I won’t Put Lipstick on a Pig (but Tony did!)

Last year, an Op-Ed in my personal Blog, AWildDuck.com, caught the attention of a retired US politician. His staff contacted me, due to an editorial that was highly critical of his colleague (a younger politician who still holds office). Fearing an angry reader with clout, I was preparing to defend my position and my First Amendment freedoms, when the bigwig pulled the phone away from his assistant—and made me an offer.

He didn’t want me to retract the article about his colleague. In fact, he thought that the current US Senator was a bigger putz than I had portrayed. Instead, he wanted me to write his kiss-and-tell memoirs—

open_book-s

I was born in a house my father built…

a book that was guaranteed to be filled with all sorts of juicy revelations. I was ecstatic! This was a dream job—precisely the reason that I started the Blog: to land a string of high-dollar writing gigs.

His lawyers contacted me. We exchanged documents. I signed an NDA and provided writing samples in several different styles. His family and aides analyzed my writing for plagiarism, geographic or anachronistic idioms, and for level and clarity. Within the week, he hired me as his ghostwriter.

I began writing under the name of a well-known, national politician. During interviews, I was in awe of this internationally known historical figure, who—in the sunset of life—chose me as his personal conduit to history. Although I could not tell my family who was this important figure, my teenage daughter figured it out, based on overhearing my side of several interviews. She was sworn to secrecy.

Trump-backside-s

“I put lipstick on a pig…I feel deep remorse.” —Illustration: J. Jaén

After three months, and several drafts of the first chapters, I backed out of the project and returned a sizable pile of cash. I was unable to apply my passion and zeal to this man’s shocking opinions and nuggets of “wisdom”, even though my name would not appear on the book. I just couldn’t bring myself to rephrase what he said in interviews and what appeared in his notes…

It’s unclear whether my employer had changed in his golden years, or if—perhaps—a racist misogynist was smoldering under the surface all these years.

Perhaps most surprising, for me, is that he had publicly championed women’s rights throughout an illustrious career, yet—at least today—he secretly feels that our country’s ills are a direct result of gains in women’s jobs, pay, education, rights and reproductive freedom. He wanted me to explain that empowerment of women during the 60s and 70s effectively castrated men both at home and on the job. He earnestly believes that the best place for a women is in the kitchen or the bedroom. He can barely tolerate a woman in the workplace, so long as she is a nurse or secretary or school teacher.

Today, I came across a similar story in The New Yorker. But this one has a very different ending. In this case, the ghostwriter completed the book, only to be filled with remorse!


Tony Schwartz,is the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s 1987 bestseller, The Art of the Deal. It is among the most successful business books in publishing history. Unlike me, he did not back out his gig. He is an excellent wordsmith, and—just like a good speech writer—he wove his compelling art for Donald Trump.

Tonight, Donald Trump accepts the Republican nomination for the highest office in our land. But, Tony Schwartz regrets “putting lipstick on a pig”. (Editor’s Note: I really like the metaphor!). Tony’s skillful pen made Trump look astute, insightful, savvy and successful. And it created an impression that hoodwinked the Republican nomination.

lipstick_on_a_pig

Supreme Court Ruminations

Although this Blog covers political issues in at least 1/3 of posts, I have never written about the Supreme Court. Perhaps this is because—despite politicization by partisans—this branch of government is distinguished by the fact that it enjoys a high approval rating by the American public. For the most part, Americans believe that our top justices are motivated by truth and a desire to apply the law fairly.

The observations below are just bits & pieces; Ellery’s insight into political thought. Some day, I may return to add or expand on these topics…

On Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opining about Donald Trump

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It’s hard to fault Justice Ginsburg for adding to the alarm that all thinking people feel concerning the popular rise of a xenophobic, self-centered misogynist. While a Supreme Court justice is expected to maintain a poker-face throughout their career, Ginsburg probably feels a patriotic obligation to do something other than remain quiet regarding a course of events that could well lead to riot and national ruin.

I have nothing against Mr. Trump personally—but I admire anyone with influence who refuses to keep quiet.

On Congress delaying Supreme Court review/ratification until the election

Judge Merrick-GarlandSpeaking of the Supreme Court, just where is it written that the US Congress can shelve their duty to review and ratify a judicial nominee, just because the president belongs to a different party—or because he has entered the last year of his term? That’s ¼ of his elected term. I mean c’mon folks: It’s your sworn duty. Do you job! Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland is not a partisan appointment.

For the record, Judge Garland has previously been vetted and exulted by a Republican Congress. He has distinguished himself as he supervised the investigation into the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing in Olklahoma City.

