It turns out that I was a pretty good father

My daughter is 32 now but at least she now remembers Father’s Day. She remembers Mother’s Day now too, perhaps because it’s on her Google Calendar by default. For years she ignored these Hallmark holidays (as my wife calls them). I didn’t give her a hard time about it. It’s nice though that after all these years she’s picked up the habit.

She usually sends me a note on Discord on Father’s Day because that’s what her generation does. They don’t enrich Hallmark. They just send a chat message asynchronously. Discord is convenient. For me, its main purpose is to let me know she’s alive. I look for the little green dot next to her name in the app. Discord goes with her everywhere so it’s the easiest way to get a hold of her. Use the telephone? So 20th century!

And that’s fine by me. When she first went to college, there was no Discord and she didn’t even have a phone so there was no way to really know if she was alive. It drove me crazy, even though she was 20 at the time. (She went to two years of community college.) After a week of not hearing from her I called her roommate. That’s how I found out she hadn’t been mugged in some back alley in Richmond, Virginia, where she went to school. She seemed a little miffed, like I didn’t trust her. Okay, I confess to having some boundary issues. It’s always hard to let go. I had been steering her life for two decades.

Now she’s hardly ever offline. I’d have to look up her cellphone number because we never call it. And I’ve stopped worrying if she’s dead or alive. We chat formally once a month on Discord in a video call, and informally during the month. She may be 32, but she still relies on me for ad hoc advice. She’s thinking of a big career move, basically taking a job similar to what she does now in Portland, Maine. (She’s lives in the DC suburbs.) She got dueling job offers from two counties. I helpfully examined the proposals and placed my analysis in a spreadsheet. It made sense to me. A spreadsheet made it easy to compare offers. She appreciated my help but found my using a spreadsheet humorous. Apparently, it’s a very Dad thing to do.

We won’t have to worry about babysitting any grandchild. She eventually figured out that she is asexual. This means she is not drawn to either sex. The idea of having a baby appalls her. She does have a cat, which is not surprising as she grew up with cats. That’s as close as she is likely to be to having a child. We call her cat Mimi our grand kitty. The two kitties we have are sort of like aunts to our grand kitty. It’s unlikely they will ever meet.

While she is unlikely to call us out for special kudos on these holidays, at least she remembers them. It’s also nice to know that we didn’t suck as parents. She does see a therapist and maybe that’s due to being an only child. Or perhaps it’s related to being a 911 operator. It can be a very stressful job at times and the counseling is a free perk.

But occasionally ad-hoc complements arrive. A couple of years back I got one when she remembered I got her vaccinated for the Human Papilloma virus. The vaccine was new at the time and she couldn’t have been more than fifteen, but when I took her for her physical I asked her pediatrician to give her the shot. Actually it was two shots. The virus is generally transmitted sexually, so that’s unlikely to happen to her, but you never know. She could be raped, which happens to many women. While it would definitely be a traumatic episode, she probably wouldn’t have to worry about getting the virus from her rapist. Anyhow, when she remembered talking with her physician, it triggered the thought, “Gosh, Dad was certainly thinking ahead. He really loves me!”

It wasn’t a hard decision for me. She was likely to be sexually active during her life. The shot was a way of preventing her from ever getting the virus, which is a small but hardly minute risk for women, as it can cause cervical cancer among other things. I also remember getting her a Hepatitis B vaccine, also delivered in a couple of doses, something not required but it seemed like a good thing to do. She’d likely have to do some foreign travel to get it, but it can be acquired within the United States.

One of the most important things I did as her parent was to get her a real sex education. No, not the stuff you might get in school, which is superficial and required parental consent even for that. That wasn’t good enough. I remember the laughable one-day sex education “course” I got from a priest at our parochial school. My parents tried to talk about it once and utterly failed. What I learned about sex academically came mainly from reading books at the public library. The information was definitely useful, but not enough. Equally important is the emotional aspects of having sex. There I got zero help and like most Americans had to stumble through it.

Her mother didn’t believe in church, but I wanted her to experience it, so we started attending a local Unitarian Universalist church. There she went to Sunday school while I attended services. After a couple of years, I learned about their Our Whole Lives course. I enrolled her in it. (You can too. You don’t have to be a UU to enroll your kid in the class. Just call your local UU church’s director of religious education. It’s likely free too. Also, it’s not just for kids. How we are as sexual creatures changes with age. So at any age, it’s useful.) It’s the kind of sex education I never got. I didn’t want her to be ignorant and I wanted it to be realistic and grounded. The UU church’s OWL course is likely one of just a handful of courses you can get in the United States that teaches actually useful and comprehensive sex education, including contraception, and sex’s invariable emotional aspects. She is grateful that I enrolled her. She met a friend there that remains perhaps her best friend to this day.

In truth, I didn’t mind being her father. I quite enjoyed it, overall. Certainly there were great highs and great lows too, but not many of them. My childhood was rife with physical and emotional violence meted out by my mom. I made sure none of that happened in her life.

Maybe it would have been helpful for her to have a sibling. One child though was plenty for my wife and me. But overall she was an interesting child from the start. Both of us parents were grounded and pretty intellectual. We did our best to expose her to the complexity of the real world and to fill her life with an appreciation for reading, culture and the arts. We took her to many a Broadway show. We tried not to sugar coat life, while also not making it look too bleak. I think we succeeded.

