One Step Closer

San Francisco has its Transbay Center back.

You may note there’s a word missing from that sentence.

Actually, purists would argue there are a couple of words missing. But I just can’t see calling it the “Salesforce Transit Center”. Corporate naming is the modern equivalent of product placement.

Back in the day–mostly even before my time–companies would sponsor a radio or TV program. For underwriting a large chunk of the cost of the show, the sponsor would not only get to put their name in the show’s name (remember The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny or more recently, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?) but would also get to have their products appear in the show.

Now sponsors pay a small fraction of the cost of production (Salesforce is paying $110 million over twenty-five years; the total cost of the terminal–not counting the recent repairs–was around 2.2 billion) but still want total recognition.

Is it any wonder people ignore the new names or nickname them into oblivion? I suspect that building in downtown San Francisco will be widely known as “The Transit Center”.

But I digress.

Anyway, the rooftop park, complete with its new non-decomposing concrete paths, reopened to the public yesterday.

Crowds were, well, not very crowded. But then, the reopening was only lightly publicized. Judging by the Chron’s reporting, most of the traffic came from people who stopped into one of the coffee shops that have doors leading to the park and decided to add a little sunshine to their caffeine fixes.

Fair enough. I’d likely have done the same if I’d been in the vicinity. (Let it be noted here that my previous employment was a short block away from the large hole in the ground now occupied by the terminal. I dare say that if I were still working there, I’d be hanging out in the park at lunchtime on a regular basis.)

But back to that missing word. There isn’t yet any transit in the Transit Center.

Debris from the repairs and the major re-inspections is still being cleaned up. And, naturally, the bus drivers who’ll be using the center need to be retrained in how to get in and out of the building. Or in many cases, trained for the first time. Those direct freeway on- and off-ramps can be tricky (and no, I’m not being sarcastic here; it seems like a potentially confusing transition.)

No date has been set to resume bus service, but official-type people are bandying “August”. Let’s recall that the center officially opened last August 10th. It might be nicely symbolic to have the official re-opening on the same day this year. (And it would be almost purely symbolic. The tenth is a Saturday, and most of the transbay buses don’t run on weekends.)

As for the ground-level businesses that everyone hopes will attract non-commuters to the Transbay Soon-To-Be-Transit Center, they’re not scheduled to open until “fall”.

But the park is open. That’s progress.

More Blindness

About a month ago, I was talking about willful blindness, and I cited “climate change deniers, Trump supporters, and anti-vaccination activists” as examples of those who see only what they expect to see.

But let’s be fair. That self-inflicted severance from reality isn’t limited to the right wing and the lunatic fringe. There were a couple of letters to the editor in today’s Chron that make it clear as window glass* that sensible people on the left can be just as willfully blind as anyone else.

* For some values of window, anyway. Certainly clearer than our kitchen window where the cats press their noses against the glass when watching for interlopers. But I digress.

Wouldn’t it be great, one of the letter writers asks, if manufacturers of hygiene products would put together “welcome kits” for immigrants. “It seems like a win-win,” they says, suggesting that once the arrivals take up their new lives in America, they’ll be so grateful for the toothpaste and shampoo that they’ll continue to buy the same brands for life.

Sure is a nice thought. Apparently it’s escaped their notice that the administration is doing their utmost to ensure that would-be immigrants don’t leave the detention centers, unless it’s to go back where they came from–or, as best I can tell, to a small piece of America, six feet long, three feet wide, and four feet deep.

It suits the purposes of those in charge for the residents of the camps to be unwashed and unhealthy. That serves their narrative. “Look at them! Dirty and diseased. Why would you want them living next door?” How many times have we been told “They were already sick when they got here. We did the best we could, but…”?

Even if that weren’t the case; even if we assume the camp operators and those paying them have the best of intentions, how long is a hotel-sized bar of soap going to last? Not for a significant fraction of the weeks or months the typical person seeking asylum will be spending behind bars.

