Friday the Thirteenth

A brief tailtale in honor of Friday the Thirteenth.

Yuki, you see, had an unpleasant encounter with a monster.
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Nervous? Uneasy? You be the judge.
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Here’s a hint: A few seconds later, he made a break for freedom.
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What do you mean, ‘Did he get away?’ What do you take me for? Today may be Friday the Thirteenth, but I don’t do horror films.
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Sheesh!

World What?

I believe it’s a well-accepted truism that to develop life-long fans of a sport, you need kids to grow up with it. My own experience certainly supports that notion.

While I played soccer as a kid, I didn’t have a local team to follow during the critical years where my tastes in sports formed. Yes, there were the Seattle Sounders–the original Sounders–but they didn’t start playing until I was eight, too late to have a chance at a central spot in the sport-related portion of my brain.

(It probably didn’t help that, while professional soccer in the US was a summer sport, the Seattle kids’ leagues played in the fall and winter, probably to avoid competing with baseball for space on the recreation center fields. Seattle Octobers are a miserable time to be wearing shorts while running up and down a muddy field.)

All of which is a long-winded way to say that I haven’t been following the World Cup beyond an occasional glance at the headlines in the Chron.

That being the case, I was, at most, mildly pleased to see Croatia boot Russia out of the competition, given the state of political relations between the two countries–and because it put a halt to the claims that Russia was advancing due to bribery, political influence, and general FIFA corruption.

Let’s be real here: given FIFA’s reputation, most people would find a team doing well solely because of their athletic prowess more surprising than otherwise.

And in a vague way, I was hoping for an England/France final. Considering the historical antagonism between the two countries, it could have been the first World Cup match played with crossbows.

But on the other hand, everyone loves an underdog, right? So it’s hard to be upset about Croatia playing for their first ever World Cup championship.

One does have to wonder what the viewer numbers will be like in England. Is the love of football stronger than the sting of elimination? And of those who tune in, how many will be rooting for their traditional rival and how many for the new villains on the block? It must be like a Bostonian watching the Yankees in the World Series.

No, I’m not going to watch. At 8am Sunday, I plan to be curled up in bed, warm and dry, with nary a rain cloud or mud puddle in sight.

Back to the Basics

First, a belated apology to Jackie on behalf of the Mariners, who swept her beloved Orioles in a four game series at the end of June. I know she was disappointed, but in the Ms’ defense, they needed the victories a lot more than the Os did.

Which isn’t much of an apology, I realize. But it’s sure in line with baseball tradition, where the “apology” for nailing a batter in the ribs with a fastball is often, “He deserved it.”

But I digress slightly. Despite a recent absence of hitting–especially with runners in scoring position–the Mariners are still 23 games over .500, only three games out of first in their division, and holding a solid (if hardly impregnable) six game lead over Oakland in the Wild Card race. They’re on pace to win 101 games, which is pretty good for a team few expected to win 90.

So, sorry Jackie–but would you please ask your guys to beat the Yankees a few more times this year? Thanks, much obliged.

Moving on.

We went to our annual minor league game last week. The last couple of years we went to Sacramento for a AAA game, but this year the schedule worked out better to go back to our previous stomping grounds, San Jose.

The San Jose Giants are a Class A Advanced league team. The quality of play is not, to put it politely, at anything close to a major league level. The odds say that the majority of the players we saw will never get more than a cup of coffee, if that much.

But.

We had good seats–not that any of the seats in a 4,000 seat facility are bad.
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And when you sit that close to the action, you really get a sense of how good that so-called bad play is in reality. When someone hits that proverbial screaming line drive, you can hear it scream. And when it knocks the third baseman on his ass, you understand why he didn’t catch it in a very visceral way. One you’ll never get watching, say Nolan Arenado, from the third deck of a 50,000 seat park.

Which is not to say you forgive that third baseman, of course.

Still, A-class baseball is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon or evening, and it’s a damn sight cheaper than the majors.

