Vlad And The Magical Disappearing Currency

Russian RublesWhile Russian troops advance into Ukraine, the Russian economy looks to be slipping further and further into inflation, recession, and dare I say even depression. The New York Times has a good article that articulates in non-Economics Professor terms just what the West is doing financially to try and curtail the Mad Dog of Moscow.

Last week I advocated for severe economic punishment for Russia’s blatant disregard for Ukraine’s national sovereignty and amazingly (because who thought the Western Allies could ever agree on doing something) that punishment has been meted out.

Somewhat.

I’m hoping that the somewhat is only to give Vlad the Impersonator a taste of what could happen if full measures were in fact instituted. Hoping, but something tells me that somewhere along the line some country somewhere will do the “but we need their natural gas” and begin to fray the alliance. But as for now the sanctions currently in place are definitely worrying to Russia. Russians are lining up at ATM’s trying to get cash out. The Bank of Russia even went so far as to promise that

“The volume of bank notes ready for loading into A.T.M.s is more than sufficient. All customer funds on bank accounts are fully preserved and available for any transactions.”

Um, sure. But something tells me many Russians are getting ready to make a run on the bank which is never a good thing. Would that panic spread to the rest of the world? My college economics professor would have said yes, but the world has changed in the *cough cough* years since I took his class. As the sequel to Wall Street (the movie) said, “money never sleeps”.  Besides with a government fiat against doing business with Russian banks in place, a default letter from any Russian bank will be laughed at by any foreign borrower.

Damn that let’s Trump off the hook for a while. No wonder he thought Putin’s Penetration was a smart move.

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A Postcard From the Safest Place In The World

I am currently aboard the cruise ship Azamara Quest and it is the safest place in the world. It is the safest place in the world because of the 220 passengers and 400 crew members aboard the ship, every one of them (us) has to be fully vaccinated against COVID and be able to show proof of status. You want to call my little California state issued vaccine card a vaccine passport go ahead because it fits neatly inside my federal government issued actual passport. It is the safest place in the world because all 220 passengers and 400 crew … Continue reading A Postcard From the Safest Place In The World

Let’s Hear It For The Immigrants

The wife (Cruella) and I are travelling for the next two weeks. Actually we’ll be on a cruise ship. More about that next time. This time I’d like to say a good word for the newest Americans working the crappiest jobs who frankly saved our bacon over the last 24 hours. Our flight from San Francisco to Atlanta was delayed two and a half hours because of the winter weather on the East Coast. Just quickly, really Delta? Are you not aware that in late January, early February it can get really snowy on the East coast? And if so … Continue reading Let’s Hear It For The Immigrants

Door Dash Dis

 

Door Dasher on Motor Bike

 

Last Friday the wife (Cruella) and I wanted to go out to dinner. We have a favorite Chinese restaurant we frequent and the desire for their Barbeque Pork Chow Fun combined with our desire to get out of the house neatly.

We have been to this restaurant numerous times, in point of fact we discovered it during the pandemic, both to dine in and to get take out (or take away if you are reading this in the UK). Never a hassle, good food, and most importantly a chance to get out of the house and eat at a different table and gaze at something other than, well, each other.

As has become custom during the pandemic I went to their website to make sure of their operating hours and if they were continuing to offer dine in service. Nothing had changed, so off we went.

Much to our surprise their doorway was blocked and a small sign taped to the glass window announced that since the previous Tuesday they had gone to “Take Out and Door Dash Only”.

While we probably should have gone in search of other eating arraignments, our appetites were craving that Chow Fun, so we scrapped our plans to dine in and ordered to go. While waiting for our order to be completed I counted four people coming to pick up orders they had placed online or via the phone and a stunning seven Door Dashers. That’s eleven total orders in the span of ten minutes.

The other thing I noticed is that the prices had gone up. The chow fun, an order of garlic shrimp, and an order of potstickers came to $36, about 30% higher than we would have been charged prior to the pandemic. Now there is inflation to factor in, plus trying to make back some of what was lost when the restaurant was closed early in the pandemic, but 30% higher? That’s when it hit me. Actually it was the woman from Door Dash who hit me because she was staring down at her phone and not looking where she was going.

