Is Bitcoin Really “Real Money”? and will it last?

Joe Nocera in the New York Times points out that the internet needs a digital currency but that the key trait behind bitcoin could be why it doesn’t fulfill that need:

Whenever I read a story about bitcoin, the virtual currency that has been so much in the news these days, I think about a man named Dee Hock. In the early 1970s, Hock created the credit card system that we now know as Visa. Hock was a man who liked to think grandiose thoughts. When it came to Visa, and credit cards in general, Hock used to describe them not just as a way to get a short-term loan but as a new kind of payment system, an exchange of value that was on par with, and that competed with, cash.

As it turns out — and the bitcoin experience is helping to illustrate this — Hock’s description of credit cards was more than a little hyperbolic. Yes, you could now use a small plastic card instead of cash to buy something, but that card had value because it connected both the buyer and the seller to a fiat currency. People trusted it because they believed in their country’s currency and financial institutions. The exchange of value was never the credit card itself; it was still the dollar, the pound, the yen.

Bitcoin, on the other hand, is truly a new form of payment system, unconnected to any currency or any government. Its libertarian proponents in Silicon Valley love that about it; they talk about it as a potential disrupter of traditional financial institutions. It has value not because a government has decreed and backed its value — the classic definition of a fiat currency — but because a community of users has decided to give it value. Its current travails, however, suggest that may also be its inherent flaw: that however much we say we mistrust governments and banks, when it comes to our money, we trust them a lot more than we trust some clever lines of computer code.

Larry Kudlow says Bitcoin is not real money:

Venture capitalist Ezra Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal, “without a regulatory framework, credible payment processors — such as PayPal, Dwolla or Square — cannot service bitcoin exchanges. And because payment processors are vital for converting fiat currencies into virtual deposits, bitcoin operators will be forced to move downstream into the black market.” Mr. Galston concludes by asserting that “the bitcoin community must embrace external regulation to ensure that credible vendors may participate in payment processing.”

Hundreds of bitcoin supporters have tweeted attacks at me for arguing that bitcoin is not real money. But historically, money must be a reliable medium of exchange, and a reliable store of value. Bitcoin meets neither of these definitions.
How can you transact using so-called digital money when prices fluctuate by hundreds of dollars in the space of an hour, or less? You might think you bought something for $500. But by the time the retailer processes payment, the so-called digital-currency price drops to $100.

Both buyers and sellers lose big because bitcoin is not a reliable medium of exchange with a dependable store of value. It is backed by nothing but pure speculation. You can’t even hedge it, because there’s no interest rate. You can barely even get a price quote — not for the value of the product being bought or sold, but for the value of the monetary medium of exchange.

Cars playing leapfrog due to ice and snow in Long Island

This shot from Wantagh Long Island shows some of the damage a little snow can cause:

Man loses hair in background of Obama speech

Or at least that is what the optical illusion of these 2 photographs together would have you believe…

Check out these cool McDonald’s in high places

When people around the world think “America”, one of the first things that comes to mind is “McDonald’s”—cheap, cheerful fast food that feeds over 60 million people per day.

To get a handle on that—the UN World Food Programme, which is the “world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security”, feeds 90 million people per year.

Complaining about McDonald’s is as uniquely American as McDonald’s. Take Anna Hess of “Take Part”, who highlights five “culturally ruinous” McDonald’s around the world, (“The Most Shameful McDonald’s Locations Worldwide”) as if Stonehenge was used to build their newest UK outpost.

Hess introduces by saying:

There are no words to describe the utter disappointment a traveler feels when they’re strolling down the Rue de Julien, craving sole meunière and weightless croissants, only to be assaulted by those Golden Arches.

Unless that (American) traveler is blind, they can easily get croissants and baguettes to their heart’s content everywhere but McDonalds—oh wait—at McDonald’s too.

quelle délicieux!

In fact, if you check out McDonald’s menus around the world, you can find some mouthwatering, culturally-appropriate food, from paneer to gazpacho to pitas.

But that doesn’t stem the tide of the writer’s outraged ink.

First stop: McDonald’s in the Louvre. Hess snarks,

Visitors come here from far and wide to enjoy some of the greatest works of art of all time, including the Mona Lisa—and a Le Big Mac with fries, because when in Rome Paris?

At best, it’s a popular café that appeals to the wildly-trafficked museum’s visitors and earns millions for the museum, allowing it to invest in more priceless works of art—at worst, it’s a well-designed Pop Art installation among those hallowed halls.

Next on our tour is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a Milanese shopping center. Hess claims “like all malls, old and new, there’s also a McDonald’s there too.” Somehow, that’s supposed to cheapen this historical mall, as if once malls reach a certain age there’s a rule that certain people can’t afford to eat there.