The never ending issue of safe & legal abortion

What is it that pro-life advocates don’t get—concerning the benefits of a secular, tolerant and inclusive government? I realize that lifers feel strongly that abortion is murder.

But there must be a line between government protection and a person’s own body. To draw the line of government oversight and meddling in the bedroom is beyond outrageous…

‘Pro-choice’ is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. Just as with end-of-life care, we believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than neighbors and government bureaucrats.

And while we’re at it, Planned Parenthood is not a tool of Satan. I can’t imagine an NGO that has done more to elevate women and serve their needs with sensitivity and compassion. Planned ParenthoodWhen you consider the shocking legal restrictions on facilities, tools, professionals, medicine and basic information, this organization shines like a beacon into the dark abyss,

Why is Bitcoin Capped at 21M units?

I was asked this at Quora.com. But the query deserves a companion question, and so I approached the reply by answering two questions.


You might have asked “Why was Bitcoin designed to have a cap?” But, instead, you asked “Why is the cap set at 21 million bitcoins”. Let’s explore both questions starting with the choice of a circulation cap…

Why set the cap at 21 million BTC?

The choice of a cap number is arbitrary and in fact, it could be 1 or one hundred trillion. It makes no difference at all and it has no effect on the economy—even if Bitcoin wereStacks of Bitcoin to be adopted as a currency all over the world. If it were set to 1 BTC, we would simply discuss nano-BTC instead of 1 BTC for amounts of about $650.

In fact, we already do this today. For many purposes, people are concerned with very small payments. And to best discuss these payments, we have the Satoshi. There are 100,000 Satoshi to each bitcoin (BTC).

What is important, is that the total number of bitcoin (regardless of how many units there are) can be divided into very tiny fractions. That way, the total worldwide supply can be divided into smaller and smaller slivers as market adoption gains traction. Everyone needs to earn, save, spend or pay with a piece of the pie. All users need to know is what fraction of the pie do I control? and not how many ounces, pounds, Kg, or tons is the pie. That is just a number.

Incidentally, the same could be said of gold (it can be shaved very thin), but gold is not quite like computer bits. It has industrial and cosmetic value, and this intrinsic demand for gold (beyond it’s role as a pure monetary instrument) has an effect on supply and demand along with the influence of investment, circulation, savings and reserve.

Why is there a cap at all?

At the beginning of this answer, I suggested another question: Why is Bitcoin capped at all? After all, the monetary supply in every country grows. Even gold production is likely to continue for centuries to come. Why not Bitcoin?

Satoshi designed Bitcoin to eventually become a deflationary currency. I believe that he/she recognized inflation is an insipid tax that constitutes an involuntary redistribution of earned wealth. With a firm cap on the total number of units that exist, governments can still tax, spend and even enforce tax collection. They can go about business building bridges, waging war and providing assistance to the needy. But without a printing press in the hands of transient politicians, they can only spend money with the consent of their constituents and residents.

Of course, governments could borrow money by issuing bonds. But with a capped currency, they must convince creditors that the country has the will and the ability of to actually repay its debts from real dollars and not inflated dollars.

In effect, monetary policy is restricted to the business of the governed, but the money itself is not coined by a domestic treasury. It is the province of something that is far more certain than a human institution. It arises from pure math. It is open and transparent. Everyone is an auditor, because the bookkeeping is crowd sourced.

For prescient legislators and national treasurers, Bitcoin presents far more of an opportunity than a threat. It is good for government, business and consumers, because it forces an honest money supply. Ultimately, it builds trust in government, because no one can cook the books, water down wealth, or print their way out of debt.

What about recession. Isn’t it a result of deflation?

Deflation doesn’t lead to recession. Rather, it sometimes accompanies a recession. Recession is caused by an uncertain job market, war, a massive supply chain interruption or political upheaval. In one way or another, it boils down to a lack of confidence sparked by one of the economy’s core foundations: consumers, investors, business or creditors.

Bitcoin as currency removes a major impediment to confidence. By creating a system that cannot be rigged, it fosters trust in government along with an open and transparent treasury.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA and was MC at The Bitcoin Event in New York. He writes for Quora, LinkedINWild Duck and Lifeboat Foundation, where he sits on the New Money Systems Board.

Got Pokémon Go? Not Wesley Crusher!

If your a Trekkie, you remember Wesley Crusher, the young ensign, and son of the ship’s doctor on Star Trek, Next Generation. The character, played by Will Wheaton, appeared regularly for the first four seasons. But beginning with Season five, he made sporadic appearances as a guest star.

tumblr_inline_mqzrxpodNn1qz4rgpIn “The Game” (season 5, episode 6), Wesley locks lips with Ashley Judd, in her first on-screen kiss. It certainly wasn’t Will Wheaton’s first kiss. In “The Dauphin” (season 2, episode 10), he smooches with Salia, a shape-shifting alien with a penchant for morphing between a glowing pile of Jello into the more pleasing form thedauphin1-300x229of teen actress, Jamie Hubbard.

