Our Democracy

The establishment elites and regime apologists routinely accuse their political opponents as being a threat to “our democracy”. What does our democracy look like?

Democracy is disempowerment. It directs public activism to elections as the means of exercising power, concentrating power in elected representatives. They want to channel people’s energy into voting as the method to enact political change. They want to manufacture consent of the governed, acceptance of a mythical social contract, and lend legitimacy to a representative government. Institutions are erected to concentrate power and control into the chosen few, while diffusing the cost over the many, who are subjects to being ruled over (administratively, legislatively, and judicially).

Democracy is controlled opposition. Once the public is convinced that voting is their most important channel for enacting change, then elections can be controlled via ballot access. The nomination process to become an election candidate is designed by the party elites. It is an oligarchical establishment controlled system, where big money, big influence, and big crony interests dominate the party leadership. Primary elections are openly rigged, as the party Rules Committee routinely tilts the playing field to favor their preferred candidate and disfavor dissidents and outsiders. The manner in which Republican and Democrat nominees are chosen by denying access to unacceptable candidates and allowing access only to those candidates acceptable to the party establishment is identical to how totalitarian regimes in China, Russia, and Iran control ballot access.

Democracy is corruption. Once in office, democratically elected officials are corrupted by lobbying, bribery in the form of campaign contributions, and being able to take advantage of insider knowledge of pending regulation or legislation to make timely stock trades prior to government actions causing large movements in the stock market. Nancy Pelosi’s net-worth is a good example of this phenomenon, as she has accumulated over $135 million in personal wealth on a $210,000 salary as a member of the US House of Representatives for nearly her entire adult life.

Above all, democracy is majoritarian rule. It is a partisan, tribal, collectivist approach. Majoritarianism is a non-recognition of minority preferences and rights of individuals. A moral society places the rights above all else, as human life is the standard of value that everything is measured against and that human behaviors work to preserve and advance. When a majority gets to decide, individual preferences that are not in agreement will be disregarded. This is entirely immoral where such decisions belong to the individual. (How would a democratic decision-making process work between two wolves and a sheep regarding what to eat for dinner?) Democracy is antithetical to individual rights.

Majoritarianism leads to institutional capture, regulatory capture, and ideological capture in courts and juries. Community organizing (activism toward rallying popular support for some political cause) grows a block of voters to exercise their power to place elected officials into power. These officials appoint political allies into non-elected offices as career bureaucrats that continue to advance the political agenda beyond elected terms of office. These agencies are usually responsible for writing rules, codes, regulations, and policies that are imposed upon the public with administrative punishments (fines, licensing, credentials, permits, etc.). When organizing is able to form a large enough voting block, this concentration of power and the consequent shaping of the bureaucratic make-up lead to institutions and regulations becoming captured.

Equally insidious and possibly more treacherous, majoritarianism results in the government agents who are responsible for the system of justice to discard objectivity and impartiality. Police selectively enforce, and they target groups with bias. Prosecutors selectively prosecute, harshly charging those they target for punishment, and being lenient toward their allies. Judges, who have near-supreme decision-making power over their courts, are emboldened to discard objectivity and impartiality, as groups become more polarized ideologically. When a judge feels safe to side with a strong majority, instead of being true to their oath to protect the constitution and following legal precedent where applicable, they have near-absolute power to make tyrannical and sinister decisions over people’s lives in service to the majority and in violation of individual rights. Moreover, even an individual’s right to trial by jury becomes powerless if their community has been captured ideologically by an overwhelming majority. This becomes the predators-and-prey dinner party manifested into society.

Finally, democracy is divisive. When the stakes are so large and elections are winner-take-all, as in America, people will organize culturally along political left-right lines in the fight for gaining a majority. As the levers of power grow and become more corrupt, the stakes become larger, and the political divide becomes more extreme. Truth itself will become distorted as truth-seeking institutions in journalism, academia, and science become corrupted in service to politics. Noble lies become the tool to control the narrative for the regime in power. Censorship is the method to sustain those narratives. The struggle for power is all-consuming. The country naturally tears itself apart.

This is what democracy looks like.

