November rambling: we’re in trouble

notable books

A great cover illustration by Walter Molino, repurposed by Jan Strnad, and used with Jan’s permission

Democracy and the Press: We’re in Trouble

Revisiting the fascism question

Liz Cheney’s new book blasts GOP as ‘enablers and collaborators’ of djt

Why Georgia Republicans Are Protecting the D.A. Who Indicted Trump

In the wake of the Voting Rights Act ruling, North Dakota to appeal the decision that protected tribes’ rights

ProPublica reviewed 12 of the nation’s strictest abortion bans. Few changed in 2023, as state lawmakers caved to pressure from anti-abortion groups opposing exceptions for rape, incest and health risks.

Dollar Stores: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

The Remarkable Biden Economy

You Cannot Rely on the Government to Protect You From Bad Charities

FTC Authorizes Compulsory Process for AI-related Products and Services

Rosalynn Carter, Outspoken Former First Lady, Dies at 96

Chuck Miller: A big toe named Elise Stefanik

NYPL service was impacted due to City budget cuts, including ending Sunday service at the vast majority of locations that currently offer it.

 About 8.2 Million People Moved Between States in 2022

Of special interest to me

Finally — a PROFESSIONAL Comics Magazine! COMICS SCENE 1, January 1982. At this point in the video, there is a discussion about a FantaCo ad. Tom Skulan noted that the ad wasn’t particularly successful, whereas the ads for horror items in Fangoria magazine were much more profitable.

New York Times: 100 Notable Books of 2023, one of which was written by an author I actually know 

Obit for Bob Maye, who grew up not far from my house in Binghamton, NY

Consumer Value Stores

Boston Globe: CVS pharmacists are at a breaking point, imperiling the company’s reinvention plans. The link may be behind a paywall, but basically: “There are not enough pharmacists in the pipeline, and the ones the company employs are reaching a breaking point. The company… has spent billions remaking itself into a sophisticated healthcare conglomerate. A key goal is turning its thousands of stores into community clinics where pharmacists, doctors, and nurses work together to improve patient health. But none of this works if the company can’t hire or retain its pharmacists. ‘Pharmacists are burned out,’ said a former CVS executive.”


Warner Bros. Reverses Course on ‘Coyote vs. Acme‘ After Filmmakers Rebel. I don’t understand how a studio makes money scrapping a film it’s completed.

The people who ruined the internet

The Boy Who Captured JFK From His Parents’ Basement

John Oliver – Finding a Place for Satire & Immigration as a Comedian | The Daily Show

Do You Want to Build a Movie? An Oral History of Frozen

How TMZ Became Hollywood’s Grim Reaper

Frances Sternhagen, a two-time Tony winner and television and movie actor, Died at 93. I’ve seen her on The Closer, ER, Sex and the City, Cheers, and the movie Misery, among many other roles.

What Is the Value of a Scenic View?

Medical Malpractice On Law & Order, episode 1, Ft. Legal Eagle

Mark Evanier bankrupted his grandmother in Monopoly, and in life

Greg’s long, strange trip of collecting comic books
There is no such place as Wyoming
Now I Know
 How Fake Fish May Save Coral Reefs (And You Can Help!) and Cops of Coffee and The Very Expensive (and Not Very Nice) Surprise Party and The Man Who Bought (And Returned?) Stonehenge and

The Hole in a Swiss Citizenship Application


Peter Sprague Plays Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You featuring Rebecca Jade

Tray Wellington: Crooked Mind

Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight, who died recently at 80

The Highwomen: Crowded Table

Jake Blount: Didn’t It Rain

Rhiannon Giddens: You’re The One

Coverville 1465: The XTC Cover Story II and  1466: The 20th Annual All-Beatles Thanksgiving Cover Story

Amythyst Kiah: Hangover Blues

Our Native Daughters: Black Myself

On The Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II

Rina Sawayama : Chosen Family

Kara Jackson: Pawnshop

Rossini: L’italiana in Algeri – Overture

Michael Pollack accompanies Billy Joel on “New York State of Mind”

You Were Meant For Me – Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds

Notation Must Die: The Battle For How We Read Music, which starts with ten minutes about chess notation

CVS plopped a dumpster

Like a bad neighbor…

As you may recall, CVS closed my local store in late September 2023, much to my chagrin.