But I digress…

Wesley and his romantic interest hitch a ride on his former ship and discover that a virtual reality game is spreading across the crew like Ecstasy, or more specifically, like Pokémon Go, a Nintendo app that—just 5 tumblr_inline_mqznzssqzs1qz4rgpdays ago—no one had heard of. Now, it runs on one in five smart phones and is spreading like wildfire.

No phenomenon has ever spread across 20% of the population in 5 days. Not in the physical world—and not even in the digital realm. Edison’s gramophone and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone are indisputably more crave worthy inventions than catching cartoon characters in imaginary balls. Yet, it took these earth shattering inventions twelve years to achieve market penetration.

Kitarian Game on Star Trek Next Generation

A quick pleasure? Use your thoughts to slide the red disks into the funnels.

The Tienanmen Square tank boy and the blue dress (I still claim that it is gold and white) are just bits and pixels. Yet, even these touchstone photographs spread across the country slower than the current Pokémon Go craze.

And just like the eyeglass-mounted game on the Enterprise, Pokémon Go taps directly into the pleasure center causing players to lose sense of where they are and what they had set out to accomplish. How can I be so sure of it’s nefarious capacity for mind control? After just five days, it is implicated in malware scams and armed robberies. It is every bit as addictive as crack cocaine, and possibly as destructive.

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Forcibly tapping Wesley’s pleasure center via a game

Do you think I’m kidding? When people are addicted to a VR app, bending their will is not difficult. Just ask 1,014 Star Trek crew members who were hypnotized and repuposed by a Ktarian mind control game. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of Wesley Crursher and his girlfriend, Ensign Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), we’d all be speaking Ktarian today!


Postscript: This article is more about a Star Trek episode than it is about a new game app. I have always wanted to write a short post about a terrific television franchise that has touched so many people across three generations and all continents. The sudden spread of a new Internet sensation has simply given me the excuse to do so. Just like “Blink of an Eye”, The Game is indelibly written into my psyche. The parallels with an addictive new game that even captivates my AirBnB guest, Javier, and my neighbor, Lois, is eerie and raises questions about the causes, mechanisms and effects of mind control.

Mr. Trump’s Star of David

“I didn’t do it. I didn’t mean it…We thought it was the star
of a an iconic Sheriff’s badge. Only crooked Hillary or the
liberal media would interpret it as an Anti-Semitic tweet.”

 

No, it’s not a quote from Mr. Trump. It is a mash-up of responses from his deputies and spin-meisters on CNN. They were responding to trump-tweetthis graphic, issued from their leader’s personal and infamous Twitter account.

The great thing about using proxies to do your dirty work, is that you can throw whatever you want toward the wall, and then disavow whatever doesn’t stick.

Along with name-calling and race baiting, it’s what six year olds do best in a sandbox. Later, when they become teens, they mature into slashing tires, throwing Molotov cocktails or electing bigots to the white house.

This is what a Sheriff’s star looks like, Mr. Trump. It has 5, 6 or 7 points. Those with 6 points always have balls at the vertices—especially, Sheriff-5-6-7if it constructed from two equilateral triangles. A Star of David is not an iconic Sheriff’s star.

When used to frame text, graphjic artists and layout editors almost always choose a 7-pointed star, because it maximizes text area. A Star of David is made of two overlapping, equilateral triangles. Although it can portray other things, the shape is fairly distinctive because of its simplicity. There are no balls at the vertices.

According to the FBI, 57% of hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews, while only 16% target Muslims. Your tweet plays to the haters. You know it. Believe me, Mr. Trump, you know it!

As a leading candidate for political office, you most certainly have a sense of your audience and how words and images are likely to be interpreted. star-of-davidYou cannot play dumb with the rest of Americans. But in the event that you are, in fact, clueless, your naïveté or indifference is almost as dangerous as the hate that most Americans suspect of you.

The bottom line is that divisiveness, marginalization and intolerance are the hallmarks of a weak, thin-skinned bully. They have no place in politics and are not compatible with secular government or the democratic process.


Ellery is rarely a political pundit. But he has written about Donald Trump before:

Do you have a right to view an ISIS Kill List?

According to The Clarion Project, a political information bureau that warns westerners of the growing threat from radical Islam, ISIS has published a ‘kill list’ that includes the names, addresses and emails of 15,000 Americans.

