Bitcoins in the news again

In spite of a spate of bad news about Bitcoin people are still fascinated, scared and intrigued about the possible new currency. Of course, there is still much confusion afloat – many people don’t know what it is.

For example, on a financial advisory radio show this morning, we heard one of the hosts saying, “I’d never invest in Bitcoin! Why the value has changed from more than one thousand dollars to practically nothing!”

Unless one is an ace programmer, one doesn’t “invest” in Bitcoin. Do you “invest” in US dollars? No, of course not. Now you could keep something called “US dollars” in a savings account, but that’s not investing.

You could buy another currency with US dollars, say, Swiss francs. Then, if the value of the dollar fell relative to the Swiss francs, you could buy back dollars and get more than you put in. Remember the Swiss Watch Index [SWI] of a few years ago?

We used to publish weekly changes in the value of the USD v. the SFr. based on a Swiss watch costing Sfr50 which happened to be almost exactly USD50 at the time.  Later, the same SFr50 had become USD 55.

So, if she had put $5,000 worth of Swiss francs in a Swiss bank, the account would have been valued at $5,500.

Anyway, you can view Bitcoin as a store of value. It is like gold, silver, or dollars and changes value in relation to all of these. And like gold and silver, you can’t just spend it anywhere. The merchant has to be able to accept payment in Bitcoins.

In this respect, it is kind of like a credit card. At the beginning of the credit card era, hardly any businesses accepted payment by credit cards. It takes a large amount of trust that the transaction will be completed satisfactorily to both the buyer and the seller. And it takes a large infrastructure – phone lines or computer connection, good card reading equipment, and a huge back office to make sure all payments go to the right place.

But, back to Bitcoin. The recent news from Bloomberg is: “Japan Says Bitcoin Not Currency Amid Calls for Regulation.” Government bureaucrats just want to get their greedy hands on it.

“Japan’s government said Bitcoin isn’t a currency amid calls for its regulation a week after the bankruptcy of Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based exchange that was once the world’s biggest.”

“In the U.S., states are wrestling with how digital-currency businesses could be regulated as money transmitters, while Russia has said Bitcoin is illegal under current law and Finland plans to treat it as a commodity.”

The last word goes to our “inside man,” our guru on things technical, our DS:

The latest in Bitcoin (within the past few weeks) is that the largest exchange claims to have lost their funds to hackers (they have not proven that the hackers weren’t insiders) and have gone bankrupt. The current price is a little over half of what it was before that news.
My latest prediction is that the cryptocurrency named “Bitcoin” will not succeed due to certain social aspects of the community (hostility to new users and minorities of all kinds), but that multiple competing cryptocurrencies will displace it. Various cryptocurrencies will fill different niches based on the nature of the communities which form around them.
For example, check out Dogecoin, which was created as a joke. The Dogecoin community raised $20k to send the Jamaican bobsled team to the Sochi Winter Olympics. They’ve had a few other charity events as well.

So, there you have it – believe him now or believe him later!

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Estonian music in Zurich and other strange conjunctions

The world is showing signs of coming together in very strange ways. Here are IFO’s examples:

* Estonian music – the long and winding road to this subject came via the Ukrainian situation, which in turn reminded us vividly of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which caused us to think way more deeply than usual about the Met Opera in HD production of Prince Igor.

Keeping all those balls up in the air required us to check in periodically with the Neue Zurcher Zeitung , the NYTimes of Switzerland and Zurich’s main newspaper, to get their perspective on Ukraine.

Mikail Khodorkovsky and friends at Zurich Chamber Orchestra performance. Photo: Thomas Entzeroth

And what did we see in yesterday’s NZZ? A picture of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, always identified in Switzerland as the Kremlin-critic, and his wife, Nastya. Also in the picture are the stunningly gorgeous Estonian, who conducted the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Anu Tali, 41, and the composer of the work she led a few nights ago – the famous Estonian composer Arvo Part and his wife, Nora. The last man, Sergej Nakariakov, is a young Russian virtuoso trumpeter.

