Might Just Break the Bank

I wrote on this subject recently but then overlooked an important point which might be decisive to understanding the subject.

The meaning of money just might be on the brink of a disaster.

Hundreds of years ago people figured out that it was too difficult and complicated to pay for a cow with tens of thousands of peas. Out of that came metal coins worth their value as metal. Finally came what we still use successfully today –various currencies –dollars, pounds and now euros – which governments recognize and accept at stipulated values.

NOW so-called Bitcoins have been CREATED and on their own have multiplied in value simply because their issuers have promised they will always be limited in number and therefore hard to get. Just because a cow turd may be hard to get does not change even its smell, much less its value!

Bitcoin is designed so that there will allegedly never be more than x number of coins issued. Artificial rareness is intended to create a premium over any underlying value – and, surprisingly, has succeeded amazingly.

When something with a unique and intrinsic value – say a Rembrandt painting – gets older and rarer, its price WILL rise because demand for unique, rare and irreproducible objects grows faster than the fixed number of such objects. So, the bitcoin ‘evil genius’ appears to be that simply if an object is in limited supply, its value also will automatically rise.

BUT why would/should a canvas with nothing on it change in value at all?

A Bitcoin is truly just a canvas with nothing on it.

Consequently, any increase in the value of such a canvas can only be based on pure imagination, hope and illusion.


Have we gone NUTS?


One Dirty Word


“COVID” has become a shorthand word for what is causing ALL of today’s problems – and thus is preventing us from recognizing those problems and addressing them appropriately and directly.

I have been sensing this for some time and a sudden trip this week to see my older sister in Atlanta provided ample supporting evidence.

Getting from Bangor to Atlanta and back in three days is no ‘piece of cake’ under the best of circumstances. One’s only choice is Delta, which monopolizes the route – and boy, do they abuse that monopoly!

It takes the better part of a day each way. My wife and are both 90 so we opted to splurge and go first class. In round numbers it cost us together $4000.

And it was the trip from HELL! It was worth it to see my sister, and I would do it again despite what I know now. But I can’t help thinking that, 16 months in, COVID isn’t really to blame for the suffering we endured in Delta’s hands.

My seat in first class did NOT work at all – it could not be moved in any direction, so I spent the duration of that leg in the upright position, much to the detriment of my back – and my mood.  The crew was very nice BUT helpless.

That is when we began to hear “COVID” this and “COVID” that. “COVID” somehow precluded Delta from repairing my seat before selling it to me. “COVID” was at fault when we were left stranded at the gate, because the airline is short-handed after laying off people who, given a year to reflect on the experience of working for Delta, are electing to not come back in droves.

COVID was plenty bad enough before it came the bogeyman behind all manner of human failings.

Now, it is THE excuse for shrugging off the other real problems that are plaguing us at the same time.

The lesson in all this is that if one hasn’t figured out how to make a company run in the COVID world, perhaps they have no business being in business at all.  We cannot ignore COVID, but neither can we ignore the other, everyday problems that still exist.

Perhaps this illuminates the underlying problem of a society that increasingly cannot stand itself?

Rules of the Road

Vaccines are the simple equivalent of “Stop” signs.

The current ‘debate’ about the COVID vaccine has become an absurd argument about “freedom.”

Vaccine hesitancy is real and is, in many cases, understandable — many people of color distrust a medical community that has alternately exploited and neglected them; others may simply distrust medications still operating under emergency authorizations, or be particularly susceptible to side effects, or have other medically-based qualms.

Those are valid subjects for debate among people and policymakers alike, but you’re not likely to hear them. Instead, we are relentlessly subjected to insane arguments equating vaccination efforts to the Holocaust, with proponents labelled “brownshirts” and opponents screaming about their freedom to resist masks, vaccinations, or any other considerations of the greater public health.

 The emergence of the “delta” variant now sweeping this country and many others shows how quickly the course of a pandemic can shift. The longer we let the virus persist, the more likely it is to mutate into something much more deadly. It wasn’t the initial “wave” of influenza in 1918 that killed so many people – it was the second and third waves that followed. We have just finished our first wave.

The 40 percent of the country not yet fully inoculated, therefore, are defining their freedom as the right to be free to put the rest of us at real risk!

So, we are at an impasse between democratic FREEDOM and public SAFETY.

