I could title this: the post I did not want to write. There has been a lot written already on the BitBet issue and the #b-a logs have frothed over it more than enough. Still, seeing how after all this time nobody in the midst of it all seems to either see what I see or otherwise care enough to state it, I have no choice but to write it anyway, because the alternative is that this view is never even put out there at all, for better or for worse. And to make it clear: I do not write this for whatever may come out of it (there's nothing positive I can really see coming either). I write it because this perspective is somehow entirely absent from any public discussion that I can see and therefore I can no longer keep quiet on it.
Let me state from the start that I have no stake in BitBet at all. For full disclosure: I had a few shares bought in the very beginning and I sold those quite some time ago. I bought them because I saw (and still do) huge potential in the underlying idea of BitBet. I sold them when I realised that the infrastructure that BitBet needs to thrive is simply not there1.
The perspective I have to write here as best I can will not go into technical details at all. First, such technical details have been discussed to death in the #b-a logs by people more knowledgeable on this matter than I am. Second, I truly do not consider that I know enough of these technical matters to discuss them at this stage. On such matters, I specifically defer to people such as asciilifeform and mod6. Third, I don't think that they are truly relevant to what I have to say, seeing how the discussion really focused in the end on Mircea Popescu's call on the matter rather than on any of the technical issues involved.
A very short history of the issue here: the betting site owned and run by Matic Kocevar (Kakobrekla) and Mircea Popescu entered into receivership as a result of a irreconcilable difference between the two owners. This difference became apparent over the handling of an incident that started off as a significant delay in the processing of one of BitBet's payment transactions. Mircea Popescu detailed his interpretation and handling of this incident in A Miner Problem. Both his interpretation and his handling have then been discussed in the comments section in Qntra and in the #b-a logs, with people mainly disagreeing on his interpretation of the result as evidence of a miner cartel. After he published the BitBet statement, the discussion focused almost exclusively on the 17BTC lost as a result of the incident and included in the statement as BitBet's loss. Essentially, on one side Mircea Popescu stated that the funds were lost by BitBet and therefore rightfully a business loss, while Kakobrekla stated that they were lost as a result of a mistake made by Mircea Popescu and therefore his own personal loss (or a loss that is to be covered by him). This difference of perspective proved deep enough to cause BitBet to go into receivership and to cause subsequently what seems like a split of people previously in #b-a (known as members of tmsr) and currently in #b-a and/or #trilema.
It's this last split that brought to light very clearly the fact that the issue is truly about the people involved and not at all about any of the technical issues or even the BitBet incident in itself. The BitBet incident was the trigger only. A trigger that proved to be attached to quite a bigger gun than initially thought perhaps, but what difference does that make anyway. In all this however, some misunderstandings seem to persist or are allowed to persist. Compare and contrast those two snippets from the #b-a logs:
On 2 March 2016, Mircea Popescu gives a brief statement of his reasons for his handling of the BitBet incident:
17:16:59 mircea_popescu: so that the problem can be fully exposed, in detailed, solid fact, so as to be handwaved by people.
17:17:04 mircea_popescu: i'm a masochist like that.
On 28 March 2016 phf and kakobrekla frame the discussion again as one of handling competency, while making reference directly to the statement above:
19:14:13 phf: but more importantly to a hypothetical court trial is how much knowledge mp had about this topography, so that way we can say whether or not his call was competent or not
19:14:42 kakobrekla: phf by his own admission hi call was 'masochistic' (but later billed sadistically)
This last part continues into a discussion of what Mircea Popescu actually meant by that statement that he was "a masochist like that." While each of those involved has his own interpretation of it, none of those interpretations seems to me to actually hit the nail on the head2. And it's a rather important nail seeing how all the discussion in #b-a keeps coming back to it.
In my semi-detached, silent-observer view of the whole matter, the BitBet incident was essentially a case of shooting the messenger for bringing up the unpleasant news in such a terrible, hurting manner. And at this stage one can say that both Mircea Popescu and BitBet were unwanted messengers, except that the first is way more difficult to shoot and he clearly shoots back too. The initial incident exposed a significant problem for BitBet first of all and as such one for BitBet to deal with and solve. The masochistic trait of Mircea Popescu in this has nothing to do with losing some BTCs or the like: it has to do with his deliberate choice to bring the bad news in such a way so that people won't ignore it although he quite knows beforehand that they will still do all they can to actually wave it away. In his own words: "so that the problem can be fully exposed, in detailed, solid fact, so as to be handwaved by people." So yes, he expected the double payment to happen, but that was at the same time the only opportunity to get full evidence of a significant problem for BitBet.
The 17BTC in this context was the price BitBet paid to ascertain the extent of the problem and to obtain clear and unavoidable proof of it, forcing it to light in a way which can't be denied in any form (and indeed, post-incident, there hasn't been any denial of the fact that yes, BitBet has a problem). However, despite the acknowledgement of this problem and of its importance for BitBet, the discussion solely focused on the 17BTC in the way of: oh, but they needn't have been lost by BitBet! One has to stop first and consider: by whom should those BTC be lost then exactly to still have the problem exposed? The answer apparently given so far in the #b-a logs is: by Mircea Popescu! Presumably because he insists on exposing the problem - the messenger deserves at least a few lashes for insisting to make the bad news heard, doesn't he?
There is also the opinion that the 17BTC shouldn't have been paid a second time, given the clearly obvious and highly probable result of a double payment and therefore a loss. The question never asked on this is: how clear would the problem have been then? What proof would there be and of what exactly? What measures would have been taken and what value would they have on such shaky grounds?
At the end of the day, I see this as a clash of two approaches that are indeed irreconcilable: either expose rot as early and clearly as possible, at all costs and settling for nothing less than full eradication or otherwise mend and make do, working around the issues as best one can, minimising costs. I must say that I don't really condemn either - people afford what they afford and make their choices accordingly.
I want however to make it as clear as I can that this is the choice being made, the choice that killed BitBet, the choice that split tmsr. Your choice to make at every turn, too.
I include people in "infrastructure" - call me names for this if you need another reason to do it anyway. ↩
Nobody goes to just ask Mircea Popescu what he meant by that, either. ↩
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