The Magic Book

I’ve got a magical book sitting on my desk.

Many people would say it’s a useless thing to have around. A bundle of pages lying around doesn’t do anything. Except that it does.

Whenever I start to feel like it’s time to retreat to the jungle–or, equally uselessly, crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head–I look at that little pamphlet, and I feel better.

Not because the document makes the world appreciably better, but because it reminds me of all the people who aspire to improve the world. There are still millions of people who believe we can do better. Who don’t wait for a benevolent deity to cure the world’s ills. Who don’t use the name of that same deity to shore up their claim to be the ultimate pinnacle of humanity.

That’s a hefty burden for forty pages of not-very-dense prose to carry. But it works. The power of the word. Pen versus sword. All those cliches.

You know where I’m going with this, right? The book is, of course, the American Constitution.

And with the citizens of Alabama voting for their next Senator today, I’m keeping my book close at hand. For reassurance.

Moore’s comment that he thinks it would solve a lot of problems if we threw out all of the constitutional amendments after the tenth has gotten a lot of press. Most of it’s focused on the voting rights and slavery amendments. But the rest of them are significant, too.

Number 11, among other things, ensures that state laws can’t overrule federal laws. I don’t need to list all of the laws that forces various states to acknowledge, do I?

Number 12 defines how the President and Vice President are elected. Whether you believe the Electoral College is a good idea or not, Amendment 12 lays out the rules. Number 23, by the way, allows residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections.

Thirteen is the one that bans slavery, Fourteen defines who is a citizen, and Fifteen grants citizens the right to vote. Nineteen adds women to the status of voting citizens. Twenty-Four forbids the government from charging citizens to exercise the right to vote and Twenty-Six sets the minimum voting age to 18. As I said earlier, these are the ones that are getting all of the press.

Amendment 16 allows the Federal Income Tax. Like the Twelfth, opinions differ on whether it’s a good thing.

Amendment 17 defines the rules under which senators are elected and how they’re replaced. In short, it’s the Seventeenth Amendment that’s giving Mr. Moore his chance to join the Senate.

Eighteen bans the sale and import of alcohol. You may have heard about Prohibition–it didn’t work out, and the Twenty-First Amendment repealed it. Which is, of course, your guideline if you disapprove of Twelve, Sixteen, or any of the other amendments.

Number 20 defines the presidential term of office and lays out the rules covering what happens if the president-elect dies before taking office. Number 22 prevents anyone from serving more than two terms as president. Anyone wonder why Mr. Moore wants to get rid of that rule? Number 25 lays out the order of succession in case the president dies in office.

And then there’s the Twenty-Seventh Amendment. One of my favorites, actually. It prevents Congress from giving themselves a pay raise whenever they want. No law that changes their pay scale can take effect until after the next election.

Some important stuff there, huh? The cliché is that you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. But you also can’t tell the game without a rule book.

I got my rule book from the ACLU last year. They’re still available. You’ll have to buy ten at a time, but it’ll only set you back about $22 including shipping. Per copy, that’s about half what you’d spend on a program at the ballpark.

Buy a set and share ’em with your family and friends. Because we can all use a little reassurance these days.

An Ism

Odd how ethnocentrism (and other isms) can sneak into your thought processes and whap you upside the head.

Case in point: I was thinking about my favorite movies recently, and realized they had something in common.

Let me digress for a moment. My favorite movies fluctuate. My all-time favorite changes frequently, though it’s usually one of three, and I’d have a hard time coming up with a top ten list, because I don’t see enough movies to have collected that many that stay with me.

But, back to the point. Those top three actually have a fair amount in common. They’re all filled with digressions, and to a great extent they depend on an ensemble cast for their success. What struck me the other day is another similarity I hadn’t considered before. In a way, they’re all road movies.

Cold Fever is a weird Icelandic/Japanese road movie–in fact, it was billed as the “best Icelandic-Japanese road movie of 1995.” Yeah, that was done as a bit of a joke, but that’s beside the point. Everything happens on the way somewhere; the destination is almost irrelevant.

