Doing Right

It occurs to me that I’ve been remiss lately. I’ve been complaining about those who do life wrong–anti-vaxxers and anti-abortionists, Republicans, and software designers, for example–but I haven’t given any guidance for how to do life right.

I mean, I’d have thought it would be obvious, but the news continues to prove that it’s anything but.

So, with that–and my desire to make this blog a somewhat cheerier place–allow me to present a short playlist of songs that set a proper example.

Actually, it’s a very short playlist, so before I go there, I’m going to highlight a couple of songs that didn’t make the list.

“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”

Damn near everybody has done this one–this version is Bob Crosby and Martha Tilton–buy why? Ignore your problems and they’ll go away is lousy advice in any situation. Maybe it’s useful as a short-term strategy in a high-stress situation, but I’m even dubious about that. Anyone else think this was an early precursor to a certain track from Bobby McFerrin?

“On the Sunny Side of the Street”

Another dubious recommendation that everyone takes a swing at. No digs at Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee: it’s a great song. But really, “deny your problems exist and let someone else deal with them” isn’t helpful either personally or socially. As we’ve seen with the Republican attitude toward climate change.

“Swinging on a Star”

Bing Crosby, of course. The song is so loaded with negative stereotypes, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it as a guide to life: mules are stubborn and stupid, pigs are rude and dirty, and fish are sneaky scammers, or so Der Bingle tells us. So, even though the advice is good–stay in school, or, more generally, learn something–is an excellent first step towards living right, I just can’t bring myself to put it on the playlist.

Let’s move on to the songs that did make the cut.

“Pennies from Heaven”

Bing Crosby again, this time in a number that does meet my standards. His introduction seems like it would be a better fit for “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, and some of the advice is a bit dubious. Taken literally, carrying your umbrella upside down is not only counterproductive from a liquid standpoint, but any cash falling into it is likely to bounce right out. Figuratively, though, it’s on the money (sorry): smiling even when you don’t feel it can make you feel better. And who can argue with any song that reminds you that standing under a tree during a lightning storm is a bad idea?

“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”

Johnny Mercer nails this one, musically-speaking*. The lyrics are a bit more Judeo-Christian than I’d really like–Noah and Jonah feature prominently–but the message works. Focus on the good things. Acknowledge the bad, sure, but don’t let them control you. And, while the words do stress having faith, it’s not specifically faith in God. As far as I’m concerned, faith in yourself works just as well.

* And I do love the intro. “The topic will be Sin / And that’s what I’m ag’in’.”

“Straighten Up and Fly Right”

Nat King Cole, of course. And the advice is as timeless as the performance. Listen to that little cricket in the top hat. Nobody has to tell you when–or how–you’re going wrong; you know it already. Don’t call that voice a conscience if it makes you uncomfortable to think you have one, but listen up. And fly right, brother.

“Let It Alone”

The Dixie Hummingbirds’ biggest fame came as a result of backing up Paul Simon, but they’ve been around for nearly a century. This track* often gets lost among their gospel numbers with more conventional lyrics and themes. But the message here is worth remembering: not only can you not fix everyone’s problems, but you shouldn’t even try. It’s not “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Even the sinless have better things to do than to go nosing into other people’s business.

* Historical diversion: Kids, ask your grandparents about early methods of recording video. In particular, ask them about the SLP mode on VHS recorders. (Hint: it slowed the tape speed to one-third the normal rate, allowing six hours of recording on a single tape, at the cost of a significant degradation in video and audio quality.) Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a better recording of this song online.

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

Monty Python, closing out our playlist. Be optimistic, pessimism will get you nowhere. I think it’s the best advice you’ll find in a song, even though as a pessimist by nature, I struggle to apply it myself. But when I fail, I do a bit of whistling, and I’m ready to try again.

Happy Tidings

Recent posts have, I’ll admit, been somewhat on the negative–if not outright depressing–side.

I mean, really. We’ve had posts about an entirely inadequate substitute for fireworks, persistent non-vaccination, software incomprehensible to a significant portion of its users, and the ongoing Hall of Fame controversies. And that’s just this year!