Parenting is an awesome responsibility, but it needn’t be taken too seriously. You can try to enjoy it. We were plentiful with the hugs and complements. We were protective but not smothering. A few times where she veered too off course we intervened and moved her toward the center. At 32, she remains interesting, grounded and a fun person to know not just our daughter.

So thanks dear for your Father’s Day best wishes. But really, I enjoyed being your father. It was perhaps the greatest privilege in my life. I’m glad to know I didn’t suck and it sounds like I did a pretty good job.

It’s a great time to take nervous nellie investors to the cleaners

It’s often said that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. So is it foolish to buy into the stock market right now?

Yesterday’s market suggests it’s a foolish time to buy anything. After yesterday, the S&P 500 is in official bear market territory. The DJIA briefly dropped more than a thousand points before ending down more than 800 points. All this followed a lousy week last week. Most of us in the market must either grin and bear it or try to cut our losses by selling.

By buying now, you are betting that markets will recover and that you can ride it out until this happens. You are also betting that whatever you are buying will be worth more then and there won’t be some fundamental shift in the world economy. But it definitely feels riskier investing now because there may be fundamental market forces at work that we haven’t seen before. We live in turbulent times that are likely to continue to get more turbulent. It may be that inflation is one of the few things you will be able to bet will keep on happening.

What’s basically going on is panic. Markets don’t deal well with uncertainty. That’s because markets on a daily basis reflect the consensus of those who feel the need to trade on a particular day. Unsurprisingly, this is often those who figure they will need the money in their investments in the short term, rather than the long term. When calm returns to the market, these same people move from panic mode to greed mode. Essentially, your portfolio is being held hostage by the nervous nellies out there. It’s a herd mentality that you can’t stop. But if you are nervy enough, you are likely to eventually come out ahead if you can hang in there and make these dynamics work to your profit.

When someone sells at a loss, someone else is buying. If no one buys what you have to sell, your asset becomes non-fungible. This is generally not a problem with stocks and bonds though: the seller just keeps reducing their asking price until someone bites. A market index becomes an overall fear index. The faster it goes lower, the greater the fear. The faster it rises, the greater the optimism.

A stock’s price reflects a current assessment of its value based principally on nervous nellie investors. It isn’t necessarily correlated with its actual value. A company’s actual value should be assessed using criteria like these:

  • Does this company have a unique niche in the market that makes it relatively immune from competition?
  • Is it well managed?
  • It is primed to rise quickly if certain criteria are met? If so, it might be worth the risk of an investment on the hopes of greater future gain.
  • Does the company have a history of producing profits both in good times and bad?
  • Does the company treat its employees well, recognizing that good employees make for good company?
  • Is the company well capitalized so it can endure during market downturns?
  • Is the company investing money wisely so it can be bring future products and services to market that will meet anticipated future needs?
  • Does the company show a history of being agile, so it can adapt flexibly to changing markets?
  • Does the company have assets that are now historically undervalued but are in demand and of quality?

If you see companies that meet these criteria, I’d argue that this is a great time to buy them up.

I’m no Warren Buffet, so I won’t give any particular stock tips. I don’t claim to be smart enough to pick these companies, mainly due to lack of interest. But I can sense that certain forms of asset look like great investments. REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), for example. Everyone needs a place to live. Internet services. Clean energy suppliers. Electric car manufacturers.

But I do know we made most of our money inadvertently by buying systematically in good times and bad. I can also report that so far no market downturn has lasted forever. We bought into a lot of funds when they were dirt cheap during the Great Recession, and were still a bargain in the years that followed. By regularly balancing our portfolio, we captured a lot of these appreciated assets and put them into cash reserves. So far my pension is mainly keeping us from spending that cash. But should we need it, there’s a healthy cash reserve that should see us through any longer term market declines.

The advantage of being a long term investor rather than a trader is that you use these market downturns to buy good assets at a discount. It’s the traders/nervous nellies whose profits you can expect to reap in time during these times.

I say take them to the cleaners. Someone’s going to, so if you have the money, it might as well be you.

No good options for controlling inflation

Americans are pissed about inflation and who can blame them?

It’s good news for Republicans, in a way, because voters tend to vent their economic anxieties at the polls. So no one will be surprised if they retake Congress in November, especially after all their recent gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts.

To control inflation though they would have to do a lot of non-Republican stuff like, say, break up the companies that control a lot of these markets due to lack of competition: think oil, meat processing and telecommunication services (like Comcast). In previous (mostly Republican) administrations, they passed over most anti-trust laws that would have prevented this.

In reality there’s not much else that can be done. Oh, they’ll want to open more federal lands to oil leasing, but oil companies will sit on their hands. Why should they drill for more oil when it’s chancy and they can enjoy record profits by simply constricting supply?

But also, there’s little anything any government can do to fix the problem because it’s not a national problem; it’s an international one. If you keep up on the news, you’ll discover people everywhere are experiencing the same thing; in fact it tends to be worse elsewhere else. In many third world countries, inflation means cutting meals or starving: they can’t afford the price of regular commodities. Everyone affected wants some sort of magic cure or, failing that, to shift the costs on someone else. Inflation and the pandemic have been causing a lot of global civil unrest. Global climate change is contributing to the problem as it interferes with growing patterns.

President Nixon tried wage and price controls, which artificially kept inflation in check for a while, then quickly zoomed up when controls were lifted. What most people want though is to have their cake and eat it too: check inflation and have the benefits of a fast growing economy. Supply bottlenecks, particularly from overseas where we get most of our goods, affects everyone. We can’t control that the Chinese government decided to shut down Shanghai for two months to control the pandemic. So prices go up and those who can’t afford the higher prices do without. Sometimes this amounts to malnutrition and starvation.

