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Episode #65: 💽 Slanted and Enchanted
Mark Yarm from BreakerMag comes on to talk about the #freeross movement
COIN TALK is produced in partnership with Medium and hosted by Aaron Lammer and Jay Caspian Kang. Press “Listen to the story” above to play the episode. (You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, download the MP3, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- 🧙♂️ Litecoin goes MIMBLEWIMBLE
- 🦄 Fluffypony’s Tari lets you store unique items on a blockchain that is mined alongside XMR
- 🎟 What would Jay & Aaron actually like to collect digitally?
- ⚖️ Mark Yarm from BreakerMag talks about his feature on the #freeross movement
Aaron: Okay, Jay, do I got you down there?
Jay: Yeah. Can I start the show by saying something?
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah.
Jay: I’ve seen on Twitter and also you just said it for the intro to the show that the show is the official show of Crypto moderatism.
Aaron: That’s correct. It used to be the official show of Bitcoin crimes.
Jay: I want to distance myself from the Crypto moderate position.
Aaron: Ooh, coming in hot.
Jay: I’m a Crypto independent and I don’t really-
Aaron: Crypto independent.
Jay: I feel like a lot of my heterodox positions on Crypto cannot be encapsulated in such a glib term like Crypto moderatism and I think just last week for example our conversation where I said that if you, like Aaron Lammer don’t hold your own private keys you’re a Crypto fake. I think those types of takes probably don’t quite fit into Crypto moderatism so from here on out I would like for you to say that you are the official podcaster of Crypto moderatism and not both of us
Aaron: One of the reasons I’m pleased about this is that it means that the Crypto moderatist movement has already forked within 48 hours of its birth and there is now two competing … now do you consider yourself Crypto moderatism Satoshi’s vision?
Jay: Oh yes its SV not ABC and it is the original vision of Crypto moderatism before all these centralized projects came in and ruined the space it is the idea that we should hold fast to the idea of a decentralized currency that skirts around large financial institutions like the SEC or even places like Fidelity which are trying to on ramp easier ways to get Crypto. I think that that is actually a moderate position whereas I feel like your position is extreme in its sort of abandonment of decentralized visions.
Aaron: Stay tuned. I won’t rule out that Jay could fork from his own movement.
Jay: Yeah, that might happen.
Aaron: Possibly merge back in. We could be exchanging seats before the end of this show, but if we do exchange seats we will have a third person to change seats with. Maybe we can both try to get our guest to join our movement.
Jay: Oh cool who’s our guest today?
Aaron: Our guest is Mark Yarm from Breaker Mag. Welcome Mark.
Mark: Thank you, pleasure to be here.
Aaron: You have written several of my favorite Crypto stories. I think I actually followed you on twitter before you were on the Crypto beat.
Aaron: When did you join the Crypto beat?
Mark: Only in May, when Breaker was first launching. I absolutely knew nothing about Crypto or Blockchain prior to joining. As you might know, I’m a music guy, by background. I used to work at Blender Magazine, unrelated to Breaker and that folded and I wrote an oral history of grunge.
Aaron: You could say that Blender is the Breaker of music.
Mark: Perhaps, perhaps.
Jay: Is it?
Mark: I would have to think about a little bit more … that comparison
Jay: I thought we promise to not do anymore references to media brands that are relevant to our exact demographic, Aaron?
Aaron: Well I think on this show-
Jay: We’re trying to expand outside of that.
Aaron: I’m going to ask Mark to compare Altcoins to various grunge bands.
Jay: What would you say is the Mud Honey of Crypto?
Mark: The Mud Honey of Crypto. Wow I would really have to go digging for that one.
Aaron: I like things like, which one is Pavement and which one is Steve Malkmus and the Jicks? Which Altcoins for whatever Malkmus project? Isn’t that more Blender style? Wasn’t it kinda big on indie rock they would do big features on?
Mark: Yeah, we did a big 50 or 100 best indie rock albums and that Pavement was, yeah, Slanted and Enchanted was number one.
Mark: If I recall correctly.
Aaron: Jay, I don’t want to hear your take on this. We have a whole show. Alright, if you want to know what Jay thinks about Slanted and Enchanted being named the number one album by Blender, you’ll have to wait to the end of the show.
Jay: The only good indie rock album … I’m talking over you Aaron … from that era, I think is Silver Jews, American Water was good, and everything else was bad.
Aaron: If there is one single album in that timeframe?
Jay: The top 100 would be, one, American Water by Silver Jews and then everything would be like honorable mention or just outside the top 100.
Aaron: Okay, so Mark, you have a new story out about the Free Ross movement, we’ve been wanting to talk about that. I’ve been trying to get Jay to talk about it last week and he told me both, that he had nothing to say about it, but also that he had met Ross Ulbricht’s mother who is the subject of your profile … so he’s at least got that to say. Why don’t we run through a little bit of news and then we’ll get to that and talk about some of your stories. Cool by you Jay?
Aaron: So, first thing I want to talk is, you know that we like the Mimblewimble on this show. We’ve been getting a lot of Mimblewimble love and we’ve talked about two Mimblewimble projects, Beam, and Grin. The whole Altcoins world has got Mimblewimble fever and Litecoin is now saying that they’re going to merge in Mimblewimble to add a privacy layer to Litecoin. Jay, does this make you want to buy Litecoin?
Jay: No. But you kind of like Litecoin’s vision of being kind of the, “Hey that sounds cool, we’ll do that too,” of Crypto.
Aaron: I like it.
Jay: They don’t actually have their own vision of anything because the Lite part of Litecoin doesn’t really matter anymore, so it really is just … it’s something that has a ton of different features that are taken from other projects, But what is like Coin at this point, other than an amalgam of past Crypto projects? I don’t know, I guess it must still have its acolytes or its supporters, because it seems like people in the Crypto space were talking about this in some sort of serious way.
Aaron: Well, I mean, there’s no reason that what ultimately, wins can’t be like Bitcoin with accessories. Right? The fact that Litecoin is a clone of Bitcoin is it’s most laughable quality, but it also means you can’t make a case that Bitcoin is radical, alien technology and then say that Litecoin has no purpose.
