Category Archives: Business

Fool Me Once

Dopesick Cast

There is a terrific new TV series on Hulu right now called DOPESICK. It’s the story of the OxyContin plague that still continues to plague the American public. Told from many viewpoints the audience gets to see the machinations of the manufacturer Purdue Pharmaceutical and it’s owners the Sackler family as they scurry to create “the greatest drug ever”, the effects on one particular woman who becomes addicted, the Justice Department’s two hotshot prosecutors who go after the manufacturer, a DEA agent, the sales reps for Purdue and one coal country doctor who is initially hesitant about the drug then becomes a spokesperson for it before he realizes how devastating and deadly the drug truly is. The doctor is played by Michael Keaton and for the first time in many years I was able to watch a performance by him and not half expect to hear him say “I’m Batman”.

Also Richard Sackler, the head of Purdue Pharma is played by Michael Stuhlberg who is the greatest actor on the planet today and if you don’t know who he is that just proves how great an actor he is. He’s played real life characters before, from Lew Wasserman to Edward G. Robinson to Arnold Rothstein to Richard Clarke. He brings a bit of each one to this performance.

OK, so that’s enough of an ad for Hulu. Let’s talk COVID vaccine hesitancy.

It’s been bandied about in the media that African Americans have been reluctant to vaccinate because of doubts and worries about the vaccine. Many in the community see it as just another example of the government using them as human guinea pigs. They have a justifiable right to that fear, inspired in no short part by the Tuskegee Experiments of the mid to late 20th century where black men were unknowingly inoculated with syphilis to see how the disease progresses in the human body. I understand that fear, especially when it’s then boosted by the anti-vaxxer crowd.

Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

What I’ve had a hard time understanding is lower class and poor whites who are against the vaccine. Where did that come from? Yeah I know, Faux News and Repugnicant politicians are the easy ones to blame, especially when they sow doubt in the general population as to the vaccine’s efficacy and safety while being first in line to get the jab. But lower class and poor people are the ones least able to afford getting sick in general and specifically in the case of COVID. They should have been at the front of the line demanding access to a FREE ounce of prevention. Instead they were willing to take their chances with non-vaccination and the possibility of getting a preventable deadly disease.

And here’s where we get back to Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, and OxyContin. Continue reading

For The Rain It Raineth

Rain Clouds Approaching

There’s a storm coming.

The rainclouds are gathering and the word on the wire is to batten down the hatches and prepare for four days of deluge.

Here in NorCal, we couldn’t be happier.

I know in many areas of the country a warning of four days of rain will bring reactions ranging from ho-hum what else is new to not again make it stop. But here it only elicits smiles, happiness, and even a little dancing in the streets.

You always welcome that which you haven’t seen in so long.

And we haven’t seen significant rain for several years now. In the midst of pandemic, social upheaval, elections and claims of election fraud, through the Trump years and into the Biden years, the one constant has been that we have not had rain. Reservoirs are at lows never seen before. Lake Tahoe’s water level is so low boats are marooned in mud while algae rots their hulls. Trees are dying at such a rapid rate they can’t be chopped down fast enough to prevent them from becoming fuel for this week’s wildfire.

In fact wildfires have become so common now we’ve taken to naming them just like hurricanes. If only the hurricanes and the wildfires were just baseball team names. On a recent wine tour, the bus driver and I got into an argument over which fire caused the damage we were driving our group through. So many of them we can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

One of the big promises of this weather system is that there will be enough rain to put out all fires on the west coast. Now that’s the kind of rain I can get behind. We’re even ready for the probability of mudslides. During the drought California has been diligently shoring up problematic landscapes, especially the ones alongside our major highways. What can I say, we think ahead. Not all of the projects have been finished, but enough so that it appears (hopefully) when the rains come this week we will not have traded one problem for another.

So we have rain coming and the possibility that all wildfires will be put out. All is rosy once again in the Golden State.

Eh, no.

You see, we here in the land of baseball playoff games beginning in twilight like to be proactive about problems. We try to face them head on instead of running and hiding and hoping someone, anyone, else will fix them. That’s why we elect Democrats to leadership roles both in the state and in Congress. We also believe in science and in the scientists who actually do the science. Had we not the death rate from COVID would have been in the millions. At last check we were holding at 7 deaths per 100,000. Compare that with Louisiana where the rate is 17 per 100,000 or West Virginia where it’s 42 per 100,000.

And it’s that belief in science, in that refusal to allow politicians and media outlets to “but on the other hand” us that gives rise to our current concern over climate change. We understand that one state can’t stop climate change. The weather doesn’t recognize political boundaries, only people do.

And lately people have been disappointing us left and right.

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Wanna Bet On It?

Online Sports Betting

If you’ve been watching the baseball playoffs you’ve been inundated with ads for gambling websites. Oh, sorry, I mean gaming websites that allow casual fans to compete for pots of money based on correctly predicting who would win, by how much, how many total points would be scored, and many other aspects of the game.

But according to them that’s not gambling.

I’m not going to name the sites since I prefer they at least spend some of their profits on paying for advertising and they ain’t giving me any of it. And they do pay a lot. Watch an hour of a playoff game and you will likely see three ads for one particular site, plus there will be some banter (no doubt paid for) between the announcers about said site or the bets you the viewer can place. And make no mistake, you can place bets on just about anything that happens in a game; whether the next pitch is a curve ball or the next batter will hit a line drive or the batter after him will hit a fly ball to the right side that is caught by the shortstop who is playing over by second base because of a shift and will the team in the field continue to employ a shift for the next batter.

