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.

Not So Incredible

Obligatory Spoiler Warning. Though the box office says you’ve probably already seen Incredibles 2.

Before I start talking about the movie, though, a couple of comments about the stuff that aired before the movie. No, not the commercials. I ignored them, as I generally do. And I did it so successfully that Maggie had to point out the Hyundai commercial was filmed a couple of blocks away from the house I grew up in.

Do we really need another remake of The Grinch? Apparently someone thought we did. Come on, gang, give it a rest. If you have to do a Suess movie–and I think that’s a perfectly legitimate idea–there are plenty of his books you haven’t touched. I’m not sure there’s enough in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to justify a full-length feature, but how about Bartholomew and the Oobleck (worth it for the title alone) or And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?

Does it add anything to know the Grinch is down on Christmas because he never had one in the orphanage? No. No, it doesn’t. Sucking pickles and putting them back in the jar isn’t particularly funny. Certainly not enough to warrant that bit showing up in every trailer so far.

The audience seemed disinterested. I regard that as a healthy development, and I hope it means the film bombs come November.

Moving on.

Completely at the other end of the spectrum was Bao, the short film that’s showing before the feature. Despite being aimed more at the parents in the audience than their kids, it drew rapt attention from the entire room. The universal gasp of horror at the climax was the kind of applause that’s better than cheers and clapping because it proves that everyone was invested in the characters. Simply amazing engagement in five minutes of wordless film. And then it nailed the ending as well.

Big kudos to the director, Domee Shi, and the entire crew.

And that, unfortunately, brings us to Incredibles 2. Or rather, that brings us to the “We’re sorry it took us so long to make this film” bit that preceded the movie. “We wanted to make sure we got it right.”

Sorry, guys. I said “unfortunately” because, frankly, you didn’t get it right.

Every reviewer has pointed out that putting the final battle after the emotional climax means the fight comes as an afterthought. The audience doesn’t care by that point. The Parrs have already reconciled.

And then the film compounds the problem by splitting up the family for the supposedly-climactic scene, instead of showing them working as a team. What were they thinking?

Mind you, it doesn’t help that the solution to the big problem–the ship bearing down on the city–was so stupidly done. Stopping the ship was the right answer; turning it was dumb. Can’t get to the engine room door to shut it down? Find a different way in. Bash a hole in the bulkhead. Go through a window. In the worst case, put a giant block of ice in front of the propeller–those things are more fragile than they look–or simply freeze the water around the prop. To be fair, those last solutions don’t give Mr. Incredible anything to do. Can’t have that. But he seems to be nigh-invulnerable. Throw him in front of the prop to smash it. Problem solved, ship halted before it gets anywhere near the city.

Moving on.

Was I the only one who found Screenslaver’s message rather more compelling than it probably should have been? Not the solution (get rid of superheros), but the core complaint about getting someone else to solve all our problems? Does that sound familiar? “Hey, here’s a guy who says he can save our jobs, solve the budget crisis, and make everything sunshine and roses. Go to it, Dude!” How well did that work out?

There were smaller problems, too. Yeah, having the ship come to a halt without destroying the building it was aimed at was obviously intended as a callback to the opening battle against the Underminer. So why didn’t they do that right: don’t slew the ship sideways, bring it to a halt with the bowsprit touching the window glass without breaking it?

For that matter, what happened to the Underminer? Yeah, he got away. Why didn’t they bring him back at the end? Instead of sending the family off after a random carload of gun-firing criminals, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to send them off after the guy who got away because they didn’t work as a team at the beginning of the film? It wouldn’t even have taken a script change. All they would have needed to do was replace that car of anonymous thugs with a drilling machine popping out of the middle of the street. Leave every bit of dialog and every other cel of animation in that epilogue the same. And you still give that final throwaway scene some emotional resonance by providing a little bit of closure.

They did get some things right. Violet’s arc was handled nicely, for instance. No sappy musical interludes (and I loved the heroes’ theme songs playing during the credits).

But when the absolutely unquestioned best scene–Jack-Jack’s epic battle with the trash panda–comes in the middle of the movie, you’ve got serious problems.

I did enjoy the movie. It’s amusing and it held the attention of a theater full of viewers of all ages well enough (though I did see more mid-movie popcorn runs than I would have expected). But it’s not up to the stand Pixar has set for itself.

The Belated Father’s Day Post

Not belated because I forgot, or anything stupid like that. Belated because I don’t normally post on Sundays. Okay, so maybe it is a stupid reason. But sticking to a schedule helps me avoid slacking off. For the same reason, I work on novels in the afternoon–so I can start at the same time every day, even when I’m working on blog posts in the morning.

Bad night’s sleep? Doesn’t matter. Gotta write a blog post. Distracted by something shiny (or ragged and cat-eating)? Tough. Go write some words of fiction.