So I’ll cop to negativity. But I’ll deny any suggestion that I like the blog that way. I’m just editorializing on the news, after all, and there’s only so much one can do with the state of the world right now.

So, with the start of a new month, I’m delighted to have a story to talk about that’s nothing but good news, even if it is old news for many of you.

For the first time in over a decade, America has a First Cat. No, not a King of the Cats. This is still–barely–a democracy. Sorry, trying to stay positive.

Yes, the Bidens have brought a cat into the White House. Willow, by name.

Better news: she’s not some pampered show cat from a high-end breeder; instead, she’s a now-former working class cat–a farm cat, to be precise–from Pennsylvania. One hopes that her mousing skills will be unnecessary in her new home, but it’s good to know that, should the President be faced with an invasion of rodents*, he’s got a defense in depth.

* Am I the only one who thinks Mitch McConnell looks distinctly rodential? Wouldn’t you like to be the proverbial fly on the wall the first time he meets Willow?

But the best news of all?

Our new #COTUS is named for Willow Grove, Pennsylvania–Jill Biden’s home town. Thank all that’s holy for that. Imagine the horror if “Willow” had been short for “Pussy Willow”. The sugar overdose would have rotted teeth across the entire breadth of the country!

An Interesting Idea

Hmm.

Apparently, Quebec has given up on the carrot and is ready to try the stick. According to news reports, the roughly 13% of the province’s population that haven’t gotten at least one shot will have to pay a tax penalty.

It’s obvious that appeals to common sense have gone as far as they’re going to. And incentive programs have probably reached their limits as well. One can only offer so many lotteries, after all, and anyone who might be lured in by cash payments, offers of food and beverages, or merchandise promoting local sports franchises has probably succumbed to said temptation.

Although, as the BBC notes, this isn’t the first attempt to force the unvaccinated to pay–they cite a monthly fine in Greece and Singapore’s refusal to pay for health care for the unvaccinated–it does seem to be an approach that few politicians of any stripe are willing to propose.

So, kudos to Quebec for trying something a little different. Some details remain to be worked out, of course. The size of the tax bill hasn’t been set–one wonders if it’ll be a flat amount, a flat percentage, or some kind of graduated number based on age, income, or political affiliation–and I doubt whether there’s any agreement yet over whether refunds are possible if people do get vaccinated after paying up. Or, for that matter, whether a cut-off date has been set yet, or if there’s still time for people to get their shots and avoid the charge.

Any such plan in the U.S. would inevitably allow for medical and religious exemptions–making it entirely useless–and then be tied up in the courts for years anyway. Plenty of well-known anti-vaxxers north of the border; will Quebec’s plan run afoul of them?

All that said, I’d love to see a similar plan tried in a region with a much lower vaccinated percentage*. Any brave state politicians want to give it a shot?

* As of a couple of days ago, less than half of the populations of Mississippi, Alabama, Wyoming, and Idaho were fully vaccinated. For that matter, Quebec is doing better than any U.S. state: Vermont had the highest vaccination rate at 78.21%, slightly behind Quebec’s 78.32% rate.

There must be ways to make it slightly less of a political suicide pill. Plenty of states have taxes that are only imposed on certain people: gas taxes to pay for road repair, property taxes to pay for schools, and so forth. Maybe some states could make a non-vaccination tax fly by making it conditional: you only pay the tax–with the funds being earmarked to go to state hospitals–if you’re unvaccinated and are hospitalized for COVID-19.

Nah, never going to work in the U.S. But I look forward to hearing how it goes over in Quebec–and whether it actually raises the vaccination rate.

You’re Only Making Things Worse

Today just seems like the right day for a “Damn kids, get off my lawn!” post.

“We only have two seasons around here: Winter and Road Repairs.” I’ve heard that saying applied to several different places in various parts of the country. The Bay Area, though, is blessed–or in this respect, cursed–with a comparatively mild climate. As a result, road repairs are more like a standard feature of the freeway than a seasonal event.