All from the comfort and ease of your living room through the miracle of cell phone technology.  What hath Steve Jobs wrought?

And if you thought “wait a minute, I thought sports betting was illegal everywhere but Nevada” you haven’t been paying attention to the Supreme Court. Three years ago the court in a pretty near unanimous ruling said the federal government had no place in preventing states from allowing sports betting. If Iowa wants to let their farmers bet on Hawkeye football who are the feds to tell them no? Interstate commerce and all that.

Once that ruling was announced the floodgates opened. All parties wanted their piece of what everyone knew would be a huge pie. The sports leagues, the statistics companies, the cell phone companies, the television networks, and of course the gambling sites. Sports leagues, which for years ran away from anything that even suggested there was gambling going on involving their games, suddenly were partnering with betting sites to make sure they got their cut. ESPN, having already purchased Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website a few years earlier, poised themselves to be the premier statistician for the new age of gambling. And of course all the networks became even more invested in sports programming. After all, having a money interest in the outcome of every play is a powerful incentive for the viewer to continue watching even during the commercials.

But it is the leagues, and through them the players, who have the greatest interest in fans putting a few bucks down on The Bucks. The cut from the gambling sites will more than offset any drop off in attendance or even, heaven forbid, a drop in their rights fees from television or radio. And the players see revenue from gambling as a piece of the pie they have a right to. This coming winter’s negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players over The Basic Agreement (the rules all clubs and players must have in their contracts) might very well come down to how much of a cut the players get from the gambling sites. After all, it’s their actual performances that are being bet on. Which brings up the issue of whether those performances or even the statistics that accrue from those performances are the intellectual property of the individual players or of the teams they play for or of the league as a whole.

So everyone is gonna make money, what’s the downside?

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Some Assembly Required

Sears Home Kit Ad

Once upon a time you could buy a home and have it shipped to you.

Some assembly required.

Sears Roebuck and Company, the Amazon of it’s time, sold everything. At first they sold everything via their catalog, everything shipped via the US Mail and the Wells Fargo Wagon. Later they opened those stores so many of us will forever associate with the smell of fresh popcorn, an aroma artfully aimed to draw in passersby who might otherwise wander into the Montgomery Wards.

They didn’t call Richard Sears a marketing genius for nothing.

After years of selling all the stuff to stuff into a house, Sears decided well why not just sell them the house as well? At the height of their popularity, Sears offered almost 400 different styles of homes all ready to assemble. All you had to do was select the model, send in the money, then wait for the railcar to appear down by the train depot and start hauling out the precut, fully numbered, ready to assemble components along with the building instructions. With no skills at all you could have your new home ready to occupy in as little as 90 days.

And you complain about putting a bookcase from Ikea together. Wimp.

In one of the first of the 75 pages or so of the instruction manual was a warning to follow the directions given to the letter. Don’t succumb to the professional carpenter who happens to wander past your home site and sniff “That ain’t the way I’d do it”. No, why should you listen to a professional who has spent his entire life building homes when you have an instruction manual that details how to build THIS house.

And you were wondering where all of this was headed.

This notion that anyone can do anything a professional can do and obtain the same, if not better, results has been around since the dawn of time. But the internet has made it even more pervasive. It’s moved beyond putting your own house together to being your own information gatherer, transportation specialist, accommodations guru, and even research scientist and/or medical professional. I mean why should you employ a travel agent who spends her day researching all options for your only two weeks of vacation in the year when you can spend all day trying to navigate Kayak just to find the worst hotel in all of Hilo (“but it’s such a bargain!”). And by the way, you don’t pay the travel agent, the best hotel at the best price in Hilo would pay her.

Travel is the least of the problem.

The worst of the problem isn’t even the yahoos who spend a couple of hours reading online forum posts about how “COVID isn’t real” or “Trump won the 2020 election” or “Biden was secretly replaced with a lizard alien shape shifter” and then yell and scream about it so much that you, me, all of us have to spend time shouting him down. I got news for you, COVID is real, Trump lost, and Biden was replaced with Jim Carrey not a lizard alien. OK, that last one isn’t true. Maybe.

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Bye Bye Facebook

Back of Facebook Sign

Facebook and all its assorted other social media extensions went dark for several hours on Monday. Just as I was starting to write this post. I don’t wanna claim I have supernatural powers, but well, if the algorithm fits…

An editorial in the no longer failing New York Times speaks directly to something I’ve been thinking is happening for several months now:

Facebook is dying.

Rather than being the all powerful behemoth the MSM would have you believe, Facebook is so worried about losing market share they are trying to leverage children’s playdates into a way to grow “the kids market”. Instagram, or Insta to those in the know, always a veritable cesspool of teen female body image issues, basically stuck fingers in their collective ears and hummed “La dee dah la dee dah” when a report that they themselves asked for came back saying “yeah, not such a great place for girls to get a good self image going”.

Straws are being clutched at. Paper ones no doubt, no plastic for us thank you.

In the Times editorial, Kevin Roose writes

What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day — user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues.