David Galin, chief of staff to Albany mayor Kathy Sheehan, posted on the platform formerly known as Twitter that the company “shut down an essential business in one of our more diverse neighborhoods, plopped a dumpster in front of two other small businesses just trying to make ends meet, AND decided it to do un-permitted construction on their way out.

“Alas, the City is onto them.” 

Joe Bonilla added: “This is how @CVSHealth  treats neighborhoods it disinvests in – by plopping a dumpster in front of a coffee shop and a movie theater in Albany! There was a spot in front of its former store, but it chose to locate this in front of two businesses left on the block. Thanks, CVS!”

And if CVS didn’t want it in front of the store because it would have blocked a CDTA bus stop, it could have used the side of the building on South Main, With a permit, of course. 

My CVS is closing (1026 Madison Ave)

Removing the cobblestones

My CVS is closing. The store at 1026 Madison Avenue, an anchor of that part of the Pine Hills neighborhood, will soon be defunct. My wife learned this from an employee who told her it would be shuttered on September 26 because of a dangerous structural problem in the basement. It will not reopen. I am bummed.

One of the reasons we moved into the neighborhood is because of its proximity to so many things. My library branch (Pine Hills). My bank. Restaurants, some of which have come and gone.

On the stretch between Main and West Lawrence, my Price Chopper/Market 32 grocery store anchored one end of the block.  The Madison Theatre has come, gone, and returned a few times. The next address has been a bookstore and a few coffee shops. My CVS anchored the other end.

In the Times Union story, which came out after I tipped off editor Casey Seiler: “Amy Thibault, a CVS spokeswoman, confirmed the closure date and offered a variety of reasons that led to the decision to shutter the store, including population shifts and a community’s store density…

“The city’s codes department cited the owner late last week for having an unsafe basement due to issues with support columns in the building. The citation, which requires the owner to prepare an engineering report within 10 days, does not affect CVS’ ability to operate its store.” I have my doubts.


To be sure, there are other CVS locations within a mile or two: 885 Central Avenue (0.9 mi), 613 New Scotland Avenue (1 mi), 1170 Western Avenue (1.8 mi), and 16 New Scotland Ave (1.4 mi). Our prescriptions will likely move to one of those. And they are all on a bus route not far from my house.

But it was SO convenient to walk the 0.3 mi to my CVS to purchase my Rx, buy some fruit at the PChop, get some cash from my bank, put $20 on my CDTA bus Navigator card at my library, and maybe pick up some restaurant takeout. “The company has several other pharmacies in the city, but the Madison Avenue location was the sole pharmacy located within the Pine Hills neighborhood boundaries.”

My wife said she was stunned by the news. Sigh. We will deal with it.

Lark Street revitalization

Some local good news. Workers are removing the cobblestones at three intersections of Lark Street, a street near my church, at Hudson, Lancaster, and State.

They were “originally installed two decades ago. Residents long complained that the gaps between the cobblestones were excessive; bike tires (and high heels) got stuck in them. And they’d never been re-grouted since installation. Mayor Kathy Sheehan says one of the first complaints she fielded when she was elected was about the cobblestones.”

I despised them from the very beginning. The cobblestones were also slippery when wet.

The self-checkout register

not the panacea

Self-checkoutThe expanding universe of the self-checkout register shows up more in my Facebook feed than almost any topic. In general, these are not complimentary observations.

Some people complain about the basic philosophical position that machines are replacing humans. Far more, though, are frustrated by the difficulty of the transactions.

Specifically: they don’t work, fail to accept the coupons or register the incorrect prices. I wonder how often the frustration leads to items being unscanned and stolen. Or for abandoned transactions if the lines get too long.

Last month, when I was at my local Price Chopper grocery store, about a half dozen people were in line to go to the four self-checkout registers. Meanwhile, no one was in line behind the customer nearest human-staffed register. Of course, I went there and was done faster than the folks in line.


Around the same time, I stopped at CVS to get a small bag of chips and a ginger ale. The store had two self-checkout machines, but the only employee in sight was helping a customer in a wheelchair. Machine #1 had an abandoned transaction, so I went to the other one, which got stuck in a loop. Three frustrated patrons stood behind me.

Know that I had 15 minutes to catch a nearby bus when I walked in, but now it’s been ten minutes, and I was ready to throw up my hands and walk out sans the items.

Fortunately, another human employee noticed the backup. I told them the issues for both machines, and they fixed each in turn; I finished my transaction and caught the bus.

