In 1650, The Anglican Church Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, James Ussher, published a book in which he presented his calculations that determined the true age of the Earth. In it, he concluded that God had finished His work with that particular project on “the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October, the year before Christ, 4004.” That was according to the Julian calendar, which is what he used, because he was a raving Calvinist who figured everything the Catholics did, including the Gregorian calendar, was heresy, blasphemy, witchcraft, sorcery or worse. He no doubt turned over in his grave at the Chapel of Saint Erasmus in Westminster Abbey on September 3 (Julian) 1752, when England adopted the papist Gregorian calendar and the next day officially became September 14. That’s why the Day of Creation is usually quoted now as October 12, 4004 B.C. So, according to a literal interpretation of the Bible in its various incarnations, along with similarly literal interpretations of the related historical and associated holy texts Ussher used, as of this Web log post, the earth is 6,027 years old. Evidence of possible discrepancies in that figure, such as the Grand Canyon, the Burgess Shale, sea shells in the rocks of the Himalayas, isotopic analyses and magnetic surveys of geological formations worldwide and so forth, which point to a somewhat greater age of 4.54 billion years, have all been subsequently explained by various events in the Old Testament, quite to the satisfaction of those who prefer blind, unquestioning faith in Bronze Age mythology to scientific facts.
And there are plenty of such unfortunately pathetic examples of homo sapiens running around the boondocks, backwaters and hinterlands of the United States of America, no doubt about that. In those benighted regions, there are actually museums which display humans living alongside dinosaurs and which exhibit full scale reconstructions of Noah’s Ark. In fact, such insistent exponents of Creationist ideology have even established a signal redoubt of their theological campaign right here in Washington DC. Fundamentalist evangelical creationists, flush with piles of cash from their truck with Mammon hawking chicken sandwiches, hobby supplies and products of a similarly wholesome ilk acceptable to their narrow sets of values, all eagerly contribute to its operation, and more importantly, to the addition of artifacts they are convinced demonstrate the veracity of their beliefs to its collection. The fact that these are regularly demonstrated to be fakes sold to them by opportunistic charlatans only makes them more determined to find the genuine ones, which, of course, they are totally convinced actually exist.
I mention this because the brand new Speaker of the House of Representatives (whom I am boldly assuming will hold that office long enough for this Web log post to remain relevant until my next one), a fellow named Mike Johnson, is one of those quaint, ignorant bumpkins. And a pathetic example of species homo sapiens he most assuredly is, and frankly, quite a bit more actual evidence exists to support that assertion than those of Mr. Johnson and his fellow delusionists regarding the origin and age of the Earth. Question him about it, of course, and he will, naturally, reply with the usual Creationist cant, babbling back such drivel as “were you there?” No, Mr. Johnson and friends, nobody was there – it was 4.54 billion years ago, and life did not exist on Earth at that time, not even the microbes from which you and your sanctimonious congregation evolved. And neither were you there on that October evening in 4004 B.C. about which you so fervently fantasize, although your ancestors were, perforce, present – by the looks of you they were probably slogging around in the bogs of northwestern Europe, having been there since at least the end of the Pleistocene Epoch, which was, by the way, around 9,700 B.C.
But seriously, there’s no arguing with people like that, and I personally would not break wind into a hole in the ground to debate any of them about anything. As my papist Italian grandmother used to say, “Non lottare mai con un maiale nel fango; ti sporchi solo e il maiale si diverte.” Never wrestle a pig in the mud; you only get dirty and the pig enjoys it. That Mr. Johnson has a right to believe what he wants about the supernatural, no matter how ridiculous anyone else might find it in particular, or beliefs in the supernatural in general, is guaranteed by the United States Constitution, a document about which, by the way, Mr. Johnson claims considerable expertise.
