MY EVOLUTION IN CRUISING

My attitude, as well as my experience, with cruising has evolved over the years.  Aging has probably helped, I guess.

In the beginning of our 80 plus country visits, we took a short two-day rafting trip on the Kern River and an eight-day journey through the scenery and rapids on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  They were fun, exciting and very interesting, but you could hardly call either one cruising.

We were very committed to land and bike tours because we felt you could see and experience more of your destination and the people than on a cruise.

Our travels bore that out.  The thought of being penned up in a confined boat space with a few thousand people did not seem very appealing.

In 2002 we took our first journey on Cruise West (CW); unfortunately, they are no longer in business.  They tried to expand too fast.  The compromise to our bias was that it was a small boat.  It had about 100 passengers and we loved traveling through the inside passage of Alaska.

It was only seven or eight days and we tacked on a land extension to Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

Had a great time and so we changed our mantra a bit and said small ships will be okay, but what we saw on the larger city size ships reinforced our bias on that score.

Two years later we happened upon Sea Dream Yachts and took a seven-day cruise with 90 or so guests down the west coast of Italy.  It was terrific and luxury compared to CW.  We followed up with a week in Sicily.  The combination worked well again.

Sea Dream still does these super, seven-day, luxury-style cruises, but now it’s a little more on the pricey side.

Comfortable with our new outlook on short, small boat cruises with a tack-on land tour, the next year we engaged CW again to go through the Panama Canal and on to Costa Rica, where we spent an extra five days.

In 2006 we decided to expand our horizon a little with a Viking River Cruise that housed about 150 passengers and took us from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  We followed that up with a second Sea Dream cruise from Dubrovnik to Athens.

We enjoyed Viking, although the food was kind of Russian.  Sea Dream was again a real treat.

Now we were feeling our cruise oats, so to speak, so the next year we took a Quark Expedition from Ushia, Argentina to Antarctica and then a CW cruise around Japan.

Antarctica was fabulous once we got there.  The Japan cruise offered some of the most beautiful gardens.

All in all, we were definitely enjoying our version of cruising.

In the following years we took a number of cruises.  Here’s a capsule look at each and what we liked on a scale of 1-to-5 (5 being best).

In 2008 we took a new Regent cruise with 480 of my closest friends from Dubai to Mumbai, India (2) and added a land package of India highlights (5).

The following year we joined 150 people on a Tauck river trip from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland (5) with small add on to Berlin (5).

2010 had us on two Travel Dynamics cruises with 150 people.  The first one was across the Great Lakes (4) with the addition of Toronto and Quebec (5) and then in the fall we went down the west coast of Africa (4) with a fascinating trip through Mali (5).

In 2011 we took our first Oceania cruise with 1,250 guests.  Went to the Caribbean which wasn’t much (2) but we loved the boat (5).

The next year we joined 250 passengers on a Seabourn journey from Venice down the Adriatic (2)—poor choice of ports and tours, with an attitude.  Adding Vienna was (5).

Come 2013 we joined Holland America with 1,250 passengers to Alaska with our adult kids (5).  About the same time Gabriele and kids took National Geographic to Alaska with 30 guests (5).

Then in 2014 we took an amazing trip on the Upper Amazon on National Geographic (5) followed by an add-on to Machu Picchu (5).

The next two years we went back with Oceania, 680 passengers, from Lisbon to Rome (5) and then Miami to L.A. through the Panama Canal.  Exciting the second time (5).

In 2016 we tried Ponant, success to Travel Dynamics to Iceland (3), after a stop in Amsterdam (5)—mediocre food and tours.

Come 2017, we were back on Oceania, Miami to Rome (4).  Eight days at sea were a delight.

The small ships get up close and can dock at most ports.  The big ships need bigger ports and often have to use tenders to get people ashore.  The small ships in places like Alaska and Antarctica get into more places and can watch the calving of the icebergs, for example.  The big ships look at it from a distance.

Although not super small, you can tell we really like Oceania.  We’ve been on four of their cruises.  We even like their bigger ships more than the smaller ones.  They’re casual, comfortable and well organized.  The food is good in a variety of dining venues.

