Paul Tudor Jones and the Bitcoin Con

Paul Tudor Jones
Paul Tudor Jones

Paul Tudor Jones made a splash recently by investing either “just over 1 percent” or “almost 2” percent of his assets on bitcoin.

That might be a great investment. After all, bitcoin enthusiasts are just the newest generation of gold freaks. The market in cryptocurrency is not driven by those who think it will one day be a useful currency. It’s driven by the ideology of debt hysteria. These people all believe that hyperinflation is just a short time away.

But unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses who stopped making predictions about the end of the world after they were wrong a half-dozen times, the debt hysterics never admit defeat. It’s just a couple of years away!

If you follow the bitcoin press, you’ll see it’s more advocacy than news. While they do bring up troubling issues, the articles are always peppered with lots of happy horseshit from “industry leaders.” Unmentioned is that all of these people have strong incentives to keep the crypto bubble inflating.

The Value of Currencies

Think about currency in terms of its actual value. Those in the digital bubble refer to government-created currencies as “fiat.” It’s almost always used derisively. But it is true to some extent.

You see, even if all the world decides that the US dollar is useless, it will still have value. You and I can still pay our taxes with it. So the government, by law, provides its currency with value.

Where is the value of bitcoin except in the heads of its believers? The few things I can buy directly with bitcoin only exist because people are speculating on the currency.

But I understand: currency is a strange thing. The more you think about it the less you understand. But bitcoin advocates seem to think that it is some stable form of wealth whereas fiat currencies can’t be trusted. This is despite the fact that all the major currencies have been rock-solid over the last 40 years while the supposed great stores of wealth like gold and bitcoin have been all over the place.

“Whims” of Government, “Wisdom” of Markets

I said before that Paul Tudor Jones might be making a good investment. I am not, however, saying he is smart. His reasons for investing in bitcoin are based on the same old fact-free debt hysteria.

He noted that bitcoin wasn’t “subject to the whims of government spending.” First, the value of a currency is not subject to the whims of government spending. Japan, for example, has a 200% debt-to-GDP ratio but can borrow cheaply. The UK had a debt-to-GDP ratio that high or higher from roughly 1920 through 1960.

The second issue is this anti-government idea that what it does is bad. The whims of the market are supposedly fine. Bitcoin went from $15,000 at the start of 2018 to $4,000 at the start of 2019 to $7,000 at the start of 2020.

Think about that as a practical matter. Here are what you would have paid for a loaf of bread:

YearCost
2018$4.00
2019$15.00
2020$8.57

Wow! What a great system! You might as well live under hyper-inflation.

Inflation, Deflation, and Libertarian Fantasies

Paul Tudor Jones also said this:

If you take cash, on the other hand, and you think about it from a purchasing power standpoint, if you own cash in the world today, you know your central bank has an avowed goal of depreciating its value 2 percent per year. So you have, in essence, a wasting asset in your hands.

One of my first indications that libertarianism was nonsense was an article about the glories of the gold standard. It noted that inflation was a terrible thing that destroyed our precious wealth. It even talked about how great deflation (negative inflation) was. “Wouldn’t it be great if your money went up in value?!”

Well, no. It would be terrible.

If you are rich, a monetary system with no inflation or deflation might be great. If you have to work for a living, it’s terrible. The economy would not grow nearly as fast without modest inflation. If you knew that things would only get cheaper over time, you would hold off on purchases.

Now, that might be great in the abstract. We do a lot of useless consumption. But we need to set up an economic system where the lack of consumption doesn’t result in poor people starving.

Deflation would also be catastrophic for lending. Imagine if in addition to the interest you have to pay on a loan you have to pay it with money that is worth more!

The “Wisdom” of Paul Tudor Jones

People like Paul Tudor Jones don’t think this kind of stuff through. They don’t have to. They are like two guys running from a bear: it doesn’t matter how fast they are; the one who is slower gets eaten. In the bitcoin market, Jones can be an idiot as long as there are even bigger idiots for him to make money from.

That’s all fine. What’s not fine is that people like him are held up as oracles about the economy. And the fact that people see him on television results in something really odd.

People who don’t follow business at all tend to be slightly better informed on how the economy works. That’s simply because they haven’t swallowed all the debt scold nonsense that isn’t true but sounds so very Serious.

So invest in cryptocurrencies or don’t. I actually find them very interesting. I think the rise of stablecoins shows that they may be very useful in time. But the rise and fall of their prices is about speculation — mostly speculation based on nonsense reasoning.

