There’s a decent chance that we live at the very beginning of the tiny sliver of time during which the galaxy goes from nearly lifeless to largely populated. That out of a staggering number of persons who will ever exist, we’re among the first. And that out of hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, ours will produce the beings that fill it.
I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people.’
If You Give A Lobster Enough THC, Will It Notice That It Is Boiling To Death?
One evening, Gill watched the lobsters cook, gazing over them clamoring over one another, trying to crawl out of the pot as the bubbling hellbroth slowly transformed each animal from darkly-hued spidery bottomfeeders into ruby-red dinnerplate centerpieces, their lives extinguished in the process.
“I thought, just because they’re in their little shells and they don’t have vocal cords, that doesn’t mean there isn’t extreme suffering happening there,” Gill says. “It’s obvious. You can see it.”
Jackie Bryant THC: The High Crustaceans
A much more existential conundrum than it would appear to be.
I’m not an out-and-out Alfred Hitchcock stan — if we’re in the trust tree, I can’t say I’ve seen all his movies — but, for me, his legacy was his ability to redefine what a movie “was allowed” to do. Uncompromising, he executed the vision for his art, regardless of the convention of the day.
When Psycho was released in 1960, movies were exceptionally laissez-faire. People would come and go as they pleased, the plot not entirely central to the movie-going experience; rather, the movie was part of the evening’s broader panorama of entertainment. Whenever dinner wrapped up, you went to the theater and arrived when you arrived and if the movie had started 20 minutes ago… well, then the movie started 20 minutes ago and you just joined when you did. It was the habitual moviegoing culture of the era.
But for anyone who has seen Psycho — spoiler alert but seriously go see the movie already it’s incredible — you know that the famous Shower Scene™ happens early in the movie, roughly a third of the way in. This was brand new to cinema ethos. No one removed a top-billed star that early in a movie; a lot of the time, the audience wasn’t even entirely there yet. Because of this, Hitchcock refused to allow people to enter the showings after they had begun. He knew people would be upset if they arrived too late and didn’t get to see the famous actress, the one they were there to see. (In this case, it was Janet Leigh. Psycho would go on to be her most famous role even though she had performed in 34 other films before this one.)
It was a middle finger to convention. Hitchcock had killed off the movie’s famous actress before the true plot of it even began. “Furthermore, what would one imagine a picture to contain,” NY Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote in August 1960, “when the customer is told to see it from the beginning and asked not to reveal how it ends?” The movie itself featured a pre-recorded message from Hitchcock himself pleading with the audience not to spoil what they were about to watch.
“Sensitive souls have been outraged by the candor of its stark morbidity, and agonized victims of its refrigerating process have howled for the protection of censorship. Psychiatrists have mumbled that it is liable to induce a state of shock (which is precisely what Mr. Hitchcock intended), and fearful parents have shuddered for their young.
“On the other hand, thousands of people — maybe millions by now — have come away deliciously coated with goose-pimples and happily trailing their tattered nerves, satisfied that this time they have got a good solid boot out of a film.”
He didn’t just rest on his laurels, either; he didn’t just see a world beyond what wasn’t. He kept pushing the boundaries of conventions, compelled to not repeat himself. This was my favorite thing about him. The movie he released before Psycho was North by Northwest, famous in its own right, a romantic story filled with tons of action sequences — not quite the same genre as the follow-up. He wasn’t going to do the same movie again; instead, he made a “startling, ghouling” release that was “especially nefarious” (Crowther).
It wasn’t fun for him to do the same thing over again. That compulsion to switch things up ultimately led him to a very particular and historic silence, and it was this silence that rings the loudest for me.
The Impossible Task
You may not remember exactly how the shower scene in Psycho unfolds — Was she stabbed on screen? Do we ever see her naked? Do you ever see Mother’s face? — but you absolutely remember its soundtrack. If the scene itself is famous, that bit of music is legendary. It was composed by Hitchcock’s longtime co-conspirator and super-famous composer Bernard Herrmann whose savvy and twisted use of the romantic violin instead had it shriek in terror, heretofore unheard of, creating a violent noise germane to the scene. Herrmann, “Hitchcock’s Maestro,” had also done the music for Hitchcock’s previous film, North by Northwest, and had returned to him for Psycho; his execution of the soundtrack subsequently etched his name alongside one of the defining sounds of all time.
But those piercing shrills are a corollary to the thesis here. They’re infinitely recognizable. They are synonymous with terror in a manner that exists outside of cinema. And, while we have the benefit of the hindsight of history, even at the time, the scene itself combined with such an aggressive encroachment of your ears made the movie an immediate hit, the music the perfect companion. Truly, the soundtrack was the movie. Everyone in 1960 knew that soundtrack just like you and I know it today.
