Tag: How We Live Now

Opera in the Subway – New York Anecdote

In Sync
Dear Diary:

I was in the Times Square subway station, walking from the 7 train to the A, C and E lines. It was the evening rush hour, and hordes of people were racing to escape Midtown and get uptown, downtown or to New Jersey.

I was in full commuting stride when I heard the notes of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” in the distance. A woman soon began to sing along to the music, and I began to mouth the words.

By the time I got to where she was, we were fully in sync, singing “l’amour est enfant de bohème … ”

As I passed her, she caught my eye and smiled. I hopped onto the A with a toreador’s spring in my step.

— Nicolas Gerard


Some Americans Talking About Their Jobs

It is hard to talk about this work. It is hard to do it, too. The best time to work is when it’s quiet, from ten at night till two in the morning. Because sometimes, well, [laughs] almost always, it’s a frustrating job. You know, it’s easy to use finished product, like computer games or Microsoft products, but the process to completing software is very frustrating. It is sometimes even pretty easy to write a program, but to make it so the users who will use the program cannot do anything stupid or cause some problems you have to imagine every single thing the user could do on keyboard. That part takes almost all of time. And it is a very boring time.

Out where this place is, it’s just all desert, and there’s a lot of weird people that live out around here. They’re kind of scary. They actually scare me more than the freeway people do because the main reason anybody’d live all the way out here is because of drug problems and problems with the government. Most of them are like that. Not all of them—there’s nice ones, but there’s a lot of weirdos that do weird things, they drive really awful-looking cars. White trucks with blue doors. No teeth. I try not to get involved with them. I’m polite. I smile, take their money, bag what they’re buying, but that’s it. I’m scared so I try not to get personal. That’s probably the worst part about the job. The drive is no fun, but the scary people, they’re the worst.

And by the way, I have never, and I mean this, never met an honest man. I have had rabbis lie. I have had priests lie. I have had witnesses of every color and denomination and persuasion lie. Clients come to me and tell me that they were caused to have an accident and they were injured in a certain way. But the truth is that it usually didn’t happen exactly the way they say it happened. The client may be fundamentally and inherently a good and honest person, but when it comes to their case their theory is, well, it’s a goddamn insurance company, and they’ve got more money than God, and it isn’t right, and it isn’t fair. And so it’s okay if, on the margins, on the fringes, they improve or enhance their story a little bit.

So we have to begin with a premise that it’s not a question of whether someone’s honest, it’s a question of the degree. And lawyers are the most dishonest people of all. A lawyer will prepare his witness in such a way that he, the lawyer, thinks he’s being honest, but in truth and in all candor, he’s really not. Because he’s kind of steering or directing the witness in a certain direction—the direction that says the other party is at fault. And that’s part of our business. A good lawyer has to approach every accident, every case, with the mindset that his client is not at fault. The other party is at fault. And so a good lawyer is often dishonest and so is everyone else.

I’m not an actor. I’m not into that. I’m a temp, a forty-year-old temp. Let’s leave it at that, okay? I mean, I know there’s stigma attached to being a forty-year-old temp. At forty, people assume you should have achieved something. And they don’t see this as an achievement. But I don’t care. I’m happy doing this. I’ve never fit in. The more I see what fitting in is, the less I want to. It’s plots that you already know the ending to. Why do you want to live out a story and know that you’re gonna do this or do that, you know? A steady job is a plot. I will stay here and I will do this, then I’ll retire, then I’ll move to Florida. Then I’ll die, you know? You spend your days at work dreaming of the future, you spend your days at work getting ready to get off of work. Me, I don’t know if I’ll make it to my job tomorrow. So it’s the moment, living in the moment.

Like last year, I took a vacation. I’d been at this place a couple of months and it was getting old. I called up and said, “I’m going on a vacation.” And they’re like, “Well, we don’t know if we’ll have a job for you when you get back.” I said, “I know you don’t know if you’ll have a job for me when I get back ’cause I’m not even sure when I’m coming back.” So I went on this bike trip; I took a bunch of time. I love to travel and see things. Two-week vacations just don’t do it for me.

Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs
NOTE – Highly recommended book

Evolving and Accumulating Requirements, Example of

For example, consider the most basic issue of coverage: whether a given worker is eligible to claim unemployment benefits. According to the DOL, to answer that question you must figure out, among other things, whether the worker’s “employing unit” qualifies as an “employer.” Under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, that term originally applied to “employing units” that, “during any calendar quarter in the current or immediately preceding calendar year, paid wages of $1,500 or more” and to “employing units of eight or more workers on at least one day in each of 20 different weeks in a calendar year.” In 1956, that threshold was changed to four or more workers; in 1972, it dropped to just one worker. Today, about half the states use this federal definition, but the others strike out on their own. In Montana, the minimum payroll to qualify as an employer is $1,000 in the current or preceding year; in New York, it’s $300 in a single quarter; in Iowa, any wages at all paid in the current or preceding quarter will qualify. In Massachusetts, thirteen weeks of payroll is enough to be an employer; in Arkansas, it’s having a single employee for ten or more days.

