Child Porn Seals Bitcoin’s Virtually Amoral Status: Opening Line

For an article in the June edition of GQ magazine, writer Marshall Sella bought one unit of bitcoin, for the going market rate of $834, with the goal of answering a simple question: What can you buy with it?

Long story short -- he ended up purchasing a two-slice Hamilton Beach toaster oven and a Timex watch from Overstock.com, soon after the web retailer announced it would accept payment in bitcoin. After concluding that few Manhattan businesses other than chiropractors, acupuncturists and lawyers accept the virtual currency, he traveled to Boston and managed, with great effort, to use his bitcoin to pay for dinner at a sushi restaurant called Thelonious Monkfish. Finally he returned to Overstock.com to buy “underpants, water glasses and slippers.”

The only place to find plentiful bitcoin-buying opportunities, Sella concluded, was on what remained of Silk Road, the underground Internet marketplace targeted by U.S. prosecutors a year ago for allegedly enabling the sale of drugs, guns, hacker software and other illegal items.

The libertarian utopian idyll of bitcoin continues to clash with life’s uglier realities. As Kristen Schweizer reports today, bitcoin has become a significant payment source for those buying and selling child pornography. The U.K.-based Internet Watch Foundation says almost 200 child-porn websites accept bitcoin, including 30 that accept no other form of payment.

“Proponents applaud the decentralized currency for its promise of anonymity, absence of banking fees, and position on the fringes of the financial industry,” Schweizer writes. “But those same attributes make it appeal to the underworld.”

She quotes Patrick Murck, general counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation, saying that traders of child porn “should burn in hell,” a sentiment that perhaps we all can agree on. Beyond that, it’s hard to see how bitcoin can claim to make both anonymity and decency its top priority.

Perversions that target children existed long before bitcoin, of course, and money is only a component in the overall tragedy of child abuse. Still, to get a sense of how bitcoin might be turning the tide in favor of the abusers, read Schweizer’s July 29 story on how the cooperation of financial companies such as Western Union, PayPal, Visa and MasterCard had all but ended sale of child pornography via the public Internet.

Those traditional -- old-fashioned, boring perhaps -- financial companies stepped up. Can bitcoin?

***

Today’s U.S. economic indicators are import prices at 8:30 a.m. EDT and the monthly budget statement at 2 p.m.

Fastenal, the hardware store for fashion retailers and wholesalers, reports earnings before the bell.

Darden Restaurants holds its annual meeting starting at 9 a.m. when Starboard Value’s proxy fight to overthrow the entire board goes down in Orlando, Florida.

***

- Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.’’ - No, Kim Jong Un didn’t make it to the commemoration today. - Hong Kong talks collapse before they start, resurgence of protesters seen tonight. - Anti-EU U.K. Independence Party gains first seat in House of Commons. - The IMF and World Bank begin their annual meetings in Washington. On Saturday, Lagarde holds a press conference at 1:15 p.m. - The Institute of International Finance holds its annual meeting in Washington, and Bloomberg TV is there. Speakers include El-Erian, Gorman, Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo and others. - U.S. sending military team to Turkey next week to advise on how to get in the fight against the Islamic State. - Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang are meeting in Berlin, with a press conference to follow. - The House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing inside Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport to discuss Ebola. - Pakistani Sunnis increase I.S.-style attacks on Iran. - AP continues to report on terrorist group no one can find or has heard of. - History is written by the victors. Or not. - From Syria to Uruguay. - Microsoft’s Nadella botches career advice for women at technology conference. - Dave & Buster’s IPO prices at $16, begins trading on Nasdaq. - Tesla’s ’D’ is an all-wheel-drive, dual-engine version of the Model S. - Holder’s resignation couldn’t have come at a much worse time. - Voter-ID laws struck down in Texas and Wisconsin. - Hundreds in St. Louis protest 18-year-old’s right to shoot at a police officer and not get shot to death. - Cubans are heading to U.S. in record numbers since travel restrictions were eased. - This is what’s in store for Japan this weekend. - Jon Stewart was NBC’s first choice to host “Meet the Press.” - Duly elected embodiment of Mexico’s corruption flees amid presumably half-serious investigation into students’ death. - No charges filed in Palin-family get-together. - Speaking of asking for a raise... - Game 1 of American League pennant series begins at 8 p.m. in Baltimore, where the Orioles host the Kansas City Royals. The National League pennant series begins tomorrow at 8 p.m. in St. Louis, where the Cardinals host the San Francisco Giants. - Christmas morning for the vast right-wing conspiracy. - American Indian featured in ad that supports use of Washington Redskins name may be an impostor. - Bradley Cooper sums up sentiments of many Philadelphia Eagles fans heading into Sunday’s game with the New York Giants. (Sorry, John.) - Jan Hooks, late 1980s-era member of Saturday Night Live cast, dies at 57.

