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Announcing the Capitalism’s Winter Reading Group

Did you mean to read that Piketty book but OMG it looks long and hard? Did you want to read it again? Or just want to show off that you’re reading a really long economics book? Whatever your reason, let’s read it together!

We’ll be reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century over February and March, as the Capitalism’s Winter Reading Group. If you think that sounds a little like 2009’s Infinite Summer, I’ll just remind you that great artist steal. (If you don’t know about Capital in the Twenty-First Century, follow a few of the links above. It’s pretty interesting.)

Here’s how it’ll work: Next week, the second week of February, is going to be just the introduction and Chapter one, to give people time to get the book, audiobook, library copy, pirated edition, or whatever, and join in.

I’ll post an open thread for each chapter during the week for us to discuss the book as we go along. I’m estimating 3-4 hours a week of reading time — not impossible, but a commitment. At that rate, we should have this 700 page behemoth done in eight weeks. That will get us finished just in time for spring, and to have new ideas after assimilating Piketty’s voluminous research. If that seems a little fast, just go slower! If you’re late, join in! The discussion spaces will stay open for a while.

This will be fun! OK, kind of geeky, but fun!

Capitalism’s Winter Schedule for Week One

Monday, February 8th – Begin reading. This week is
— Introduction
— Chapter 1 – Income and Output (which is shorter than the introduction!)

Open thread for Introduction will be posted
Wednesday Feb 10th.
(You don’t have to be done by then, that’s just when it’s open!)

Open thread for Chapter 1 will be posted
Friday Feb 12th.
(You don’t have to be done by then, that’s just when it’s open!)

Between the two, the Introduction is longer, but super helpful for understanding what’s coming up. I strongly recommend reading it.

A quick note: the majority of the registrations that have come in have looked… er… kind of shady. Until I know whether we’re being targeted by spammers or worse, I’m going to keep moderation on the comments. I’m sorry about this, but right now it’s the only way to make sure the space stays safe, spam and malware free. Bear with me on comment approval, I will try to get to everything as fast as possible.

Capitalism’s Winter Reading Schedule

Monday, February 8th – Begin reading. This week is:

— Introduction
— Chapter 1 – Income and Output (which is shorter than the introduction!)

Monday February 15th — Week Two

— Chapter 2 – Growth: Illusions and Realities
— Chapter 3 – The Metamorphoses of Capital
— Chapter 4 – From Old Europe to the New World

Monday February 22nd — Week Three

— Chapter 5 – The Capital/Income Ratio over the Long Run
— Chapter 6 – The Capital-Labor Split in the Twenty-First Century

Monday February 29th — Week Four

— Chapter 7 – Inequality and Concentration: Preliminary Bearings
— Chapter 8 – Two Worlds

Monday March 7th — Week Five

— Chapter 9 – Inequality of Labor Income
— Chapter 10 – Inequality of Capital Ownership

Monday March 14th — Week Six

— Chapter 11 – Merit and Inheritance in the Long Run
— Chapter 12 – Global Inequality of Wealth in the Twenty-First Century

Monday March 21st — Week Seven

— Chapter 13 – A Social State for the Twenty-First Century
— Chapter 14 – Rethinking the Progressive Income Tax

Monday March 28th — Week Eight

— Chapter 15 – A Global Tax on Capital
— Chapter 16 – The Question of the Public Debt
— Conclusion

I’m shooting for between three and four hours a week reading. Of course, ymmv, which is totes cool. Throughout the weeks I will post a week-specific schedule, then open threads with a little information about the chapter. This isn’t homework! You don’t have to have the reading done by the time the thread is open, or even to participate. You do you, it’s all good.

Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes, or if this schedule will not work for the French edition which I know some of you people, especially the French ones, will be reading.

You cannot read the stars and live

You cannot read the stars and live.
You cannot comprehend their mysteries, you are consumed in the process
You are burnt up.
And below them,
Eyes transfixed skyward, regarding,
is a stranger,
A thief of your memories
Standing in your place and on your ashes.

Next Time, Pay Attention.

When the extra-judicial harassment of drug addicts began, in the 80s, or even back in the 60s, no one cared. “Ew, they’re drug addicts.”

We filled our prisons with young blacks and latinos destroyed by the drug trade, sent our Vietnam vets there, our crack addicts and tweekers. We got used to not caring about them. We hired police and taught them it didn’t matter what they did to those people and their communities.

When the extra-judicial harassment of Arabs began, in the 90s and then many times worse after 9/11, it was, we said, to be expected. “Well, they’re Arabs.”

