly underestimated the value of lying … I wish I honed my skills better.

As an adult this all evaporated over time. I choose my associations and I have little reason to lie. I much prefer to surround myself with people and situations that treat me with respect and value me for who I am without moralizations. However, I have been learning about lying from other angles as an adult. Poker, parenting and employing people has added a lot of insight on top of studying psychology and evolution.

One thing I’ve learned is that catching people in lies isn’t about a secret trick. It is about either having evidence that runs contrary to their narrative, or by analyzing their narrative one step beyond what they prepared for.

In poker there are a lot of physical, vocal and subconscious tells that can lend insight to the psychological demeanor of your opponent. People often look tense when they are anxious (bluffing), and feel relaxed when they are comfortable (have a great hand). People swallow when they are being judged and lying. People’s hands shake when they bluff. People make jokes and are lighthearted when they have a great hand. People bet weak when they have a weak hand at key spots, and put all their money in with strong hands. All of this is true, but it is just the first step.

The people who have studied poker to any degree or have played a bit has learned these things. They have either decided to mask them, or add vastly more complexity to their lies. When I make a large bluff, I often sit stoically for 20 seconds, then, I act like something catches my eye and breaks me into a lighthearted demeanor and maybe I will make a joke about it. This makes it so the other people believe they found a piece of information I didn’t mean to let out. They think I have a very strong hand if I can feel so lighthearted the longer I am being put in the hot seat. While if I make a big bet with a great hand I will be stoic for 20 seconds, then swallow and do very subtle things to hide. Of course, if anyone knows I am playing these moves they can possibly get tells on this, but I try to stick one move ahead of my opponents and add complexity and subtlety to the point that they don’t suspect intent. Some players I play with regularly, I just stay stoic the whole time.

There is no golden bullet in poker. The best poker players only use tells as a small supplement to their balanced poker playing. The best poker players focus much more on the cards, ranges, and basic psychology vastly more than physical tells. Why? Because there is no golden bullet for seeing lies. I honestly believe there are significantly more mistakes at the poker table in the belief that you got some psychological tell, rather than inadvertently giving away accurate information. Lies are as good as the knowledge and preparation that went into them. Some lies are simple, and some lies are incredibly intricate. Some of the best lies are complex wrapped up in the guise of simplicity.

Historically, slaves often wanted to portray themselves as dumb to their masters. Why? Because if you are playing chess when someone else believes you are playing checkers, you will have the upper hand. Historically, wives did the same thing to their husbands. Often kids do this to their parents. Telling people you are playing one or two levels deep makes playing six levels deep highly effective.

I read a while back that an easy way to spot a lie in a certain circumstance is to accuse someone of whatever you suspect about them right from the front. “Did you steal the cookie from the cookie jar?” Honest/innocent people say “No” and then might discuss things. Guilty people obfuscate and don’t answer directly “who me?” This is an attempt to refocus the discussion, and an innocent person isn’t thinking that far ahead. However, now that I told you this, you can think one step ahead of this knowledge. This means this trick won’t work on you if you are able to remember this paragraph.

Since the Kavanaugh hearings I have heard people proclaim they believe or don’t believe people. I think all of them are full of shit. I think I am vastly better at spotting lies than most people and I have absolutely no idea who is lying or telling the truth. These are two incredibly intelligent people with highly complicated lives and highly complicated minds. They weren’t born yesterday. They know what they think. They know what you think. They know what you think they are thinking . They know what you are thinking about what they are thinking they are thinking you are thinking. Etc, etc.

I believe absolutely nothing that exits people’s mouths just because they want to say it. People don’t say things because it is truthful, people say things because they believe it will benefit them to say it. If you have a good culture where honesty is beneficial, you are more likely to get honesty. A courtroom, a classroom, a senate committee and a poker table aren’t these environments.

The only way to really spot a lie is by getting one step beyond the preparation of a person (interrogation), and to have evidence that runs contrary to their narrative. Everyone proclaiming they know who lies or tells the truth outside of this is usually just proclaiming their dumb arrogance.

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