In Bray, Ireland, there’s a cute little McDonald’s in the town hall. Hess clumsily concludes:

A wyvern, the mythological dragon featured on the Brabazon coat of arms, crowns the outside drinking fountain and is a protector for the town and its hall. But even with such a fierce guardian, Ronald could not be kept at bay.

The McDonald’s in the town hall actually has been named one of the coolest of the franchises, is a tourist destination in itself, and gets high reviews. Once again—only Henn is complaining.

New Hyde Park is home to one of the most unusual McDonald’s in the world—a McMansion. Hyde can’t even muster a kvetch here, claiming:

[this] led to the most elegant American restaurant in the McDonald’s franchise, complete with a glassed-in veranda seating area and a grand staircase.

The building hadn’t been a mansion for over a half a century—and was turned into a restaurant and even a funeral parlor. McDonald’s considered demolishing the dilapidated building but actually saved it—working with the town’s council to preserve the landmark and restore it to its 1926 glory.

downside: no ball pit

And our tour ends at the Piazza della Repubblica in Rome, where a demure McDonald’s exists amongst the columns.

Hess attempts snark again:

The piazza marks the site of the official Roman forum, which dates back to the age of empire; ruins of ancient Roman baths and temples have been uncovered on the south side of the square. Hopefully, a thousand years from now, archaeologists will uncover the ruins of this sacred McDonald’s franchise.

This is anything but holy ground. Considering the amount of blood, guts, vomit and debauchery that the forum saw in its heyday—having a McDonald’s there can’t possibly desecrate it.

Darn it–now I’m hungry.

feeding millions every day isn’t a crime!

Satire about “Marijuana Overdoses” killing Colorado partakers fools social media potheads

The Daily Current is is a satire/fake-news website like The Onion, but with the Onion itself often times being mistaken for real news, it’s copycats fool many more.

Colorado and Washington state approved the sale of marijuana for recreational use in November though statewide ballot measures. Under the new policies pot is legal for adult use, regulated like alcohol and heavily taxed.
One of the principal arguments of legalization advocates was that cannabis has long been considered safer than alcohol and tobacco and was not thought not to cause overdose. But a brave minority tried to warn Coloradans of the drug’s dangers.

“We told everyone this would happen,” says Peter Swindon, president and CEO of local brewer MolsonCoors. “Marijuana is a deadly hardcore drug that causes addiction and destroys lives.
“When was the last time you heard of someone overdosing on beer? All these pro-marijuana groups should be ashamed of themselves. The victims’ blood is on their hands.”

The article is satirizing the people panicking over marijuana legalization. In reality, it is not possible to fatally overdose from cannabis usage.

Even those unfamiliar with the satire website however, needed only to look at some of its other headlines to know it is not real news…

Hoax: Ja Rule Did NOT Leave His Wife For My Male Prison Cellmate

A parody blog called Cream Bmp Daily wrote that the rapper’s wife Aisha Atkins told MTV her husband was dating his male prison mate, and some sloppy blogs picked up the fake story as an actual report.

But Ja Rule quickly took to Twitter to debunk the bogus story.

He tweeted, ”Ok I guess I have to address the idiots these rumors are FALSE LIES made up by some non mf factor website CLOWNS lmao…”

The performer then posted a photo of himself and Atkins flipping off the camera while kissing (see below), along with the message, “Sorry to disappoint all the haters who want the rumors to be true so bad lol. Merry Xmas stupid love Mick&Mal. Lmao.”

Ja Rule was released from jail in May after serving two sentences for illegal gun possession and tax evasion.

Duke Rape Accuser got 5,233% more coverage on false accusation than murder conviction

Crystal Mangum, the stripper who incited a national scandal in 2006 when she falsely accused Duke University lacrosse players of rape has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her boyfriend, Reginald Daye.

Mangum claimed that she fatally stabbed her boyfriend in self-defense after he threw knives at her, but in interviews before he died, he said that she stabbed him several times, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. The LA Times reports that the jury concluded that photographic and blood evidence didn’t match up with Mangum’s story. Mangum’s criminal history leading to this point became part of the trial:

Prosecutors in the murder case pointed to another incident, in 2010, when Mangum was found guilty of contributing to the abuse of minors in an episode where she trashed Daye’s car and set fire to his clothes.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a more serious arson charge, and she was sentenced to time served.

Her relationship with Daye appears to have been trouble from day one. When Daye’s nephew called 911 the day he was stabbed, the man immediately referred to her notoriety.

“It’s Crystal Mangum. THE Crystal Mangum,” he told the emergency operator. “I told him she was trouble from the damn beginning.”

Daye died in the hospital 10 days later.

Revisiting the Duke scandal:

“You have all been told some fantastic lies, and I look forward to watching them unravel in the weeks to come, as they already have in weeks past…. The truth will come out,” lacrosse player David Evans said after he was indicted.

