Off Topic

Why Are There Fewer Blog Posts These Days?

Dulcinea. Barcelona, Catalunya, 2017
The Modern Dulcinea. Barcelona, Catalunya, 2017

 

Since we are in the midst of a relocation from Boulder, Colorado to Barcelona, Spain, you will notice that I have been a bit less active with blog posts these days.

No worries. I’ll pick up the pace again once we get settled across the sloshing sea, likely sometime in late September. 

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the nearly five years of blog posts already in the archives. Consult the “Topics of Interest” column for something that might pique your curiosity.

Also, although sales of physical prints will be curtailed until I get the shop set up again, electronic versions of images will still be available via email or Dropbox.

[NOTE: Despite the slowdown in activity over the next few months, you can expect a fair number of Colorado 14er reports and related images later this summer as I try to complete those climbs before we leave.]

Around the Block in Barcelona (Our new home!)

Window on the Dawn. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015
Window on the Dawn. Parc del Forum, Barcelona, 2015

 

‘Tis true–we will be moving to Barcelona sometime this summer/fall! Our new apartment awaits us on Carrer Provença in the L’Esquerra de l’Eixample area of downtown Barcelona!

Collons!

I am certainly more of an outdoor, smaller town, guy than a city guy, so this transition will be interesting. Thankfully, there is plenty to do and see within a few hours (and often much closer) of Barcelona: rock climbing, hiking, white water, via ferratas, snorkeling and scuba, sunning on the beach, quaint villages, interesting landscapes of all kinds for the photographer, and so on.

Out of curiosity, though, I thought I would take a very close gander at our new neighborhood in l’Eixample. To that end, I took a little exploratory stroll, starting at the entrance to our apartment building, at Calle Provenza 162, and walked around the block, noting in my little book the different businesses that were to be found. Normally, going around the block would take you about 5-7 minutes, but I took about 30 minutes with all the note-scribbling and such.

The quantity and variety of businesses turned out to be waaay more extensive than I expected. If you have never lived in a cosmopolitan city, it will likely surprise you as well.

Moving clockwise around the block, here is everything I encountered… Click to continue as the list is looong!

Ten Simple Questions

Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
Dancer Deformed. Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Try these on for size and see how “deformed” your general knowledge of current political events might be…

  1. ***Obama personally ordered the wiretapping of Trump’s communications in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.   True or False?
  2. The Trump campaign’s connections to Russia is an issue invented by the Democrats to distract.    True or False?
  3. The FBI specifically told Congress that Russia did not interfere in the electoral process.    True or False?
  4. Attendance at Trump’s inauguration in Washington D.C. was much larger than Obama’s in 2009.    True or False?
  5. Some 3 to 5 million non-citizens voted (and voted for Hillary) in the 2016 Presidential election.    True or False?
  6. Trump’s electoral college win in the 2016 election was the biggest margin since Reagan.    True or False?
  7. Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO.  True or False?
  8. Trump was responsible for bringing down the price of the F-35 jet fighter.   True or False?
  9. Terrorists from the countries targeted in President Trump’s two travel ban versions (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) have been responsible for nearly all the terrorism-related deaths in the USA since 9-11.    True or False?
  10. Trumps current approval ratings are at an all-time high compared to the last four Presidents at this point in the term.    True or False?

Now, for the answers…

If you answered all of them “False”, congratulations, you are a well-informed citizen who likely uses credible news sources.

If you answered any of these as “True”, you might reconsider where you get your news. Avoid the temptation to listen only to news outlets, certain radio hosts, conspiracy theories, etc. that confirm what you would like to be true. (This last statement is directed at both lefties and right-winger types.)

[***NOTE: I may get some push back on this one. Apparently, there is an on-going investigation into ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign in which some Trump campaign officials may have had their conversations recorded. We will have to see how this investigation develops. However, I am taking Trump at his word, which is false. To wit: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! 4:35a.m. – 4 Mar 2017.” I read into words their traditional meaning IAW the Oxford English Dictionary. If Trump meant something else, well then he needs to be more precise in his use of the English language.]

