Last Chance to See

Paul Simon is kicking off his farewell tour in May. This comes on the heels of Elton John’s announcement of his own farewell tour.

I was all set to suggest they save us all some time and money by combining their tours–call it “The End of an Era” show, take turns as headliner and opening act, mix things up by covering each other’s songs, and so on–and then I realized Mr. Simon is being a bit wimpy about his tour.

Twenty-nine shows over two months.

Mr. John is doing three hundred shows over the course of three years.

So much for that idea.

Seriously, though, both of them are outliers, albeit in opposite directions. And it does leave me wondering what the right length for a superstar’s farewell tour is.

On the one hand, fans want a long tour with plenty of shows, to maximize their chances of getting one at a convenient location. On the other hand, the performers are, by and large, tired of touring, possibly in ill health, and probably want to wrap things up as quickly as they can. And that’s without considering the possibility of wearing out their welcome. “What, is he on tour again? I thought he quit that two years ago?” “Nah, it’s still the same tour. Greedy, ain’t he?”

Maybe there isn’t a universally-applicable answer–almost certainly, in fact–but a few thoughts occur to me.

People like round numbers, and the double zeros in one hundred are particularly appealing. Similarly, they like numbers that are easy to grasp. Everyone knows viscerally how long a year is.

So how about setting a target of one year, 100 shows?

Consider the advantages for the performer. On a normal, lengthy tour, shows typically average about one every other day. That’s a big part of the grind that wears them down and turns them off of touring to begin with. With a year to work in, those hundred gigs can be spaced to average more than two off days between shows. A much more relaxed approach.

Granted, the economics of touring a big show mean it makes sense to bunch them. But it ought to be possible to insert more off days during the active periods without breaking the bank, while still leaving time for longer rest breaks. (As an example, instead of doing a three week tour of the West Coast, how about adding a few off days and a longer break between the Washington/Oregon leg and the California/Nevada leg and getting it done in five weeks?)

Let’s not forget: in addition to being tired of the grind, many musicians cite wanting to spend time with their families and an unwillingness to miss birthdays, holidays, school graduations, and such as primary reasons for wanting to give up touring.

If you’ve got a show Monday in Cleveland and the next one is Wednesday in Houston, you’re not going to catch Junior’s birthday in LA. But use some of those vacant dates to push the Texas shows out to the weekend and you can get a night’s sleep in Cleveland, still arrive early for the party in LA, hang out with the kid for a couple of days, and still make it to the Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt* the night before the show there.

* Yes, really.

There are probably reasons why this wouldn’t work–any professional musicians want to educate me? But from a layman’s perspective, it seems like a reasonable set of working guidelines.

Realistically, though, history suggests you’re always best off assuming your favorite performer’s current tour is their last, whether they call it that or not.

Super?

Yes, I watched the Super Bowl. Sorry, Jackie.

I could try to spin it, I suppose. An ecumenical gesture toward those who follow the Faith of the Oblong Ball, perhaps. But the truth is simpler and arguably less worthy. I wanted to see the Patriots lose.

Sure, I had some secondary motivations: wanting to see the commercials and the half-time show in context–important for proper snarkage–foremost. But the bottom line is that the Patriots exemplify all that’s wrong with sports teams setting themselves up as “America’s Team”. Like the Dallas Cowboys, LA Lakers, and Atlanta Braves* of yore, and the Yankees of, well, any day, they exhibit an arrogance and an attitude of entitlement that cries out for humbling.

* Ted Turner has much to answer for.

So it’s easy to root against the Patriots. It was harder to root for the Eagles, since–as Maggie reminded me–they’re the ones who brought Michael Vick back into football. But since they were the only team who had a chance to beat the Patriots on Sunday, we used the proverbial long spoon.

And I took notes, because that’s what writers do. Herewith, my thoughts on Super Bowl LII.

MassMutual served notice even before the kickoff that this was not last year’s television spectacle of Fox-sponsored odes to Amurrica. Can’t argue with the moral of the ad–don’t count on the government to help you through a disaster–but it would have been a stronger message if they’d mentioned Puerto Rico.

