The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Stuff I didn't have time to read today

I had to put out a new version of the Inner Drive Azure tools for my day job today, and I had more meetings than I wanted (i.e., a non-zero number), so these kind of piled up:

There were other things I'll read later, but it's past 6pm and someone is staring at me because she needs a walk.

The IQ of the House will go up a bit in January

US Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) goes down in history as one of the worst one-termers since the founding of the Republic:

Chuck Edwards, a three-term state senator and business owner, has edged out Representative Madison Cawthorn in the Republican primary for a House seat representing North Carolina’s 11th District.

Luke Ball, a representative for Mr. Cawthorn, said late Tuesday that the congressman had called Mr. Edwards to concede. Mr. Edwards’s narrow triumph was called by The Associated Press.

The outcome served as a rebuke of Mr. Cawthorn, a right-wing firebrand and the youngest freshman in Congress, who was once seen as a rising star of the Republican Party.

Mr. Cawthorn, who has been in a wheelchair since a car crash that almost took his life at 18, struggled to overcome a series of old and new personal and political errors. He previously faced accusations that he had lied about key parts of his background and that he had been sexually and verbally aggressive toward women.

In recent months, he also has been accused of engaging in insider trading, charged with driving with a revoked license and stopped for trying to bring a gun through airport security — a second time. Photos and videos of him partying and emulating sexual antics circulated.

I had lost hope that Republican voters would ever lose patience with people like Cawthorn, and yet they did. Good riddance—in 8 months, anyway.

What did we say about crypto?

Don't. Just don't. Tulips look like a better investment than cryptocurrency.

First, the Justice Department has launched a prosecution against an unnamed defendant for allegedly laundering $10 million in Bitcoin:

U.S. authorities filed charges in March after allegedly discovering that a sanctioned country had set up a PayPal-type payment platform system with the defendants’ help, according to Friday’s ruling. It said investigators were able to use sophisticated blockchain analysis tools to trace that person’s actions, since despite cryptocurrencies’ anonymizing features, all transactions to individual accounts are recorded in public ledgers that can be amassed into large data sets.

The $10 million in bitcoin payments originated from the United States and were transmitted for customers of the payment platform, according to a U.S. law enforcement affidavit cited by the ruling. The platform advertised its services as designed to evade American sanctions, and the defendant “proudly stated” it could do so using bitcoins while knowing the country was blacklisted, the ruling said.

The US Magistrate Judge overseeing the case reminded the defendant that despite the mythology surrounding them, cryptocurrencies are traceable and are considered cash for the purposes of international sanctions. They are, in other words, not the perfect vectors for bribing foreign dictators that their proponents promote.

Economist Paul Krugman makes (as you'd suspect) the economic argument against cryptocurrencies (sub.req.), if the legal and moral arguments didn't persuade you:

By now, we’ve all heard of them, but what exactly are cryptocurrencies? Many people — including, I fear, many people who have invested in them — probably still don’t fully understand them. Saying that they’re digital assets doesn’t really get at it. My bank account, which I mainly reach online, is also a digital asset, for all practical purposes.

In any case, as we look forward, the value of cryptocurrencies will have to rest on their underlying economic uses, which are …

Well, that’s just the thing. I’ve heard many discussions in which crypto supporters have been asked exactly what economic role crypto can play that isn’t more easily and cheaply achieved through other means — debit cards, Venmo, etc. Other than illegal transactions, in which crypto may sometimes offer anonymity, I have yet to hear a coherent answer.

As it is, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in economic transactions other than speculation in crypto markets themselves. And if your answer is “give it time,” you should bear in mind that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, which makes it ancient by tech standards; Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. If crypto was going to replace conventional money as a medium of exchange — a means of payment — surely we should have seen some signs of that happening by now. Just try paying for your groceries or other everyday goods using Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible.

Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible?

Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.

As Julia Ioffe pointed out yesterday in reference to ordinary Russians believing the Kremlin's propaganda, in a country where 30% of the population believe in "replacement theory," our folly and gullibility have no limit.

One million dead (or more)

The CDC reported today that the US has officially passed 1 million Covid deaths:

The confirmed number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days. It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined. It’s as if Boston and Pittsburgh were wiped out.

