Scandalous

I’ll admit to some surprise over how much press the college university scandal is getting. It’s proving to be a remarkable distraction from whatever it is our darling president is up to today. And have you noticed that he’s been unusually silent about the subject? Sure, his usual crew of proxies, including DTJr, have been all over it, but as far as I can tell, he’s kept his own Twitter fingers out of the fuss.

Maybe he thinks the dignity of his former position as proprietor of a pay-for-play education institution would be compromised by taking sides on the issue.

Never mind.

Anyway, I really am surprised about the amount of attention being paid to the story. Is anyone actually surprised that the rich have a perk denied to the rest of population?

Is it because of the high public profile of some of the accused? Everyone loves a good scandal involving well-known actresses*, right? Or is it only because of the rather staggering quantities of money involved. Twenty-five million is a significant sum of money. On the other hand, annual tuition at Stanford is currently around $50,000. Add in living expenses, materials, and all of the other expenses of going to school, and you realize that $25,000,000 wouldn’t even cover the costs of a four year degree for all of the students involved.

* I have to wonder if there would be as much gloating and finger pointing if the big Hollywood names were men. But I digress.

And, speaking of the students… The Chron quotes US attorney Andrew Lelling as saying “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.” That’s arguable, but if the goal of the investigation is to seek redress for those rejected students, why are all of those fraudulently admitted still attending their schools?

Granted, most schools probably don’t have a ranked list of candidates, and even if they did, it’s far too late to offer a slot to the top few who just missed the cut because their slots had been filled via fraud. But it would free up spaces that could be added to the available pool for next year.

Come to think of it, the goal of the parents involved was to get their kids into those colleges. Even if they’re eventually convicted of crimes, the punishment is going to be in the form of fines and jail time. The children are still going to be in school, benefiting from their parents’ misdeeds. And if someone was willing and able to pay half a million bucks to get their child into an Ivy League school, are they really going to quibble about a few thousand dollars more to satisfy the justice system?

Really, though, the most vexing thing about the scandal is that the schools themselves are unlikely to see any repercussions. A few employees have been fired and more probably will. It’s vaguely possible that the universities will be fined, but even if they are, they’ll likely be a tiny fraction of their operating budgets–but a great excuse to raise tuition. Maybe the NCAA will sanction a few sports programs–but who’s going to notice a loss of scholarships or forced forfeits in sailing and other minor sports?

What’s not going to be affected is the schools’ collective reputation. None of this year’s high school seniors are going to withdraw their applications. Nobody’s going to miss out on a post-graduation job because their diploma comes from one of those schools.

That, IMNSHO, is the real scandal.

Knowing the Cost

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about my compulsion to record the details every time we put gas in the car. At the time, I said, “Mind you, none of this information is of any particular use.”

I’m thrilled to announce that after thirteen years, I’ve finally found value in that spreadsheet. Value beyond soothing the need to collect the numbers, I mean.

Hey, I just realized: since I’ve found a use for the numbers, they’re no longer just semi-random noise. They have meaning! They’re officially information. Data! I’m sure the spreadsheet is very proud.

But I digress.

Anyway, the point is that I have a job. Which requires me to commute. And now I can calculate how much it costs me to go to work.

The bridge toll is six bucks in one direction and zero in the other. And, frankly, that’s the lion’s share of the expense. But, being compulsive, I had to add in the cost of the gas.

One round trip is approximately 35 miles, regardless of which route I take*.

* As I noted recently, crossing the Richmond-San Rafael bridge is essentially a requirement to get from here to there. But there are multiple ways to get from here to the bridge. Since all the routes are functionally the same length, and all the drivers are using the same small group of traffic apps, it’s probably no surprise that it takes the same amount of time to drive all the routes. In this case, about an hour and a quarter. As Bay Area commutes go, that’s staggeringly short for the round trip.

According to my spreadsheet, each dollar we’ve spent on gas has been good for 8.6 miles driven. So one round trip to work costs a hair over four bucks in gas. Add the bridge toll and we get the total price of the trip: ten dollars. No, I’m not compulsive enough to figure in depreciation on the car.

Apply my salary–net, of course–and you get forty-four minutes and a handful of seconds*.

* Yes, I realize that the mathematically astute curious types among you are now busy calculating my pay. Have fun. I’d just appreciate it if you didn’t spread the number around. Make anyone who wants to know go to the effort of punching a few digits into their calculators. And looking up the federal and state withholding percentages. And a few other little deductions that I’ll leave as exercises for the nosy.

With all the approximations I’ve included, you can call it three-quarters of an hour without straining the bounds of mathematics.