In addition to the main dining room, there are up to four specialty restaurants at no extra charge; a buffet available for all three meals; an ice cream bar and hamburger/sandwich café.  They have laundry facilities, a good gym and overall ambiance at a modest price.

Overall, it’s been a great adventure on the high seas that we’ve enjoyed very much.

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3 THINGS OF INTEREST THIS WEEK

Here are three things I found of interest this week.

Japanese-American Internment

On February 19, 1942, in what is now considered one of the worst mistakes of his presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the internment of tens of thousands of people of Japanese descent.

The order came ten weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Up and down the west coast, posters appeared declaring that “all persons of Japanese ancestry will be evacuated.”  Some 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted and moved inland to internment camps in remote locations scattered across seven states.  Nearly two-thirds of these “evacuees” were American citizens.

Security concerns prompted the drastic step—the U.S. government worried that people of Japanese ancestry might be spying for Japan.  Mexico and Canada took similar actions.  But the ugly truth is that hysteria and racism were also at work.  Many Americans, with images of burning ships and dead sailors at Pearl Harbor seared in their minds, looked at Japanese-Americans and saw the enemy.

Many internees spent two and a half years in the camps, which were hastily constructed miniature cities, full of wooden barracks and surrounded by barbed wire.  After the war, they faced the task of rebuilding their lives.

In no way can the internment camps be compared with Nazi concentration camps or Stalin’s Gulag, where millions died.  But the terrible fact remains that loyal Americans who had done no wrong lost their property and, temporarily at least, their liberty.  It’s an ugly blot on our nation’s history.

In 1988, President Reagan signed a law that offered a national apology to Japanese-Americans and $20,000 to each person who had been interned in the camps.

Many Medical Questions About Cannabis Remain

Thomas B. Strouse, MD, of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA, talks about what is known and what remains to be determined.

“For what conditions do we know cannabinoids are effective?

“The FDA approves pharmaceutically processed cannabinoids for the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea, and evidence shows that they are effective for that, although there are not studies to suggest that they are superior to other antiemetic drugs.  Some evidence, though not strong, indicates that they may help to treat cachexia, also known as wasting—the loss of lean body mass associated with advanced illness like AIDS or cancer.  Studies also indicate that plant-derived cannabinoids can help to reduce pain, particularly nerve pain, and that they may have a role in cases of treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy.  For everything else you hear about—such as insomnia, anxiety, multiple sclerosis and neurodegenerative diseases, to name a few—the evidence comes from anecdotes, small case series and generally is not based on high-quality studies.

“Is that because it’s been studied and not shown beneficial for these conditions, or is it that it just hasn’t been well studied?

“I would say the later—mostly it’s just understudied.  It has been very difficult to perform high-quality cannabis studies in the U.S. regulatory situation—remember that cannabis is still classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as a Schedule I substance, which means the DEA considers it to be without valid medical use and highly addictive or dangerous.

“Beyond investigating potential benefits for certain conditions, what other issues need further study?

“There are many.  For one thing, most people who use cannabinoids get them not in the pharmaceutical preparations but in a whole-leaf form at a dispensary, where there is very little, if any, mandatory quality or safety control.  Whole-leaf cannabis has 400-to-500 compounds, and we know almost nothing about most of them.  We also need to learn much about basic safety issues around chronic use.

“Is it correct to say that anecdotal reports about the benefits of cannabis to alleviate certain condition would not be sufficient, from a doctor’s point of view, to demonstrate efficacy?

“It is a risk-benefit analysis.  If you’re a young person whose brain is still developing, it seems pretty clear that the risks of regular and/or heavy marijuana use, whether recreationally or to treat a symptom, probably outweigh the benefits.  It’s a very different analysis if you’re a 70-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease or late-stage cancer.

“What are some of the potential negative health effects?

“Any rational discussion of this topic has to acknowledge the well understood risks to the developing brains of young people who use marijuana regularly before their mid-20s.  This includes potential effects on memory and cognition, decreased motivation and the potential for hastening or worsening of a psychotic disorder for individuals who may be prone to developing one.

