ROSC 20: A Storm Warning

rosc20I walked into Jay’s expecting to find Johnny being his usual, gregarious self. And he was, so long as he was greeting people at the bar. Once we sat by ourselves in the restaurant, however, he changed.

I had never seen Johnny scared before. I’d seen him angry, disgusted, and irritated, but not scared. We were barely through the usual “How’s your family?” stuff before he jumped into crypto.

“I did some looking, Paul, and it seems like you’ve got a handle on this stuff. Do you really?”

“I suppose so, John, but there’s so much action these days that no one can keep up with it all. So I can help you with the basics but not on the newest things. There’s just too much.”

The idea that this crypto thing was expanding beyond the ability of its friends to monitor frightened him further, but neither of us pursued that avenue.

“Listen,” he said. “I know you’re a reasonable guy, even if you are a little crazy…”

We both laughed; I was always the crazed radical in our group of friends.

“But a lot of us are concerned about this. It’s like a genie let out of its bottle, and it may not be controllable pretty soon.”

It was the usual fear of control addicts, but Johnny is my friend and I wanted to help him.

“I think you’re right, Johnny, this thing is growing wildly, but I want to set your mind at ease in at least one way: With the exception of a few scam artists and a small fraction of just plain assholes, the crypto crowd are decent people. They may disagree with the political class on how the world should operate, but they’re not remotely interested in forcing their ideas on people.”

John was partly comforted, but only partly.

“Yeah, I get that,” he said, slowly nodding his head. “The question is how far can this thing go? How big can it get?”

This put me into a bit of a dilemma. John is my friend, but I don’t want to give him information that he could pass along to bigger operators than himself. So I addressed only the currency aspect of it.

“The real issue is that this is currency. And it’s better currency. Right now all Bitcoin accounts for less than 1% of world currency value. So the question is how much of world currency should be in Bitcoin rather than government currencies? Is it good enough for 1% of world value? 10%? 50%?”

Johnny shook his head and waited for me to answer my own question.

“I don’t know where it will end up, but I do know that this stuff is better in a bunch of ways, and people will eventually figure that out.”

“So you think they could really win?”

“I’m not sure ‘win’ is the right word, John, but yeah, there’s a good chance they’ll keep spreading for a long time and become a very significant thing.”

Then without skipping a beat, Johnny pulled out his iPhone and typed something on it.

“It’s from your cousin,” he said. “Cousin” is his slang for our mutual friend. I looked at the screen. It clearly was not an incoming message; it displayed only what Johnny had just typed. It said,

Laugh like it’s funny.

I did. The second line said,

Turn off your cell phone and sit on it.

I typed back,

I turned it off and pulled the battery before walking in.

He read it, we both laughed together, and he turned off his phone then slid it under his leg, while making it look like he was putting it into his pocket. And I quickly remembered that as we were seated, Johnny asked for a different table than the one we were first shown. Johnny’s better at cloak-and-dagger than I thought.

We each took a sip of wine and waited a few seconds. Then Johnny leaned in.

“Like I say, I checked on this, and a couple of the agencies are watching the group meeting at the bar.” I groaned a little. “The first thing that got their attention was the kid who flew off to Poland and opened an exchange.”

“I knew the kid, but I didn’t know he went to Poland.”

“Well, he did, and he stepped right into their sights. They’re paying a lot of attention to those exchanges.”

I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, I know… they have to. It’s the last control point and they need to collect taxes from this.”

“Yeah,” Johnny said, “they do.”

“And the second thing was the seminars?”

“Yes,” he said. “They probably wouldn’t have cared about them, but they think these kids are taking that same kind of rebellion on the road…” He trailed off.

“And so they need to kill it,” I said, concluding the statement.

Johnny nodded his head in agreement.

“Okay, Johnny, please tell the agencies two things. First, that I’ll do what I can to get the kids to pull back. Second, that they’re fools if they try to take these kids down in their usual hyper-aggressive way. Look at what they did to Ross Ulbricht: They wanted his head on a pike, but all the exercise did was make the agencies look like maniacs, turn Ulbricht into a martyr, and spawn new dark markets.”

“I didn’t know that,” he said.

“Well, it’s true,” I went on. “These guys have no idea how barbaric they look to the kids on the darknet.”

“I believe you, Paul, but I don’t think I can say that to the agencies; they really believe that they’re working for God.”

I quickly realized that he was right.

“You’re right, John. Don’t tell them anything. Say something about me not realizing how extreme those kids were getting and leave it at that. They’re never going to see what they don’t want to see. Let ’em screw themselves again.”

John and I ordered more drinks and went back to talking about old friends. He pulled out his phone and turned in back on. I picked up the check, we hugged, I thanked him, and I headed back home.

At least we have a storm warning, I muttered to myself as I went.


Paul Rosenberg