Indirection

Following up on indirect aggression, we can see that indirection is a technique that is used in many ways to evade responsibility, conceal involvement, and circumvent regulation and authority.

  1. Despite a moratorium on gain-of-function research, NIH funded gain-of-function research indirectly by funding EcoHealth Alliance, which then directed funds to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
  2. Missouri AG Eric Schmitt is suing the Biden administration for colluding with social media companies to censor on behalf of the US government. This is an attempt at circumventing the Constitution’s first amendment protection of free speech, which prohibits the government from censoring. Nancy Pelosi among other government officials have threatened to regulate tech platforms unless they censor “disinformation” and “fake news”. The CIA’s Operation Mockingbird illustrates the government’s ensuring interest in controlling speech to advance the regime narrative.
  3. The government frequently acts through intermediaries to preserve plausible deniability. Intelligence assets are used to do the dirty bidding of our government, whenever they want to hide their fingerprints. Consider the role of National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and their connection to the CIA in destabilizing foreign governments toward regime change and color revolutions.
  4. The US and its NATO allies are currently engaged in a proxy war against Russia using Ukraine.

Hydrogen storage


Sabine Hossenfelder
produced an excellent video about renewable energy storage to mitigate the unreliability of sun and wind.

Hydrogen storage being cheap should be explored more. The biggest problem with hydrogen is the danger of storing it as pressurized gas, which requires significant volume and strong materials. The hazard to be mitigated is fire that causes a powerful explosion of expanding gas under high pressure.

The solution to hydrogen storage is metal hydride, which would provide higher density storage than even pressurized gas. Another benefit of metal hydrides in the form of powder or tiny beads is that they are stable at atmospheric temperatures and pressures, they are easily transportable, they are easily stored in small tanks of vehicles, and safe even if the tank is damaged by vehicular collision. Therefore, it is foreseeable that metal hydrides (hydrogen fueled internal combustion engine) would be a viable alternative to gasoline and diesel fueled ICEs in today’s vehicles, especially given that the exhaust from combusting hydrogen is water vapor.

The next problem to solve would be to develop a metal hydride ecosystem, so that the life cycle of “charging” them with hydrogen to fill a vehicle, and then returning spent fuel to the fueling station to “recharge” is as convenient as gasoline/diesel filling stations. We can imagine this being solvable, because it is analogous to refining petroleum and delivering refined fuel to the fueling stations, except with the added return path of the spent fuel back to the refinery (hydrogen production facility, where solar/wind/nuclear power is converted to H) to “recharge”.

I’m a proponent of thorium molten salt reactors (MSR), such as LFTR, for producing electricity. Combining modern (passively safe) and reliable nuclear power generation with hydrogen production (using electrical power to split water molecules) and storing hydrogen in a metal hydride seems to me to be a good long-term solution to replacing gasoline and diesel fuels for transportation.

Digital Economy of Social Cohesion

Web2 is described by Britannica as:

the post-dotcom bubble World Wide Web with its emphasis on social networking, content generated by users, and cloud computing from that which came before.

This era of the Internet has culminated in the concentration of economic power in a few of the largest corporations, a phenomenon that is termed Big Tech. Facebook (Meta), Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google (Alphabet) are known as FAANG, the dominant Big Tech players. Centralization of control and concentration of power go hand in hand.

The digital economy that has emerged from Web2 is based on either extracting fees from users, as Netflix does with subscriptions and Amazon does with Prime, extracting profits from selling goods as Amazon and Apple do, or selling ads as Facebook and Google do. In each case, the business model relies on positioning the Big Tech company as the dominant supplier in the supply chain. If you produce movies, you have to go through Netflix to reach your audience. If you produce goods, you have to go through Amazon to sell to your customers. If you produce iPhone apps, you have to go through Apple’s App Store to offer apps to users. If you want to advertise, you have to go through Facebook and Google to reach your audience. In every case, Big Tech is an intermediary that gets rich as the middleman.

One feature of Web3 is the incorporation of digital currencies (crypto). This would disintermediate payments by potentially eliminating banks, credit card companies, and payment processors. The payer and the payee would transfer funds directly with a transaction on a blockchain, which itself has no controlling entity and is therefore decentralized (assuming we are talking about Bitcoin, not some shitcoin). Financial transactions paid in crypto require no middlemen. Digital transactions have concentrated power into Big Tech because integration with the fiat financial system is expensive and subject to onerous regulation.

