Learning about Bitcoin

I read up over the weekend a bit about Bitcoin, the virtual currency that is run entirely through a peer-to-peer network over the Internet, thus bypassing the need for a central authority (like a government) that is responsible for “printing” money.

As with many topics related to economics, I first learned about Bitcoin through the EconTalk podcast, specifically the episode where Russ Roberts talks to Gavin Andresen, one of the principals of the Bitcoin open source project. The Economist also has a good overview of Bitcoin.

The idea of having the digital equivalent of cash is not new, but Bitcoin does have some interesting approaches which may prove to be more resilient than previous implementations of “electronic cash”. (See this page from the Internet Archive on an introduction to ecash from Digicash, a now defunct company that was a pioneer of electronic currency.)

My interest in Bitcoin was further piqued by a blog post from The Atlantic by Courtney Knapp, who was operating as a guest blogger for Megan McArdle, one of my favorite bloggers on economics (and other topics). The article refers to a “crash” on one of the most popular online exchanges that allows people to trade Bitcoins for US dollars. It will be interesting to see if these incidents erodes people’s trust in the Bitcoin concept, or if it matters much since very few people know much about Bitcoin yet.

A few more links:

War and terminology

One of the topics I’ve written about on this blog quite a bit is terminology (see here and here) and how differences in terminology can shape the political debate. I also had another post which among other things discussed the difference between health vs. health care, the key point being that the health of a nation (or of an individual for that matter) is not equivalent to, and in some cases is not even closely related to, the use of health care services.

On the occasion of the president’s recent speech on the way forward in Afghanistan, it seems fitting to address: are we at “war” in Afghanistan? Are we also at war in Iraq? And finally, what about Libya?

Let’s first take Iraq. According to Barack Obama on August 31, 2010, we ended the combat mission in Iraq. So, at least according to the current administration, the “war” is over. Of course there were at least 50,000 troops still stationed in Iraq when the war was over, but since we still have troops in Germany, Japan, and other countries with whom we are not at war, we will assume for the moment it is true that the Iraq war really has ended.

What about Afghanistan? Well, in the president’s speech on Afghanistan, he said “This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.” Part of his strategy for Afghanistan last year was a “surge” modeled after the Iraq surge to attempt to bring things under control. Although we are now supposed to begin drawing down the number of troops in Afghanistan, it appears that we are still officially at war, but with whom we are at war is not quite as clear.

Finally, in Libya, according to Bob Gates, we are not “at war with Libya”. He characterizes it as a “kinetic military action”, as does Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, according to this press briefing conducted aboard Air Force One. The implication seems to be that if we don’t send in ground troops, it doesn’t really count as a war. Now the administration is also saying that our actions in Libya don’t even amount to “hostilities” (see this response from the President to the Speaker of the House on the War Powers Resolution).

It is getting late so I will not editorialize too much on the above except to say that it doesn’t take much of a partisan to believe that playing word games when we are bombing other countries and trying to make an end-run around laws like the War Powers Resolution is dangerous territory.

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute has a good article on the Libya situation.

Blog is back and moved to WordPress

Hi everyone. My blog Strange Frontier is back and I’ve moved to WordPress. I will deactivate the Blogger site very shortly. So much to blog about and yet, every time I actually have time to compose a new post, I seem to have forgotten all of the topics I wanted to discuss. Similar to the phenomenon where every time you go out to dinner, you forget about all of those different places you were wanting to try and end up going to the same restaurants over and over again.

I have been on Twitter (@Duane1024) a lot more in the past year, which explains some of the break from blogging. However, Twitter is definitely not good for anything substantive unless you are linking to a full blog post on another site. I will probably try to go back and re-read some of my previous links from Twitter to see if there are good articles I want to write up more thoughts about here on the blog.

In the meantime, welcome back to Strange Frontier.