Can I Borrow a Sand Shovel?

The Mariners continue to tease us with late season relevance.

It’s a very small tease–they’d pretty much need to win all their remaining games to make the playoffs. And that includes Tuesday night’s game, which they’re losing 6-1 as I write this.

Not going to happen. Not in 2020.

But dreaming about it is a hell of a lot better than paying attention to the way everything political is going in the wrong direction. The Republicans are getting ready to stack the Supreme Court to ensure that the nigh-inevitable challenge to November’s election results goes their way. And if you believe at least four senators are going to slaughter their political careers by blocking the coming appointment, allow me to remind you of every single vote of consequence in the last three and a half years: how many times have we heard that one or two senators were straying from the party line, only to have them vote in lockstep with their orders from above?

Even the current slowing of the COVID-19 numbers has its downside. Just in time for the Dark Side to trumpet the wonderful things they’ve done to stop that virus (that wasn’t as serious as the Democrats wanted everyone to believe) as we approach the beginning of mail-in balloting (that you shouldn’t use because your mail won’t be counted, unless you’re voting Republican).

So, yes, baseball.

The Mariners may be teasing, and the Orioles hanging on by their fingernails–not mathematically eliminated, but winning-the-lottery improbable–but the Giants are still in the running. Half a game back as I write this. That could actually happen.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s looking like there will actually be playoffs this year–assuming I didn’t just jinx it (quite likely: this is 2020, after all)–as improbable as that seemed when the season started last week.

Yes, I know it was a little earlier than that. Doesn’t feel much like it.

And I know obsessing over baseball is burying my head in bread and circuses. I even know that’s a very disturbing mixed metaphor.

But why not? I know how I’m voting. I’ll fill out my ballot as soon as it arrives. And if baseball keeps me distracted enough to prevent full-stomach ulcers until after the election, I’m good with that.

Distance Learning

A rant:

I was going to ask for a little restraint, but on reflection, I don’t think there’s any of it in stock these days.

Specifically, I was hoping we could avoid developing herds of self-appointed distance monitors.

Yes, social distancing is necessary. Absolutely no argument from me on that.

But demanding that people move is not the way to get it done. Humans are contrary creatures. “You have to move,” or “Hey, you, six feet!” just make the recipient want to move closer, strictly out of spite.

It’s in the presentation.

Try “Could you please move a further away?” That’s not so hard to say, now is it?

Or, if you’re in a place of business, just pointing to the tape marks on the floor will probably get the job done–and if there aren’t tape marks, say something to the staff, don’t excoriate your fellow customers!

Because, let’s face it, most people don’t have a clear mental picture of what six feet is. (Hint: your foot is probably not a foot long, and even if it is, you’ve never seen six of ’em heel to toe.)

I have a pet theory that many people, if asked to estimate six feet, say to themselves, “Well, I’m a few inches shorter than six feet, so it’s a bit longer than I am tall.” Then they picture themselves lying down, think, “Ew, this floor is filthy, I don’t want to lie on it,” and completely forget to add the necessary inches to turn five-foot-something into six feet.

All that aside, though–and taking the whole flies/honey thing as given–the possibility for escalation is scary. Because moderation and restraint are, as previously noted, in short supply.

These days it’s a small step from admonishing a random stranger to move a aside to demanding they clear off “your” sidewalk, then to calling the cops on someone you think is too close. After that, the weapons come out, and we have a whole different class of virus-related deaths.

Again, yes to social distancing. But remember that “seventy-two inches” is an arbitrary distance chosen for a number of reasons, not all of which have any grounding in virology.

The whole point of social distancing is to not crowd together, to not loiter near other people.

It is not to get in people’s face in the name of getting them out of your personal space.

SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.

SAST 16

Apparently someone at MLB.TV is reading this blog. Less than a week after I noted that nobody’s been talking about MLB.TV subscriptions, they decided to prove me wrong.

I said that I doubted we’d get a prorated refund. Surprise!

According to the email I received, we do get prorated refunds. We can have them credited to back to the cards we used to pay, or we can credit them against next year’s subscription.