Tampopo is a weird Japanese road movie. Or, from one perspective at least, a movie about the road. Two of the main characters are truckers. Many of the diversions are related to the road, trains, or travel.

And Return of the Secaucus Seven is a weird little film full of comings and goings, travelings to and from, and even a nod to going around and around at the race track.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to call the latter two road movies, but there’s a theme there. Maybe not enough for a dissertation, but a dedicated critic in desperate need of an article could make something of it.

But, to get back to the original point of this post, did you catch the ism? Yup. “Icelandic/Japanese movie,” “Japanese movie,” “film”. Despite what Hollywood would prefer you to think, film is hardly a uniquely American creation, nor is American cinema the root stock from which all other countries have sprouted as twigs.

The mode of thought that says “the way we do it here is the only correct way,” is the cause of far too many problems. It’s disheartening to trip over it in one’s own thoughts.

SAST 08

First things first. Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, this blog is intended to showcase and sell my writing. That means you’re going to get an occasional commercial message.

I’ll be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento on Saturday, November 18. There’s no plan for a formal book signing, but the festival store will have copies of The RagTime Traveler, and I’ll be happy to sign them.

Moving on.

Thanks to everyone who voted Tuesday. As I’ve said before, here and elsewhere, we elect people to represent our interests, and elections are how we tell them what our interests are.

Or–to put it in terms the current administration should understand, given their focus on business–elections are their annual review, where we, the employers, tell them how well or poorly they’re doing their job, and what the prospects are for a raise next year.

Tuesday’s election suggests that they’re running a solid “Failed to Meet Expectations” and even a cost of living adjustment is iffy.

My Google News feed is still toxic, but at least I feel like someone’s distributing hazmat suits.

Moving on.

The other big news Tuesday was, regrettably, the death of Roy Halladay.

I’ll admit up front I didn’t know him or follow his career. But by everything I can see, he was one of the good guys, on the field and off.

“Any man’s death diminishes me,” and Mr. Halladay’s death diminishes us all more than most. I love to see anyone, especially someone as visible as Mr. Halladay, working to help others. He was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award multiple times during his playing days, and he continued his charitable work after his retirement.

And finally, just to end on a cheerier note, I see that Pope Francis has banned the sale of cigarettes at the Vatican. The statement announcing the move says “the Holy See cannot contribute to an activity that clearly damages the health of people.”

It’s interesting that he didn’t also ban the sale of alcohol, but I still like the tobacco ban. I don’t support a world-wide total ban on tobacco products–prohibition doesn’t work–but if this is the first step in a program to encourage Catholics to give up smoking, it’s an idea I can get behind.

How Cheery

You know, back in the old days, if I didn’t have a clue what to blog about, I could always count on Google. The top searches were an almost guaranteed source of inspiration. And on the rare occasions where that didn’t help, Google News filled the gap.

But that was in the long-ago, happy days of 2015.

Now, not so much.

Google News is a disgusting pool of mass shootings, nuclear dick-waving, racism, sexism, climate change denial, and petty aggravations elevated to the level of national disasters.

And the top searches aren’t much better. As I write this, Number One, the only search term to top 100,000 searches is “Sia”. Apparently, someone is trying to sell nude photos of the singer–so she’s giving away her own nudes to depress the market. Oh, and to advertise her upcoming album of Christmas songs.

How inspirational.

Other uplifting items from the top ten:

Elizabeth Smart is filming the story of her kidnapping.

Kristina Cohen has gone public with rape allegations against Ed Westwick.

A shuttle bus driver in Texas has been arrested for shooting at a co-worker.

The third “Fifty Shades” movie is coming out in February.

The only thing that gives me any hope is that people are searching for election-related information. “Voting Day 2017” and “Where Do I Vote” are both in the top ten searches.

Please, if there’s an election today where you live–there isn’t one in my county–get out there and vote. Send a message that the world needs fixing.

