Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Think Newsweek Has the Wrong Guy With This Satoshi Nakamoto.... Here's Why...

(This blog post was inspired by: Is Bitcoin Legal? Illegal? a Currency? a Commodity?)

I read the Newsweek article concerning "discovering" Satoshi Nakamoto the inventor of Bitcoin... I also chuckled out loud when I read Newsweek's rebuttal about this Nakamoto guy's denial. It reads:

"Newsweek stands strongly behind Ms. Goodman and her article. Ms. Goodman’s reporting was motivated by a search for the truth surrounding a major business story, absent any other agenda. The facts as reported point toward Mr. Nakamoto’s role in the founding of Bitcoin." 

As a long time Japan resident, Japanophile, and all around half-Japanese born geek and well studied in Japanese history, I can tell you that when I read the first Newsweek article, "Discovering Nakamoto," I was fascinated too... 

Until, halfway through the article, I hit one sentence...

The sentence read: "Descended from Samurai and the son of a Buddhist priest, Nakamoto was born in July 1949 in the city of Beppu, Japan, where he was brought up poor in the Buddhist tradition by his mother, Akiko." 

I immediately stopped reading it right there because it lost all credibility at that point. Why? The "descended from Samurai" sentence defies belief. 

In the 80s I worked under a guy named Hasegawa who was a Japanese historian. I will never forgot the day when he showed me an English textbook, written by a caucasian American, that said, "Japan's economic recovery was due to hard working Japanese. The Japanese received their work ethic from their samurai ancestors."

Hasegawa threw the book down, scoffed and said, "Ridiculous. This is western romanticist fantasy that Japanese have samurai ancestors. No one has samurai ancestors! Absurd!"

After that, I began to look into it and, indeed, the numbers of people in this country who came from families who were samurai you can count on ten toes; they are basically non-existent because most samurai were too poor to marry and, in a class society, you generally marry within your social strata. That would mean that, generally speaking, samurai who married would have married the daughters of other samurai... (They certainly wouldn't marry the peasant class which was 98% of the population.)

I already mentioned that most samurai couldn't afford to marry. (At the peak of the samurai warrior class (about 1598) there weren't a few hundred thousand of them in total...) 

Sure, that doesn't dispute the entire Newsweek story, but that's not my point. 

Realistically speaking, it doesn't compute... The odds of this guy, Nakamoto, being the Bitcoin brain AND having samurai ancestors would be akin to, say, Steve Jobs being directly descended from George Washington or Benjamin Franklin... Or even worse odds than that as most of the samurai disappeared 400+ years ago. Yeah, I know... It's anal-retentive (I'm that way often)...But stuff like that bothers me... That this is in this article throws into question the entire credibility of the source of this information for this story.

It sounds like the fantasy script for a samurai anime about Japan, where the good guy, a "Son-of-samurai," against all odds, fights the bad guys... What? Is this the script for next Disney produced Star-Wars movie? 

Then when people say this is Newsweek article is "investigative reporting" I roll my eyes... Yes, I do have a problem with that... This sounds more like hype, promotion or simply trying to sell magazines (by the way, that issue of Newsweek was its triumphant return to the news racks....)

You can't make this shit up!.... Well, I take that back... You actually can!

I think this is just another farce that works to discredit Bitcoin... Not that it needs help in that department with recent news.... I also think this will make Newsweek and print media even more of a laughing stock than it already is.

This samurai business makes me extremely skeptical of this entire story.

The inventor of Bitcoin, being one guy, and actually Japanese with samurai ancestors is too fantastic to be true.... Hell, if he is a Japanese, he has a higher chance of being a relative to the inventor of Poke-Mon than having "samurai ancestors."


This article inspired by my friends Peter Tilley (Bitcoin expert) and Mish Shedlock over at Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis


Dan Teodor said...


The silly samurai descent comment aside, I wouldn't be so fast to write off all the grains of truth in this article. I am been around the computer forensic 'industry' for about 15 years and there are just too many seeds of reality in this article to write the whole thing off. I understand your thought process when you say 'if author so wildly off about the samurai thing, then what else is she so wildly off about?', and it is a valid train of logic.

However, looking through the rough dozen details that catch my eye in this article as a professional in the computer forensics field (i.e. "If Nakamoto ever sells his Bitcoin fortune, he would likely have to do so at a legitimate Bitcoin bank or exchange, which would not only give away his identity but alert everyone from the IRS to the FBI of his movements." -- attribution from the article), and then I look at the background profile of the author, I become transfixed by the enormous gulf of understanding that she would have to overcome to make dead-on accurate assessments like these.

There is something here. However, both mainstream media and the world are 'stuck' in a 20th-century vision of things having sole 'founders'. In the 21st-century computing world, there are no longer individual 'founders'. The perfect example of which I am sure you are intimately aware is the birth of the Linux computing platform.

You and I both know that Linus Torvalds is as much a founder of the Linux computing platforms as Ben Franklin is a 'discoverer' of electricity - something we only tell 8 year olds as distilled fairly tales to gloss over the complexity of the real grown-up world until they reach a later age when they can actually understand complexity.

It's the same thing here. I am sure this gentleman was part of the original on-line cadre of dedicated contributors to defining the technology and setting up teh infrastructure around what eventually because the Bitcoin currency exchange, but he is only a founder insomuch as Linux Torvalds is the founder of the Linux computing platform... a fantasy that we would use to distill the complexity down for an 8 year old.

The author is spot on regarding this man's role in the movement, but also writes this article in the same way you would answer the question for your 8 year old son: "Dad, who discovered electricity?"

Aaron Moser said...

It sounds like the fantasy script for a samurai anime about Japan, where the good guy, a "Son-of-samurai," against all odds, fights the bad guys...

You should cash in on a project like that and sell it to the dumb libertarians who think this guy is their savoir.

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