That’s a no-brainer. I see no reason to give MLB half a year of interest on my money. More to the point, though, after the example of this year’s negotiations between the owners and players, I’m not the only person wondering if there will be a season next year.

Refunds will be issued around the end of July. I presume this is so they won’t have to go through the refund process twice if the 60 game season gets scrapped entirely–something that seems increasingly likely in the light of the ongoing problems with testing.

On a semi-related note, team schedules are now available online. You can subscribe to them with your Google, Apple, or Windows calendar.

If, that is, you’re willing to give an unidentified third party access to all of your calendars. At least, that’s the case in Google-land.

Maybe it’s different for those of you using Outlook or iCal; I suggest you check the permissions that come along with any calendar requests very carefully.

Moving on.

Douglas Adams was wrong. It’s not time that’s the illusion. Dates are illusions.

These days, I’m far from the only person who can’t tell whether it’s a Wednesday in July or a Tuesday in November without looking at a phone (or calendar for those of us who still use paper). I think we all know it’s still 2020, but I’m certain enough to bet money on it.

It’s not just the lack of stimulation, with our limited ability to spend time with friends, or the sameness of our personal schedules–especially for those working at home. It’s the sense of futility that comes from not having an endgame in sight. Nobody knows when life will return to normal–whatever that is or will be–and, worse yet, nobody knows when we’ll know when.

We’re just marking time. Seconds, minutes, hours. But not days. They’re just too big to grasp.

Moving on–in a limited way.

Along with the retreat from “reopening,” we’re getting a return of one of the most noxious notions from the days of “Shelter in Place.” You know the one I mean: “Look at all the free time you have. You can finally do those things you’ve been putting off!”

Poisonous.

Maybe it works for you. I’ll admit it worked for me early on. I wrapped up the third draft of Demirep and put it in the hands of my beta readers (and thanks to all of you!). But after that?

My usual practice is to start the next novel while the beta readers are reading. This time, nope. It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I do. But actually doing anything with them? Not happening.

And the last thing I need is somebody guilting me about it.

Same goes for you. If you’re not capable of working on one of your projects–whether it’s something artistic or practical–you’ve got my permission to not do it and to not feel guilty or defeated. We’re all different, and we all react to events differently.

If someone tells you that you have to work on something, feel free to politely tell them to get stuffed. And if they gloat about how much they’ve accomplished under lock-down, feel free to deliver them to your local taxidermist for stuffing.

On a related note, I will assault the next person I hear saying “Man, being a professional athlete is the worst job these days.” (Yes, people really are saying that. If you haven’t heard it–presumably because you’re being a responsible adult and socially isolating and being a smart adult and staying off social media–I envy you.)

You know what really sucks? Working in a field where you don’t have a choice about going to work every day, where your employer doesn’t pay for tests and won’t pay you if you get sick. Or not working because your former employer is out of business.

We’re all having to learn new ways to do our jobs–it’s not just ballplayers who have to figure out how to get the work done safely. And very few of us have the same safety nets they do. Well-funded unions that actually look out for their members, affordable health insurance, and well-off senior members of our professions who look out for their juniors* are increasingly scarce.

* Major kudos for the various MLB stars who’ve been chipping in money to help out the minor league players who aren’t getting paid at all now that the MiLB seasons have been cancelled.

Moving on.

Well, maybe. One of these days.Sometime.

The Wrong Approach

Okay, I’m going there. Sorry, but it was either this or a rant about the stupidity of ending shelter in place rules while virus cases are on the upswing.

There was a letter to the editor in the SF Chron a couple of days ago. The gist was that both the Republican and Democratic parties have utterly failed to do anything to benefit African Americans. Accordingly, the author says–in apparent seriousness–“The only remedy left for African Americans to get them out of their misery is for them to form their own national political party.”

I can only assume that the writer, Guy Vigier, is either a Trumpist looking to split the Democratic vote or completely and totally ignorant of how people think.

Forget the woeful history of third parties in American politics since the demise of the Socialist movement. Never mind the fact that the NAACP–arguably the most effective organization working for civil rights in the past century plus–hasn’t managed to gain the support of all African Americans*.