The case did slowly fall apart as DNA evidence failed to tie Mangum to any of the 46 white players on the team. She eventually recanted her statement and said she was not sure she had been raped, although she insisted some sort of sexual assault had taken place.

In court, defense lawyers revealed that the prosecuting attorney and the lab director had withheld evidence that showed that the DNA on Mangum’s body did not match the defendants, and that it matched other men. The defense claimed that the district attorney who was prosecuting violated police policy by using a photo lineup that showed photos only of lacrosse players and did not mix in other men.

“She was, in effect, given a multiple choice test in which there were no wrong answers,” a defense motion said.

The district attorney withdrew from the case, resigned and was disbarred.

The North Carolina attorney general took over the case, and after a 12-week examination he dropped all charges against the defendants. Evans, who was indicted the day after he graduated from Duke, said the case Mangum brought against him and the other defendants had taken them “to hell and back.”

The intense and extensive coverage of the false story vs the whispers on the conviction highlights a bias in media attention and news reporting:

The story was explosive and politically correct: privileged white lacrosse players at a prestigious college rape underprivileged young black woman. As events developed, three lacrosse players were eventually arrested and charged; the Duke lacrosse coach, Mike Pressler, received threatening phone calls and was forced by Duke to resign; the president of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, suspended the entire lacrosse team for the season; liberal Duke faculty members, the “Group of 88,” signed an advertisement in the Duke Chronicle that reportedly  suggested the rape claims were true; the initial prosecutor, Mike Nifong, was disbarred for his misconduct and convicted of criminal contempt; all charges against the 3 players – Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans – were dropped.

Although the rape claims by Mangum were totally false, she was not charged with a crime.

The lacrosse players Finnerty and Seligmann were arrested on Apr. 18, 2006, and charged with rape and kidnapping. In the five days following, Apr. 18 – 22, a Nexis news search of the terms Duke, rape, and lacrosse in “All English Language News,” shows there were 673 news stories, 160 of which were from major television news outlets (and six that were on NPR).

Those 160 major television news outlets included ABC’s World News Tonight, Nightline, Good Morning America, the CBS Evening News, the Today show, NBC Nightly News, CNN Live, Fox News, MSNBC’s Scarborough Country and Countdown, and myriad other TV news programs.

The coverage of accusations surrounding Mangum dropped 5,233%:

The big television networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC – and the liberal MSNBC and NPR did not report on Mangum’s murder conviction.

The difference in coverage is noteworthy:  160 stories vs. 3 stories in the first five days of each event. That’s a ratio of 53 to 1, and a difference in coverage of 5,233%.

The television news industry (and NPR) gave 5,233% more coverage to the dubious allegations against the three lacrosse players — which were proven to be completely false and politically charged — than they gave the jury-tried murder conviction of Crystal Mangum, the false accuser.

Your favorite animals are jerks

Dolphins, penguins and sea otters… Brian Switek in Slate says they are jerks.

Later researchers rediscovered what Levick had seen. Rather than being deviant, the behaviors were a regular part of penguin life, triggered by males associating a rather flexible interpretation of a female’s mating posture with receptiveness. As Natural History Museum, London ornithologist Douglas Russell and colleagues reported in a preface to Levick’s belatedly-released report, this behavior is so ingrained that when a researcher set out a dead penguin that had been frozen in such a position, many males found the corpse “irresistible.” In a bit of weird field work, the same researcher found that “just the frozen head of the penguin, with self-adhesive white O’s for eye rings, propped upright on wire with a large rock for a body, was sufficient stimulus for males to copulate and deposit sperm on the rock.” I fear I’ve just made the Socially Awkward Penguin seem just that much more socially awkward.

As Douglas and colleagues stressed in their preface to Levick’s report, though, “the behavior [displayed by hooligan males] is clearly not analogous to necrophilia in the human context.” That fact can easily be lost when one is appalled by an animal acting out a human taboo. Levick was aghast because he viewed the penguins in human terms—as little gents and dames dressed to the nines. The sentiments about proper human behavior were impressed upon the penguins, and vice versa. For if such awful displays occurred in nature, what might that say about our own actions?

What sea otters, dolphins, and penguins sometimes do to one another in their attempts to mate can make us feel queasy, but this is just one sort of animal behaviors that have been unsettling us since the Victorian era.

What we might perceive as aberrant behavior starts early—especially violence. Inside pregnant sand tiger sharks, for example, the first embryo to grow large enough rapidly devours all the other unborn sharks in its shared womb. In other species, post-hatching battles begin almost immediately. Young cattle egrets will peck and harass weaker siblings, going so far to push them out of the nest and to their doom. Such behavior led ornithologist Douglas Mock and colleagues to write “Occasionally, the pen of natural selection writes a murder mystery on the pages of evolution.”

