So: me and bitcoin, you already knew I disliked it, right?
(Let's discriminate between Blockchain and Bitcoin for a moment. Blockchain: a cryptographically secured distributed database, useful for numerous purposes. Bitcoin: a particularly pernicious cryptocurrency implemented using blockchain.) What makes Bitcoin (hereafter BTC) pernicious in the first instance is the mining process, in combination with the hard upper limit on the number of BTC: it becomes increasingly computationally expensive over time. Per this article, Bitcoin mining is now consuming 30.23 TWh of electricity per year, or rather more electricity than Ireland; it's outrageously more energy-intensive than the Visa or Mastercard networks, all in the name of delivering a decentralized currency rather than one with individual choke-points. (Here's a semi-log plot of relative mining difficulty over time.) Credit card and banking settlement is vulnerable to government pressure, so it's no surprise that BTC is a libertarian shibboleth. (Per a demographic survey of BTC users compiled by a UCL researcher and no longer on the web, the typical BTC user in 2013 was a 32 year old male libertarian.)
Times change, and so, I think, do the people behind the ongoing BTC commodity bubble. (Which is still inflating because around 30% of BTC remain to be mined, so conditions of artificial scarcity and a commodity bubble coincide). Last night I tweeted an intemperate opinion—that's about all twitter is good for, plus the odd bon mot and cat jpeg—that we need to ban Bitcoin because it's fucking our carbon emissions. It's up to 0.12% of global energy consumption and rising rapidly: the implication is that it has the potential to outstrip more useful and productive computational uses of energy (like, oh, kitten jpegs) and to rival other major power-hogging industries without providing anything we actually need. And boy did I get some interesting random replies!
As viral tweets go, this one didn't get retweeted a whole lot—only about 200 times. (My all time record is over 5000 rts.) It attracted a lot of replies from folks who don't follow me and I've never heard of, all of them really contemptuous/insulting (as is often the case on twitter: thick skin recommended). Obviously, a lot of folks with BTC wallets are kind of attached to them and dislike the idea of losing them. What I wasn't expecting was the alt-right/neo-Nazi connection. Bitcoin isn't just popular among libertarians, it's popular among folks with green frog/Kek user icons and anti-semitic views. ("Are you a Jew?" asked one egg.)
One possible explanation, which looks quite reasonable as a first approximation, is that the US libertarian fringe has been assimilated by the neo-Nazis. After all, once you take one red pill, why not take another, and another, until you overdose on the bloody things? Alternatively, Bitcoin boosters are using the same twitter-based astroturf techniques as the alt-right to shout down anyone who publicly qustions or threatens their investment. But I didn't see the wave of obvious bots I'd have expected if the second explanation was correct: it looked to me far more like an angry human mob, with added political extremism on top.
Now, I'd like to remind you about an at-first-sight unrelated historical phenomenon: the collapse of the Papiermark in 1923 in the Weimar Republic, and the subsequent Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazis failed to take over at that time; the German economy was stabilized and the global economy in general wasn't as fragile as it would later become during the Great Depression. But the 1919-23 hyperinflation was a major driver for the initial rise of the Nazi party. Hitler's mass support wasn't motivated solely by his anti-semitism and revanchist imperialism: it was made all about the money supply. (In the 1929-33 period, mainstream politicians were discredited by the wave of mass unemployment triggered by withdrawal of US bank loans, and Brüning's policy of deflation. When nobody has any money to buy bread, and the bakers have no money to buy grain, but the bank mortgage on the bakery isn't getting any smaller, bad shit ensues.)
It's fairly clear now that since 2007/08 we're living in the dying days of the former neoliberal system. With disruption and collapse spreading throughout the developed world, the systematized recipe known as the Washington Consensus is being applied not only to client states but back home in the heartlands of the USA, UK, and EU members (where it's sold to the economically illiterate as "austerity"). It's also being used as cover for disaster capitalism, the systematic looting of public assets and social capital for the enrichment of small groups. Meanwhile, weaponized media (both social media and mass media owned by the oligarchs) is used to channel the sense of grievance felt by the immiserated population into acceptable directions, via slogans like "taking back control" or "make America Great again". Directions such as resentment towards immigrants, get-rich-quick schemes such as cryptocurrency bubbles or goldbuggery, and ritualized abusive denunciation of anyone who questions these attempts to divert attention away from the real problem—the way we're being conditioned for exploitation by our self-proclaimed masters.