“In light of the current crisis with opioid addiction, is there any potential benefit to cannabinoids as a substitute for people who are seeking pain relief?

“The short answer is probably yes.”

UPS Maintenance Shows Us How To Resolve Problems

After every flight, UPS pilots fill out a form, called a “gripe sheet,” which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft.

The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form so that the pilots can review the gripe sheets before their next flight.

Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by UPS pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance engineers.

By the way, UPS is the only major airline that has never, ever, had an accident…

P:  Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That’s what friction locks are for.

P: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you’re right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel.  Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from the midget.

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DO WE NEED AN ALTERNATIVE TO IMPEACHMENT?

Someone at lunch one day asked if you could impeach an appointed, non-elected Cabinet Secretary.  I didn’t think so, but several other people did.  I thought it was an interesting question along with the notion I’ve had for some time that the criteria for impeachment might be a little too high, so I decided to investigate.  Here’s what I found out.

Impeachment in the U.S. is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office.  The actual trial on those charges, and subsequent removal of an official on conviction on those charges, is separate from the act of impeachment itself.

Impeachment is analogous to an indictment in regular court proceedings, while trial by the other house is analogous to the trial before judge and jury in regular courts.  Typically, the lower house of the legislature will impeach the official and the upper house will conduct the trial.

At the federal level, Article II of the U.S. Constitution (Section 4) states that “The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeaching, while the U.S. Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments.  The removal of impeached officials is automatic upon conviction in the Senate.  In Nixon vl. United States (1993), the Supreme Court determined that the federal judiciary cannot review such proceedings.

That’s a pretty high bar.

Maybe the definition should be broadened so it would be easier, more practical to achieve or maybe we should consider other alternatives such as employed in the Parliamentary System; a vote of “no confidence” or a “motion to censure.”

Impeachment can also occur at the state level; state legislatures can impeach state officials, including governors, according to their respective state constitutions.

In our history there have been 19 impeachments of federal officials; 15 were judges, including 13 District Court Judges, one Court of Appeals Judge and one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase in 1804.

In addition, there was one Cabinet Secretary and one U.S. Senator, John Blount of Tennessee in 1797 impeached.

Filling out that number were two presidents:  Bill Clinton in 1988 and Andrew Jackson in 1868.

Contrary to popular belief, both Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew were not impeached.  They resigned before impeachment might have taken place.

Over the years, political scholars have recognized the difficulty the country faces when the president or other high government official, because of deleterious behavior, has created a constitutional crisis.  Impeachment is difficult to come by.  The definition is a very high bar to meet.

One alternative scholars proposal is to broaden the definition of impeachable offenses to include grievous errors in foreign affairs or inattention to the duties of their office.

Two other proposals have been offered which have been utilized in parliamentary governments and would certainly be easier to achieve in our system.

A motion of no confidence is a statement or vote which states that a person in a superior position in government is no longer deemed fit to hold that position.  This may be based on said person falling short in some respect, failing to carry out obligations, or making choices that other members feel are detrimental.  As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in (one or more members of) the appointed government.

A censure motion is different from a no-confidence motion.  “No Confidence” leads to compulsory resignation, whereas “Censure” is meant to show disapproval and does not result in a resignation.  The censure motion can be against an individual or a group of officials.  Censure motions need to state the reasons for the motion while no-confidence motions to not require reasons to be specified.

Either of these proposals would require an amendment to the Constitution, which in and of itself would be difficult to achieve, but it might be interesting and beneficial to have some alternatives to impeachment.

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THE FAA OFFERS A CRASHABLE PROGRAM IN DIVERSITY

This week’s blog is taken from the newsletter of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, written by William Perry Pendley, attorney and president of MSLF.

“Weeks ago, it seemed common sense—and the Constitution—might prevail when Congress indicated it would veto a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plan to abandon its decades-old, race-neutral process of hiring the most motivated, best prepared, and most highly-skilled air traffic controllers (ATCs) to keep American travelers safe in the skies.