I know a company that’s beyond it’s sell by date. I used to pick over the skeletal remains of those companies for a living. Many were very successful for a time. There was even a precursor social media company that I outfitted with office furniture selected by the guy who eventually took on the title of CEO, then floundered and eventually died, its assets sold off, its office furniture returned from whence it came. I saw many companies flying up the tech ladder and so many of the very same companies come a tumblin’ down.

In addition I’ve worked many times with Facebook, moving their people from place to place and making their parties go smoothly. It’s in those unguarded moments when you can see the real story of any company. It’s the way people look at one another. In a growing company it’s an “all for one, one for all” attitude. In a plateaued company it’s “aren’t we just so f-ing great”, and in a company with problems it’s “what can this guy do for me?”.  The last job at Facebook that final attitude was everywhere.

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Well That’s Very Different…Never Mind

Emily Litella

There are three things you need to know before you head into this story:

  1. Next Door is as localized message board for neighbors to post notices about lost dogs or to inquire about what that noise was last night or to randomly spout off about politics. On that last point I’ve been known to call it QAnon for the slightly less crazy.
  2. Pacaso is a company that puts together groups of people to purchase properties as second homes and use them as “vacation” get away locations.
  3. Picazo Cafe is a beloved Sonoma restaurant famous for their burgers and nachos.

Pacaso, the real estate scheme, has been very controversial around these parts. While I and my neighbors all live here, we do understand that our little part of the world is a tempting vacation location, what with all our scenic beauty, pleasant weather, and oh yeah all those wineries with open doors and enticing aromas of fermented grapes.

Full disclosure, my day job as a tour guide is dependent on getting people to come and vacation here.

While we love our area for all the reasons stated above we also love it for our neighbors; for the connections we have made with the people who live next door or down the street or across town. They are our friends. And we welcome newcomers to the town. We want the just arrived to be as invested in our community as old timers are.

Which brings us to why Pacaso is so controversial.

When they put together 6-10 people who don’t know each other to purchase a single property as a second home to share on a rotating basis it not only takes that home off the market for potential sale to someone who actually wants to live here full time, it takes away a family completely invested in our community. This consortium of strangers won’t make connections in town, they won’t contribute to keeping our small businesses going, they will care more about short term value rather than long term growth. And most importantly, they will not vote here.

In addition Pacaso brokering a house raises the costs of buying property here. Everyone loves to have the value of their home go up, but around here most believe it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing who your next door neighbor is. Pacaso doesn’t look for one or two bedroom homes. They look for four or five bedroom homes, a bedroom for each of the members of the consortium. The kind of homes families move into. The kind of homes where kids play in the yard and go to the local school and declare to their parents “why do we live in the most BOOOORING place on earth?” only to come back after a few years away and say “wow, this is really a special place”. In other words, the kind of homes where the owners are fully invested in their community.

Years ago when AirBnB and Vrbo came into being, the people of Sonoma voted to limit the number of homes that could be used as “short term rental” housing for precisely the same reasons as why so many of us are against Pacaso. We want neighbors, not transient vacationers. Pacaso would effectively get around the short term rental restrictions by having “owners” who might use the property for themselves, or might allow a friend to use their allotted time for a small fee. All of which is why neighborhoods around town are dotted with handmade signs voicing opposition to Pacaso. Truly a grassroots movement.

And one other thing. Those Pacaso owners and their “friends” wouldn’t pay hotel taxes, the ten to twenty percent tax that gets included in your bill at the end of the stay and that goes no where else but straight into the county’s coffers. That tax is another reason we like tourists who stay in hotels — they keep our tax bills down. No hotel tax increase has ever been voted down in Sonoma, hardly surprising since the people who pay the tax can’t vote here.

OK, so now you have all the background. Let’s get to the funny part…

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What I Meant To Say Was…

A Tour Guide On A Bus

Not me, but an amazing simulation of me.

In real life outside the world of internet punditry, my profession is that of a tour guide. I take people from all over the world on tours of any and all of the sights around Northern California, from as far south as Monterey up to the Napa-Sonoma wine country. The wife (Cruella) also is a tour guide. She’s the one who got me into the profession for which I am forever grateful. I love doing it.

After all how many professions can say the job is to pick up strangers at elegant hotels and show them a good time? OK, yeah, there is that other one as well. My job doesn’t pay nearly as well as the other one but I do get to keep my clothes on for which my guests are forever grateful.

I recently took a group of Texans for a tour to some of the Napa wineries. Along the way we passed by the notoriously expensive ($350 per person without wine for a pre-fixe tasting menu) restaurant The French Laundry. That particular restaurant has been on the minds (and thus on the tongues) of conservative media lately as Gavin Newsom had a misstep early in the pandemic of being photographed having dinner there right after he enacted strict COVID restrictions on all restaurants. Mind you, The French Laundry was adhering to all those restrictions when the picture was taken. Also the picture had been cropped to make it appear he was dining indoors when in fact that room is open on two sides. Nevertheless, bad optics and it was a rallying cry used in the catastrophically lopsided recall election that kept Newsom in office and may have destroyed the Repugnicant Party here in the Golden State.

Now I bring this up because as we drove past, the gentleman seated in the front seat of the bus snickered “Bet Nancy Pelosi eats there”. We’ll forget for a moment his mixing up of liberal California Democrats. My response was a simple “to be honest, I wouldn’t know” and a quick moving on to other subjects. I reserve my liberal snarck for my dear readers.