Why would I bother with all that math, other than to justify thirteen years of data collection? Well, it turns out that driving is two dollars cheaper than taking the bus. That says more about the cost of public transportation than anything else, but that’s a subject for another time.

More importantly, knowing the cost difference allows me to feel a little better about choosing convenience over saving the environment.

Fellowship

Contrary to what you might have thought after watching last week’s video, Lefty and Rufus actually get along well most of the time.

Even dinnertime is generally peaceful, now that they’ve arrived at a regular routine. Granted, the routine is “Rufus chows down on Lefty’s gooshy food,” but as long as they’re okay with it, we’re not going to interfere.

Oddly, Rufus seems to prefer Lefty’s gooshy to his own, but much as he loves his own krunchiez, he rarely touches Lefty’s. To be perfectly clear, they both get the same dry food, and the only difference between the wet food bowls is a little added water in Rufus’.

But I digress.

Despite the occasional spat, they hang out together and watch out for each other. Rufus guards Lefty when the horrible cat-eating monster (i.e. the vacuum cleaner) visits. In return, Lefty keeps an eye out when they’re sleeping.

08-1

Take a closer look at Lefty’s face:

08-2

Have you ever seen a better example of “Mess with my buddy and I’ll mess you up”?

Tiny Ball

Hey, remember last season, when I said I hoped the Mariners would be better on the field than in their commercials? Oy.

If the same thing happens this year, the Ms are going to give the Orioles some competition for the title of Most Painful Team to Watch.

At least there are only four this year. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can watch them here. Or you can just read on and let me save you the effort.

Let’s start with the worst and save the–well, not the best, but the least bad–for last.

The only question about “Hanimal Fanimal” is whether it’s the bottom of the barrel or the leaky septic tank under the barrel. A couple of seconds of Mitch Haniger in actual game footage bookends this paen to clueless bandwagon fandom. Unfortunately, all the joy of the spectacular catch is sucked away by the relentless idiocy of the spokesperson for the folks sitting in the bleachers. If he’s the sort of person the Mariners’ front office want to attract to games, I’m glad I’ll be watching on TV. Maybe there’s supposed to be an unspoken message here–that Mitch is too nice a guy to shove the moron away and get back to the game. But if so, it’s as poorly thought out as the rest of the ad. Leo Durocher may not have said “Nice guys finish last,” but there’s some truth to the sentiment. At the very least, the game comes first.

“Moving Target” isn’t bad. It’s just cliched, repetitive, and forgettable. Okay, Mallex Smith is fast. We get it. Couldn’t you find some way to show that without falling back on the quick cut? And there’s poor Kyle Seager forced into being the deadpan straight man again, just like in last year’s “Flip”. At least this year, he’s not clueless. But can’t somebody give him a decent punchline?

Next is “SpeeDee”. It’s cliched and forgettable, but at least it’s not repetitive. Okay, Dee Gordon is fast. We get it. Yeah, they really went with “he’s fast” in half of the commercials this year. I rank this one slightly ahead of “Moving Target” only because of the parachute. Having it pop open before Dee crosses the finish lineplate is the only real spark of creativity in either of the “fast” commercials. I’ll admit, that got a small chuckle out of me.

Finally–and not a moment too soon–we’ve got “Arts & Crafty”. Props for a decent pun and for giving Felix a decent punchline. The moving stadium roof makes me laugh, even on repeated viewings–I love the implication that Yusei Kikuchi knows the King is about to rain on his hard work. Unfortunately, the “It’s crafty” line just doesn’t quite work, leaving the ad about two-thirds of a joke short of brilliance. “Craft” does have additional meanings that could have been worked in to send the bit in a whole different direction. “It’s not just craft, it’s witchcraft.” Eh, maybe not. Have the stadium transform into a boat, thus alluding to both watercraft and Mariners. Better. Not perfect, but better. Seriously, with months to think about it, this commercial could have been fixed.

Call the tally a triple, a sacrifice bunt, a weak pop-up, and a three pitch, no swing strikeout. In the right order, that’s one run anyway.

May this be the year the Ms play betters the standard set by their commercials. Because if it’s not, this will be a long season–and not in the good way.

Gender Free

Would you believe it’s been more than two years since I last ranted about the Decline of Civilization? Me neither, but it’s true.

Lest you think I’m getting soft, I’m going to remedy the lack. And no, it’s got nothing to do with politics. At least not directly. Today, we’re all about language. Specifically, the gender-prefix.

Oh, you know what I mean. The addition of a gender-linked modifier to a perfectly good gender-irrelevant word. Man bun. Man purse. Man cave.