Jay: Well, you could if there’s only one gold standard, right? There’s only one gold and so, I don’t know. Do you remember in the beginning when we first got into Crypto, there were all sorts of bad metaphors that were used to try to have people picture or visualize what these different coin projects were. And people were like, “Well, if Bitcoin is gold, then Litecoin is silver,” or something like that. I never understood that and I still don’t understand that at all. I don’t think that there’s any currency system, really, that uses both Bitcoin and Litecoin … or gold and silver interchangeably that also the gold is infinitely divisible. What is the point of it? I still don’t understand that argument. Do you know the argument?
Aaron: Well, I would say that the argument is, instead of divisibility, the difference is not that it’s more dividable, but that it has additional features like privacy. So there’d be some sort of a fluid system of Bitcoin and Litecoin that you might hang out in the Litecoin end of if you were, say, selling drugs on a Darknet market. But, you would still be anchored to the rock-solid economics and liquidity of the giant Bitcoin market.
Jay: Yeah, so then Bitcoin is like this beta testing version of what Bitcoin could do. Is that the idea then? Then it doesn’t really have any purpose, it’s like a development lab.
Aaron: That is exact, but development labs have a purpose.
Jay: Sure, but not as currency.
Jay: Everything falls apart … If we look at at these things like retailers, it makes sense. This is an example that we’ve used several times, I don’t know why, but like Litecoin could be the Pinkberry and Bitcoin could be the red mango or something like that, and one’s innovations will inspire the other.
Aaron: Which of those two is run by a Korean Christian cult?
Jay: It’s not a cult-
Mark: Are you talking about loving hut?
Aaron: That’s a different cult.
Jay: It’s just two Christians.
Aaron: Oh, okay. But, which one is it?
Jay: It’s Pinkberry.
Jay: Yeah, who started a coffee shop, I think. Yeah, it’s just two Christians, good Lord Aaron suchcasual racism here.
Aaron: Casual anti-religion Okay, well also consider adding Mimblewimble is a Bitcoin I love to show on this show, Monero. Monero is kind of a different take on the idea which would be almost like, if Monero had Mimblewimble, you could choose your privacy method, almost.
Jay: I guess I don’t … does that mean that Monero’s privacy doesn’t work?
Aaron: Yeah, I don’t really know how to read that one. I actually am not even sure that that’s literally true cause it doesn’t really … Both Litecoin and Monero, I don’t really understand how they add Mimblewimble. As I understood it, Mimblewimble removing the Blockchain where every single transaction is recorded in favor of a Blockchain that simply knows where every coin is. I don’t really know how you’d go from Litecoin, which is cloned from Bitcoin and something like Monero, to totally changing the structure with Blockchain like that. But, if you’re listening and you do understand, let us know. Did you also see that Riccardo Spagni, Moneros’ founder, launched a new project called Tari this week?
Jay: Tari? No, what is Tari?
Aaron: Tari. As far as I understand it, it’s like a Blockchain for storing unique digital goods a la you can put Cryptokitties on it, you can put concert tickets on it, you can put all kinds of stuff on it, and instead of it being its own token that they’re selling, or having it’s own miners, it somehow is mined on the Monero chain. So, basically it’s like as strong as the Monero Blockchain, but you can put all kinds of wacky one-offs on it.
Jay: So, it’s like a wallet then. It’s like your Apple wallet where you put your like hotel keys and stuff like that on.
Aaron: Yeah, I think that’s not actually totally inaccurate. One of the things … the two other co-founders seem to be from the ticketing realm. It’s the guy who started Ticketfly is one of the co-founders.
Jay: That’s actually interesting.
Aaron: Their use case is basically that people like collect unique concert tickets. So, in the digital age, you go see the Elton John Farewell tour. You can like keep the digital ticket.
Jay: Oh, that’s much less-
Aaron: Or, that eventually there’ll be a market place where I’m like, “I’m getting all the Elton John tour uniques.” I don’t really know where that goes ultimately.
Jay: Everyone who saw him play Barclay Center in 2019 was me. I don’t really understand … that seems much less compelling that what I thought you were gonna say, which is that it’s going to be used as a wallet system that verifies whether or not a concert ticket is for real or not.
Aaron: I think it does do that also. I think it being a open-ended Blockchain, I think it has the potential to do any of those things, but the way that it maybe differs from a lot of the projects that we’ve talked about, say, in 2018 … If this was a May 2018, a young Mark Arm was just getting into Crypto. Aaron and Jay were already OGs. This product would have launched with a native token that would have been pre-sold, and it would be like, “We’re the future of concert merchandise.” If you just go, it’s just interesting if you follow kind of Crypto culture and marketing, it’s sort of in the same way as Grin. It’s a much more modest presentation where they’re just kind of like, “Yeah, it’s just building on the success of Monero and it’s bringing some of the stuff that you may have heard about, like Cryptokitties, outside of the Ethereum universe and into this totally neutral Blockchain that doesn’t need it’s own token, already exists, already is protected by the hash power of Monero mining.
Jay: I don’t have any … It seems fine, I don’t … it doesn’t seem like it’s totally vital, but if Fluffy Pony is behind it, then I think it’s probably worth taking a little bit more seriously, right?
Aaron: I have a quiz for you, Jay. Do you think that Fluffy Pony calling this Tari is a reference to Brian Armstrong calling his company Toshi?
Jay: No. I don’t know, maybe. Is it short for ATARI, just looking at the-
Aaron: I’m not actually sure what it’s derived from.
Jay: You’ve been to a lot more concerts than I have. I don’t think I’ve been to a concert in many months.
Mark: Since the Silver Jews?
Aaron: For you, it’s like, until Silver Jews tour again, what is there, really, to see?
Automated: Yeah. Dave Berman has really ruined … His long, long recluse period has really ruined my concert-going experiences.
Aaron: I once saw Dave Berman in that restaurant, Dojo, in the West Village. Do you know that place?
Aaron: That story doesn’t go anywhere from there.
Jay: I did hear that there’s going to be a new album at some point.
Aaron: You heard it here first.
Jay: Yeah, you heard it here first. I also broke the news of Fiona Apple’s new album coming out. . So I have a long-
Aaron: Exclusives. Exclusives. Exclusives.