Integrating a crypto payment protocol natively into the Web is a game changer. Not only would it begin to decouple commerce from the fiat financial system, it should also begin to alter the relationship that users have with service providers and each other. Fiat payment processors impose an asymmetric relationship between participants: merchant and consumer. Crypto eliminates that asymmetry by enabling anyone to send funds to anyone with an address who can receive them.

Google and Facebook have thrived on advertising dollars because of the asymmetrical relationship imposed by the fiat payment system. The Social Dilemma is a Netflix documentary that explains how the ad revenue model provides social media companies perverse incentives to design systems that encourage harmful behavior among the user base. Engagement becomes divisive. Information bubbles form. Users become addicted to dopamine hits. All to lure more eye balls and clicks so that advertisers can be charged for more impressions and conversions. Users hate seeing ads, but it is the price they pay to receive free services, as their engagement is monetized. The users become the product that is sold to advertisers.

How does eliminating fiat asymmetry fix this? Users on social media are content creators. Their opinions are an organic source of reviews, endorsements, and complaints. Every day the most compelling content goes viral because the audience is won over and engages enthusiastically. What if a decentralized social media platform, instead of directing advertising dollars to Big Tech, rewarded users for content creation and promotion? Users could be paid to post quality content with their compensation being proportional to the positive engagement they receive from others. This could be achieved through tips from the audience and from promotion fees charged for boosting content. The key is rewarding users for positive contributions. This institutes an incentive structure that increases personal fulfillment and social cohesion. This is what we want to enable with Web3.

Risk-Reward of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is characterized by willingness to take on higher-than-normal risk in pursuit of outsized reward. To achieve outsized rewards, one must be willing to accept higher risks, because risk and reward are proportional. Success comes from skilled assessment of what risks are worth taking for the rewards that can be earned with respect to capital accumulation (growing the business), production capacity, revenues, profits, market share, innovation (bringing superior products and services to the market), and customer satisfaction (making a positive difference to society).

Start-ups pursuing highly uncertain goals on the frontier of human innovation are at the extreme end of the risk-reward spectrum. Near-certain failure is assumed by outsiders. Most people believe the pursuit to be impossible. Only the entrepreneur has the vision and courage that are uniquely exceptional to overcome the status quo. The culture of a start-up is defiant, contrarian, and non-conformist.

A start-up’s market is initially non-existent because demand follows supply. Supply is zero until the product is produced and its value can be demonstrated to consumers. People could not have imagined the product until the invention brought it into reality. Invention creates a market, where none existed before. Before the automobile was invented, the market for transportation could only imagine a stronger, faster horse. Once an automobile could be supplied, consumers demanded it.

Contrast a start-up with an established corporation. An established corporation has mature processes, regimented procedures, and formalized governance. Standards, guidelines, and best practices are enforced through reviews and approvals for compliance. The intent is to reduce and mitigate risks: financial risk, schedule risk, technical risk, security risk, and market risk. Knowing what has proven to work, it is imperative to institutionalize delivering quality reliably and consistently to engender trust with customers and shareholders. The culture of an incumbent is compliant, conformist, and standard-bearing.

Entrepreneurship often involves recognizing that what has worked for the incumbents can be revolutionized. Processes can be more efficient. Labor can be automated. Products can be better designed or entirely obsoleted by the next generation of technology. Business models including the relationship with customers can be changed (i.e., a perpetual license can be replaced by a subscription). The goal is to win sales from customers by having a competitive advantage. Entrepreneurs seek to disrupt the market for existing incumbents.

Incumbents are intent on protecting their market position. Risk is ever-present that a competitor may win out. New up-starts entering the market are disruptive to the market. There is the risk that an established business can be made obsolete. Obsolescence is almost inevitable, as we are continually advancing to improve quality of life. Danger exists for incumbents who stubbornly cling to their established ways, eschewing novel innovations that are causing the industry to evolve. Incumbents may even resort to erecting barriers to entry through lobbying and regulatory capture. But the relentless march of progress never stops.

