The coming crypto reckoning
The lure of being lucky and striking it rich is a powerful opiate in America. From our very foundation as a place of refuge for the unluckiest of Europe, the self-made millionaire has a place of reverence in American lore. Very few attain that status, but millions have exhausted that dream and put themselves in an early grave working to attain it.
The chase for American riches has taken many forms, from the California Gold Rush to endless swindles, and the latest destination is cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is digital currency that can be exchanged for other currencies. Bitcoin is the most famous but there are more of them than I care to count.
There is absolutely a place in the world for a digital currency, but many of the current crop of these currencies defy what a currency needs to be: a stable unit of value measurement. If Bitcoin can lose 22% of its value in the matter of days, or drop precipitously in the course of a morning based on the whims of Chinese regulators, it is missing an essential element of being a usable currency.
And there will be a time when crypto currencies are real and have real value and usefulness. It’s important to note that in some totalitarian countries like China, the use of crypto currencies have been a force for good, enabling people to do business without oppressive government interference. But we are in such early days of the cryptocurrency world that the safe and regular use of cryptocurrencies is still years away.
There are cryptocurrencies pegged to regular currencies—such as Tether, which tracks the U.S. dollar—known as Stablecoins. In the future, some kind of Stablecoin may be used globally that would enable secure, anonymous use with the kind of stability that a currency needs.
But that kind of legitimate use is a long way away from the rampant speculation that is captivating the imaginations of get-rich-quick investors. What’s worse, the same kind of faux populism that gave us the GameStop rush of a year ago has been de rigueur in the crypto world.
And this rampant, pure speculative increase in value is based on hopeful dreams and nothing more. Even stocks that are widely overvalued are supported by an understandable business model. With crypto, you can lose your shirt in the course of an afternoon and have no one to blame but yourself. Most world currencies – U.S. Dollars, French or Swiss Francs, Euros, British Pounds—are backed by powerful governments that have a vested interest in maintaining a stable currency. You can argue that U.S. Dollars are propped up by the Federal Reserve Bank or even an Illuminati conspiracy, but they are doing a better job than they keyboard commandos, Russian bots and other shady characters running the crypto world.
What is so shameful about the current state of crypto is that people are being drawn in who otherwise would invest in something more constructive. Hard-working people who find it hard to get ahead and save for their kids’ college tuition are plowing money into the latest online toy money when they could be investing in something real. At this point I’d be happier with these people stuffing money into mattresses rather than putting it into the latest cryptocurrency that’s being talked up by social media shysters.
But like major speculative rushes of the past, the crypto world will experience a “shakeout,” where those that don’t have real values drop quickly and investors lose money. It could be quick and violent. There will be stories of people losing their life savings because they were told they could double their money in months.
Crypto currency speculation is going to be one of those things future generations read about and ask why people of our generation didn’t do something about this global boondoggle. The reckoning is coming; please don’t get burned.
Dreams of the Mega life
One dark weekday morning and I am standing in my spot at the bus stop, waiting for my bus to work. A car pulls up near the bus stop and a laughing passenger gets out. He’s carrying a plastic bag of clinking beer bottles and wearing a Knights of Columbus satin jacket with a large back patch. He turns and shouts something to the passenger before laughing and starting to walk away.
The sees me standing there in my glum workday “business casual” finery and offers me a beer from his plastic bag. “No thank you,” I tell the man, being appreciative of his generosity. He puts the beer back in his bag and offers me a bottle of hard cider instead. I politely decline again.
He sees I’m going to work and he jokes that he is just getting home from work. He smells of alcohol and emits drunken joviality. Though I left the drinking life nearly a decade ago, I am familiar with this stumbling generosity and the allure of unending good times. Had I followed a different path—different not necessarily meaning better—I could easily be the one drinking until 6:30 in the morning.
I didn’t envy the man being drunk at the crack of dawn, but I envied the ease and appreciation he had for his working life, whatever it is or was. When I get home from work, I am not a bundle of generosity towards strangers but a tired commuter eager to spend some time with my kids before I go to bed, fearful for what work emergencies might consume the rest of my waking day.
This came to mind later that same week when I purchased some tickets for the Mega Millions drawing for a prize that has since ballooned past $1 billion. By any stretch of logic lottery tickets are a waste of time and prey on the poor and working classes. It is people who can often least afford it who spent their money on these dreams printed out on small slips of paper.
The millions of tickets sold for a chance at that prize money was purchased by people dreaming of riches but not necessarily because they want to be rich. People spend their money on lottery tickets because they want to escape the present workday lives that consume much of their time.
A few weeks ago I was able to work from home on a Tuesday and I took my older children to their Pre-K classes. It was one of the best weekdays I’ve had in a long time. The 40-odd minutes I had with my older girls is time I rarely get outside of the rushed weekends. It’s time you can’t get back, and time burns faster than money.
If I had the choice of doubling the money I make at work currently or cutting that in half and not having to go to work every day, no question I would take the latter. And so would a lot of the people who stand on line for lottery tickets. It’s not big mansions or luxury cars we fancy, it’s buying more of our time back for ourselves.
Good luck everyone.
The horror of finding yourself using corporate speak
Though I have been subjected to it for many years, it’s only been in the past year that the language known as “corporate speak” has been creeping into my vocabulary. I must make it stop.
I switched jobs a little over a year ago and moved from the thankless ranks of financial journalism to the thankless but better paying ranks of financial public relations. For years as a journalist I waded through corporate euphemisms and double talk. A journalist’s job is to cut through corporate speak like an explorer cuts through dense jungle. I didn’t loath public relations people, I just knew I could not sound like one when I spoke or wrote if I wanted to be taken seriously.