But be aware that Municipal Stadium does have its quirks. Many parks are afflicted with seagulls that descend on the field after the game, sometimes not waiting for the final out before they come shrieking in, chasing errant french fries. Municipal Stadium has a similar problem.
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It’s a self-inflicted problem, of course. What you’re seeing there is the clean-up after a regular promotion. During the game, fans can buy a bag of numbered tennis balls, which they get to throw at targets set up on the field. Get a ball into a bucket or plastic ring and win a prize: leftover bobbleheads from earlier promotions, for example. Though, to be fair, the day we were there, three people won tickets to a San Francisco Giants game. That attempt at balance isn’t quite fair, though: big winners aren’t all that common, and three winners at one game was an all-time record.

We had a good time–and that’s without figuring in the post-game fireworks show. It was short and didn’t have many large, spectacular blooms, but the launch point in center field, less than 100 yards away, and the heavy emphasis on rapid-fire curtains and streams of sparks more than made up for the limitations.

Moving on.

If we believe the commissioner, the biggest problem facing professional baseball right now is pace of play. Based on the game in San Jose, I think he’s got the wrong end of the rope. It’s not really about speeding up the game. That’s just one approach to the real problem: keeping fans actively involved and interested.

Maybe we don’t really need pitch clocks or electronic umpires*. Maybe what we need is something a bit different.

* We don’t. Nobody who’s seen the home crowd react to their cleanup hitter strike out looking at a pitch three feet outside would ever say getting balls and strikes right is the best way to keep fans involved in the game.

Hey, Commissioner Manfred, how about reintroducing the beer batter at the major league level?

For the uninitiated, one player on the visiting team is designated the “beer batter”. If he strikes out, beer is half-priced for a period of time, typically fifteen minutes or for the next half-inning. And, boy howdy, do the spectators cheer when the beer batter swings and misses.

Sure, there are issue to be worked out. Nobody’s going to want to sell those $12 craft beers for $6. But the mass-market beers shouldn’t be a problem, especially if you limit sales to a subset of the concession stands. And most, if not all, parks halt beer sales after the seventh inning, and half-priced soda isn’t going to satisfy anyone when the beer batter comes up in the eighth or ninth. Maybe a deal on beer-battered corn dogs?

But the beer batter is only an example. Give the fans a specific thing to root for that has a direct payout to them, and they’ll engage. Case in point: if an Oakland player hits a home run, everyone in a single section of seats gets a free pizza. But fans can’t cheer for that. Homers can happen at any time, and the section isn’t announced until after the hit. How about changing it up a bit: if the ninth batter hits a home run, everyone gets pizza?

You’ll have fans screaming for guys with a lifetime .200 average to swing for the fences, and crying in mass agony when his fly ball dies on the warning track–and if he bunts, well…!

Sure, it might be a little pricey for the Giants when MadBum is pitching, but that’s what corporate sponsors are for, right?

Call it unenlightened self-interest. It’s not as obnoxious as the increasingly ridiculous between-innings antics most parks have turned to, and it’ll work just as well to keep fans in the stadium.

And it’s certainly more true to baseball tradition than putting free runners on base in extra innings.

Rufus Beans

And so we come at last to the final stop on our tour of the local toe beans. It might have been longer, but MM adamantly declined to participate.

So, instead of ending as we began, with a feral foot, we’ll close it out with a formerly-feral foot.

Rufus is of the single-color school. But he eschews plebeian pinks and blacks. His handsome silver-gray coat demands something a little out of the ordinary for proper contrast.

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Note the subtle, yet elegant, lavender tones, which elevate Sir Rufus’ toe beans to a realm most cats can only dream of attaining.

Good News

Because “A Few Things I Learned At Our Local Fourth of July Event” is too long for WordPress’ title field.

Actually, it’s probably not, but it’s not a limit I want to test.

But I digress–and I haven’t even gotten started yet.

Anyway, in this era of divisions, isn’t it nice to know that some things haven’t changed?

Faced with an unobstructed patch of grass, kids still break into spontaneous somersaults and cartwheels.

An ordinary spherical balloon, inflated with air, can still lure children away from their cellphones.

