The (De)X Files is my weekly aggregate of a few stories, essays, articles, an academic paper here and there, and (ugh) “think pieces” (only the awesome ones) from as wide a net as I can cast across the web. (The net is exceptionally wide, thanks to Inoreader.)
My selections are of the important, the surprising, the troubling, the enlightening, the inspiring, the amusing, the sublime, and the offending, along with some commentary, analysis, speculation, and prediction.
On tap: Bitcoin = energy; encrypted Facebook; Son of Bin Laden; the Italian job; elites in retreat …
1) “Bitcoin ‘Miners’ Face Fight For Survival As New Supply Halves” | Reuters | 07/08/16
I’ve written about the nature and meaning of money before. This Reuters article about Bitcoin touches on some of the deeper ideas about money that I’m working out.
Mining Bitcoin is energy intensive. Yet the price of a Bitcoin has to be more than the cost to produce it, or no miner can stay in business. Over time, mining gets harder and more expensive as more energy is required, because the mining process itself gets more complex. Thus, how Bitcoin is produced is itself a metaphor for what money means. Sure, money can be represented by whatever we want (paper, metal, shells, 1s and 0s, etc.) And it can be backed by gold, silver, wheat, or whatever inspires more confidence in us. But ultimately, money has to be something that can’t be whatever we want it to be. (This is why gold and silver can’t be real money.) It has to be energy. Not bullshit New-Agey energy, but high school physics energy–the ability to do work. To produce. Explicitly, to produce growth.
Over time, the ability to produce growth is deflationary. Unlike fiat currency such as the dollar (which is created as debt through the loan process), Bitcoin is deflationary because energy is.
2) “Faceebook Messenger Adds End-To-End Encryption In A Bid To Become Your Primary Messaging App” | TechCrunch | 07/07/16
Facebook and encryption is an empty concept. Encrypting Facebook Messenger communications is the digital equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse has left. The Feds will suck up our data and—for the moment—will do nothing with it unless circumstances warrant so. But we will freely give Facebook our data, and Facebook will then 1) sell it to advertisers; 2) use to help make Facebook itself more effective at collecting our data.
That said, Facebook is using Whisper for it’s encryption which is already part of what I consider the best messenger app, Signal.
3) “Bin Laden’s Son Threatens Revenge Against US” | The New York Times | 07/10/16
Osama Bin Laden has so many children that a son of his rising up to carry on the family “legacy” had a much better chance of happening than not. Just another form of blowback that American involvement in the Middle East has produced. However, in the old days, you not only killed your hated enemy, you also killed his whole family down to his most distant cousins to prevent some real or symbolic son from rising to avenge his father.
So, of all the people America has droned, how could we miss Bin Laden’s son?!?!?! Did any of these so-called elites who compile kill lists ever read The Odyssey? Telemachus, anyone?
4) “The Italian Job” | The Economist | 07/09/16
Great Britain chose to leave the European Union. Greece chose to remain. Sovereignty was the issue, in some way, in both cases. Great Britain left to preserve its sovereignty, while Greece sacrificed its sovereignty to prevent financial and political breakdown. Both cases suggest that the EU is a failing experiment.
Italy may decide its ultimate fate. Should its looming banking crisis necessitate help, The EU may be more willing to cut the Italians a better deal than the Greeks got, sparing it Brexit’s messiness. Besides, were Italy to leave, chances are it would take Spain, Portugal, and Greece with it, which would signal the end of the EU.
5) “Trust in Government Is Collapsing Around The World” | The Atlantic | 07/2016
The world is flat in more ways than Tom Friedman could have considered when he first coined the phrase. While the mechanisms of global trade have indeed become the “level playing field” that Friedman has written and talked about for almost a generation, another kind of “flattening” has been produced as a toxic by-product—no one trusts “elites” anymore.
This article is about the crisis of expertise (and therefore, of elites) and the eroding ability of leaders, technocrats, and experts to convince “the masses” that their their opinions are worth believing, and their prescriptions are worth following.
Counter to this, non-elites increasingly rely more on their personal connections than on authority (government, mainstream media) for credible information that can help them make sense of larger, complex events around them. This erosion of trust in leaders is a problem, as institutions (and therefore faith in them) are the the way in which the post-World War II world as we know it has come about and sustained itself. But the failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses of globalization specifically and the modern liberal world order in general are revealing themselves as much on the small scale—smaller, tighter networks of trust, as on the large—chaos, confusion and change too fast to comprehend.
My overall take on this condition is that “our way of doing things” is bounded by crises, by which I mean that those who thought up the United Nations, The IMF, GATT, etc. had no way of envisioning how these structures could capitalize on or even cope with a world shaped by de-industrialization, the collapse of Bretton Woods, or a time when the United States would not be the world’s major exporter of oil. The result is that we’re facing any number of present and future challenges with political and economic circumstances and intellectual and ideological “tools” that in some cases are hundreds of ears old.
Worse, we’ve spent decades convincing ourselves (sometimes from the business end of a gun or hellfire missile) that these are the only tools that we can use.
IMAGE SOURCE: Atelier van Lieshout Rotterdam