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.

Oversight

How about a rant about product delivery that has nothing to do with Amazon? What’s more, it’s not about UPS, FedEx, or OnTrac! Pardon me while I put on my old fart pants, because I’m talking about newspaper delivery.

Back in the dim reaches of prehistory, delivery in residential areas was mostly done by kids on bikes. Up in the early morning hours to get the papers delivered before school. The technique you see in vintage movies, where the delivery boy flings the paper at the front door without slowing down was actually more common than you might believe.

I have to wonder if it’s even still legal for kids to deliver papers. It’s certainly frowned upon, in the same way that society frowns on letting them go out to play by themselves. But I digress.

Today, delivery is done by those old enough to drive. Some things don’t change, though. Our carrier, at least, flings the paper out of the car window without slowing down.

And it mostly works. Usually the paper arrives while I’m getting dressed and checking my email–just in time for me to read it while I eat breakfast. It’s almost always in a bag, rarely in a puddle, and hardly ever missing sections.

When things do go wrong, though–well, that’s why I’m ranting.

There are two papers around here, the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Times. The latter is small and, IMNSHO, overly click-baitish. So we get the Chron. Except, of course, when the carrier goofs and gives us the wrong paper. That happens about once a month.

So we call the Chron and talk to their friendly robot in charge of delivery problems. No, I’m not being snide about an underpaid human. The whole process is automated, right down to the fake typing noises after the computer says, “Let me look that up for you.”

Not once have we actually gotten the paper redelivered when we’ve been given a Times instead of a Chron. I’m guess that’s because the Chron doesn’t have a “I got the wrong paper” option, just “Did you get your paper? Please answer yes or no.” So I suspect what happens when we say we didn’t is that Chron’s robot passes the word to the delivery person, who says to himself, “I remember tossing it into their driveway. They’re trying to scam an extra paper.” Why we’d want a second Chron, I can’t imagine, but I doubt logic really enters into this process.

Then we got a laser printed flier from the delivery service–or more likely, from the actual delivery person–that advised us to call them instead of the paper.

So that’s what we did the next time we got a Times. Wound up talking to an answering machine and were actually able to say, “Hey, we got the wrong paper today!” Wonder of wonders, a couple of hours later, we found a Chron outside.

Problem solved, right? Well…

That business about not calling the Chron rubs me the wrong way. It smacks of an attempt to cover up their goof. I’m sure the delivery contract specifies a service level agreement: papers to be delivered by a particular time, with no more than such-and-so many errors per month.

If we don’t call the Chron, those missed and incorrect deliveries might not be counted. There’s no incentive for the delivery service to improve their process*. There’s no accountability, no oversight.

* Nor, for that matter, is there any way for us to get a credit from the Chron if the paper never does show up.

We’ve decided to call both numbers. What’s the worst that happens? We might get two newspapers. Oh, the horror. But at least we’re doing our part to ensure that the situation doesn’t get any worse.

The analogy with the current state of the American political system is left as an exercise for the reader.

Transit Talk

Shall we start with some good news? I think we should.

Word from the engineers studying the Transbay Transit Center beam cracks is that they’ve ruled out a design flaw as the cause of the problem. That means once the cracked beams are repaired (or, presumably, replaced) we should get decades of use out of the terminal.

Granted, we still don’t know what the underlying problem is or how long repairs will take. In theory, we’ll know the answer to the first question by the end of November–but don’t forget the difference between theory and practice. And, although the engineers are already planning repair procedures based on a variety of likely scenarios, implementing those plans could still take months.

But let’s focus on the positives here. Based on what we know now, unlike the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch, the TTC’s problem seems to be limited in scope and unlikely to recur. That’s a big win.

To be fair, however, all is not sweetness and light in TTC-Land. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority–an alias for the city’s district supervisors–voted to withhold tax money that had been slated to go toward the next phase of the Transit Center*. The SFCTA is also calling for an investigation of the whole project and the Joint Powers Authority, which currently oversees the TTC.

* Laying new railroad tracks to bring Caltrain into the Transit Center.

An extended delay could permanently derail the train project (sorry). That would make the TTC a mindbogglingly expensive bus-only project.

Stay tuned to see how this one plays out.

Meanwhile, BART is taking steps to ensure that we don’t lack for expensive transit projects to worry about. They’re about to present plans for a second connection between San Francisco and the East Bay.

I hesitate to call it a second Transbay Tube, as early reports suggest it could be an above-ground project associated with one of the existing auto bridges.

According to the Chron, construction wouldn’t even start for another decade, which does make me wonder if we’re going to get a reprise of the Bay Bridge’s extended design and implementation. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to see them rush in and give us something half-assed.

Still, ten years of planning should produce plenty of blog fodder. That’s a good thing, I think.

And one final Bay Area transportation note. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is considering a plan to do away with toll booths.

No, that doesn’t mean doing away with tolls. Don’t be silly.

The goal would be to go to all-electronic toll collection, something that’s already been done on about 20% of the country’s bridges and tunnels.

There are some good arguments around cost savings and safety to be made in favor of the change, but there are also some unanswered questions to be dealt with.

Most notably, in a region as heavily dependent on tourism as the Bay Area, how does electronic collection work for someone driving a rental car? I hope the MTC isn’t figuring that Uber and Lyft are going to put Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise out of business any time soon.

I also wonder just how much support the MTC will have for some of the ideas they’re considering under an all-electronic toll regime. Congestion pricing is never popular, but I could see it happening.