Dad was mildly amused by my schedule adherence, but he understood. “Do what works for you,” is a bit of writing advice that made perfect sense to him. Much as he loved word processing, he absolutely couldn’t edit on a computer. He printed every draft, edited it with a pencil, and then typed his changes in. Which mildly amused me, but again, it worked for him.

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Last week, I linked a story in the Sedalia Democrat about the Smith-Cotton High School String Orchestra appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, and promised more words about their appearance. These are those words.

The short version, for anyone who finds the Democrat’s website annoyingly hard to use, is that the high school orchestra’s appearance was supported by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund. See, when Dad died, we asked that contributions in his name to be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation. We–and the foundation–were amazed and pleased at the number of donations, and we all agreed there was an opportunity to do more than simply add the funds to the foundation’s general budget.

I often say that Dad was a storyteller. It’s no accident that he gravitated to baseball and ragtime: both are fields with enough stories to fill every library in the world. Dad liked teaching in the classic sense, but he outright loved teaching by telling stories. He could, and frequently did, talk ragtime for hours*. One of the reasons he enjoyed research was for the stream of new stories it brought him. When he started looking into Brun Campbell–a storyteller himself–the stream turned into something more like the Columbia River.

* Baseball, too, but there are more storytellers working that beat than spinning ragtime yarns.

Any community needs new blood to live. And Dad worried there might not be enough new ragtimers coming in to keep the music alive. When a new “Ragtime Kid”–a young talent consumed by the need to play ragtime–came along, he was delighted. Using the money donated in his name, not for immediate needs, but to teach the next generation of ragtimers was an easy call.

What that’s going to look like is still up in the air. We’ve got some immediate plans, and some ideas for the medium- and long-term, all aimed at getting a new generation interested in ragtime and its stories. But no project succeeds if it never gets started. We threw a whole lot of ideas around for where to start. Bringing the Smith-Cotton students to the festival this year was where we wound up. We got a couple of dozen students and their families to the festival. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. If only one of those dozens sticks with ragtime, whether as a performer, researcher, or listener, then it’s a major victory.

Now that we’ve started, we need to keep going. And that means we need to keep the fund healthy. (You knew there was a commercial message coming, right?)

I mentioned last week that the festival was somewhat smaller this year than in the past. Money’s tight all over, but especially so for art programs. We’d love some help.

If you’re willing to lend a hand, please drop a note to sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Thanks from Dad, from the whole family, and from the entire ragtime community.

Unhappiness

No cute picture this week.

Sorry, I’m not feeling the toe bean love. Or the sleeping cat, cat in a small space, or, indeed, any other cuteness.

A family of coyotes–mother and four or five pups–has moved into the neighborhood, and is hanging around the area outside our fence.

All the cats have gone into hiding. Hell, even the damn Trash Pandas have made themselves scarce.

We’re doing our best to annoy the coyotes into leaving, making loud noises and throwing pine cones when we see them. And we’ve moved the Backyard Bowl to a somewhat more protected location. The felines sneak out when things are quiet, grab some food, and vanish back into hiding again.

We saw MM late Wednesday night.

Tuxie hasn’t been seen in more than a week. This is not good.

We’re clinging to the hope that someone else saw his charm and charisma, and has given him the indoor home he’s been angling for. It could be. We know he’s been visiting more people than us, and the last time we saw him was a couple of days before the first reports of coyote sightings.

But it’s hard to maintain optimism, especially knowing he’s got a microchip registered to us. Surely if someone had adopted him, they’d have taken him to the vet for a checkup, right?

Or maybe someone spotted the coyote and gave Tuxie some temporary shelter. That could be too.

And there are still other cats around. We’ve caught glimpses of a black cat from across the street and an unknown black and white critter.

But they’re not our buddy Tuxie.

So, no pictures today. Maybe next week.

Customer Dissatisfaction

We’ve officially become cord-cutters.

No, we haven’t dropped our land line. Cell service around here has improved over the past few years, but it’s still spotty enough that we’re not ready to depend only on that.

TV, though, is another matter. Strictly speaking, we haven’t been corded in more than a decade: we’ve been getting our television service from Dish. And, quite honestly, we’ve been happy with the service–and the customer service. Our only complaint has been with the cost; the add-on fees for equipment rental, insurance, and a bunch of things I couldn’t begin to explain came to almost as much as the actual service.

A couple of months ago, we decided that the amount of TV we watched wasn’t worth the amount we were paying, so we switched to Sling. I’ll have more to say about Sling another day; for the moment, I’ll just note that we’re okay with the decision. Note, by the way, that Sling is owned by Dish; we didn’t change corporate overlords.

What I do want to talk about is the process of canceling the satellite service, because it’s an impressive example of what I’m calling “Customer Retention by Intimidation”.