* According to their own website, they currently have a membership of “more than a half-million”.

Can you think of any better way to mobilize racist white non-voters than to give the right wing the opportunity to point Fingers of Alarm at the BLM Party candidates? “They’re coming for our jobs! They want to take over! They said so themselves!” (The identity of the “our” is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Maybe there’s something I’m missing. It’s certainly possible. I’m white. I don’t have a visceral understanding of the African American experience–I hope I have a handle on it intellectually, but I don’t have the gut-level automatic understanding that comes from living it.

Maybe a BLM Party could turn a significant chunk of the American population into active, informed voters. Even enough of the population to elect a president. I doubt they could take Congress as well, but say they do. Say they do it by such an overwhelming margin that the Supreme Court can’t find an excuse to overturn the election.

What happens next? Barring assassination, I mean, though history suggests that’s a distinct possibility. A bunch of laws get passed. Most get tied up in the courts; those that don’t will be enforced by the same police they’re intended to restrain. Anyone want to put money on the laws being fairly enforced? If there’s a way to selectively enforce them against African Americans, you better believe they’ll be used that way.

Then, two years later, with the racist right fully mobilized, Republicans recapture control of the Senate. Anyone remember how much trouble the Republican Senate caused President Obama in his last year in office?

And, of course, two years after that, President Trump (or the functional equivalent) is re-elected on his promise to give America back to the Real Americans. You know: the melanin-deficient ones.

Mr. Vigier seems to think that an “African American national political party” could somehow “hold the balance of power between the two major parties” and turn that into resources for their communities. I’ve got news for him: this is not a parliamentary system. Small blocks are largely powerless.

Hell, large blocks that aren’t the majority don’t have a whole lot of power. I suggest Mr. Vigier check back on Puerto Rico and remind himself just how little aid they got two years ago, despite the efforts of a large-but-minority chunk of Congress. How would he suggest that his hypothetical BLM office holders direct money to their communities in the face of conservative resistance and without decades of political favors to draw on for support?

It’s the opinion of this white guy that the current crisis is not going to be settled by the creation of a new political party. It’s not going to be solved in a top-down fashion. And it’s not going to be resolved–not truly–at the ballot box. If it’s ever settled, it’ll be because right-minded people of all parties–yes, including Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Democrats, and independents–come together in their communities and create change from the bottom up. By the time national laws come about, they’ll be a recognition of the status quo.

Hungry?

I really wanted to write something cheerful today.

(Disclosure: I’m writing this Tuesday evening so it’ll be ready for you all in the morning.)

But then I made the mistake of looking at the news.

Yeah, I know, I know.

I presume you’ve heard by now that our government has declared meat processing plants to be critical infrastructure.

I’m an unrepentant omnivore, and I was not looking at the predictions that meat could follow toilet paper* into virtual non-existence on store shelves.

* Our TP supply dropped low enough last week that we went in search of a few rolls. As it turned out, we found some in the first store we checked. It’s a 30 roll package, which should be enough to stave off the total fall of civilization for at least a month, and quite probably several times that. Mind you, it’s a Korean brand–not the one everyone knows–and of totally unknown quality, but it’s almost certainly better than, say, last week’s newspapers. We haven’t tried it yet, but in the spirit of helping one another, I’ll issue a report once we’ve put it to the ultimate test.

So, on one paw, it’s good to know that meat will remain available. On another paw, though, the fact that our gracious president highlighted the fact that his declaration will “solve any liability problems” does lead one to wonder (a) just how sweeping that immunity from liability is and (b) just how safe that meat will be. On a third paw, one also has to wonder what effect the presidential order will have on the cost of meat. And, on the fourth paw, will that shield remain in place indefinitely?

Let’s face it. The current administration is fond of rolling back laws and regulations that improve the health of most individuals. And, as we all know, the meat packing industry’s favorite recreation is dancing back and forth across the red line of legality.

Without more details than we have right now, I can only assume that the price of meat is going to go up in lockstep with the health risks of eating that meat. And there is, of course, no upper limit to either cost.

I see only one solution for those of us who aren’t going to go vegetarian.

Anyone got a good recipe for coyote?