Jay: … Track record of breaking exclusive albums.
Aaron: James, put some air horns behind that when you put this out. “Street date, March 13th. American Water.”
Jay: Yeah, American Water 2. Okay, my question being, do you have any desire to ever keep any of your digital concert ticket stubs? It seems ridiculous, who cares?
Aaron: Not really.
Jay: That used to be their only way to commemorate that they were there, now they have like, 500 Instagram photos that they’re gonna take that are probably better than keeping a ticket stub. It just seems like a bizarre use case.
Aaron: Mark, are you a ticket stub guy?
Mark: I am not. I am not. I don’t tend to … occasionally, they end up in my drawers and I’ll find them years later, which is nice. I appreciate why people do it, it would be nice to have a record of that, but the people who keep them in Trapper Keepers, it never really …
Jay: I have a Dave Matthews Band from 1996 playing in the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.
Aaron: Jay goes from Slander and Pavement, to describing Dave Matthews experiences all within a 10 minute run.
Jay: I have some Phish ones, too.
Aaron: I have a quiz, or a poll for the group, here. We all rejected concert tickets. What would we keep? What do you think the first digital unique that you would try to retain would be?
Mark: Beyond photos? Beyond digital photos?
Aaron: I feel like a photo isn’t really quite a digital unique.
Mark: … Recording of the show.
Aaron: Right, but I feel like the recording of the show is infinitely replicable.
Jay: Oo, I like that. I was making some dumb joke on Twitter today, and it was about how I had a DAT tape on a Built to Spill show, and maybe we can bring back DAT tape trading through the Blockchain.
Aaron: Digitally unique DAT tapes?
Jay: Yeah, digitally unique. Like, you really record it on your phone, but because it’s on the Blockchain, nobody else can access it and you have to trade it on some IRC channel.
Aaron: I like it. I like it. I bet there are some like, Deadheads that are also Crypto.
Jay: Oh, man] I bet a lot of Deadheads are into Crypto.
Aaron: Tape trading and Crypto don’t seem like their incongruous to making-
Mark: They don’t, although I haven’t actually heard about any overlap in that reverb, but there probably is.
Aaron: I guess I draw a line between things that are digital that you you can make infinite copies of, and things that are digital that you’re limited in copying, and it seems like the Crypto only really needs to care about the ones you can’t copy. So, I guess you could potentially pause it like the Wu Tang album that … what’s that guy’s name?
Mark: Martin Shkreli?
Jay: Martin Shkreli.
Aaron: Yeah, Martin Shkreli. Jay, the last time I said Martin Shkreli, I believe you said, “Misunderstood.”
Jay: No, I didn’t say that.
Aaron: It made me laugh when I listened back to the episode because I didn’t notice it the first time, and you just very quietly go, “Misunderstood.” About Martin Shkreli.
Jay: I probably did say that. I’m gonna walk back the take. He’s not a good person. I do think that there’s a period of time that he was achieving a level of trolling that was extremely high level, but it was [inaudible 00:19:17] by him being bad, not by him trolling [crosstalk 00:19:21]. I only meant it as a joke, listeners.
Aaron: I guess he had an edition of one of that Wu Tang album, which is something you could put on the Tari Blockchain, but it feels, to me, if you could just record it off of the speakers, then make a clone, it’s not the same as … You can’t clone a Cryptokitty, right?
Mark: I mean, you could have something with … again, something I don’t do, collect signatures, but if you wanted a digital photo of you with the artist and the signature edition of one on the Blockchain, why not? That could be something that could work for certain people. All in all, I see the appeal as you’re describing it as being very, very limited, but who knows?
Aaron: I think the first thing I’d buy is art.
Jay: You could do a sports memorabilia or something, but-
Mark: There has been sports memorabilia already on the Blockchain, I know we’ve written a couple stories about that. Check out breakermag.com.
Aaron: What are the things? Are they trying to sell jerseys and put them on the Blockchain and say this is digitally unique?
Mark: I could be wrong, but I think they were virtual Bobbleheads-
Jay: I would probably buy one of those, I’m not kidding you.
Aaron: Jay just bought one.
Mark: Click. Cha-ching.
Jay: What coin did this project generate because I would like to invest in it.
Aaron: Is that listed under B-O-B, or …
Mark: I think it was the head, you know. It was through MLB, if I recall correctly. I’d have to go back and look. It seemed a little fanciful.
Aaron: Jay, you’ve talked on this show about art hustling before and how people who will not be named, but who you know from your poker day are involved in things like buying up, and up and coming artists pumping the price, then dumping a bunch onto the market, and it feels to me, with this digital uniqueness stuff, the first iteration I can imagine being profitable is digitally unique art that then gets hoarded, speculated on-
Jay: Hold on, you can’t say this because I brought this up a few weeks ago and you totally dismissed it and saying that you didn’t think this was a real thing.
Aaron: Wait, I called bullshit on art hustling?
Aaron: I don’t recall that, but I don’t deny it, much like your Martin Shkreli comment. I would probably buy a piece of art on the Blockchain, and I would buy it both because I think it’s a cool idea, and I could get into it, and I also could see the first generation of Blockchain art being valuable because of it’s collectable status. Whoever the first million dollar sale on the Blockchain is, that’ll be interesting, right?
Mark: Yeah, I guess.
Jay: It did happen. The Cryptokitties were the first art that was digitally unique.
Aaron: So you consider Cryptokitties art?
Jay: Yeah. Why not? What type of pretentious show are we running here, Aaron?
Aaron: I consider them more of an in-game
Aaron: … I would say like a Cryptokitty, but more like a Fortnite skin.
Jay: I met the guy who draw the Cryptokitties and I interviewed him for Vice.
Aaron: He’s an artist.
Jay: He sounded like an artist. He was like, “I’ve really put emotion and thought into this. Who is this kitty going to be?” One of them sold for … however how much … like, a hundred and something thousand.
Aaron: A hundred and something thousand. I think I’m interested in … there’s thousands and thousands of Cryptokitties in the wild. When someone publishes art to the Blockchain that’s much more scarce. Like, say, an edition of one to the Blockchain, like a painting-
Jay: They did that at that art auction too, though. They had-
Aaron: But they didn’t beat the Cryptokitties in value.