Just a little while before the Winter Olympics opened up in Sochi, Russia, Khodorkovsky had been suddenly let out of prison, where Putin had put him for 10 years! on trumped-up charges. His real mistake was to oppose Putin. Khodorkovsky then went to Switzerland, where his wife and children were staying.

The picture in NZZ stimulated IFO to Google the conductor and the composer. The NYTimes had a good story on the composer published in 2010. Must have gotten past the liberal censors, because the author makes no bones about oppression in Russia, before and after the Fall of the Wall.

Here is a snippet from the NYT article about Part:

He dedicated the Fourth Symphony last year to Mikhail Khodorkovsky; … since 2003, Khodorkovsky [had] been imprisoned for fraud and tax evasion. And after the murder, in October 2006, of the outspoken investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, whose articles embarrassed both Putin and the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya, Pärt declared that all concerts of his music that season would be performed in her memory. He volunteered to me that he knew that in making such gestures he was venturing outside his recognized bailiwick.  “But this is the normal thinking of people who came through this Soviet hell,” he said.

Take that! you moral equivalencers. As you can see, the US and Western Europe are seen as bastions of artistic and economic freedom. The Soviet Union and Russia, not so much.

* Biotech thread – We mentioned the thread that got started on a post at Stock Gumshoe almost two months ago. Well, it is still going and has more than 2000 original posts, plus many more replies.

It has been one of the most gripping and fascinating learning experiences IFO has ever had. It is definitely not for beginners. The main theme is penny biotech stocks. Penny stocks are those that trade for less than $1.00, though people on this thread are following many that go for more than a dollar a share, and some for much more.

Arcane trading techniques like options trading are discussed, chemistry, biochemistry, stem cell research, fundamentals of Hepatitis C, HIV-AIDS, methods of pharmaceutical drug delivery, prostate and other kinds of cancer and more! About half of the regular posters have a wealth of knowledge which they freely share.

IFO is learning a lot of inside trading lingo which she probably won’t be able to use anywhere else in her life. She has decided to broaden her investing scope to these highly, highly risky stocks. Her hopefully fail-safe method is to trade 1/5 of the value in her Roth IRA. She can’t load it up with any money until she actually has some earned income and the account is quite small, so if prices of those stocks fall, it will not be a disaster for her.

We’ll let you know how it goes. We won’t, however, share the names of any of the companies. She doesn’t want to get in trouble with you if you decide to buy one that tanks. And it could happen.

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Like a pebble dropped in a quiet pond – Hungarian Revolution still lives

This Ukraine thing has really stirred things up. Here is a moving piece with video from The Daily Beastp, presented here without further comment. Be sure to click on the link, which contains video of her on-air resignation. Do it fast, while it is still up. She mentions her relatives, some of whom were in the Hungarian Revolution:

PROFILE IN COURAGE Video: RT Anchor Quits On Air RT

Video: RT Anchor Quits On Air

An American anchor working for state-owned television station Russia Today quit on air on Wednesday. Liz Wahl, in the network’s D.C. bureau, announced she could no longer be “part of a network that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.”

“It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl told The Daily Beast exclusively.

She had been planning this move for some time. “When I came on board from the beginning I knew what I was getting into, but I think I was more cautious and tried to stay as objective as I could,” she said, explaining that she was repeatedly censured by her superiors.

The Kremlin’s influence over RT is subtle, Wahl said, but management manipulates its employees, punishing those who stray from the narrative. “In order to succeed there you don’t question,” Wahl explained.

RT has had some doozies recently, like “Self-defense forces ranks swell in anticipation of Crimea showdown with radicals” and “Tea, sandwiches, music, photos with self-defense forces mark peaceful Sunday in Simferopol.”

On Tuesday, RT anchor Abby Martin denounced Putin’s invasion of Crimea. “I can’t say enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong.” Soon after, Martin’s bosses said they would sent her to Crimea, which she declined.

“I just think it’s absurd that we’re just a few blocks away from the White House and this is all able to go along,” Wahl said.

  * * * End of Article * * *

Read The Daily Beast’s complete coverage of Putin, Russia, and Ukraine here.