Then there’s the second letter.

The writer cites the self-evident fact that America has a literally unimaginable amount of wealth and asks why we can’t find “…the resources to provide basic human necessities for these tired and hungry children?”

There’s a very simple reason. The people setting the policies that deny food, medicine, and the basic rights this country once aspired to give to everyone are the same people who own the majority of that unimaginable wealth. And they control the distribution of what they don’t own.

And, yes, I realize there are exceptions, people of great wealth who don’t toe the “immigrants are scum” party line. But again, no control. They could spend every dollar they have trying to get past the barriers the administration has put up to preserve their narrative and never make a dent in the problem.

None so blind.

Look, I’m not saying anyone should give up. But ignoring the root of the problem isn’t going to solve it. (Neither is proposing solutions that require other people to do the work and put up the money, but that’s a topic for another day.)

One need look no further than the Wayfair Walkout to see how well ignoring the role of the dollar is going to work out in any venture.

SAST 14

Today’s Short Attention Span Theater is not brought to you by disease or lack of sleep, it’s just an excuse to deal with my to-do pile.

First, a brief administrative note.

I will be attending the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival at the end of the month. I’m not planning a book signing or any other formal event, but The RagTime Traveler will be available for sale*. Come on down to Sedalia, enjoy the music, pick up a book, and I’ll be delighted to sign it for you.

* Dad’s ragtime books, both fiction and non-fiction, will also be in the festival store. In my totally unbiased opinion, you need copies of all of those as well.

While I will take my laptop along, I don’t plan to write any blog posts. I’ll make sure to have a post for Friday, May 31–I don’t want to be responsible for riots caused by cat deprivation–but other than that expect silence between May 28 and June 4, with a return to the usual schedule on June 6.

Second, I’m a little disturbed to discover that El Sobrante* is more dangerous than I’d thought.

* For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area, El Sobrante is the closest of the several cities that border the part of Richmond where I live.

Over the years, I’ve gotten accustomed to the suspicious sorts lurking in the local undergrowth, but it appears that a new threat is moving in.

According to a recent post on everyone’s favorite unbiased news source–Nextdoor–“[…]a somewhat large buck with velvet covered antlers jumped out from the side… he mean mugged us hella hard and took a few quick steps towards the car…”

That’s right. As if street gangs of turkeys and terrorist coyotes aren’t bad enough, now we’ve got to deal with deer carjackers. It’s a bad neighborhood, obviously, and getting worse.

But I have to wonder: how the heck did the deer expect to drive the car to the chop shop? He could probably hold the key between his hooves, but it’s not like the driver’s seat can be adjusted to fit his shape. For that matter, what kind of payment would he have been expecting? I’ve heard that fences pay chicken feed, but salt licks?

Anyway, moving on.

The big story a few days ago was that Microsoft is working on tools to (as the Chron’s headline put it) “secure elections”. Which is great news as far as it goes.

Microsoft is doing it right: making the source code freely available, so anyone can audit it and any company in the voting machine field can use it.

The thing is, it’s not a complete voting system, and the value of Microsoft’s software is only as good as the implementation. Voting machine companies have a justifiably poor reputation for the quality of their coding. You can have the greatest software in the world for allowing voters to verify their ballot, and it’ll be absolutely useless if the rest of the software and the hardware it’s running on is riddled with security holes.

How many voting machines run on Windows XP, an operating system that has been completely unsupported for half a decade? (Probably fewer than the number of ATMs running on OS/2, which has been dead for three times as long. But I digress.) Sorry, not totally unsupported. Microsoft just released a security patch for XP. How many of those voting machines running the code are going to get the patch? I’m betting on a percentage in the single digits.

Also, as the articles point out, Microsoft’s new code doesn’t support Internet voting (something far too many people want, given the woeful state of the art) or vote by mail systems, which are increasingly popular.

