Monday, September 28, 2009

Bar Named Jakes (Fiction)

There's a bar in Austin, Texas, called Jake's Place. Jake's was a large bar, with a typical Texas cowboy decor. Prior to the invasion it would have been jam packed at this time of day. Now, with work and good liquor hard to find, Ben had the place to himself.

"What is this stuff?" Ben asked the bartender.

"It's some moonshine from Arkansas. We might get some beer in from St. Louis next week, if the deliveryman makes it through."

Ben understood. A deliveryman himself, he knew the route west from Missouri was dangerous. The only secure driving was from Arizona to the coast where the ChiMex had more patrols on the main highways.

"What are you hauling this week?"

"I have a load of golf balls for some resort in the California desert. The Chinese do love to golf."

The door opened, letting in a blast of Texas heat. A car engine roared and the sound of gravel spitting from the tires overpowered the sound of an old Hank Williams tune playing on the jukebox. Ben noticed the bartender's eyebrows shoot up and he swiveled on the stool to see who walked in. She was solid, not skinny - short brown hair with some gray, tight jeans, a black Harley-Davidson t-shirt, and a beautiful stag and leather handled bowie knife strapped to her leg. She walked over to the bar and took the stool on my left.

"That your rig out there?" she asked.

"It is"

"Where are you headed?"

"I'm delivering a load of golf balls to Palm Springs."

"I need transport. Do you have room?"

Ben stared down at his shot glass. He took a slow sip. He turned to face her.

"What's in it for me?” he asked.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How Much is Twitter Worth?

I read this article today: How Much is Twitter Worth? I too wonder about Twitter, just as I wonder about the long term viability of a lot of social media. 140 characters - that's all I get to use at a time on Twitter. How can anyone consistently put anything of value into 140 characters? Can anyone's Twitter stream pull in enough quality viewers to entice advertisers? Will people pay to Twitter? How will it ever earn money? Obviously, I'm a fan of the blogosphere - this I get. There are things of value available on blogs. Twitter? Even Facebook? I'm not sure.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fewer foreign-born people are in the U.S., census says --

Wow - go figure! If you reduce the demand (the ability to get jobs) the supply (illegal immigrants) dries up. What a concept. Guess they weren't here for the welfare payments after all.

Fewer foreign-born people are in the U.S., census says --

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Expectations are the Root of all Unhappiness

Expectations are the root of all unhappiness.

The universe is not against you. It just does not care. It knows nothing about you, your desires or your plans. This applies to everything in the universe: natural forces, man-made forces, and other people.

If you expect a certain outcome, positive or negative, that guarantees some degree of unhappiness.

If you always expect positive outcomes, you will be disappointed when they do not happen that way. Optimism, taken to an extreme, can result in a feeling of entitlement – and then disappointment turns to anger when things do not turn out as expected.

If you are a pessimist, you may not be disappointed as often, but your constant negative expectations will turn off those around you. Pessimism, taken to the extreme, can certainly result in depression if you never experience happiness, but only relief that the negative outcome you imagined did not occur.

It is better to not have any expectations at all. But, how can we accomplish this?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Her Red Hair Lit the Wall (Fiction)

"It's Thursday. Did you remember to put the garbage in the driveway?" she asked.

Chuck sat up in the recliner and swiveled his body toward his wife. "Her red hair lit the wall? What the hell are you talking about now?" he shouted. He turned his attention back to "Dancing with the Stars" and settled back into the recliner.

She got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" Chuck asked.

"To put hearing aid batteries on the shopping list," she replied.

"Enroll in a photography class at the Arboretum? I just don't understand you anymore."

Some Economists are Idiots

I am not an economist. I took economics in college, and then again as part of my MBA program. The professor droned on about mathematical equations while I wanted to discuss the philosophy of economics: the assumption underlying the "science". Back in those days I was too timid to confront my teachers.

I read an article by Paul Krugman. He is an economist who writes for the New York Times. The article is pretty long by today's standards, but if you're interested in economics, it's worth reading. You can read it yourself here:
( The article is entitled "How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?". Here's the first few lines:

"As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn’t sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations."