The unemployment department in any given state would have had to update its systems as the federal definition changed, as their own state definition changed, or as their labor agency switched back and forth between the federal and state definitions. Few updates succeed in catching all past references to the former rule, so you will find artifacts of previous regulations strewn throughout documentation and code. That’s probably how the EDD came to have work items for “Stop Payment Alert” and for “Stop Payment Alert—Claim Review” that mean two totally different things. Perhaps some law changed and programmers coded a new work item to fit the new rules, but the original one persisted, most likely because it was still attached to active claims. Everything accumulates.

Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better
Jennifer Pahlka

AI Revolution – 20 Year Prediction Window

And it’s about time. Machine thinking is another area where early expectations were not fulfilled. Attempts to invent artificial intelligence are generally dated to 1956, and a summer workshop at Dartmouth College for scientists with a pioneering interest in “machines that use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves.” At the time, machines with humanlike intelligence were often predicted to be about twenty years away. Now, they’re often predicted to be … well, about twenty years away.

The futurist philosopher Nick Bostrom has a cynical take on this. Twenty years is “a sweet spot for prognosticators of radical change,” he writes: nearer, and you’d expect to be seeing prototypes by now; further away, and it’s not so attention-grabbing. Besides, says Bostrom, “twenty years may also be close to the typical duration remaining of a forecaster’s career, bounding the reputational risk of a bold prediction.”

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
Tim Harford
NOTE -> Copyright © 2017

Adam Kinzinger – Fresh Air Interview

Rep. Adam Kinzinger on investigating Jan. 6 and being a ‘Renegade’ in the GOP
The former Illinois congressman reflects on confronting the “fanaticism of the hardcore” of his own party. Kinzinger served on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.

KINZINGER: It’s been life-changing in a number of ways. So, you know, my father’s cousins, I guess, basically sent me a letter disowning me at one point, which was…

GROSS: Wait, wait, wait, she said you served in Satan’s army when you joined the committee.

KINZINGER: Yep. That’s it. That’s it. I was a member of the devil’s army. But it said things like, you serve in the devil’s army, you’ve lost the trust of great men like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity. And it goes to show, to me, the brain rot – right? – the rot going on, the absolute abuse of people that put their trust in some of these – you know, these radio folks or these TV folks. I had – you know, a year ago, I had – my copilot in Iraq sent me a text that said he was ashamed to have ever served with me. I mean, I can’t imagine what goes through somebody’s head, how angry you have to be to wake up, for whatever reason, to send a person that you fought with in a war that you were embarrassed to have served with them.

I mean, that’s just some of it – having a 24-hour security detail when I’m in D.C., wondering if my family’s protected while they’re back in Illinois. I mean, these are a lot of the sacrifices. But – and a lot of the ways it changed. And now I’m obviously a much more public figure than I was even prior to that. But I have no regrets. If I had to go back in time, knowing everything I know now and how it would turn out, I would still do it.

GROSS: I don’t want to ask you anything that further threatens your security, so if this question does, let me know. But you got a lot of threats after joining the committee. You got voicemails saying things like, I hope you die quickly.

Messing Up Your Insurance Paperwork – Hazards of

It Shouldn’t Be This Easy to Lose Your Health Insurance
By Danielle Ofri
Dr. Ofri is a primary care doctor in New York City.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Ofri,” the representative said, rechecking her records, “but you didn’t enroll this year.”

Could that be? Could I have somehow forgotten? Or missed the notification? “But don’t worry,” she said. “We’ve put you on the basic plan.”

“OK,” I said, starting to relax and thinking out loud. “I guess my kids will get to meet some new doctors.”

But the representative did not match my tone. “I’m sorry, but the basic plan is just for the employee,” she said, “not your family.”