But here’s what I meant to say:

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Random Thoughts on Labor Hashanah

Jewish Women Labor Strikers

It’s always fun when a corporal holiday collides with a religious one.

I write this on Monday which is Labor Day here in the States as well as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, around the world. It feels like we ought to be throwing confetti so long as it is union made confetti from a factory that practices profit sharing, respect for labor, and a low highest paid employee to lowest paid differential.

Those would all be very Jewish ideals and after all, isn’t New Year’s when we think about the ideal way in which to live?

By the way, while it is certainly fine and acceptable to wish your Jewish friends a “Happy New Year” keep in mind that the holiday to follow in a week or so, Yom Kippur, is officially the Day of Atonement when you ask forgiveness from all you may have hurt in the recently ended year. Don’t wish those same friends a “Happy Yom Kippur”, it’s bad form.  Kinda like sending your Catholic friends a sympathy card on Good Friday.

But speaking of Labor Day, Delta Airlines and many other companies have decided the cost of insuring employees against COVID has gotten to the point where they will be imposing at $200 per month surcharge on the health care plans of any unvaccinated employee. In addition

in compliance with state and local laws, COVID pay protection will only be provided to fully vaccinated individuals who are experiencing a breakthrough infection.” Unvaccinated employees who contract Covid, without exemptions, will have to use their sick days after that.

I’m usually not in favor of large corporations picking out a minority of employees and targeting them with lower wages (deducting $200 from their paycheck makes their wages lower) but there are two mitigating factors here.

  1. It’s already being done for other health related matters. For instance, smokers pay a higher premium than non-smokers.
  2. GET THE FREAKING VACCINE. It’s not just about you. This is an airborne communicable disease that has killed 4.5 Million people worldwide and in this instance your “rights” are not greater than anyone else’s right to not be infected. Those same rights you claim come with responsibilities, to your fellow workers, your customers, to the world at large. Just as I have a right to free speech I also have a responsibility to not yell “There’s a gremlin on the wing of the plane trying to make it crash”. (The only time I will go with Shatner over Lithgow)

Back to Rosh Hashanah. I am what is referred to as a “Eating and Gifts” Jew as in I only celebrate the holidays that involve a big feast or presents. Rosh Hashanah is a big feast holiday. Besides looking forward to the new year it is a celebration of the fall harvest. The table groans with the weight of beef brisket, potato kugel, late summer vegetables, and sweets for as far as the eye can see. Not a one of them pumpkin spice flavored for which I am eternally grateful.

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Infinity Stones

Infinity Stones

One stone to rule them all…or am I confusing epic adventure tales?

About a month ago I tangentially mentioned in a post that I had an incident of kidney stones requiring an ER visit. Since then I have been trying to improve my health despite the best efforts of the American Medical Complex to complicate that.

I am no stranger to the formation of kidney stones. This is my fourth bout with them. And yes, I do all I can to prevent them from occurring. I cut down on salt, avoid oxalate foods, and drink lots of water. But my body just loves to remind me that, as the old adage goes, man plans and god says ha!

I belong to Kaiser Permanente, the largest HMO organization in the country. I like the idea of an HMO. I like that it takes a simple concept, people are generally healthy and it’s good to keep them that way, and uses that idea as the basis for it’s coverage. I’ll put it in my own words: Be proactive not reactive.

Unfortunately despite my numerous times being told to (GROSS STUFF ALERT) pee in the same jar for 24 hours then give them a sample and the number of times I’ve gone into the lab for a spot test (I always feel like an Olympic athlete doing that), I still get those pesky conglomerations of calcium stuck in places where the sun don’t shine and cause a kind of pain that only a man would think was like giving birth and which  women who have would say “oh please”. That’s when I have to go the extra 20 miles and get to the big hospital where the reactive doctors play.

And that is why I found myself in the emergency room last month. It’s also where one discovers the flip side of the HMO.

Because as good as Kaiser is at trying to keep you healthy they use the opportunity of your being unwell to trot out all the old American Medical Complex tricks to separate you from the money in your wallet. Oh and your sanity as well.

At the emergency room I had a doctor examine me, an X-Ray, a CT Scan, blood and urine workups, and was prescribed a few medications. Total cost with the medications was $275. Now depending on where you live that’s not a bad deal all said and done. I was also told that I would need to see a urologist for a more extensive exam. I fully expected that.

The next day I got a call from the urology department wanting to set up an appointment. I asked if it could be at the more local medical office and got a surprise when I was told the “exam” would be via phone. Well okay, COVID and all, I suppose this could be handled via telemedicine. A few days later I got an email from a urologist, we’ll call him Dr. Stone, who said he didn’t think there was anything to talk about until we waited a couple of weeks, did another CT Scan, and saw if the stones had moved. The ones in my kidney, not his family. That made sense to me so he set up another scan.

Click the button for more fun and adventures

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Assault On A Queen

Assault On A Queen Poster

I’m a sucker for a good “caper” movie. Give me protagonists with shady pasts who devise brilliant schemes to make themselves and their buddies rich and man that is just good old fashioned entertainment. This movie, ASSAULT ON A QUEEN, is a 1966…well…at best okay addition to the caper cannon. Sinatra just kinda walks through it, the plan has you wondering why they do things the way they do, never explains away nagging incongruities, and the two best acting performances are supplied by supporting characters (Franciosa and Conte). But in terms of audacious plans it’s hard to beat raising a sunken submarine, retrofitting it, and making it your get away vehicle for robbing an ocean liner at sea.