Jay: We don’t have to have a long conversation about what art is, I’m just saying that these types of projects already exist, and some of them actually seem somewhat promising. This is all just to agree with you, that I think that it probably will be the art world gloms onto this, just because they’ll think that it’s a way to … not to actually protect against counterfeits, but to convince rich people that there’s some sort of … If you found the right rich person, for example, and you said, “This painting is real, and there’s a type of artist that gets counterfeited quite a bit, or their work gets stolen, and you say as an insurance policy, we’ve created this Blockchain infrastructure and it’ only costs $50,000 for a painting that costs like, four million, would you like to purchase it?” Don’t you think they would all just buy it? That’s the most-
Aaron: Hundred percent. Hundred percent.
Jay: That’s like the most useful-
Aaron: Christie’s Blockchain auction?
Mark: Oh my God, yeah.
Aaron: Flames. Flames. The money just be flying.
Jay: Christie’s auction even powered by Blockchain, think about that. Powered by the IBM Blockchain. It’s a marketing technique, and it’s useless, and it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s probably where it’s gonna end up.
Mark: Christie’s, I believe … either Christie’s or Southeby’s, or both are already onto that.
Aaron: Oh, really?
Mark: Yeah, there’s at least a few companies who are doing that … is it Provenance? Is that how you pronounce it? Am I pronouncing it correctly?
Aaron: Right, right. And that’s tracking existing artworks through the Blockchain. Those are not works that are native to the Blockchain.
Jay: It’s obviously gonna go into that space, because everybody’s trying to figure out how to sell digital art. That’s the only think people are trying to do because all the art students in America at RISD or CalArts, or whatever, all they do is make digital art. They just make memes.
Aaron: Okay, you wanna talk a little about this Free Ross story and … Mark, what interested you about this story in the first place?
Mark: I’m interested in crime, as many of us are and obviously now working for a Cryptocurrency and Blockchain publication, the intersection of crime and that. And the Darkweb. Ross Ulbricht’s story has been told many times in many publications: Wired, Rolling Stone, there’s a book about it mostly from the government side of things. I just do a lot of reaching out and I’m like, “Oh, maybe Ross would …” because it was when Ross started Tweeting through I think RealRossU, is the name of the account, which is run by a friend of the family … and Ross will communicate with them via phone, or letter, then that person will put up his tweets.
Mark: He hadn’t really spoken out very much before, I’m like, “Well, maybe he’s ready to do an interview,” so I emailed the Free Ross account, his mother answered, she’s like, “Ross doesn’t do press, but I’m available for an interview,” and I just let it sit, then I noticed that she was doing Cryptocurrency conventions, which made it all the more interesting. As I say in the piece that Cryptocurrency community is very much, in political terms, the Ulbricht base. Not exclusively, but many of these people … he’s sort of a folk hero amongst many of them, she’s certainly really well liked and well regarded amongst people no matter what you think about what Ross Ulbricht did or did not do.
Jay: Just to orient our listeners, because I don’t think we explained this. You wrote an article about Ross Ulbricht’s mother and her fight for getting her son out of an extremely lengthy prison sentence and her son is Ross Ulbricht through his the Dread Pirate Roberts, who was the proprietor of the Silk Road drug market-
Jay: Allegedly, yeah. Sorry, I just realized that we hadn’t introduced the piece that Ulbricht … please, keep going.
Mark: That’s a pretty good introduction. He got two life sentences plus 40 years. His mom likes to point out that these are all non-violent charges. There were murder for hire allegations that were against him that people have heard about and assume that he was convicted of, but he was not.
Jay: I have to admit that even I, as someone who followed this story pretty closely and know some of the reporters who were involved in the original reporting, I don’t know if it’s that I didn’t know this or if my brain just remembered it wrong, but I could have sworn that he was convicted for the murder for hire stuff. He was never even really tried on those charges.
Mark: It was brought up at his trial, which is again, something that his mom and his side object to strenuously. It was brought up and it also came into account when he was sentenced by the judge. He was charged with it in Maryland. When you read the story, at one point Lynn Ulbricht, who is his mother, does during my reporting, did a podcast with this guy Curtis Green, who the Dread Pirate Roberts allegedly took out a hit on.
Aaron: What was is screen name? PainMeds or something like that?
Mark: One was ChronicPain and the other one was Flesh, yes. He had a chronic pain problem and he was the guy who could tell everyone what drugs to use to alleviate-
Aaron: I remember when this story was breaking, what a great story it was just to experience in real time because so much of it took place in forums, so you could see the entire verbatim history of ChronicPain and DPR’s communications with each other. It’s a uniquely modern story how there’s a fly on the wall through the entire digital life of the story.
Jay: The murder for hire allegations are so sensational. Not in terms that they weren’t real, but that it was a crazy story where the FBI basically faked a death [crosstalk 00:30:11]-
Aaron: Two, I think, right? One-
Jay: They took a photo of the guy dead, or with some makeup on, or a hamburger on his face.
Mark: With like, Campbell’s soup on his face.
Jay: Yeah, that was all released in all tho court documents, which every reporter in America, including myself, read. The piece does take a turn at some point. It’s not just about the mother’s fight for getting her son out of spending the rest of his life in jail, but a little bit about the politics around the types of figures that have aligned themselves with her fight. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Mark: Sure. Basically, as she says in the story, she can’t be picky about who’s supporting her. There are some people who we might … I don’t wanna speak … I don’t know your politics per se.
Aaron: I’m a Crypto moderate, Jay’s a Crypto independent.
Mark: That was well-established at the beginning.
Aaron: Jay switched sides, he’s a Crypto moderate now.
Mark: Glen has appeared on Alex Jone’s show, for instance. I talked to Mike Cernovich in the piece, who’s a Pizzagate Conspiracy. He projected to me describing him as alt-right. Some would say he’s alt-right leaning. Right. Very far right.
Aaron: I identify as more Pizzagate than-
Mark: He did not object to the Pizzagate Conspiratist tag.
Jay: I’m more Pizzagate. Look, we need a rebrand. I’m no longer the alt-right, let’s just go by Pizzagate.