Whenever you have the slightest doubt, use the fact-checking websites: Politifact, FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, Open Secrets, and the Washington Post Fact Checker.

Avoid out-of-the-mainstream news sources on either the left or the right–or at least take what they say with a huge block o’ salt and temper your findings with what you see elsewhere. Despite the talk these days of “fake news”, places like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, Reuters, The Economist, USA Today, yes, even CNN and NPR, will have higher standards for what they are willing to publish than lesser outlets.

For various long lists ranging from left-biased to right-biased media outlets, check out the very good Media Bias/Fact Check site. For an explanation of their methodology for determining media bias, go HERE. It all makes for an interesting read.

The truth might be hard to swallow, pilgrim, but it’s pretty damned important we start agreeing on basic facts in this country.

American Ire

IRE. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2017
IRE. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2017

 

Ire: anger, rage, fury, wrath, hot temper, outrage, spleen, crossness.

 

This pretty much describes the current state of much of the electorate these days.

And rightly so, as we are now witnessing an unprecedented assault on American democracy from within.

Hopefully, our institutions–and the people at large–are up to the challenge.

I am very cautiously optimistic.

Emergency Room Charges

Triangle View. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, Colorado, 2017
Triangle View. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, Colorado, 2017

 

This might be humorous if it weren’t so…well…messed up. If you know me you know I support a single payer health care system in this country–this, based on my experiences living in Germany, Spain, and Argentina (all told, some 7-8 years out of country).

Here, it seems, we don’t mind having a private, for-profit, entity (your smiling insurance company) regulate our access to medical care (“Sorry, that was a pre-existing condition.” “Sorry, that procedure isn’t included in your plan.”).

What follows is a very small, very typical, but interesting example of how convoluted the system is…

We recently received a bill for $16,793.00 from a local hospital for my wife’s ER visit last year after a fall while rock climbing (she is fine, but the back and neck took a slight hit that definitely needed checking). The bill came to us because I failed to complete some additional paperwork for the insurance company and so they had not yet paid. I have since filled out the appropriate paperwork and the claim was paid.

Here is what we were billed:

–Three different lab charges: $119.00, $109.00, and $74.00

–Five different radiology charges (X-rays): $847.00, $770.00, $714.00, $693.00, and $565.00

–Two CT Scan charges: $5,011.00 and $5,011.00 (same charge, twice)

–One general “ER” charge: $2,789.00

TOTAL: $16,793.00

According to the hospital, if you have no insurance and you could fork over the cash, they would only charge you 60% of the full bill.

In our case, since our insurance company is federally-funded (TriCare), the amount the local hospital will ultimately receive for the bill is a mere $678.57. (Take that, and be happy!)

This begs some questions, of course…

–The same visit to six different ERs throughout the country would very likely net six very (wildly?) different total prices. Why?

–Why the secrecy with the billing codes? No amount of digging on Google could find them. I had to call a human bean at the insurance company to find out what the codes meant.

–Why the five bills for X-rays? And, especially, why the two separate bills for a CT scan when she was in the tube once?

–What specifically is included in the “ER charge”? Or is that just the price of the bed space for three hours?

–Why can a cash customer get a 60% “discount”?

–Why can our insurance company get away with paying pennies on the dollar? If our insurance company is underpaying, how does the hospital make it up? Do they jack up prices to other insurance companies or to private payers? (That’s probably why our bill was so high–had we actually paid it..ha! ha!…it would have helped them make up for other losses.)

–Why can’t a person with no insurance simply pay $687.57 and call it good? After all, that is what the insurance company ended up paying.

–MOST IMPORTANTLY: What was the real, no-kiddin’, actual cost of the services performed? What should we really be paying for our health care? Does anyone really know?

The ugly thing about all this is that it seems like it is all very hush-hush, double secret probation-type stuff. Getting information is difficult. The system is complicated, creaky, unwieldy, and inefficient.

Fact: In the US of A, we spend, as a percent of GDP, a much higher percentage for our health care than any other high-income industrialized county. Why? Are our health outcomes better? Not necessarily. 