Were this person just another example of parochial American atavism, sent to Washington by the bigoted, inbred White trash citizens of some characteristically backward, inconsequential corner of this vast continent to represent it here in the national legislature, well, there are four hundred and thirty-five members of the House, and no small number of them fall into that category. Usually, they are, as Mr. Johnson was until recently, pretty much ignored. But now, in a scenario that would surpasses the wildest imaginings of the most thoroughly coked-up Hollywood comedy writer, the Fates have put him third in line for the presidency.
While this may delight the denizens of Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District, a perfect example of parochial American atavism if there ever was one, it is rather problematic for about two hundred and fifty million of the rest of us here in the US, because while displaying considerable reluctance to make any specific statements about domestic or foreign policy, Mr. Johnson has been quite vociferous in his insistence that every single political concept to which he subscribes is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. Given that, an examination of the first thirty-nine Books thereof ought to give any civilized resident of the twenty-first century A.D. considerable pause, to say the least. As a staunch conservative / Neo-fascist (choose one or both), Mr. Johnson can be expected to cherry-pick from that tome, as any such MAGA maniac would, the most outrageously oppressive, discriminatory and primitive precepts of Antiquity to serve as the basis for the exercise of his new and considerable power.
One can only wonder: how will Act One of this dark comedy end? What will be the Act Two crisis? Are further improbable Dei ex machina, on a par with his extremely unlikely elevation to Speaker, in store? Will we see shocking plot twists, perhaps involving the addition of an inscrutable nemesis character, perchance some convoluted betrayals by trusted confidants, gambits hatched against him by supposedly loyal Republicans like Mitch McConnell, or a maybe a tempting Satanic love interest launched at our hero by conniving Democrats? And does our imagined Hollywood comedy writer even have enough coke to finish the script? As I mentioned earlier, I certainly hope Mr. Johnson remains Speaker long enough for me to find time to write my next blog post – I am, after all, pretty busy these days.
For example, Gretchen informed me this morning that Mr. Samuel Benjamin Bankman-Fried was eagerly seeking one of my free initial consultations. Okay, maybe I am pretty busy these days, but I simply couldn’t resist wanting to know why The Most Intelligent Person Who Ever Lived would seek the advice of someone who, as regular readers of this Web log are amply aware, is only the smartest person in Washington DC – and who readily admits that being so, after all, is a lot like being the tallest building in Baltimore.
Tom: Hello, Mr. Bankman-Fried?
SBF: I did not try to commit fraud on anyone.
Tom: Oh, yes. I take it, you’re concerned about your conviction on seven counts of wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and campaign finance law violations last Thursday in Federal Court?
SBF: I wanted FTX to be a place where you can do anything you want with your next dollar. You can buy bitcoin. You can send money in whatever currency to any friend anywhere in the world. You can buy a banana. You can do anything you want with your money from inside FTX. Good is good however it comes. And in the end, my goal was just to figure out how I can have the most impact on the world, whatever that means.
Tom: So… I take it you’re somewhat disappointed that the jury didn’t see it that way? You must admit, FTX lost billions of dollars that belonged to small investors.
SBF: If you do something to see if it works, and then it doesn’t work, was that a valuable educational experience for you – that you intentionally did in order to learn – or is that a mistake because you did the thing that didn’t work and you wasted money on it? Those are two sides of the same coin.
Tom: Perhaps, but it seems you wasted a lot of other people’s money. You do realize that, don’t you?
SBF: Lack of trust is an enormous transaction cost, and I underestimated this when I first got into business.
Tom: Perhaps you should have done more research on that before founding a trillion-dollar cryptocurrency exchange business.
SBF: I was a really negligent student. I’m very skeptical of books. I would never read a book. I don’t want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that. At our parties we played board games.
Tom: Well, great, towering mathematical finance geniuses such as yourself write their own rules of behavior, I guess. But surely, you would have to agree that closer attention to the norms of the securities and commodities trading markets might have been… shall we say… advisable?
SBF: I think that it is really important that there’s federal oversight of the crypto industry. We put a lot of attention and care into regulation and interfacing with regulators. I think it has historically been the case that crypto has been substantially more lightly regulated with much less oversight than traditional finance. But I don’t think that was actually true of FTX. We were the most regulated crypto exchange by far. We were regulated by some definition by more regulators than any exchange of any type.
