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Great moments in Crypto (part 2): Nothing romantic about a slow death
Ay, there's the rub
I looked around the cosy wardrobe in which I had installed my desk, two computers and laser printer. (It was my first home office; don’t be such a snob.) No, no danger at all, apart maybe from asphyxiation. Odd question. Had I misheard what the mysterious man at the other end of the line had said, unprompted, when I answered the phone?
“Any danger?” he repeated.
Was this akin to Larry O enquiring Dusty H as to whether it was safe? Should I reply “Yes, yes, there’s danger everywhere” or “No, not dangerous, mate, you can bring the cat”? In the end, I just blurted: “Of what?”
“Can I come round and pick up that cheque?”
At that point I recognised the voice: it was the builder who relaid the flat roof on my garage the previous week. He was using the vernacular, as in “Is there any danger … of you settling the bill if I nip round now?”
That’s about as dangerous as it gets in my household.
I am a great disappointment to new acquaintances when I tell them I am a journalist. That is, they usually get excited at first. This is because their stereotypical idea of “journalist” is that I must spend my days chasing after glamorous stars for an exclusive; and my nights chain-smoking over a typewriter at the Washington Post while Ed Grant shouts across the open-plan floor “Get yer ass in here ya bum” and other such buttock-related insults. Or that I creep around a Cambodian jungle camp, dodging napalm and chewing bullets while taking photos of Colonel ‘Creosote’ Kurtz.
When I tell them what I write about, they are visibly crestfallen. Thrills and acts of death-defiance are not in plentiful supply with IT journalism. The closest I came to endangerment was on the two occasions when people threatened to sue me. The first time, my publisher told me to keep quiet and hope that the threat would blow over (it did). The second time – after I had given three stars out of five to an overpriced computer display in a comparative review – I invited the guy who threatened me to suck my cock (he didn’t).
Being a white guy means I’m never a target for random hate by the regressively retarded, either. Even very stupid people have better things to do than hurl abuse at someone who writes about IT for publications they’ve never heard of.
The only time I have ever received sustained criticism was when writing about cryptocurrency.
It all began so well, too. In the early days of Bitcoin, everybody wanted to learn about how it worked, and so for a while I made a steady living writing layperson explainers about blockchain. I wrote about blockchain’s uses in sustainable business, insurance, energy and the art trading world. I even wrote non-bylined crypto explainers for a British bank and a reputable management consultancy. In short, I was fully prepared to bore the shit out of anybody foolish enough to ask me to write about what, to my mild amusement, editors kept referring to as “The Blockchain”, and I briefly became a go-to writer on the topic.
Naturally, I messed up this lucrative career by failing to conceal my frustration with the idiotic crapto-currency industry. Blockchain was genius, I’d write, and even the likes of Ethereum has demonstrably practical uses, but Bitcoin is a just wallet of nothing.
Conference organisers would approach me. “We’re organising an event on crypto,” they’d say. “Would you be willing to advise us or moderate a panel?” I’d reply: “Yes, I advise you that it’s just smoke, mirrors and farts. Can I deliver the keynote?” And oddly enough, I’d never hear from them again.
The most popular insult from crypto-investing readers displeased by my opinion was “cockwomble”. Hardly a crushing insult. In fact, I find it strangely empowering. It’s like they were calling me Great Uncle Ben Dover.
Sadly, even this thimble of playful abuse has drained away, what with crapto on a rollercoaster thanks to Sam Bankman-Fried, Silvergate and, well, the fact that Bitcoin is and always has been a Ponzi scheme. A few fellows got rich on it by telling others that so-called “fiat currency” is a thing of the past; they are rich, of course, by selling out at the right time in exchange for, er, fiat currency.
Still, it’s a good investment, isn’t it?
Well, Bitcoin is neither a currency nor an investment. If its fiat value keeps rising, you’d be a fool to spend it; if its fiat value takes a plunge, you’d be mad to accept it as a form of payment. Otherwise, it’s an empty absence of value that doesn’t exist, willingly traded for things that do.
More than 68% of Bitcoin’s available supply saw a negative return last year, and 2023 will probably be worse. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced a few days ago that it would be suing Binance and its CEO Changpeng Zhao, leading Bitcoin to plunge below $27,000.
But it’s encrypted, which means it’s safe, right?
Ah bless, someone has learnt to say “encrypted”. That’s so cute. $146m worth of cryptocurrency was stolen in January and February alone. Just last week, a Bitcoin ATM manufacturer had to shut down part of its own business after crooks withdrew and walked off with $1.5m worth of other people’s crapto.
Look, Bitcoin is as safe as a wad of tenners sticking out of the back pocket of your jeans on a Friday night. Encryption ensures the tenners are real tenners; it does nothing to secure your back pocket.
Adding insult to crapto apologists’ injury are Bitcoin Ordinal Inscriptions, which are in effect half-arsed NFTs done badly for no reason in response to no demand. Trust me, someone will make real money from this idiocy but it won’t be you.
Friends have said I must feel vindicated by the difficulties and uncertainty currently being experienced in the crapto markets. Not at all. It gives me no sense of satisfaction whatsoever. Nobody ever earned money from writing “I told you so”.
Besides, if I did, I might even get the blame. You’ve heard of “shooting the messenger”, I take it?
One of the strangest – and most literal – examples of this was in 1870 when a 21-year-old French journalist called Victor Noir called on Prince Pierre Bonaparte, Napoleon III’s cousin, to deliver a note by hand from his editor, whom the prince had challenged to a duel. Unhappy with the content of the message, the prince reached for a revolver and shot young M Noir point-blank in the chest.
Noir was only a junior hack but his murder turned him into a huge posthumous celebrity. His funeral procession attracted 100,000 people and overnight his name became central to the anti-Bonapartist movement. Seven months later, Napoleon III was deposed.
That’s no help to Victor. “Told you so,” he’s probably saying from his grave.
Actually, he’s probably saying “Ooh, ahh” from his grave. His remains were moved in 1891 to Père-Lachaise cemetery and interred under a beautifully modelled if rather fanciful bronze statue of a slimmed-down version of the man. And I do mean fanciful: the sculptor provided bronze Victor with a Rocco Siffredi under his slacks, inspiring a romantic fascination in women and men alike ever since.
If you ever visit Père-Lachaise, you will know Victor Noir: he’s the prostrate dude with a shiny crotch.
Maybe humdrum journalism can be dangerous after all. But Noir’s unlikely fortune reminds us that a sudden death is more romantic than a long, dwindling demise. Bitcoin, take note.
But if you do wish to shoot the messenger, I’d like to be modelled in bronze for my grave with a cucumber down my keks. To die, to sleep, perchance to dream?
Ay, there’s the rub.
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. It’s probably too late now but the video is NSFW.