Last Monday, remembering John Kennedy, I suggested six days in America’s history this past century that were not only of pivotal significance, but also grabbed the national psyche and shook it with fear or grief or joy. I invited you to tell me any I had overlooked, and 99% of those who did all cited the same tragic event.

Doug Simpkinson: “I was in my sophomore (high school) biology class when someone said, “Did you hear about the space shuttle? It blew up.” Being a skeptic I of course thought my leg was being pulled. The teacher stopped the class and wheeled in a TV to watch the news. The image of the popcorn cloud of smoke with the tendrils of smoke from the solid boosters careening out of control is burned into my brain as I’m sure it is etched in the minds of many of us.”

I’m not sure it was a pivotal date in American history in the sense of marking a turning point. But judging from your many eloquent messages, especially among younger readers, it was hugely sad and memorable. I certainly would agree with this.

Several of you mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well.

And Dana Dlott, alone, mentioned “the day in 1947 when John Bardeen invented the transistor at Bell labs” and “the day in the early 1950’s when Watson and Crick solved the structure of DNA.”

Yes, people across the land were GRIPPED with excitement and emotion on those two days — crying for joy, hugging in the streets, remembering for all time where they were when they heard the news. (Well, c’mon — what’s a day without sarcasm for a native New Yorker? It;s a day without edge. But I do know what Dana means. These were extraordinary achievements for America and mankind, even if almost no one knew that at the time.)


Wednesday I plugged what appears to be American Express’s excellent new brokerage service. Free for many people! I pointed out ways Amex could still make money, and situations in which you could be charged high commissions — such as with a 15,000-share trade of a $1 stock, where the brokerage commission would be $360 to buy and another $360 to sell (3 cents for each share beyond the first 3,000).

Dan Helman: There doesn’t seem to be any reason why you can’t trade 15,000 shares at $1 for free by placing five 3,000 share orders.

Hmmm. Hadn’t thought of that. And maybe Amex hasn’t either.

[Hong Lee: “Speaking of free stuff, check out It has links to get free ISP service and how to get paid to surf the net (among other things.)”]


Then on Friday I mentioned the famous salad oil swindle of the early 1960s that almost did American Express in. “It turned out.” I wrote, “that those tanks filled with millions of gallons of salad oil, collateral for an Amex unit’s loans, were . . . empty! Trusting souls, no one had actually looked inside.”

Clifford Pearlman: “The tanks were full; it’s just that they were full (up to the last two or three feet) of water, with salad oil floating on top. When the inventory checkers came around, they dropped a weighted line into the tanks to see how full the tanks were (a mid 20th century version of Mark Twain), and when they pulled out the line, the weight at the end was covered with salad oil.”

Tomorrow: The New Area Codes


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