I’m not running Microsoft down. As I said, it’s a step in the right direction. But we as a country need to take far more than just that one step.

And, finally, no SAST post is really complete without a mention of either the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch or the Transbay Terminal fiasco. I don’t have anything on the BBBB, but there was a brief note in the Chron a few weeks about about the terminal.

The cracked support beams are nearly repaired–though we still don’t have a date for the grand reopening. What we do have is word that the paths in the rooftop garden are going to be replaced.

Those paths, you may remember, are made of decomposed granite, and even before the terminal was closed, the granite was decomposing even further. So the decision has been made to repave the paths, this time using concrete.

As local megaconstruction repair projects go, it should be a comparatively cheap fix, no more than half a million dollars or so. The city and the contractors are, of course, arguing over who is at fault for the failure of the paths. We all know who’s going to wind up paying for the repair, though, and it isn’t either of the arguing parties.

Preoccupied

How long has it been since I looked in on Google’s trending searches? A quick search of the archive suggests it’s been more than a year; that’s long enough that I can dip into that never-ending well of post ideas without feeling guilty.

Note that this post was written on Monday evening. It will thus be totally out of date by the time you read it. Consider this an archaeological snapshot of the ancient day 4/22/2019.

Unsurprisingly, the number one search–by an order of magnitude–is Earth Day. Nice to know people are still taking an interest, rather than focusing on reinvesting their oil stock dividends. That said, only two million searches? That’s a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the size of the online population.

Moving on, we’ve got an interesting point/counterpoint in the second and third slots. On the one hand, we’ve got rapper YNW Melly accused of murder, complete with accusations of racism on the part of “the system”. On the other, we’ve got deceased singer Kate Smith accused of racism.

White male perspective here, so by definition, biased. I don’t know enough about the murder case to comment extensively, but I’ll note that, in what I’ve seen, the only person making the accusations is the accused. If I’ve missed a wider spread of outrage, my apologies to YNW Melly for the implications of my statement.

As for Kate Smith, again from the WMP, the rush to drop her recording of “God Bless America” seems excessive. It’s a “hate the artist, not the art” situation. Nobody’s suggesting that “Pickaninny Heaven” or “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” should get renewed airplay. But I haven’t heard any suggestion that “God Bless America” is racist*.

I’m not fond of the song, its default-Christian attitude, or the post 9/11 jingoism that made it a staple at sporting events. But if it’s going to be played without giving current, local artists a shot at it, hers is the definitive recording.

Moving on, another odd coincidence in the fourth and fifth slots. Apparently Americans don’t much care about the Easter terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, except in how they affected the rich and famous. Searches for Anders Holch Povlsen, who lost three children in the attacks far outweigh searches about the attacks themselves. I’m only calling that a disgusting, despicable commentary on the American population because I can’t think of stronger words.

Even worse, the next most popular search is for Jenna Bush Hager, who is currently expecting her third child. Ms. Hager is, of course, the daughter of former president Dubya.

Why are we so obsessed with the children of the 1%?

It’s not a good look, America. Going forward, stick with Earth Day. Stick with the Coelacanth (Number Six), the earthquake in the Philippines (Number Eleven), and Pat Tillman (Number Thirteen). Forget Britney Spears’ psychiatric state, Jennifer Lopez’ tailor (or, rather, remember Luigi Massi, forget the pop star), and assorted Game of Thrones stars.

We’ll all be better off for your selective memories.

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.

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.

Two for the Price of One

It’s not a Short Attention Span Theater*, but I’ve got a couple of items for you today.

* For reasons too complicated to explain**.

** Which is entirely untrue, but sounds better than “For reasons.”

First up, raise your hands if you remember multimedia artist Xathaneal Todd. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t. That was way back in ’15–practically prehistory in blogging terms. You can and should refresh your memory.

It turns out his skills aren’t limited to the material arts. Turns out he’s also a composer and actor.