“No such luck.  Fearful of a presidential veto is it stopped the FAA’s race-based hiring scheme, Congress on July 13, 2016 cut a deal allowing the FAA to hire half of all new controllers based on race.  President Obama signed the legislation on July 15, 2016.

“Soon, the rest of us will find out how these rookie ATCs fare in guiding 87,000 flights a day carrying tens of millions of passengers across the U.S.

“I have battled Congress’s willingness to disperse funds, grant contracts, and award licenses on the basis of race for more than 25 years, and the struggle is ongoing.

“In 1995, a case I brought on behalf of a small Colorado business that was denied highway construction subcontracts because of a racial preference reached the U.S. Supreme Court; it resulted in a landmark ruling (Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena) that the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee applies to Congress.

“The late Justice Antonin Scalia concurred in that decision, ‘In the eyes of government, we are just one race here.  It is American.’  With its ruling, the Court also overturned two of its earlier decisions holding that Congress could set aside public works funds for minority businesses (Fullilove v. Klutznick, 1980) and award radio and television broadcast licenses based on race (Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 1990).

“We’re not there now.  Racial preferences flooded back into almost every major legislative act in Barack Obama’s first term.

“Then, early in Obama’s second term, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced plans to ‘transform the [FAA] into a more diverse and inclusive workplace that reflects, understands, and relates to the diverse customers we serve.’

“First, the FAA killed a successful agency program that established accredited aviation degree curricula in 36 colleges and universities in 23 States and Puerto Rico to prepare future ATCs on a color-blind basis for training at the FAA Academy at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.

“Following that sweeping measure, 2,000 to 3,500 ready-to-hire, highly qualified graduates of those programs got ‘Dear Applicant’ emails advising them that the FAA’s hiring process had changed and they must reapply.  An FAA official later reported that their names had been ‘purged’ from FAA job application files.

“Finally, the FAA announced it would hire via a General Public Announcement—commonly referred to as ‘off the street’—U.S. citizens with high school diplomas, who speak English, and pass a 62-question ‘Biographical Questionnaire’ (BQ), which includes such questions as, ‘The number of high school sports I participated in was?’  ‘How would you describe your ideal job?’  ‘What has been the major cause of your failures?’  ‘More classmates would remember me as humble or dominant?’

“Late last year, my legal foundation filed a class action lawsuit in Arizona federal district court on behalf of an Arizona State University double major graduate who scored 100 percent on the FAA’s long-standing, demanding, eight-hour computer-based Air Traffic Control Selection and Training exam.  His name had been purged from eligibility for hiring regardless.  Incidentally, he along with most of the other ready-to-hire graduates ‘failed’ the BQ test.

“Our lawsuit relies in its reasoning on my 1995 victory and on a 2009 Supreme Court decision that struck down New Haven, Connecticut’s decision to abandon the race-neutral hiring of firefighters to increase racial diversity.  Anticipating congressional action, the case was stayed in early June, to begin again this month.

“But the FAA had pressed forward with disastrous results.  Because the FAA slowed, froze, and then changed the hiring process, unfilled vacancies among air traffic controllers are at a 26-year high, and more could come quickly.  For example, every ATC in one Alaska international flight sector could retire tomorrow.

“Meantime, the FAA’s Oklahona City training center is laden with raw trainees unskilled in English, unable to obtain security clearances for DUIs among other reasons, and lacking the discipline for the arduous 17-week training syllabus—the dropout rate is wreaking havoc with class size and schedules.

“Congress bemoaned the gap in hiring but did little else aside from the partial killing of the preposterous BQ ‘test.’  And then, somewhere in the back rooms, it caved in.

“When the bill finally emerged it contained a typical legislative-style compromise.  It said that, after giving preferential consideration to veterans with air traffic control experience, half of all new air traffic controllers must come from the college degree program, which Congress sensibly and legislatively reinstated.  But the other half will be hired ‘off the street,’ apparently to satisfy the FAA’s pursuit of racial diversity.

“This scheme fails for several reasons.  First, it reaches only half of those ‘purged’ from job application lists.  It is not a remedy for those adversely affected—they remain at the back of the line, uncertain as to how to ‘reapply.’