Herrmann knew it, too, and he would be the one faced with the task of following it up. Hitchcock had (smartly) tapped him to also do his next film, The Birds, and Herrmann had to figure out a way to not just leverage his craft to creep people out alongside an esoteric and niche plot wherein violent bird attacks plague a seaside town, but he also had to one-up his work on Psycho.
An impossible task.
After long and careful consideration, he arrived at his conclusion: He wouldn’t. He convinced Hitchcock to not use a soundtrack at all. And he didn’t. Go back and watch the movie; there is no music. There is no soundtrack. Herrmann isn’t credited as a composer on the film; he’s credited as a Sound Consultant, the only credit in his history that comes from the Sound Department and not the Music Department.
Hitchcock used this limitation as a way to instill fear and neurosis. He would go on to use naturally occurring sounds and sound effects to set the tone of the film, which turned out to be the perfect use case for a movie about ornithophobia. Until there was a real-life social experiment, no one could have predicted how common it was for people to expect music underneath a movie and how it would subconsciously affect them when it was absent. And, in a movie about birds where the sounds and noises in it became part of its lore, the sound design choice ended up being the ultimate example of addition by subtraction.
I can’t make the claim to have seen every Hitchcock film, but the man certainly had a knack for pulling off brilliant ideas alongside clever marketing stunts. He pushed the limits of creativity, and, in the biggest moments of his career with the biggest decisions on the line, he continually chose to push the limits of the status quo and to do things differently than he had before. That’s the road I want to take, and I want it to make the difference.
“With a life like mine, Doctor, who needs dreams?”
Alexander Portnoy Portnoy’s Complaint, p. 164
“Nearly every country in the world found itself in a similar bind: its citizens outraged, its government complicit. Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy.”
To know Signal and their affront – and we’ll get to what Signal is in a second – you have to know Cellebrite. (Cheery name, nefarious business.) A “digital forensics company” that promises to “protect and save lives” and “bring justice to victims and convict bad actors in the most challenging cases,” you’d read their marketing materials and hand over your life to them. In order to make good on the promises of “justice,” the company makes myriad products to assist individuals and organizations in accessing and collecting digital data. Specifically, there are these two:
UFED, a program that allows one to “lawfully access locked devices with ease,” aka bypass security protocols like your facial recognition, phone passcode, and more
Physical Analyzer, a program that, once UFED has done its job and you’re in the device, reveals and analyzes “key pieces of digital evidence (and) trace events,” aka files, folders, and metadata. (Like every location you’ve ever been at when you took a photo.)
In a best-case scenario, technology like this is used for good. Terrorist phone found, it’s unlocked, unencrypted, and reveals the location and plans of future terrorist actions, plot thwarted. Good guys win.
If only there were more money in that line of work.
In true-case scenarios, Cellebrite is one of the more iniquitous actors on the stage. Their largely secret operations provide software to law enforcement agencies to questionably profile large groups of humans and manipulate personal liberties. According to Upturn, a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3), that deals in policing, government, and technology, “given how routine these (mobile device) searches are today, together with racist policing policies and practices, it’s more than likely that these technologies disparately affect and are used against communities of color.” As they write, “Every American is at risk of having their phone forensically searched by law enforcement.”
Cellebrite would love that.
Law enforcement in all 50 states and in DC have purchased some form of mobile device forensic tool (MDFT). “State police forces and highway patrols in the US have collectively spent millions of dollars on this sort of technology to break into and extract data from mobile phones,” VICE’s Motherboard wrote; state police departments have spent over $11.5MM on MDFTs since 2015 (Appendix C – with locales listed, too).
Signal itself has also written that Cellebrite’s “customer list has included authoritarian regimes in Belarus, Russia, Venezuela, and China; death squads in Bangladesh; military juntas in Myanmar; and those seeking to abuse and oppress in Turkey, UAE, and elsewhere.”
In its quest for a globalpolicestate that leverages its products, in early December, Cellebrite announced support for breaking into Signal, claiming they can now “help law enforcement lawfully access the Signal app. … At Cellebrite, we work tirelessly to empower investigators in the public and private sector to find new ways to accelerate justice, protect communities, and save lives.”
There’s only one catch: That’s impossible.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “When you strike at the King, you must kill him.” Cellebrite came after the wrong monarch.