I’m being asked to subsidize all of their Door Dash sales. And so are my fellow diners.

You can dash on to more by clicking the link

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Excess and Access

National Baseball Hall Of Fame, Cooperstown New York
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY

.A warning before we start. This is going to be a sports essay. If you are not into sports, hang on till the end, I promise I’ll bring this around to current affairs.

You may have heard the gnashing of teeth and grinding of axes over the non-induction of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to the baseball Hall of Fame. This was their tenth year of eligibility and I don’t have the time or desire to explain the ins and outs of HOF voting but suffice it to say the two most dominant players of their era were told by the voters “so sad, too bad, you juice you lose”.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) are the folks who vote for or against induction into the Hall. Enough of them have taken the stand that anyone who used performance enhancing drugs is a cheater and should thus be banned from induction. So far major names from the steroid era, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire, A-Rod, et al have failed to win election and either have or will soon fall from the ballot without induction.

Except for the guys they really liked and who, in the voters minds, might have used PEDs, might not, we’re not sure so we’re gonna just take a pass and pass them into the Hall or in other words, give them a hall pass. Like the one player who did get elected this year, David Ortiz. He was only tangentially mentioned in the Mitchell Report, MLB’s investigation into PED use that was released in 2007.

There are two things I think that are important to remember about the Steroid Era ™. The first is that it indeed was an era. It lasted from the late 1980’s or thereabouts until 2003 or thereabouts. In 1991 Major League Baseball banned the use of any PEDs, but they had no testing for it until 2003. Think about that for a moment. For twelve years players could use PEDs pretty much without fear of retribution because without testing there was no way to prove players were using. It was during that period that the record for most home runs in a season was broken twice and the Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa “Long Gone Summer” took place.

While I think it’s absurd to think every major leaguer was using, I don’t think it’s absurd to think most major leaguers were using. In fact I think there were so many who were using that the level playing field moralists are always arguing steroids upended was actually level. If enough players were using then they were all back on even ground. Should they have been using? It’s easy now to say they shouldn’t have, but back in an age when there was no mechanism to see who was and who wasn’t, the pressure to use must have been acute. I’m not talking about pressure from teammates alone. I think the pressure to use came in subtle forms from managers, coaches, and even owners.

“Gee, we’re really looking for a shortstop who can give us 25-30 dingers a year and you’re only popping 10-15. What do you think you can do to get those numbers up? If you can’t, we’re gonna have to look elsewhere and we don’t want to do that since we’re gonna offer you a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract”.

Money talks, the “pure” ballplayer walks on four pitches to first, down the foul line,  and out the bullpen gate.

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, click below for more

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The Senator From Sonoma

Krysten Sinema Instagram Photo
Photo by Krysten Sinema, United States Senator, via Instagram

Yesterday El Grande Hefe de First Draft wrote about the early political obituaries for Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema. Today I come here, in the words of Shakespeare, not to praise her but to bury her.

In an American Oak wine barrel filled with Sonoma Chardonnay.

Sinema of course has gained fame and notoriety for basically telling all the folks who helped her get elected, both the political classes of the Democratic Party and the good citizens of Arizona who voted for her, that her idea of being a maverick is to do everything she can to prevent the implementation of laws designed to give people the certainty that elections will be held in fair and honorable means. She wants to muck up every chance her party has to turn the hatred of Trump into a solid watershed moment to beat down incipient fascism and create an America where all truly are created equal. She wants to in effect take a parliamentary procedure not mentioned in the Constitution, something not even codified till near 50 years after the Constitution was written, and make it a permanent fixture of congressional debate going forward.

In other words she just loves her some filibuster.