As expected, the camera angles during “The Star-Spangled Banner” made it impossible to tell whether anyone was kneeling or sitting. NBC’s not going to risk those glorious advertising dollars over three minutes of air time.

Apparently Sprint is fully prepared for the imminent robot rebellion, and is ready to placate our new robotic overlords from Day One.

Seriously, Turkish Air? If they think Dr. Oz is qualified to talk about the wonders of the human body, I’d hate to learn what they think qualifies someone to fly an airplane. Gonna put them on my “never patronize this company” list.

Bud Light’s sales were down 5.7% this past year. If their ads are any indication, those idiotic “Dilly Dilly” spots are the only thing keeping them in business. Hooray for living down to your smallest potential.

On the brighter side, NBC’s frequent promos for the Winter Olympics were considerably less annoying than Fox’s similar binge on behalf of the Daytona 500. Maybe because the Olympics aren’t a sport that glorifies unsafe driving and promotes climate change?

I’ll admit to enjoying the dual and dueling Doritos/Mountain Dew ad combination. I don’t like Mountain Dew, but the commercial didn’t drive me to forswear Doritos.

On the other hand, Diet Coke’s promotion of the desirability of uncontrollable, unstoppable dancing left me cold. Can I really be the only person in the world who still remembers Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes“? Is a swig of mango-flavored Diet Coke worth pedal amputation and eternal damnation?

NBC hurried to assure everyone that no game action or commercials were lost to that eighteen second blackout. But they’ve been disturbingly silent on whether any jobs were lost.

I won’t bother with my screed about Dodge using MLK’s words to sell Ram trucks. Plenty of others have said more than enough. I’ll just put them on my list, right after Turkish Air.

Regrettably, Janet Jackson did not parachute into the stadium and rip Justin Timberlake’s pants off mid-song. But even in her absence, you have to know that NBC and the NFL paid close attention to the choreography of JT’s show. So now we know that both institutions believe it’s perfectly fine to hump a dancer’s leg on international television, as long as her breasts are covered.

And maybe it was just an effect of the television broadcast, but the much ballyhooed and equally derided “holographic performance” by Prince came off as a bare half-step up from projecting a movie on a bed sheet. And really, JT, choosing “I Would Die 4 U” was a damn tacky move.

Of course the blatant attempt to promote “Super Bowl Selfies” as a hashtag was mildly nauseating, if completely predictable.

All in all, I score it the most soporific halftime show since at least 2000, when we had Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton lulling us to sleep.

I got a chuckle out of the self-referential commercial for The Voice. But then, I’m an easy mark for self-deprecating, self-referential jokes.

Budweiser partially redeemed themselves for the stupid “Dilly Dilly” nonsense with their “Water” commercial, which did mention Puerto Rico.

My two favorite commercials of the day ran in succession. My Number One was the Jack In the Box / Martha Stewart spot. Juvenile throughout, but with a nice twist on the old “Got Your Nose” bit. And then, Number Two, the payoff to the sequence of apparently pointless Peyton Manning spots, recreating Dirty Dancing as a touchdown celebration. Stupid and pointless–perfect for the message that the NFL isn’t going away.

We’re putting Tide on the list, too. Not that their ads were bad. The concept was mildly amusing the first time. But by the end of the game, they’d completely run it into the ground and arrived at “thoroughly annoying”.

Unrelated to the actual game or the commercials: We discovered that Dish doesn’t think anyone has a four hour attention span. With about ten minutes left in the game, right on the four hour mark from when I turned on the TV, they popped up a message box that said (I’m paraphrasing here, because I didn’t get a picture) “It looks like nobody’s watching TV right now. If you don’t click ‘Continue’ within 20 seconds, we’ll shut the receiver off.” Uh, guys, you’re going to be sending the satellite signal whether the receiver is on or off, so why do you care if I’m watching? If I want to waste electricity by leaving the TV on all day, let me!

And, finally, my prize for “Worst Commercial of Super Bowl LII”.

No, it’s not Tide, Bud Light, or even Turkish Air.

Not only did this company completely ignore the well-documented complaints about their business model, but they’re actually promoting class violence. Congratulation, Groupon, come up and claim your trophy.