Three out of every four deaths were people 65 and older. More men died than women. White people made up most of the deaths overall. But Black, Hispanic and Native American people have been roughly twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.

Of course, the CDC also believes we passed 1 million actual Covid deaths a few months ago, as the total number of excess deaths since 1 February 2020 has passed 1,119,000.

NPR reports that vaccine misinformation and Republican Party politics has led to a majority of those deaths in unvaccinated populations:

[W]e've been hit so hard due to fragmentation and inequalities in our health care system, as well as vaccine hesitancy, often fueled by politically motivated misinformation. Consider this, A - if you tally up the number of unvaccinated people who died from COVID after vaccines were open to all adults last year, it's about 319,000 lives lost, according to a Brown University analysis.

So Covid has killed more Americans than any other single event by many hundreds of thousands:

The collapse of crypto

I want to call attention to an article from October by Ben Mackenzie and Jacob Silverman that seems prescient today:

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler has compared [the cryptocurrency industry] to betting in unlicensed, unregistered casinos. “We’ve got a lot of casinos here in the Wild West,” Gensler said in a chat last month with the Washington Post. “And the poker chip is these stablecoins.” In this casino, the chips themselves might be just as risky as sitting down at the blackjack table.

A stablecoin is a digital currency whose value is directly linked to another asset, kind of like the dollar under the gold standard. The value of a stablecoin is supposed to remain constant. Such cryptocurrencies are useful because converting fiat money into and out of a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin can be slow and cumbersome; if you load up on stablecoins, you’re dealing in the coin of the realm and can make your transactions quickly. The most popular stablecoin by a country mile is Tether. According to a recent study, 70 percent of Bitcoin trading is done in Tethers. On any given day, Tether is by far the most-traded coin, its volume often double that of Bitcoin. If you want to gamble at the crypto casino, you need Tethers.

I was never into betting on crypto for the same reason I was never into online poker: There’s no human interaction involved, and drinking at my desk while watching numbers flicker by on a screen is not my thing. I’m also not eager to gamble on things where I don’t know the risks involved and when I may be playing by different rules than others. For all of its talk about ensuring trust via strong code and decentralized authorities, the crypto industry remains, like many pockets of its mainstream finance counterpart, profoundly concentrated and often untrustworthy.

For those who look past all this and end up on the losing end if this $2 trillion bubble pops, it might be catastrophic, especially as crypto exchanges increasingly resemble unlicensed banks, with some now encouraging users to directly deposit their paychecks into crypto. For the average investor/gambler (is there a difference anymore?), one would be best advised to heed a popular saying in Vegas: Look around the poker table; if you can’t spot the sucker, you’re it.

Forward to this past week, and the tulips South Sea Company Ponzi scheme crypto market seems like the casino is closing.

Margaret Atwood on the Alito draft opinion

Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale in the 1980s, when the establishment of a theocracy in 21st-century Massachusetts seemed like science fiction. Today, she worries she might only have gotten the location wrong:

Although I eventually completed this novel and called it The Handmaid’s Tale, I stopped writing it several times, because I considered it too far-fetched. Silly me. Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

For instance: It is now the middle of 2022, and we have just been shown a leaked opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that would overthrow settled law of 50 years on the grounds that abortion is not mentioned in the Constitution, and is not “deeply rooted” in our “history and tradition.” True enough. The Constitution has nothing to say about women’s reproductive health. But the original document does not mention women at all.

Let’s look at the First Amendment. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The writers of the Constitution, being well aware of the murderous religious wars that had torn Europe apart ever since the rise of Protestantism, wished to avoid that particular death trap.

t ought to be simple: If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion. If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others. But should the Alito opinion become the newly settled law, the United States looks to be well on the way to establishing a state religion. Massachusetts had an official religion in the 17th century. In adherence to it, the Puritans hanged Quakers.

If Justice Alito wants you to be governed by the laws of the 17th century, you should take a close look at that century. Is that when you want to live?

I sure don't. Why do Republicans?