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Putin steps back . . . for now

Amazing how malleable stock traders are. Yesterday they went nuts on the positive side when they read the following headlines:  Putin Sees ‘No Need’ for Military Force in Ukraine

IFO, with perhaps a bit more experience with Russian tactics, warns, “Hang on. This isn’t over.” This is typical behavior – the minute there is the least bit of resistance, they step back. Then, when everyone’s attention has turned to other, more important matters, like, say John Travolta’s mispronunciation of some singers name, they go right back to their old tricks.

It may be harder this time, though.  Just heard on the news from a newscaster who sounded surprised, that German prime minister Angela Merket speaks Russian. Duh! She was raised in what was then East Germany. Don’t people know that all persons living in the former USSR – Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – were forced to learn Russian?

That turns out to be a bit of a problem when Russians want to attack one of their former satellites. Their “enemies” speak the same language – always a problem when you are trying to demonize a new enemy.

Anyway, the Germans more than anybody, and especially those in the Eastern part of the country, are familiar with Russian tactics. And most Europeans have longer, and more accurate, memories than we Americans do. So Ms. Merkel knows who they are and how to deal with them.

One very worrisome sign that IFO noticed in news photos was that at least one of the unmarked Russian troops appeared to be Asian, as in Mongolian or Siberian. If so, we could see a replay of the Hungarian Revolution.

Pray that is not so. But Putin has to grab as much territory he can while O is in office. The old Clinton team has been weighing in and using much tougher language against the Russian aggression than O’s team is.

IFO thinks Putin was fooled by the public reaection to O’s “red line” in Syria. Our public has a much different attitude toward the Middle East – Syria, even Lebanon, Iraq, etc., than we do Eastern Europe. The Middle Eastern countries were more or less on the side of the Nazis in WW II, so there’s not a ton of sympathy for any side of any conflict there. Also, they are mainly Muslims, so who cares if they are shooting each other, right?

Yes, yes, we know human rights and Christians and all that, but it just doesn’t have the resonance of seeing crowds of peaceful demonstrators in a European capital demanding democracy and connections to Western Europe. That is where most of our ancestors in America came from.

So, watch out, Putin. Don’t make the mistake so many tyrants have in the past – misjudging Americans’ will to resist tyranny in Europe. We remember Chamberlain!

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Final comment on Prince Igor: politics, family and war.

Now, IFO has watched two more versions of the opera, following the new Met production. We presented the second one in yesterday’s post, filmed in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre by a French company of a performance of just a couple of years ago.

Today, we’re posting a 1990 performance from Covent Garden in the UK. The differences in presentation say much about world politics over the years and through the different cultures.

Religion – the Met production had virtually no religious symbols. The Russian one had some, including an Eastern Orthodox priest sprinkling holy water on the people. The British one had lots and lots of religious iconography and people crossing themselves.

And here’s something different by the British – a desert guy who helped Prince Igor escape was a Christian. In the other productions there was no real explanation for why he helped with the escape.

Women – treatment of women was depicted more and more brutally from mild in the US, to cruel in Russia to total depravity by Russians in the British production. The Polovtsians came out a bit better in the British production, but there was a LOT of nudity.

Mothers apparently disappear into the wallpaper in Russia. The Khan’s daughter, Konchakovna, had no mother present. The Prince’s wife, Yaroslavna, had no apparent interest in her son.

Villains – all productions agreed that Prince Galitsky was a drunken, power-mad villain, but they were conflicted about the the Khan. In the Moscow production, the Khan Konchak had a weird little smile that came and went like a tic, giving him a crazed look. The Met made him look virile and honest, kind of like Yul Brynner.

The British made him look like a strongman, a mix of Chinese, Persian, Turkish and Arab wearing a half-moon amulet on a chain around his neck. Kind of a good-time Muslim. Far more fearsome in the British production.

East v. West – Warm dry Steppes / desert v. dark, cold, hard North. Sinewy, silken, snaky music and dance by women, active virile and cruel activities by men v. bureaucratic pronouncements, women’s calls for Divine and Princely assistance, deep male choral pieces. Both sides had drunken orgies, but the Northern ones were more violent and disgusting in all the productions.