But implementing tolls on traffic in both directions seems like a plan designed for failure. If you thought the gas tax caused a major upset, just wait until voters hear that a round trip across the Bay Bridge is going to cost $15.

BART had better hurry up with that second Bay crossing. When the price tag for driving hits two or three times what transit costs, we might actually get a few drivers off the road. (Yeah, I know. That’s my optimistic side speaking.)

Good News / Bad News

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I’ve got bad news and good news.

The bad news is that it’s too late to get a cool sticker like the one at the top of the post–the rare, three-word special edition.

The good news is that there’s still time to get the regular edition, which is almost as rare. It doesn’t have that third word, but that third word is the least important of the three.

Go exercise your franchise. It’s the Right Thing To Do.


Okay, so you’ve voted. Now what?

I’m going to dump some depressing news on you here, because I want to get it all out of the way at once and save Thursday for something cheerier.

The message is this: even if there’s a massive blue wave that give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate, we don’t win anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Taking control of Congress is a necessary step to repairing the damage done to the country over the last two years (and the fifty years before that). But in itself, it’s not enough to fix anything. At most it’ll prevent more damage.

Because, while Congress can block a judicial or cabinet nomination, it can’t make nominations. Suppose Kavanaugh gets hit by a bus. A Democrat-controlled Senate can block whatever conservative candidate the White House picks–and hand the Republicans another talking point about obstructionist Democrats–but they can’t offer a liberal candidate.

A Democratic Congress can pass laws, but can’t force the president to sign them. There’s no way to get enough Democratic congresscritters to establish a veto-proof supermajority in both houses. Not in 2018, anyway.

Nor, and let’s be brutally honest here, would a two-thirds majority in both houses do any good. The modern use of a signing statement to, in essence, say “This law doesn’t apply to me,” gives the White House an out, as does the option of simply ignoring any inconvenient legislation. Remember the Russian sanctions of 2017?

Don’t forget, as well, that newly-elected representatives don’t take their seats until January. That still leaves the current administration a couple of months to rush through as much legislation as they can.

As I said, flipping Congress is a necessary step. But it’s a holding action. This is the beginning of a long, hard fight, not the end. See you at the polls in 2020, 2022, 2024,…

There’s Always One

As Thanksgiving approaches, the neighborhood gang is out in force.

They do it every year; a kind of ongoing, silent (usually) demonstration of solidarity with their domesticated brethren.
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Not everyone is with the program, though. Did you notice Tom? Here’s a better look as they continued down the street.
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Yeah, up there at the top of the picture. There’s always one guy who goes his own way.

Maybe Tom is in a world of his own. Maybe he figures he’s got enough problems of his own, staying out of the jaws of the local coyotes; who cares what happens to a bunch of domestic turkeys he’s never met? Or maybe he’s a Wild Supremacist, actively promoting the elimination of lesser sub-species.

Regardless of his motivations, he does eventually join back up with the rest of the gang.
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At which point, of course, they all give him the ol’ hairy eyeball and break the silence of the march. As best I can tell–I’ve forgotten most of the Turkeyish I learned in school–the commentary boils down to something like, “Geez, Tom, you are such an effin’ turkey!”

To which Tom, of course, replies maturely, “Takes one to know one, guys.”

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

No Sleep Until…

The ongoing saga of Brett Kavanaugh makes me want to go back to bed and not come out again until November 6. Which is, of course, exactly the response Republicans want. So here I am, at the keyboard, not hiding under my warm, dark blankets.

I keep wondering just how stupid the Republicans–or the people behind the Republican decision-making processes–think we are. Dumb enough to try a fake punt*? Especially if the stream of accusers continues to flow–and let’s not forget we’re hearing about a possible third now. There could be more.

* They’re already using the ol’ hidden ball trick, concealing their current attack on Medicare and Social Security in the latest emergency spending bill behind the noise and confusion of the Kavanaugh and Rosenstein shows.

Not that I’d suggest anyone might try planting an accusation. But if someone turns up with an accusation that Lindsey Graham and his colleagues see as particularly weak? I could see him saying, in essence, “You want an investigation? Fine.” Turn that one accusation over to the FBI for investigation, take whatever evidence they turn up that doesn’t outright prove the accusation, and use it to say “Hey, this has been proven false, so therefor all the other accusations must be as well.”

Probably not, though. Senator Graham is already on record as saying he’s going to vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment no matter what. And he clearly expects all Republican senators to go along with him. So why bother trumping up evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence? Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t called for a vote already.

I still don’t see the value in rushing his confirmation through ahead of the November elections. Even if the Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, the Republicans will still be in charge until January. Plenty of time to ram the nomination through. Even if Kavanaugh goes down in flames, unlikely as that seems right now, they’ll have enough time to get somebody they approve of onto the court in time to save Trump’s bacon.

And let’s be realistic: even if the Blue Wave succeeds far beyond Democrats’ wildest dreams, they’re not going to gain enough seats to put impeachment–of Trump or Kavanaugh–on the table. That would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate. There’s a better chance that a couple of conservative judges will have fatal heart attacks in the next few months than there is of the Democrats gaining that much control.

None of which is to say the Democrats should give up. Any Supreme Court justice appointed by the current administration will be a disaster for the country.

Delay, delay, delay. Put it off as long as possible, take whatever gains they can in November, and build on them in 2020.

Then maybe it’ll be safe to crawl into bed.