So I now have two follow-on questions about BTC.
Firstly, what if BTC's supporters are right? That is: if BTC delivers what its supporters promise, then how will the oligarchs react? A working distributed cryptocurrency model is inimical to the interests of billionaire monopolists who want to get rich by imposing rent-seeking practices on the immobilized peasantry (ahem: I mean us ordinary folks). They won't go quietly, there will be a crack-down, and we may be seeing the first signs of the shape it will take in China (which is banning bitcoin excchanges). Distributed systems, contra received wisdom, can be banned: you just have to be sufficiently ruthless. (You criminalize possession, then enforce by imposing deep packet inspection at the network backbone level, apply criminal penalties for being caught selling goods or services in return for the currency, and make it impossible to run a legitimiate business taking BTC in payment.) If you can marginalize BTC so that it is only useful for child pornography, ransomware, and illegal narcotics, it's no longer a threat to the mainstream economy. So I see one possible outcome of cryptocurrencies threatening the existing banking system as being to hasten the shuttering of the open internet. (Not that the oligarchs have any great love for the open internet in the first place: we get rowdy and organize. They're a lot happier with it being a non-neutral channel for sedative YouTube videos and, er, kitten jpegs. Discussion fora, blogs, and activists not wanted on board.)
A second problem: if, as I think, BTC doesn't deliver, then the bubble will eventually burst. I called it a long time ago: and although BTC continues to follow an overall upward trend (there have been, ahem, fluctuations that would have ben recognized as a full-on collapse in any conventional currency) we're going to run out of new BTC to mine sooner or later. At that point, the incentive for mining (a process essential for reconciling the public ledgers) will disappear and the currency will ... will what? The people most heavily invested in it will do their best to patch it up and keep it going, because what BTC most resembles (to my eye, and that of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase) is a distributed Ponzi scheme. But when a Ponzi scheme blows out, it's the people at the bottom who lose.
The longer BTC persists, the worse the eventual blowout—and the more angry people there are going to be. Angry people who are currently being recruited and radicalized by neo-Nazis.
I keep trying to explain to people that my cynical view of Bitcoin is precisely that it is a ponzi scheme boiling the oceans and mostly of interest to nazi-types. Leave it to cstross to articulate it a bit better.
Ahead of the series premiere tonight, CBS has shared the delicate, atmospheric opening credits for Star Trek: Discovery. As many viewers will notice, they’re quite a departure from previous Trek credit sequences. Where other series went full futurism, with heady shots of deep space, Discovery has opted for a sequence that draws its imagery from architectural plans, or Da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.
I personally found it quite beautiful, if unconventional. It somehow hearkens to both early modern drawings and today’s cutting-edge modeling software, creating a gentle and compelling through-line for the long human history of exploration and inquisitiveness. While Trek is so often about the wonder and awe of discovering our vast universe, this sequence seems to celebrate the beauty, intricacy, and wonder of the human engineering that could get us there.
We’ll see soon enough how the show might match the tone of its credits (or not)! Star Trek: Discovery premieres on CBS tonight (Sunday) at 8:30 PM EST. After the on-air premiere, it will also be available on CBS All Access.
(If the official version of the credits sequence isn’t available in your region, the below should work)
I rather like it, but I feel that has something to do with too much Destiny/Destiny 2 and Westworld. Also, there are complaints it doesn't "fit" the other shows, but I feel it does a decent job bridging the blueprints of Enterprise's opening (minus Faith of the Heart) to the "ship and spaceship porn" of the other series later in continuity.