Moxie Marlinspike is the pen name for Matthew Rosenfeld, the man who founded the Signal Foundation. That nonprofit is dedicated to providing open-source tech (read: free for everyone) to protect “free expression and enable secure global communication.”
The jewel in that King’s crown is Signal, a true-encryption messaging application that has no ads, no trackers – nothing. Whereas other messaging (and social) apps claim to “responsibly manage” your data, Signal just flat out doesn’t store it. It has end-to-end encryption, ensuring a level of privacy the watchmen hate. They would much prefer to “responsibly” police your state rather than treat you as innocent.
The private app has been used by people to truly avoid unlawful, unwanted, and unsolicited surveillance, a lot of which comes from the government of the citizens. There is no possible way to interpret the app’s metadata. So when the company claims that “Cellebrite Physical Analyzer now allows lawful access to Signal app data,” it’s a deliberate lie.
Thus, Moxie has a counterargument to make.
Once they came after his app, he decided to do some investigating of his own, writing up his findings on Signal’s blog. Lying inside Cellebrite’s products he finds sweet, sweet revenge.
Because Cellebrite’s software makes claims in the ballpark of bypassing security, Moxie examined Cellebrite’s product security. Under the hood, he found that a number of industry-standard risk- and exploit-mitigating defenses aren’t even there. (Moxie points to a third-party plugin that their products leverage that was last updated in 2012; since then, over 100 security updates have been released, all of which can be exploited in Cellebrite’s software.)
This means Signal can package a file in their app that only runs when the phone is hooked up to a Cellebrite program, and, when that does happen, execute code. If one were so inclined, that code could, as Moxie relays, alter the results of not just the scan being performed on the current phone but also alter the results on every scan ever performed or will be performed by that Cellebrite machine. It can be done in actual stealth (technically, “with no detectable timestamp changes or checksum failures”).
And that’s only one of the many, many ways the exploits Moxie found can be exploited. Moxie also documents the company’s use of pirated libraries from companies like Apple to create their products, something Apple is no doubt interested in knowing about.
The icing on the cake: Signal will be randomly assigning these reverse-exploit files with random versions on random app installs that will never interact with the Signal app in any capacity. The only significance is to (rightfully) call into question the integrity of all past, present, and future data from Cellebrite.
It’s a thing of nerd beauty. Or, as Omar says, you come at the king, you best not miss.
In mid-April, (famous to the financial sector) David Einhorn wrote a letter to the investors of his firm Greenlight Capital. He wrote about the usual suspects: winners, losers, and justification for the performance. Everyday material.
His overarching thesis, in the letter, was that the stock market was completely broken.
In Einhorn’s letter, he also brought to light Your Hometown Deli (4.3 stars on 51 reviews!). Since thisisaviralstory and you’ve likely heard of it, here is the recap that major media outlets have been running with: A small deli in New Jersey made a combined $38,000 over the past two years and is (befuddlingly) publicly traded (HWIN) that has made it worth $100MM depending on its share price – despite closing for basically all of 2020 due to COVID.
Red flags everywhere:
The shop’s CEO-slash-CFO-slash-Treasurer-slash-Director owns shares that are valued at $20MM – and he’s the wrestling coach of a nearby institution
The VP of the shop is a high school math teacher
Neither the shop owner nor the VP takes a salary for their work
“Small investors who get sucked into these situations are likely to be harmed eventually…”
That’s the point, here. Meme stock, right? Another dubious investment vehicle, another way retail investors can try and catch and ride a wave that almost always ends with a wish in one hand and shit in the other. End of story.
Oh, and a couple more things, though. The shares trade “thinly on the over-the-counter market,” according to CNBC. The shop’s owner also has ownership in the group that leases the building to the deli. The chairman of Your Hometown Deli Limited Liability Company – Peter Coker, Jr. – owns or is in bed with multiple Eastern equity firms and whose dad was the CEO of a New Zealand-based jetpack company when New Zealand was a notorious front for criminals heavily implicated in the Panama Papers. (Not coincidentally, Coker, Jr. was also the chairman of New Zealand-based Wellington Securities beginning in 2002.)
And oh by the way the deli listed now-disbarred lawyer Gregg Jaclin on its early financial documents. Jaclin just happens to have recently been found guilty of fraud, SEC false filings, “schemes to conceal material fact from a government agency,” and obstruction of justice. Said a different way: Jaclin is guilty of federal crimes relating to setting up shell companies. The SEC entered a “final judgment against New Jersey lawyer Gregg E. Jaclin for running a fraudulent shell factory scheme through which sham companies were taken public and sold for a profit,” they wrote.