That’s basically the Federal Reserve’s approach to controlling inflation. Their main tool is to control interest rates and lately they’ve been going up. Applied long enough this should reduce inflation, but it’s a little like breaking legs of random people on the street in an attempt to control the problem of too many pedestrians. The Fed tries to do it as painlessly as possible, but it’s not a painless process. Pain is the whole point. If there is no pain, no easing of demand, then inflation continues to soar.

It’s just that a lot of things you really can’t do without. Like housing, for example. Except, yes, you can do without housing; you can join the growing ranks of the unhoused. By adding incredible amounts of stress to a lot of people’s lives, basically by impoverishing them, you cut demand and control inflation. You also dash a lot of other dreams, or at least defer them, such as buying a home.

President Biden is, of course, doing what he can. But it’s all at the edges because in reality there’s not much a president can do. It amounts to a lot of wishful thinking and hope. Open up some more oil leases and maybe oil companies will start drilling. But even if they do, bringing this new oil on the market will take years. Lately, he ended temporarily tariffs on solar panels. This will make it cheaper to set up solar systems and if more people move toward electric cars, maybe cut demand for gasoline too. But don’t expect it to do much before the midterms.

Changing policy in a meaningful way requires changing the law. It requires Congress to find consensus and to work in the national interest. There’s little of that going on now and you can expect less of it after November as our political polarization deepens some more. Which means that government will only become more ineffectual, making it easier for authoritarians to make their case. After all, as Trump told us, only he can fix it. Only of course he didn’t because the President of the United States is not God.

So any solution to inflation is likely long term at best. Real solutions require close international cooperation and tackling systemic issues like climate change. One thing I can say for certain though is that putting Republicans in charge of Congress next year won’t do a damned thing to make it better.

Our national mental health crisis is in full display at your local Emergency Department

My wife volunteers one day a week at our local hospital’s emergency department. During the worst of the covid-19 pandemic she was told to stay home, but for the last six months or so she’s been invited back. She’s heavily gloved and double masked and of course has all her shots and boosters. She mostly cleans bays in the E.D. and tries to lower stress by offering patients snacks and drinks.

When she was allowed back there were still a lot of covid-19 cases coming in. There are procedures to isolate these patients in special rooms. My wife can’t clean these rooms. A special technician in something like a spacesuit comes in and uses a large machine to shine ultraviolet light all over the place. This kills the virus better than wiping down surfaces.

There’s still a lot of covid-19 out there, but it’s been around long enough where most cases don’t require hospitalization or a trip to the emergency room. Most days though when she is there the place is bursting to overflow. What she’s been seeing most of this year are people having mental health crises.

In better days, these people would go into a local psychiatrist ward, but there’s no beds for them; they’re all taken. So they end up in the E.D. As my wife can attest, there are a lot of mentally struggling people out there.

In a recent case she related, an adult son took his mother to the E.R. because he couldn’t deal with her craziness. He just dropped her off; his mom was their problem now. Confused and disoriented, all the bays were full so she was placed on a gurney in the E.D. hallway. She was triaged as best they could handle her, but she decided she was going home. Dressed only in a hospital gown she made a beeline for the exit to be stopped by a security guard who was hastily called in.

Most of these patients “graduate” to a hospital room. That doesn’t mean they get much in the way of treatment, at least for their medical condition, but at least they can be effectively monitored. A staff psychiatrist might come by once a day, but everyone’s waiting for some bed to open up somewhere in a facility that can treat these people. Naturally, many of these people are poor, underinsured and in some cases, even here in Massachusetts, uninsured.

Nationwide, it’s adolescents though who are disproportionately affected. Suicide is now the second cause of death among adolescents. Parents are left holding the bag trying to keep their kids functional while waiting months for a therapist, which often they cannot afford. Ending up in an E.D. is something of an act of desperation, but an E.D. visit can easily become a traumatic episode to a child who is already having problems coping with life.

It’s pretty clear that, at best, the pandemic made things worse. For many adolescents, a healthy self-image comes from relationships occurring mostly at school. That was suddenly taken away with classes held online. Making it back after months online trying to get an education didn’t help much either. It wasn’t the same. There were new protocols and masks. For many, the pandemic turned their whole lives upside down. It was a huge burden placed on all the other burdens that come with adolescence.

I might well have had a mental health crisis too when I was a teen had I gone through what teens today are going through. I suspect it would have helped that I am naturally introverted, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need some regular company other than my wife and cats. One thing I didn’t have to worry about were school shootings. Nuclear war was a theoretical but existential threat. Worrying about sudden death from some crazed gunman, largely unprotected by a society that placed the rights of gun owners over the lives of kids probably would have been enough of a trigger.

We live in a crazy, topsy turvy world now. In some ways it strikes me that it’s entirely logical that so many teenagers can’t keep it together. They face myriad stresses I never had to face. My biggest concerns were overcoming my shyness so I could get a date and pimple control.

I can keep it together today because I’m introverted and relatively isolated. I have my wife as my primary company and a supportive community of seniors nearby. I don’t have to struggle to raise a child anymore; she’s 32. I don’t have to worry about rent increases and soaring food costs. I find inflation somewhat concerning but we have the assets to see this through.

But we are the exception. Most people are struggling, anxious and nervous, and this is inculcating a general public mental health crisis. There is too much personal and global risk and it affects almost all of us. We’re becoming unmoored as a society. It seems like this mental health crisis is a harbinger.