If you invest in corn futures, you are doing something: helping corn get to where it needs to be in the global marketplace. What are you doing when you invest in bitcoin? I don’t think you are doing anything more than if you played poker.

Yes: some people are better poker players than others. Some people make a lot of money playing poker. But the world isn’t a better place because you play poker.


Image created from Paul Tudor Jones by Hedge Fund Letters under CC BY 3.0.

Morning Music: Toy Dolls

Dig That Groove Baby - Toy Dolls

And so we end our Sheep in the Box playlist with the British punk band Toy Dolls.

They are a fun band. I can put them on and it’s nice: there’s a lot of energy and they play really well. They are a solid, professional band.

But there isn’t much too them. They are an awful lot like Richard Hell and the Voidoids but during their Destiny Street period when Hell didn’t have much to say. They also sound quite a lot like generic Ramones.

I don’t mean to be difficult here. And I will admit: I’m biased towards California punk. I don’t think we got really great stuff out of England until the post-punk period.

But I appreciate any artists who even try to entertain — much less ones like Toy Dolls who succeed in spades.

Nellie the Elephant

Toy Dolls is known for their covers and they are best known for their cover “Nellie the Elephant.” It was originally released by child star Mandy Miller. Toy Dolls released a single in 1982 of the song, which was later included on their first album, Dig That Groove Baby.

The following music video is a rerecording of the song. It’s charming. But then, most things from Toy Dolls are.


Dig That Groove Baby album cover via Wikipedia under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Laura Marling

Song for Our Daughter - Laura Marling

Sheep in a Box next takes us to a particularly good artist for me, Laura Marling.

According to Wikipedia, she is a “British folk singer-songwriter.” That seems strange to me. I wouldn’t call her music “folk.” Just speaking harmonically, it’s much more interesting. Sometimes her work is almost modal. At other times, it seems like it was written on a piano with leading chords. But people call Jane Siberry folk so, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

It seems that I was familiar with her before. I’ve definitely heard Ghosts off her first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim. It’s a lovely song and typical of her early work. She has grown much more sophisticated over the course of seven albums.

Her most recent album is Song for Our Daughter. We’re going to listen to “Fortune,” which is one of those piano-kind-of compositions.

According to Wikipedia, it “is about a powerless woman unable to escape her circumstance.” All I can say is that I don’t get that from the lyrics. It appears to be a conversation between two people at the end of their troubled relationship. But I’m sure someone will be able to point me to an “interview where Laura Marling said…” You know how much I like that sort of thing!

It’s a beautiful song.


Song for Our Daughter album cover taken from Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels 2

You may remember back a couple of weeks, I talked about how I linked punk and no so much heavy metal because punk had a sense of humor about itself? Well, today’s song is “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” off Run The Jewels 2. And it may be hip hop but it I’d call it punk too because of its combination of anger and humor.

It’s by the band Run the Jewels, which is really just what rappers El-P and Killer Mike call themselves when they work together. In this song, they are joined by Zack de la Rocha.

I haven’t gone over the lyrics of the song carefully. But my take on it is that life is like living in a prison and the powerful people who keep us enslaved are the one constant. If there is justice, it is a temporary justice.

One part of the song references the film And Justice for All. It’s the end of the film where the lawyer enjoys what is at best a Pyrrhic victory. But more likely, it isn’t even that. Most likely, it’s just a moment of hubristic truth-telling that does no good at the cost of everything.

I like this song quite a lot although I’m a little old to want to listen to music that demands so much of my heart and left brain.


Run the Jewels 2 album cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Murder on a Sunday Morning

Benton Butler vs Juan Curtis
Brenton Butler (left) and Juan Curtis (right)

I recently discovered the Academy Award winning documentary feature Murder on a Sunday Morning. It tells the story of the prosecution of Brenton Butler for the murder of Mary Ann Stephens, a tourist to Jacksonville, FL.

It tells a story that we know far too well: a young black man is out walking and the police frame him for a murder. Of course, no one thinks they meant to frame an innocent man. But their casual racism and overt laziness created a narrative which they then did everything they could to make true.

The murder had happened about two hours earlier and they new they were looking for a six-foot tall black man between the ages of 20 and 25. Butler was black, but he was only 15 and considerably shorter than six foot.

Butler made the mistake of being on his way to a Blockbuster video store to apply for a job at the wrong time. The police decided to talk to him. Although there was nothing suspicious about him, the police put him in the back of a squad car and had the victim’s husband, James Stephens, identify him.