Don’t think I’m exaggerating my disgust with this phenomenon for the sake of a blog post. I loathe the trend. Not to put too fine a point on it, this creation of invisible–in truth, non-existent–gender distinctions is exactly the process that leads to gender-linked pay disparities, “just kidding” harassment, and rampant discrimination.

Really. Think about it.

There’s no such thing as a man bun–or a woman bun for that matter. It’s a bun. Period. Exactly the same hairstyle regardless of who’s wearing it. I’ve got no dog in this race: one look at my photo will tell you my hair isn’t ever going to fit into a bun.

The only reason the style looks odd on a man is because you’re not used to seeing it. It’s a style traditionally worn by women, so there’s that moment of cognitive dissonance until you get used to it. Regrettably, neophobia is a real thing, and those who suffer from it are going to prevent themselves from accepting something new by labeling it as “different” or “other”.

Excise man bun from your vocabulary.

Ditto man purse.

Don’t want to call a moderately sized bag you carry in your hand or on your shoulder a purse? Fine. How about “shoulder bag”? It’s a perfectly good term, gender neutral, and with a long history. And it exactly describes the object in question.

Then there’s man cave. What’s wrong with “basement”? Or “rec room,” “TV room,” or even “game room”? Because, let’s be honest here, calling that room where you go to watch the ballgame a man cave not only does a disservice to all the women who enjoy sports, a game of pool, or a handy supply of beer and life-shortening snack foods, but it also devalues the room itself.

Caves, by and large, are cold and dark. Frequently damp, too. None of which is going to make the man cave sound appealing. You want a word to describe that cozy space where it’s just you, your favorite chair, and the biggest damn TV you can afford? How about “den”?

Now there’s a word with all the right connotations. It hints of the wild, but retains notes of “warm and cozy”. The kind of place you want to bring a few of your best friends to hang out.

Don’t think, by the way, that I’m just ticked off at the male gender here.

I swear I will projectile vomit on the next person who uses the phrase “she shed” in my presence.

If it wasn’t invented by some alliteration-addicted marketing executive, it should have been. Like man cave, it’s needlessly exclusive and designed to sound superficially appealing while actually being dismissive. And, also like man cave, the so-called she shed can easily wear the proud badge of “den” with pride and dignity.

A pox on both houses, man caves and she sheds alike.

Bridging the Gap

Speaking of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (as I was last week) maybe you’ve heard that it’s joined the Bay Area’s roster of troublesome infrastructure?

The problems aren’t as severe as the Bay Bridge’s issues, nor as expensive to resolve as BART’s shortcomings, but they’re still an interesting little tale of terror.

Okay, maybe “terror” is excessive. Trauma, though…that works.

The story, or at least the current phase of it, started earlier this month–but let me give you some background first. The bridge is double-decked. The top deck is for westbound traffic (Richmond to San Rafael). There are two lanes and a wide shoulder, part of which is currently being converted into a bike and pedestrian path. The lower, eastbound deck, also has two lanes and a wide shoulder. As I explained in that earlier post, the shoulder is used as a third lane during the evening commute.

The bridge opened in 1956 and has been updated several times since, including undergoing a seismic retrofit in the early 2000s. Of particular note, the majority of the bridge’s joints–795 of 856–were rebuilt during the retrofit. The remaining 61 have been in place since the bridge opened.

Which brings us to February 7 of this year. At approximately 10:30, the California Highway Patrol received a report that chunks of concrete falling onto the lower deck. Specifically, someone told them a rock had fallen onto the hood of their car, denting it severely. Inspection showed that concrete was falling from around one of the expansion joints on the upper deck. Yes, one of the Original Sixty-One. At 11:20, give or take a few minutes, Caltrans closed the bridge in both directions.

Fortunately, the morning rush hour was mostly over by the time the bridge closed. And, for the curious, yes, I had driven over the bridge that morning, headed for San Rafael. And no, my car did not knock loose the chunk of concrete that was the cause of the CHP being called in. I’d passed that part of the bridge about fifteen minutes before the caller’s hood was crushed. Not guilty.

Without the bridge, there really isn’t a good way to get from San Rafael to the East Bay. You can use the Bay Bridge, but that means going through San Francisco, which is a nightmare of a commute even in the best of circumstances. Or you can go around to the north, via Novato, Vallejo, and Crockett, which involves a long stretch on the one-lane-in-each-direction Highway 37.

The bridge remained closed until shortly before 3:00. By then, of course, the evening commute was totally snarled. Opening one lane in either direction didn’t help much, and when more concrete fell, those lanes were closed again. (Again, I lucked out: I left work at three and made it across just before the 3:45 re-closure.)