That means I’ve had plenty of opportunities to witness what “typical driver” means today. It’s not a pretty picture.

Mind you, I’m not talking about the idiots who weave through traffic at high speed. They’re more common than they used to be, regrettably, but they’re still not in the majority.

No, my gripe today is with the mentally and emotionally stunted people who have forgotten the one basic unwritten rule of the road: “We’re all in this together.”

The ones who try to minimize their drive time by switching lanes whenever the adjoining lane is moving faster. Not only do their antics force everyone behind them to slow down and adjust spacing, but they even shoot themselves in the foot: the diagonal of a lane change is longer than the straight line of staying in the lane you’re in. More territory covered, more time taken*. Simple math.

* Yes, I know it’s less than a second of additional delay. So? Half a second here, three-quarters there; it adds up. Five lane changes going across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge probably adds as much as two seconds to the commute (and costs you a couple of pennies in the most expensive gas in the U.S.)

But IMNSHO, the biggest offenders are the ones who are so impatient that they can’t manage a simple merge. Not a merge onto the freeway, the kind where two lanes turn into one, as happens when a lane is closed for road work.

Remember how merges are supposed to work: first a car from the left lane proceeds through the choke point, then one from the right. One from the left, one from the right. Left. Right. So easy, even preschool kids can handle it*.

* On foot. I’m not suggesting that five-year-olds should get driver’s licenses. Though, come to think of it…

Instead, we get drivers in the left lane riding the bumper of the car in front of them so the guy in the right lane can’t take their turn or racing to the choke point to piggyback on someone else’s turn. (The extreme form of this is to pull onto the shoulder and floor it to jump ahead of two or three cars waiting their turns. Fortunately, this approach appears to be an aberration, common only in areas where weaving through traffic at high speed is common.)

And it’s so pointless. The reason those cars are waiting to take their turns is that traffic is being slowed down or blocked by the ones who won’t take turns. And that’s even before the thoughtless drivers cause an accident that completely blocks traffic.

Hey, I’ll make a deal with y’all: remember your manners, take turns at merges, and I promise I won’t foist milk and cookies on you. Agreed?

One of Many

One of many things I don’t understand: Why is Louis DeJoy still Postmaster General?

This is a guy who admitted when he was appointed that his intent is to destroy the organization he’s supposed to be running.

It might not seem like it when you look at the piles of junk it delivers, but the USPS is a key piece of the national infrastructure*.

* It’s also a key piece of the government’s efforts to keep tabs on its citizens, but let’s not go there right now.

Seems like getting a new Postmaster General installed should have been one of President Biden’s top priorities. Certainly something that should be done well before the mid-cycle elections.

Okay, granted, it’s not as simple as just handing the incumbent his pink slip and appointing a replacement. The president doesn’t have the power to remove a Postmaster General. That’s reserved to the USPS’ Board of Governors. Ditto for the governors themselves.

The board is supposed to have nine members, plus the Postmaster General and the Deputy Postmaster General. Legally, no more than five of the nine can belong to the same political party. Prior to Biden taking office, there were three vacancies, and the lone non-Republican–a Democrat appointed by Trump–is (per Wikipedia) considered one of DeJoy’s strongest supporters. Not exactly an unbiased group, in other words.

And one that’s hard to update. Fortunately, unlike the Supreme Court, appointments to the USPS Board of Governors aren’t for life, so there is a possibility of rebalancing it.

Still, it seems like Biden is dragging his feet. It took him until May to fill the three vacant slots. That’s not enough to remove DeJoy, but one would have hoped that prompt action might have let the new members slow him down a bit. Remember that, while the PG is responsible for the day-to-day management of the USPS, it’s the board that sets policy.

And there are two more slots coming open soon. Both are Trump appointees–one being the aforementioned Democrat–and their terms expire next week, though they’ll continue to serve until their successors are approved by Congress.

Biden has announced his nominations, but as far as I can tell, no date has been set for Congress to act on the nominees. Bets on how long it’ll take–and, assuming the nominations are approved–how long it’ll be before DeJoy is looking for a new job?