I don’t know how my wife continues to keep volunteering at the E.D. It’s one of the last places I would volunteer. I already know that my capacity for dealing with this kind of stress is not large. She reports the staff there is stressed too and burned out. It’s been a true hell of a last few years, but emergency departments are usually challenging places to work. There’s just little to no downtime there these days.

I can already sense that regardless of how much the pandemic wanes over the next year, our local E.D. will be mostly the same a year from now, and about a third of the people in it will be trying to cope with a mental health crisis in a place not really equipped to deal with the depth and breadth of the problem.

Who needs Netflix? I’ve got a PBS Passport

Streaming content is getting awfully pricey. It used to be that if you had HBO or Showtime you felt set. But now there are so many streaming options you feel like you need to belong to many of them to get the content you need.

I mean, how can you miss Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Time to pony up $9.99 per month for Paramount+. And that’s just the beginning. Can I survive without Netflix? How can I survive without Discovery Plus? (I can, but my wife can’t.) Or BritBox? No one streaming service has it all though and most of us aren’t rich enough to subscribe to all of them.

I’ve been trying to keep my streaming bills relatively low. I still have Netflix but at $15.49/month now it’s getting too pricey. I may give it the heave ho after I finish Stranger Things: Season 4 but maybe I’ll hang around for the next season of The Crown. I just don’t need that much entertainment. Considering how much I watch on Netflix (not a whole lot) and how the quality of a lot of their shows seems at least strained if not wholly lacking, it doesn’t seem worth paying for. What I really don’t want though are commercials. And now Netflix is talking about adding commercials for a lower monthly price to keep from bleeding customers.

I often wish I could just stream commercial free for free. That’s doesn’t appear to be an option unless I want to do something illegal, like download pirated videos.

But there are some free or low cost options out there. For me, lately my favorite service is PBS Passport, which I get through donating to New England Public Media.

You don’t need to pay to stream PBS content. Just download the app or watch it on their website. But you only get the recent stuff for free. If you want their full streaming library, they (or rather, your local PBS/NPR station) wants a donation. As a practical matter though, the PBS Passport is something of a steal. With it you get full access to their whole platform for cheap, for as little as a $60/year donation, at least with my local provider, New England Public Media. With it, you can get it all. In addition, you can support arguably great TV, like Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theater).

Don’t laugh because you think PBS is lame! If you haven’t checked out PBS, you’re missing some great stuff. Downton Abbey was originally on Masterpiece and can be found on their service. You can see lots of mostly British dramas on Masterpiece or related shows, most of which are exceptionally well done.

I remember back in the 1970s I could watch I Claudius on PBS, which is where I first encountered this actor named Patrick Stewart, not to mention Derek Jacobi. That’s about the same time Upstairs, Downstairs was broadcast, also on PBS. PBS broadcasted some arguably revolutionary stuff. Not only could you get Sesame Street, but Monty Python’s Flying Circus too. My mom strongly disapproved of the show but we were too old for her to forbid us from watching it. Besides, it must be good for us as it was public TV!

I can’t find these really old shows like Upstairs, Downstairs on their service. Arguably there’s a lot of dreck on PBS too, but some of us like this “dreck”. It’s actually pretty addicting and it has shows you can watch for free that are as good as any on Discovery Plus. I love documentaries. Frontline is always topical and on top of the latest stories with a deep and thoughtful dive into a topic. Nova is the premier science show on TV. You can learn to find your roots on Find Your Roots. The PBS News Hour gives you real, unbiased and in-depth news, which is hard to find elsewhere. For those of us who appreciate the arts, Great Performances is typically great, but if not into classical music or theater you can watch Austin City Limits or a bunch of related shows too.

But PBS’s Masterpiece collection is where I usually end up. Most lately I’ve been watching Poldark. There’s five seasons (so far) of content there to enjoy. Pretty much anything in a Masterpiece series is worth watching, and Poldark sure is.

Before Poldark though I was watching Sanditon, based on Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel. Masterpiece has mostly British produced shows, so it’s a bit like watching BritBox. Just before watching Sanditon, I had been watching Bridgerton on Netflix. It didn’t take more than two episodes of Sanditon before I realized it was just as good as Bridgerton, classily done but with not quite as high a budget. Unlike Bridgerton, you can see horse poop in the streets in Sanditon.

Moreover, Sanditon covers the same time period: the 1810s or so, and it’s principally a romance too. But Sanditon has more of a plot and is more authentic to the time. It also gets into some adult topics you wouldn’t expect from Jane Austen like incest and slavery. Bridgerton gives us a London that never actually existed where somehow Queen Charlotte is a lady of color and a prominent duke is Black. In Sanditon, we also get a prominent Black character, but she’s the only one in town (at least in the first season) and an heiress to boot. Sanditon is much more authentic to the time and the characters are arguably at least as interesting as those in Bridgerton. Yet hardly anyone is watching Sanditon and everyone is watching Bridgerton. It makes no sense.

There are a couple of streaming services that you can often get for free courtesy of your public library. If you live in Massachusetts (I do) you can get a virtual Boston Public Library card and use it to stream Hoopla for free, which has lots of shows and movies you can watch. No, it’s not Netflix and its selection is more literate and artsy, but, hey, it’s free! I can also access similar content through my local public library, which offers Kanopy. It’s funded by my tax dollars. Typically, like a book, you have to virtually check out the video and can’t watch another one until you check it back in. But you can’t beat the price and convenience.