I’m sure by this point you’re probably thinking “okay where’s he going with this”. Patience. Just like a good caper movie you need all the backstory.

The film’s ocean liner is a real ship, the RMS Queen Mary. When used for the filming it was in it’s next to last year as a seafaring vessel. Soon after the filming was completed Cunard/White Star sold the Queen Mary to the City of Long Beach in southern California where it has been permanently moored for the past 54 years. It has functioned as a hotel, convention center, and general tourist attraction for all that time.

The city had leased the ship to a management company who agreed to run the facility and keep it in good shape. “Just send us the check each month” seemed to be the municipal attitude. But Grande Dames, especially those of the ocean going variety, need constant maintenance and upkeep. Constant maintenance and upkeep costs a lot of money. For as long as tourists paid their way onboard to see how the other half once traveled or conventioneers thought it was a hoot to stay on a ship instead of a Sheraton things were fine. For the last year and a half though the tourists haven’t been coming. Neither were the checks. And an independent inspection of the ship’s condition showed that it needed over a hundred million dollars just to get it back to a state that would keep it afloat for the next 25 years. It would be close to half a billion dollars to retrofit it to last another hundred years.

The management company, when informed of the repairs needed, basically said “New phone, who dis?” and declared bankruptcy, leaving the City of Long Beach holding the proverbial bag and forcing the city council to debate what to do with the ship. By the end of the debate I’m sure most of the council members were wondering why in hell their predecessors had come up with this cockamamie scheme.

Their options, according to the Daily Mail, came down to three:

Option 1: Renovate and preserve the Queen Mary for 100 years 

It’s estimated that preserving the Queen Mary until 2120 could cost taxpayers between $200 million and $500 million. Extensive repairs and upgrades would need to take place on a dry dock and could take several years to complete.

Option 2: Renovate and preserve the Queen Mary for 25 years

Experts say short-term preservation could cut immediate costs to the taxpayer. Marine engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol says taxpayers will fork out $150 million and $175 million to keep the boat viable as a tourist attraction until the late 2040s.

Option 3: Dismantle and/or sink the boat

It is estimated that either sinking or dismantling the boat could cost upwards of $105 million because metal from the 81,000 ton vessel would have to be transported to a scrap facility or moved further out into the ocean

First of all it’s a ship, not a boat. A ship can carry a boat. A boat can never carry a ship. End of naval semantics lesson.

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A Victim of FOFO

Prince George At Euro 2020 Final

I feel for ya kid. If my dad made me wear a suit and tie to a sporting event AND my team lost I’d be pissed too.

A few years ago a new acronym entered the lexicon- FOMO. It stands for Fear Of Missing Out, the notion that because via our phones we can see in real time events our friends and relations are engaging in we are somehow missing out on those events by not actually being there.

This past Sunday I became a victim of FOFO. Like FOMO, FOFO involves our relationship with technology and the toys that bring the tech to our fingertips. But FOFO isn’t about missing out on something, it’s about the active desire to not want to know something. FOFO stands for Fear Of Finding Out.

The particular event this relates to was the final of the Euro Cup Soccer Tournament between England (the good guys) and Italy (the less good guys). Out here on the Left Coast the match began at noon. I could not watch it then. There was business to attend to, business that would not be finished till well after the end of the game. No problem thought I. I would simply record the game, avoid any information about what happened in the game, and watch it in pure unadulterated sports ignorance bliss when I got home.

And that’s when I encountered FOFO.

It might not be a big deal here in the US of A, but the Euro Cup IS a big deal everywhere else in the world. While I had disabled all the alerts I have for sports stories and even went to the extent of disabling alerts from news organizations on the off chance a score would find it’s way to my binging phone, I so wanted to know nothing of the match in order to better enjoy it via tape delay that I took to not even looking at my phone the entire afternoon.

That’s a lot more difficult than you would think. I didn’t miss out on anything really important, but every time there was a vibration and a bing in my pocket (is that a bing in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?) I felt I had to ignore it on the oft chance it might contain information I didn’t want to know.

And suddenly I understood the Fox News viewer better than I ever have.

While I didn’t want to know who scored or what team was ahead, the Fox News viewer doesn’t want to get information from any other source on the oft chance he or she might have their preconceived notions of right and wrong challenged. Their FOFO is directly connected to their own self image or perhaps to the lack of same.

Their FOFO is so strong that their elected officials are taking them up on it. January 6th? Never heard of it. Did something happen that day? I just remember there being a lot more than usual tourists traipsing through the building. No big deal.

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The OTHER Recall Election

District Attorney Jill Ravitch

A popular Democratic politician takes the necessary steps to provide justice and safety to the people of the community and for their trouble takes not only heat from conservatives and know nothings but ends up having to contest a recall election.

Oh, did you think I’m talking about Gavin Newsom and the Half-Witted Recall?

No I’m talking about the OTHER recall that hits a bit closer to home for me.