Clarion_300So far, this is interesting news, but it is not really new. I found ISIS, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida kill lists going back at least 8 years. This 2012 bulletin complains that NBC would not release the names contained on a kill list.

A kill list is newsworthy, and the Clarion article is interesting—but the article has more “facts” with which the publisher wishes to generate mob frenzy…

  • It explains that 4,000 of the names on the Kill List have been leaked by hackers
  • It echos a report by Circa News that the FBI has decided to not inform citizens that they are on the ISIS kill list.

In a clear effort to whip up and direct audience indignation, it asks readers to take a one-question poll. Which answer would you choose?

  1. I have a right to know if I am on an ISIS kill list
  2. I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list.
    The FBI can protect me without my knowing

Let’s ignore, for a moment, that the editorial comment appended to answer #2 involves a misleading assumption (i.e. that your safety is related to inclusion on the list and that you need or would be the focus of FBI protection). Even before this cheap tactical mis-direction, I am frustrated with the sleazy promotional and shock tactics of The Clarion Project (formerly, stopradicalislam.org).

Muslim Imam, orders the destruction of Christian churches

This a pity—because the Clarion Project also creates and distributes valuable educational literature. For a few years, they were the credible standard in defining and issuing warnings about the dangers of radical Islam—especially as it is seeded and spread from within. The Clarion Project also produces terrific “wake-up” videos and documentary evidence about life under Sharia law and the shocking intolerance, misogyny and disrespect for human rights that characterize ISIS. It highlights the brutal tactics that emerge when regional governments are controlled by religious zealots. Like any repressive dictatorship, ISIS rules through fear instilled by bands of roaming thugs and by turning everyone into snitches.*

But the Kill List Poll points to a growing trend at Clarion. Four years ago, I objected to Meira Svirsky’s inflammatory report that criticizes a DOJ official for refusing to answer a complex and subtle question with a Yes-or-No response. The Clarion Project has a critical and noble goal. But pushing the emotional hot buttons of an audience by over simplifying or vilifying subtleties undermines the entire organization. In the end, it only demonstrates that they are bullies. And just like Donald Trump, bullying plays only to mobs. It is no the way to win hearts and minds.

My Answer to the Poll

  • I do not need to know if my name is on the ISIS kill list

Rationale

Both ISIS leaders and radical clerics have repeatedly declared that *all* Americans, American allies, Jews and non-believers may be killed on the spot or taken as sex slaves to pleasure suicide bombers and Jihadist soldiers. quranThey state that doing this fulfills Jihad and prophecy and is sanctioned by the Holy Qur’an. With this in mind, I feel that the poll options are political, selfish and offensive. It assumes that readers are idiots…

The multiple choice answers are incomplete and misleading. Of course, Americans have a right to know if they are on a kill list—and, in fact, we already know. We are all on that list!

About Radical Islam

The warning bell at the heart of Clarion journalism is an alarm that must be heard—very loudly. Radical Islam is a cancer and not just figuratively. It exhibits all earmarks of a spreading pathogen that invades and attaches itself to its neighbors while building offensive outposts far from the region that it started. It has not yet been contained and excised. It presents a significant ongoing threat to our safety, our health and our wealth.

~Ellery Davies


* I could illustrate my point with photos of men being burned in a cage, the abduction of preteen school girls from their homes (they were given to soldiers), a child slitting the throat of captives, or a women having her nose cut off because she was raped by a stranger. After all, in the twisted world of radical Islam, anyone who is different, unique gay, Christian, or not in agreement with the local Imam is to be tortured and killed.

But I can similarly point to even this comparatively mild video. It shows a Turkish music store under attack last week (June 2016), because a group of thugs suspects that the band signing autographs represents secular hedonism—or that that fans in the store might be consuming alcohol during Ramadan.

Is a Blockchain a Blockchain if it Isn’t?

Anyone who has heard of Bitcoin knows that it is built on a mechanism called The Blockchain. Most of us who follow the topic are also aware that Bitcoin and the blockchain were unveiled—together—in a whitepaper by a mysterious developer, under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto.

That was eight years ago. Bitcoin is still the granddaddy of all blockchain-based networks, and most of the others deal with alternate payment coins of one type or another. Since Bitcoin is king, the others are collectively referred to as ‘Altcoins’.

But the blockchain can power so much more than coins and payments. And so—as you might expect—investors are paying lots of attention to blockchain startups or blockchain integration into existing services. Not just for payments, but for everything under the sun.

Think of Bitcoin as a product and the blockchain as a clever network architecture that enables Bitcoin and a great many future products and institutions to do more things—or to do these things better, cheaper, more robust and more blockchain-01secure than products and institutions built upon legacy architectures.