It’s Back

Yep, 2021 strikes again.

Black Friday was a non-event last year. Oh, sure, it happened. But the lines of people camping outside stores, the crushing rush inside when the doors opened, and the screaming fights over deeply discounted items were rare in comparison to the past*.

* It’s possible that being on the West Coast gives me a biased perception. Anyone in a state that didn’t have mask mandates, social distancing, and/or stay-at-home orders want to chime in with local data on last year’s Spend-a-Thon?

This year, though, it’s shaping up to be a doozy.

Not only is Black November gaining force–several major retailers have been pushing variations on the “Early Black Friday” theme since about 12:01 AM on 11/1–but those same stores are ramping up the publicity for their sales on the actual Black Friday.

Because, of course, people are sick and tired of shopping from home–even in the Southwest and Florida and all those other areas where they never started shopping from home–so they have to show up in the malls at Oh Dark Hundred Hours.

Feh.

On the bright side, the stupidity of starting the Black Friday sales on Thursday–better known as Thanksgiving–seems to have gotten lost. And good riddance.

What’s going to be really interesting is seeing what happens with Cyber Monday. Remember that? In case you’ve mercifully forgotten, the premise of Cyber Monday has been that people save their online shopping for the Monday after Thanksgiving when they’re back in the office and can use their employer’s bandwidth.

Man, that sounds quaint, doesn’t it? “Back in the office”? It is to laugh.

It’s only a little more than a week to Thanksgiving and, while your experience may differ, I haven’t gotten a single ad for an upcoming Cyber-whatever event.

Could Cyber Monday turn into a regional event? Only advertised in places where the concept of “working from home” hasn’t caught on?

Probably not. It’s cheaper for national advertisers not to filter their mailings, after all. Our best hope is that PR departments decide the optics of telling people to go to work are just too ugly this year.

Arms Race

We’ve been hearing a lot about the non-medical fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic: the increasing polarization of politics*, burnout among medical professionals, children falling behind on their schooling, and so on. There’s one impact, however, that I haven’t seen noted in the press yet.

* Though, to be fair to the virus, that one was already well in progress before 2020; COVID-19 is just an excuse.

Noise pollution.

Those of us in mask-wearing parts of the country are being subjected to more and more noise. And we should have seen (heard?) it coming.

Masks do muffle speech and nobody wants to try to carry on a conversation with pen and paper. Heck, only a rare few of us carry notebooks these days, and it seems like even fewer still remember how to write*. I suppose in some situations, we could use our phones. But do you want to give a stranger your phone number just so you can text your dinner order? Think that hot guy at the other end of the bar can be trusted not to abuse your number if you don’t fall for his pickup line–or even if you do? And the whole point of meeting your sweetie in person is so you can whisper sweet nothings in their ear; you might as well skip the dinner date if you’re just going to chat at each other across the table.

* I’ll skip the rant about schools no longer teaching cursive, much less penmanship in general.

So instead, we’re all speaking louder.

Problem solved, right? Not so much.

Business owners are wedded to the notion that background music improves sales.

There’s a reason it’s called “background” music: you’re not supposed to listen to it; it’s just supposed to affect you at a subliminal level. It makes you shop faster, not think about whether you can afford something, but just buy it and move on. Or eat faster, so the restaurant can turn the table over that much sooner.

But if you can’t hear it at all, it can’t have its supposed effect. And so, with everyone tightening their diaphragms and projecting their voices, stores and restaurants are compensating by turning up the music.

Which, of course, makes it harder for the customers to be understood, so they speak even louder. Vicious circle. Arms race–make that “ears race”.

Even here in the masks-mandatory Bay Area, we’re not quite up to volume levels traditionally associated with rock concerts and airports. Not yet, anyway. But hearing can be damaged by sustained noise at lower volumes.

Speaking louder gets to be a habit. I’m hearing that in my own life. At home and mask-free, I’m still talking louder than I used to, unless I make a conscious effort not to.