There is an uncomfortable tension between maturity (protecting what is proven to work) and novelty (inventing better ways of working). Culturally, it is very difficult for an incumbent to build disruptive technology that threatens its own business, even though it knows this kind of disruption is necessary to make a better future. This clash in cultures is usually overcome by entrepreneurs building start-ups, which are unencumbered by the status quo. The freedom to explore disruptive innovations allows a start-up to break all the old rules and ignore every self-imposed constraint that would hold back an incumbent from going against its established know-how. An incumbent’s financial strength allows it to forego risky experimentation, which is prone to failure, and watch the landscape for successful start-ups that can be acquired before they grow to become a competitive threat. In so doing, an incumbent gets the best of both worlds. It can protect its market position while also benefiting from risky bets taken by entrepreneurs that prove successful.

When an incumbent acquires a start-up to absorb successful innovations the clash in cultures becomes apparent. There is a desire to incorporate the smaller start-up into the larger incumbent’s organizations, and subject them to mature policies, processes, and procedures. Often, what is discarded are what made it possible for the start-up to be entrepreneurially successful: the freedom to be agile, rule-breaking, disruptive, and anti-establishment. The incumbent usually incorporates innovative technology but resists incorporating innovative culture and spirit, especially entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Institutional Capture

It should be clear to everyone that government has long been captured by moneyed interests to corrupt our public institutions into serving those crony interests and not the people at large. Large corporations hire lobbyists to influence lawmakers and write legislation that favors those corporations over competitors and imposes barriers to entry to new upstarts. Elected officials are bribed with campaign contributions toward re-election, and they seem to be immune to enriching themselves by insider trading and conflicts of interest. Corporations bribe regulators and bureaucrats with future employment. The upper echelon of elites is bribed with million dollar book deals and speaking opportunities worth hundreds of thousands of dollars per engagement. Regulatory agencies are bribed to approve certain products based on fraudulent evidence and to prevent competitive products from getting to market. All of this corruption is the status quo.

What is more covert is the degree to which corporations and seemingly private institutions are also captured and corrupted.

Wikipedia is captured by establishment actors to promote propaganda.

UnHerd: Wikipedia co-founder: I no longer trust the website I created

The White House has been signalling for quite some time that it is engaged in suppressing dissent in the private sector.

Now, evidence emerges from whistleblowers that DHS is colluding directly with Twitter to censor speech that the government does not like, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. The government is prohibited from directly censoring speech. Instead, the government is colluding covertly with private actors like social media companies, journalists, and fact checkers to spread disinformation, suppress dissent, and enforce narrative control. They will get away with it, unless corporations resist or victims fight this corruption in court. Instead, we see ever-growing collusion to implement regime narrative control through collaborations like the Trusted News Initiative.

Elon Musk is a self-declared free speech absolutist. Seeing the importance of Twitter as a digital space for public dialog, Elon is offering to purchase Twitter and take it private in order to protect free speech for everyone. Immediately, the European Union announced the passage of the Digital Services Act, which mandates content moderation practices. This demonstrates how hostile European governments are to free speech and how Elon’s ownership of Twitter would threaten to dismantle the collusion to implement government censorship.

Hopefully, Elon’s purchase of Twitter will close and he delivers on his promise to uphold free speech. We need a radical dissident to champion individual rights despite the regime’s relentless infringements. We need someone with FU money to actually say FU, when it matters the most.

Web3 versus Web5

In December, Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) disparaged Web3, claiming that the technology is owned by venture capitalists like a16z, cofounded by Marc Andreessen. Jack is critical of the current crop of Web3 protocols and implementations being deficient in decentralization. Others like Moxie Marlinespike have also been critical of Web3. I have offered my own thoughts on this topic in Decentralization: Be Unstoppable and Ungovernable.

Jack is backing an alternative to the Web3 vision called Web5 (Web2 + Web3) through an organization named TBD with open source projects for decentralized identity and decentralized web nodes for personal data storage that work with distributed web apps. On the surface, as I have not had an opportunity to look deeper into this Web5 initiative, the overview seems closely aligned with what I independently have imagined. I feel the potential kinship to what this project is doing.