Parents can be as bad as siblings. Among birds, parents under stress to provide for their offspring during rough years may boot eggs from their nests or kill some of their own chicks so that others might survive. As ethologist Sarah Hrdy has observed, there are various reasons for infanticide. Ground squirrels, hyenas, and lions may eat infants of their own species just for a snack. Wannabe mother primates may steal the baby of another and unintentionally starve that infant in a phenomenon called “aunting to death.” Dominant wild dogs may kill the offspring of subordinate members of the pack to make sure the alpha’s infants get the most food. And amorous males of various species, including the noble lion, kill infants to make their mothers available for breeding again. All of this is only the barest catalog of common and widespread phenomena in nature that we often shy away from examining, as we have great difficulty divorcing our own sense of morality from a wilderness that does not and cannot share our values.

Egyptian Samsung billboard contains unfortunate typo

Helwan , Egypt. Samsung finally offering Truth in advertising…

No, Samsung didn’t pay Apple in Nickels, but here is the background

(Well, the image above almost surely happened. It just isn’t depicting what is being claimed)

Facebookers are spreading a hoax via a Youtubers WordPress blog that originated on a Mexican fake-news website that claimed Samsung is paying Apple’s owed 1 billion dollar fine via nickels. The fake story goes:

This morning more than 30 trucks filled with 5-cent coins arrived at Apple’s headquarters in California. Initially, the security company that protects the facility said the trucks were in the wrong place, but minutes later, Tim Cook (Apple CEO) received a call from Samsung CEO explaining that they will pay $1 billion dollars for the fine recently ruled against the South Korean company in this

The funny part is that the signed document does not specify a single payment method, so Samsung is entitled to send the creators of the iPhone their billion dollars in the way they deem best.

Although Snopes debunked the claim, labeling it False, Charlie Arthur at The Guardian has 6 in-depth reasons of its falsehood, including:

1) Samsung’s fine ($1.049bn) isn’t yet payable; the judge hasn’t ruled. All we have is the jury’s verdict. The judge’s decision, which could include a tripling of the fine, is due on 20 September (or possibly 6 December now; it’s unclear). Until then, Samsung only has to pay its lawyers. That should be less than $1bn.

2) If Samsung tried to pay the fine in five-cent coins, Apple could legitimately tell the trucks to turn around and head back to Samsung (if the trucks weren’t imaginary in the first place). Here’s the relevant phrase from the US Treasury web page:

Q: I thought that United States currency was legal tender for all debts. Some businesses or governmental agencies say that they will only accept checks, money orders or credit cards as payment, and others will only accept currency notes in denominations of $20 or smaller. Isn’t this illegal?

A: The pertinent portion of law that applies to your question is the Coinage Act of 1965, specifically Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled “Legal tender,” which states: “United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”

This statute means that all United States money as identified above are a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a State law which says otherwise. For example, a bus line may prohibit payment of fares in pennies or dollar bills. In addition, movie theaters, convenience stores and gas stations may refuse to accept large denomination currency (usually notes above $20) as a matter of policy.

Snopes also pointed out the weight factors:

A single nickel weights 5 grams (about .011 pounds), so a billion dollars’ worth of nickels would weigh in at about 110,000 tons. That load would far exceed the carrying capacity of 30 or so trucks (requiring each truck to carry over 3,600 tons, or more than 7.2 million lbs. each). Even if the considerable weight of the trucks themselves weren’t taken into account, the equivalent of about 2,755 eighteen-wheeler trucks, each hauling 40 tons’ worth of nickels, would be needed to transport the weight of that many coins (and even that calculation still doesn’t take into account the volume of physical space needed to assemble, transport, and store 20 billion nickels).

The Facebook link catching fire is that of “The Blade Brown show” whose tagline is “God’s Don’t Mingle With Mortals.” Evidently they also don’t fact check their news items.

But perhaps the most bizarre feature of the post is that the clipart used in the blog appears to use pennies when the story clearly states that the coin used was nickel. From the Guardian:

5) There probably aren’t that many nickels in circulation anyway. The New York Times noted in 2006 that there were about 20bn nickels in circulation at the time; rising metal prices were encouraging people to melt them for the copper and zinc. Another dose of reason.

6) The amount of copper involved (95% of each nickel) is truly humungous because a billion is a very big number. 100,000 tonnes of copper (let’s assume that’s what it is for now) would, at a density of 8,940 kg/cubic metre (that’s 8.94 tonnes/cubic metre), occupy just over 11,185 cubic metres. As an Olympic swimming pool has a capacity of 2,500 cubic metres (aka “one olymp“), that would be the same as four and a half Olympic swimming pools filled entirely with copper. Imagine that if you can.