Oct
13

Call Me, Harvey. I’ll Defend You

Not since Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm sitting across a diner’s table from Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”  have we seen such disingenuous huffing and puffing about sex from Hollywood. The starlets are atwitter with allegations of being groped, and worse, by Harvey Weinstein, a man who launched more starlets than, well, forgive me, the Big Bang.

Really, people. Hollywood sells sex. We buy the fantasy. People get obscenely rich in the process. Is it any surprise that, assuming the allegations are at least in part true, those tiptoeing the line between fantasy and reality from time to time crossed libidinal boundaries?

Even Hillary Clinton has come out of retirement, exclaiming in horror about the accusations involving Weinstein, as though Monica Lewinsky’s dry-cleaning bills weren’t her husband’s — the former president of the United States — problem.

Let’s hope this libidinal storm passes, and soon. There’s a world of real problems that need solving. North Korea threatens to incinerate while Trump bloviates. Americans are dropping by the thousand to opioid overdoses amid suspicions that the American dream is over. The climate delivers fire, rain and death. A tired world migrates from one place to another in a desperate attempt to escape the grim logic of scarcity.

Will prosecutors really spend the intellectual and social capital necessary to haul Weinstein into court?  They shouldn’t.

Young starlets flocking to the press to denounce Weinstein have stains of their own to explain. How many were willing to play to get paid? It wasn’t chance that put them within Weinstein’s reach; it was ambition. How much were they willing to give to get the stardom he and his studios could offer? You know the answer.

The courts regard sex offenses with a special horror. Rape is a close cousin to murder. It is a furtive, secretive sort of offense. Special rules of evidence, extended statutes of limitations, a solicitousness of accusers inconsistent with the presumption of innocence attend these cases.

But let’s be real: If a woman was raped, fondled, or otherwise abused in ways inconsistent with her sense of dignity, why would it take years for her to make public the outrage? Fear, you say?

Fear of what? Not getting the starring role, the accolades that come of fame?

The legion of victims all reek of the starlet’s hunger to land the starring role. What’s next, Angelina Jolie in the lead of the new docudrama — “Victim!”? The list of accusers grows with the speed of a line at MacDonald’s on a night two burgers are sold for the price of one.

An accuser — calling them victims suggests there is credence to their claims — who waits years to come forward has made a choice, a calculation. In the cold terms of economics, the marginal utility that comes of complaining is low unless and until they get what they wanted all along — fame and public solicitude.

What circumstances lead a young, attractive woman to spend time alone with Harvey Weinstein? Dare I call it naked ambition? The successful among them now live in mansions paid for by titillation.

And why would a starlet hesitate to claim that Weinstein mauled her? An obvious answer — because she got what she played for. 

Prosecutors need to think long and hard about whether to pursue a claim against Weinstein. Politically correct pandering isn’t the pursuit of justice.

I envy the criminal defense lawyer who defends Weinstein against any of these claims. His accusers have dry-cleaning bills all their own to explain. Did Harvey get more pussy than Donald Trump ever dreamed of? Probably. Indeed, the starlets now claiming abuse are so brazen I suspect they’d make even Monica Lewinsky blush.

Weinstein’s defense? Consent. All of us aided and abetted.

Case closed.


Sep
19

Bitcoin's China Syndrome

All eyes are on China as bitcoin rises and falls on digital exchanges. The Wall Street Journal reports that just this past Friday, Chinese authorities in Beijing met with bitcoin entrepreneurs to announce that it will soon shut down bitcoin exchanges and forbid bitcoin trading, even on a peer-to-peer basis, in all of China. The news comes on the heels of an announcement that the Chinese would no longer tolerate commercial exchanges of the cryptocurrency, in a bid to keep capital from fleeing the country. When China sneezes, bitcoin catches a cold.

But methinks Beijing doth protest too much. If the Chinese wanted to crush bitcoin, it could easily do so simply by nationalizing the bitcoin mining operations in the Western part of the nation.

Bitcoin operates by means of a distributed, decentralized ledger, with independent owners or operators of computers confirming transactions on separate computers. Each and every user of Bitcoin can obtain and access a history of all confirmed and valid transactions on an electronic record known as the blockchain. The chain grows in length each ten minutes when transactions are confirmed.

The system eliminates, at least in theory, the need for trusted third parties, whether they be banks, governments or others working for a fee to validate transactions. Theoreticians claim bitcoin solves the so-called Byzantine generals problem.

The what?

Suppose a group of Byzantine generals were surrounding a city, deciding whether to attack or to retreat. Success depends on a consensus about whether to attack or retreat. The generals can only communicate by means of runners who verbally state the orders they relay. How are they to know that all are on the same page, that there is not a traitor in their midst reporting a command to retreat, when, in fact, the order was to attack? In a system of physical runners there isn’t a way to know for certain.

Transformed into commercial terms, how do folks using digital currency to know that the token they are being given hasn’t already been spent – the so-called double spending problem?

If all of the generals had access to a blockchain, there would be no problem. Each order would be posted on a public site, confirmed by multiple parties who were strangers to one another, and then broadcast for all to read. So long as there was a consensus among those confirming the content of the blockchain, the need for trusting strangers is eliminated.

Well, it is sort of eliminated.

The process of confirming a communication isn’t one of merely nodding one’s head in response to a secret signal. A confirmation involves a computer’s solving a complex mathematical problem that all users recognize as governing the system. Only when a computer solves the problem does it register a confirmation. The algorithm governing confirmations grows in complexity over time; the energy required to power computers dedicated to cracking the evolving code grows over time. The process of deriving confirmations is known to insiders as “mining.”

What’s all this to do with China?

Plenty. At least 70 percent of all mining takes place in China, typically in Western China where energy costs are cheap. In other words, more than two-thirds of all the computing power in the world dedicated to confirming bitcoin transactions and building the blockchain take place in China.

If China truly wanted to kill bitcoin, it could arguably do so by administrative fiat, simply by seizing the various mining facilities, almost all of which are operated in giant pools, bank upon bank of supercomputers stored in vast warehouses. Once that happened, China would control the consensus making machinery necessary to confirm, or not, transactions. Bitcoin theorists calls this the 51 percent problem – to date, no one entity has acquired more than 50 percent of the computing power necessary to mine bitcoin. But, as I am sure the Chinese have noticed, they have the means within their border to crash bitcoin.

Why hasn’t it happened if China is so concerned about bitcoin and the yuan?

Perhaps because China doesn’t want to kill this goose laying digital golden eggs. Or, and this is the truly intriguing question, perhaps China can’t kill the goose. Perhaps this decentralized ledger is beyond the control of Beijing – the emperor may be naked.

Social media made possible the Arab Spring and the dislocation and chaos still evident in the Middle East. Are we about to have a Chinese Autumn made possible by the blockchain? It’s an intriguing possibility.

Bitcoin has regulators talking worldwide. The blockchain poses a threat to centralized institutions. It’s no wonder bankers shudder at the thought of a means of global communication that cuts the middleman and his fees out of the picture. And it’s no wonder central governments are wary.

But lest you take this as an anarchist’s dream come true ask yourself the following: As big data and artificial intelligence shrink the globe and make possible calculations once thought unfathomable, what will stop a supercomputer from gaining control of the blockchain?

Perhaps the Chinese should worry less about bitcoin’s impact on its state-backed currency than about what some latterday version of Hal will do once he gets his digital paws on the blockchain. What if AI could decide the optimal allocation of resources worldwide? Would it then conclude that leaving decisions about what to spend and how to spend it to we lesser mortals was simply inefficient?

China syndrome, indeed. 

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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

Disclaimer:

Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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