After reading it, I did not feel so stupid. The neo-classical camp of economists have been running the show since at least the 1980s. This is the "free market does no wrong" crowd. Now their little theories are proving to be a bunch of BS.

I knew that in college.

First, how can a mathematical model take into account all the variables in something as complex as the economy? It amuses me that the same crowd that thinks climate is too complex to predict apparently thinks that free-market economists are infallible in something as complex as our economy.

Second, the assumption that we're all rational and act in our best interests is a bunch of crap too. Everyone knows we make economic decisions based on emotions that are far from rational. The assumption in economics is that no one wishes to deceive us, so that we enter transactions with "prefect knowledge" - which is obviously wrong. People get ripped off every day. Buyer beware!

Lastly, why do we assume that what is in my best interest is in the best interest of society as a whole? Or even in one other person's best interest? If I hoard all the food in a small town and then sell it at enormous profit to the townspeople, that is clearly in my best financial interest. But, not so much for everyone else.

Now there's a new thing called "behavioral economics". Maybe it's better - I don't know much about it yet, but I'm going to try and learn.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Can Health Care Costs Bankrupt You?

Here's another clause from my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy. Once again, I don't think my policy is unique, nor am I picking on Blue Cross Blue Shield. Read your policy! You probably have a clause just like this (the CAPS is their emphasis, not mine):

"Blue Cross and Blue Shield will make the decision whether hospitalization or other health care services or supplies were not Medically Necessary and therefore not eligible for payment under the terms of your Policy. In most instances this decision is made by Blue Cross and Blue Shield AFTER YOU HAVE BEEN HOSPITALIZED OR HAVE RECEIVED OTHER HEALTH CARE SERVICES OR SUPPLIES AND AFTER A CLAIM FOR PAYMENT HAS BEEN SUBMITTED.”

I've read in the Chicago Tribune that some people have had claims denied even after going through the proper pre-approval procedure. The policy isn't 100% clear on that, but this clause sure seems to say that even if I get the proper pre-approval they could deny my claim if they deem the procedure "medically unnecessary! No wonder people with insurance still end up declaring bankruptcy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health Care Rationing - Being Done Now

Have you ever read your health insurance policy? Here's a quote from my Blue Cross Blue Shield policy (bold is their emphasis, not mine):

Remember that your Blue Cross and Blue Shield Policy does not cover the cost of hospitalization or any health care services and supplies that are not Medically Necessary. The fact that your Physician or another health care Provider may prescribe, order, recommend or approve an Inpatient admission or continued Inpatient hospitalization beyond the length of stay authorized by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Physician does not of itself make such an Inpatient Hospital stay Medically Necessary. Even if your Physician prescribes, orders, recommends, approves or views an Inpatient admission or continued Inpatient hospitalization beyond the length of stay assigned by the MSA as Medically Necessary, Blue Cross and Blue Shield will not pay for an Inpatient admission or continued hospitalization which exceeds the assigned length of stay if the MSA and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Physician decide an extension of the assigned length of stay is not Medically Necessary.

My policy is not all that unique - yours probably has this clause too. In effect, the decisions that you and your doctor make may be deemed "medically unnecessary" by the free-market insurance bureaucracy.

I am no more comfortable with a free-market, profit oriented bureaucracy interfering with my doctor's recommendations than I am with a government bureaucrat doing the same thing. Something needs to change.

Next post: the clause that drives insured people to bankruptcy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Insurance Industry & Medicare

Do you notice that the insurance industry does not lobby heavily for the elimination of Medicare?

My previous post outlined how insurance works. The insurance industry needs more payers than collectors. The less collectors they have, the more profit they make. Why would they be interested in taking on guaranteed collectors? People over 65 are guaranteed to collect in a relatively short time! Plus, it is currently reported that the end-of-life costs (your stay in the intensive care unit at the end) tends to be the most expensive hospital stay you will ever have. Why not hand those people over to the taxpayers?

So, the insurance industry gets billions in profit by insuring relatively healthy people and the taxpayers get ever more red ink from insuring people guaranteed to cost more. Sounds, yet again, like privatized profit - socialized risk.

Beautiful Fall Day

It's a beautiful fall day here in Illinois. Seen on the Fox River Trail