That’s when a coil of disbelief clamped my heart to a standstill. My spouse and children would be left without health insurance? The panicked questions quickly percolated: What about their ongoing medical treatments? What about their medications? What if someone got hit by a car, or got cancer? There’s hardly a more devastating feeling for a parent than to realize that you haven’t adequately provided for your family.

from the comments:

In 2015, I was sued for the first time in my life–for failing to pay for routine blood tests. I was sued for $600, then assigned $300 in court fees. I called the insurance company: aren’t these test covered by my very high (yet these days “normal”) monthly premium ? Yes, but I had failed to tell them my new group number, assigned by them. I was bemused. If you assigned it, don’t you have it? Yes, they said, but you had to confirm it. I spent hours on the phone to get someone with authority to reverse the $600 charges. They did, only after I explained I would sit on the phone (I was hung up on multiple times) until I cost them more than $600. I was given a “confirmation” code. It was a lie–the person who gave it was not “authorized” to cancel my charges. I got a lawyer–he said pay, for the law is on their side, and it is only $600. I did, but was deeply horrified to be in a system that is rigged to allow legal robbery for obscenely flimsy reasons. All said, this doctor is not alone, and all of this must stop. We must have sane, not-for-profit medicine. I am aware too this happens to the poor all the time. No wonder the inchoate rage.

As a psychologist I can attest to this phenomenon from the other side. I’ve had patient’s claims rejected for the flimsiest reasons. Each time, I was told that they acknowledged their mistake and would happily resubmit the claim, only to have it rejected for the next flimsy reason: diagnosis code 300.4 vs 300.40, no license number on the invoice (right there in the letterhead), no NPI number (not required), etc. I’ve spent hours on the phone advocating for my patients to get reimbursed, usually to no avail. And each time, the insurance corporation gets to hang onto the patient’s money a little longer and earn interest for another month.

I’m a physician too.
I lost my health insurance when I was 36 weeks pregnant over 36 cents.
At the time, I was working as a contractor. I foolishly bought my insurance through the ACA exchange to support it as a new government program. $3,500 deductible had been met. One day, I went online to pay my premium and my account was gone.
When I called, they said my payment from the previous month was short 36 cents (I switched the cents on the check.)
“If you had bought your insurance directly through the insurance company, we would have just let you pay the 36 cents and re-instated your policy.”
“But because you used the ACA, it only gives 30 days for payment, and if you don’t pay within the 30 days, the policy is terminated.”
No amount of begging, crying or calling changed this situation.

See also:
Fighting the Insurance Company – Example of

Reelection and the Fear of Death in the U.S. Senate

DAVIES: You write that Romney called the Senate a club for old men, meaning what?

COPPINS: (Laughter) Well, this was a really interesting insight. He basically said, on some superficial level, you know, it’s a lot of old people. We have on-site barbers and doctors, and everybody wears orthopedic shoes. But, you know, on a more serious level, he told me he had not realized just how much psychic currency his Senate colleagues attached to their jobs. It almost was as if, you know, losing reelection was akin to death for them, right? There were – a lot of his colleagues were in their 60s, 70s, even some in their 80s. And to them, the relevance and power and importance associated with their position was essential to their lives. It was central to their identities. And what it meant was that every decision they made came back to, will this help me get reelected? In fact, he had a Senate colleague tell him explicitly, when you’re mulling a vote, the first question you should ask yourself is, will this help me get reelected? And then secondary, he said, was, will this help my state and my constituents? I mean, that one, to me, was kind of the shocking one because that is remarkable – right? – to think that his Senate colleagues are just saying out loud that reelection is the most important thing to consider. And it seems like that’s a fairly widespread sentiment in Washington in the Senate, even if they would never say it publicly.

Mitt Romney biographer offers a startling account of dysfunction in the Senate
Fresh Air

Workers Living in Cars, NYTIMES on

I Live in My Car
Dozens of parking lots have opened across the country for working people who can afford a car but not rent.

Around the country, real estate is being set aside for people like Ms. Audet in the form of parking lots. Dozens of such lots have opened in the last five years, with new ones being announced every few months, including as far east as Pennsylvania and North Carolina. They are sprinkled across the Midwest in Green Bay, Wis., and Duluth, Minn. And they dot the spine of the Pacific Northwest, providing a safe harbor for a growing cohort of working Americans who are wedged in the unforgiving middle. They earn too little to afford rent but too much to receive government assistance and have turned their cars into a form of affordable housing.

The Lake Washington United Methodist Church began experimenting with offering a beachhead for the “mobile homeless” in 2011 in response to Seattle’s “scofflaw ordinance,” which called for the impounding of cars that had accrued multiple parking tickets, a law that was disastrous for people forced to live in their cars. “Our simple idea was, ‘Hey, if they’re in our parking lot, they won’t get parking tickets. And they won’t get booted and towed,’” said Karina O’Malley, who helped create the program.

Now it is one of 12 in Washington State.