So I can find something in the news we can share a laugh about.

SAST 07

Happy Halloween!

We’re not planning to give out any candy this year–although we do have a couple of emergency bags in case someone shows up despite our best efforts to look like we’re not home.

There’s no particular reason we’re being anti-social, just a general lack of holiday spirit.

Beyond that, I am a little distracted at the moment. I’m neck deep in the third draft of Like Herding Cats–I’m hoping to finish before Thanksgiving–and I’m starting to run into the places where I got lazy in Draft 2. See, Draft 2 is written with a pen. On paper. So if I need to add a lengthy stretch of new text, I’ll often just make a note to myself: [Hey, Fred needs to explain why painting City Hall blue was a good idea.]

It’s not that I don’t know why it was a good idea. I just don’t want to have to read and transcribe half a page of my scribbles. And so I defer it to Draft 3, which gets done on the computer.

The downside is that it’s kind of like freeway driving at rush hour in a car with a manual transmission. Cruising along at twenty mph, transcribing the Draft 2 changes. Come to a complete halt while I check my notes–was it robin’s egg blue or sapphire blue–and then creep along at ten mph while I write the scene.

And then get off two exits down the road and circle back because I just came up with a great line that has to go into the new scene.

Anyway, distraction. So you get a bit of a Short Attention Span Theater for Halloween.

Moving on.

Am I the only person out there who got a scam spam of the 419 type from “Jeff Sessions Attorney General” recently?

I know the Trump administration is, shall we say, a trifle challenged, ethically-speaking. But really, Jeff, there are faster, easier, and–dare I say it–even legaler methods to separate fools from their money.

Now, you may say it’s probably not Mr. Sessions sending out these letters, and you’re probably right. Perhaps it’s some flunky in the Justice Department trying to curry favor–or line his pockets at the boss’ expense.

But there’s an more likely explanation. Read the letter I got:

Now ask yourself: who in the current administration is well-known for cranking out dozens of grammatically-suspect, logic-deficient electronic missives in the middle of the night?

Yup.

Donald, put down your phone and go play golf.

Moving on.

A sneak peek at Thursday’s final summation of how I did in predicting the playoffs: I got one of the two World Series teams right. Go, me!

As others have pointed out, it’s far too soon to anoint this the Best! World! Series! Ever! But it’s not too early to say it’s been a great one so far. Close games, mostly not decided until the final inning. Lots of home runs, some interesting strategic decisions to argue about, and a fascinating sideshow in the Yuli Gurriel and Bruce Maxwell stories.

We’re getting Game Six tonight and, if the Dodgers do us a solid, Game Seven tomorrow.

But.

I don’t know about you, but I’m having so much fun with this series, I don’t think even seven games will be enough. I’m hereby petitioning Commissioner Manfred to extend the World Series to twenty-three games. If we alternate two games in each city with a travel day in between, that’ll wrap it up with Game Twenty-Three on November 24, the day after Thanksgiving.

Let’s not forget that Los Angeles and Houston are warm weather cities. No worries about games getting snowed out. And really, isn’t twelve a much more satisfying number than four?

And the best part: consider the advertising tie-ins! Everyone can watch that climactic Game Twenty-Seven on the new TV they picked up that morning in a Black Friday sale.

What do you say? Who’s with me?

Focus!

Oh, come on people, really?

Look, it’s possible that my Twitter feed is skewed toward New Yorkers. That’s gonna happen when you’re following (in a clearly non-obsessive, not-at-all-stalkerish way) a whole bunch of publishing industry folk. Publishing is centered in New York, so of necessity, so are agents and editors.

But my feed is absolutely full of moanings and groanings about Bodega.

For those of you who didn’t read the story, there’s a new startup that wants to wipe the mom-and-pop corner store out of existence. How? By setting up jumbo-sized vending machines. That you can only buy from with a cell phone.