The Web5 project appears to be directionally attractive with regard to how the problem space is framed. However, we need to examine the solution approach to see if the protocols and architecture being proposed are also attractive. The Web3 approach is decidedly not attractive for the reasons that Jack has highlighted. I credit him for being a vocal dissenter, when honest dissent is warranted.

I will dig deeper into Web5 and offer some insights from my own perspective. If this turns out to be closely aligned to my own passions, I may volunteer to contribute.

Reputation

Is it possible to build tech to track reputation for a digital identity across services without having it gamed or turned into a social credit system of institutionalized cancel culture?

The topic of reputation came to mind was promoted by this tweet. Saifedean Ammous (The Bitcoin Standard) had this idea for how Twitter could be improved. It is about reputation. To determine whether someone should be distrusted, a person can look to their own social network to see how often the counterparty is distrusted. Apply the Web of Trust pattern toward distrust. The same system for tracking certification (a form of trust) can be leveraged to track distrust also, and this would be a very valuable service for reputation tracking and analysis.

Reputation may not be an absolute measure. Saifedean’s observation suggests to me that it should work more like Web of Trust, except in the case of blocking it would be a measure of distrust. Each block is an attestation of distrust of the blocked user. The users who Saifedean follows form his web of trust. To some lesser degree the connections to others through his follow list deserve some trust as a transitive relationship. Those blocked by these trusted users can each be assigned a distrust score based on the attestations from Saifedean’s web of trust.

From your perspective, the reputation of someone else would be based on your own web of trust. It is subjective, relative to your social network and the attestations of each member. Attestations of trust contribute to a score for how much a person deserves to be trusted. Attestations of distrust contribute to a score for how much a person deserves to be distrusted.

Calculating reputation scores based on attestations on social networks raises questions and concerns. Scoring can be gamed and abused. Bot nets can be deployed to skew scores by contributing many bogus attestations. This can be used to smear a hated enemy or to fraudulently raise someone’s public stature. We see such gaming in search engine optimization, in likes and dislikes of content on social networks, and in product rating and review sites. Personal and professional reputation is a high stakes affair.

Everyone is aware of China’s social credit system, which enables the government to track every citizen’s activities, score them according to the government’s preferred behaviors, and punish citizens to various degrees by denying low scoring individuals from participating in society (i.e., economic transactions, travel, etc.). A reputation system exists to facilitate individuals to freely associate with others or to deny such associations. This system must forbid the government or other powerful entities from being able to coerce others into and out of associating with individuals these powerful entities target for punishment, which would be tyrannical.

Is it possible for such a reputation system to be deployed prolifically without enabling tyrannical regimes or angry mobs from exploiting it in violation of individual rights. Lives are destroyed this way, as they are cast out of society. Ideally, the system’s protocols would make it impossible for such power to be abused in this way. Reputation is tied to a person’s digital identity. If a person is shackled to a single identity, they are vulnerable to that identity being smeared and targeted for cancellation by adversaries.

There must be some recourse. If a person can change identities and recertify their verified credentials for their replacement identity, this could effectively renounce any references to the old identity. Attestations of distrust of the old identity would have no effect on the new identity. However, attestations of trust for the new identity would need to be earned and reestablished. This makes changing identity a costly migration, only worthwhile if shedding a highly disreputable identity to start fresh. It is also important for the identity protocols to be decentralized such that the system is open to many providers with no coordination or shared storage or policy enforcement. There must not be an single source of truth for human identity tied to digital identities, otherwise a person can be cancelled by tyranny or abuse of power.

We want to enable Alice to assess Bob based on Bob’s positive and negative attestations among the people connected between them. That allows Alice and Bob to associate or not based on informed consent. We do NOT want such voluntary associations to be interfered with by tyrannical powers, who wish to exert control over collectives to target individuals regardless of consent.