For me though a PBS Passport more than suffices. So maybe it’s time to watch the latest episode of Call the Midwife (also on PBS, and an amazingly well acted show) and spend $60 a year for a PBS Passport instead of $15.49 a month for Netflix. All this and you get to keep public broadcasting on the air too. You’ll probably quickly find you don’t miss all those other streaming services, and it’s quite a bargain.

Our nation’s biggest political mistake

The missus and me have been watching Showtime’s The First Lady. It’s a pretty good series and features three first ladies, at least in this season: Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michele Obama. All were groundbreaking in their own ways. Betty Ford though was an unusual choice. Her husband Gerald Ford became our only unelected president and he failed to win the 1976 election, which brought in Jimmy Carter instead.

Betty Ford was definitely an unusual first lady. She suffered from alcoholism and later famously founded the Betty Ford Center. She also had breast cancer and underwent a partial mastectomy, which she did very publicly, to the consternation of the White House. Betty (played by Michele Pfeiffer) spoke her mind.

There’s a scene in the series though that stood out to me. Not long after Jerry becomes president, he famously pardons his predecessor Richard Nixon for his Watergate-related crimes. As depicted in the series though, Jerry completely blindsides Betty on his decision: she finds out about it while watching him on TV.

She icily confronts him about it later when they retire. Nixon, she tells him, is a bad man and needed to be prosecuted. Jerry says the country needed to heal and it was impossible to get anything done unless he made the issue go away. He saw the pardon in the nation’s interest.

Betty was right and Ford’s decision famously cost him the 1976 election. Americans felt betrayed by Nixon and overwhelmingly wanted him brought to justice and put in prison. Ford’s pardon obviated all that. Watching it in 2022, it reminded me that we are still living with Ford’s catastrophic mistake.

That’s because it set a precedent, let alone spurred rumors that there was a secret deal between Nixon and Ford that Nixon would nominate him for vice president if he would pardon him when he was president. Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew resigned due to corruption during his time as Governor of Maryland. (Agnew, BTW, got off relatively light: a $10,000 fine and three years of unsupervised probation.)

I seriously doubt Donald Trump could ever have been nominated, less elected, if Nixon had been prosecuted. Maybe he would have gotten a relatively good deal from the courts like Agnew got, but at least he would have been held accountable by the law. Future seekers of our nation’s highest office would have looked at what happened to Nixon and think, “I’m not going to make his mistake.”

But so far anyhow Donald Trump has escaped consequences for his disastrous presidency. He survived two impeachment conviction votes because his party was spineless enough to put party above country. It’s absolutely clear that had Nixon been impeached, he would have been easily convicted and removed from office. Nixon just had the good sense to cut his losses by resigning.

The rule of law meant something in the 1970s. It doesn’t seem to mean that much anymore, particularly if you are granted a lot of political power.

Donald Trump was liberal in his use of executive power. He pardoned lots of his cronies and supporters, absolving them of paying any penalties for their unlawful acts, mostly on his behalf. Trump remains under investigation at both the federal and state levels, but he’s clearly going with a run-out-the-clock strategy. Our Attorney General Merrick Garland seems content to slow walk justice, working from the bottom up. Garland says upper level prosecutions will come in time if they are warranted. We’d be wise not to hold our breath.

Crimes by politicians seem to be the very last of the Justice Department’s priorities. In reality, it should be the other way around. Indeed, the Justice Department should arguably be a separate agency funded by Congress but overseen by the courts. If it’s accountable to the Executive, it’s susceptible to corruption, which is exactly how the department was managed during the Trump years.

Gerald Ford’s intentions in pardoning Nixon were likely noble. As I noted on his passing, Gerald Ford was a genuinely good person and likely our most decent president, something I don’t say lightly when it comes to Republicans. After leaving office, he and his rival Jimmy Carter became something of best friends, something hard to image today. Both men didn’t hold grudges and both were drawn to each other by suffering the shame of being one term presidents.

But his pardon of Richard Nixon remains a catastrophic mistake. The times we are living through today would likely be at least a whole lot less rocky if he had let the justice system work. Instead, our democracy is at the breaking point and our Justice Department’s inability to focus on what really matters is contributing greatly toward it.

Cryptocurrencies Achilles heel: trust

I seem to enjoy beating up on cryptocurrencies, despite owning a bit of it.

Volatility seems to be part of owning them as virtually all these currencies are way down from their most recent highs, more so than markets in general. To deal with all the volatility though, many of these currencies have offshoots called stablecoins. The idea of a stablecoin in that it should retain its value in relation to some other store, typically the U.S. dollar. This is supposed to allow easier trade of these currencies without the downside of its implicit volatility.

That’s the theory anyhow. Most of these so-called stablecoins are sort of living up to the promise, with some losing five percent or so compared to the U.S. dollar, but generally only for short periods of time. Some of these so-called coins put money in assets like gold, which I guess they figure is more stable than dollars, or at least more inflation resistant. The price of gold though tends to be pretty volatile, up in risky times, down in more secure times. Others “invest” in other cryptocurrencies, sort of like a crypto index fund. They hope that if one of these goes down some others will go up and counterbalance things. These assets though are mostly loaned out, which is how these coin creators make money. It needs to make sure there are enough real assets in cash to handle a run on the coin. It appears that many of them do this poorly. Anyhow, for sure they are not being monitored by the FDIC.

