By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Something Wicked This Way Comes

By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Something Wicked This Way Comes

As you may or may not know, overnight, YouTube (a Google/Alphabet company) joined the rest of the digital world in blocking/locking President Trump’s account.  YouTube says that it has “suspended” the account temporarily, removing several videos and barring the President from uploading new videos for the next seven days.  It is worth noting, of course, that seven days from today, President Trump will become former President Trump.

Now, we’ll be blunt: we DO NOT believe that the actions taken concerning the President’s online presence over the last week are necessarily the biggest, most important story in the world.  We do, however, think that the precedent is troubling.  More to the point, we think that the extension of the logic used to lock Trump’s accounts to other entities, namely Parler, is extremely problematic.  For those of you who may not know, Parler is an alternative social media site – or at least it was.  Over the weekend, Amazon Web Services, which hosts about 90% of the internet, decided to stop hosting Parler.  And now, Parler DOES NOT EXIST.

Again, to be clear, Parler itself is not the issue so much as is the precedent it sets.  And that precedent is not about politics or violence or anything else.  It’s about “infrastructure,” as Rod Dreher and an academic friend of his explain here:

An academic friend has been stressing over the weekend in private messages to me that Trump’s Twitter and Facebook bans aren’t the real story. The real story, he says, is “infrastructure” — that is, the means by which all of us do business. If those who control the infrastructure choose to punish conservatives, it’s a much more serious thing. For example, it’s probably bad if publishers decide that Author X is blacklisted, but it’s infinitely worse if Amazon, which sells the overwhelming majority of books in America today, decides that books by Publisher X will no longer be sold by Amazon. You see the difference?

We have a shocking example today, said the professor. He texts:

The number one thing driving innovation in software the last 15 years has been the servicization of everything. You might have heard of “software as a service” (the business model). What that means is that rather than code my own email system, login system, marketing analytics, etc, I pay another company to do this and just insert their code into my website. There are tons of benefits to this but also a number of downsides.

Such as, he writes, today’s massive hack of the rightist website Parler.

From the story:

Parler, which claims to have over 10 million users, has lax rules over content, making the platform very attractive to far-right groups. Google and Apple removed Parler’s smartphone app from their app stores, claiming that the platform allowed posting that seeks to “incite ongoing violence in the U.S..” Amazon took similar measures, removing Parler from its hosting service.

Reddit users claim that the scrape was made possible due to Twilio, an American cloud communications platform that provided the platform with phone number verification services, cutting ties with Parler.

In a press release announcing the decision, Twilio revealed which services Parler was using. This information allowed hackers to deduct that it was possible to create users and verified accounts without actual verification.

With this type of access, newly minted users were able to get behind the login box API used for content delivery. That allowed them to see which users had moderator rights and this in turn allowed them to reset passwords of existing users with simple “forgot password” function. Since Twilio no longer authenticated emails, hackers were able to access admin accounts with ease.

These hackers will have enough information now to dox everyone. This, I am told, “is a version of what some on the online right have dubbed anarcho-tyranny: actions of a private company create a space for illegal actors to do things for which no one will be punished by the state for ideological reasons.”

As we noted the other day – directing you to look at the cover of my new book – we have skin in this game.  If Amazon were to decide that it didn’t especially care for what we’ve said about it as a company and about its hypocrisy, it could, more or less, kill the book.  And because we happen to be conservatives, it could do so without much trouble or much pushback.  It’s dangerous, you see, to traffic in unapproved ideas and Amazon has already set the precedent that it considers itself the ultimate arbiter of what is or is not a dangerous or unapproved idea.

For the time being, at least, we are small potatoes, far too small for anyone at Amazon to care about.  But…we would like to sell a few books, so who knows what the future holds.

Anyway, all of this is a prelude to what we really want to talk about today, which is our plans for this newsletter and the audience it serves.  We have hinted around about this several times, and we didn’t plan on discussing it in any depth just yet, given that all the pieces are not yet in place.  Nevertheless, the events of the last few days have accelerated our timeline.  In brief, the scope of material and services here is about to change.  For almost twenty years, we’ve fussed and fidgeted, tearing our hair out, as we tried to figure out how to do more with what we produce and how to use that to provide greater value for our readers.  We think we’ve finally found an answer.

What we plan to do here is to facilitate the kind of community that we’re always prattling on about and which Alasdair MacIntyre described in the last paragraph of After Virtue:

What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.

The most important words there, we think, are “civility and the intellectual and moral life,” which is to say that we intend to construct a community that is civil, that is intellectual (or at least intellectual-ish), and that is interested in identifying and invigorating the virtues that will help us survive the present Dark Ages.  To that end, we are planning to provide two important and otherwise absent services.

First, we intend for this community to be a stronghold of opposition to the politicization of capital markets.  We believe in free and fair capital markets.  We have dedicated our entire careers to identifying and warning against the social, moral, and political trends and events that threaten free and fair capital markets.  And now we intend to create a community whose members are dedicated to those same principles, not just for their own sake as investment professionals, but as individuals who recognize the importance of non-politicized capital markets to the economic future of the nation and its people.

Second, we want to provide a safe-harbor of sorts for the discussion of these matters and the political and social themes that underpin them, the ideas and observations that have always formed the foundation of our work.  Discussion has become something of a tainted notion over the last couple of weeks, and we think that’s unfortunate, to say the least.  We want to ensure that those whose opinions about the most important questions of the day differ from those of the mainstream media and political establishments have an opportunity to discuss these questions and the answers to them in a fair and reasonable environment.

We will, over the next several weeks and months, be rolling out various additions to our current newsletter.  Our new website will be first, followed by enabling comments on articles, discussion forums, podcasts, targeted conference calls, etc.  Most importantly, the plans now include efforts to insulate ourselves both from those who are calling for violence in response to political disagreements AND those who would use the digital infrastructure to silence dissident voices.

Obviously, this is a massive undertaking on our part, which is why we’ve been so hesitant to get into the details of what we’re doing.  There is much more to explain, obviously, and we will do so in due time.  For now, just know that we are cognizant that there are gaps in our civic life that can and should be filled, that we intend to fill them in our own small way, and that we will need your support to do so.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

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