Now that pretty much every state is reopening in some way, it’s time for a refresher course on why we should all be dead already. Just in case you were excited about finally getting out of the house…
And don’t get me started on the people who let their dogs lick their hands and faces and then say, “Their mouths are cleaner than ours.” First, it’s not true and, second, even if it was, did you see what they were licking before they licked you? Stop it. Now.
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Ya know how people will post a meme that you are supposed to stare at for a minute before the secret image materializes? Isolation works the same way. After a while, our perspectives can become clearer…
The Limits of Capitalism
Capitalism is a great system, but it has its limits, and the current pandemic has exposed every one of them. Will we give this any thought or will we just continue the mindless “capitalism/socialism” mantras that make us sound much dumber than we realize?
I like capitalism. It’s been a very good system for me, both as a worker and as an investor. But I also recognize that capitalism is not patriotic and it certainly isn’t conservative, and free markets aren’t the answer to every conceivable question.
For instance, companies focused on profitability and repeat sales will emphasize disposable products, rather than reusable ones, with can make shortages of masks or gloves or respirators more challenging. The emphasis on efficiency and profitability leads to zero slack in the supply chain, which makes it harder to adjust to any disruptions anywhere. And, need I mention the profit-driven displacement of U.S. manufacturing to lower-cost centers like China?
Of course, every capitalist becomes a socialist when survival is at stake. We’re bailing out the nation’s airlines for a third time in two decades, after they spent almost all of their excess cash on dividends and share repurchases at the expense of debt reduction. Congress imposed stiffer terms this time than in 2010, which is progress of a sort. Still, the same people who are calling for help now will be insisting that government butt out of the free-market system two years hence. Unless there’s another meltdown, in which case they’ll be back for another handout and screaming that any limitations imposed by the government are “socialism.”
Maybe Universal Health Care isn’t such a bad idea
It might turn out that employment-based health insurance is a really stupid idea. First, it creates a major cost differential for U.S. companies that pay for employee health care versus firms in countries that have universal care. Second, it disappears when people lose their jobs, which multiplies their economic risks. I’ve never been a big proponent of universal health care, but I’m waffling on it a lot more than in the past.
Ditto for paid sick days, which used to be the norm for employees, before everyone became a contract worker. It seems our business masterminds have outsmarted themselves by giving employees an incentive to work while sick, spread disease, and force essential businesses to close. Clever.
Mainstream Media aren’t so lame after all
We need the traditional news media much more than we recognize. It’s almost de rigueur to talk about left-wing media conspiracies and unfair coverage, but the fact is that the mainstream press has been doing a solid job.
People accuse them of being unfair and biased when the media criticize their favorite politicians, but they do tend to be similarly “unfair and biased” about everyone. They’ve been the source of the most credible information about the virus and the most balanced insights about everything else. Compare that to the “news” sites where everything is the fault of X and THEY are all conspiring against Y. No contest.
While the cable outlets are all politics all the time, the mainstream media cover pretty much everything like they always did. You wouldn’t know it from watching most cable news, but there are actually some people in this country who are helping each other out, donating to charities and finding no need to protest, accuse, blame or destroy. There are stories that don’t involve politics, but you’ll only find them in your lamestream media.
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Wall Street and Main Street are out of sync, still, and we have a better place for big companies to spend their advertising dollars...
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Am I the only person who wants this self-isolation to go on just a bit longer, if only so I can cross some more items off my to-do list?
Now that the politicians are talking about a return to normal, I keep thinking, “No, not yet.” Yes, I know we’re not going to reboot until we get past the bulge and come up with a treatment for the next victims. Even if the all clear sounds in July, though, I’m absolutely not ready.
I absolutely miss playing with the grandchildren and I miss restaurants and I miss the days when someone might cough a few feet away from me without causing a panic. Still, I’m kinda liking this whole shelter-in-place thing. It’s a new adventure, and it’s absolutely anything but boring. F’rinstance…
I’ve been kicking myself for the reading habit that disappeared over the years, vowing over and over again that I would catch up on all those books I had planned to buy, plus the ones I already bought and never cracked open. In the month since Jill and I sealed up our apartment, I’ve actually read four books and I’m in the middle of three more. Hooray for me, but I was really hoping to get through a few dozen before my parole.