Jill Ravitch, Sonoma County District Attorney, faces a recall election this September. This even though her term would be over nine months later and she long ago announced she was not going to run for re-election.

So what heinous crime did she commit that requires the extraordinary enterprise of a recall election? Was she caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar? Was she allowing criminals to walk away Scot free? Was she in league with the forces of Satan?

None of the above. She did her job. She prosecuted a company for abandoning seniors living in a senior care facility the company ran during the 2017 Tubbs fires, leaving them with no way of getting out even though the area was under mandatory evacuation notices. That’s right, they left grandma to a raging firestorm. Residents of the facilities had to be rescued by loved ones and first responders. Fortunately none of the residents died. The county filed a civil suit against the company. I wish they had filed criminal charges for elder abuse, but the civil suit was the best they could do. The company, Oakmont Senior Living, eventually settled the county’s suit against them for a payment of $500,000.

Now you would think that kind of publicity is the kind you’d like to have just quietly fade into the mists of history. You’d like to think they’d take their licking and hire a good PR firm to smooth out the rough edges. You’d think that, but if you did you wouldn’t be Bill Gallaher, owner of Oakmont Senior Living and one of the larger developers in the county. He decided it wasn’t fair his company had to pay out half a million bucks just cause they left a bunch of old people to potentially die a gruesome death. Nope, he took a clue from the QAnon based recall efforts against Governor Newsom and started a recall petition against DA Ravitch.

According to state campaign financing records Gallaher has bankrolled the entire recall effort by himself. $750,000 or thereabouts. And how did he get Sonoma county voters to sign his petition? He had the petition peddlers tell potential signees that Ravitch needed to be recalled because she didn’t prosecute PG&E, the local power company, for their part in the Tubbs fires.

That is true, she didn’t. She didn’t because she and her office investigated PG&E’s culpability for that particular fire and found, unlike other fires, there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. As someone I know who has greater insight into the world of law and courts once said, it ain’t what you know is true, it’s what you can prove.

Nevertheless the anger still seething within the public breast over the fires found it’s way into the fingertips of enough registered voters to get the recall on the ballot. And so this September the county will spend somewhere between $600,000 and $900,000 to administer an election that is only happening because of the spite of one man.   Continue reading

Jesus Was Born On The Fourth Of July

Hobby Lobby July 4 Ad

I’ve spent a good amount of my life in the retail sector.

My parents owned retail stores. I worked in them from the time I was old enough to make correct change. For many years I owned retail stores, a case of the apple not falling far from the tree. Or maybe I was just too lazy to learn another way of making a living. Whatever.

One thing I learned is that it’s bad business to discuss politics or religion with a customer. No matter if they hold the same beliefs as yourself or if they are diametrically opposed to your own beliefs, bringing up those subjects is a certain way to make sure their money never ends up putting food on your table.

I also learned never to congratulate a woman on her pregnancy till SHE mentioned it. That’s another story.

The point is that in retail you smile a lot, eat your personal feelings, and make the sale.

Which brings us to our topic for the day, Hobby Lobby and their insulting 4th of July advertisement.  

Now we all know Hobby Lobby is as Christian conservative as you can get. You have to be to take it all the way to the Supreme Court just to get out of paying for your female employees’ reproductive health care. But to state with such impunity that you believe the United States of America was founded to be a Christian nation and live under the dogma of the Protestant Christian Church, well that’s as meshuge as you can get.

As I have stated before I am an atheist. If you want to believe that is fine with me, but we both live in the land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and nowhere in that sobriquet does it mention Jesus of Nazareth. Nor is he mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or any other of the founding documents. Do they mention god? Yes they do, especially that first amendment that says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. As a matter of fact it’s the first sentence in the first amendment. And god or a creator or a divine being is not mentioned at all in the main body of the Constitution. I guess the founding fathers really had a thing about wanting to make sure that government and church were kept apart.

Hobby Lobby’s ad wasn’t even a plea for bringing god into political discourse. If it was I’d dismiss it as a waste of some true believer’s money. What it was was a declaration that this particular form of worship, and only this form, is the founding principle of the USA.

Representative government, the will of the people, the enshrinement of liberty and freedom as the cornerstone tenets of the nation, all that goes out the window. According to them, America was founded to be a playground for the true Christian believers. Not even the original believers are good enough; Catholics need not apply. And Jews? I’m sure Hobby Lobby would approve of the answer I once got from a bible thumper when I mentioned Jesus was born Jewish. “Well sure, but then he got smart and converted”.

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Doing What He Was Elected To Do

Marc Levine Assemblyman for CA10

We, by which I mean I, spend an inordinate amount of time here at First Draft excoriating national or wannabe national politicians for their various grandstanding moves and Sunday Morning talk show blather.  We, by which I mean I, never seem to talk about politicians doing the job they were elected to do.

Now yes politicians are elected for the most part to vote on enacting laws or to be our “leaders”, whatever that word might mean to you. But we are also supposed to elect politicians to help with more mundane everyday problems. The issue is that too often we forget about that last reason. Try and get a politician to help ME? They only want to help the big money donors. They only want me to remember them come election day, they’re not going to help ME with any personal problem.

But I’m here to tell you that political leaders can help you in your everyday life. One just did that for me.