“It also does not prevent the FAA from doing the same thing again, and, worse yet, it give congressional approval to a 50 per cent racial quota—after the Supreme Court in 1995 sharply criticized what was, at worse, a 15 per cent preference.

“One other result:  Congress’s belated splitting of the difference came too late to save three of the ATC schools that were set up to train everyone, regardless of race, color, or creed.  One of the three schools that failed to survive was the most racially diverse of all, the Inter American University of Puerto Rico.

“Fasten your safety belts as we see what happens next.”

In the meantime, let’s hope and pray the old qualified ATCs are in the tower.

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OPIOIDS…A NEW CRISIS

The lead story in the last few months is the White House saying the opioid crisis is going to cost the nation $500 billion a year.  Think about that; $500 billion a year.

In 2016, 64,000 Americans were killed by opioids, that’s heroin and all the pain killers.  And many believe that’s underreported; that there are many more people who die, because if you take these hard drugs, they have a deleterious effect on all other parts of your body.  It’s like alcohol.

An estimated 2.0 million people in the USA are addicted to heroin and other opioids.  And the White House says it’s a public health emergency.  But the White House and Congress have no blankin’ clue what to do about it.

Drug addiction has been with us forever.  There was a war fought over opium, the Boxer Rebellion.  Actually, Steve McQueen made a movie about it.  In China, a quarter of the population was addicted to opium when Mao Zedong took over in 1949 and the nation became communist.  A quarter of the Chinese population was addicted to opium.

What did Mao do?  He shot them.  If you were involved with opium, you were lined up and shot.  All of a sudden, the epidemic stopped.

Now, in the United States in the early part of the 20th century, cocaine was legal, you could use it, there was no problem using it.  Then, as the 1920s rolled in, drugs became more prevalent and they started to outlaw heroin, opium, cocaine and they formed the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.  That was the first federal agency to try to keep this under control.

In the 19th century, nobody did anything.  You could do what you wanted.  Then the Depression hit and in the Depression nobody had any money, so the drug industry in the United States collapsed.  Then World War II happened.  And again, most of the young mail pool were gone and there wasn’t a big demand.

Then after World War II, drug addiction started to rise but wasn’t at the crisis level until the 60s.  Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll came in, Vietnam War came in.  Lots of GIs in Vietnam sampled the very cheap heroin over there and brought their habits home.  Social acceptability of drugs, even though hard drugs were not as acceptable as marijuana.   The drug culture rose.  And from I would say 1969 onward, drugs have been a major problem in the United States.

It got worse with the advent of the Internet, because you can buy any drug you want through the Internet.  If you go to Tijuana, Mexico, there are more pharmacies in Tijuana than in all the rest of Mexico combined I think, if you take out Mexico City.

What are they doing?  They’re mailing opiates to anybody who wants them.  Anybody with a credit card right through the mail.  So you don’t have to get down to your local pusher, you can get it right through the mail.  Now in the 90s, there was a crack epidemic that hit the ghetto, the bad neighborhoods in the inner cities were hit very hard.  And it made it almost impossible for people to live there with so much violence on the streets.

In New York City, there were close to 4,000 murders a year.  Now there’s 300.  So the Feds came in and they gave the crack dealers mandatory harsh sentences, which have now become a source of controversy.  But they did that so poor people in the ghettos can have some protection.  And the crack epidemic, after those mandatory sentences came in, waned.  It’s still there, but it’s not nearly what it was in the 90s.

But heroin because of Mexico, it’s cheap, has risen.  And prescription drugs, as you know, has also risen.  And the two are almost the same.  So that’s what’s fueling our drug epidemic now.

The final thing is Barack Obama made a terrible mistake by putting forth that selling heroin and other hard narcotics, including crack, is not a violent crime.  That you know…Obama didn’t say it was okay.  He just said, “Well it’s not that bad and we shouldn’t be putting people away who are selling poison.”  Not using, selling.  Ehh…you know, let them go to rehab.  Bad, because, again, the social acceptability of it.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of NYC, if you were on heroin you were a pariah.  Not only using, but selling.  I mean, the dope dealers were the worst, the lowest, the lowest.  Now in some places they’re celebrated.  They’re celebrated.  Superfly!