Ditto for movies and TV shows that I missed along the way. I’ve checked off 28 of the top 100 films on some list I downloaded, plus another dozen from friend recommendations, but I’ve made it through only six at this point. Only another 80 hours to go and I’ll be caught up. Then, it’s time to stream Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and a hundred other series I never got around to bingeing when they were new. My best estimate is that I will get to the Red Wedding in 2032.
(Side note: Remember when it took less time to see the movie than we needed to read the book? Ah, good times.)
FTR, it’s not that I’ve been twiddling my thumbs for the past four weeks. I’ve been keeping up on my exercise, more or less, and I’m FaceTiming the grandkids about five times a day. I’m still mentoring start-up companies, writing the blog and WASHING MY HANDS every time I touch anything. I’ve been cooking more, doing more dishes, and recalculating my retirement savings at least three times a week.
And then there’s all the home movies I shot over the 39 years since we bought our first VHS camera. It’s taking me about two days to edit one year’s worth of tape, and all I am doing, really, is cutting and pasting. At the rate I’m going, I need another two months of isolation to finish the job, assuming I don’t watch any movies or read any books or Facetime the grandkids, or or or or or or.
That should bring me to the photo albums, but who am I kidding? I won’t be getting to the photos until three pandemics from now, assuming nobody makes any movies or television shows between now and then. Is it wrong of me to be making plans for the pandemics to come? Don’t answer that.
All this talk about returning to normal reminds me of last call at the bar. Whatever we’ve been doing, it’s an alert that we only have so much time to complete our mission. We all have different goals and different projects, of course, but all of us are on notice that this part of our journey is not going to last forever.
It’s a lot like life that way.
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If you were sick and you finally found a medicine that kept your illness under control, would you stop taking it as soon as it started to work?
That’s the trap we’re in right now. All this social distancing and hand washing appears to be slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Slowing, but not stopping, of course. Even if 80% of us are locked in our closets 24 hours per day, somebody has to deliver the toilet paper.
All the people who drive the trucks and treat the patients and stock the shelves and fix the plumbing are still on the job. Some are driven by their commitment to the greater good, some cannot afford to miss a paycheck, and others are simply certain it won’t happen to them. It will, though, at least to some of them, and the outbreak will continue.
The virus will spread more slowly if they interact with fewer people, of course. If we go back to our regularly scheduled programming, we’ll just reboot the plague.
Maybe warmer weather will slow the spread, at least until the fall. Maybe it will turn out that drinking a gallon of Diet Rite each day really does work. Maybe a million old people will offer to die in order to save the economy. Maybe.
Right now, the stock market is orgasmic as the adult in the room predicts a peak, but a peak is not a trough and it is not an end date. When is it safe to come out to play, and how will we know?
Even as I write this, I realize that the whole situation looks very different in different parts of the country, even in different neighborhoods. Immigration issues look different in Boise than in El Paso. Gun control has a very different value proposition in Chicago than in Casper. The plague probably looks like no big deal in most rural areas, while it's a clear and present danger in densely populated cities. In fact, the situation looks different in downtown Chicago than in many of our suburbs.
Let’s assume, though, that we were and are taking this seriously. Let’s assume that we’ve seen enough deaths and enough hot spots that we all agree there is a threat. Even if we believe the threat is less significant in our corner of the world, it is real.
Now what? How do we prepare for life with a highly communicable disease that has no proven treatments and no vaccine? When is it safe to open the diner, hug the grandkids and stop washing our damned hands. (Honestly, I feel like Lady Macbeth, but not quite as guilty.)
It’s sunny and almost 70 in Chicago today, the perfect day to invite the neighbors over for a barbecue. Too soon, though. We have to wait until…what?
Now that we’ve decided this is a war, I guess I’m a war correspondent. That makes all of these battlefield updates much more dramatic, including…
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.