Bits – 29 January, 2017

Some stunning articles this week, many of them about the marches last weekend.

But first, let me share with you some of my favourite signs:


My absolute favourite has to be this one:


The little one made her own sign, and held it proudly. It’s a start.

This article by Joan Wickersham from the Boston Globe reads almost like a poem, and had me weeping.

Jenna Wortham from The New York Times pointed out that just marching isn’t enough.

“None elected to intervene. “Isn’t this what you marched for?” my friend said to them. “Isn’t this what today was about? Standing up for injustice? Yet when you see it happen in your face, you just enjoy your meal quietly?”

The nature of American activism – and feminism – is molting, fast. The coalitions that formed on Saturday will have bigger questions to organize around, questions that will prove more urgent in the years to come. For whom are they marching? Is it only for themselves?”

Evan Osnos of The New Yorker wrote about the survivalist movement among the Super Rich, and how it’s really important to have your own plane.

“Fear of disaster is healthy if it spurs action to prevent it. But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure. It is a gilded despair.”

Kara Swisher makes me want to go out and swashbuckle in her “What would Steve (Jobs) do?” article for Recode.

“Where has that once-celebrated sentiment gone? Pirates. Break things. Disrupt. Resist. Win by being smarter and better. Believe in and embrace the future. Gone, it seems, with the election of one loud-mouthed politician, which makes me worry about what will inspire the next generation of innovators. As the old saying goes: If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”

More down-to-earth (sort of), Jay L. Zagorsky explains in The Conversation why the fuss over the Dow breaking 20,000 is pointless and misdirected. Enough with the “psychological breakthrough”, people.

“In sum, the presence of inflation in the U.S. and the continued efforts of editors at the Wall Street Journal to replace lagging companies in the index with companies that have high-flying prospects and stock prices will always result in headlines every so often that trumpet “turn-of-the-odometer” milestones like 25,000 and 30,000.”

Brian Armstrong (co-founder of Coinbase) looked ahead in Medium to a world in which bitcoin has given us control over our own wealth, while avoiding painting it as utopia.

“This increase in control for individuals will probably stimulate a great deal of economic growth, and improve the human condition. But it will also introduce some uncomfortable changes into society and has a long way to go, improving security, volatility, and usability, to be compelling to a more mainstream audience.”

His co-founder Fred Ersham (who recently left Coinbase) wrote a level-headed defense of token sales, while acknowledging that, as with early internet startups, the vast majority just don’t make sense.

“For every 1 huge hit there will be 3 minor successes and 100 failures, so we shouldn’t be surprised when some fail. However, the fundamentals of the token model are valuable and powerful. They allow communities to govern themselves, their economics, and rally a community in powerful ways that will allow open systems to flourish in a way that was previously impossible.”

I am still a sceptic. From what I’ve seen, they are fraught with risks, which the comparison with early Internet startups does not address. Early Internet startups did not take money from non-accredited investors – venture capitalists, sure, but not the man on the street. Plus, as we have seen, if the token relies on code, and code can have bugs, then the definition of “business model” needs some re-thinking. Still, if risks can be mitigated, the potential is intriguing, and we’ll come back to this soon.

(More blockchain and cryptocurrency articles from the past week in the CoinDesk Weekly Newsletter, which I curate. It comes out Sunday evenings, 6:00pm EST. You can subscribe here.)

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A brilliant Twitter thread:

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“Breathtaking” doesn’t do this justice… Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia, photographed by Kristina Makeeva, via My Modern Met.


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