Aaron: Strange bedfellows in the Free Ross … #FreeRoss movement.
Mark: Very much Libertarian mindset, because Ross himself, is as far as I know, still Libertarian. One of my earlier Breaker stories I wrote, but I was at the Libertarian National Convention over the summer. I’ve met so many Libertarians and Narco Capitalists and all sorts of Liberty leaning folk. More than I ever knew. I’ve interacted with so many, it’s so prominent in the spaces, as you probably know.
Aaron: You may be our first Non-Libertarian guest.
Mark: Oh, really?
Jay: Yeah, I was actually trying to think about that-
Aaron: Well, we had one before, then he [crosstalk 00:32:58]. There’s a weird echo to this story. I don’t want to take you off the path there, where if you had asked me a few years ago, or even let’s say, two years ago, I would have not predicted that someone associated with Silk Road would become a messianic Jesus figure in the Crypto movement. I would have guessed that Crypto would be trying to whitewash it’s Darknet market history rather than celebrate it. Simultaneously, I guess I was just thinking about this in mu mind, I also would have expected that Bitcoin would be less Libertarian two years down the road than it was at present.
Aaron: I had an assumption that as Bitcoin got bigger and bigger, it would be less driven by Libertarian politics and [crosstalk 00:33:59], and I’m dead wrong. I was trapped by my Crypto moderatism. If anything, I would say Bitcoin is getting more Libertarian and Ross is joining Satoshi on the Mount Rushmore of Crypto history.
Mark: He was sentenced five years ago, which is half the lifetime of Bitcoin ago. There are kids who are getting into Crypto now who are unaware of Silk Road. All the OGs, the Roger Vers and people who I spoke to for the story and people of his ilk are firmly in the Free Ross camp. That’s part of what Linda is doing, she goes to these Crypto things, she sets up a booth and she does podcasts, she does media that she feels will be kind to her, essentially. That’s the way some kids are hearing about it for the first time. That 23 year old who’s just getting into Crypto.
Jay: The Libertarian part of it is something that’s interesting to me, and it’s something that I appreciated in your story, which was that it seemed like the frame through which you saw a lot of this, was that people have shared interests, and when those shared interests collide, that they find themselves in bed with people that they might not have expected before. For example, there’s a photo of Lynn Ulbricht with Donald Trump Jr. She met him at a Cryptocurrency conference or something like that.
Mark: Yeah, it was just a MAGA rally that she went to that happened to be in Vegas at the same time.
Aaron: You can’t really fault someone for going after Trump for a pardon, because if anyone’s throwing out the weird impulse pardons, it’s Donald Trump.
Jay: That was another thing I appreciated about the story. It was told with a great deal of empathy, I thought that was … that felt earned instead of being schlocky, it’s a mother. Aaron and I have kids, if our kid was running an internet Darkweb drug marketat the age of … Not old enough for that … That they were snatched up and put in jail for the rest of their life and these murder charges, which were the most shocking part of it, were not even part of it. I don’t know, I totally see where she’s coming from and her desperation to get him off in any way that she could.
Jay: I guess the question that I had that I think is useful to think about for the show that I wanted to ask you was, do you think that there is a version of Crypto, because Ross’s biggest supporters are gonna be Crypto, is there any other community within Crypto that she could have gone to where she wasn’t being photographed with Donald Trump Jr. and talking to Mike Cernovich because I think, personally, the answer to that is no. That it was always gonna lead to that because those are the powerful people who are interested in Crypto.
Mark: You mean the people outside the right wing and the Libertarian realm?
Jay: Yeah. Is there a world where there’s a non-Libertarian that is championing her son’s case because I can’t see it.
Aaron: I don’t think he’s gotten any support from like, drug legalization amnesty people. They’re not interested in this one, I don’t think.
Mark: There’s been a little bit, but that was part of my … She said, “I’ll gladly take support from the left or the right.” She had mentioned that Van Jones’ organization, which is a criminal justice organization, whose name I’m forgetting at the moment, had retweeted her a couple times. There might be some criminal justice groups, but they might have better candidates. I think the murder for hire charge has definitely muddied the waters a lot.
Jay: Yeah, for sure.
Aaron: Can we talk a little bit about that? I’m serious. When you first DM’d me this story, me and you were talking in DM, I was like, “Well what about the murder f-” There’s a real urge that I have to re litigate a criminal case in a situation like this, and I’m curious, as you surveyed the spectrum of Free Ross people, is it coherent that people believe, “Yes, we believe the DPR part, not the murder for hire part.”? Do people have differing understandings of what actually happened amongst the people who are unified and believing he shouldn’t be in jail?
Mark: Part of it, I did not in the piece want to re litigate the case because it’s been litigated already. It’s already gone up to the Supreme Court, even. But there are people who just think it’s a total con job frame. There’s also the element, and it gets into in the story about these crooked federal investigators who are currently in prison for stealing Bitcoin from Silk Road, or one of them was trying to blackmail DPR … it gets really, really complicated. There is the question … DPR by design, was made so somebody like in the Princess Bride where there can be multiple DPRs and somebody could take over.
Mark: In the story, Curtis Green, the guy who was part of the alleged murder for hire plot, the victim, says that he was DPR sometimes. Somebody logged onto his DPR apparently, after Ross was arrested. There’s no doubt that the government could have gotten in there and changed things, which is what his supporters argue that that could have happened. There’s also a level of … he was never tried for that, so it’s irrelevant. I think there’s a lot of forgiveness.
Aaron: I would say the murder for hire sting most closely resembles … Jay, did you see that documentary about the Newburgh Three? That bombing plot [crosstalk 00:40:37] where they basically recruited-
Jay: I don’t think that those two are comparable, but finish your thought.
Aaron: I guess I mean that in both cases, the murder plot originated from the government. It was not a plot that was discovered, it was a plot that started with the investigators offering the plot to them. On the flip side, I feel like the Newburgh Three have a much better case probably, than Ross Ulbricht, and so far as Ross Ulbricht-
Jay: It’s not even close.