When Einhorn writes about the deli-as-cautionary-tale, that’s unequivocally true. Considering he is a player in the game and the stonks craze is partially responsible for Greenlight’s mediocre Q1 performance, it stands to reason he wants more regulation and to legislate out the unfair play.
But the subtext is the real story. The media reports on the viral nature of the deal but scratch one layer beneath the surface and it’s a complete joke. If you’re suckered into investing in Your Hometown Deli, trust me, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.
Instead, it’s the Coker family, lifelong tax goons, drawing in people like Jaclin to help launder and stash money.
In 1992, the elder Coker applied for bankruptcy, The Morning Call noting him as a “solvent debtor who wishes to appear insolvent”; a man whose “memory regarding his assets has suffered from selectivity and incompleteness,” whose “sole reported income” is for the $1,800 a month his wife claims, whose filings omit “his multiple country club memberships and his monthly operating expenses.” (Now, Coker is the founder of Tryon Capital Ventures, to which Your Hometown Deli pays $15,000 a month for consulting services.)
On the other hand is the junior Coker who was ordered to pay $1.15MM in restitution for his “work” with Sitework Safety Supplies collecting payroll taxes from his employees but not handing them over to the IRS stemming from the mid-2010s. Coker, Jr. who, in the present, is the chairman of South Shore HoldingsA holding company that “conducts its engineering and property related services in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia.” which operates the “ultra-luxury” brand THE13… which applied for a stay in order to not suspend operations because its bank issued a demand for immediate payment of HK$2.48 billion (about $320MM USD).
An American who tried on tax evasion as a wealth vehicle that now operates an ultra-luxury deli in New Jersey.
This family is obviously crooked. The apple didn’t far very far from the tree. In regards to Your Hometown Deli, as Cory Doctorow writes, “It appears that mysterious people, possibly in China and Macau and Hong Kong, decided to park $100MM in a convenience store and got a couple (of) local high-school teachers in on the bit.”
You have probably suspected as much at some point: Rich people know how to stay rich. They know the loopholes, they have enough money to find the loopholes, and, if that doesn’t work, they know how to outright cheat – especially when the “fine” becomes a cost of doing business. We’ll do it the proper way until it doesn’t work for us, then we’ll just pay the fee, apologize, and continue to do it.
The Cokers’ actions are just exposed stupidity but, like seeing one roach inside your house, it means there are hundreds more inside your walls. As Yuval Noah Harari has written, once businesses became entities and had the same rights as humans, a myth (businesses as humans) became real. Capitalists (read: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations) will argue this protection is necessary for people to take risks thus breeding innovation, competition, and investment in people. And that’s true. But the laws of unintended consequences gave iniquitous actors a meteoric rise to protection and control that becomes almost impossible to dismantle.
That’s what Einhorn is saying. Coker’s scheme was tipped off to Einhorn who exposed it with the help of a viral headline. (No doubt, an SEC investigation will follow.) But there are thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of instances of these actual viruses that plague the stock market. While the fun, viral headline is “look what crazy retail investing has done to the stock market!!!”, the often ignored, underreported, and uncovered truth is something incredibly nefarious.
“Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren’t anything like machines. They weren’t dependable. They weren’t efficient. They weren’t predictable. They weren’t durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others.
“These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame.
“And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn’t high enough.
“So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too.
“And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be.
“The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all.
“The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else.
“And they discovered that they weren’t even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too.
Technology is (sub)consciously polarizing. While we’ll never have to memorize directions again for the rest of our lives, three-year-olds are now more comfortable with their iPads than their fathers.
After reading that, how did it make you feel? Did you agree? Did it turn your stomach? Did you think it was unfair? In my personal experience (and in my small-sample orbit), the majority of responses to that type of statement trend towards disparagement.
I’ve thought that, too. I’ve made the personal decision to abandon accounts on social media heavyweights (TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter); even being hyperaware of its effects as a means of mitigation, I still experience noticeable depression when I engage with the platforms after as little as one minute of browsing. It colors my opinion of device use and capital-S capital-M Social Media, even though people find genuine joy and community online.
I never want my personal experience to color my opinion of the whole – which would be assuredly inaccurate and wholly unfair. The common refrain from Old People seems to be that the widespread proliferation of a camera trained entirely on the self has naturally produced a generation of narcissists. Though there is evidence that’s not true, the idea that I have entertained that very position is what makes me feel Old. Like when my parents were told weed was a deadly menace, the progression of time will happen regardless of the prevailing philosophies of the day. For most of Gen Z – and unquestionably Generation Alpha – they’ve lived their entire lives online. For developed countries, it’s not “a” way of life, it’s “the” way of life. And that doesn’t make it a monster.