Okay, I’ll admit I have no proof the musician and performer are the same person as the artist. But how likely is it there might be two, much less three, Xathanael Todds? Of the same age? All living in the Fairfield area?

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the way the unexpected turns up. I’ll admit to having forgotten about Xathanael myself. Until Sunday afternoon when a modest little press release popped up in my mailbox.

I say “modest” because it refrains from waxing eloquent about its subject, choosing instead to simply announce the appearance of Mr. Todd as the star of a forthcoming production of Alladin Jr..

Regrettably, Fairfield is a bit outside my usual range. But if any of you are going to be in the area January 31 through February 2, I’d encourage you to check out the show. You will, of course, be obliged to report back. In detail.

Moving on.

Gratifying as it was to hear from Xathaneal (or his press agent), what really warmed my heart-cockles this past weekend was a story in the Chron.

Remember how, despite all of the Bay Bridge’s well-publicized problems, nobody has ever taken any of the blame? No accountability, no public apologies. And there’s certainly been no indication that Caltrans will do anything differently in the future.

Well, it turns out the Transbay Transit Center officials are made of sterner stuff. The article quotes Mark Zabaneh, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority executive director as saying “Obviously, something went wrong with the process for this to happen.” It goes on to describe–at a very high level, naturally (it is a newspaper, after all)–the review processes during design and construction and then cites Zabaneh again as specifically stating that officials need to find out where they went wrong.

Look, I know that’s a long way from resolving the mess–and we still don’t have even an estimate of when the terminal will reopen*. It’s not even an actual apology. But it is a recognition of responsibility. That’s such a major improvement over Caltrans’ handling of the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch that I’m quite giddy with delight.

* Unofficially, the Chron suggests that the repair work could last well into March, which, with the need for testing the fix, could push the reopening into April. One hopes they won’t cut the new ribbon on the first of the month.

Kudos to Mr. Zabaneh for his honesty. May it continue through the repair and the post-mortem project examination.

Bad Behavior

No matter how hard I try to avoid it, politics continue to suck me in.

My first draft of this post assumed you’d heard about our Fearful Leader’s latest faux pas. Then I realized that even if you have, by the time the post goes live, he’ll have committed at least two or three more. So let’s be more explicit.

So perhaps you’ve heard how You Know Who behaved in a meeting with Congressional leaders over the current government shutdown? If you missed it, he again revealed his total inability to negotiate. When the House Democrats again refused to submit to his flat demands, he slapped the table and walked out of the meeting.

I just have one question.

That’s not acceptable behavior in any context. Not in business, not in social life, and certainly not in politics. Though, given Trump’s love of everything Russian, I’m surprised he didn’t take off his shoe and pound that on the table. But I digress.

The question is why his supporters condone this sort of behavior. If their kid demanded a raise in their allowance, slapped the kitchen table, and stormed out of the room, would they praise their negotiating tactics and give them the money? Would they go into a job interview, insist they be hired immediately, slam their fist on the table, and leave, then expect to be called back and put to work?

So why do they continue to say he’s a wonderful negotiator, a great president, and absolutely should get his giant Lego set?

Moving on. Not very far, though.

I can’t help but feel a certain amount of schadenfreude over the situation Chipotle is in. Because, let’s face it, they brought it on themselves.

In case you’ve missed it, this has nothing to do with the Salmonella Story–that just reduces whatever small amount of sympathy I might have had for them. This is about claims of wage theft, corporately sanctioned policies that forced workers to work without pay.

The case goes back to 2013. More than 10,000 current and former workers filed suit and attempted to have the case certified as a class action. In response, Chipotle adopted a mandatory arbitration provision for all new hires, and last summer roughly a quarter of the complainers were required to drop out of the suit and go to arbitration.

The result? Not only is the suit continuing on behalf of the workers who were hired before the arbitration clause was added to contracts, but now Chipotle is facing hundreds, possibly thousands, of arbitration cases–which it may have to pay for itself.