On a few occasions, I stood outside in a protest of Arab registration in America where a still unknown number of men went into DHS offices, and never came home. We all watched the surveillance and intimidation of Muslim and Arab communities in America, the UK and Europe and said to those governments, it’s ok, because those communities have extremists.

Now the extra-judicial harassment of journalists has begun. And a bunch of folks are saying “How could this happen?”

You’ve been letting it happen and grow for 50 years. Congratulations on noticing. Now do something about it, because you’re next.


An Open Reply to Zooko and Jon

Dear LeastAuthority and Silent Circle (aka Zooko and Jon),

I too know and like you both! I too admire your work, have tremendous confidence in your abilities, and it’s been amazing to watch your efforts, both sophisticated and useful, grow over time. I want to be customers of you both when I am less broke. Personally, I enjoy talking and hanging and hiking and all manner of things with you! (Zooko I really must go back to the mountains with you one day) That was a very sweet and erudite discussion of the problems of verifiability and technical trust and Open Source and Descartes and Godel. Seriously, I could totally have that talk with both of you while sipping nice port out of little crystal glasses.

But no one is going to attack the customers of either Silent Circle or Tahoe-LAFS by compelling you to deliver a malicious update. If they want to do it the hard way, they’re going to use an iTunes update or a Skype update or just attach a filed called interesting-shit.jpg.exe to a forged email to your customers. If they want to or can attack your customers the easy way, your customers will end up under fluorescent lighting in an airless room surround by buzzcuts with toothy rictus smiles. Your customers will have the distinct sense that while they’d like to see your customer’s computer/phone or else, they’re cool with or else for a while if your customers want to play that way.

The first way is of course stealthier, which is the real reason they go after hosted services, because that’s a stealthy way of monitoring communications, and gets you a historical record. (Which is also why I’m all like “No encrypted email! Encrypted email baaaad!” all the time.)

But if they’re going to own the endpoint, there’s no point in interfering with your two companies who are loud and skittish and likely to pull a “Ladar”.

They could own the end point any number of ways with off-the-shelf shit, and go home early for the weekend. If they really want to do bulk collection they’ll just send a malicious update of Angry Birds.

Seriously, attacking a target through your apps would be stupid and likely to get out. So they’re not going to. They’re going to use the vast number of easy weaponized apps built on top of the thriving 0day market to scoop not only every bit your targeted customers send you, but everyone else too. And it’s great! They won’t ever get caught for this. I don’t even have to provide links and evidence for what I’m saying because we all, everyone who works vaguely in this field, already know this.* But this is not just your customer’s problem, it’s your problem, too.

This all brings me to my point in my normally circuitous way. And Jon, you made this point in part, but for me, not nearly hard enough. These debates on crypto and code verification are actively beginning to annoy me, because malware/phishing is fucking terrible and the real fucking problem and everyone is ignoring it. I don’t mean you in particular are annoying me, but in general this tendency is. I worry watching two people as respected as you do this continues to distract people from our terrible problem. It’s like watching a couple gentlemen have a lengthy and erudite discussion on the merits of the front door’s lock while the back of the building is actually on fire.

I really do appreciate discussions of verifiability on an intellectual level. If I wasn’t also that kind of dork I would never have made it through the majority of my life hanging out with you people. I can sit around with friends trying to figure out when the halting problem comes into play in game situations. I teach writing with Shannon’s information theory in mind. I understand the dopamine rush of a *solution*. But we don’t have that luxury anymore, because everything and everyone is getting owned like crazy.

The answers to the malware problem are probably not verification. They are probably many answers, messy answers, and not always provable or even always effective. I think that’s why we don’t like them, because they aren’t elegant. And because we like to imagine malware can’t happen to us. It happens to people who don’t know better and live far away, but are also much more likely than us to do the kind of work that gets targeted by hostile actors.

I don’t mean to over-focus on you, because you guys aren’t close to the worst on this. We need to fix the industry’s incredibly broken threat model, because malware is everyone’s problem. You’re trying to protect your users’ data, period. Not just when it’s in your little mathematical garden, but before it gets there an after it leaves, because otherwise your mathematical garden is irrelevant to the real world. This problem is, for our kind, much harder than proving Godel wrong, because it’s tractable but huge and it’s messy and it will never, ever, ever feel right.

If we don’t start focusing some of our attention on malware, crypto is going to be irrelevant in yet another way.