Stephens first did it at the distance. He said Butler was the man but that he would like to get a closer look. When he got a closer look, he repeated his identification.

A Terrible Eye-Witness

The film doesn’t go into it much, but this is a terrible set-up. If you show someone in the back of a police car, you are priming them to think that the person is a criminal. And why would the police be asking the husband if they didn’t have some indication that Butler was the guy?

Note that there was no line-up. The standard thing is to get a small group of people who look more or less alike. Then, if the witness identifies the suspect, it might mean something. This identification meant nothing at all.

The Real Killer

A couple of months after the state had embarrassed itself and lost in court, the defense team alerted the police to a young man named Juan Curtis. He not only fit the initial eye-witness’ description, his fingerprints were found on the victim’s purse. The police had not checked for fingerprints on the purse during their investigation of Butler.

As you can see in the picture at the top of this article, Brenton Butler and Juan Curtis do not look at all alike.

Building the Case

Once the police decided they had their man (The first person they questioned!) they set about proving it. That mostly meant interrogating a 15-year-old boy without representation or even telling his parents that he had been arrested.

After hours of this, Butler still maintained that he was innocent so they brought in a “specialist” who beat him up and eventually implied he was going to shoot the young man. That’s when Butler signed a confession.

Interesting thing about that confession: it was filled with a bunch of stuff that went against what was known about the case. But it didn’t matter.

Nor did it matter that the purse was found 9.5 miles away. Butler would only have had two hours to take the purse there and then return home. But this loose end, like all the others, was ignored.

A Bad Prosecution

According to one of the defense lawyers, he contacted the state attorney — basically to say, “You need to drop this case; it’s garbage.” But the state attorney said that they had to prosecute the case to defend the honor of the cops. As is clear in this film, these cops didn’t have any honor. They ranged from lazy to selfish to evil.

The case was led by long-time public defenders Ann Finnell and Patrick McGuinness. They are now part of their law film, Finnell, Mcguinness, Nezami & Andux. Brenton Butler wrote his own book of the ordeal, They Said It Was Murder.

A Great Film

I highly recommend watching this film. Many of the courtroom moments are right out of a Hollywood movie. When the cops aren’t talking about what a terrible job they did, they are lying. And it’s good to see the lawyers tear them apart.


Image created from two frames in the film. It is taken under Fair Use.

Moring Music: Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

Sheep in the Box used Kanye West’s song “Gorgeous” as an example of how lyrics have not gotten less complex. It’s off his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I didn’t know the song, as such; but I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard it before.

I must admit that I don’t fully grok hip-hop in a musical sense. Grandmaster Flash in the 1980s is easy with its metronomic beats. Tupac in the 1990s is so much more sophisticated. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it but I don’t understand why it works in the way that I understand why Lisa O’Neill’s work does.

The Problem With Kanye

Kanye West represents some difficulty for me because of his public persona. For years, I really liked him just because he insulted Taylor Swift. I know: I’m a bad man. But I don’t think much of her artistically. And I understand: his insult wasn’t intentional. He’s just kind of an idiot.

In more recent years, Kanye West has not only been a big supporter of Donald Trump, he has also been a big source of some of the most stupidly toxic social analysis in the public square. It’s on par with Charlie Sheen when he was coked to the gills.

It’s just another example of how a great artist can be absolutely useless in almost every other aspect of life. But I don’t expect more. Some of my favorite films were made by rapists.

Gorgeous

As for the song “Gorgeous,” I can’t say I’m a huge fan. I actually prefer most of Tupac’s work to most of Kanye’s. But that may be an indication of my lack of appreciation.

But there is no doubt that the lyrics are impressive. Hip-hop really has brought assonance to unprecedented heights. And that’s a great thing given that rhyme is pretty much played out.


My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Achilleus, Hector, and American Masculinity

Achilles Slays Hector

Over at Vox, Anna North wrote, What Trump’s Refusal to Wear a Mask Says About Masculinity in America. It discusses how some men don’t wear masks because they see it as unmanly. This goes along with my experience.

The basic idea here is that a real man ain’t afraid of no germs. There are many aspects to this. For one, it’s anti-intellectual. No one would say welding with a helmet was unmanly because the potential harm is obvious. But a virus is invisible so wearing a mask is for sissies.

More important, wearing a mask shows care for others. And this is at the core of this toxic idea of masculinity. It is part of the “live free or die” ethos of American males that sees only rights and no responsibilities on the part of society’s supposed leaders. This kind of thinking is understandable among the young who are, by and large, selfish and stupid. But from our president who is in his mid-70s, it’s outrageous.