Alexis Ohanian, the Reddit co-founder who very publicly stepped down from the company amidst the Black Lives Matter movement, went on the Bill Simmons Podcast (which you can stream below), and, around the 82:00 mark, Ohanian took the opposing viewpoint on this downside-of-ubiquitous-tech debate. It was refreshing, inspiring, and it was the first time I’d ever heard someone approach it from this angle:
“I’m going to spin it for you. … This generation – the narcissist generation, the digital native generation, (the) selfie generation – they are the first generation to think of themselves as much as creators as consumers of content. And that’s powerful, right?
“We used to watch a movie and we’d be like, ‘That was a good movie.’ And maybe we’d bullshit with our friends after and be like, ‘I would have done this differently, maybe.’ But this generation can watch the movie and actually remix it and make it better and upload it and actually have that remix – whether it’s a movie or a song or artwork or whatever – be better. Even when they’re editing silly videos on TikTok, they’re using pretty impressive editing techniques. They are interpreting culture and content with the mindset of I can create something even better, which is really empowering. …
“So I think it’s good, man. Bring on the narcissist generation of creators.”
Alexis Ohanian (lightly edited)
I love hearing that. I’ve long admired younger generations’ abilities to accomplish sophisticated video editing on a device with a 4″ screen size that used to take us days and thousands of dollars worth of software and an immobile hunk of machinery to complete. Ohanian has connected a dot that binds a pervasively digital lifestyle to empowerment I never saw before.
It’s enabled access, and not just from a creative perspective but from a literal one, too; for example, technologically creative design in prosthetics imagines new worlds for humans with disabilities. A digitally-native generation will take up that torch and create even more innovative realities – both physically, digitally, and (of specific note) metaphysically. That’s a reality entertained because they believe in themselves, which, as Ohanian points out, began with their entitlement to create made possible by living a life entirely augmented by technology.
I have long been rolling around the idea in my head that what humans call “technology” is what theists ascribe to “god.” Today, I read this from author Yuval Noah Hariri, which helps to put more words to those thoughts:
“History began when humans invented gods and will end when humans become gods.”
Yuval Noah Hariri
Their refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.
Vladimir Nabokov On Lolita, published in 1955
In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the twenty-first century, censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information.
When you hear the phrase “free market,” you probably think of “a market that is free from regulation.” But that’s the opposite of the phrase’s original meaning.
Adam Smith used the term to describe a market that was free from “economic rents”: money earned by owning things rather than doing things. Smith recognized that markets attract parasites – “rentiers” – who seek to drain wealth by “investing” rather than building and doing.
(This) meant that, in the absence of muscular state intervention, markets would become less and less free, more and more dependent on the whims of rentiers who used money to breed money by creating toll-barriers between parts of the productive economy.
For Smith, markets were only free if they were regulated. But that’s the opposite of the way that we talk about free markets today. Today, a free market is a market where you are free to collect rents: passive income from owning things at the expense of people doing things.
Progress thus appears to be based upon economic inequalities and injustice. This defence of unearned surpluses as the incentive and the source of economic progress takes the revolutionary bull by the horns.
Frustrated by Nike’s lack in creativity and New Ports (sic) successes in marketing something that will kill you in this glossy colorful way, he wanted to make a case study in the form of an art piece that posed a question to both these brands. … Made in China, in only 252 pairs, which is what constitutes a sample run, they were released on the 17th of June 2006, sold exclusively via the Alife and Clientele in N.Y., the sneaker quickly became a sold-out cult classic…
“The Story of the Most Forbidden Sneaker Ever Made” Peter Dahlgren and Andrea Tuzio
I’m stealing these three phases. They came from the a16z podcast, “On Fear and Leadership: Product to Sales CTOs and CEOs” (which you can listen to at the bottom of this post). The prevailing conversation concerns a number of topics that growing leaders in growing startups face: trepidation in hiring an external CEO, all-hands meetings, recruiting talent, handling “title fetishization,” existing without CEOs (“never hire an interim CEO”).
But, to me, the beginning of the podcast outlines how the phases of the company align with the phases of company leaders. Martin Casado, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz and inventor of software-defined networking, delineates three phases through which every startup goes; Armon Dadgar, the co-founder and CTO of HashiCorp, contributes the simple-but-digestible metaphorThe metaphor was originally proffered by Robert X. Cringely in his book Accidental Empires as “commandos, infantry, and police” and later popularized by Simon Wardley. that helps to explain what the leaders of a company should look like within each phase.