Fact: The number one cause of personal bankruptcies in this country is the need to sell off everything to pay for emergency health care. This affects not just the uninsured, but the insured as well (“Sorry, that was a pre-existing condition!”). Does that make any sense at all?

Sadly, I have absolutely no hope that this country will ever join the rest of the civilized world with a national health care system. (Especially now, given the change in government that is about to happen on January 20.)

Yes, any significant change would require a major torch-and-pitchfork revolt (with much raucous shouting and angry fist-waving) against the very, very powerful health insurance company lobby who have a “yuuge” influence over our wonderful politicians and how they vote.

No, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

In the meantime, many Americans will just keep sneaking off to Mexico, Colombia, and India for their medical and dental procedures…and, in our case, to avoid all this nonsense we will likely elect to retire to my wife’s home town of Barcelona, Spain.

Trump-eting a Few Predictions

Trump as Genius. Boulder, Colorado, 2017
Trump as a Genuine U.S. Genius. Boulder, Colorado, 2017

 

Well, in regard to the 2016 Presidential Election, I certainly missed my predictions by light years.

How about if I try again?

Here is what I predict:

–Trump will not complete his four-year term without a major personal scandal, a major war, and/or another major recession. (The first possibility I rate as highly likely, the other two as somewhat less likely).

–Indeed, there is a better than 50% chance that he will not complete his four-year term at all due to impeachment and removal from office. (Begged Question: Would Pence be worse???)

–At least one of his Cabinet picks, or a high-level White House official/advisor, will be involved in a major scandal (due to incomplete vetting) and will resign in disgrace.

–Tapes from The Apprentice will be leaked and released and will be found to be quite disgusting.

–Someone will leak more of Trump’s tax returns showing him to be deeply in debt and not nearly as rich as he has claimed. The tax returns will also reveal conflicts of interest on a level never seen before.

–Economic inequality in the USA will reach even higher levels than ever before.

–There will actually be a few good things that happen–with the economy, foreign relations, etc.–that Trump will take full credit for (naturally!). However, they will have occurred not as a result of Trump’s genius but rather as lucky unintended consequences of his policies.

–Democrats will make only very slight gains in Congress at mid-terms, but will make huge gains in 2020, regaining the Presidency and both Houses of Congress (it’ll then be their turn to screw things up!). The Republican Party will leave power in disarray.

For a detailed list of what I think the future trend might be over the next 2-4 years, see my November 9, 2016 blog: Post-Election Day Hangover (2016).

Check back on November 4, 2020 to see how I fared with these guesses.

Happy Holy Holly Days to All!

Happy Holidays. Boulder, Colorado, 2016
Happy Holidays. Boulder, Colorado, 2016

 

Overheard at a shopping mall today somewhere in this fine country:

Shopper 1: “Wait just a damn minute! Did you just say ‘Happy Holidays’?”

Shopper 2: “Well…uh…yes. Why?”

Shopper 1: “Are you one o’ them damn libtards that’s wagin’ war on Christmas? Prolly a Muslim-lover, too, eh?”

Shopper 2: “Well, then, Merry Christmas to you, then! I was just trying to be all-inclusive. Not everyone in our country is a Christian, you know.”

Shopper 1: “Well, it’s a Christian country and, dammit, everyone should say ‘Merry Christmas’!”

Shopper 2: “I take it you are a Christian then?”

Shopper 1: “Yer goddamn right I’m a Christian! And I’m packin’, too, so ya better stop with that ‘Happy Holidays’ crap right now!”

And so it goes…(sigh)…

Diversity (and the food that goes with it!) is so much more interesting, don’t you think?

December 8Bodhi Day

December 12Milad un Nabi

December 15Dhanu Sankranti

December 21Winter Solstice

December 23Festivus for the rest of us!

December 24Hanukkah (through January 1)

December 25Christmas

December 26Kwanzaa (through January 1)

December 26St. Stephen’s Day

December 26Boxing Day

December 28Holy Innocents

December 31Watch Night

January 6 – Epiphany, or Día de los Reyes