* People who are not the people this is addressed to who would never make this mistake anyway, don’t even talk to me about AV. I mean, don’t even.

The Bit I Liked Most

As Ada took me back through the Lord of the Rings.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Such times as these. Transition times, when new things are trying to not be crushed by old. Times like those that Paine said try men’s souls. Times when you can finally understand how people can see the round ups coming, and choose to stand. Drought times of soul and spirit.

Me, Aaron, and What I Said to MIT

MIT came out with its report on Aaron’s case and his death. I was interviewed by Hal Abelson and the lawyer assisting him May 3rd of this year. It was a difficult interview. I talked about what it was like being investigated along with Aaron. I told them how Aaron saw MIT, why he did what he did there, and what his relationship with data was. I told them things I had come to understand over years of knowing, loving, and living with him. This, for reasons both valid and not, vanished from the final report.

I, like many of the people close to him, wasn’t satisfied with the report. I didn’t appear in the final report beyond confirming factual details. However, I recorded my side of the interview. I share that with you here, and I will expand on it as I find the time.

The blank bits are were I have omitted personal information.

Advice to be Unheeded

e22The best thing our government could do for itself is this: offer Snowden a plea deal as sweet as he could get. Two felonies, 18 months in Club Fed, call it good and let him go. The only chance America has to minimize the political impact of Snowden’s releases would be if the DOJ could get him to say “I’m guilty” and fade into obscurity after just enough time for people to forget him.

To lose him altogether is to make him a legend, but to capture him and prosecute him is to make him a legend and a martyr. People want to be legends. They want to be cried over, remembered with awe and respect, to be written into history… young, computer savvy people especially. But this urge isn’t new. The medieval church had no shortage of heretics to burn, not because word didn’t get out, but because it did. Human yearn to have meaningful lives and glorious deaths, if they didn’t, why would they enlist in institutions like the US Military? Through hunt and persecution the US is offering Snowden a life of glory and praise and an honorable persecution and death. By the very principles it goes on about to recruit young people, high-minded people, it offers Snowden the most praiseworthy of lives.

You may say, but Ed Snowden didn’t do this for glory. He didn’t think himself a legend, a figure of history. To which I say sure, that’s probably true at this point. But I’m talking about the next 20 Snowdens. Each one will be more elaborate than the last, each learning from the others, until they do more than dump secrets. They will evolve as they learn to look for more glory in the cruelty of the US Government. They always have.

On Dignity

me-bonesI have so many things to say they jam up my brain sometimes. I have even more I want to learn, and then pass on. I have so many things to care about. In July my health insurance is getting cut off. I have looked through my options and concluded that for now, I have none. I make very little money, as a result, I haven’t had a place to live since 2009. It is too little to afford insurance (& I suspect next year I will have to start paying penalties for that fact). But at about 20-25k a year and no address, there is no assistance for me.

I could give up my career and look for a job, but there’s no jobs, and I don’t handle offices well. And frankly, I like my career. It doesn’t pay much, but I believe what I do is important and not many people can or will do it. We spend a lot of time equating financial success with meaningful work, and both with deserving healthcare, but I think all of that is bullshit, and I won’t live my life that way.

No; giving up being me is not an option. I am not a shiftless and lost person. I am busy, and involved and I live with tremendous purpose and hope. But I live in a society that does not value me. That doesn’t mean I don’t, though.

I’m 40 now. In many ways it feels like the beginning. I have tons of energy, I know my life’s work. It’s not easy, and I don’t know if I can get all the things I need to done, but it’s coming together. It was a hard fucking road here. Strange and hard beyond what most people imagine a life can be. For getting here, I’m grateful. This is also a time when the body changes, when medical considerations change. I’ll do the health things that make sense to do without insurance, I still love and value my life and want all of it I can get. But I’m not bothering with a mammogram. What could I do about it anyway? I’d rather put my time and energy into my work, what time my society will leave me. Because I live in a society that has decided people like me should die if they get ill.

But I still have choice in how that happens. If I get a lump in my breast or a hole in my heart or gut, I’m not going to spend my precious remaining time begging for help from the public or indifferent bureaucracies, while I get weaker and drown in pain. I watched people beg for scraps from an America that doesn’t care about them. You may have chosen that I will die, America, but I don’t have to be polite about it.

When the time comes that I am out of options and facing illness, I intend to dictate and write the final notes on I can on my work, and then take my own life before disease and indifference do. I would go out of this world the same way I came in — screaming and strong.

Fuck dying quietly.