Giant slides and rock-climbing walls…
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draw block-long lines of kids and putative adults.

Mexican hot chocolate is a perfect drink for those moments when you’re waiting for the fireworks to start and freezing your tail off.

(Would it be crass to point out that without immigration, we wouldn’t have Mexican hot chocolate? What the heck, I’ll be crass. I’ll also point out that two of the four food vendors were of Latin antecedents, and the pizza sellers were Indian. I’ll let you guess about the folks selling kettle corn, funnel cakes, fried oreos, and cotton candy.)

Moving on.

Speaking of tails, the police still come up with–dare I say it? Oh, go ahead–wacky ways to project a friendly image.
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Realistically, the officer wearing the suit was probably the only person there who wasn’t freezing his tail off.

Even in a time of drought, climate change, and consequent heightened fire risk, amateurs still feel the need to stage their own firework shows.

A firework show doesn’t need music, nor does it need smiley-faced and heart-shaped fireworks to be compelling.

And children still find ways to be amusingly cynical. One young girl last night had been oohing and ahhing along with the crowd until a particularly bright, spectacular, waterfall bloom appeared. While the rest of the crowd gasped, she proclaimed in tones of great boredom, “I saw that at Disneyland.”

More Paranoia

Well, despite Thursday’s post, I’m still here. Still pissed off, though, so I hope y’all will indulge me in another day of paranoia.

Possibly I’m only still here because I’m not a registered Democrat. As noted idiot Alex Jones of Info Wars informed the world yesterday, the Democrats are starting a civil war on Wednesday. So the Republicans may be a little too distracted to deal with a single independent shouting into the void.

I’m not sure what the problem is here. Wasn’t Jones one of the people calling for more civility from the left? Just can’t please some people, I suppose.

Yes, Jones really said/tweeted it. Called it “breaking news,” even.

Let’s get real, here. Nobody–and I mean nobody–can start a war on demand. Well, okay. Starting a war is no problem. A few cyberattacks, few grassy-knoll assassinations, and well-placed bombs, and Bob’s your uncle. But on a schedule precise to the day? Excuse me while I go laugh hysterically.

Yeah, the provocation can be scheduled, but until the other side strikes back, you don’t have a war. Remember, it takes two to tango, but only one to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Still, it was nice of Alex to give us a couple of days to get ready. I hear all the Democrat-owned supermarkets and big box stores are having special sales. If your local store isn’t offering two-for-one pricing on Kevlar and popcorn, you know the corporate higher-ups are Republicans.

Come to think of it, if he’s got credible evidence that “Democrats” are going to indulge in major provocation, shouldn’t he be reporting it to, say, an organization whose job is to stop terrorist plots? Oh, no wait, the official word from the right is that the FBI isn’t capable of finding the soles of their shoes, much less a threat to America.

Hmm. Speaking theoretically here–I’m a novelist, this is what I do–if I was trying to provoke a war, I’d make sure those crackers, bullets, and bombs were aimed at the institutions and people most capable of defending whoever or whatever I was rebelling against.

Do you suppose Alex is afraid Democrats don’t consider him important enough to attack and this announcement is his way of trying to raise his importance? “Oh, look, I blew the whistle on your plot. Better kill me before I blow the cover off your next operation!”

Got news for you, Alex. Very few Democrats consider you important enough to waste time or money on. If Info Wars or you personally suffer an attack Wednesday, it’s more likely to have been done by your own side as an excuse to take the next step in their plan. You’re not rich enough or highly placed enough to be making targeting decisions, so by definition, you’re expendable.

Seriously though, this kind of pronouncement is a can’t-lose for Alex and the alt-right lunatics he’s talking to. If anything happens on Independence Day, he can trumpet that he told us so. If nothing happens, his warning saved the day. And either way, it’s an excuse to crack down on somebody.

Maybe the media who laugh at Alex*. Or the ones who ignore him. Or the family of the girl who turned one of the decision-makers down when he asked her out in high school. Or anyone whose skin is darker than cornsilk, isn’t a particular brand of Christian, thinks health insurance is a good idea, or even (gasp) once voted Democrat.