Then there is TerraUSD, which recently and spectacularly wiped out about $45B in investor assets. One dollar of TerraUSD is now worth about $.07, but it’s hard to unload it if you have it because its trading has largely been suspended. Since May 9, 2022 its value is no longer pegged to the U.S. dollar. Lots of people rushed in to own TerraUSD because it was guaranteeing a 20% return.

TerraUSD succeeded in maintaining its value for so long mainly by purchasing more of its non-stablecoin Luna whenever TerraUSD’s value slipped a bit, and pegging its value to that. It was a stablecoin by algorithm, which if investors knew about this, should by itself have been a red flag. Anyhow, they’ve been pretty much wiped out. The coin’s founder Do Kwan though doesn’t seem too upset and is working to create a new Terra stablecoin fork that isn’t pegged to the US dollar. Presumably his current investors won’t be stupid enough to trust this man again.

It’s hard to find a sure fire bet against inflation these days. The closest version though won’t be a stablecoin, but a U.S. Treasury I Bond. You can get a 9.63% return on an investment up to $10,000 a year, or $15,000 if you invest up to $5000 of your tax refund in this bond. That won’t hedge much of most people’s portfolio, but at least it’s guaranteed by the U.S. government.

TerraUSD’s value was guaranteed by nothing. It is essentially a Ponzi scheme. Anyhow, Do Kwon is being investigated by South Korean authorities. I’m betting most of his investors assets went into his pocket. I’m also betting not much of it is ultimately recovered and returned to investors.

Crypto investors are slowly discovering that crypto is mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. The smarter ones have left the market altogether, but certainly there are diehards in for the long haul. What crypto really needs is regulation. Unfortunately, regulation means tracking, less privacy and likely less return on these “investments”.

Crypto was invented to make the transfer of money seamless, private and quick. Regulation won’t make it seamless. It also won’t keep things private. And it’s likely to slow things down too, as if things weren’t already pretty slow trading these “investments”. Also, it costs money to trade crypto, either directly or indirectly. When I write someone a check, its full value is exchanged. You just have to wait a few days for the funds to clear.

So crypto needs to be tamed to work, but does it really work at all if it doesn’t achieve its goals? A cryptocurrency whose only value is some correlation between the cost in energy it took to produce it doesn’t seem valuable. As best I can tell, no one first buys, say, $100M in gold assets and then creates 100 million digital coins tied to this asset, and sells them at $1 each. But if someone did, is this really a cryptocurrency? It sounds like a share of an index fund whose ownership can be documented in a public blockchain server somewhere instead of a ledger in a brokerage house.

The U.S. dollar is backed up by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. You have to assume the country will not be going away and that its money supply will be at least reasonably well managed, but that’s a pretty safe bet. And since it’s a government in charge you can assume it has smart people, like the members of the Federal Reserve, continuously monitoring the financial world and taking steps (like it is doing now raising interest rates) when things go awry.

Who do you trust more, the U.S. government, despite its not stellar record on retaining the value of the dollar? Or Do Kwon? In some ways, inflation appears to be the cost of keeping money transfer moving at all.

Our banking system, despite its imperfections and the slowness by which is transfer assets, at least ensures accountability and, at least in theory, legitimacy of these transactions if they adhere to international banking laws. It sounds like a much safer way to transfer money than to trust in people like Do Kwon.

White replacement theory is so painfully dumb

In my last post, I noted that Trump famously said he likes the uneducated. I’m not surprised, since Trump is appallingly uneducated. But he can relate to them. But Republicans in general seem to prefer the uneducated because they will believe any sort of crap they throw out there.

White replacement theory is just the latest example. It was made tragically manifest Saturday with a shooting in Buffalo, New York by a white guy from Conklin, New York. Conklin is a stone’s throw from where I spent my formative years, in Endwell, near Binghamton. I remember our area as being painfully White, so much so that I don’t recall seeing my first Black person until I was in my teens.

It was less so last time I visited. But I have a feeling Conklin remains pretty lily White. Anyhow the alleged shooter was echoing the theory’s talking points by plenty of others in the G.O.P. including, most prominently, Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. The theory, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is that there is a conspiracy among elites to replace White people with people of color.

You notice that it’s always a conspiracy? It can’t happen as a result of natural forces; it must be some vast left wing conspiracy at work. Like Trump’s idea that China had a weapon to create hurricanes, it’s an idea so painfully dumb it actually makes my head hurt. It’s just laughable that anyone would actually believe this crap. But the shooter apparently did. He was so animated by it he allegedly killed ten Black people including a store security guard, and wounded three others. He pleaded not guilty, but he has a 180-page screed you can read if you got the stomach for it and, of course, for a while it was streamed live on Twitch from his helmet cam.

We know that skin color amounts to less than one percent of our DNA. So we are all fundamentally the same. White replacement theory makes about as much sense as a conspiracy than that blondes or pug-nosed people control the world. If someone came to me with the latter idea and they sincerely believed it, I would do my best to get them to see a mental health professional. The same is true with anyone who believes (fill in the blank) are engaged in a massive, hidden conspiracy to (fill in the blank).

These theories seem to be attractive because it’s a way to make sense of the nonsensical. It’s like believing that God is love and God is hate at the same time. Something has to bridge the divide if you are to maintain any semblance of sanity, so something laughable must be invented. There are no grand conspiracies. There is no Trilateral Commission. Trump lost the 2020 election too and it was likely the most secure national election of all time.