The saga begins with a phone call to Dish Customer Service. You can’t cancel online. There’s no way to deselect all of the programming packages on your account, and the only pages on the website I could find regarding service cancellation were related to moving to a new house, i.e. canceling at one location and starting at a new one.

Nor does the phone menu have a choice for cancellation. So I chose the “other” option and wound up talking to a gent who identified himself as Anthony. He did not, by the way, have an Indian accent, and his word choices when he went off-script suggested American English was his native language.

When I explained that I wanted to cancel the service because I wasn’t watching enough TV to justify the price, he immediately offered me a “customer retention” package at half the cost. Of course, the additional fees wouldn’t have changed, so it would only have represented a twenty-five percent reduction in the total cost. It also would have trimmed my channels by two-thirds, and the cuts would have included the Giants’ games. I turned down the offer.

The next offer was for a fifteen dollar a month discount for two years. That would have let us keep the ballgames, but we would have saved even less money. No thanks.

Somewhere around that point, I mentioned that I was moving to “your Sling subsidiary”. That got me an obviously scripted warning that net neutrality was doomed and I might not be so happy with Sling when my ISP started charging me more. Which was, honestly, something we considered, but I told Anthony I’d worry about it if and when.

We were about fifteen minutes into the call, and I said, “Look, I’m not going to change my mind. Go ahead and check off all the boxes showing you tried to convince me, and if anyone asks, I’ll swear you made the offers, okay?”

Either Anthony was a bored as I was, or he’d run out of inducements, because he moved on to the mechanical details of canceling the service. He reminded me that the hardware was leased, and I’d have to ship it all back. “We’ll send you boxes. It’ll take seven to ten days and you’ll get an email when they go out.” And then he walked me through what needed to be sent back–including something he called the “LNBF”. That, it turns out, is part of the roof-mounted equipment.

“Climbing on the roof isn’t part of my skill set,” I said.

“Fair enough. I’ll see if my supervisor will waive that return,” he replied and put me on hold for five minutes. When he came back, he said the supervisor had agreed. Hooray.

After again offering me the fifteen dollar discount, Anthony processed the cancellation, told me what the final bill would be, and reminded me again that if I didn’t return the equipment within thirty days, they’d charge me several hundred dollars. “Oh, and when you ship it, let us know–just give us the last four digits of the tracking number–and we’ll credit you for the return charges.”

Total time of call, thirty-eight minutes. Five on hold while Anthony spoke to the supervisor, about the same covering the equipment return process, two minutes for the net neutrality warning, and the rest trying to persuade me to accept one of the retention offers.

Half an hour later, I got an email telling me the service “will be cancelled effective” that day and reminding me about the return fee I’d just been charged. I checked, and the service had already been shut off.

The next day I got a call from Dish Customer Retention. I spent fifteen minutes assuring the caller that yes, Anthony had offered me the customer retention package and the two-year discount, and that yes, I was still determined to leave. The call ended with another warning about the multi-hundred dollar charge I’d be facing if I didn’t return their gear within thirty days.

A few minutes later, I got an email asking me to take a customer service survey about my talk with Anthony.

The next day, I got a follow-up email, again asking me to rate Anthony’s performance.

A week after the initial call, I got yet another email informing me that “You have disconnected” the service and “A return kit…will be shipped” and that I had to return “your equipment”* “within the next 30 days” or be charged. Note that “will”. A week after the service was turned off, they still hadn’t sent the box. When exactly did the thirty days start: when I canceled, when they said the box would be shipped, when they actually shipped it, or when UPS delivered it? I still don’t know.

* If it’s my equipment, why are they demanding I return it? And why were they charging me rental fees for more than a decade if it was mine? Poor wording by some corporate flunky.

Included in the box was a letter assuring me Dish was “willing to do ALMOST ANYTHING to get you back.” Apparently, “almost anything” means “give you the same fifteen dollar a month discount you’ve already turned down three times”.

Anthony had said the box would arrive in seven to ten days, and, sure enough, they showed up ten days after I spoke to him. I loaded the equipment and took the box down to UPS the next day. Let them worry about the thirty day deadline.

Then came the fun of letting Dish know I’d shipped “my” equipment. Dish Customer Service does not have an email address. All of the emails I’d gotten were from accounts that don’t accept incoming mail. I wasn’t going to call and get stuck with another round of discount offers. I finally used the online chat function.

Marlon seemed puzzled about what I wanted, and warned me that I needed to return the equipment within thirty days. To his credit, he didn’t try to sell me on the discount offer, and once I explained that I’d already shipped the equipment, he processed the credit for the return fee. “It’ll take seven business days to get to your credit card company.”

The next day and the day after that, I got emails asking me to take the customer satisfaction survey for my “experience” with Marlon.

Two days after the last email–four days after I spoke to Marlon–I got an automated call from Dish telling me the credit had been processed and to allow five business days for it to get to my bank. (It took four calendar days to get to the bank and be posted to my account. Clearly my credit card company is more efficient than Dish believed possible.)