When blockchain developers talk about permissionless, peer-to-peer ledgers, or decentralized trust, or mining and “the halving event”, eyes glaze over. That’s not surprising. These things refer to advantages and minutiae in abstract ways, using a lexicon of the art. But—for many—they don’t sum up the benefits or provide a simple listing of products that can be improved, and how they will be better.

I am often asked “What can the Blockchain be used for—other than digital currency?” It may surprise some readers to learn that the blockchain is already redefining the way we do banking and accounting, voting, land deeds and property registration, health care proxies, genetic research, copyright & patents, ticket sales, and many proof-of-work platforms. All of these things existed in the past, but they are about to serve society better because of the blockchain. And this impromptu list barely scratches the surface.

I address the question of non-coin blockchain applications in other articles. But today, I will focus on a subtle but important tangent. I call it “A blockchain in name only”

Question: Can a blockchain be a blockchain if it is controlled by the issuing authority? That is, can we admire the purpose and utility, if it was released in a fashion that is not is open-source, fully distributed—and permissionless to all users and data originators?

A Wild Duck Answer (Unmask Charlatans):
Many of the blockchains gaining attention from users and investors are “blockchains” in name only. So, what makes a blockchain a blockchain?

Everyone knows that it entails distributed storage of a transaction ledger. But this fact alone could be handled by a geographically redundant, cloud storage service. The really beneficial magic relies on other traits. Each one applies to Bitcoin, which is the original blockchain implementation:

blockchain_logo▪Open-source
▪Fully distributed among all users.
▪ Any user can also be a node to the ledger
▪Permissionless to all users and data originators
▪Access from anywhere data is generated or analyzed

A blockchain designed and used within Santander Bank, the US Post Office, or even MasterCard might be a nifty tool to increase internal redundancy or immunity from hackers. These potential benefits over the legacy mechanism are barely worth mentioning. But if a blockchain pretender lacks the golden facets listed above, then it lacks the critical and noteworthy benefits that make it a hot topic at the dinner table and in the boardroom of VCs that understand what they are investing in.

Some venture financiers realize this, of course. But, I wonder how many Wall Street pundits stay laser-focused on what makes a blockchain special, and know how to ascertain which ventures have a leg up in their implementations.

Perhaps more interesting and insipid is that even for users and investors who are versed in this radical and significant new methodology—and even for me—there is a subtle bias to assume a need for some overseer; a nexus; a trusted party. permissioned-vs-permissionlessAfter all, doesn’t there have to be someone who authenticates a transaction, guarantees redemption, or at least someone who enforces a level playing field?

That bias comes from our tendency to revert to a comfort zone. We are comfortable with certain trusted institutions and we feel assured when they validate or guarantee a process that involves value or financial risk, especially when dealing with strangers. A reputable intermediary is one solution to the problem of trust. It’s natural to look for one.

So, back to the question. True or False?…

In a complex value exchange with strangers and at a distance, there must be someone or some institution who authenticates a transaction, guarantees redemption, or at least enforces the rules of engagement (a contract arbiter).

Absolutely False!

No one sits at the middle of a blockchain transaction, nor does any institution guarantee the value exchange. Instead, trust is conveyed by math and by the number of eyeballs. Each transaction is personal and validation is crowd-sourced. More importantly, with a dispersed, permissionless and popular blockchain, transactions are more provably accurate, more robust, and more immune from hacking or government interference.

What about the protections that are commonly associated with a bank-brokered transaction? (For example: right of rescission, right to return a product and get a refund, a shipping guaranty, etc). These can be built into a blockchain transaction. That’s what the Cryptocurrency Standards Association is working on right now. Their standards and practices are completely voluntary. Any missing protection that might be expected by one party or the other is easily revealed during the exchange set up.

For complex or high value transactions, some of the added protections involve a trusted authority. blockchain-02But not the transaction itself. (Ah-hah!). These outside authorities only become involved (and only tax the system), when there is a dispute.

Sure! The architecture must be continuously tested and verified—and Yes: Mechanisms facilitating updates and scalability need organizational protocol—perhaps even a hierarchy. Bitcoin is a great example of this. With ongoing growing pains, we are still figuring out how to manage disputes among the small percentage of users who seek to guide network evolution.

But, without a network that is fully distributed among its users as well as permissionless, open-source and readily accessible, a blockchain becomes a blockchain in name only. It bestows few benefits to its creator, none to its users—certainly none of the dramatic perks that have generated media buzz from the day Satoshi hit the headlines.

Related:

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association,
host & MC for The Bitcoin Event and editor at A Wild Duck.