Still Wrong

Now it’s personal.

I haven’t said anything about Black Friday and the rest of the post-Thanksgiving (and pre-Thanksgiving) shopping nonsense since, what, 2016? (Nope, just checked. It was 2015.)

Nothing’s changed for the better. And in one giant step in the wrong direction, I’m participating in the madness. Not, I hasten to say, as a shopper, but rather as a victimseller.

Let me emphasize that this is not an invitation to play guessing games about my current employer. As I said when I started the job, I want to keep a separation between my personal and paid opinions. That’s still true.

That said, yes, I am required to work tomorrow. From late afternoon into the wee hours when any rational person and most irrational ones would be in bed*. And then I’ll need to be back at work on Friday at roughly the usual time.

* Not necessarily asleep, mind you, but in bed. Those late night reading marathons are an essential part of my mental health regime, and I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who finds that to be the case.

Fortunately–something to be thankful for–I don’t have to work today. Maqgie, regrettably, is working, but at least it’s telecommuting. So she, the fuzzies, and I are celebrating Turkey Day a bit early. (And yes, I do have deep sympathy for my cow-orkers who are working today. They will, one and all, be working tomorrow as well.)

The bird is in the oven. We’re going to try doing the mashed potatoes in the Instant Pot when the appointed hour arrives, and the other essential sides are prepped and ready.

It won’t be the peaceful celebration of sloth and indolence we normally engage in, but traditions do need to change to stay relevant.

And, let’s face it, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all of their ilk are among the traditions that badly need to have some work done. Maybe not a full facelift, but a nip here and a tuck there would work wonders.

Step One, unquestionably, is to get Black Friday the hell out of Thursday. It’s even in the name! “Black Friday“. Not “Black Thursday Night”.

You want to start the sale at midnight? Fine. Keep the store open for twenty-four hours? Abi gezunt. At least let your employees spend the day that everyone else has off with their families. Happy, rested employees are far better suited to face Friday’s onslaught and sell more merchandise.

Remember, if everyone does it, nobody’s market share is affected.

Mixed Feelings

I’ve got mixed feelings.

That’s a good thing, actually. There are very few unmixed blessings or curses. So I tend to get suspicious when I don’t have mixed feelings about something.

But I digress.

I’m speaking here of AB5, California’s new law defining the difference between contractors and employees.

In case you’ve missed the debates, the law establishes a three-part test*: if a person performs tasks under control of a company, the work is a core part of the company’s business, and the person doesn’t have an independent business in the same field, they’re considered an employee.

* Do you know what field has a different, critical three-part test? Well, quite a few, actually, but I was thinking specifically of the three-part Miller test that determines whether something is obscene. I have to wonder if porn actors will be affected by AB5; as I understand it, they tend to form long-term associations with particular film studios and they get paid by the film or scene, which would seem to this non-lawyer to potentially put them under the AB5 umbrella. If so, by the Law of Threes, it seems like there ought to be a third three-part test that defines their field.

Not as straightforward as it looks at first glance, but clearer than many laws, so, good. There are, of course, some fields that are exempted, mostly in areas where workers tend to be well-paid. Since, in many ways, AB5 is designed as an adjunct to minimum-wage laws, those sort of carve-outs make sense.

Naturally, the Ubers and Lyfts are screaming with rage. Their entire business model is based around large numbers of cheap contractors.

Workers in some non-exempt fields aren’t happy either. Translators, for example, by and large want to remain contractors. There are others. The main argument seems to be flexibility: the ability to work when and as much as they want, and the freedom to refuse specific jobs. Which is reasonable, and I see no reason why the law couldn’t be amended to include more exemptions as consensus emerges. Expect the issue to show up on the agendas at many professional associations’ meetings over the next few years.

Frankly, I’m offended by the approach Uber is taking in fighting AB5. They’re flat-out trying to claim that their business has nothing to do with providing rides. It’s insulting that they think that’s a winning strategy. And their other attack on the law boils down to “It’ll put us out of business. You can’t do that!”