This kind of foot-dragging, intimidation, and relentless hounding must work. They wouldn’t spend money doing it if it didn’t work.

And the tactic is spreading. Case in point: we get a daily call from the American Red Cross asking for blood, money, or both. We’ve told them repeatedly that we’re not going to donate and asked them multiple times to stop calling, but the calls continue.

It’s counter-intuitive that you might be able to annoy people into donating time, flesh, and funds, but again, it must work, because they wouldn’t keep paying if it didn’t.

I’d start a campaign against such annoyance tactics, but how would I fund it? Repeatedly call people until they toss me money to make me go away?

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Sachiko Beans

Sachiko idolizes her big brudder Nookles.

She follows him around the house, sits next to him on security watch, and tussles with him when she’s bored.

And she looks like him. Similar markings, right down to the little speckles of white in the otherwise unrelieved black fur of their flanks.

So it should come as no surprise whatsoever…
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That she’s gone in for the two-tone toe bean look.

Pink and black.

Just like Big Brudder Nookles.

Yuki Beans

Continuing with our tour of the local toe beans, we come to Yuki.

One of Yuki’s greatest selling points is his inexorable consistency. Precisely at dinner time, he’ll begin knocking on the door to Maggie’s office and announcing his imminent starvation.

Ten minutes after lights-out, he drapes himself across my shins.

And he’s just as consistent physically as he is in his habits.

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Floofy and black above.

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Floofy and black below. Right down to his toe beans.

Oh, one other bit of consistency: Whenever a camera is pointed at him, he gets very wiggly. This is one case where you can definitely blame the quality of the photos on the model instead of the photographer.

And he’s not a bit sorry.

SAST 11

Time for another Short Attention Span Theater. This one’s brought to you by the combined efforts of the local trees copulating furiously and the local felines all attempting to drape themselves across my body simultaneously. This is not a combination of events conducive to deep, restful sleep.

First up is your official notification that I’ll be taking two weeks’ vacation beginning Monday. There will be Friday posts continuing our current survey of toe beans. There will probably not, however, be any other posts. Enjoy the peace and quiet.


Let’s get the awkward item out of the way. If you’re sensitive to a certain four-letter expletive–the one beginning with “F”–I suggest you skip ahead to the next item.

Still here? Okay. This license plate and its handmade addendum were spotted in a mall parking lot.
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I’ll note that the mall in question contains–in addition to a supermarket–a martial arts school, a musical instrument store, and several restaurants that actively court families as patrons. Not, in other words, a venue where most people would consider such language appropriate.

That said, I have to wonder if the owner of the car was the one who amended the license plate, or if it was done by someone who was annoyed by the owner.

The car didn’t have the dinged-up look one expects on a vehicle that frequently behaves rudely in traffic, so I doubt the sign was contributed by someone who’d been cut off entering the lot.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to foil license plate cameras? But those usually target the rear plate.

Or maybe the owner is just an asshole. If so, I’ll just note that there are any number of sites offering information about license plate owners. A quick search turned up several which claim to provide names, contact information, arrest history, and more for as little as three dollars a plate. Something to consider next time you feel the need to insult someone from the supposed safety of your four-wheeled fortress.


I spotted this in a recovery room after a minor medical procedure.
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I have to say that the germ doesn’t look nearly evil enough, nor does it look sufficiently annoyed by the threat of handwashing. Maybe a few soap bubbles would help?

The real question, though, is how many people ask? Not just asking to be obnoxious, but because they’re seriously concerned that the person offering them a juice box might not have washed recently.


24-3What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That it’s appropriate to wear a mask at the dinner table? That plagues are equivalent to super heroes?

I won’t even get into how difficult it would be to eat with some of those masks on. But shouldn’t the manufacturers have asked themselves whether there was any value in masks so non-representational they need to have identifying labels?

Apparently I’m not the only one questioning these things. This was in the remaindered/closeout aisle at the local supermarket a few days after Passover.

Which raises another question: Should religious education really be left in the hands of a commercial enterprise?


And finally…
24-4What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That even multi-millionaire superheros have to get day jobs to live? That pole dancing is an aspirational career path*?

* No offense intended to those who choose pole dancing as a livelihood, whether or not they remove their clothing while dancing. But I suspect even those pursuing the option would admit that, in terms of long-term income potential and retirement savings, it’s down at the bottom of the list with working the counter at a fast food restaurant.

That one needs a fortune in technological wizardry to swing around a pole? Or is that point? Is there an epidemic of stripping on our nation’s playgrounds, and this is part of a discouragement campaign? If so, it’s a little bit better than cracking eggs in a frying pan.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Bruce Wayne would be likely to earn more as a stripper than Batman? I mean, I’d find those boots, gloves, and utility belt a real turnoff.