So we are in a society now that doesn’t know how to handle this opioid crisis, doesn’t know what to do.  Some places like Singapore have said if you use hard drugs and we catch you, you go to mandatory drug rehab.  In Singapore, it was 22 months you’re gone.  So they took the market away, there’s no drug problem in Singapore.  Red China, I already explained how Mao dealt with it.

Here, it’s all “Well, we need money for rehab.”  Oh, all right.  But a lot of people who use narcotics don’t want to be rehabilitated.  They like the world for whatever reason.  And that world is growing and more and more people are dying.  So that’s the thing.

Five hundred billion a year medical costs, people on the job can’t work.  Of course, they apply for government assistance.   Child abuse, 70 percent of all child abuse and neglect is by parents who are addicted to narcotics.  Horrible!  But we don’t have a strategy yet—just the recognition that we have a crisis.

According to Dr. Thomas Strousp, medical director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital, said, “A recent study found that opioid deaths went down by about 25 percent over time in states after marijuana legalization passed.  We can’t say for sure, but it could be that people were substituting marijuana for the purpose of getting pain relief or taking lower doses of opioids, or perhaps using recreational marijuana instead of recreational opioids—likely a much safer activity.

What we do know is that an opioid overdose can cause people to stop breathing and die; it’s often said that nobody ever died of a cannabis overdose, and that’s probably a true statement in the sense that cannabis does not depress respiration the way opioid can.

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BITCOIN:  BUYER BEWARE

Here is our attempt to try to uncover the mystery of this crypto currency.  What is it?  Where did it come from?  Where is it going?  Is it all a fantasy?  Who accepts it as payment?

As the last decade’s financial crisis worsened consumers began to wonder if their bank account balances were safe and if the slips of printed cotton in their wallets still held value, Satoshi Nakamoto was busy devising a currency regime that totally bypasses governments and banks.

What started as an experiment among a few computer geeks has become an international sensation, drawing in everyday consumers.  As more people get involved, the price of Bitcoin climbed higher, which pulls in more people, perpetuating the cycle.

As recently as December, one Bitcoin cost $18,000, up from less than one cent in 2009.  This week, the value is about $14,500.

It’s easy to find people who forecast Bitcoin to rise past $20,000, $100,000 and even $1 million.  Their message is simple.  Get in now before the price goes higher, and enjoy the thrill of making money for nothing.

Many, however, don’t agree.  They see Bitcoin as a great idea on paper, but nothing more than a glorified Ponzi scheme in practice.  While the cryptocurrency will probably survive for many years, it’s more likely that the price moves closer to zero than $100,000.

Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware, should be the call of the day.

Bitcoin’s Arrival

Imagine holding your wealth in a currency that the government could never devalue, a currency that was never checked at the border.  As long as you have access to the internet and remember your passwords, you could access your currency anywhere in the world.

And as long as vendors accepted it (big question), you could immediately purchase anything, anywhere, with no conversion or exchange required.  You could also send money to anyone, anywhere, with a few keystrokes.

No more Western Union.  No need for bank wires.  No government-issued IDs required.  No stating the purpose of the transfer.  Nothing, just send what you want, where you want, when you want, with zero interferences from anyone.

Nakamoto (or they, we don’t know for sure who or how many are behind the pseudonym) developed a closed environment for creating a set amount of a new currency.

New Bitcoins are created by computer operators, called miners, who use their computers to verify Bitcoin transactions.  Every transaction is added to other transactions to form blocks, which are then linked to create the blockchain.

The blockchain contains every Bitcoin transaction that has ever taken place.  Miners reverify the entire blockchain, and then several miners must independently verify new transactions to form blocks.  Through this process, the full ledger of all transactions resides on many computers and can be downloaded and reviewed by anyone at any time.

If someone tries to add a fraudulent transaction, say moving Bitcoin from a fake account to a real account, then it would not be independently verified and the miners would reject it.  This methodology keeps bad sectors from counterfeiting new Bitcoin.

