Who Needs Law School?

Recently I reported on Internet cause célèbre Ross Ulbricht, allegedly Dread Pirate Robers, founder and leader of online black market The Silk Road. Hailed by Libertarians far and wide as a hero fighting The Man, Ulbricht has been accused of building a website whose express purpose was to sell illegal items, including but not limited to, drugs. Ross’s mother Lyn Ulbricht recently appeared at Libertarian celebration Porcfest where she gave a speech about her son, then an interview where she spoke about the horrors that would be visited upon the citizenry of America should her son be convicted.

 

The narrator (presumably the person who interviewed Mrs. Ulbricht) says “This case is the birth of law for the digital future. Watch it as a spectator at your peril. How will the results affect everyone’s future regarding the Internet, liability, privacy, and Bitcoin?” and the response is, as you would expect, highly hyperbolic.

Mrs. Ulbricht believes that this case will set some sort of precedent whereby the Government will now begin to intrude on people’s freedom on the Internet, which would be an incredible leap from their existing behaviour of respecting people’s privacy online. And we don’t want that, now do we?

She goes on to argue that her son should not be held responsible for what people used the Silk Road for since he only hosted the web site, he didn’t sell any contraband himself. That means her little boy is protected under the Communications Decency Act which prevents website operators (like Facebook, for instance) from being held liable if a user posts something illegal on the site (like a death threat against the President, for example.) Further, Mrs. Ulbricht believes (likely as a result of attorney Joshua Dratel’s advice) that money laundering charges don’t apply here because bitcoin isn’t money! Check-and-MATE motherfucker!

Law school, bitch!

Law school, bitch!

Now, I am not a lawyer myself, so Mr. Dratel definitely has a leg up on me there. I have watched a shit ton of cop shows on TV, however. Not so much the courtroom dramas, but I still like to think that I have a fairly firm grasp on the fundamentals of the US legal system. So after I found this video posted up on Reddit, I decided to post my views on it.

  1. The TOR scare isn’t very valid. The government developed TOR and they know who uses it (lawyers, journalists, corporations) and why they use it (to protect State Secrets, corporate Intellectual Property, to protect journalistic sources, etc) so saying “And if you use TOR the gubment is going to call you a criminal!” is spurious. That will just be added as evidence along with other behaviors you engage in to build a case. Using TOR by itself means nothing.
  2. If I exchange a kilo of cocaine for a Cadillac El Dorado I cannot say in my defense “No money changed hands!” because that is a ridiculous argument. I am still trafficking in contraband and it doesn’t matter what I exchanged it for. If, however, I make the exchange for a precious commodity like gold or bitcoin, then money laundering charges may apply, especially if the commodity in question is sold for fiat currency. NOTE: That does not mean I agree that cocaine should be illegal, but I don’t have the power to change that law.
  3. Ross Ulbricht cannot say he cannot be held responsible for people selling drugs on his website since his website was designed to facilitate the sale of drugs. Further, since he held money in escrow for both parties, that makes him an accessory before and after the fact.

This counts as studying for the bar, right?

A few hours later, after interviewing one of the founders of 21st Century car service Beepi, I decided to swing by Wired.com to see what was happening. Turns out, there was an update on the Ross Ulbricht case:  Judge Katherine Forrest issued a 51 page ruling declining to dismiss all charges against Mr. Ulbricht, presumably while trying to keep a straight face in light of the ridiculous reasons offered by Mr. Dratel.

Among the charges she refused to dismiss were: narcotics trafficking conspiracy, money laundering, and hacking conspiracy charges, as well being charged with “continuing a criminal enterprise” better known as the “kingpin” statute used to prosecute criminal gang and cartel leaders.

Filed in April, the motion to dismiss raised interesting questions: Can Ulbricht be accused of running a drug-selling conspiracy when he merely ran a website that made the narcotics sales possible? And can he be charged with money laundering when bitcoin doesn’t necessarily meet the requisite definition of money?’

Judge Forrest apparently watched the same TV shows I did (not sure if she watched them while at law school or home) because her answer was yes and yes . Every argument was rejected (probably with “DUH” interjected every so often) starting with the idea that Ulbricht had merely provided a platform for hosting the Silk Road’s e-commerce, just like eBay or Craigslist.

“Silk Road was specifically and intentionally designed for the purpose of facilitating unlawful transactions, Ulbricht is alleged to have knowingly and intentionally constructed and operated an expansive black market for selling and purchasing narcotics and malicious software and for laundering money. This separates Ulbricht’s alleged conduct from the mass of others whose websites may—without their planning or expectation—be used for unlawful purposes.”

Dratel, had attempted to make the case that if anything, the Silk Road should be covered by a law known as the “Crack House Statute.” Passed in 1986, the law was created to hold landlords accountable for knowingly owning a property where drug deals were taking place. Dratel reasoning went along the lines that this law would be unnecessary if the more serious narcotics charges in his client’s case applied.

