On March 11 of this year, one of the most important auctions in recent years took place at Christie’s – in complete silence. There was no heated bidding, and nothing went under a noisy hammer, but large sums were still changing hands: the artist known as Beeple sold his work “First 5000 Days” for $69.3 million.
“It was the third highest price ever achieved by a living artist,” said Beatriz Ordovás, director of the postwar and contemporary art department at Christie’s Spain. This sale was a milestone not so much for the price, but for being the first time a major auction house had offered a purely digital work of art that would be paid for in cryptocurrency and auctioned online. The authenticity of Beeple’s work was guaranteed by a non-fungible token (NFT), a unique digital certificate that is linked to a file.
In a world where everything can be replicated with a simple copy-and-paste, NFTs lend uniqueness to an image, and endow it with exclusivity. “They function as a guarantee of authenticity,” Ordovás explained. Beeple’s work, a huge collage made up of 5,000 images made over the same number of days, may have artistic value, but it is the NFT associated with it that gives it economic value. Some see these assets as a revolution that will change the art world forever, while others denounce what they see as a bubble that will burst and leave nothing but a trail of smoke.
Before making history at Christie’s, the average value of a Beeple work hovered around $100. “Digital artists couldn’t sell their art like those working in the physical world. NFTs have ended that discrimination,” explained Primavera De Filippi, a researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman-Klein Center for Internet & Society and the French National Center for Scientific Research. De Filippi has an optimistic view of the technology, and believes that it has enhanced the work of artists such as Beeple by replicating the limitations of the physical world to drive up prices: “NFTs have artificially created a form of digital scarcity and this enhances the value of a work,” she said. NFTs have introduced new artists to the art market, she believes, and also introduced new buyers.
The value of the digital art market grew by 299% last year, according to the NFT 2020 Report, and that is just the tip of the iceberg: the luxury market, video games, music and sports teams also want a piece. The first tweet by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey was sold in the form of an NFT for almost $3 million in March. A few days later, the Nyan Cat meme (a cat with a rainbow trail) reached $600,000. Singer The Weeknd sold a collection of music and videos last April for $2 million in the form of an NFT. Ozuna, Steve Aoki and other musicians have also jumped onto the bandwagon. St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum will photograph its works and tokenize them, selling off images that are in the public domain for thousands of dollars. Virtually any asset could be sold for an astronomical amount.
These NFTs are not bought with legal tender, but with cryptocurrencies, usually Ethereum, the currency of the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchain technology guarantees the veracity of transactions over the internet, and because of Ethereum’s central role in NFTs’ growth, its value has climbed more than 1,700% since the beginning of 2020. Many believe this growth is not organic.
“There is clearly speculation,” said Andrés Guadamuz, a professor at the University of Sussex and expert in digital intellectual property rights. “Many of us who have been watching this world have been caught by surprise by this fad,” he added, placing the tipping point at the beginning of this year and the sale of Beeple’s NFT.
The ever higher prices, however, are now starting to signs of an overheated market. Activity associated with NFTs has varied greatly across all trackable metrics. The number of people using NFT markets fell 80% from a peak of 650,000 at the beginning of the year to about 128,000 the first week of August. Sales volume was verging on an impressive $200 million last February, but interest dropped sharply in subsequent months, sitting at just $25 million in May, according to the Statista website. Some saw this as the death throes of NFTs, while others believed they only proved their extreme volatility. The market has ended up proving the latter opinion correct, as in August NFT sales set a new record ($206 million).
What happens next is anyone’s guess. “Ethereum is a very unstable cryptocurrency,” Guadamuz pointed out, “and as such the astronomical prices we are talking about are, to some extent, illusory.” The see-sawing prices of Ethereum and its lack of real-world uses pushes investors to make risky bets, which are increasingly disconnected from physical reality, like playing poker with Monopoly money. “This is very real,” disagreed the researcher Primavera De Filippi. “You can’t make a purchase with Ethereum, but you can exchange it for legal tender whenever you want. It’s like saying gold is a fictional asset because you can’t go buy bread with gold bullion.”