CVS has a habit of sending out user email surveys. I filled this one out with much of the details stated here. In response, I received this: “Thank you for your feedback regarding your experience at CVS Pharmacy on November 06, 2022. Providing exceptional customer care is a priority for us. .Sorry you had a problem with the self checkout you should not of had to wait that long to have the problem fixed. we should have respond much quicker”

(No, I’m not going to nitpick about the typos and grammar errors. Or even complain that my transaction was on the 3rd of November; my COMMENT was lodged on the 6th.)

It depends

I’ve made my peace with automated transactions. Frankly, I prefer the ATM at my bank to the tedious line I got into at my wife’s credit union last month, where the teller had to take a check written to my wife from our church for reimbursement so I could DEPOSIT it. Moreover, as I’ve noted, my bank, since COVID, now allows withdrawals of five- and ten-dollar bills. Yay!

Self-service gas is fine. Well, except at the local Shoprite because the discount card that one is supposed to scan before the credit card goes in doesn’t always register the discounted price.

I’ll admit that it took me a couple of minutes to suss out the kiosk system at a local fast-food restaurant. It is probably because I go there rarely; I don’t have or want their app.

So self-service is fine IF it works. It sucketh big-time when it does not. And according to this CNN piece from July 2022. “In the biggest headache for store owners, self-checkout leads to more losses due to error or theft than traditional cashiers.

“’If you had a retail store where 50% of transactions were through self-checkout, losses would be 77% higher’ than average, according to Adrian Beck, an emeritus professor at the University of Leicester in the UK who studies retail losses.

“Customers make honest errors as well as intentionally steal at self-checkout machines.”

The title of the piece says it all: “Nobody likes self-checkout. Here’s why it’s everywhere.”

Insurance stress: CDPHP, St. Peter’s

health insurance

CDPHPI am experiencing some insurance stress based on two pieces of mail my wife and daughter received the same day last week. If you want to write a blues song after reading this, feel free.

The letter was from St. Peter’s Health Partners. It runs most of the city’s hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices that aren’t part of the Albany Medical Center. All of our primary care physicians are part of SPHP.

“Our records show that at the time of your last visit…, you… receive your health through a CDPHP commercial health plan.” CDPHP is the Capital District Community Health Plan. “Please be aware that [SPHP] has engaged in negotiations with CDPHP for a more equitable agreement to ensure we can continue to deliver high-quality, community-based care.”

Didn’t we do this dance a few years ago, which got resolved at the 11th hour?

In bold: “Our current agreement is set to expire effective January 1, 2023; meaning some patients may have increased financial responsibility when seeking care from [SPHP] in 2023 because CDPHP no longer includes the following facilities in its network.” Over a dozen facilities, including St. Peter’s Hospital, Samaritan Hospital, and five Eddy facilities, are on the list. Interestingly, no related mail from CDPHP has arrived.

On the coverage

Meanwhile, my wife and my daughter also received a Benefits Bulletin from my former employer, the Research Foundation for The State University of New York, or SUNY RF. “If you are a retiree or an eligible dependent of a retiree and you are not eligible for Medicare, your current RF benefits will continue for 2023 unless you make changes during open enrollment.” That window is November 1-30.

Just in case we need to make a change, I went to the SUNY RF portal to see if I could find the forms to change their coverage, but none of them seemed appropriate. Some were for the retiree (me), while some were for the retiree and dependents. I am on a different plan for administrative reasons.

So I called the SUNY RF number on Monday and then a different one on Wednesday. I was offered the same form to make changes, even though it didn’t make sense to me. If I change my wife and daughter to a Blue Cross program, I hope SUNY RF does not muck it up.


Meanwhile, a good friend of mine writes on Facebook: “We’ve…just been notified by [CDPHP] that CVS will no longer take our prescription insurance effective 1/1/2023… This is very upsetting because CVS is very convenient to where we live, has a drive-through, and the closest to our house is one of the only 24-hour pharmacies in the Capital District.” We got no such letter from CDPHP.

I called my local CVS pharmacist. They said that CVS has declined to take the CDPHP price schedule, so it may very well cost more to fill prescriptions there, but they won’t really know until they start filling them next year.

This issue will be a primary concern of mine this month because I can’t wait until the CDPHP/SPHP issue gets resolved in December if, in fact, it does.

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