* Yes, that means me, among others.

If the movers and shakers behind DT are ready to move into their endgame, all it would take is the sacrifice of one highly-visible pundit to give them an excuse for their own Kristallnacht. And all that sacrifice would take is a single well-prepared operative and a big pile of disinformation.

Why wait for Justice Kennedy to retire before kicking things off?

Okay, okay. Enough doomsaying and paranoid ramblings. I’ll have something cheerful for you in Thursday’s post–assuming, of course, that the civil war hasn’t started by then.

Final Straw

I don’t usually talk politics here. Generally, I prefer to keep the blog a respite from all the crap we face in our daily lives*. I may gripe a lot–especially about poorly thought-out technology–but it’s rarely a matter of life and death; you can read a post, hopefully snicker at the snark, and move on, safe in the knowledge that the world won’t be appreciably worse if you disagree with me.

* Note to any agents reading this: I think my novels fall into the same category. If you think there’s a place in publishing for stories that let readers escape their cares and woes, let’s talk.

But sometimes the piles of poop get too big and I need to vent.

I don’t expect to say anything you haven’t heard before. If you don’t want to read my political rant, feel free to skip today’s post. There will be toe beans tomorrow.

If there aren’t toe beans, it’s because I’ve been hauled off by the Gestapo. Check with ICE. Think that’s unlikely? Think again. We’re seeing more and more reports of Immigration actions hundreds of miles away from any border. Actions featuring demands for proof of citizenship from anyone who isn’t clearly “our sort,” i.e. a white male.

And yes, I am a white male. But I’ve often been asked if I’m Puerto Rican. That’s “other” enough that I might well be stopped and questioned. I don’t know about you, but I don’t routinely carry proof of citizenship. I’m not even sure what is considered proof today. A driver’s license isn’t. Is a passport? Or would I be better off carrying a picture of Trump’s ass so I could kiss it if questioned?

But I’m digressing slightly.

It’s not the Supreme Court’s triple-whammy on unions, abortion, and travel earlier this week. It’s not even Justice Kennedy’s announced retirement. It’s the current administration’s determination to lie, cheat, steal, and shit all over anything that might stand in their way.

If you think there’s any chance of Justice Kennedy’s seat remaining open until after the November elections–much less until the new Congress is seating in January–you really haven’t been paying attention. He retires July 31. I expect the first confirmation hearing before the Senate recesses on August 6.

Hell, it might even happen before his retirement. I fully expect the nomination of his replacement to be fast-tracked. After all, the Republican machine has a perfect excuse. Remember how bad for the country it was in 2016 when those awful Democrats and that horrible fake president refused to appoint a successor to Justice Scalia?

Don’t laugh. Everything else gets blamed on the Democrats. I’m amazed this hasn’t yet.

And that’s my point.

Part of that lying, cheating, stealing, and crapping is to immediately blame everything on the previous administration. Why? Because the tactic works. Over and over again, the opposition gets caught up in debunking the lies, and the actual issue gets lost.

Hey, here’s a charming little scenario for you. The current Supreme Court just demonstrated their willingness to accept “National Security” as an excuse for unconstitutional actions. The next court isn’t going to be less willing.

So, Justice Kennedy retires July 31. A new justice is rammed through the Senate at the beginning of August. Along about October 15, the White House issues an executive order citing potential foreign interference with the November elections. “As such, in order to safeguard America’s precious liberty, elections will be suspended until their security can be guaranteed.”

Let’s be blunt here. It could happen. And if it does, all the evidence we have–everything that’s happened over the past year and a half–shows that Congress and the Supreme Court will go along with it. Oh, sure, there would be plenty of Republicans expressing grave doubts about the consequences, even condemning the president. But there wouldn’t be any Republican action to override the order, and nothing offered by the Democrats would be allowed onto the floor.