Or am I the only one who heard the message “He didn’t use Groupon, so we sent a couple of thugs to kick his rich, white ass”?

Seriously, there’s a right way to do things, and in this case, TV commercials aren’t it. If we’re going to have a revolution of the proletariat and forcibly redistribute the wealth, can we please do it as a spontaneous popular uprising, rather than because a coupon service wants to improve their bottom line?

Latest Trends

Note: this post was written Monday evening. It’s likely that some of the data will have changed by the time you read it.

I see Google is reporting a lot of interest in the forthcoming Hall & Oates tour. I mention this not because I’m particularly interested in the duo–I’m not, beyond taking the opportunity to point out their take on “Family Man” falls into the category of cover versions that have become definitive, despite being far less interesting than Mike Oldfield’s original.

But this is the first time I’ve dug into the details on Google’s latest version of their “Trends” page.

The “Interest over time” chart is fun–though a longer baseline would be nice–but the chart I found most intriguing is “Interest by subregion”. In this case, you can read “subregion” as being equivalent to “state”; I presume this is done to make the chart more flexible for use in other countries.

It’s not particularly surprising that most of the interest in Hall and Oates is in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. They’ve always been big in the middle of the country. I was surprised to see Louisiana coming in at Number Four. Maybe some influence floating down the Mississippi River?

But the fun part was looking at the states with no apparent interest in them at all: aside from Alaska, which often goes its own way, we’ve got Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming: a tight cluster of states immediately to the north of the center of Hall and Oates’ support. What’s happening there?

I’d say something about not giving the obvious answer (“Nothing”), but that might actually be the correct answer. Consider the interest from another item on Google’s list.

Searches for “Asteroid, Earth” are hot, probably because right-wing news sites are spreading FUD about the government shutdown putting Earth at risk for an asteroid strike.

Leaving aside the stupidity of the claim*, I found the geographical breakdown of interest fascinating. The most interest is in Alaska–remember what I said about them doing their own thing? But the next most interest is in North Dakota. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got Hawaii (which is justifiably more concerned about missiles than asteroids right now), Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

* First, the risk of an asteroid hitting Earth is no higher whether we’re watching or not. Second, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the shutdown has any significant effect on the Asteroid Watch program–it’s a distributed program with participation by astronomers, both professional and amateur, from around the world. And third, even if we know an asteroid is coming, there’s very little we can do about it at this point. The technology to intercept and redirect or destroy an asteroid isn’t there yet.

Yeah, three of the four central states that have no interest in Hall and Oates are also the only central states that have no interest in their chances of being wiped off the map by an asteroid. (Insert your own joke about being wiped off the map by Hall and Oates here.)

I can only come up with two possible interpretations: either the inhabitants of those states aren’t interested in anything or they’ve already been wiped out by zombies.

Note that those states show no interest in Netflix or the Supreme Court. But Montana and North Dakota are right near the top of the list when it comes to the Megyn Kelly/Jane Fonda contretemps.

I rest my case–and suggest you update your zombie vaccinations before you visit Montana.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If you bought an extended service plan on 2017, it has now expired, and the full cost of all repairs or replacements will have to be paid out of pocket. Regrettably, the Office of Chronological Mismanagement is no longer offering service plans of any sort. So enjoy 2018 while it still has that new car smell. Soon enough we’ll have to break out the duct tape and patch it up.

In any case, we had a very pleasant end to 2017 and beginning of 2018. You may have gotten the impression from my posts that this family likes fireworks–and that would be a correct impression. We go to New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks shows whenever we can.

Last year, we caught the show in Berkeley, but this year there wasn’t one. Nor, as far as I could tell, was there one anywhere in the East Bay. All the municipalities were very quiet about it; we don’t know if the lack of shows was due to financial problems, fire worries, security concerns, a lack of desire to compete with San Francisco’s show, or something even less sensical.

But regardless of the reasons, we had a firework gap that needed to be filled. We’ve always steered clear of San Francisco’s show, figuring it would be an enormous hassle, with an impossible parking situation, horrible crowds, and hours-long delays getting out of the city. Turned out we were wrong.

