Friday, February 28, 2014

Mt Gox: Criminal or Careless?

In recent days, there have been a lot of contradictory reports about a large theft at the Mt Gox Bitcoin exchange. Their bankruptcy filing reported that USD $425 million worth of Bitcoins appear to have disappeared. Mt Gox has done nothing to clear up the confusion, which has led to ever more speculation about exactly what happened.

Much of the information that is being reported has been sourced to a document that has been published on the Internet. At this point, Mt Gox has not validated the document, but many reports believe it to be genuine.

Reports have centered around a known weakness in the Bitcoin infrastructure, known as "malleability." In attacks based on malleability, hackers slightly vary the information in packets about legitimate transactions and flood the exchange with fraudulent information. The exchanges then need to validate every transaction to see which transactions are valid. Most exchanges have built in safeguards to deal with attacks based on malleability.

Serious allegations are being raised that fraud within Mt Gox may itself have been responsible for at least some of the loss. In 2012, Mt Gox reported about USD $380k in revenue. But in 2013, the company had to pay out a USD $5 million fine. Financial reporters are not clear on how Mt Gox was able to keep its doors open after this fine, but there are several reports of slow payments after the fine was paid. Financial reporters have noted that some consider this to be an early warning of a company doing business on a fraudulent basis.

At the very least, it appears clear that Mt Gox continued to do business even after discovering that it was vulnerable to a hacking attack.

Monday, January 13, 2014

No Experts Here

Utah's Supreme Court filing on gay marriage contained an unusually frank admission about the depth of thought that the state government put into its position. When discussing the conclusions of professional groups who disagree with its arguments, Utah stated "we are not ruled by experts."

Seldom has a phrase done more to encapsulate a group's position than this phrase does. Utah's government may as well have stated, "don't confuse us with the facts, our mind is made up."

Arguments in court confirm that this is a correct reading of the state government's indifference to what serious study of the questions may indicate. On Dec 4, Judge Shelby asked whether same-sex marriage was of “any relevance at all” to the state's stated desire to promote heterosexual marriage. Stanford E. Purser from the state Attorney General's office said, “It may end up that there is no difference. It may end up that there is. We just simply don’t know.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snow Trolls Re-Appear

As happens at least once a year, the appearance of chilly weather has brought out the troop of climate change deniers that Chris Hayes has dubbed "Snow Trolls." As it turns out, the re-appearance of cold weather is a phenomenon known as "winter" and is brought on by the earth's axial tilt. (By the way, that last link was to a nice gif illustrating axial tilt.)

All of this has been said ad nauseam before. I have to wonder if the snow trolls are cynical, stupid, or just care more about scoring political "points" than thinking about actual facts. Then again, it doesn't really make much difference.

What I find most distressing is that people seem persuaded by this strange illogic. Just walking around town, I hear smug morons cheerfully parroting whatever Fox "News" is vomiting forth. Maybe Jon Stewart is right, and the best thing to do is to just laugh at them.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Conservatives Object to Educational Standards

Conservative opposition to Common Core educational standards appears to be growing.

Common Core standards are an initiative, started by a coalition of state leaders of both parties, to establish a gold standard set of educational standards in math and English education.

Rather than look at the facts about where the Common Core standards came from or what they contain, conservative activists are spreading the usual paranoid fantasies about how the standards are a conspiracy to impose liberal beliefs on school children. Perhaps the idea that kids would grow up being able to read facts for themselves and perform basic mathematics is too much for the anti-science brigade.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Americans, Evolution, and What Their Churches Actually Teach

An interesting survey on the MIT web site contrasts the views of Americans who reject evolution compared with the officially stated positions of their churches.

46% of Americans state that they believe that human beings were created by God in their current form sometime in the last 10,000 years. The usual interpretation is that these Americans are blindly following the teachings of their respective churches. In fact, only 11% of Americans belong to churches that openly reject evolution.

The paper lists official statements by the major religions in the US. The current statements on the subject by the Catholic church are fairly typical:

"there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of faith"

"it is important to set proper limits to the understanding of scripture, excluding any unreasonable interpretations"

The Rabbinical Council of America, the group established by the orthodox Jewish community, issued a similar statement in 2005:

In light of the ongoing public controversy about Evolution, Creationism and Intelligent Design, the RCA notes that significant Jewish authorities have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis.

There are authentic, respected voices in the Jewish community that take a literalist position with regard to these issues; at the same time, Judaism has a history of diverse approaches to the understanding of the biblical account of creation. As Rabbi Joseph Hertz wrote, "While the fact of creation has to this day remained the first of the articles of the Jewish creed, there is no uniform and binding belief as to the manner of creation, i.e. as to the process whereby the universe came into existence. The manner of the Divine creative activity is presented in varying forms and under differing metaphors by Prophet, Psalmist and Sage; by the Rabbis in Talmudic times, as well as by our medieval Jewish thinkers."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Evil Triumphs

Reuters is reporting that the entire trial against Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt has collapsed. A verdict that was hailed as a triumph for human rights has effectively been vacated. People familiar with "justice" in Guatemala are unsurprised.

Geoff Thale, program director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, said legal technicalities should not be allowed to derail due process in Guatemala.

"Endless appeals, shopping for friendly justices, and seeking to delay verdicts and sentencing are classic techniques of those seeking to avoid justice in Guatemala," he said in a statement after the Constitutional Court's decision.

It is not surprising that US media has been reluctant to cover this human rights trial. The fact is that after the CIA deposed democratically-elected president Arbenz, one dictator after another waged a genocidal war against Mayan civilians under the guise of "anti-Communism." These efforts were carried out on the US taxpayer's dime by an officer corps trained in the US.

Given that administrations of both parties were complicit partners in a genocidal war against people of Mayan ancestry, neither party has shown much interest in exposing the history behind the civil rights trial in Guatemala.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Did Cleveland Police Dismiss Domestic Disturbance Complaints?


Police response to domestic violence complaints are a subject that has to be raised in the wake of the rescue of the Cleveland kidnap victims.

The BBC is reporting that several neighbors say that they had complained to the police about domestic disturbances, but that the Cleveland police department failed to take the complaints seriously:

Elsie Cintron told the BBC her granddaughter had seen a naked woman crawling in the backyard last year and called police, but they did not take it seriously.

Another resident, Israel Lugo, said that in November 2011 he heard pounding on doors of the house and his sister saw a girl at the house holding a baby and crying for help.

He said he had called police and officers knocked several times on the front door, but left when no-one answered.

The reports were disputed by Police Chief McGrath.

This would not be the first time that a police department failed to take domestic disturbance complaints seriously. Domestic violence is often seen as a private matter, and police are leery of the high risk of injury that can come from walking into an emotionally charged situation. Half-hearted attempts to "contact" residents, like what is reported by Lugo, are all too common.

It is still early days in this investigation, and more facts will emerge. So far, the stories that are emerging are not painting a complimentary story about the level of importance that the Cleveland police place on curbing domestic violence.

UPDATE, 12 May 2013:
The Washington Post reported on the previous allegations along with another time that Cleveland police were alerted about a problem at the Castro house:

...Israel Lugo says, a group of elderly women who were exercising in the area called police. According to Lugo, the women and his sister had all seen a naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck in Castro’s back yard. Cleveland police say they have no record of the calls.