Speculation has been a part of collecting art long before NFTs came along. But the newness and unfamiliarity of the technology makes it much riskier. “Trading in new and relatively unknown instruments, such as NFTs, is not so much a form of investment as a bet,” said Jo Michell, Associate Professor of Economics at UWE Bristol. The gamble is risky because market trends are not driven by relatively predictable behavior such as a company going bust or the progressive career of an artist. “A lot of the action is driven by herd-chasing,” Michell added. But in the crypto-art herd, not all cattle are created equal. “The very wealthy are willing to spend lump sums of money on status tokens, such as NFTs,” said the economist. “This leads to other more humble investors imitating them.”
Another reason for crypto-art fever is less often considered: psychology. The emotional attachment we have to certain items, and the social status we imbue them with, affects our understanding of their value. Collecting is based on this process, from stamp collecting to the tulip mania bubble of 17th-century Holland, when tulip bulbs were sometimes traded for mansions, in the wildest example of how collecting can generate economic distortion.
Matt Stephenson is a PhD candidate at Columbia University and researches behavioral economics and NFTs from a psychological perspective. “People are excited about them because they have certain properties of the real-world objects that we’re used to,” he explained. “They are unique, can be owned, sold, destroyed and tracked over time. As a result, if an artist creates NFT art, it has the same properties as a traditional painting.
”The fact that people will pay millions for a NFT but not for a JPG file, which is also used to save digital images, says more about us than it does about the art market, Stephenson believes. “Cognitive psychology suggests that humans can distinguish between virtually identical objects based on an intricate set of socially accepted interests, beliefs and intentions,” he said. Value, therefore, has a strong social component.
In early May, Kyle Swenson’s Twitter feed started filling up with monkeys: monkeys in sunglasses, monkeys in Hawaiian shirts, monkeys in sailor hats, with frozen smiles and funny faces. It was all a little weird, Swenson thought, until the 25-year-old Florida salesman bought his own monkey avatar. He had joined the Bored Ape Yacht Club, a website selling NFT-linked avatars. The site launched on April 30 and put 10,000 images of primates up for sale. Each avatar, with a cartoon aesthetic and unique characteristics, went on the market for around $200. They disappeared within a day. Most users bought several to resell or exchange them. Today they can only be purchased second-hand on the Open Sea platform, and the cheapest one goes for about $45,000. While the rarest apes reach astronomical figures, more common specimens are more readily available. In a way, they are like baseball cards, only with a lot more money at stake.
Swenson has two Bored Apes, two Bored Ape Kennels, some Goatz, some Pudgy Penguins, some Alien Boys… These are all part of different NFT collections. Just as there were once soccer and Disney movie stickers at a newsstand, there are NFT collections of all kinds on the internet. The Bored Apes are the latest to catch on. The first, and most successful, were the CryptoPunks. One of these eight-bit images sold at Christie’s last May for nearly $17 million.
So why do people pay such exorbitant amounts? “From an artistic point of view, I would say they are a piece of crap,” stated Guadamuz bluntly. “But the value of the CryptoPunks is that they were the first.” De Filippi agrees with him, while recognizing their simplicity and tracing an avant-garde lineage. “It’s like [Marcel] Duchamp, who was the first to create ready-made works [everyday objects that were transformed into art only through their context]. That’s why his works have value, for being pioneering.”
The first rule of Bored Ape Yacht Club is simple: monkey see, monkey do. “Before I joined I barely had any followers on Twitter, now I have a couple thousand,” Swenson proudly confessed. The social component of NFT communities is important to collectors, as gaining status and making noise about your collectibles can drive up the price. Essentially, what makes you cooler sometimes makes you richer, too.
There are no yachts or monkeys, but the Bored Ape Yacht Club really functions as a social club. “When you buy a primate you join a community,” explained Swenson, who also founded the Bored Ape Gazette, the newspaper of record for this community. Stephenson confirmed that there is a large component of social psychology in the rise of these collectibles. “There’s definitely a fun, even childlike, feel to collecting NFTs,” he said. “And showing them to your friends, collecting the rare ones…is definitely part of the appeal.”