Tom: Really? You’re serious?
SBF: We had financial audits, both for FTX U.S. and FTX International, each year. We had regulatory oversight, again, from a number of the largest jurisdictions in the world. I wish we were perfect, but no one is. If there’s anything we were doing that a regulator didn’t want, they didn’t have to sue us, just reach out and tell us what they want.
Tom: I hope you’re not saying the whole thing was a misunderstanding that was the regulators’ fault?
SBF: I left Jane Street Capital to start on my own ideas and got into crypto. My goal was to have impact. I certainly feel more comfortable incinerating my own money. I don’t want a yacht.
Tom: That’s good, because I’m pretty sure federal prisons don’t have marinas. Look, I realize that from the point of view available to The Most Intelligent Person Who Ever Lived, a massive Ponzi scheme involving cryptocurrency arbitrage might appear to be a mere peccadillo, but ordinary mortals who put their life savings in crypto obviously aren’t playing in the same league as you are, and well, obviously, if they put their life savings in crypto, they’re total chumps. But the world is full of total chumps, Mr. Bankman-Fried. And because of you, a whole slew of them got wiped out – you left them with zilch, zip, nada, bupkis – zero bucks in the bank and their rent’s due. Look, I hear you. You’re convinced that you don’t think you did anything wrong – I get it, Ponzi went to his grave insisting that everything he did was perfectly okay, too. But a time came for you to see things from the little guys’ perspective, and it looks like you missed it, understand?
SBF: I don’t think Warren Buffett would call me the next Warren Buffett. The bitcoin network is not a payments network and it is not a scaling network. I’ve always been deeply suspicious of negative unit economics, any economics without any sort of real, clear pathway to profitability. I think that people have had to rethink about how to value assets and had to be a little more grounded in it and realize that the ungrounded thinking only works during euphoric times. Like the moment that a bunch of brokers, including Robinhood, restricted buying of Gamestop, like literally that hour hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into Dogecoin. And it was just a really strong signal that it’s the same people. Things that you’re doing millions of transactions a second with have to be extremely efficient and lightweight and lower energy cost. Ideally, I would want FTX to become the biggest source of financial transactions in the world. There’s been a substantial re-rating toward looking for a least likely or plausible pathway toward profitability being a core component of an investment thesis. By number of Ponzi schemes, there are way more in crypto, kinda per capita, than in other places. But by size of actual Ponzis, I’m not sure that it is particularly unusual. It’s just like a ton of extremely small ones.
Tom: So everybody does it, why pick on you? Is that what you’re saying? Oh, never mind. It’s easy to see that your lawyer should never have let you testify. Okay, so why did you call me, anyway? No… wait a minute… on the basis of our conversation so far, let me guess. On March 28 next year, you’re going to get sentenced for those seven felonies, and the total time you could get, theoretically, at least, is about one hundred and fifteen years. Plus, as we speak, DOJ is cooking up another huge federal case with multiple felonies pertaining to your various political contributions and… activities… while you were riding high at FTX. So, I’d bet a bottle of Macallan 25 you want to brainstorm some ideas with me about how you can get out of doing that time.
SBF: I’ve been sort of pleasantly surprised, by the extent to which a lot of people in D.C. are honestly just trying to figure out how they can do the right thing.
Tom: Under the circumstances, it stands to reason you would be. Now, given that you’ve always maintained the purpose of FTX was to practice the philosophy of Effective Altruism, I’d say, the only way you’re going to get out from under some serious federal prison time is to capitalize on that, plus the fact you’re The Most Intelligent Person Who Ever Lived. Therefore, I recommend that between now and March 28, you do something so stupendously altruistic and intelligent that the judge will be under tremendous pressure to sentence you to probation. So – let’s get started. How about you come up with a cure for cancer?
SBF: Between now and next March?