IMNSHO, no business has a right to exist. Times change, people’s needs change, conditions change. Remember “Too big to fail”? How’d that work out? Mixed results, really. But really, if a business had a right to exist, we’d see a lot fewer cars today, because of the laws created to prop up the horse-and-cart industry.

So right now I feel a certain amount of schadenfreude over the ride-sharing industry in general and Uber in particular.

But. Mixed feelings, remember?

We’re also hearing from newspapers who say that AB5 will put them out of business. Why? Because the added costs for delivery carriers will outstrip their advertising revenue. Which is a legitimate concern, I suppose, and again, no business has the right to exist. But I like newspapers a heck of a lot more than I like the Ubers of the world.

Newspapers won a one-year exemption to explore alternatives to their current delivery system.

I’m old enough to remember when delivering newspapers was a viable first job for a teenager with a bike. It’s not anymore. Not in suburban areas like mine, anyway. Now delivery is done by an adult with a car, who drives around flinging papers out of the window. (To be fair, despite my ongoing battles with our carrier–yesterday, when it was raining, our paper was held together with a rubber band; today, in glorious sunlight, the paper in a plastic bag–I have to admit their accuracy is higher than the typical Amazon delivery person’s.)

My point, however, is that at least around here, delivery isn’t done by someone working for the Chron–neither employee nor contractor. They’re employed by an independent company specializing in newspaper delivery. That third-party is the one who needs to worry about whether carriers are employees or contractors. It may affect the rate they charge the Chron and other papers for their services, but to some extent the papers are shielded from employee costs by that separation.

Mixed feelings.

Stay tuned to see how AB5 works out.

Oopsies

We all have bad days.

I hate having to correct mistakes, but one is warranted here. On Tuesday, I said that Massage Envy had pulled their ads off of the MLB.TV broadcasts.

This is not the case. The spots aren’t running as frequently–I only say four or five during a game yesterday, rather than the dozen or more I’d been seeing–but they are still running. I suspect the most likely explanation is that the cost to pull the ads entirely would have been more than the budget would allow.

And my point still stands: regardless of what Mike Pence might think, a massage, even one involving multiple genders, can be a non-sexual thing. And if Massage Envy is going to be in that business, rather than the sexual sort–or rape–they should be taking active steps now, before the suit goes to trial, to confirm their trustworthiness in the eyes of the public.

Moving on.

It’s only Thursday, but I think we’ve got a hot candidate for the “Bad Day of the Week” award.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has had so many bad days of late that even their good days are pretty bad. The public outcry for Somebody to Do Something have gotten loud enough that some wild approaches are being tried.

According to the SF Chronicle, Governor Newsom has decided that the best approach is to neuter the department.

No, I’m not kidding. The Chron’s headline on a story yesterday says “Silicon Valley vet tapped to fix tech-addled DMV”.

I’m not sure I see how forcing the DMV’s employees to display shaved tummies for a few weeks will reduce wait times, improve data management, or contribute to customer satisfaction, but if you can’t trust the governor, who can–what?

Oh. The new head of the DMV is an IT expert, not a veterinarian. Nobody’s tummy will be non-consensually shaved and no pockets will be picked–aside from the usual levels of graft found in public service.

Granted, the DMV’s computer systems are archaic, but modern technology is no automatic panacea. I like that the new guy says he’s not planning to do anything new, just pick up the best bits of available technology. As long as the focus stays on customer needs rather than speculative technological nonsense like electronic license plates, he might actually accomplish something.

So, a significant oopsie on the headline writer, but not a world-class bad day, even if the headline was on the front page. But then we get to Page A8, where we learn that Hawaii has been invaded by a movie monster.

“Protests spread as activists fight giant telescope” says the headline.

Once you get past wondering why they don’t just call in Gamera to take on the giant telescope–or borrow San Francisco’s Martian War Machine, aka the Sutro Tower–you find that they’re not fighting the telescope.

They are, in fact, fighting plans to build one. In other words, their beef is with the scientists who selected the site and the government bureaucracies that approved the construction.

No laser death rays, underpowered military defenders, or badly dubbed dialog. Just another front in the ongoing culture wars.

And a headline writer who needs a day off.

I suppose they got it. I didn’t see any howlers in today’s paper. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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.