Forrest, however, countered that Ulbricht is accused of being much more than a negligent landlord. By allegedly designing the Silk Road to maximize user anonymity via Tor and bitcoin, she argues that he had invited drug dealers onto the property.

“Ulbricht’s alleged conduct is more akin to a builder who designs a house complete with secret entrances and exits and specially designed traps to stash drugs and money, This is not an ordinary dwelling, but a drug dealer’s ‘dream house.’”

She also noted that Ulbricht is accused of working to organize, control, and take a commission from all sales on the Silk Road—the kind of behavior that would make him an active participant.

“The allegations amount to Ulbricht acting as a sort of ‘godfather’—determining the territory, the actions which may be undertaken, and the commissions he will retain; disciplining others to stay in line; and generally casting himself as a leader – and not a service provider.”

Law SCHOOLED, bitch!

So far, I’m doing okay here, right?  The Judge and I agree that you cannot create a platform for the express purpose of creating criminal activity, then say “Holy shit, I didn’t believe anyone was actually going to DO it!  Although I made sure they understood they had to pay me a cut of the action if they DID decide to do it!” 

What about the bitcoin isn’t money, argument, though?  Both FINCEN and the IRS say it isn’t, but I have argued that barter still counts since the IRS will tax you regardless. Well, according to Judge Forrest, barter still counts when you are conducting drug deals.

“Sellers using Silk Road are not alleged to have given their narcotics and malicious software away for free – they are alleged to have sold them. The money laundering statute is broad enough to encompass use of Bitcoins in financial transactions. Any other reading would—in light of Bitcoins’ sole raison d’etre—be nonsensical.”

Apparently owning this makes you a paralegal.

This ruling is going to have a tremendous impact for a few other people, starting with Charlie Shrem, the former Bitcoin Foundation vice chairman who was arrested last January and charged money laundering for helping a Silk Road client exchange his bitcoins for cash. And of course, Cody Wilson who told a reporter for Wired magazine that DarkWallet is “money laundering software” because there’s no possible way for statements like that to come back and bite him in the ass.

And to ensure that no one took him out of context, Wilson went on to say “I want a private means for black market transactions, whether they’re for non-prescribed medical inhalers, MDMA for drug enthusiasts, or weapons.”

That’s a bold attitude, and one that I have no trouble admitting that I can admire. The question, however, is can he keep it up when the police are knocking on his door?

Why Marvel Comics Is Going to Rule Hollywood

There have been a lot of comic book-based movies in the past decade, and some of them have been pretty damn amazing. Of the top ten highest grossing superhero films, six of them are Marvel characters. The others belong to Batman and Superman, respectively.

What is thy bidding, my master?

What is thy bidding, my master?

It’s not just that the technology finally caught up to where we can create an immersive action film where the audience truly believes what they are seeing, not because it makes perfect sense, but because it looks natural in its environment. No, the Marvel franchise is getting bigger and going deeper than any other because they are treating  these movies as crossover comics brought to life.

I just wish they would leave the Asgardians out of it. For some reason, it just never seems to work out.

I just wish they would leave the Asgardians out of it. For some reason, it just never seems to work out.

It takes twelve months to tell a fully detailed story like Civil War, Dark Reign, or the Evolutionary War in comics. Couple that with the various tie-ins between books, and suddenly it all becomes a confusing mess that takes serious co-ordination to pull off.

Releasing a new film every six months, however, is a lot easier to pull off. Especially with each film focusing on a different character or set of characters. The movies can reference each other easily, and you can bookend the trailer with little bonus scenes to tease viewers with upcoming films.

And now, with Agents of SHIELD and their upcoming Netflix original series, Marvel Studios continues to dominate the entertainment world by bringing comics to life. And unlike the long=running Smallville, these are all being tied together into one, well-connected web that nerds like me having been waiting a thousand years for.

Agents of SHIELD isn’t exactly on par with Breaking Bad in terms of it’s writing, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be what it is, a damn good live-action comic book. And now that Hydra has revealed themselves, we have entirely new possibilities to explore. Agent Ward can easily become a recurring bad guy, especially now that he has Deathlok as an ally.

I love how they captured the look of him without destroying the engagement I had with the character.

I love how they captured the look of him without destroying the engagement I had with the character.

In the effort of keeping up, Warner Bros is working on 9 DC Comics-related films. I’m guessing most of them are going to involve Batman and Superman in some way, because they have been DCs only success stories in film. (Green Lantern was so bad Hal Jordan hired Matt Murdock to sue to stop production of a sequel.) And despite Wonder Woman showing up in next year’s “Batman vs Superman” it looks like Marvel is going to do a Black Widow solo film before Warner Bros even gets a Wonder Woman script written.

