August 30, 2018
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Crazy meanness

A transformational moment for Voltaire was his encounter with the Calas family, victims of murderous intolerance as Protestants in French Catholic society. "Jean Calas (1698 – March 10, 1762) was a merchant living in Toulouse, France, who was tried, tortured and executed for the murder of his son, despite his protestations of innocence. Due to Calas being a Protestant in an officially Roman Catholic society, doubts were raised by opponents of the Catholic Church about his guilt and he was exonerated in 1764. In France, he became a symbolic victim of religious intolerance".

Medieval intolerance is at work again in our society, and a very painful example is the Sandy Hook parents, who have been destroyed twice, once by the murder of their children, and a second time by death threats from right wing conspiracists who believe what they hear on Alex Jones, that Sandy Hook was a false flag operation at which no children died. “'I would love to go see my son’s grave and I don’t get to do that, but we made the right decision,' Ms De La Rosa said in a recent interview. Each time they have moved, online fabulists stalking the family have published their whereabouts. 'With the speed of light,' she said. 'They have their own community, and they have the ear of some very powerful people.'”

I heard an anecdote recently, of someone who is afraid to publish a book on a question of ethics in every day life, for fear of death threats.

This kind of emboldened psychosis is not outlying behavior, but represents the new fabric of our society, is a symptom of how far we've slipped.

Bitcoin electricity

As another prime example of current irrationality, think about the electricity usage in mining bitcoin. Bitcoin, I say at the risk of death threats (except I am too obscure, because not on Twitter, have no public comments section, and am unknown to Alex Jones), are, like tulips in the seventeenth century, semiotic placeholders, needed to stand in for value and inspire greed, while clever thieves exploit a bubble. Bubbles harm people, The mortgage bubble made some people homeless, and caused others to abandon pet horses and dogs to starve, while appropriating the net worth of people who had money in 401(k)'s and mutual funds. The bitcoin bubble is harming the environment via energy usage, and also raising the electricity bill for neighbors who have nothing to with bitcoin.

" The bitcoin network is run by miners, computers that maintain the shared transaction ledger called the blockchain. A new study estimates that this process consumes at least 2.6GW of power—almost as much electric power as Ireland consumes. This figure could rise to 7.7GW before the end of 2018—accounting for almost half a percent of the world's electricity consumption".

Like other Capitalist uses, even non-bubble ones (though I think Capitalism's basic model is the bubble), bitcoin fucks with other people's lives. In Washington state, "Many also fear that the new mines will suck up so much of the power surplus that is currently exported that local rates will have to rise. In fact, miners’ appetite for power is growing so rapidly that the three counties have instituted surcharges for extra infrastructure, and there is talk of moratoriums on new mines. There is also talk of something that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago: buying power from outside suppliers. That could mean the end of decades of ultracheap power—all for a new, highly volatile sector that some worry may not be around long anyway. Indeed, one big fear, says Dennis Bolz, a Chelan County Public Utility commissioner, is that a prolonged price collapse will cause miners to abandon the basin—and leave ratepayers with 'an infrastructure that may or may not have a use.'” In upstate New York, "Plattsburgh gets cheap power from the St. Lawrence River, driving down electricity costs for residents, but it exceeded its allotted amount of hydropower in December and January, according to a local newspaper. Some complained that their bills surged as much as US $300."

Erratic boulders

As a mild antidote to current horrors, it was pleasant to read something about Darwin's fascination with boulders found in places they didn't belong, and the question of whether they got there via glaciers or icebergs. Reading a Darwin study on these rocks provides a glimpse into Enlightenment values of objectivity, openness to external impressions, attention to detail, a love of nature and a commitment to truth which wash away the unpleasant impression left by Alex Jones and bitcoin: "At St. Sebastian's Bay, however, on the east coast of Tierra del Fuego.... many gigantic boulders... lie in a protected position at the base of a naked cliff about 200 feet in height, and entirely composed of thin strata of fine-grained sandstone, with a few layers of small, well-rounded pebbles. As it is very improbable that the boulders were ever included in a deposit of this nature, we must suppose that they were originally thrown down either on the surface or in a thin superficial bed, which has subsequently been removed. I may specify, that one of these boulders, composed of syenite and shaped somewhat like a barn, was forty-seven feet in circumference, and projected about five feet above the sand-beach."

There are moments at which I would like to be an erratic boulder (it would be restful).


I figured out some years ago (I am a slow learner) that billionaires are the biggest existential threat to democracy, here and everywhere. An episode in my strange little life last weekend is a case study. I had a shouting match (I am not proud to say) with a man who came to meet a seaplane which landed, very recklessly, among swimmers at a beach I frequent, in violation of the East Hampton town code. From the tail number, I was able to surmise, based on three or four strands of circumstantial evidence that I won't bore you with, that the plane belonged to bitcoin billionaire Michael Novogratz, who owns property near that beach. Novogratz, a major contributor to Democratic candidates, is involved in a local scandal because the complacent town board is trying to deed him a piece of public property adjoining his estate, for nothing in return. The local papers explained that Novogratz was attending a series of sessions in town hosted by convicted securities fraud felon Michael Milken. That meeting was also attended by Tony Blair and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who, rumor had it, may be trying to obtain Milken a pardon from Donald Trump, who is handing them out quite freely these days.

At the beach, I said to Novogratz's employee: "When you are here, you own the beach, and the rest of us are peasants". We are fast returning to a medieval model, where Novogratz, Milken and Mnuchin are barons, and the rest of us are either retainers (like the employee at whom I ranted, and even Tony Blair) or serfs. I will never be a baron, and I refuse to be a retainer or serf, so what place will there be for me in our new world (except as an Erratic Boulder)?