If you were concerned about White replacement though, a lot of what the Right is doing is counterproductive. Take the expected Supreme Court decision expected to overturn Roe v. Wade. For the most part, white women aren’t going to have a problem getting an abortion. We know this because it was the case when it was last illegal. It will be a problem for people of color who are predominantly poorer. Anti-abortionists, many of whom are also racists, are making worse the very problem they decry.

Birth rates are higher among minorities because it’s harder to get abortions, it’s harder to afford birth control and when you are economically challenged you are often put at disproportionate risk for incidents like violence, rape, and marital abuse. Good Catholics won’t use contraception, but most Catholics look the other way on what the Church teaches them.

Catholicism might explain why Hispanic Americans have a higher birthrate compared to Whites. But it doesn’t explain the birthrates among Blacks, who are not disproportionately Catholic. My black friends tend to have more children mostly because they are more likely to have had dysfunctional relationships, which is likely largely a result of living at the margins most of their lives.

The reverse is true. The birthrate among Whites is down not because of a grand conspiracy, but because they have more control over whether to opt to have a family or not. The average age of a mother having a first child in the United States is now 30. Having babies is not a priority, and easy access to contraception and abortion makes it easier to avoid.

That’s because having kids today is darn expensive, at least if you don’t want them to grow up in poverty and have something resembling a first-world lifestyle. We stopped at one child because we figured this out thirty years ago. Indeed, the cost of raising just our daughter was at least $200,000, and likely a lot more than that, and that included a discounted public education. With two kids, it’s not clear we’d now both be retired and debt free.

If you want more White babies, I dunno, maybe make it cheaper to have kids? For example, childcare could be subsidized, like is true in much of Europe. But we can’t have that; it’s socialism. Maybe grant parental leave to new mothers and fathers? Except for a handful of states, that’s also seen as socialism by Republicans. Maybe subsidize baby formula and disposable diapers? More socialism, naturally. Oh, and maybe robustly fund the public schools so our kids don’t grow up believing racist crap like this? Republicans though seem to want to get rid of public schools altogether and keeping kids from being enlightened seems to be the animus behind “woke” laws.

If the United States was to be a nation for Whites, then maybe we shouldn’t have invited over so many minorities? Of course most Black Americans are ancestors of slaves so they had no choice in the matter. But Southern plantation owners had no such qualms and needed someone to pick their cotton for cheap. We brought over so many minorities and people of color mostly so Whites could live their lifestyles on the cheap. Our country didn’t build itself. It was largely built on the backs of slaves and the oppressed.

Now people who believe in the White replacement theory want them gone, or at least oppressed and disempowered. Because that’s like totally fair because having people near them with a different skin hue makes them very nervous.

To me, fully enfranchising all Americans is long overdue and would demonstrate America at its best. What’s really going on is that Whites are reaping what they have sown. Many just don’t want to pay the price.

Blogging in unprecedented and depressing times

Well, this is new: two new email subscribers to my blog in less than twenty four hours! Welcome! Occam’s Razor is a very obscure back corner of the internet, so it’s flattering when I get new subscribers. I hope you find it is worth your time.

In 2002, when I started blogging, it was chic. For a time it was glorious to be a blogger, even an obscure blogger like me that likes to publish anonymously. I rode a wave. I’d routinely get hundreds of page views a day with no effort. Also, people would leave comments.

But things rarely stay novel on the Internet. Blogging got commercialized and monetized. Tech firms found ways to move readers to aggregator sites and social networks that were more interesting and more profitable. To get your blog read, you generally needed to be some sort of minor celebrity, or, more recently, attach yourself to a major blogging platform like Substack. That’s why I’ve ruminated ending the blog in December when I hit the twenty year mark. Now, maybe not so much.

In truth, to succeed in blogging you had to work hard at it: posting regularly and spending a lot of time marketing it. Then you had to hope that people would want to read your blog. I simply didn’t have the energy to give it that kind of attention. I care enough about the blog to try to post to it regularly and to make a post as interesting and insightful as I can, but not enough to market it. Besides, it’s not a blog for most people. It’s a blog for the intellectually curious, or at least I hope it’s that.

I’m a guy that thinks a lot. It’s human to look for meaning in life even though with so much chaos in life it’s doubtful that much meaning can really be ascribed to it. Still, I’m convinced that that while not everything in life has meaning, a lot of it does. When I can piece together these inferences, it’s hard for me not to share my insights here.

It’s clear to me that we live in unprecedented times. Things are more likely to end badly than not as all sorts of macro forces are at work. We simply lack the national and international will to change things at the moment. There are attempts, like the Paris Climate Accords. But because we live in a world of countries, and each one is autonomous, there’s no way to orchestrate the change that is needed. As disorder gets worse, it may spur the change that is needed. Vested interests though are hard at work to keep this from happening.

We are being played. Republicans play to the fears of their base, and actually inflame those fears to make things worse. In the last ten years it’s gotten clearly Orwellian. Republicans in general simply refuse to accept facts. Trump himself said he loves the uneducated. No wonder because he’s appallingly ignorant on so many levels. The latest example reported recently is that he thought China was using weapons to create hurricanes.

It’s but just one example of an endless supply of baseless and supremely ignorant ideas Trump and Republicans in general wallow in all the time, like Hunter Biden’s laptop. It’s done to acquire power because it’s well known that appears to emotion easily out trump appeals to reason. It’s just that in 2016 Trump somehow got put into office and could actually try to act on this crazy stuff. Naturally he was inclined to believe anything that kept him from examining his own logic.