Family – the Khan’s daughter, who eventually married Prince Igor’s son against Igor’s wishes but with the Khan’s blessing, was great in all productions, but best in the British one – Elena Zaremba, who is still performing all over the world. She was last at the Met this year in Eugene Onegin, playing the mother of the heroine, we think. Twenty years earlier she had played the daughter.

Princess Yaroslava seemed to be in a dream in all of the productions, but her importance was revealed in Moscow, when she appeared to represent Mother Russia looking much like a Russian icon of the Blessed Virgin. None of them paid much attention to anyone but the Prince.

The Russians had entered the Iron Age in all of the productions with metal helmets, huge rectangular shields and swords, the desert people had small round shields, bows and arrows  (only in the lyrics of the Met production, which had placed the action in a fictional 19th or 20th century)and scimitars.

Yet the Russians lost the battles. Remember that.

Everyone greeted the returning wounded Prince with joy, as did the people, in spite of the fact that the Prince lost a whole army. Remember that.

The only time freedom is mentioned is in the Polovtsian (foreigners) scenes. Remember that.

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Russians are bullies – a second look at Prince Igor

More thinking overnight about Prince Igor gave us some more insights. We haven’t yet watched the above YouTube video, but look forward to doing so tonight.

BTW, some people didn’t like the Met’s current version. But they were taking it at face value. IFO gets that. No one mentioned it, but the lyrics often didn’t match the action – bows and arrows in a 19th century world? We don’t think so! But still, consider these unconscious revelations …

* The Princess Yaroslavna, Prince Igor’s wife, appears in the last act after the Russians have been attacked inside their fortress by the Polovtsians. Devastation. She walks among the people lying wounded or standing warming themselves at street fires, is if asleep, singing about how sad she is – missing her dear husband, mourning his loss.

It came to us that if she had been a Western princess, she would have been wiping the brows of the wounded, offering water to others, patting and comforting the standing citizens. Not so a Russian princess.

* It is critically important to SEE the opera as well as hear it. We are now listening to our CD, an earlier version brought to us by Valerij Gergiev of St. Petersburg RU.  The Met version follows it pretty closely, just rearranging a big for plot clarity. … as if. There is no plot clarity in a Russian epic opera. Sorry.

We got by for decades on the Met Radio Broadcasts, which started in IFO’s birth year. But if you don’t know the visual context, you are missing at least 50% of the meaning. Also, when set, costumes and music come together in your brain, the impact is much stronger.

* The real point of the opera, as IFO now understands it (may change on repeated viewing/listening) is that nobody was any good. Prince Igor was an idiot to ignore the council of his advisors and the people. He lost a whole army “in the quicksands” and many Russian princes. The people, inexplicably, welcomed him back home and cheered him as their father and prince.

Prince Galitsky, who stayed home to mind the palace, was a complete b*st*rd and a traitor – tried to usurp the position of Prince Igor. The boyars were helpless, just said to put hope in G-d and the strength of the fortress. Only Khan Konchak came out looking like a good guy – honest, virile, tough.

* The women were a bit passive, but honorable and loving. Konchakovna, the Khan’s daughter, fell in love with Igor’s son. Some of her words explain much about the Russian view of the people of the steppes: “I am a child of freedom, the beauty of the native steppes. I am the pride of the land. I am the daughter of the leader of all Khans.”

* Narod is the Russian word for People. See how you can learn languages? Just read librettos! The narod were just wallpaper in the opera – ordinary folk just wanting to live in simple peace and harmony.

Why are we spending so much time and thought on this opera? Because we are seeing a variation of this playing out in Ukraine today.

Here is a collection of Tweeted photos captured by The Conservative Treehouse. No moral equivalency, please! Ukrainians are different from the Russians! Pay special attention to the third and fourth pictures and this comment @ the third picture:

Extraordinary standoff. soldiers defiant behind gates of Perevalne base. Won’t surrender. 4:12 AM – 2 Mar 2014

For the entire post, see: http://theconservativetreehouse.com/2014/03/02/ukraine-in-crisis-russian-troops-surround-ukrainian-infantry-base-in-privolnoye-crimea/

This is extraordinary bravery and should be recognized, supported and rewarded.

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Russian prince shows how Russians think – maybe

Prince Igor has he would have looked in the 12th century.