You shouldn’t be surprised. If you have followed her career in politics at all she is the winner of the “Most Likely To Say One Thing But Do Another” award. I mean this is the woman who ran as a moderate Democrat wanting to help the poor of her state then showed up on the floor of the Senate dressed like a teenager heading out to the mall to squash the $15 per hour minimum wage. Not that I have any statistics to back it up but I have a feeling many of the people who voted for her could have really used an upgrade in their minimum wages to help with things like, oh I don’t know, food, shelter, clothing. Especially in the middle of a global pandemic. But hey, she made all Gen Xers yearn for the good old days of Debbie Gibson.

Now I know it’s hard to believe, but we here in Sonoma have a tie to the peripatetic Ms. Sinema. One that is, to say the least, a bit strange. You see, back in the summer of 2020, the Senator from Arizona spent two weeks here in Sonoma as a paid intern at the Three Sticks Winery just a few blocks from my house. How I never ran into her I don’t know. It’s a small town and word of strangers with big names gets around quick.

Let that sink in for a moment. A United States Senator, making a salary of $170K a year, decided to take two weeks off and go learn how to scrub out wine barrels. Not only that, but she got paid $1117.40 per week for the privilege. A quick bit of math shows that means she was paid $28 per hour, nearly twice the minimum wage she voted against. She did it in the middle of a pandemic, five months before the rollout of the initial COVID vaccine, and in the middle of a presidential and congressional election that just might have been the most consequential in the history of the country. I’m sure some of her constituents would have liked her to have been working on programs to save their jobs or even their lives. I’m sure the Democratic Party would have liked her to have gone out stumping for congressional candidates to shore up their House majority or to swing into some swing states to help Joe Biden.

Instead with all that going on she decided to take a couple of weeks off to leave the humidity of Washington and the “but it’s a dry heat” of Arizona to come up to the warm during the day, cold at night temps of Sonoma to learn the ins and outs of winemaking. It shouldn’t be surprising though. Sinema had been called out before the pandemic for missing critical senate votes so she could compete in Ironman Triathlons in such nearby locales as New Zealand. At least the winery was in the US.

But she wore her Ironman garb even better than Tony Stark and that’s all that really matters in the end.

More on this rather strange story by clicking the link

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Chinese Checkers

Beijing Winter Olympics 2002 Logo

In two weeks the Winter Olympic Games ™ will begin in China.

I won’t be watching.

I will be boycotting these games. My physical attendance was never going to happen, so my boycott will be of the television kind. And I strongly urge you to join with me on this boycott journey.

First of all let’s face it, nobody really cares about winter sports unless they or a family member are playing them. Strapping boards on your feet and sliding down a mountain trying to be one tenth of a second faster than the other guy is not compelling sports viewing. Really, it is like auto racing, we’re just waiting for the crash. Don’t get me started on ice skating, a “sport” tailored to be a cesspool of corruption. Ice hockey? I have the NHL for that, if I really need it. Luge, bobsled, cross country skiing? Fine things to do, but a bore to watch. Now curling, that’s something I could get into, but until they let the curlers (don’t call them athletes) play it in their natural habitats, ie, with a beer can in their hands, I’ll pass.

But all that’s just my distaste for winter sports. That’s not the real reason I’ll be boycotting.

Did I mention these games are taking place in China? You remember China. The land that censorship loves so much it bought a timeshare there. The land of suppression and repression. Where surveilling leads to jailing. Where human rights are thrown into the back seat of a police car never to be heard from again. Yeah, that China.

China, or to be more correct the city of Beijing, was selected to host these Olympics through some pretty dubious means. Back in 2014 when the selection election was held, Oslo Norway was the leading candidate. That made perfect sense since, well, Oslo is well known for it’s winters, i.e., they have plenty of naturally occurring snow and ice. But at the last minute the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threw in demands such as:

“Diva-like demands for luxury treatment” for the IOC members themselves, such as special lanes on all roads only to be used by IOC members and cocktail reception at the Royal Palace with drinks paid for by the royal family. IOC also “demanded control over all advertising space throughout Oslo” to be used exclusively by IOC’s sponsors, something that is not possible in Norway because Norway is a liberal democracy where the government doesn’t own or control “all advertising space throughout Oslo” much of which is privately owned and has no authority to give a foreign private organization exclusive use of an entire city and private property within it.