As Willems observes, three of the six Marvel Netflix series – Daredevil, Iron Fist, and The Defenders – have used The Hand as a primary antagonist in at least one season. And in each iteration, The Hand has failed as a compelling villain. In the second season of Daredevil, “this storyline quickly grows dull, since there are no real characters in The Hand – just a general, formless threat.” In Iron Fist, “they’re this vague threat with unclear motives, controlling things behind the scenes.” And then in The Defenders, “after all that mystery, it turns out the leaders of The Hand might as well be board members for some corporation, and their grand plan is both boring and nonsensical.”
Willems then contrasts the Netflix series’ approach to The Hand with their use and introduction in Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics arc, “The Elektra Saga.” While there’s definitely plenty to discuss and criticize about the treatment of Elektra in that storyline, Willems does argue that Miller uses The Hand, at least, effectively.
On the Netflix shows, however, he argues that The Hand was never given a sharp, strong conflict. “With The Hand, the conflicts are nebulous,” he says. “The Hand is involved in heroin distribution, assassinations, shady corporate dealings, an ancient war with The Chaste, and later on, trying to destroy New York. The motivations are unclear. The goals are unclear. And it makes the conflict unclear – other than that the heroes are trying to stop them because they’re just generally bad.”
In sum, Willems argues, “The Hand were never meant to be primary antagonists…These are faceless organizations engaged in a war that has gone on for millennia. That sounds cool, but once you zoom in, there’s not much to latch onto.”
I think this video captures the two main issues with The Hand – they become uncool once you get too deep into their internal politics, and they’re introduced hamfistedly without giving the audience a strong understanding of their motives – but what do you think? Did The Hand actually work for you? Did you have a different problem with their role in the Netflix series than Willems? Is there a way to make these elements work going forward?
I have a much simpler answer: The Foot. Iron Fist/Defenders were written in a world where Miller's crazy ninjas have been satire for as many decades as they have existed, and worse: the satire became Saturday Morning fodder entire generations (plural) have grown up on.
While watching a favorite film on a return flight from my recent vacation, a thought occurred to me: In film, men are never allowed to not want sex. Even when their characters actively don’t want to be having sex in any given moment, films portray it as something they should want. No matter the circumstances.
The favorite film I was watching was 2000’s Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s often heartwarming and inspiring story about falling in love with rock n’ roll in the 1970s. I’ve seen the film a million times, own the director’s cut on DVD, and I never fail to at least tear up during the now-classic “Tiny Dancer” sing-a-long scene.
In the film, a fifteen-year-old aspiring rock journalist named William (played by Patrick Fugit) ends up stumbling into the gig of a lifetime: following a band called Stillwater on tour and doing a piece on them for Rolling Stone. Along the way, he’s exposed to a hard-rocking lifestyle that most fifteen year olds can’t even imagine.
Also way-too-young to be there is Band-Aid (not groupie!) Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson), the kind of gorgeous, mysterious girl that any red-blooded fifteen-year-old would fall for. It’s clear that William develops strong feelings for Penny. However, despite Penny’s seemingly varied sexual experience, her heart is absolutely tethered to Stillwater’s guitarist, Russell (played by Billy Crudup), who has a long-term girlfriend back home.
This scene happens about halfway through the movie:
In it, as William tries to tell Penny how he feels about her, three of the other Band-Aids (played by Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, and Olivia Rosewood) storm into the bathroom where they’re talking, announce that they’re going to “deflower” him and that “Opie must die!” Then, they drag him to the bed, strip him, and prance around as if offering him up for sacrifice.
As this is happening, he is consistently struggling to get away and/or keep his clothes on. The only words he says during this entire thing are: No. Stop. We’re talking. Please. Guys, come on, I have to write. When he tries to keep his shirt close after the girls strip it off him, Balk’s character pulls it away from him, chastising him for wanting to cover up.
Then, William looks at Penny, and he’s very, very confused about what he should do. What’s more, she’s the girl he has feelings for. If he’s going to be “deflowered” by anyone, he wants it to be her. But rather than look out for him, the way she’d been doing for most of the movie; rather than seeing on his face that he actually doesn’t want to be doing this here with these three girls he barely knows, she looks at him wistfully, gives him a wave, and walks away, letting it happen.