Greek Heroes

Roughly speaking, the Greeks presented us with two ideals of masculinity.

Achilleus

The first was Achilleus (more commonly, Achilles). He was a bachelor warrior. A man who cared only for himself and his glory.

When he doesn’t get his way during the war, he runs home to mother and refuses to fight. If it weren’t that he was definitionally a Hero, everyone would see him for the petulant child he is.

Remember: Achilleus chose to die young but to be forever remembered as a glorious hero. Yet what did he do? He didn’t defeat the Trojans. Mostly, he defeated Hector and then desecrated his body like an immoral fiend. (Admittedly, Homer seems to see the defeat of Hector as the defeat of the Trojans.)

I’ve never liked the character. From the first time I read The Iliad, I thought he was a total dick. It didn’t help that I saw way too many Achilleuses all around me — men who thought caring for their own desires was the alpha and omega of masculinity.

Hector

When Hector is killed in The Iliad, I was crushed. He represents a decidedly different view of masculinity. Whereas Achilleus choose a short and glorious life, Hector would have chosen the long and uneventful one. He was a reluctant warrior and a family man.

Hector is also a regular guy in that events affect him. Achilleus got to choose his destiny. Hector gets stuck with a brother who can’t keep it in his pants. And this results in his own death and the enslavement of his family.

Real Men

To me, Achilleus is a child’s idea of what a man should be. Hector is the hero we should admire.

And if you read more serious conservative writers (or at least conservative writers when they are trying to sound serious), you will see that they talk about how men should act as protectors of the weak in society.

But for most Americans, entitlement is the essence of masculinity. What makes a man is his disinterest in those around him.

We see this with face masks today. I wear a face mask to protect others. I’m not concerned about myself. First, I’m in good health and would doubtless weather the virus well. Second, I’m not afraid to die.

At the same time, I hate wearing a mask. But doing so is a small thing compared to protecting others — especially the weak and otherwise vulnerable.

A Choice of Men

The American idea of masculinity is like the American idea of a lot of things: it’s a children’s complaint, “You can’t tell me what to do!” But we aren’t talking about enslaving ourselves for the purpose of helping others. In this case and many others, we are talking about the most minor inconveniences. Yet this is portrayed as tyranny.

I’m not saying that Achilleus and Hector are the only ways for men to be. But they are the traditional ideals. And they are the ones that conservatives appeal to when it suits them. But when it comes to it, they thoughtlessly choose Achilleus. Mostly, they seem unaware that Hector is an alternative.

It’s time for us to give up our obsession with Achilleus. No good society can be based on that kind of narcissistic personality. We elected a president who personifies this. And if we can’t get past this, we are doomed.


Image cropped from Achilles Kills Hector by Peter Paul Rubens via Wikipedia in the public domain.

Morning Music: Clown Core

Clown Core

On we go through Sheep in the Book. This time we get Clown Core. When I first heard it, I figured it was a style. You know, like my beloved sadcore. And after all the bands we’ve visited, with many dozens of Viking-themed metal bands, why not a bunch of clown-based bands?

Sadly, this was not to be. Clown Core is a band that Sheep refers to as “utter madness.” He also says, “I’m fairly sure that Clown Core is just a joke thing.” That may be true, but I wouldn’t dismiss these guys.

Clown Core is an incredibly talented jazz duo. There are certainly comedic elements to the music like the sudden shifts in style — especially from a kind of free jazz with Bebop intensity to a kind of smooth jazz Kenny G would be proud of.

The thing that holds their pieces together is a commitment to minimalism. Yet they know just how much to vary this to never slide into boredom the way minimalism often does.

Brendan Fraser

Here is their song “Brendan Fraser.” This is from over a decade ago. The stuff they are known for — their bathroom songs — are from a year ago. And I do think they’ve improved in that time. But their early stuff shows that this is serious music.


Clown Core image via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Ghoultown

Ghoultown - Life After Sundown

Another Sheep in the Book pick: Ghoultown.

They are a southern rock band who sing a lot about horror. But their style is varied and they are good enough to play just about anything.

Sometimes they push far enough into pop that they sound like 38 Special. At other times, it’s more standard heavy metal. There are also Mexican elements to their stuff — at least in the production. And sometimes they show off very clear country roots.

Drink With the Living Dead

One such example of this is their song “Drink With the Living Dead” off their 2008 album Life After Sundown.