All they’ve accomplished is a temporary delay in the main suit and increased their own potential financial burden.

At this point, they’ve probably spent more money on their legal maneuverings than they would have shelled out if they’d simply settled the case when it was first filed. Or–assuming there’s merit in the claims–if they’d just treated their workers fairly.

I can’t help but wonder if Chipotle’s executives have gone to the same school of negotiation as Fearful Leader.

The Christmas Spirit

A quick bit of bookkeeping: in order to reduce the craziness of starting a new job smack in the middle of the holiday season, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from the blog. There will be Friday posts tomorrow, the twenty-eighth, and the fourth. Regular posts will resume the week of the seventh.

Moving on.

Diana Rowland is the author of one of my favorite series. It wouldn’t be stretching the truth at all to say the books are among my influences. Certainly, they’re a reminder that urban fantasy doesn’t have to have vampires.

Now she’s also one of my heroes.

The Washington Post has most of the story. But if you can’t or won’t read it there, the thumbnail version is that one of her neighbors took offense to her Christmas display–the same display, it should be noted, that she’s had for the past several years–a group of three dragons, festively decorated with Santa hats and garlands. The neighbor sent Ms. Rowland an anonymous note informing her that the dragons were inappropriate for Christmas, and that it was leading the neighborhood to suspect her of demon worship.

I have to wonder: if the dragons had been part of a full-blown nativity scene, replacing the usual sheep, cows, and/or camels, would the anonymous letter writer have been more concerned, or less?

Ms. Rowland did what any sensible person would do: tweeted the letter and added two more dragons to the display.

No, that’s not the heroic part.

Of course the story went viral. How could it not? Offers of additional dragons poured in, some in the form of cash to buy dragons, some as offers to ship pre-paid dragons to Louisiana*.

* How do you tell the difference between a gator and a dragon? If you don’t know the answer, be very cautious about making purchases that involve the phrase “an arm and a leg”.

Here’s the heroic part–and, surprisingly, the part of the story the Post missed.

Rather than escalate the fight further, she declined all the offers and asked that would-be donors instead make a contribution to charity. Not a particular charity. Not a specific amount. Not in her name. Just the charity of their choice.

Apparently, many of the people making donations are doing it in the name of the “Dragon Army,” which is, IMNSHO, a delightful way of exceeding expectations. Well done, Internet. The only way to improve on that scenario? Buy one of her books.

Flat As a Basketball

Really, Steph?

I can’t believe we’re talking about this.

Yeah, the whole moon landing contretemps. First Stephen Curry says he doesn’t believe men have been to the moon. Then he gets all coy. Then he claims it was a lesson in critical thinking and information literacy.

Sorry, Steph, I’m not buying any of it. I don’t care whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or not. But no matter how you look at it, this was a stupid move.

If you really believe the moon landings were faked, then claiming otherwise in the face of the outcry makes you look credulous and wishy-washy.

On the other hand, if it was a joke that got taken seriously, doubling down on it with the Intelligent Design/Climate Change “just asking questions” defense makes you look stupid as well as credulous.

And on the gripping hand, if you intended this as a lesson in critical thinking from the beginning–and a not so covert swipe at the current U.S. government–this was completely the wrong way to go about it.

As we’ve seen on a daily basis since 2016, nobody pays attention to the corrections. Telling the “kids out there that hang on every word that we say” not to believe what they hear is about as pointless as a cat on a linoleum floor trying to bury the evidence of excretory malfeasance.

If they even hear the lesson–and many of them won’t, because it’s not sexy enough to get the same play in the media as the original statement–they’re not going to go to the trouble. The lesson they hear over and over in school, at home, and from their peers is “believe what the boss says”. Believe your teacher, unless he contradicts your priest. Believe the president, unless he contradicts your father.

Don’t look it up. Nobody likes a smart ass.

No, I don’t have a fix. But neither does Steph.