***

If the story of one Avon Lady can offer deep insight into American society today, it’s this one.

Tom Moroney, in his latest “A Day’s Work” column, introduces us to Isabel Hernandez, a resident of McAllen, Texas, who speaks no English and should -- strictly speaking, from a legal perspective -- be back in Mexico. Her visa expired in 2012, making her one of an estimated 1.8 million undocumented Texas immigrants.

If her chosen path toward the American dream seems unlikely and anachronistic -- membership in Avon, “the lipstick-and-makeup brigade that has been marching through America’s neighborhoods since 1886,” as Moroney puts it -- then consider that:

- The top 10 U.S. Avon districts are mostly Hispanic.

- A large chunk of Avon sales reps are Hispanic.

- The “Avon superstar” who brought Hernandez into her selling empire, Silvia Tamayo, is a Mexican immigrant (and now a U.S. citizen) who made $250,000 in her best year. (Hernandez, by contrast, makes about $100 every two weeks.)

- Pablo Munoz, president of Avon North America, said in February that the company would have avoided some of its problems had it focused earlier on Hispanic customers.

About those problems: Avon’s sales force has diminished by roughly half, to 300,000, in the past 10 years, and its stock has dropped 32 percent this year.

As Moroney writes, “It is difficult to imagine a single American corporation and individual who need each more than these two.”

***

Sounds like there’s a fascinating show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It collects works in bas relief, furniture, jewelry and other objets d’art that depict life in Assyria -- consisting of parts of modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey -- dating from around the 7th century B.C., Manuela Hoelterhoff reports.

Narratives relay the accounts of feasts and warring, and how the empire of the day flourished. But that’s not the point.

The point is the damn hot dog carts.

In one of her funnier stories in recent memory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning arts-and-culture editor takes us down a normal narrative for one of her reviews, dazzling us with her ability to toss around knowing references to some of the most ancient art and history, before the piece lurches off the rails and gets right up in NYC’s business.

“Fascinating landscape photographs and illuminating maps dramatize the complex planning and sense of adventure that sent entire armies to distant places. And all without GPS and the certainty of hot dog vendors along the long way.”

Wait, what?

We stop learning arcane facts about Assyria and start learning arcane facts about a Civil War-era New York law that allows military veterans to sell things on the perimeters of parks. The Met sits inside the boundaries of Central Park, and the carts have turned the front of the one of the most august buildings in the city, if not the nation, into what looks and smells like the parking lot at a Jets game. We haven’t been to the Met in a few years, but we have no recollection of what she’s describing, so things must have changed recently.

She says she counted 21 food vendors on the apron of the museum. How can 21 of them in the same spot make a living? And how many of them are from what was Assyria?

***

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is the kind of movie we loved around age 9 to 11. Live action, not cartoons. Recognizable big stars, even for us at that age, working with humor that’s not exactly sophisticated yet not blatantly stupid either. Witty banter, some stuff gets broken, hilarity ensues.

Alexander is a kid of about that age, Steve Carrell and Jennifer Garner are his parents, there are some siblings. All of them, not just Alex, are screwing up this particular day in epic fashion. If it’s your weekend with the kids and it looks like rain, this will probably make them laugh. Which will make cocktail hour that much more enjoyable.

By now you’ve seen the ads for “The Judge,” which strikes us from the trailer as something that will take dead aim at Oscar nominations and miss by a fairly wide margin. It’s just looks too precious, from its art design and mood lighting to the heavyweight cast to the sweep of a predictable story arc. To wit: Robert Duvall, looking like an older version of “The Great Santini,” is a cold, seeming loveless, impossibly demanding jurist who has a brittle relationship with his once prodigal son, played by Robert Downey Jr.

Downey is now a hot-shot criminal attorney who overcomes the gulf in their relationship to defend his father when the old man -- now a defendant -- is charged with killing someone with his car. And Billy Bob Thornton is the unctuous prosecutor who can’t wait to take the judge down.

Addicted” has a whiff of mommy porn to it, with impossibly gorgeous people -- one of them being the former Ralph Lauren Polo supermodel Tyson Beckford -- coursing through lusty intrigues of a wife’s infidelity. She’s the representative of a celebrated artist who’s just too beautiful to resist and then too hard to get rid of. If your date is a psycho, this is the movie for you.

Also opening this weekend is “Dracula Untold.” As if.