Since the first days of shelter in place I’ve been on unemployment. All of my rather substantial work bookings for 2020 disappeared pretty much over night in late March and early April. Even though I got a job as an enumerator for the Census just as the bookings were drying up, that job ended up not beginning until mid August and ended in mid October. Thus I was four months without a paycheck.

I am fortunate to have other sources of income so the wife (Cruella) and I didn’t go hungry and we didn’t lose our house, but those bi-weekly checks from the Employment Development Department (EDD) went a long way to keeping us from the middle class’s greatest bête noir, dipping into savings.  Even when we both started work with the Census and our wages were greater than what we were getting via unemployment we kept the accounts going because we knew the Census job was ultimately a temp gig. Sure enough when it ended it was easy to get back to getting checks from the state.

I wanna stop at this point to say something about Unemployment Insurance. It IS an insurance policy. Workers pay into it on a paycheck by paycheck basis. In my case I not only paid into it for forty plus years, but for many of those years I paid into it twice per paycheck, once as the employee and once as the employer (yes, in case you didn’t know, your employer matches your contribution on a dollar for dollar basis). What it is NOT is an entitlement as some in the political sphere would have you believe. Whenever I hear things like that I want to respond “so when the house you’ve made insurance payments on for years burns down you’d be okay with the insurance company saying they’re not going to pay you because that would be an entitlement”? It’s the rainy day fund and in 2020 it was pouring.

By the way, it’s the same story for social security and disability. Insurance policies, not entitlements. Both.

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A Postcard From The Unemployment Line

Help Wanted Sign

There’s been a lot of talk in the past months about how Americans don’t want to go back to work.

I say bunk.

Americans want to work. They need to work. Not just for the paycheck, but for the pride of accomplishment and the upward mobility it provides. It’s ingrained in our DNA, all those descendants of seekers who came from all over the world to this egalitarian utopia.

OK it’s not egalitarian, it’s not utopia, and there are just as many current immigrants these days as descendants but go with me on this.

Companies are complaining they can’t get people to work for them. Imagine that. For years companies molted workers every time the economy went the least bit south, disregarding years of service and the effect on not just the workers but their families and their communities, all so the company could show a healthy bottom line to the stock market.

And I say that as someone whose main source of income these days comes from the healthy bottom line those companies show the stock market.

It’s my main source of income since like so many others I am on that unemployment line, right behind the waitress from my favorite restaurant and the guy who used to work at the gas station. OK it’s no longer a physical line, it’s the cyber-line of the California Employment Development Department website. The line stretches over a million people long at the moment. The EDD is so overwhelmed that getting a straight answer has turned into many people’s full time employment. And not just those trying to get their accounts straightened out. A new industry has popped up to take advantage of the state’s fumbling response to an unprecedented need and a massive amount of fraud. For a fee someone will robo-call EDD for you till they get through then stay on hold till an actual human answers the call. Then they patch you in.

American ingenuity at it’s finest. Find a need and fill it as dentists and cement contractors say.

Meantime there is an enormous surge in post COVID hiring needs. The most ubiquitous sign in the state at the moment is “Help Wanted”. Conservatives are blaming the state government for this shortage of workers, saying the combination of unemployment insurance and extra money being doled out to keep people afloat is causing workers to not want to go back to work.

First of all let’s get this out of the way. No one is getting money just handed to them by the state. They are getting the benefit of the money they have invested in unemployment INSURANCE, money they had no say in it being taken. For me that is over 40 years of paycheck dings every week to pay for something that up until a year ago I never put a claim in on. I’ll also add that for over half of those 40 years I was an employer so I personally got dinged twice every week. This is the rainy day fund you were taught to have “just in case”.

Well for the past year the rain has been a deluge.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along

Rodney King

Beaten to a pulp by LAPD who were later exonerated, he still had the guts to say “Can’t we all get along”

Recently there was a giant hubbub at the podcasting company Gimlet over attempts to create a workplace union. I don’t want to go into all the details but this Vulture report does a pretty good job of summing up the various positions and the backlash involved in it.

Suffice it to say, one side lost and one side won. That’s how things go in this world of ours.

What I am more interested in is the fact that at Gimlet those on the losing side felt they had to leave the company. I want to make it clear this is not a situation where the losers were people in control of policy or direction for the company. The two biggest names to leave, PJ Voight and Shruti Panamanian, were worker bees who had made the decision to oppose the unionization effort. Why they did was their own business and no one else’s. But they felt compelled to leave the company they had helped build because they had been on the losing side of the issue. Whether they jumped or were pushed is of no matter. The point is they left.

They shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t have been put in the position of having to make that decision.

Look if every time one of us loses an argument and feels they have to leave, there would be a whole helluva lot more divorced people living at the Motel 6. When did having a different opinion on something from your nearest and dearest or even just your fellow employees become equated to vacating the premises? Unless it’s a rental agreement we shouldn’t be packing our bags and heading down the highway just because we lost one simple disagreement. The Dodgers, in my humble opinion, suck. There I said it. Some of you might agree with that sentiment. Some of you I know don’t. That doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with you. I’ve got news for you, friends have disagreements all the time as all my Dodger loving friends will tell you about me.

Same goes for the workplace. Yeah, here it gets a little trickier because you do have to negotiate various levels of business hierarchy but I shouldn’t feel I have to leave my job just because you wanted a union, I didn’t, but the union won out. In fact I would argue that it’s more important that I stick around to keep the union on it’s toes or to make sure it really is working in the best interests of myself and my fellow employees.

