Open Letter on Diversity & Inclusion at Scaling Bitcoin

ATTN: Scaling Bitcoin Participants and Sponsors

We started Scaling Bitcoin with a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion. Fundamentally, Scaling Bitcoin is about bringing together elements of the Bitcoin community that would not otherwise – many of the core contributors met face to face for the first time in Montreal. Meeting face to face was a fantastic opportunity to bridge divides and seek common goals; at Scaling Bitcoin spontaneous discussions broke out which would have never occurred online. Diversity and inclusion are key elements in pulling together different parts of our community to have the discussions fruitfully. Fundamentally Scaling Bitcoin exists to work towards eliminating any barrier to entry for any person to contribute to Bitcoin’s scientific and engineering ecosystem.

Diversity and inclusion are complicated multi-faceted topics – at Scaling Bitcoin, we do our best to address them from all sides. Our conference aspires to be in a different region every time, from our first event in Montreal, to Hong Kong, to Milan, and now, to Silicon Valley. Our participants and sponsors come from all over the world (18 countries at the last event!), speak many different languages, and have vastly different perspectives on how we’ll accomplish our shared goal of Scaling Bitcoin.

We help people attend Scaling Bitcoin who would not be able to otherwise as a part of our diversity and inclusion efforts. This help comes in multiple forms, including discounted tickets for students, as well as travel and accommodation assistance for those who require it. Our chief concern is getting the individuals most likely to contribute to Bitcoin’s scientific and engineering ecosystem to the conference. We also try to help those who face additional difficulties to better integrate into the community. In past Scaling Bitcoins, this has included efforts and special programming through our academic supporting organizations to better socially integrate low-income, minority, and female participants at Scaling Bitcoin. For example, at Milan one of our Academic partners (The MIT DCI) hosted a special dinner for the students from their summer bootcamp (you can read about it here) to get to interact with some core developers in a smaller group setting.

Bitcoin developers and scientists don’t just materialize overnight, it requires diligent study and effort. This is an intimidating prospect for almost anyone, and many capable developers drop out for lack of good support. Initiatives like Chaincode’s Hacker Residency and DGLAB’s BC2 workshop have been wildly successful in nurturing talented Bitcoin Core Developers. Scaling Bitcoin is simply doing our part to onboard more talent. Explicitly seeking to onboard talent from diverse backgrounds is a critical for engineering Bitcoin to be an empowering technology to meet the needs of users all over the world. The last several decades of research on the subject shows that seeking out social diversity leads to better decision-making across the board (read about the research here).

This year, as a part of our efforts to improve Scaling Bitcoin by better structuring our Planning Committee we created a Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This committee is comprised of individuals who were excited to help us to continue our efforts around diversity and inclusion. One of the main tasks for this committee is to help us review and process subsidy requests, which are awarded based on many factors, including, likelihood of contributing to Bitcoin’s scientific and engineering ecosystem, demonstrated need, and total cost (we have a limited budget, after all). Despite now having an explicit committee for diversity and inclusion, it continues to be the job of every volunteer in Scaling Bitcoin to work towards eliminating any barrier to entry for any person to contribute to Bitcoin’s scientific and engineering ecosystem. Different people experience different barriers to entry to a field like Bitcoin, thus, the kinds of support programs we offer are not always available to everyone (we can’t afford to give everyone student ticket pricing!). The Diversity & Inclusion Committee is there to ensure that our efforts are fair and sufficient.

Technology conferences like Scaling Bitcoin present a remarkable opportunity for building community. In light of recent reports of incidents of harassment and exclusionary practices at tech conferences, we’ve take a progressive stance on making sure that Scaling Bitcoin remains a respectful and safe space for all of our participants to build that community. Incidents of harassment and exclusionary practices negatively impact people of all genders, races, and backgrounds, as well as the conferences and their communities. We take such issues seriously and have required all participants to follow our Code of Conduct since the first Scaling Bitcoin event in 2015.

Part of what makes Scaling Bitcoin such a remarkable gathering is the intense level of focus on the technology during the event. Our CoC exists to minimize the possibility of distractions and to maximize the learning, shared understanding and technical advancement of one of the most important engineering projects of our time. We hope that our attendees recognize and support that objective, and the organizing committee will as well.