But not before a look clouds her face—a look that says that she knows he’s losing his innocence in a way that is less-than-ideal. Perhaps in a similar way to the way she lost hers.
I’d never had trouble with this scene before, but watching it this time, for some reason, it hit me that he doesn’t actually want to be there. And yet everything else about the way the scene is shot, from the girls’ nymph-like movement with scarves, to the slow-motion, to the signing-off on the activities by Penny Lane, packs the scene with Cameron Crowe’s nostalgic feeling and says that this is something William would want, should want, if only he knew better.
Perhaps Crowe himself was taught this by the films he grew up watching. And the cycle of accepted truths continues.
Toward the end of the film, when Penny has taken one two many Quaaludes in a hotel room, and William is trying to keep her awake until the paramedics arrive, he “confesses his love” by low-key slut-shaming her (“I love you, and I’m about to boldly go where…many men…have gone before”) and kisses her while she’s barely conscious.
And why wouldn’t he? After all, he’s recently learned that the consent of the acted-upon doesn’t matter. What matters are the desires and whims of those who want to do the kissing, or undressing.
Plenty of people, when they talk about Almost Famous, talk about it as a coming-of-age story, which it certainly is. However, they would never say that it contains anything remotely like sexual assault. But it does. Twice. And that’s not including the trading girls for beer during a game of poker!
This moment in this film I love got me thinking about rape culture, and how little we as a society seem to understand consent, despite it being a fairly simple concept. If someone doesn’t want something done to them, and you do it anyway, you don’t have their consent.
Human beings have a bad habit of making things really complicated by trying to read things into each other’s behavior. And so, even when someone says “No” out loud, a persistent person (or, you know, a horrible douchebag) will think “They don’t really mean no,” rather than take the “No” at face value.
We’re not taught to look for nonverbal cues either when it comes to sex, so things like body language (from active pulling away, to unenthusiastic facial expressions), go right over people’s heads. Or, again, people are douchebags and just don’t care when they see those things, rationalizing to themselves that ignoring those cues isn’t rape, necessarily…because the person didn’t say “no.”
They didn’t say “yes,” either!
Add Patriarchy on top of that, and things are further complicated. If women are forced to be the sexually acted-upon all the time, that means that men have to be the actors…all the time. They’re expected to be “dogs.” Sex fiends. All the time. Even when they don’t want to be.
And if a man or a boy is outnumbered, as is the case with William in the above clip, or for some other reason feels compelled to not fight back or to acquiesce to something he doesn’t want, as is the case in this scene from the Rainn Wilson/Ellen Page film Super, it’s seen by a movie-going audience as “lucky,” even though Wilson’s character vomits immediately after the assault.
I can’t begin to tell you how nauseated I was when Super first came out and I saw no discussion of this scene as rape online, but what I did see was a lot of male commentary about how “lucky” Wilson’s character was to get to have sex with Ellen Page in a superhero costume. It was seen as fantasy fulfillment.
This way of thinking seeps into our attitudes in real life. When you hear about a female teacher having an affair with a male, underage student, it’s inevitable that you’ll hear men talk about how that kid was “living the dream,” or how “lucky” he was. As hesitant as women are to report rape for fear of how they will be treated by the legal system, men are doubly hesitant, because they are taught that not wanting sex, or “allowing” a woman to do something to you that you don’t want done, makes them “less of a man.”
So, is it any wonder that men have trouble wrapping their heads around consent when it comes to women, when they can’t even wrap their heads around their own consent. In the name of maintaining the patriarchal status quo, where men have more societal power, they have given up their own right to say no, their vulnerability, painting themselves into a corner where they have become beings driven by sex instead of nuanced, sometimes fragile people.
People of all genders deserve sex and love on their terms, to be treated with respect, and to politely decline if they’re not interested. Film needs to be better about modeling that, rather than continually selling us the accepted truth that men are nothing but sex-hungry dogs, and if they’re not, they’re somehow dysfunctional.
This, too, is feminism: looking at the ways in which sexism hurts everyone.