“Tens of thousands of people are living in their vehicles,” said Graham J. Pruss, an applied anthropologist studying the trend, who heads the National Vehicle Residency Collective. “It’s huge.”

Tattered Cover Bankruptcy

Tattered Cover Book Store files for bankruptcy

Denver’s iconic indie bookstore, Tattered Cover, may be starting its final chapter.

Driving the news: The bookstore filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it said in a statement released Monday.

  • It will try to reorganize to remain in business during the process.

Why it matters: It’s a dark turn for a beloved shop that’s captivated Denverites since opening its first location in the city’s Cherry Creek neighborhood in 1971, becoming one of the most successful indie bookstores in the country and destination for bookworms everywhere.

What they’re saying: “Our objective is to put Tattered Cover on a smaller, more modern and financially sustainable platform that will ensure our ability to serve Colorado readers for many more decades,” Tattered Cover CEO Brad Dempsey, a bankruptcy attorney, said in a statement.

State of play: The filing means three of its seven stores will close by November. The impacted stores are inside McGregor Square near Coors Field in Denver, Colorado Springs and Westminster.

27 of the bookstore’s 103 positions will be eliminated.

Big big fan of the Tattered Cover. Can’t be easy being a brick and mortar bookstore these days.

Kaiser Permanente Strike

75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers walk off the job. It’s the largest health care worker strike in US history
On Wednesday, more than 75,000 unionized employees of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health providers, walked off the job, marking the largest health care worker strike in US history.

The striking employees, who work across California, Colorado, Washington, Virginia, Oregon and Washington, DC, are represented by a coalition of unions that comprise 40% of Kaiser Permanente’s total staff. The vast majority of the striking workers are in West Coast states. The strike began at 6 am local time, and will run through Saturday morning.

Striking Workers – Summer 2023

This year, workers across industries in the United States have increasingly walked off the job or threatened to do so. In July, tens of thousands of actors joined screenwriters on the picket line, bringing Hollywood to a halt. Meanwhile, a summertime strike of more than 300,000 United Parcel Service workers seemed imminent before a deal was reached last month.

Now, another large-scale strike looms. The United Auto Workers union has voted to authorize a walkout of about 150,000 members at General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis if negotiations fail before contracts expire on Sept. 14.

If the auto workers go on strike, the number of workers who have walked off the job at some point over the course of this year will top 450,000, the highest level since 2018, another notable year for work stoppages.

A Summer of Strikes
Work stoppages in the United States this year could reach heights rarely seen in recent decades.

Hats off to Taylor Swift and the Food Banks

When the Arizona Food Bank Network received a call that Taylor Swift wanted to make a hefty donation to the charity as she kicked off her Eras tour in the state, some staffers thought it was a prank.

But it was no joke. The megastar, who is raking in big bucks from her blockbuster concerts, has been giving back to communities where she plays. From Georgia to Michigan to Texas to California and in between, food banks have benefited.

In Arizona, Swift’s donation in March allowed the network to send several tractor-trailers filled with 40,000 pounds of fresh produce to its member food banks, said Terri Shoemaker, a spokesperson at the nonprofit organization. Plus, it bolstered funding for programs aimed at combating hunger, such as helping eligible children gain access to free and reduced-price school meals and senior citizens obtain food stamps.

Taylor Swift is a hero to food banks from coast to coast

Loneliness – Health Issue

Americans have become increasingly lonely and isolated, and this lack of social connection is having profound effects on our mental and physical health, the surgeon general warned in an advisory on Tuesday.

Advisories from America’s top doctor are typically reserved for public health challenges that require immediate attention. This is the first time one has been used to highlight the issue of loneliness.

More than half of Americans are lonely, according to a 2021 poll, which also found that young adults are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely as those over age 65.

How to Feel Less Lonely, According to the Surgeon General
America’s top physician, Dr. Vivek Murthy, offers advice on how to build meaningful social connections in an increasingly lonely world.
Christina Caron

UPS Workers Win New Contract

The union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, reported in June that its UPS members had voted to authorize a strike, with 97 percent of those who took part in the vote endorsing the move. The tentative agreement will now go before the membership for ratification.

“We demanded the best contract in the history of UPS, and we got it,” the Teamsters president, Sean M. O’Brien, said in a statement. “UPS has put $30 billion in new money on the table as a direct result of these negotiations.”

UPS handles about one-quarter of the tens of millions of packages that are shipped daily in the United States, and a strike could dent economic activity, particularly the e-commerce industry.

UPS Reaches Tentative Deal With Teamsters to Head Off Strike
United Parcel Service faced a potential walkout by more than 325,000 union members after their five-year contract expires next week.