So, until Captain America starts supporting the Patriot Act, make mine Marvel.

Nothing Lasts Forever

This is a sad truism of Existence: eventually everything falls apart. And when i say “everything” then I really mean that in the “encompasses all things in existence” sense of the word. Stars will die, buildings will crumble, civilizations will vanish.

This also applies to human creativity, loathe as many creative people are to admit it. Eventually you will run out of new ideas, eventually you will run out of GOOD ideas. And since all organizations have the exact same pathologies, it’s really only a matter of “when” and not “if.”

In the entertainment industry it’s called “Jumping the Shark” a reference to the seminal 80s sitcom “Happy Days” and an episode where Fonzi was going to ramp over a shark…kept in an underwater cage. You need to see this, in case you never have.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=t4ZGKI8vpcg#t=1s

Pretty awful, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, instead of serving as a stern warning to TV writers (and writers in general) it has instead become an example of stupid bullshit you can get away with because your audience just doesn’t fucking care. It was a lesson learned well by our good friends at the 24 hour news networks.

The trouble with 24 hour news coverage is an incredibly BASIC one: in order to do your job properly, you need to focus on one or two stories. If you are flooding your viewers with the several hundred news stories that occur every day, you are going to drown them in information and they will leave. So, instead, you limit it to a couple items and explore them in depth.

And look how well that has worked out for us. Looking at the situation in a completely objective way, both Fox and CNN do nothing to inform their audiences, and instead spend 90% of their time trying desperately to create drama to keep their audiences glued to the screen. And since stupid people outnumber intelligent people 4 to 1, it is a strategy that is working admirably.

And now we are seeing it happen to the Internet. Comedy megasite Cracked.com has been my favorite internet destination for about 5 years running. I go there for the articles, great videos, and quality research o various topics. David Wong runs a tight ship, and it is fucking great.

At least, it was.

Here’s a link to the Cracked video page. Ignore the videos that were NOT done in-house (this one) and you are left with 16 videos. Only two of which, are actually funny. And one is only funny because it is a Seinfeldian-Pointless-Yet-Funny sort of thing.

This is a seriously talented crew, look at some of their older stuff for proof of this. One of my personal favorites was from the “Those Aren’t Muskets” troupe.  And here’s another, riffing on the classic zombie thing. They are so good that it makes the current stuff look so much shittier, it’s like they aren’t trying any more. Cracked’s video team is now looking like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III. A fat, lazy version of it’s youthful self, bloated on it’s own success and capitalizing on the fact that people love routine and so they will continue to go to Cracked on a daily basis because it is part of the ritual.

They recently added their first non-white columnist since Christina H stopped posting a few months back, and he was the first minority featured prominently in a Cracked video EVER, which is unfortunate for him because it was this one. The reason I bring it up is because I, personally, was tired of seeing articles about racism and sexism being written by an all-white, all-male editorial staff.

I am aware that Christi Harrison and Christina H are editors there, and Harrison is consistently funny. Christina H, on the other hand, rapidly wore out her welcome by saying stupid shit like telling people to make their own coffee to save money is stupid, because they might be too lazy to make their own. (I”m not making that up, by the way.) And, since it was Cracked she was contractually obligated to do a racism article, she complained about Asians being stereotyped as being intelligent and hard working.

This must be a living hell for her, because by her own admission, she is quite intelligent and unmistakably Asian. It must be a nightmare for her to be a living stereotype, especially since that stereotype virtually insures that Asians are never unemployed in the US.

I hope that this is only a rough patch on the road and not a sign that Cracked has gone the route of TV because, due to the rigorous citation standards needed to get published by Cracked, they are aware that there are sound scientific reasons for why TV is an intellectually vapid wasteland. A wasteland where outposts of idiocy are intensely popular, far more so than the oasis of intelligence that pop up here and there.

 

 

 

The Anonymous Files

I think I will start a category for posting articles about 4chan that I find interesting. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with Anonymous, as Spiderbro will attest.  It’s just that their lynch-mob mentality too often turns into just that:  a lynching.

This morning I found this article on Wired about Barrett Brown who claims to be a spokesman for Anonymous.

barrett-brown

Hi, I’m Anonymous.

 

 

He was asking for trouble when he threatened to expose the FBI agents personal information onto the Internet. You cannot threaten Authority and truly believe you will be allowed to walk away unscathed.  The foundations of Society are predicated on the belief that the legitimate use of force has been reserved by Authority which is ultimately accountable to the People.

 

 

If you truly believe that Authority is corrupt then you must be prepared for them to exert their full power on you.  Do not antagonize them with grandiose, incoherent diatribes then cry foul when they arrest you.  Be the Revolutionary you claim you are and accept your fate with the stoicism of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or Sean Connery in The Rock.