So I don’t think sound levels are going to drop quickly even once COVID-19 is beaten*. You might want to pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones for daily wear over the next couple of years.

* Make that “beaten”. It’s not going to go away completely. The best we can hope for is to reduce it to the level of the flu. Get your annual flu shot (and, by the way, it’s that time of year–go get yours today!) and a COVID shot; we may even wind up combining them into a single dose.

And it just might be that now is the right time to be buying stock in companies that make hearing aids.

SAST 19

3-13

1-15

Baseball tradition says there are two ways a team can react to back-to-back drubbings like the pair the Mariners suffered Friday and Saturday. Really, after losing two by a combined score of 27-4, your only choices are to either throw your hands up in the air and surrender the season or flip the table and go on a buzzsaw rampage through the opposition*. But Seattle has chosen another path.

* Look, don’t take me too literally here. I mostly write fiction. I’m allowed to promote wistful memory to the status of established fact.

I get it. Nobody enough attention to hallowed baseball tradition these days. Not even–especially not even–the commissioner, who’s supposed to be the one responsible for maintaining the continuity of the game and ensuring it continues into its third century.

Instead of blowing Game Three against Houston 0-96 or thrashing them 78-2, the Ms squeaked out a 6-3 victory on Sunday, and needed 11 innings to do it. Okay, yes, given how poorly Seattle has done against the Astros over the last four or five seasons, any victory feels like a blowout win. But then the Mariners moved on to Oakland.

Monday, they managed a 5-3 win with three runs in the ninth–their first lead of the game. Tuesday, 5-1, but they didn’t score the last two until the eighth. Not exactly the stuff of buzzsaws.

On the other hand, that is three wins in a row, boosting Seattle to a season-high 11 games over .500 and, as I write this Tuesday afternoon, a mere two and a half games out of a playoff spot.

A nail file may not be as fast or efficient as a buzzsaw, but it can eventually cut down a tree. And those last few cuts are going to be darn exciting.

Moving on.

You know what I’m finding nearly as frustrating as the complete denial of reality exhibited by a large segment of the population? It’s the fixation on a single action as a solution to a large problem.

Let me put it in simple terms: You can safely ignore anyone who says “All we need to do is…”

“All we need to do is vaccinate [some percentage] of the population to stop COVID-19.” Nope. Even if we somehow got everyone vaccinated, we’d still have breakthrough cases and local outbreaks as immunity declines.

“All we need to do is get all the gas-burning cars off the road to stop climate change.” Nope. We’re already past the point where natural processes can get all the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a useful-to-humans timeframe.

“All we need to do is ban construction of single-family houses to end homelessness.” Do I need to crunch numbers here to show how ridiculous this one is?

These are only a few of the “All we need” statements I’ve heard people make in all seriousness in the last two weeks. And not one of them holds up to even a cursory examination.

Just say no to “All we need”.

Moving on again.

It’s been a long, long, long time since I highlighted any amusing spam. It’s odd, but the latest tactic in blog spam seems to be insulting the blogger.

“Why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?”

“This is the worst post you’ve ever written!”

“I wish you would write about something interesting like [random subject]”

And then they go on to say “Best price on [ED drug of choice] here!” Just so you know it’s spam and not an actual disaffected former reader.

Seems counter-productive to me, but given how enthusiastic the spammers are, I guess it works occasionally.

But one brave spammer seems to be taking a contrary approach. A couple of days ago, I found this in my might-be-spam folder:

“Rattling informative and great complex body part of subject material, now that’s user pleasant (:.”

For the record, it was spam. “great complex body part” was a link to a discount pharmacy of dubious quality. But I had to admire the spammer for not only bucking current trends in advertisement, but also working a pun into his pitch.

A State of Confusion

It’s been a week since California reopened. Is anyone surprised that now nobody seems to know what the rules are?

Hey, did you know you can take your own bags to the grocery store now? You can, even if no stores have put up signs saying so.

In theory, it should be simple. Nobody policed social distancing or capacity limits*, so officially removing those rules hasn’t really been noticeable.