Last year the Opinion Editor of the New York Times, James Bennet, agreed to publish an essay written, as much as we can believe a politician can write a clear and declarative essay, by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. In it he advocated for using the US military against BLM protesters in the wake of the George Floyd murder. I do not agree with that sentiment in the least. From what I can tell the New York Times and probably James Bennet himself do not agree with that sentiment. Nevertheless Bennet chose to publish it as an editorial about a matter of current affairs written by a serving member of the United States Senate. Some Times staff writers protested the essay should not have been run. Ultimately the uproar over that decision caused Bennet to lose his job. He shouldn’t have, just as the staff writers opposed to the publication shouldn’t have lost their jobs for speaking out, though none did. They made their feelings known, he obviously made his feelings known by running it in the first place and that should have been the end of that. Instead a well respected veteran of the newspaper industry had to be shown/head for the door because apparently unless we all speak as one we can not speak at all.

Which brings me to Liz Cheney.

Continue reading

Closing Time

Fry's Electronics Palo Alto

The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day

Fry’s Electronics is dead.

This is quite literately matricide, the industry it suckled and nurtured killed it.

For those of you not in the know, if Silicon Valley was the epicenter of the tech explosion, Fry’s was the epicenter of Silicon Valley. It’s iconic stores, each decked out in an outlandishly silly individual design theme (Wild West, Aztec Temple, 50’s Sci Fi, etc) were the go to place for the equipment the people who created the new world we live in. Beyond being an electronics store, it was a clubhouse for geeks and nerds who wandered it’s aisles filled with components, computer hazari, almost porn men’s magazines, and enough junk food to fuel an all night coding jag.

If you couldn’t find what you needed there you went home and invented it.

My first exposure to the geek underground was in a Fry’s. Told by my brother in law it was the place to go for the add on component I needed for my Apple IIC “portable” computer (it had a handle on the case so you could carry it around — along with the CRT monitor) I ventured into the voluminous Old West themed Palo Alto store, buried deep in an anonymous industrial park on a side street that if you blinked you missed. Once you got past the hitching posts outside the door and the statue of a cowboy being bucked off his horse by the customer service counter you gazed out onto the new west’s version of the endless prairie, aisles upon aisles of electronic components, anything a computer jockey could ever need. In those days it was not uncommon to find a shopper pushing a grocery cart filled with every small or large widget needed to complete your own home brew computer. 

After finding everything you needed and having scanned the magazine aisle for half an hour (they carried not only computer related mags and almost porn, but every magazine then being published) you would stand on a line that stretched for what seemed like blocks to make your purchase. In the final stretch the aisle became crowded with junk food, a concession to the owners’ father who came out of the grocery industry and insisted they sell some food products “as a fall back”. A person stood at the front of the line and would point to one of the 30 cash registers lined up like a bureaucrat’s wet dream and off you would go to hand over your credit card. Incongruously for a store brimming with Old West memorabilia the registers were always manned by Indians. A few Pakistanis mixed in, but mostly Indians.

The first time I heard of this thing called Google was standing in that line and overhearing two Stanford students talking about how much better the campus search engine was than Yahoo. That kind of info gathering was the primary reason for going to Fry’s even though you weren’t there to buy components. There was more tech being spoken in those aisles than anywhere else in the world. Those older well dressed gentlemen wandering the networking equipment aisles weren’t there predatorily searching for young men with a big thing, they were looking for young men with the next big thing. Rumor had it venture capitalists paid big finder’s fees to salespeople who overheard something while replenishing the stacks of 8 bit motherboards.

Amazingly, incredibly, Fry’s was late to the e-tailing world.  Just like Sears with clothing and B. Daltons with books, Fry’s hesitated to get involved with selling over the internet. They could have kept Amazon at e-bay had they not insisted that customers needed to come into the store to buy their desired product. Instead the very companies Fry’s outfitted made them a dinosaur.

And now they are extinct.

As a convenient cover, the owners are blaming COVID, but the reality is the Palo Alto store was closed in December 2019 and in fact from what had once been a chain of 31 stores there were only 5 left when this morning’s notice was posted. Some will say the dot com bust of 2001 that forced the company to start selling appliances, TVs, and other consumer electronics was the end of the “real” Fry’s. In truth yes, in the last 20 years you were more likely to run into the mom who lives next door searching for a kid’s video game than the next Sergey Brin, but there were still some aisles that were just for the tech geeks; interlopers ventured into those spaces at their own risk. Manufacturer reps could still be found regularly prowling the aisles to see what consumers were stopping to gawk at. The magazine aisle was replaced with a magazine rack, but those magazines were the ones the tech crowd really wanted to read. And if you could find one there were still a few salesmen who could walk you through your project specs, suggest what you needed, dismiss what you didn’t, and give you a pretty good idea if you were on to potentially the next big thing. Or they could sigh deeply, point a finger, and say “Aisle 48” when you asked for a DVD cleaning kit.

A while back they pretty much stopped all their advertising but when meeting new people I’d get a true idea of how long they had lived in the Bay Area by quizzing them with “Finish the slogan…Your best buys….”.

If they answered “are always at Fry’s” I knew they were good people. Guaranteed.

 

Shapiro Out