But the right of government – at all levels – to prioritize safety over freedom is virtually UNCHALLENGED in every other area. Stop signs, red lights and speed limits on our highways impede the freedom of individual drivers to protect EVERYBODY.  Prescriptions for certain drugs and building codes are two other examples where safety trumps absolute freedom.  

The rules of the road for drivers recognize a trade-off in everyone’s interest – and generate hardly a whiff of disagreement.

The rules of the road for pandemics should be just the same. REQUIRING people to get vaccinated –to protect themselves and all others—is essentially no more intrusive to OUR FREEDOMS than requiring people to observe and obey traffic laws.

The simple scientific fact is that to truly eliminate COVID-19, we have to prevent it the opportunity to replicate and mutate.  That happens when we reach the “herd immunity” tipping point where a substantial majority of ALL people have been immunized.

But so many people are resisting the vaccine –for whatever reason– that now appears to be impossible.

That is where the role of government comes into play.

The Congress should pass a law requiring EVERYONE to promptly get a FREE vaccination OR be liable for a $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail.

There may be a moment or two of legal screeching but trust my Harvard Law School education that the howls of protest will end quickly. The government exists for the express purpose of protecting all Americans, and vaccine mandates fall squarely within its authority.  The phony excuses and protestations to the contrary are just plain baloney.

So, let’s go full speed ahead and mandate vaccinations for all U.S. residents. And please continue stop at red lights – freedom is important, but so is life.

When Buildings Fall

It’s time for serious questions – and actions.

VERY FEW tall buildings have collapsed in this country in the last 100 years. While we’ve had our share of elevated walkways, snow-bombarded roofs, balconies and other pieces of buildings fall, the wholesale collapse of a building without warning, in the dead of night, is firmly in the category of things we think “can’t happen here.”

Until it does.

That the tragedy in Surfside, Florida is exceedingly rare, while no comfort to the victims or their families, does suggest the design, engineering and construction processes for multi-story dwellings have been solid, and maintenance regimes well administered, since Louis Sullivan first reached for the sky in St. Louis to create the Wainwright Building in 1891.

The disaster reminds us that past is not prologue. We should be paying close attention and asking a lot of questions, because millions of us spend many hours every year in tall buildings and simply give it ZERO thought.

That being the case, what should we be on the lookout for?

Perhaps tall buildings should be inspected every 10 or 20 years (instead of the common standard of 40 years). Such reports should be made public and, taking a cue from the wildly successful restaurant grading system now used virtually everywhere, a one-page, color-coded summary report should be printed and displayed at the front entrance. One imagines using green if the report is truly CLEAN, yellow if there is work that should done soon and RED if there are problems requiring immediate attention.

Color signage should cause the owners and their employees to WORK HARD and FAST to get a green sign, because public notice of a building’s sub-par condition would make it more difficult to sell, sublet, or Airbnb units in such buildings. The impetus to avoid massive costs is understandable, even as the consequences are readily underestimated. Right now, such topics rarely see the light of day, discussed only in meetings of the condo board or among that subset of residents that pays attention to the condo board.

COLOR coding would go a long way to solving an incipient problem by creating an immediate incentive TO DO SOMETHING!

That would be a BIG first step in the right direction for everybody.

A Simple Experiment

Pick Two People at Random — One Red, One Blue.

The way to start is to pick, as randomly as you can, two people you can identify as having conflicting political perspectives – one conservative and one liberal. Ask them to join you for an hour to engage in a simple experiment to save democracy.

(Ironically, “saving” American democracy is the only common ground many liberals and conservatives share, although their prescriptions for doing so vary widely.)

Ask them to help identify a third person, sort of in the middle, neither fiercely ideological nor deeply engaged. Invite that person to join your experiment.

After that, get all the parties to agree to forget the political labels as you begin to have a real conversation about several questions you hope to discuss calmly and quietly.

The questions are:

Masks do a mediocre job of protecting you from disease but are quite effective at stopping a sick person from spreading an infection to others. Why are so many people resistant to wearing them?

Does the American political system protect your rights and privileges, or is it designed to benefit others? Why?

When you discuss these questions be sure to get each person speak at least once.

Your job as the promoter of this process is to try, as best you can, to keep things moving and on track.

You should NOT provoke controversy, but you should promote candor.

Not every meeting will be earth-shattering, but you may learn some interesting things.

And lastly, hopefully, you will send me some feedback on what take away you find?