After that, the upper deck stayed closed. A single lane on the lower deck opened around 4:30, but by then any commute anywhere in the Bay Area was a multi-hour affair.

Caltrans got a temporary patch in place–metal plates on the top and bottom of the upper deck–and reopened the bridge around 8:30. Amazingly, the congestion had all cleared by the following morning, and my commute to work was no worse than usual, aside from the jolt to my car’s suspension going over the temporary patch.

The upshot is that the Original Sixty-One are now being replaced. At least in theory. It’s been too wet for actual repairs to be carried out, which means the planned completion date of March 5 is totally out the window. The repairs and the delays to the repairs also means the bike lane is going to be delayed by at least two months.

To be fair, the rain is hardly Caltrans’ fault. And, as far as I can tell, the delay isn’t going to raise the cost of the repairs (about $10,000,000 for the 31 joints on the upper deck; the 30 on the lower deck were actually planned for replacement later this year in a separate rehabilitation project.)

But I doubt there are many Bay Area commuters looking forward to weeks or months of overnight lane closures.

And, even though there’s no evidence of problems at any of the other commuter bridges–and yes, that include the Golden Gate–I doubt I’m the only person who has second thoughts about driving on the Carquinez, San Mateo, or Dumbarton Bridges.

I mean, really, how much bridge luck can I reasonably expect to have?

It’s Time

We’re a week into pre-season games, and I’ve yet to watch more than a couple of innings. Not by choice, of course. Merely an artifact of MLB’s preference for playing games with no effect on the standings* in the early afternoon. It makes sense from a player preparedness perspective, but it can be aggravating for those of us with other commitments.

* I’m not going to call them “meaningless.” They may not matter to MLB executives, but they’ve got plenty of meaning for fans waking from their winter nightmares of no baseball. One imagines they have at least a little meaning to the players, especially the minor league invitees hoping to score a place on the big league club.

But, barring another rainout, I should be able to catch the whole Mariners/Rangers game today and tomorrow’s Mariners/Indians game as well. That should improve my outlook on life and–given baseball’s usual effect on my writing–speed me through several chapters’ worth of Demirep‘s second draft.

Speaking of the Cleveland Indians, the “Chief Wahoo” logo will no longer appear on their uniforms. As was widely reported last year, the team will continue to sell a limited number of souvenir items bearing the logo in order to maintain control of the trademark. As I said when the move was announced, that’s somewhat inside out and backward, but it’s better than the nothing we continue to see coming out of the Washington D.C. football team.

As for those minor league players I mentioned a moment ago, let’s not forget that they’re playing–and training–without pay. They don’t start earning those spectacular salaries until next this time next month. In case you missed it, “spectacular” should be read as sarcasm. According to MLB’s own figures, the average player at the lowest A level gets $1,300 a month. (Hint: that’s about what I make working part time.) And that’s the average. Unless they’re all getting the same amount–they’re not–that means some players are making less than $250 a week for a more-than-full-time job. It’s a decent rate for a side gig. It’s not enough to live on, much less support a family, in most of the US.

Pay is somewhat better as players move up in the ranks. MLB says the average AAA player makes $10,000 a month. That’s about $60,000 a year (remember, they only get paid for six months). By way of comparison, according to Glassdoor, the average school teacher makes about $48,000 a year. So, yeah, the hypothetical average AAA player is doing slightly better than the person who taught him how to do math.

You can live on 60K, even get married and have a kid. In most of the country, anyway. Again, that’s the average. I’d love to see the distribution–how many players are making more than ten grand, and by how much, and how many are making less.

And, don’t forget, players move up and down the minor league ranks during the course of the season. It’s great to say you’re getting ten thousand a month in AAA, but if you were in AA from March to August, you’re not going to see a heck of a lot of benefit from that princely wage.

I’m not saying that minor league players should be earning six figure salaries. I’m not even suggesting every player should get as much as an elementary school teacher. But MLB’s protests of poverty and the collapse of the game if they paid enough to live on at all levels of the minors rings a bit hollow. After all, the minimum salary for a major league player is about $550,000 a year. That’s a pretty spectacular pay disparity.

If memory serves, the typical major league team has about 250 minor league players on their payroll. A little simple math suggests that putting in a set salary scale starting at, say, thirty thousand a year–five thousand a month during the season–and going up to that sixty thousand dollar level they’re currently paying in AAA wouldn’t cost a team even as much as a single decent free agent.

And with one less thing to worry about, the quality of play in the minors would go up. Better minor league players, better major league players. Simple math.

(This post was edited 3/11/19: Glassdoor asked that I add I link to their salary data.)