Tom: Yeah. Should be a piece of cake for The Most Intelligent Person Who Ever Lived, right?
SBF: Um… I have ADHD, and medical stuff makes me depressed. Got any other ideas?
Tom: Of course! What about, say… solving world hunger?
SBF: A plan, maybe, but doing it by March, I don’t know…
Tom: Reverse global warming?
SBF: Even a plan for that would take until at least April.
Tom: How about making nuclear fusion a practical source of electrical power?
SBF: Nuclear fusion is the power of the future and it always will be.
Tom: Okay, then, could you unify the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics? That would be pretty close to nuclear fusion and it might even provide the basis for an interstellar warp drive.
SBF: It would take too long to build an experimental device to demonstrate the predictions of the theoretical equations.
Tom: I see. Well, then, care to take a stab at forging a lasting peace in the Middle East?
SBF: That’s impossible. Being The Most Intelligent Person Who Ever Lived doesn’t help. Could I prove the Riemann Hypothesis instead?
Tom: Well, I guess it would be nice to have the Fields Medal to decorate your prison cell, and that million dollars of Clay Mathematicians Institute Prize money could definitely cover your commissary expenses for a century or so. But I don’t think it would have the necessary public relations appeal sufficient to get your sentence reduced to probation. Oh, wait a minute, I know – why don’t you find some actual evidence the Republicans can use to impeach Joe Biden?
Tom: Well, according to my experience with such matters, one in six conspiracy theories has some element of truth in it.
SBF: One in six?
Tom: Actually, it’s seventeen point two percent, plus or minus three tenths of a percent, but you get the idea.
Tom: So, there are at least two dozen conspiracy theories associated with alleged connections between Joe Biden and various impeachable offenses. All you need to do is find the ones that have a kernel of truth, look at all the information, examine how those theories connect the dots and then identify new patterns of connections nobody has thought of or noticed before. Do that with the four or five theories that are statistically likely to be there with an element of truth in them, and there’s an eighty-seven point five percent probability that at least one those will be sufficiently solid to nail Biden in an impeachment.
SBF: What good would that do?
Tom: Once you come up with that evidence, make sure it goes public and everybody knows you are responsible for it. Meanwhile, have your lawyers appeal your convictions on any and every possible grounds, and delay the appeal decisions until Biden loses the 2024 election and Trump takes office in January, 2025. The first thing he will do after being sworn in is pardon himself. After that, the next thing he will do is pardon you, and then he will spend the rest of the day wearing out sharpies pardoning a lot of other people before he goes to the Inaugural Ball.
SBF: You think Trump would do that? Why?
Tom: Well, you remember how you offered to pay Trump not to run for president?
SBF: Yeah. His team said he wanted five billion dollars.
Tom: And you didn’t take him up on it.
SBF: Seemed too expensive. At the time, that is.
Tom: Yeah, well, people are always underestimating Trump’s survivability index. But my point is, because of that, he knows you, and, moreover, he knows you are transactional, just like him. And he knows what you did and what happened to you.
Tom: And as far as Trump is concerned, a Ponzi scheme is a business model – and one to which he can readily relate. And there’s nothing he’d like better when he becomes president than to legitimize as many scams like that as possible so he will be able to use them himself. That’s why, if you furnish the ammunition his cronies in Congress need to impeach Biden, he will be enthusiastically inclined to pardon you. Provided, of course, that you fawningly credit him for giving you this brilliant idea.
SBF: Uh… but… you did.
Tom: And that will be our little secret, okay? And when Trump makes you Secretary of the Treasury, we can have all the in-person, paid consultations you like. What do you say?
SBF: Secretary of the Treasury?
Tom: Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission… who knows, maybe he’ll make up a cabinet position just for you – Commissioner of CryptoCurrency, Secretary of the Department of Effective Altruism, something like that.
SBF: Better than prison.
Tom: And I’m sure Trump would say “Amen” to that, too. So, I highly recommend you give it try, okay?
SBF: Maybe I will. ‘Bye.