Additionally, the Program Committee, which handles talk selection, operates with complete autonomy from the rest of the Scaling Bitcoin organization, including the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. No one is excluded from the conference as a result of our diversity and inclusion efforts. The main goal of the Program Committee is to unbiasedly select talks with the highest potential impact on Bitcoin. The majority of tickets are sold openly to the public. We welcome any suggestions and ideas from the Bitcoin community as to how our efforts can be more effective and we will continue to do our best to make Bitcoin a more diverse and inclusive environment.

We’re excited to be hosting what we expect to be the best Scaling Bitcoin yet this year. To increase our reach and impact in the community, we’re hosting a 2 Day tutorial preceding Scaling Bitcoin called Dev++. This is a wonderful opportunity for those just entering the space to get fast-paced high-quality instruction on becoming a Bitcoin Engineer. Following the conference, we will have a Career Fair and an event for startups to pitch to investors. You can read more about these new initiatives at BitcoinEdge.org.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Rubin

Scaling Bitcoin Planning Committee

With special thanks to Byron Gibson, Neha Narula, and the rest of the Scaling Bitcoin Planning Committee for reviewing and editing this letter, and for maintaining a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion in Bitcoin.

United States Government Censorship of Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin

My Right to Say "Fuck Nazis"

When I woke up in the morning of September 1st, 2017 I immediately began my morning ritual of lazily glancing through emails. On this morning, one particular email stood out — the Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin had been censored by the United States Government.

Let’s jump back a minute for some context.

On August 19th, 2017 I began a new project, the Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin. The project’s goal was to raise funds to resist the recent uptick in Nazism and other forms of violent racist extremism in America. The Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin is a unique fund-raiser because donors quid-pro-quo receive a digital asset in return for their contribution, I hoped this would harness the excitement around the emerging “Initial Coin Offering” phenomenon.

The reception was not as positive as I had hoped it would be — earlier in the week, I had been subject to some minor censorship by the Ethereum Maintainers and Community Moderators.

On September 1st, 2017 at 2:40 AM Pacific Daylight Time Neustar initiated a transfer of my domain. One hour and 29 minutes later Neustar sent me an email explaining the transfer.

The Takedown

The Takedown

I’ve sent Neustar an email requesting that they reinstate my registration, but I’ve not yet heard back from them.

Request to Reinstate

Neustar is a contractor hired by the U.S. Governemnt to operate the .us TLD. Because they are managing a federally owned property, I beleive they are obligated to follow the First Amendment with respect to registered names. Otherwise, I do not think the FCC may legally continue to use them as a contractor. To quote ICANNWatch:

[W]hile a private entity like Neustar is under no intrinsic obligation to respect the First Amendment, the fact that they did this under government consultation, and pursuant to a government-granted charter to operate the country code registry for the United States, raises serious issues of Constitutionality.

It’s not a strange expectation to hold that contractors of the United States Government must abide by constitutional provisions. For instance, private prisons are not at liberty to exact cruel and unusual punishments. Kimberly N. Brown delivers a thorough treatment of this in “We the People,” Constitutional Accountability, and Outsourcing Government. While there are controversial cases, it is generally clear that public actors must hold accountable private actors that they delegate their constitutional powers to.

Notwithstanding the concern over whether it is the FCC or Neustar who is legally culpable, we can safely assume that the FCC is bound to ensure that Neustar respects constitutional rights in fulfilling their duties as a government contractor, and therefore examine Neustar as a government actor.

Neustar’s management policy document can be found here. The relevant sections are B-78 and B-98. Neustar claims that they will review domains which contain the “7 Words” and possibly delete them (presumably, ensuring that they are not violating the registrant’s First Amendment rights). Their claim is that the domain fucknazis.us violate’s the “7 Words” policy enforced by Neustar. (This is a reference to George Carlin’s infamous Seven Dirty Words skit) In this case, the presence of “fuck” in the domain is what alerted Neustar to need to review my domain. However, in failing to waive fucknazis.us I believe they violated my First Amendment rights.

There are three major relevant Supreme Court cases here, Cohen v. California (1971), Miller v. California (1973), and FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978).

In Cohen v. California, a man was arrested for disturbing the peace for wearing a “Fuck the Draft” shirt. In this case, the speech was found to be protected by the First Amendment for multiple reasons. Most relevantly, the court refused to recognize the speech as “Fighting Words”, or speech intended to elicit violence. This is because Cohen’s voiced dissent of the draft was not intended to elicit any violence, it was simply to voice an opinion. Similarly, the material published on the Fuck Nazis site was clearly in support of non-violent action, e.g.