If we feel it is true, then it must be right, regardless of whether science says otherwise. The American west is quickly drying up as the planet heats up. There won’t be the water to sustain the people who live there. They’ll be migrating east, for the most part. It’s not a question of if, but when. Climate change is happening, but even as Indians die from heat so intense their bodies can’t keep up with it, the skeptics won’t entertain the idea that climate change is the root cause.

It’s getting worse and quickly accelerating. So what are people doing? In America, is seems they are mostly migrating to Florida, whose coastlines are already being ravaged. In twenty years Miami will mostly be underwater. My sister retired from Fort Lauderdale to Titusville. Her house rests on a bluff of sorts about thirty feet above sea level. Good for her but it’s a stopgap measure. She just likes to boat. The most valuable land in the future isn’t in Florida, it is already for sale at bargain prices in states like Ohio and New York where the climate will still accommodate people. Instead, people are moving in droves to doomed states like Florida. It makes no sense.

Just to mitigate climate change around the edges will require rethinking and redoing everything. The American lifestyle is simply not sustainable. It requires people to act and think logically and coherently. It means trusting in scientists. It means hunkering down, eating less meat and living more like a village lifestyle than a jetsetter’s lifestyle. It means having fewer children, reclaiming blighted areas and ending deforestation. At some point it will means closing economic markets like Brazil and, yes, potentially the United States, until we act sustainably.

That’s what’s required. But I’m betting we’ll continually choose to fall over our own tied shoelaces instead.

A truly heinous Roe v. Wade decision looks likely

It hasn’t been looking good for Roe v. Wade for a long time. So the shocking leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito shouldn’t surprise us too much with its bottom line. The court looks likely to overturn 49 years of precedence in a 5-4 decision, a decision made possible in part by Republicans pulling out all the stops, most recently by Senator Mitch McConnell’s refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court during President Obama’s term.

Who done it? We may never know. The easy answer is to blame some liberal-leaning law clerk. My guess is that it was just the opposite. While the outcome is not in much suspense, Alito’s draft opinion is just shocking for its rationale and mendacity.

His main thesis seems to be that abortion can be controlled by the states because laws against it are “deeply rooted” in tradition. Also deeply rooted are laws like only white male property owners can vote, slavery is okay and women shouldn’t be able to vote. Mind you this is the same justice that helped decide Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which decided that corporations are people. That’s not deeply rooted anywhere in American history; in fact it was nowhere in the law.

Alito, and apparently the conservative wing of the court, were looking for a pretext to overturn the 1973 ruling, and this was the rationale they came up with. It can be used as pretext for overturning all sorts of Supreme Court rulings, rulings on gay marriage, interracial marriages and separate but equal educations, for example.

I suspect that an opinion like this would get cleaned up in subsequent versions by other justices. This is unlikely to happen now because if the other conservative justices attempt to change the rationale, it will be clear to the radical right that they caved. The more radical the opinion, the better, is probably what the right is hoping for. They see the rationale for overturning Roe not just as a way to end abortions, but as a cudgel that will allow all sorts of other rulings to be overturned.

I was no fan of Citizens United. But at least it followed the general trend by the court of expanding civil liberties. If this ruling stands, you’d be hard pressed to find other rulings that actually curtailed rights. That’s what this ruling will do. It essentially means that pregnant women lose bodily autonomy. At least during pregnancy, they are not people: they are breeders for the state.

If the states were a bit looser in their abortion laws, overruling Roe might be easier to swallow. But states are going for the jugular. In many of these states, new laws make no exceptions for rape or incest. Not aborting an ectopic pregnancy can kill the mother. These laws will literally kill women trying to save fetal lives that cannot possibly be viable.

I’m reminded of a scene from the second season of Bridgerton, which you can find on Netflix. The young Lord Bridgerton’s mother is in labor, after his father dies suddenly. The baby is in a breach position. The attending doctor asks Lord Bridgerton whose life to save: the mother’s or the child’s. At least Lord Bridgerton gets a choice, although of course no one bothers to ask his mother. She has no choice in this: she is just chattel. If this ruling stands it’s pretty clear who wins in our brave new world in many states: the mother must die on the off chance a baby may live.

That’s what being “right to life” means to these crazy pro-life people. We will kill others including mothers, including mothers who were raped, if necessary to save a fetus. In many cases, it’s not a fetus, but an embryo. The expectant mother has no say in carrying a child to term. She’s like a mare being studded. She’s a baby factory; not a person and in the case of rape has no say in who can impregnate her either.

Roughly seventy percent of Americans believe that at least some abortion rights must be allowed. This radical decision is thus at wide variance with the consistent view of the American people. It is the tyranny of the minority in action that I have warned about.

It is likely though that when these new state laws actually go into effect and women actually start dying from unplanned pregnancies again, it will have a major boomerang effect in the midterms. It may be the gift that keeps Democrats in power in Congress, despite all the gerrymandering and voter suppression. Generally, the most passionate voters show up. If most of those who support abortion rights are passionate about it, they’ll show up in November and overwhelm the antichoice votes. In that sense the Supreme Court would have been smarter to delay this decision until shortly after the midterms.

Our Supreme Court is using overturning Roe to establish a new precedent to go after all sorts of laws and rights hitherto assumed sacrosanct. This makes the decision not just awful, but genuinely heinous.

If I were a Supreme Court justice voting for this, I would demand 24/7 security. By putting targets on the backs of pregnant women, they may be putting one on their backs too.