Just spent four hours in Russia today, watching Prince Igor, an opera by Borodin and two of his friends who completed it after he died before he finished it. The NY Times has an interesting review of the piece and gives lots of background for the work that is based, loosely, on a 12th century legend/poem, plus a musical snippet.

The Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov reordered scenes, tweaked the plot, exciseed whole ensembles and interpolated musical numbers from a different score, to paraphrase the NYT. In doing so, he revealed much about the Russian character, though IFO doubts he looked at it the way she did.

Overall, we would say this opera was massive and moving. It has certainly will send us to the Internet to find out more about the boyars and 12th century Russian history. But for now, we’ll just drop a few observations:

* The symbolism of a white handkerchief is brand-new to us. When we first saw the wounded Prince Igor having his hands laved and wiped with a white cloth, we didn’t think much about it. But then the odious Prince Galitzky wiped his own hands several times with a white cloth. What could it mean? We think that, given the contexts, it meant physical comfort and pleasure. In a good sense in the first case and a disgusting sense in the second. Genius staging, we say.

* Two “gudok” players, used the word “Nu? Nu?” and we immediately thought of the Yiddish “Nu?” It means Well? in Russian and probably Yiddish, as well. A gudok, BTW, is a musical instrument from the 12th century, a traditional stringed instrument that Borodin was trying to revive. The gudok players in the Met’s production never played any musical instruments. They were depicted as among the few characters not in some kind of uniform and as drunkards and wastrels. Curious.

* At the beginning of the opera there was a big number that featured many references to “Glory to Russia!” After several hearings, we realized the word for Glory was Slav! In our viewing of live broadcasts during the problems in Ukraine, we noticed that many speakers on the Maidan (Square) began their addresses with the cry “Slav Ukraine!” It sounded like sla ukraheenah. The crowd responded with the same phrase.

* This reminded us of how early settlers in the U.S. were said to have named the local native tribes they encountered. “What do you call yourselves?” the early settlers would ask. The tribal people would answer, in their own language, “The People!” That came out sounding like “Sioux” or “Iroquois” or “Apache” or “Arapahoe” to the non-Native language speakers.

* And finally, the music likely was waaayy more informative to the sensitive listener than the composer or the director intended. The evil reprobate Prince Galitzky’s music was heavy, brutal, dark, crude and dangerous sounding. Those Russians really ARE b*ast*rds!

The Polovtsian music was from the East – probably Siberian style. Graceful, delicate, free, happy. Prince Igor and his wife both sang very sad, but dignified melodies – probably the best that Russia had to offer, but was eliminated starting in oh, about, 1917.

Prince Igor and his loving and faithful wife.

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New Reise u. Speise

HT for logo above: site seems to have disappeared, so can’t give you the link. Sorry.

IFO started the Reise u. Speise category a couple of years ago to catch her thoughts on travel and food while she traveled and ate. Most of her posts were from her European adventures, but the U.S. has room for this, too.

Travel and food adventures are great for investors, esp those who might be interested in restaurant stocks, or fast food establishment stocks, general food stocks, airline and train stocks. These are ground-floor investment DD, due diligence.

It is inside information of the highest order! How else can you party and learn at the same time? Here are some things IFO has been doing during her DD.

* Attending the Met opera in HD in Newport, Oregon at the Performing Arts Center. She normally stays at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, but occasionally switches to the Shilo Inn, which has a heated, indoor pool.

* Attending Portland Opera and Utah Opera (soon!). Both mainly fun, but also good networking venues.

* Checking out the home front – Newberg, Oregon. You have no idea how surprised all of her Portland friends are to find out about the fabulous restaurants here in this once sleepy, dry, Quaker college town. It has been overcome by artsies and wine aficionadoes. Posted on these a few weeks ago.

You wouldn’t believe how much community theater activity there is here? There’s even a play scheduled to be performed at a local church! We’ve been to several, and while the acting isn’t always Hollywood-ready, the small venues and enthusiastic actors make each performance a delight.