Monty the piping plover dies suddenly

The male of the Montrose Beach endangered piping plover couple, who has spent the last three weeks waiting for his true love to return, died yesterday:

“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Monty, one of the Montrose Beach piping plovers,” said Irene Tostado, of the Chicago Park District.

Tamima Itani, of the Chicago Piping Plovers group, shared more details, saying Monty died Friday afternoon.

“He was observed gasping for air before dropping and passing away,” said Itani.

Great Lakes piping plovers numbered only 26 known individuals as recently as 1990, but conservation—like the protection given Monty and Rose since they arrived in Chicago three years ago—has brought the number up to about 140.

Sad news indeed.

Total Perspective Vortex

NPR did a segment this morning on the 1978 movie Grease, which correspondent Dori Bell had never seen—since, you know, she's a late Millennial. As I listened to the movie, while slowly waking up and patting Cassie, the timeline of the movie and the play just made me feel...old.

The play, which premiered in 1971, takes place in the fall of 1958. The movie came out in 1978.

So try this out, with the dates changed a bit: The play premiered in 2015 and takes place in 2002.

Oh, it gets better, Gen-Xers and Boomers: Grease the movie is to us today what It Happened One Night was to people in 1978. Because 1978 is 44 years ago, as 1934 was 44 years before 1978.

So, sure, Bell had trouble relating to Grease for the same reasons people just after the Vietnam War would have trouble relating to a movie made in the depths of the Great Depression.

Time for my Geritol...

The Elizabeth Line opens this month

The London Underground gets a new line on May 24th. Eventually, you can take the Elizabeth Line from Heathrow to Essex in one go; for now, you have to change twice. But it still adds about 10% more capacity to the Tube:

The Elizabeth line will initially operate as three separate railways, with services from Reading, Heathrow and Shenfield connecting with the central tunnels from autumn this year. When the final stage is complete, customers will be able to travel seamlessly from Abbey Wood to Heathrow and Reading, and from Shenfield to Heathrow.

  • Shenfield and the central section of the route will need to change trains at Liverpool Street, walking to/from the new Elizabeth line Liverpool Street station
  • Reading or Heathrow and the central section will need to change trains at Paddington, walking to/from the new Paddington Elizabeth line station
  • Paddington and Abbey Wood only - no changes needed

The line has all-new trains, all-new signals, and all-new controls, making it "one of the most complex digital railways in the world," according to TfL.

The Heathrow to Paddington route looks like it could give the Heathrow Express some competition, as £6 is less than £25, even if the route takes twice as long.

Vladimir Putin, angry child

Julia Ioffe, a Soviet refugee who knows more about Russia than just about any other American journalist, fills in the gaps on Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's childhood. In sum, he's an angry, insecure street kid from the 'hood:

The West’s obsession with Putin’s K.G.B. past often misses the biographical detail that for most Russians, especially those of his generation, is especially glaring: Putin is the street urchin, all grown up. The way he sits, slouching contemptuously; the way he only trusts childhood friends (and doesn’t fire them despite their incompetence); the way he punishes betrayal because he values loyalty above everything else. The way he enforces social hierarchy, like waiting until oligarch Oleg Deripaska was seated at the other end of a long table to ask for his pen back. The way he talks, using the slang of the dvor that, because of where so many of these street boys ended up, is also the argot of the vast Russian penal system.

[My Russian family] all see, for example, how much [Putin] is still bothered—despite his age, wealth, and absolute power—by the fact that he is short. Being so short and slight would have been a massive handicap in the dvor, and it bred bitterness, resentment, and insecurity in the boys unfortunate enough to be petite late bloomers. You can see it to this day: Putin has a designated photographer who knows which angle will transform the Russian president, making him look no smaller than his interlocutor.

The dvor taught Putin many things, lessons that shape his thinking and actions to this day: that might makes right, that existing hierarchies can only be changed through violence, that force is the only language that matters, that power is always a zero-sum game. There are no win-win outcomes in the dvor.

Putin is a little punk who now controls 3,000 nuclear weapons. So don't worry about whether he's rational; he is. But he rationally evaluates the world as a little kid on the streets of Leningrad in post-WWII rubble, where he learned people get farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with just with a kind word. Just like Al Capone.