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What to Take Away From Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht's Life Sentence
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest has sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life in prison, a more severe sentence than even the prosecution had requested. Forrest explained she was making an example of Ulbricht to send a message to others like him.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest has sentenced Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht to life in prison without possibility of parole, a more severe sentence than even the prosecution had requested. From 2011 to 2013, Ulbricht established and oversaw the notorious website dubbed by authorities as the most extensive black market on the internet. That site, the aforementioned Silk Road, enabled thousands of vendors to exchange hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of illegal goods and services. Reaping in a commission for each transaction, Ulbricht made tens of millions of dollars in the process. The gravy train wrecked in October 2013 when he was arrested in San Francisco.
"Ultimately she gave Mr. Ulbricht the harshest punishment allowed under the law, saying Silk Road was 'an assault on the public health of our communities' by making it easy for people around the world to buy illegal drugs. In a passionate speech, she detailed the ways drug addiction can tear families apart.
'What you did with Silk Road was terribly destructive to our social fabric,' said Judge Forrest, who also ordered Mr. Ulbricht to forfeit about $183 million."
It can be argued that Forrest may have been throwing her weight around with the sentence, deriding Ulbricht for his outlaw ambitions and explaining her decision came about because Ulbricht believed he could "flout the law." Her damning tone during the sentencing made her sound like an aspiring generalissimo who wants her name written in the annals of the War on Drugs. Ulbricht's mother suggested as much after the trial:
"They have their War on Drugs, and they are going to have their example. And Ross is that example."
Ulbricht's official defense fund — FreeRoss.org — cites the potential impact of the case on internet freedom and privacy. Ulbricht's conviction, they argue, will lead to bad laws that will restrict online activity and squeeze Fourth Amendment protections. There's a bit of slippery slope, strawman thinking there — unsurprisingly, considering the situation — but there ought to be concern with regard to just how much liability the verdict hands down on Ulbricht for his actions. "This case is bigger than one man," they say, and they're right. There are implications here beyond just him.
This isn't to say that Ulbricht isn't a lousy guy because he almost certainly is. The court documents clearly paint a picture of an unrepentant man who sought to protect his illegal empire by "violent means, including soliciting the murder-for-hire of several individuals he believed posed a threat to that enterprise." Andy Greenberg of Wired describes how these particular details -- which, it should be noted, were not part of this trial -- led to Forrest's decision:
"With those attempted murders as context, Forrest was merciless in her assessment of Ulbricht’s seeming multiple personalities: the altruistic and admirable young man described in the letters sent to her as evidence of his character, versus the callous drug lord she saw in his actions."
Ulbricht's lawyers are expected to appeal the decision. Life in prison is a tough pill to swallow; plenty of folks on the web believe it's more than Ulbricht deserves. But perhaps what Forrest wanted to communicate in her verdict is that it's time for the images we envision when we think of kingpins and criminal juggernauts — the Tony Sopranos, Don Corleones, Whitey Bulgers — to erode so that digital bosses like Ross Ulbricht can sidle alongside.
Check out the official court documents here.
Photo above: Ross Ulbricht's collection of fake driver's licenses, collected upon his arrest in 2013.
Below: Remember SOPA? In a video from three years ago, IT entrepreneur Brad Burnham offers a reasonable assessment of online privacy: Sometimes it's more a matter of gaining access than malintent:
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.