The Quaker influence is strong, too, or Friends as we know them, so most of the people we encounter are quiet, polite, friendly, educated and happy. Where ever we go, we find that all religion-moderated communities are like this. The great fear the anti-religious people purport to have of the churched population, is based on nothing – no personal experience, no studies showing bad behavior, and so on.

Now, some Muslims may be an exception, but we just got an email from our traveling rabbi noting how nice Istanbul is, in spite of recent turns of Turkey away from secularism and toward religious observance.

This is a tricky business. We think the key may lie within national and international POLITICAL maneuvers, not RELIGIOUS activities. In general, it does seem that religious communities are nicer than atheist or secular ones.

What do you think? (Emphasis on “think.”) Cite examples. Leave Salem witch trials out of your argument, unless you are citing them as Politics-driven events, which it is now believed they were.

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Should the “public” educate employees?

We just finished writing an economic news roundup recording job vacancies and employee needs and housing price changes.

The editorial opinion thought that came to us while writing the news story was, “Why should taxpayers pay to educate employees for businesses?”

Public schools do a dreadful job at that, but all you hear is complaining and demands for statewide or even nationwide academic achievement testing; or for more money; or for fiddling with the tenure system; or to abolish teacher unions.

Testing has been a failure: teachers hate it; bureaucrats and test writing firms love it; the public has no idea what to think about it. They do want the products of the public schools (students), to come out with a certain level of knowledge and skill, but they don’t seem to be willing or able to figure out the root cause of public school failure.

So, here is IFO’s contribution to the problem: a definition of “THE ROOT CAUSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOL FAILURE.” Towit: children are forced to attend and the public is forced to pay. That’s it. That’s the problem in a nutshell.

Coercion never achieves the stated goal. We would say “never achieves the intent,” but we don’t pretend to know what was and is on people’s minds when they support these two pillars of coercion.

Mind you, we are strongly pro-capitalist and pro-free market. But why should “We” pay for “Their” education? Oh, right. It’s for the good of everyone. A better educated population is more productive and peaceful, right? Fine, but better education is not achieved through coercion. More schooling is achieved, but not more or better education.

“Yes, but if the children aren’t forced to go to school, they won’t,” is the ridiculous-on-its-face argument. How does this fit with the high level of education achieved by Americans before the great Progressive Reforms (coercion) were enacted around 1912?

Allegedly, it was to make sure that that last 1 percent of the population got schooling, that laws were passed enacting “free, public education” and forcing the kids to attend and the public to pay.

Literacy levels were higher then than they are now. Eighth graders knew more then than they do now. Teachers with an eighth grade education knew more then than teachers with Masters Degrees know now.

Those assertions, BTW, can’t be proven via the link provided. That link shows an example of the mendacity of the education establishment. Anyone who believes that 99.4 percent percent of the population was literate in 1979 should contact me about a bridge I have for sale.

So, the answer to the question we began with is a resounding “NO.” If employers want an education workforce it is their responsibility to do it. It is the parents’ responsibility to get their children to a level of education that makes their children acceptable for additional, specific training.

And, finally, IFO loved school… for the first six years – all in New Mexico. The next six were more or less hell – in Southern California which was so proud of its Progressive Education System!

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Trouble in Bitcoinland not as bad as portrayed

According to reports circulating on the Internet, the website of Mt.Gox, a Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, seems to have been taken down. It may not be the catastrophe that some are describing, but it is serious.

As you know, governments hate Bitcoin – the unregulated, non-national electronic currency. The US has already put a key player under house arrest – typical goon behavior of a frightened government.

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent roundup of information and links relating to the recent glitch. This is from the main story:

A report widely circulated online since Monday in the U.S. said Mt. Gox had lost almost 750,000 bitcoin to long-running theft. Though the value of the alleged loss is difficult to quantify because of bitcoin price fluctuations, that amount would represent around 6% of bitcoin in existence and a value of around $365 million at Monday’s prices.

<snip>

Japan’s central bank, finance ministry and banking watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, have all declined to take responsibility for regulating bitcoin.

We said several days ago that there would be problems – this is normal in a new technology. The problems seem worse because MONEY is at the root of the issues. Not the LOVE of, but the CONTROL of, it.

Stay tuned. In that over-used old cliche’ – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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