Now the IOC is pretty well known for being a little footloose and fancy free when it comes to demanding things from potential host cities, but that was ridiculous. It actually sounds to me like the IOC made these requirements with the idea of gaming the election so that ONLY Beijing would be able to win. As it stands the only competitor for these games after Oslo pulled out was Almaty Kazakhstan, another Asian country with dubious credentials when it comes to human rights (but notably better than the Chinese).

So Beijing becomes the first city to ever host both a summer and a winter Olympics and they will have done both in the span of 14 years, far quicker than any other two time host city ever has. Then again, while once upon a time cities fought tooth and nail to get an Olympics now they mostly have an ambivalence about them, especially the winter games. Let’s face it, as a ski destination you only have a few months to make money and if those months have to be given over to preparing for and then hosting an event you don’t make money on, well thanks but no thanks.

But having the IOC game the system for them is the least of my problems with China hosting these games. Let’s talk about what they are requiring of those attending the games, both participants and partisans.

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It’s A Medical Mystery

Couple flummoxed by medical bills

So a couple of weeks ago the wife (Cruella) went to the doctor for her annual “well woman checkup”. If you are a woman you know what that means. If you are a man, ask a woman, and it would be best to ask a woman who understands your tolerance for the realities of the female anatomy, to explain it to you.

Cruella checked out just fine as she knew she would. She went out and had lunch with her friends, then tootled on home and thought nothing more of it. The next week an envelope arrived from Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the medical corporation that her doctor works for. In it was a bill for the “well woman checkup” to the tune of $493. Well that’s a surprise since our Blue Cross insurance should have covered the entire amount charged for the check up.

Here’s an important thing to know about my wife. Years ago she had a thought to get into a new line of work and decided medical billing would be an interesting application of her skills. Thus she took courses and bought text books on how to “code” as they say in the biz. Code refers to the various permutations of numbers and letters that are used to define the procedure a patient comes in for (in this case a well woman checkup) and the diagnosis the doctor comes up with (she’s fine, come back in a year). Those codes are the basis on which the doctor or the corporation he works for charge your insurance company and you. Suffice it to say that even though she never actually entered that field, the information never left her head. And the textbooks became fixtures in our bookcase.

It turns out that we got this bill because instead of the visit being coded as a well woman checkup, it was coded as a well woman checkup WITH a diagnosis that something was wrong. Z01.411 versus Z01.419. I am not making these code numbers up. Getting on the phone she called the doctor’s office and was told, no we in the office coded it properly, you’ll need to call the corporate billing department to see if they changed anything.

Ah yes, welcome to the third circle of hell. When you go to the doctor at Palo Alto Med, which by the way is actually owned by a larger corporation called Sutter Health, the doctor’s office is responsible to code the reason for and result of the visit. That information is sent on to the actual Sutter Health billing department, ostensibly to double check it was billed properly, before it is sent on to your health insurance company so they can pay the bill. In order to make sure the code is correct, or perhaps to justify their code, the doctor also sends on their notes from the visit.

Oh you thought your medical records were private. How quaint.

So now Millie in billing gets to read all the doctor’s notes on your visit and can decide, nope, we gotta change this code or add in another code here because in the notes there is a mention of maybe possibly kinda sorta if I squint real hard there might be a potential problem. Thus Z01.411 becomes Z01.419. Then she ships it all off to Blue Cross happy in the knowledge she has served her corporate masters well. She kicks back, puts her feet up on the desk, takes a long sip from her martini glass and pulls out a Kool Menthol to celebrate her achievement. That’s assuming she redid the coding in an honest attempt to be as correct as possible.

Thing is, Sutter Health is actually kinda known for not being the most reputable when it comes to doing honest coding. To the tune of a $90 million dollar fine by the federal government.

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