I vowed to myself that I would not let this nonsensical and vacuous vocabulary creep into my speech, but in some ways it has. There’s no prohibition from sounding like a corporate automaton because now I work in public relations and corporations pay our salaries. Corporations paid my salary when I was a journalist also, but those businesses were depending on me NOT sounding like a corporate mouthpiece in order for my work to me marketable.
Now I AM a corporate mouthpiece, whether I like it or not. None of the companies I serve through my public relations job are ominous monoliths that are trying to cloud the truth or cover up any wrongdoing; they are for the most part small entrepreneurial companies doing some interesting things, but they are companies that expect us to be their representatives to the media. We have to be the bridge between the corporate world and the jaded, skeptical world of journalists and we have to sound the part both ways.
Whenever you speak with someone, you want to sound like you belong, like you understand where they are coming from. If everyone’s slinging the same corporate bullshit, they’re establishing a rapport in some small way. In agency public relations, you are not only selling your clients to media, you’re constantly selling yourself to current and potential future clients. Thus you have to sound like you could fit in at a corporate board meeting, and that’s easier to do when you shovel two-cent words around like so much manure.
So as a writer who takes pride in my ability to find the right works for any situation and a human being who decided long ago to embrace reality-based life, it horrifies me to find myself using corporate speak in any non-ironic capacity.
It’s only happened once or twice, but no matter. Like Ebola or cancer, corporate speak must be wiped out entirely if you wish to survive in the reality-based world.
The one phrase I’ve been guilty of using is “next steps” as in “we’ll discuss next steps” instead of saying, “we’ll talk about what to do next” or “what steps to take next.” Another word that’s lapsed into corporate speak is “leverage,” such as “let’s leverage our resources to gain media traction.” In my own overuse of the word “traction” regarding how to get media attention, I risk making that corporate speak. Now both lever and traction are real words that wouldn’t be corporate speak at all if you were talking about pulleys, debt or driving over snow, but when applied to business situations and overused, they become corporate speak. There are damning lists of useless and pathetic phrases that comprise corporate speak. The list is always evolving.
There are a lot of things I am willing to do to provide for my family. I’m willing to read work emails on the weekend, endure mind-numbing meetings and phone calls that should have been emails, write trite crap about boring topics and be courteous to asshole clients. But I won’t become a corporate speak user. I have my limits.
So I resolve here and now to avoid corporate speak and expunge it from my vocabulary. I will be a better person for it.
Brooklyn Isn’t Safe for Rock & Roll
Last Friday, my band Blackout Shoppers was fortunate enough to be one of several bands to play for the last time at The Trash Bar. A great music venue, The Trash Bar has been a great place to see a show. They have a great sound system and manage to bring a wide array of music there.
Trash Bar is the kind of live music venue that used to thrive in Manhattan, and now it’s found itself priced out of Williamsburg. It’s the latest victim of the city’s own success and Brooklyn’s transformation from downtrodden borough to one of the most expensive places in the world to live.
The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn used to be a bad place. Frank Serpico was shot not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. Apartments in that building are now listed for sale at up to $1 million.
Williamsburg is where young artistic types began moving to at the end of the last century because space was cheap and the area was close to Manhattan. But creative young people can’t afford to live in the popular parts of Brooklyn anymore. The kind of people more likely to move to these areas now are wealthy people who had traditionally occupied the more upscale parts of Manhattan. A recent episode from the TV show Broad City captured this perfectly. One of the show’s main characters is chatting with three high-priced lawyers. They all tell her that they currently live in Murray Hill (a high-priced part of Manhattan) but that they are all moving to Williamsburg.
It follows a familiar pattern, a pattern we saw in the East Village and Lower East Side of Manhattan: A run-down area attracts enthusiastic artists and musicians because living is cheap. Those artists make the area desirable, which raises property values. Those property values drive away the artists and their venues that began the rejuvenation.
While it was the place that music venues fled to when Manhattan became too overpriced, Williamsburg is losing the art and music that made it attractive.
Bushwick has become the new Williamsburg, although the pace of gentrification seems to speed up in some respects. Prices on apartments start to rise in advance of the vanguard of gentrification that makes a neighborhood safe. Williamsburg has been relatively safe for a while now, but Bushwick is still more dangerous with higher crime.
This kind of gentrification has been going in the city for years. Since the time of the Dutch settlers, this has been a city in flux. Nothing stays for too long. The churn of commerce and change is constant. The city wouldn’t thrive otherwise.
It’s true that the city is losing some of its trademark characteristics and grit. No doubt part of Big Apple lore is lost forever. It’s not all bad though. I’m glad I can walk down the Bowery without being afraid for my life, though I’m sad that there aren’t as many music venues there.
Williamsburg been overpriced for years, but I didn’t think that Trash Bar would get priced out of existence in a decade. It brought in big crowds and even catered to the obnoxious yuppies and hipsters with some of its live music and its karaoke. The show we played Friday night was well attended. The bands played great and it sounded excellent. Everyone left it all on stage and we walked out with our heads held high.
And that’s all you can do as a New Yorker. Change is never going to stop, so don’t let it stop you. There will be new places to make and see music. The pioneer spirit that brought the Dutch to the New World and brought rock clubs to formerly desolate and dangerous parts of the city can’t be killed off, it’s just moving to a new neighborhood.