Aaron: Ross Ulbricht was already … if we were to believe he was ever the DPR, that he was already committing a felony when he was offered murder for hire … It’s sticky, there’s a weird hierarchy of how wronged someone is, that my brain wants to re litigate. While we don’t really have the facts to litigate because he was never tried for these crimes. We don’t even really know the insides of this sting because it’s not part of this court case.
Jay: There was a lot in the initial court documents about it. To put a fine point on it, the issue is … let’s just take it from a hypothetical person, who I think is probably close to me and Aaron’s politics here-
Aaron: Crypto moderate.
Jay: The drug war is immoral. Drug sentencing is way too harsh, and there’s no way this guy for just the drug sentencing should get two life sentences, plus 40 years. It’s an absolutely absurd sentence, we can agree with that. The idea that the murder for hires did seem like there’s slight entrapment, that is true, and that is bad, I think, but if you place it on a scale of the types of things that people get entrapped for all the time, every single day … For example, a large percentage of all the ISIS … this young person was going to join ISIS types of stories that you hear, they’re just all blatant entrapment like the Newburgh Three, that Ross Ulbricht’s seems kinda like, well, he was much closer to that type of activity than some of these other people were.
Jay: I think when you talk about, “Why isn’t the ACLU involved, or why aren’t some of these drug legalization movements or even anti criminal justice reform movements interested in this case, I think the answer’s pretty easy. It’s like Ross Ulbricht is like a privileged white guy who started a Bitcoin based drug market, and that the entrapment parts are not as wild as some of the other entrapment stories that you hear, so it’s a hard sell, I think, for a lot of these places because he’s probably slightly more guilty than a lot of these other people are. Is that the sense that you have about it Aaron?
Aaron: Yeah, I think that makes sense, and I’ve always wondered … I think why these murder for hire charges are so grabbing as a narrative, is if we just take this case … even if the murder for hire happened, but it never comes out in the case, the government says, “We’ve decided to seal the murder for hire stuff. Crooked FBI agents, we’re sealing the whole thing, we’re just charging him with being the DPR,” at that point, I think he would have instantly become a Libertarian hero and would have perhaps gotten the widespread support quicker or more widely, and it’s always been the murder for hire. We’re talking about it right now, it worked on us. Whether it was real or fake, it worked on us to direct our attention away from the proved crime, or the charged crime, which even if we were convinced that he was guilty of, we all agree that maybe he doesn’t deserve a life sentence.
Aaron: So, if there is something underhanded about it, it was very skillful. It’s a very skillful assassination of character that takes away the doubts you have about the primary charge.
Jay: I did look into this quite a bit, like you said at the top of the show. I even met Lynn Ulbricht at Ross’s lawyer’s office because I was one of the 5,000 reporters that was supposed to write a magazine piece about this thing. All those pieces were not ever printed because of some of the reporting antics of the people who first got the story, which is fine. We’ve discussed, I don’t have any-
Aaron: Jay, do you wanna come on the long form podcast to talk about this?
Jay: No. Definitely not.
Mark: I’d like to hear that.
Jay: The one thing that I will say, is that having read those initial documents that described what happened, and the entrapment part of it, but also him typing things like, “Good, I’m glad it’s done,” after receiving the photo … you can’t prove it was him, sure, I think you can pretty close to prove that it was him. It’s hard to read those and just think this is just a bright young kid who had the rest of his life in front of him and was just trying out an experiment on the internet. It doesn’t quite hold water, then it gets into all those other problems which should be discussed and weeded out like, why does he get to be the genius kid who is just trying out an idea on the internet and there’s like, 5,000 people who aren’t white, wealthy people who are being hauled off on federal drug charges for ridiculous sentences all the time.
Jay: That’s why I think it’s hard for people on a progressive side, or even on a rational side to really stand for him in the same way because you kinda want to like, “Okay, this guy?” There are a lot of other people who are in jail for life on federal drug charges that are a lot more sympathetic in my opinion, so that’s just my take on it.
Mark: I can see what you’re saying, but I think there’s Crypto moderate position striking the middle, no matter what you believe, the person who ran Silk Road 2, which is-
Aaron: That’s Alpha Bay?
Mark: No, no, it’ was called Silk Road 2.
Aaron: Oh, literally Silk Road 2?
Mark: I think he’s already out of prison. Ross Ulbricht … obviously we know his name because he was the first … he was mad an example of.
Jay: Oh yeah, for sure. Do I think that Ross Ulbricht, given my personal politics, should be in jail right now? I 100% think that Ross Ulbricht should not be in jail right now. I’m just putting myself in the shoes of somebody who works at a civil liberties … like an organization that has a lot of power and just thinking this is not the case that we wanna fight. First of all, it’s tough to fight, and second of all, it’s not the most sympathetic case to fight either.
Aaron: I guess the question is, does Ross Ulbricht deserve any clemency if you think what he did was important in the world of spreading Bitcoin.
Mark: Yeah, a lot of people-
Aaron: Jay, are you laughing at me?
Jay: Yes. No.
Mark: A lot of people do-
Jay: Do you think Suge Knight deserves clemency for being the head of Death Row for like, five classic albums?
Aaron: He probably got clemency and the fact that he has really good lawyers.
Jay: Do you think he deserves [crosstalk 00:48:25]. I’m just saying he deserves a lighter sentence because he put out such beautiful music to the world?
Aaron: No comment.
Jay: I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea, I’m willing to entertain the possibility. When I said it out loud, I said, “You know what? The chronic really was fantastic.”
Aaron: As a Crypto moderate, I don’t think he deserves clemency. As a man, I do. I do thin that we have some belief that committing a crime towards some … we really don’t, actually. Committing crimes towards grandiose ends usually gets you a worse sentence.
Jay: Unless it’s like white collar crime.
Aaron: Right, unless your crime is defrauding millions and millions of dollars, in which case, it’s cool.
Jay: And people, yeah. Then it’s fine.
Aaron: Well, what else in your time as a Crypto journalist has interested you? Are you … forgive me for asking this Mark, but are you into Crypto?
Mark: That’s a good question. That’s a fair question. I don’t own any, and it’s not my primary interest, although I do spend a lot of time on Crypto twitter.
Aaron: I think what we’ve never had on this show is a coiner non-Libertarian. Everyone who’s ever been a guest on this show who is not a Libertarian, also has no coins. We need the moderate coiners on this show.