What truly boggles my mind is that anyone thought this was a good idea. Even if one ignores the cultural appropriation of the company’s name and in their logo–which is what’s drawing about three-quarters of the ire in my Twitter feed–the concept is utterly doomed anyway.

Small cash transactions are the core of a real bodega’s business. Even if you assume that everyone has a smartphone and a credit card (hint: not valid assumptions), that still doesn’t mean everyone’s going to want to charge their 3 a.m. cigarette purchase. To say nothing of how little profit you’re going to make on that transaction after Visa takes its cut.

And that’s not even talking about booze. Heck of a lot of corner stores live on sales of beer. I don’t see Bodega getting legal approval to stock alcoholic beverages.

The corner store isn’t going away and the value proposition of Bodega just isn’t there. It’s a dead duck. I’d call them the next Juicero, but I’m not even sure they’ll make it as far as Juicero did.

So can we please drop the subject and talk about something more important?

Anything.

No, the porn picture that showed up in Ted Cruz’ feed isn’t more important. Focus, people, focus!

A Leg and a Piece of Tail

Continuing our irregular series of posts featuring feline body parts left behind…

Watanuki is still the leader in this category, but Tuxie can do a rather respectable job of it, too. The other day I spotted him just outside the fence. Well, except for his tail and one leg.
08-1

I was fairly sure something had distracted him as he was leaving. It took a couple of minutes, but eventually the distraction got far enough from the fence for me to see it.
08-2

One lonely turkey. Which is fairly unusual, actually. When not going about as a flock, they most often travel in pairs or pairs of pairs*.

* I’d say “quartets,” but the Turkey Trot doesn’t lend itself to arrangements for four.

I’ll admit I still don’t understand the relationships among our various neighbors. I’d have expected wary detente or restrained hunger between feline and foul, but both of them seemed no more than casually alert. I’ve seen MM and Tuxie show more hunger at the sight of deer, which they would have even less chance of bringing down. On the other hand, the deer seem more afraid of the turkeys than they do of humans.

Politics make strange bedfellows, indeed. And when the politics are inter-species, there’s no telling who’s going to wind up in your bed.  Or which body parts the negotiations will cost you.

A Pox On Their Ballpark

A little bit of follow-up on last week’s trip to the Oakland Coliseum. Non-believers and heretics, indulge me on this one, because it’s not really a baseball post, okay?

First, and just to get it out of the way, the Mariners’ possession of a playoff spot lasted two days. By Friday, they were half a game out, and today, after losing five straight games, they’re two and a half back, behind the Angels, Twins, Royals, and Orioles. With forty-two games left, they’re not out of it–there’s that hope thing again–but it sure ain’t looking good.

Second, I sent a polite email to the As pointing out the incorrect information they had given me, and, I presume, everyone else who bought tickets online. (If you’ve already forgotten last Thursday’s post, they sent an email announcing that the parking lots would open at two, when they didn’t actually open until four.) I didn’t expect much; a bedbug letter at most. But to date–a week later–I’ve received absolutely nothing. Not even an acknowledgment they’ve received the note, much less an empty promise to look into my concern.

This is not the behavior of a company that cares about its customers. One might think that with MLB blocking the As from leaving town, the team’s ownership might want to hang onto the fans they have. Apparently one would be wrong–perhaps since the Warriors and Raiders are fleeing Oakland, the As think they’ll have an automatic monopoly on sports fans. Here’s a hint guys: it doesn’t work that way.

But that brings us to the third item.

On Friday, I got an email from “Oakland Arena Events” sent on behalf* of “our good friends at the Oakland Athletics”. The email asked me to take a survey about my opinion on their new “ballpark efforts”. Okay. I may be a Mariners fan, but I live in the As’ territory and if they ever get the new stadium built, I’ll go to games there, so I might as well let them know what I think.

* I guess that explains why I haven’t heard from the As. They clearly don’t do email. Maybe I should have Instagrammed them or something. What are the cool kids using these days?