As a first measure, and irrespective of what is most effective, I want to use funds raised ensure that it is possible to protest these Nazis as safely as possible. No one should permit the Nazis to intimidate them out of their freedom to speak against them.

along with a list of other non-violent actions I would use the funds raised to support. The court went further to find that

Finally, and in the same vein, we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process. Indeed, governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guise for banning the expression of unpopular views. We have been able, as noted above, to discern little social benefit that might result from running the risk of opening the door to such grave results.

This makes it clear that the censorship of Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pins by revocation of the domain fucknazis.us is unconstitutional.

Miller v. California is a case of a very different nature involving the distribution of pornographic content, but it established a simple three-prong test for unprotected explicit speech. If you pass all three tests, then the work is considered obscene.

(a) whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.

Fail: Fuck Nazis is clearly non-pornographic and elicits no sexual response.

(b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law.

Fail: Fuck Nazis is clearly non-sexual.

(c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. If a state obscenity law is thus limited, First Amendment values are adequately protected by ultimate independent appellate review of constitutional claims when necessary.

Fail: Fuck Nazis is a political and artistic project, and is presented cogently.

Having clearly failed all three tests, Fuck Nazis is non-obscene protected speech by all measures.

Critically, both Cohen v. California and Miller v. California are both rulings with regards to the state’s ability to restrict speech. Only FCC v. Pacifica Foundation deals with the federal government’s ability to restrict “obscene” speech, which established the “7 Dirty Words”.

The critically relevant part of FCC v. Pacifica Foundation is that the measures enforce by the FCC (to only broadcast during hours children are unlikely to be awake) did not prevent adults from accessing and finding the content. In this case, Neustar’s actions against Fuck Nazis does prevent adults from accessing the content unadulterated (whereas the time restriction enforced by the FCC permitted identical material to be broadcast at a reasonably later time). Furthermore, based on Neustar’s enforced policies I would be able to register the domain “nazis.us” (if it were available — it’s been held since 2014) and use the subdomain “fuck” giving me the “fuck.nazis.us” domain. This makes the case that there is zero benefit from the measure taken by Neustar, at the expense of the significant burden of forcing me to change a domain that I have already linked to in numerous communications. Of greater concern is the general freedom of speech risk established by this enforcement mechanism.

Based on the above, Neustar, acting as an agent of the United States government, plainly violated my First Amendment rights causing damages to my project that are difficult to quantify given that the fund-raiser I was hosting on the site is ongoing.

Censorship by Ethereum Maintainers

The Ethereum Maintainers and Moderators inexplicably took actions to censor the Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin.

When I posted the project to the Ethereum subreddit on August 26th (here) it faced an immediate barrage of negative attention from the Ethereum community. I can tolerate negative reception, but I can’t tolerate censorship.

One of the negative response I noticed a few days after posting was Vitalik Buterin (the infamous founder and lead maintainer of Ethereum) liking a libelous tweet which called my project “a shameless attempt at scamming people”. I typically interpret a like on Twitter as at least a weak endorsement (the twitter-meme “RT not endorsement” can be taken to imply that while retweeting is not endorsement, maybe liking is).

Vitalik likes a libelous tweet

From my perspective, Vitalik’s implicit endorsement of a libelous message claiming that I am perpetrating fraud with Fuck Nazis is the only shame-worthy action! From day one Fuck Nazis’ course of action has been focused on many charitable causes, including:

  1. Donations to organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
  2. Sponsoring guards for synagogues who are denied publicly funded police details.
  3. Workshops on how to non-violently oppose Nazis in cities where they are staging demonstrations.

After Vitalik liked the above tweet, I noticed that my post was censored from /r/ethereum by the moderators (Vitalik is also the lead moderator of /r/ethereum). This censorship occured days after it had been on the front page, leading me to believe it was removed for no logical reason other than distaste for the issue involved.

Removed from /r/ethereum

I met Vitalik back in 2014, in the very early days of Ethereum, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the post removal. I shot him an email on August 29th and again on the 31st but he is yet to respond.

No Response

His lack of response to me signals, but does not confirm, that it was him who censored Fuck Nazis and he is unwilling to justify his actions to me directly.

The Ethereum Foundation and affiliated contributors have no legal requirement to grant me free speech as a private organization.