* Officially, somebody did. Someone was responsible for making sure restaurant tables were far enough apart, “wait here” line markers were spaced correctly, and department stores weren’t packed shoulder to shoulder. But in practice–and, admittedly, in my experience–people have been amazingly good about self-policing. I’ve seen and heard of very few incidents of people being snapped at to back off, or self-appointed line monitors slapping knuckles.

For most people, the only question mark is whether they have to wear a mask. And apparently most people don’t have a clue. And really, that may be a good thing, at least around here. Because the overwhelming majority are defaulting wearing their masks. Granted, the SF Bay Area is one of the most highly vaccinated regions in the country, and I have no doubt that in places where people aren’t getting vaccinated in job lots, they’re also not wearing masks. Unless it’s at gunpoint*.

* Hey, there’s a thought: it’s no coincidence that areas where gun ownership is high are, for the most part, anti-vaccination and anti-mask. Maybe we need a public campaign to encourage vaccinated gun owners in places like Texas (39.76% vaccinated), Wyoming (33.58% vaccinated), and Mississippi (28.87% vaccinated) to defend their lives and property by “escorting” their neighbors to vaccination centers. Or maybe escorting teams of door-to-door vaccinators around their neighborhoods. Probably wouldn’t work–if only because volunteer escorts would be wildly outnumbered–but it’s worth considering.

At my day job, I’ve had several people ask me for permission to take their mask off. And yes, I mean ask. Politely. One of them was someone who, mere weeks ago when masks were still required, assured me loudly that he was fully vaccinated and he didn’t want to “wear the damned mask”. Quite a turnaround, and all because he now has options.

Even more people have asked me if masks are still required, but kept them on even after I tell them they’re free to remove them.

(For the record, my job is not one that requires mask-wearing, but I and all of my cow-orkers have agreed to continue wearing them indefinitely.)

I know my experience isn’t typical when looked at from a national perspective, but still, it’s nice to know that there are still a few pockets of sanity in the world.

Rationally Irrational

As I write this Tuesday evening, the Mariners are one game over .500 and trying to make it two. So, naturally, the newsosphere is full of caution. “The season is only a third over.” “A lot could change quickly.” “This is no time for irrational optimism.”

Talk about radical misperception.

Baseball is all about irrational optimism.

Think about it: At least 50 times in each game, somebody voluntarily confines himself to a small box while another guy throws rocks at him. Blunt force trauma is no less dangerous to life and limb than holes-poked-in-you trauma is. Yet these people are optimistic that those rocks won’t hit them–and that they can use a piece of wood to defend themselves against the rock-thrower.

That’s pretty darn irrational.

Every year fans decide, on no evidence whatsoever, that this will be their team’s year.

Ridiculously irrationally optimistic.

The commissioner forces through strange new rules in the hope of making games shorter, yet never addresses any of the delaying tactics players use to control the pace of the game.

Incredibly, stupidly, irrationally optimistic.

So don’t talk to me about keeping my hopes realistic.

Bigger picture: America is full of irrational optimists right now. Justifiably so in many ways.

Removing mask mandates and distancing rules even though vaccination rates are still hovering around 50%. Trusting the unvaccinated to not claim to be vaccinated. Expecting Republican lawmakers to respond favorably to appeals to patriotism, honor, and justice.

It’s been a very long year and a half. Nobody is going to dial it back and settle for rational optimism.

Not that rational optimism is even being offered. This is a confrontational, contrary age. Irrational optimism not your bag? Your only alternative today is irrational pessimism. “Earth is going to be destroyed by an asteroid.” “COVID-19 is the first stage of the zombie apocalypse.” “The Mariners won’t win another game this season.

I don’t know about you, but if I have to make that choice, I’m not going to pick looming disaster. We’ve been there and done that for quite long enough, thank you.

While I was writing the previous two paragraphs, the Mariners gave up six runs in one inning. I’m choosing irrational optimism. Maybe they’ll come back in the last three innings to win. If not, there’s going to be another game tomorrow. After all, the season is only a third over and a lot could change quickly.