As miners verify transactions, they are awarded small amounts of Bitcoin, which is how new currency enters the system.  The original program will only allow 21 million Bitcoins to be created, and the goal is to create them in a steady stream for years.

Over time, Bitcoin has attracted many users.  Not all of them are striving for the libertarian goal of using currently untainted by government interventions.  Some simply want to operate outside of government control because they’re criminals.

Enterprising people set up exchanges like Coinbase where you can buy and sell Bitcoin.  And most of these exchanges also serve as online “wallets,” which allow you to store your Bitcoin so that you don’t have to go through a lot of hassle to do it yourself.

The online wallets and exchanges make using cryptocurrencies easier, no doubt, but they’re not free.  The going rate for an exchange is about 3%, which torpedoes another main reason to use a cryptocurrency.

Once you have some, you run into another problem—where to spend it.

Using Bitcoin

Recently, a Subway franchise in Pennsylvania started accepting Bitcoins, and so did a Maserati dealership in California.  But not many establishments accept it and the list isn’t rapidly expanding.

Most transactions involving Bitcoin are either people purchasing to hold it in the hopes it will go up, or purchasing it so they can use it to buy other online coins called tokens.  Precious few people use, or even want to use, Bitcoin for transactions involving everyday living.

As the price of Bitcoin appreciates, people hold them, which highlights one of the biggest issues with the cryptocurrency.  People aren’t treating it like a currency at all, they are treating it like an investment.

Bitcoins are not productive assets.  They don’t create anything.  If they are a currency, then they should  represent a medium of exchange that is divisible, accepted by the population, and be a storehouse of value.  But because people are bidding up the exchange rate, they are driving the perception that the price will go much higher.

Today’s Bitcoin buyers hope that tomorrow’s buyers will pay much, much more.  What if they don’t?

Bitcoin Today

While the government is not involved (yet!) and banks are sidelined, Bitcoin is expensive to buy and sell, almost always requires intermediaries unless you are a computer whiz, and, so far, it’s not treated like a currency.  Buyers don’t intend to pay their electric bill with it or use it to buy gas.  They only have one goal:  sell it to someone else at a much higher price.

Even though Bitcoin’s price has not gone up in a straight line, it has rocketed higher in the last several years.  What if the situation reverses?  What if buyers lost interest in holding the cryptocurrency?  What if the government gets involved?  At that point, most current owners would rush for the exits, driving the price even lower.

Given that Bitcoin has no natural market, it can go to zero, erasing all value for current holders.  The same can’t be said of government-issued currency.

The IRS is fairly certain that many people buying and selling Bitcoin on Coinbase aren’t reporting any of their transactions on their taxes.

Coinbase is fighting the warrant, but they’ll eventually lose.  The IRS has a compelling case.  When it eventually demands back taxes, penalties, and fees from Bitcoin buyers and sellers, it could send a chill through the markets.

Bitcoin’s Economic Bite

Let’s say I’m wrong.  Instead of meeting an ugly and untimely near-death, Bitcoin gains strength and eventually becomes the currency that Nakamoto envisioned.

The transition would shift money out of U.S. dollars, driving down the value of the buck.  On the flip side of that, higher-priced Bitcoin would aid those who own the cryptocurrency, but penalize those who still operate in dollars.

That would include the growing population of Social Security recipients, as well as anyone receiving transfer payments, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) credits.  Essentially, we put the elderly and the poorest among us at an economic disadvantage.

It’s easy to see how the government, in addition to compelling the use of greenbacks through taxes and government spending, could proactively limit the use of crypocurrencies so as to stop bad outcomes.  In one fell swoop the Feds can protect their turf and argue that they’re acting in the best interest of the most vulnerable members of society.

Frankly, it’s still a bit of a mystery.  Bitcoin has failed, or rather not even been tried, as a true currency.  To date, it simply appears to be a Ponzi scheme with zero assets, zero productivity.

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SEXUAL INTERACTION COMES IN DIFFERENT LAYERS

Not all contact between the sexes can or should be called harassment or subject to punishment.  Some of it can and should be dealt with assertively.