This expert believes that the success of NFT collectibles depends on what is now known as the attention economy. Stephenson’s own profile picture on Twitter is a monkey with a funny face, which means it’s easy to recognize him as one of the 10,000 avatars of the Bored Ape Yacht Club. It was a gift: “That’s why he has a birthday hat.” Stephenson, like many others, has joined the party. And it’s one that seems far from over.
All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster
People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.
The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.
Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.
The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.
What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?
It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.
Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?
|Total doses distributed to Ireland||Total doses administered in Ireland|
In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.
This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.
Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.
The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.
What about the Omicron threat?
While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.
Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.
What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?
Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.
This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.
The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.
It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.
Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare
A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.
The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.
The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.
Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.
What areas will be worst hit and what is closing?
Just how serious is Storm Barra?
Storm Barra is set to hit Ireland fully on Tuesday morning, with Met Éireann warning that the severe weather could pose a threat to life.
The storm will rapidly deepen over the west and south coast on Monday evening, bringing very strong winds and heavy rain on Tuesday and into Wednesday.
Met Éireann have also warned that there is a risk of snow, as well as coastal flooding, due to the combination of high waves, storm surges and high tide.
Southwesterly winds, which will later veer northwesterly, will reach mean speeds in excess of 80 km/h.
Severe or damaging gusts may reach speeds in excess of 130km/h.
Power and travel may be disrupted across the country.
What are the areas most affected?
There is a status red wind warning in place for counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. Cork and Kerry’s warning starts at 6am on Tuesday and lasts until 9pm that evening.
Clare will be under a red alert from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday.
Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Dublin, Louth, Wicklow and Meath are also under an orange wind warning.
However, Met Éireann have advised that there is a strong possibility that the status orange alerts will escalate to status red.
A red marine storm warning will also be in effect for Irish coastal waters from north Mayo to Cork city.
The rest of the country will be under a status yellow wind and rain warning, with Met Éireann saying that heavy rain may result in surface flooding.
There is also a risk of snow over the entire country, and flooding in coastal areas.
Is it okay to go out in the storm?
People in the affected areas are being advised to avoid all unnecessary journeys, meaning you should stay indoors if possible.
People on motorbikes, cyclists, and pedestrians should take extra care if they have to travel, and they should avoid coastal areas.
Motorists are also advised to be more wary while driving, and to look out for fallen trees and debris on the road.
The charity Alone urged older people to take extra care and called on members of the public to “check in with their older neighbours and relatives and assist them if they need to travel to the local shop, post office or medical appointments during the bad weather”.
What has been cancelled or closed?
The Department of Education, which oversees primary and secondary schools, has advised schools in red and orange alert counties to close.
The Department of Higher Education, which governs colleges, universities and further education institutes, has issued a similar statement, saying education institutions in red and orange alert counties should close also.
Creches, early learning and school-age childcare services in the 12 counties should not open tomorrow, according to the Department of Children. Services that close will receive Force Majeure funding, according to the department.
Bus Éireann services in Co Cork and Co Kerry will be suspended for the full day. Services in Co Clare will be suspended from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday. This cancellation will also apply to all routes operating into or out of the status red warning area including Expressway Route 51.
Some hospital appointments have been cancelled, and Covid-19 testing and vaccination centres in status red and orange counties have also been forced to close due to the storm. A list of the affected health services can be found here. The National Ambulance Service will prioritise emergency calls during this weather event but is urging the general public to think carefully before calling 999/112.
The Courts Service has also confirmed that all sittings in red alert counties have been cancelled.
The Department of Local Government said a large number of national parks and reserves including Killarney National Park and Muckross House would close on Tuesday and Wednesday. Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow will close from 8am until 1pm on Tuesday.
Aldi has also said its stores in Cork and Kerry will be closed all day Tuesday, and their Clare stores will shut at 3pm on Tuesday.
Lidl and Tesco stores in Cork and Kerry will also be closed all day.
How long is the storm expected to last?
According to Met Éireann, Storm Barra will gradually clear Ireland later on Wednesday and winds will slowly ease, with a more settled few days to end the week.
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