This song is almost a rip-off of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” But “Drink With the Living Dead” is better because it offers more recent myths and I don’t have to stop myself from thinking that Charlie Daniels is a reactionary fool and a symbol of the worst tendencies of America.

Also: it’s not a rip-off of black mythology by an all-white band that made tons more money than their poor forebears

In this case, it’s about a man who was hanged for shooting another man to steal his drink. Now he must walk the Earth challenging men to a drinking contest each night until he finds one who can beat him.

So when the zombie necessarily loses, it’s actually a good thing because he gets to rest in peace. I love little as much as a feel-good horror story.


Life After Sundown album cover via Amazon under Fair use.

Morning Music: Alestorm

Alestorm - Sunset on the Golden Age

Sheep in the Box brings us to something sublimely silly: pirate metal. And our example today is Alestorm from Scotland.

Of course, just because it is silly doesn’t mean that the bands don’t take it seriously. Running Wild (perhaps the first pirate metal band) seems rather serious about it all — focusing on pirates as they were rather than their legends.

But for whatever reason, Alestorm seems well aware of the joke. Here are a few lines from today’s song “Drink” off Sunset on the Golden Age.

We live each day like there’s nothing to lose
But a man has needs and the need is booze
They say all the best things in life are free
So give all your beer and your rum to me!

And once again, we have a song with tens of millions of views that I have never heard of. Meanwhile, I was looking at a short film by the great director Michael Kallio that has been available for a year and a half that has 141 views.

Not that Alestorm is bad. They are fun. I just feel sorry for anyone who is cursed to be liked by me. Lucky are the artists I’ve never heard of!

Sunset on the Golden Age cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Sabaton

Sabaton - Primo Victoria

Sheep in the Box sends us to another metal band: Sabaton, which he says “seems to make music exclusively about historical battles.”

This relates to my day. I’ve been charged to put together some articles for a website about tanks. And I don’t know much about tanks. I’ve never found military history all that interesting.

But I was confronted with some facts that reinforce my major prejudice: that there is no magic in war. Things like technological innovation and strategic brilliance are extremely rare. Normally, the better army wins.

It was interesting to see that in World War II the Allies had far more resources than the Axis powers: troops, tanks, warships. The only reason they did as well as they did is because they started the war. There really was no question what the ultimate outcome would be.

In fact, the war was effectively over with the failure of Operation Barbarossa — the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. And that was at about the same time as the US joined the war.

(I feel it necessary to pre-defend myself here. I’m afraid some WWII buff will come along and point out that the Nazi’s almost took Moscow. Yes, they came about 8 miles from it. And then the Soviet army pushed them back a hundred miles. Regardless, I don’t know why people think that taking the capital of a country means the country is destroyed. The war would have continued. The mistake was invading the USSR in the first place. No good was coming from that.)

Stalingrad

I like Sabaton a lot more than I do Amon Amarth. But they are still heavy metal and offer up that combination I just can’t get excited about: serious style and silly content.

Today, we listen to “Stalingrad” off their first released (second recorded) album Primo Victoria. Musically, it’s pretty good with an awesome instrumental part in the middle. The lyrics are banal.

Having said this, I could listen to Sabaton for a long time without hating it. And for a style I don’t like that much, that says a lot.


Primo Victoria cover via Amazon under Fair Use.

Morning Music: Klenginem

Klenginem

Sheep in the Box mentioned a rapper who did songs in the Klingon language. Okay. I understand that people are pretty into this kind of stuff. But then I found out his name was Klenginem and I knew it must be a joke. (I’m not that disconnected from pop culture.)

And according to the Klenginem website, it did all start as a joke. And why not? Half the bands I really like resulted from their incompetence at performing the kind of music they wanted. As regular readers know, I’m not a big fan of professionalism. It rarely produces transcendent art. (But it’s nice to have.)

The genius behind Klenginem is Quvar muHwI’ valer who grew up on Klingon starbase Morska. He learned rap-music by listening to incoming waves. As Mr Universe said, “There is only the truth of the signal.”

There aren’t a lot of Klenginem’s songs on the internet. In fact, there don’t seem to be many Klenginem songs at all. But he has released “SuvwI’pu’ qan tu’lu’be’.”

Google Translate does not include Klingon as a language. Fortunately, there are independent sites to perform this important work. So I know that the title of the song is, “There Are No Old Warriors.” The rest of the lyrics go along with that.

It’s a pretty catchy tune. Enjoy!


Image cropped from one on Klenginem website under Fair Use.