That said, they do have a moral responsibility to protect free speech and to be inclusive of many different kinds of people within their community. By actively censoring my post on Fuck Nazis, they have chosen to signal their alignment with a racist agenda and cause a chilling effect on future social impact projects on Ethereum.

Their attempted censorship runs counter to the philosophy stated on ethereum.org:

Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.

While certainly Reddit doesn’t attempt to make the same censorship guarantees as Ethereum, it’s difficult to imagine that if the leader of the development team behind Ethereum is engaged in censoring causes spitefully on Reddit that he will lead the team to fulfill the promises laid out in their statement.

Vitalik (and others in the Ethereum Foundation) must make clear their strong intention for building inclusive and tolerant community with explicit actions to improve the situation. Until sufficiently addressed, the entire community must continually push leaders of the Ethereum community for more information on how they plan to treat similar issues in the future.

This isn’t about getting an apology for censoring the Fuck Nazis thread, it’s about not building technologies that put power into the hands of hateful people who will use their power to infringe on your human rights.

Overall, this is the least of my worries currently: the Fuck Nazis Virtual Lapel Pin project is currently facing ongoing censorship from the U.S. Goverment as well. But I figured it was worthwhile for me to write up this post so that the Ethereum community can respond accordingly.

Drawing the Blockchain

This is correct

One of my major pet peeves in presentations about the blockchain is that most people seem to draw the arrows/pointers in the incorrect direction.

Pointers should point from newer blocks to older blocks. This is because in a blockchain, each block is immutable so it would be impossible to update older blocks to point to newer ones. This is also in line with most singly linked list representations. Because it can be confusing, it’s always best to include reference heights for extra clarity.

Kansai Trip

This post got backlogged, so just putting it up unfinished. Will backfill pictures when I find them later.

I took a few day reprieve from Tokyo to visit the Kansai prefecture.

While there, I visited Osaka and Nara. I was feeling a little bit unwell so I skipped Kyoto/Kobe, but will be looking forward to visiting when I’m next in Japan!

Getting to Kansai

I decided to take an early morning Shinkansen (i.e. a bullet train) from Tokyo to Osaka on Tuesday morning. Because my hotel stay was officially over, I stayed the night in a “Manga Kissaten”. For the uninitiated, a Manga Kissa is basically a somewhat skeevy 24/7 pay-per-hour library with free drinks and private booths. I had heard that they were a reasonable place to stay – I think I had a particularly bad one, the air was smoke filled, the drinks were just OK, there was no shower in the morning, and they didn’t dim the lights past midnight (these are all problems I’ve heard higher-end Manga Kissaten do not suffer). Blearly eyed, I made my way to the train station and purchased a ticket, and boarded the first train to Osaka.

Shinkansen! Shinkansen!

Osaka

Upon arriving in Osaka I made my way down to a place called Spa World in an area called Dotonbori-Mae. Unfortunately, they were overbooked/expensive so I looked elsewhere nearby. After comparing the offerings across the street, I found a really nice backpacker’s hostel where I was able to secure a private room (Japanese style) for about $13 USD a night.

Selfie in the hostel

From the hostel I decided to just walk the length of the city, starting from the hostel all the way to Umeda. As a straight shot, this is about 4 miles, but I wandered around so it was longer.

For lunch I ate okonomiyaki (a Japanese “pizza” that’s a little closer to a omelette). It is served on a hot griddle, yum!

Later that night I went to the Don Quixote. DQ is like a wacky Walmart/Spencer’s Gifts hybrid. It has everything from groceries to a sex shop. A few floors up there was an (unrelated?) arcade/casino. I bought some chips and started playing games. After playing for about an hour (and not doing very well), I went to cash out my remaining tokens. I found out that tokens are not actually exchangeable for anything. I asked some other players if they could help me exchange, and they agreed because they thought you could cash out too. When they found out they couldn’t, they seemed to be a little off put, but I gave them my tokens so they were happy. What was weird is they even had a bank for the tokens…

Token bank

Nara

I really enjoyed my visit to Nara. The deer are so kawaii!

In Nara you can find the Tōdai-ji, or a temple featuring a huge bronze Buddha (the largest bronze statue in the world and the largest Buddha in Japan). The Tōdai-ji temple is also one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.

© 2017 Jeremy Rubin. All rights reserved.