Jay: We do, we have Maria Bustillos.
Aaron: Maria Basteos, right, okay. Proven wrong. Proven wrong again.
Mark: I’m very much coming from the outsider’s perspective. I was hired to do more of the cultural end of things like interview the big personalities, the Brock Pierces, and the fake Toshis, and McAfees and people of that ilk and that’s kinda where my interests lie. Darkweb stuff, as I said, the big personalities. You’ve met David Morris, he’s the guy who writes a lot of technical stuff. You had Brian on this podcast before, he’s doing some of the more political stuff.
Aaron: We don’t really understand the technical stuff, so there’s no danger here there.
Mark: I feel like there was a steep learning curve and I’m still trying to get over … You’ll never get over the hill.
Aaron: Let me ask you a question though, I personally identify more closely with the culture of Crypto, than say the technical implementation details. But, the people you just listed, the Brock Pierces, John McAfees, it kinda can grind me down how stupid and terrible a lot of the really … I come from a background where I follow tech pretty closely and while you could say that they’re evil, I don’t look at Jeff Bezos and go, “This moron,” or even Mark Zuckerberg, who I really disagree with … this is a pretty shrewd operator. Sometimes, with the Brock Pieces and the John McAfees of Crypto, I’m like, “Wow. I can’t believe I’m dedicating brain space to this.”
Aaron: What is it been? You’ve actually met these people and interviewed them in person. What have your experiences been like in the first hand with the Bitcoin celebrities of the world?
Mark: It’s hard to say, not having that technical expertise, how full of shit they may or may not be-
Aaron: You can assume that John McAfee has exactly the same amount of technical expertise as you do.
Mark: He seems like a pretty bright guy. It seems like he knows what he’s talking about. He’s super cogent … you should have him on your stoner podcast.
Aaron: I would love to have him on, but if you talk to anyone who knows about anti-virus software, he made all that shit up.
Mark: He’s like your dad’s-
Aaron: Yeah and it’s kinda the same thing … what has John McAfee done that has ever, in any way, interacted with the technical part of Crypto? He’s very skilled in the marketing part of it [crosstalk 00:52:58]. He shells, has he ever made anything, or done anything on a project other than promote it? It’s hard for me to even really see him as involved, except culturally.
Mark: I have this point … Yeah, he’s promoting the lifestyle at this point, but to me, it doesn’t really matter I suppose. I find him an interesting and compelling character and I like following his exploits, and I like talking to him when he’s stoned and we had a 45 minute conversation and he was quite cogent for being as stoned … he said he was more stoned than he had been in in a month. Which might not be saying that much for John McAfee, but …
Aaron: What do you think his intentions are?
Mark: His intentions.
Aaron: It’s weird, we kinda believe that greed motivates people primarily, I think, but when you look at John McAfee or Brock Pierce, or really almost any of the old guard Bitcoin that you’ve … Those people really aren’t old guard Bitcoin, but the Crypto celebrities. Most of them are already rich. If you were even involved in Crypto early on, you’d have to have played your hand very poorly to not be rich right now. What do you think motivates people who already have enough money to live for the rest of their life?
Mark: People are super cynical about it, I don’t know where you fall on it, but helping Puerto Rico, for instance, which obviously … very controversial. McAfee is certainly living his best life. He’s out there, well, right now, he’s on the run from the IRS, I don’t know how up on that you are.
Aaron: I sort of intermittently catch the story going by. Do you have all kinds of google earths set up for every weird Crypto culture thread? Do you get a weird push notification if John McAfee gets taken into custody automatically?
Mark: I’ll be all over that. All over that, certainly. He contacted the IRS, nothing has happened in that case yet, but he’s expecting to be charged with tax fraud or something along that lines.
Aaron: One question I wonder if you follow also, since you’ve been writing about the Free Ross movement, is the story of that AlphaBay guy. AlphaBay, I guess it wasn’t the sequel to Silk Road, since apparently Silk Road 2 was the sequel. It was the next one that was really upscale. AlphaBay as I understood it, was larger than Silk Road ever was, both in terms of how many customers it has, and the bulk of drugs that was moving through it. This was what, maybe a year and a half ago that this guy was caught? Maybe almost two years? The guy who was running it was caught, he was living in Thailand, he was taken into custody and he died in Thai custody within the first 24 or 48 hours.
Mark: He killed himself in jail. He hung himself, I believe.
Aaron: That was how I found out about Monero and how I really became interested in it, was I remember he had $17 million in Bitcoin, $10 million in Ethereum, and they’ll never know how much Monero he had, because it’s impossible to look into a Monero wallet and we’ll never know. It’s believed that he was keeping the bulk of his wealth in Monero.
Mark: From all the press councilors that are living the lux lifestyle [crosstalk 00:56:41].
Aaron: He had two Lambos, right?
Mark: He had a couple Lambos and a variety of other ill-gotten goods. Ross Ulbricht, on the other hand, had an old beater of a car and had roommates and was not in it for the money, apparently. Although, by all accounts, he had plenty of that. But, yeah, the AlphaBay case is really … I’ve been poking around in that and hoping to write about that in contacting some surviving people who were involved in that endeavor.
Aaron: Is there conspiracies whirling around that story, also?
Mark: I don’t know, you’d think there would be some.
Aaron: … Living in Thailand with two Lambos, I was like, “Somebody’s gotta have a good conspiracy theory about this.
Mark: Awfully fishy, but I haven’t really dove into the Reddit forums about that one, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Aaron: Have you been following this Quadriga story that’s been happening?
Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty wild, isn’t it?
Aaron: Jay, I think we need to schedule a special episode about it because I went absolutely ham in the Reddit and made this crazy person document that has all of my notes in it, but I also feel like it’s premature to talk about it because if we tape an episode about it [crosstalk 00:58:01] tomorrow, they’ll find him or something. Exactly. We’re waiting for something to happen. Jay, have you been following it?
Jay: Yeah. I agree with you, I don’t think we should do it yet, because if we’re live streaming a show, but with our turnaround time being what it is, I think it’s-
Aaron: Okay, well I will admit, Jay, that I impulse purchased a green screen, so if you do wanna come live stream [crosstalk 00:58:28].