At this point, I consider anyone who continues to self-identify as a Republican part of the problem. I don’t care whether they voted for Trump. Every Republican in Congress is part of the problem. Ditto Republican officials at the state level. They’re supported by Republican fund-raisers. They get votes from party members who–even if they held their noses and voted against Trump–continue to vote Republican tickets.

And anyone who thinks they can “take back” the Republican Party is living in a dream world. It’s gone.

There’s only one solution. If there’s an election in November, vote them out. And in the meantime, don’t get distracted by today’s crisis, tomorrow’s uproar, or next week’s revelation. Half of them are going to be manufactured as distractions from the previous fusses, and the rest are repetitions of one single idea: “We–us, the people in power–own the rest of you. You’re working for our benefit, and if you don’t like it, you can drop dead. We’ll even sell you the gun.”

Don’t argue. It just gives them another opportunity to lie.

Don’t rebut the lies. It only makes them stronger, in the same way a song you hear over and over turns into an earworm.

Between now and November, pick an issue. One issue. Clean water to Flint (or Puerto Rico). Asylum-seekers illegally detained. Police violence against minorities. Whatever is most important to you. Do what you can on that one issue. Don’t let yourself get distracted by any other crisis. There are enough of us to deal with everything–you don’t have to do it all yourself.

And on November 6, get your ass to the polls and vote. Vote your conscience. No politeness. No “Give him a chance.” No “He’s not really as bad as all that.” Just no.

Cutting Loose

Let’s go over that cord-cutting thing.

Bottom line: I’m not sorry to have done it. I’m not considering going back to satellite or–looking even further back–cable.

As I said a couple of weeks ago, the big attraction was a lower bill. We’ve definitely got that, but there is some truth in the saying that you get what you pay for.

For one thing, we get fewer channels. Granted, we never watched the overwhelming majority of the ones we’ve lost. But there’s that little voice in the back of my head that says, “Now you’ll never know what you’re missing by not checking out The Polka Channel.”

That said, one of the beauties of the cable-free life is that, as far as I can tell, none of the services require a contract. You can add ’em, drop ’em, and change packages on a whim. So if I ever wake up in the middle of the night craving the “Polka ‘Round the Clock” show, all I have to do is sign up for a service that carries the channel–and then cancel when I discover that 96 straight hours of polka is as much as any person can endure.

Without having to cancel and reinstate the current service. Unlike the traditional model where you can’t easily have more than one TV provider*, in this wonderful new world, you don’t have to choose. Sign up with ’em all. Assuming you can afford it, of course.

* Of course, that statement just shows how ancient I am when it comes to the television marketplace. With modern sets having multiple inputs, you could have Dish, Comcast, and DIRECTV. Nobody does, mind you, but it’s easily possible, unlike back in the days before I started chasing the damn kids off my lawn.

Which brings us to that channel selection thing. Don’t believe the advertising about ala carte programming and freedom from pricy packages. You still can’t choose just the channels you want to watch.

Look, in my ideal TV world, I’d get Food Network, the local regional sports channels, the Seattle regional sports channels, and a handful of nationals like ESPN and MLB.

Not happening. The only difference between the offerings of Sling TV and its parent, Dish, is that Sling’s only got two packages. Dish has–last I checked–half a dozen packages, not counting the “customer retention” package they tried to sell me. Both also have an assortment of specialty add-on packages. The point is, you’re still picking packages.

And forget my dream. None of the streaming services carry all of the regional sports networks. Even if they did, I couldn’t get the Seattle channels in California, because the carriage agreements limit distribution based on the billing address of the credit card.

On the other hand, I’m no worse off than I was with satellite. I ignore the channels I don’t watch–and, since the packages are smaller, there are fewer to scroll past in the channel guide.

Maybe I’d be happier with a streaming service that specialized in sports. There are a couple, of course. I don’t want to pay for two services, but perhaps one of the sports services also has Food Network. If so, I could switch at any time. And switch back just as quickly if I don’t like what I get for the price.

Moving on.

Video quality is good. Better, in some cases than I got with the satellite, not as good in others. As you might expect, it depends on the quality of the Internet service*. That glitches occasionally (thanks, Comcast), but on the whole I’m satisfied.