San Francisco Chronicle Sports Columnist Scott Ostler got the same survey. Today’s Chron has his take on it. It’s well worth the read, but for those of you in a hurry, the bottom line is that he thinks the survey is pointless. Fans don’t care, he says, about the stadium and its amenities. All they care about is whether there’s a competitive team playing there.

He’s right. But he missed the point about the survey.

See, when you go to the survey online, the first ten pages ask demographic questions. Some of it’s relevant. It makes sense for the team to ask respondents whether they live in Oakland and how many games they’ve attended this season. However, if the survey is really about where to put the new stadium, the As have no need to know how much money I make, how old I am, or what color my skin is. And there was nothing on any of the pages suggesting that the questions were optional.

Actually, I misspoke. The previous paragraph should have said “at least the first ten pages”. I stopped at page ten.

If the team was really interested in people’s opinion about the stadium, they would have asked those questions first. And, had they done that and put the demographic questions at the end, clearly marked as “optional” I would have been fine with it.

But the way they laid out the question makes it clear that the information they can use to target future marketing pitches is what’s really important to them.

I sent another email, this one to Oracle Arena Events, asking them to share it with their good friends. In that email, I expressed my displeasure at receiving a marketing survey thinly disguised as a request for my opinion.

I’ve gotten no response to that email either.

The current ownership’s approach to communication makes it clear that they have little or no interest in their fans as fans; their interest begins and ends at our wallets.

So here’s my opinion about the As’ new ballpark, if it ever happens: enjoy it. I won’t be going to any games there. Nor will I buy tickets for games at the Coliseum while the As are there.

Unless the team’s owners make it clear that they have some interest in baseball beyond how much money they can extract from fans’ pockets.

It wouldn’t take much. As Scott Ostler suggests, making a visible effort to field a better-than-AAA quality team would be a good start.

Or just reply to customer complaints–even if it’s with a bedbug letter.

Deja Vu

Apparently this country has made no progress in the last 150 years.

Back then, the big issue was the Chinese. During the gold rushes of the 1840s and after, many Chinese came to America in search of a better life. And, because life sucked so badly for so many in China, those workers who came to the US were willing to take any job at pay rates far below what white workers demanded. Corporations, seeking as always to maximize profits, actively recruited Chinese laborers and paid them as little as they could.

And millions of Chinese took those jobs because they were still better than anything they could find at home. Some of them were probably illegal immigrants, but as far as I can tell, most of them had entered the country legally.

At least until 1882, when anti-Chinese violence persuaded the government to ban all immigration from China–a ban that was renewed in 1892 and 1902.

Of course, banning further immigration didn’t do anything to improve the lot of those immigrants who were already in the country. By the mid-1880s, there were riots across the western US, most notably in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory and Seattle, Washington.

Let me note, by the way, that when I went to school in Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s, the Seattle riot wasn’t discussed in History class. Somehow I doubt that’s changed; if anyone in the Seattle area knows differently, I’d love to hear it. Those who don’t remember history…

Anyway, the Seattle riot is noteworthy if only for the sheer pointlessness of the actions taken by the rioters. A loose coalition of labor leaders and Socialist activists rounded up 350 Chinese residents of Seattle’s Chinatown and marched them to the docks.

When the captain of the ship they chose demanded payment to carry the Chinese, the rioters passed the hat and raised funds to cover the fares. In short, roughly two hundred of the Chinese were deported. Not back to China, but down the coast to San Francisco. Arguably, the original expression of Seattle’s NIMBY spirit. As for the rioters, a confrontation with the militia resulted in serious injury to three rioters and two militiamen and the imposition of martial law, which lasted for two weeks.

So here we are, a century and a half later. We’ve got corporations fighting against minimum wage laws and a president who wants to cut off immigration, ostensibly to protect American jobs.

Deja vu, anybody?

PS: Something more cheerful tomorrow, I promise. Oh, and don’t forget that my monthly newsletter for August comes out on Monday. If you want a sneak peek at my current work in progress, sign up now!