Jay: I almost did that too, once.
Aaron: If you wanna go halvsies, I will let you borrow my green screen, or you can come over here and vibe out. We could do like a live marathon Quadriga conspiracy session.
Jay: Yeah, it was part of the two weeks that I realized anything I bought that was video related was now gonna be tax deductible, and I was looking into puppets, I was looking into green screens. I ended up not buying anything because that’s what I always do because I’m extremely cheap and despite having a crippling gambling problem, it’s ironic, but true. I would love to use your green screen, we should fuck around with it some.
Aaron: Before I get you out of here, Mark, I have one question that I’ve always wanted to understand. I’m big fan of Breaker, we’re both big fans, you guys all came out to our live show, the whole staff was there, which I really appreciated. When Breaker first came out, we were like, finally there’s something that’s in our cultural wheelhouse. I remember when I first went on breaker, you know when you first go to the About Us page, then you’re kinda … then it’s like … So, basically, if you trace Breaker back at the time, it was part of a larger media venture called, SingularDTV?
Aaron: Which itself, if you went even further up the ladder, was funded by a group of people including Joe Lubin, who is also part of consensus. I was like [crosstalk 01:00:06]. Yeah, funding is maybe the wrong word, but he’s associated with it. SingularDTV also does stuff like, they put out that Alex Winter documentary, and they’re kind of like a media studio. So, subsequently, SingularDTV has rebranded as Breaker, the magazine is now Breaker Mag.
Aaron: What does it mean that this pretty independent, and I would say at times, critical Crypto site is itself like a Crypto venture in a way. It’s part of this larger Crypto media suite of media companies.
Mark: It affects us less than you think it would. You haven’t been to our offices yet, but they’re quite modest. Not as modest as our current environs, but-
Aaron: Shots fired [crosstalk 01:01:07]. Mark has been to the murder bathroom, Jay. He’s been inside and he lived to tell about it.
Mark: I did, I did. But they’re pretty modest and Singular … Well, now Breaker is the company. It’s a little confusing-
Aaron: Although SingularDTV was always a mouthful.
Mark: But we’re completely editorially independent, which is the key thing that everyone should know and remember. There were some people that don’t like when the name change happened a week or two ago, it was … on day two, there was a little bit of Twitter uproar, but nothing significant and we’re just as independent as we were before, it’s just that we now share a sort of name with the former SingularDTV, but we’re still independent.
Aaron: For people listening, you can find Breaker at breakermag.com?
Mark: Breakermag.com. And of course on Twitter at @breakermag.
Aaron: What are you excited about that you’re working on now? What’s the next big story?
Mark: I’m working on some crimey stuff, looking into that. We’ve got some bigger pieces in the work coming out, I can’t really say too much about them right now, but perhaps dealing with marijuana.
Aaron: Whaaaat? Crossover show potential. This is actually known as The Crypto Cave on my other podcast Stoner, it is The Weed Basement [crosstalk 01:02:48].
Mark: It’s not my story, somebody else will probably be writing it, so I … We’re gonna keep looking into all aspects of Crypto and Blockchain. We might be exploring some of the darker side of Crypto at some point.
Aaron: Does it bum you out at all, doing this during a bare market? Does the price of Bitcoin affect your job happiness at all?
Mark: It certainly does, I think affect readership. This was started … we formally launched in September. At one point, I heard Bitcoin was a top Google Search, basically, and we would benefit-
Aaron: Everyone was interested in that.
Mark: Yeah, we would benefit greatly if there were a bull market.
Jay: We’d have more things to discuss than the music tastes of men in their late 30s.
Aaron: I would say the Crypto take, I have the least tolerance for right now, is the, “It’s actually great that the price is low,” I was like, “Shut up! I need fuel to listen to this podcast!”
Mark: It would definitely be helpful, but on a day-to-day basis, does it affect me? I don’t even know what the price of Bitcoin or Ethereum is right now, I couldn’t tell you.
Jay: Oh, Aaron can tell you.
Aaron: Would you trade one Bitcoin for your car? Do you have a car?
Mark: I don’t have a car.
Aaron: You don’t have a car, okay, you can’t play our trademark game, Would You Trade Your Car for One Bitcoin?
Mark: What is one Bitcoin worth now?
Aaron: This morning, it was about 3,600.
Mark: I would trade my non-existent car for it, certainly. To me, not having something in the game, beside on an editorial front, doesn’t … the prices are never, never … except … I know that basically, we’re in the longest Crypto winter yet …
Aaron: And Breaker can only exist as long as Crypto exists. If Bitcoin were to go to zero, that would probably be it.
Mark: … to Blockchain, which is … Blockchain and Crypto. I’d love it to go back up because of the ridiculous shit that happens. The famous New York Times headline … what was it? That everyone was fabulously wealthy except you, or something like that. I love that sort of … It disgusts me on one hand, but on the other hand, I love the-
Aaron: I would love to be disgusted by a bull market.
Mark: … Disgusting exploits of some Crypto bros.
Jay: Hopefully it’s me and Aaron getting richj.. We want a Breaker profile about our banks. Nothing would make me happier if Aaron and I got super Crypto rich, and somebody came out and did a future story on the both of us that was disgusted with us and how rich we were. At one point, they were respected journalists and media members, now they’re shitting off the side of their own yacht and laughing.
Mark: Please invite me on your yacht when that happens.
Jay: Yeah, you can make all the fun you want of me, but you’re gonna be on my yacht and you have to take a picture of it.
Aaron: I like how Jay has sold his Bitcoin, but is still fantasizing about somehow getting Crypto rich.
Jay: Like you, Mark, I did it purely out of journalistic principle. I did not think that-
Aaron: Oh, I’m sorry. Jay did not actually sell his Bitcoin, he lost his Bitcoin gambling it.
Mark: What journalistic principle is that?
Jay: I did not think that I could make this podcast with Aaron in good faith and inform the public about Crypto with skin in the game.
Mark: Hey, whatever narrative you wanna weave, it’s cool.
Jay: I gambled all of it away during the football season, so I have no crypto anymore.
Aaron: Alright, well Jay, I’ll catch you next week.