* So we haven’t really cut the cord. Wireless Internet is a complete dream around here, with no line of sight to any radio towers.

There are quirks, though. On some channels, there’s often a couple of seconds where the audio track drops out right before a commercial break. This seems to be related to the carrier supplying the ads; the selection of ads on Food Network, for example, appear to be different than what we got with Dish, suggesting that Sling TV’s technology for inserting their advertisers’ messages isn’t quite up to snuff.

Some channels seem to be more prone to buffering issues than others. If I had to guess, I’d say that the culprits are running at a higher bitrate, and are more likely to trip over those network glitches. But it’s a guess.

Sling TV’s user interface has a few quirks as well. Most notably, selecting a specific show from the channel guide sometimes drops you back at the guide when the show ends. Sometimes. Other times you get to see the next show. Choosing the channel always keeps the programming running instead of reverting to the guide.

It’s the inconsistency that gets me. Who QAed this shit, anyway?

The other big quirk is that Sling TV restricts the number of simultaneous viewers according to which package you have. “Orange” channels can only be watched on one device at a time. Put ESPN on the bedroom TV, and that’s it. But “Blue” lets you watch on three devices at once. ESPN in the bedroom, Food Network in the tablet in the kitchen, and BBC America in the family room.

Oops. Except that ESPN isn’t in the Blue package. Better get both packages. Of course, now you’re paying twice for Food Network and BBC America.

What was that about freely choosing your viewing and no useless channels? Ahem.

Mind you, the simultaneous viewing limits don’t much affect us. We usually watch together, anyway. But in a larger family it might matter more. (There’s the reason we don’t teach the cats how to use the remote.)

Moving on.

One final note about the whole experience. To get streaming TV services on your actual television, you do need a player of some sort. A computer will work, but the experience of navigating a web browser using a wireless mouse from ten feet away is less than ideal.

Many DVD and Blu-ray players include apps for major streaming services. That might do it. For that matter, new “Smart TVs” have the same apps built in. But do you really want to buy a new TV just to cut the cord? And the apps on the disc players, IMNSHO, are uniformly slow, buggy, and awkward to use.

And speaking of awkward, if you’ve got a Chromecast, you can use that. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the experience of starting a program on my phone, restarting it on the TV, and then using the phone as a remote to be frustrating and counter-intuitive.

So if you’re cutting the cord, budget for a dedicated streaming device. Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or something of that sort.

We wound up going with the cheapest Roku stick. Getting it connected to our wi-fi was an experience I’d prefer not to repeat–there seems to be an incompatibility with our router–but now that they’re talking, everything’s good.

The Sling TV UI on Roku is more internally consistent and logical than the web interface, the Roku app is faster than the one on our Blu-ray player, and as an added bonus, the Roku app for MLB TV is cleaner and simpler than the iOS and Android apps.

Of course, there are a bunch of Roku channels we never watch…

Kokoro Beans

Status quo is status quo and the odds of returning to the status quo ante are slim, however much we might wish otherwise. Should the unlikely occur, we shall celebrate with quiet cheers, a few discreet dance steps, and copious photographs.

Until that day, however, let us resume our survey of the local toe bean population.

Kokoro is a lady of simple needs and refined tastes.

A patch of sunlight or a trusted human’s lap.

An elegant sufficiency of food.

Acknowledgment of her role as supreme ruler of the universe.

Do I even need to point out that taking pictures of the soles of her feet does not fall within the bounds of any of her requirements?

In other words, pardon the blur. This is the best of far more attempts than she or we felt comfortable with.

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Given her tastes and her fur tones, one might expect her to belong to the one-toned school of toe beanery. But no. Pink predominates, but a few streaks of darker shades–no doubt borrowed from her points–sneak in.

Not, I must admit in all honesty, the most elegant of feet. But then, anyone who’s seen Kokoro contort herself into a pretzel shape to get maximum sunlight on her stomach knows that even the most refined lady lets her guard down occasionally and indulges in pure silliness.