Revisiting personal assistant

In 2017, I wrote:

I find myself being more diligent taking notes and then distilling knowledge from my notes into articles for others. I used to be able to complete tasks serially, more or less. Occasionally, I noticed that follow-on tasks were hard to accomplish, because I couldn’t remember what I was thinking originally. So I tended to capture essential (summary and instructional) information into README, comments in code, and docs. I never really took detailed notes to log my step-by-step activities until recently. I started doing this logging, because I find myself multi-tasking and distracted so much by so many concurrent activities, I can hardly focus on getting anything done. The context-switching was so frustrating, and I didn’t have enough stack space in my head to keep anything straight. So now I’m employing some rudimentary techniques to apply computer-assistance by just taking notes. That is why my mind wanders to the topic of personal assistants in the workplace as being the next frontier. Personal Assistants

The Loretta superbowl ad by Google was a very compelling story about the benefits of memory assistance if the human-computer interface is frictionless enough to integrate into normal experience.

Google’s commercial was extremely compelling, except that Google is failing to see how to apply its foresight into its products (Android, Keep) to enable quickly clipping ANY content while using ANY app to save as notes, and then applying machine intelligence and analytics to provide reminders and personal assistance based on computed insights.

The reason I was trying to recall the notes-related insight was actually because I’ve been finding myself buried in unrelated tasks and things to do coming from so many directions every day, it’s hard to keep track of what and when. The obvious solution is to use some kind of task reminder application. The problem with those is that I have to take time out of what I’m doing to go into such an app and create a task, which is distracting and time consuming in itself. What I really want is while I’m in any other application, whether I am reading email, reading Slack messages, attending a Zoom meeting, working a JIRA issue, responding to PagerDuty, writing on Confluence, reviewing code in GitLab, or literally anything, I want a one-click mechanism to “remember this”, so that an app will keep a note, maybe translate it into a task on my to-do list, remind me later if necessary, help me prioritize, and help me remember things. It is the one-click action in the context of the application that I’m already working in that is the key feature to interface to all these other personal assistance capabilities.

Android does support highlighting content and using Share to Keep Notes. However, this does prompt for additional information, and it creates a new Keep document. This is close, but not sufficient. From a user experience perspective, it is fine to highlight and share, but the aim should be to “remember this” without prompting for anything more so that focus is not taken away from the original context.

The app for keeping notes should be light weight. Notes should be more like items on a list, timestamped, and available for subsequent labelling, re-organization, searching, and use (integration with related apps like for task management). It needs to be a clipboard with unlimited history, so that snippets of information can be remembered on the fly for later review, classification, and movement to other applications. Life is a stream of notable events, many of which we want to queue for later recall in a different context, as we are preoccupied with what we are busy with in the moment.

The idea of a personal assistant is that without the user needing to click at each moment to clip something at each interesting moment, an agent can shadow the user’s activity and automatically track what is attracting the user’s attention. It can keep a history of bookmarks and actions across applications based on the user’s activity. Later, this record will help to answer questions about what the user had done earlier and what information was encountered. An assistant would ensure that everything is committed to memory continually without interrupting the user’s normal flow of work. When the user does highlight and share, it indicates something of particular interest that becomes a priority.

Having a recorded history of work can then be analyzed to document procedures, teach others the same workflow, and automate procedures for repeatability. Repetitive tasks are a machine’s specialty. Reducing tedium is what mechanization is meant for.

DDT

Here is my childhood story about dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane.

I grew up on a 30 acre vegetable farm north of Toronto. When I was a toddler, my parents would leave me to play by myself as they and my older sisters worked the fields. I’d climb on the mountain of stacked bags of fertilizer and DDT.

My family would fill burlap sacks full of DDT and walk among the vegetable fields, shaking the powder into a fog. Womp! Womp! Womp! I don’t remember if they bothered to wear respirators.

One day, my mom returned to the DDT mountain to find me digging into a bag with my hands elbow deep. I had smeared the white powder all over my face. I told her I was wearing it as makeup. She tells everyone that is why I grew up to be healthy and strong.

The moral of the story is: DDT was so safe, farmers used it without any protection and children played among it without being harmed. After DDT was banned, we switched to toxic chemicals like Malathion, Parathion, Captan, Diazinon, and others.

Unlike DDT which harmed no one and nothing, after spraying these potent chemicals, we would return the next day to find a field sometimes littered with dead birds. No one sprays these without wearing respirators. Deadly stuff.

Insights into innovation