The layers of sexual contact I think fall at different times into one of the following behaviors:

Flirting – the exchange of eye contact and smiles which are generally innocent signs of attraction.  Often it leads to dating.

Advances – the opening to pursue the attraction:  get a cup of coffee, have a drink or have dinner to see if there is a connection.

Annoyance – non reciprocal pursuit of the above, constant sexual references and/or touching of body parts (non sexual).

Harassment – continuing innuendo, inducements nd/or threats, as well as exposing and touching of sexual body parts.

Assault – the physical overpowering of one person over another.  It’s called rape and it is a criminal offense.

With all the publicity and exposure of predators like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charley Rose, Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly and dozens of others splashed across the media in the last few months, I think there has been a tendency to mistakenly lump a number of the behaviors above all together under the umbrella of “sexual harassment.”

It is important, even vital, that we and our offspring are helped to understand these differences and learn how to be assertive in dealing with each of these layers, particularly the first four, before they are classified as harassment.

There are two other aspects of sexual behavior that must be discussed:

The first is, does what women wear or not wear, contribute in any way to the harassment/assault problem?

“Women’s wardrobes have long been used as an excuse for sex crimes,” according to psychologist Sandra Shullman.  “However, when you look at the data on why people rape, that doesn’t hold up,” she says.  “One study showed that rapists stated clothing as the reason for their crimes but their victims were wearing a range of outfits from revealing to snowsuits.  These are arguments to transfer the responsibility of control and power from the perpetrator to the victim.”

When it comes to sex crimes, Shullman says, “clothing just doesn’t matter.”

That may be true as Dr. Shullman says in assault/sex crimes, but I believe it has a definitive affect on the fantasy lives of everyone and particularly of the annoying and harassment predators.

What we see women wear in movies, television, books, magazines and in every day encounters at work, at bars and dozens of leisure activities, I believe all play into our sexual fantasies.

There may well be other factors in the psych of the annoyers and harassers, but their actions are encouraged and stimulated by their fantasies.  To deny this contributing factor makes no sense at all.

When women, for example, dress with lots of skin showing and try to look seductive, the predators react to that, not necessarily with that individual as their victim, but it helps give them license to seek out their victim.

Consciously or not, we all register fantasies about movie stars—Robert Redford or Marilyn Monroe or Selma Hayak or James Franco—and every day encounters with attractive people.

Most people, I believe, put that all in their fantasy file.  The predators think it gives them strength to seek out their personal fantasy victim.

The second question appears more complicated.  Substantially more than 50% of predators and harassers we’ve previously named, the behavior they exhibited appears abhorrent.  How in any semblance of their right minds or their fantasies could they conceive that going naked, masturbating or taking a shower in front of their victims could in any way be sexually fulfilling or lead to a consensual sexual encounter.

It’s totally baffling.  Did they exchange notes?  How did they each individually conceive these abhorrent behaviors?

As one friend said to me, “It is demeaning to all men.”

According to the L.A. Times, “So far, the headlines have mostly been attached to the stories of women in the high-profile fields of entertainment, media, tech and politics who have alleged various forms of sexual misconduct by powerful and often well-known men.  Missing have been the stories of the hotel maids, farmworkers, restaurant servers and others whose economic need and relative powerlessness has often left them without resource.  Sixty percent of women say they’ve experienced sexual harassment, according to one poll, and their stories should be heard even if they are only calling out Joe the factory foreman and not Joe the studio chief.

“The risk for women working alone in hotel rooms has driven labor unions to push to outfit housekeepers with ‘panic buttons’ that connect directly with the front desk.  This began in New York City after the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominque Strauss-Kahn, allegedly assaulted a hotel maid.  Panic buttons are just one example of a concrete response to sexual harassment.  Part of this next phase will require exploring new policies, procedures and laws to address the unique sexual harassment challenges in various industries.”

There will always be contact between sexes.  Without it, there would be no marriages and no families.

The boundaries of unwanted contact need more accepted standards and acceptance.  By the same token, some behavior should be dealt with assertively and need not be an emotional scar or a call-out as harassment.

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