I won’t tell you exactly where we were. For one thing, the parking garage we found will be closing before the end of 2018, and for another, if all of the readers of this blog showed up in our spot this coming December 31, it would…well, okay, nobody would know the difference. But why take the chance of the post going viral? I’ll just say we were south of the Ferry Building and north of the Bay Bridge and let it go at that.

We arrived around noon–far earlier than we needed to–and had our choice of parking spots in the garage. With apologies to those of you north of Eureka or east of Carson City or Phoenix for sounding like I’m gloating, the temperature, even as midnight approached, was in the fifties with scattered high clouds and exactly three drops of rain. The city of San Francisco had kindly provided large planter boxes with cement walls that made excellent seats. And once we got through the line to pay for parking, our time from the garage onto the Bay Bridge was no more than twenty minutes. In rush hour, that same part of the drive frequently stretches to an hour or more.

If there was one downside to the day, it was that few businesses were open near the Embarcadero, and those that were closed early. I believe that, with the exception of a few restaurants, nothing was open past seven. Was it because NYE was a Sunday? Or is it standard for New Year’s Eve? Memo to San Francisco: encourage more vendors to show up and stay open later. It’ll bring more people into the city earlier in the day, they’ll spend more money, improving both vendor profits and city tax and parking revenue. Just a thought. And next time we do it, we’ll bring books, a deck of cards, or something else entertaining.

Because, yes, there will be a next time. The show was wonderful. If not the best ever, right up there at the top of the list. Yes, the hearts were all lazy, lying on their sides and all but a few of the smiley faces were significantly distorted, but those mishaps just added humor to the show. There was a good mix of high and low bursts, some effects we hadn’t seen before, and a clear–and spectacular–finale.

Consider this an open invitation to blog readers: if you’re freezing your tails off again in December 2018, come to San Francisco. We can hang out together and watch the show. I won’t promise you it’ll be as warm as it was Sunday, but I think it’s safe to promise it’ll be warmer than Times Square.

Of Course They Are

Jodie Whittaker has made her debut as The Doctor and, contrary to the warnings of the closed-minded, the world has not come to an end. Not even on television.

Her appearance in the Christmas special is short: she’s got a grand total of one line–two words–but that’s as expected. A Doctor’s last episode is always about the outgoing version, which is as it should be. Before taking off in “radically new directions,” it makes sense to look back at where you’ve been.

From that perspective, by the way, it was an excellent episode, looking back all the way to the first Doctor, and touching several major points in between Numbers One and Twelve. That it also gave the scriptwriter an opportunity to point out how The Doctor’s attitudes toward women, non-whites, and the LBGTEtc communities have changed since 1963. One suspects many of the people objecting to a female Doctor are more in accord with the first Doctor’s sentiments than the twelfth.

Despite the brevity of Ms. Whittaker’s appearance, the doomsayers are already declaring her run a failure. The kindest such remarks I’ve seen are along the lines of “If you suddenly turn into a woman, the first words out of your mouth are going to be ‘What the hell?’ and not ‘Oh, brilliant!'”

I say “kindest” because that comment puts the burden of disapproval on the scriptwriter and not the actress, but rest assured there are plenty of complaints aimed at her.

But I want to talk about that complaint, because it highlights just how desperate the naysayers are to discredit Ms. Whittaker and everyone associated with the show.

Consider:

  • Time Lords changing sex when they regenerate is canon. One has to look no further than Missy for proof, but there have been others. Whether you as a viewer like the fact, it’s part of the universe. And so, while it might not be at the top of a regenerating Time Lord’s mind, it’s a possibility they all live with.
  • The Doctor is at least 1,500 years old. He’s been everywhere and everywhen. He’s burnt out and so far beyond bored he can’t even see it from where he’s standing. Now he’s got a chance to try something radically different. You think he’s going to complain? And let’s face it: a willingness to try new things and see the universe from different perspectives has been one of The Doctor’s core values since that first Doctor.
  • Historically, The Doctor has been somewhat manic immediately after regeneration with all the over-the-top enthusiasm that implies. And let’s not forget that nearly every Doctor has been convinced he’s the best and most attractive incarnation yet. Hell, it’s a running joke that whenever two Doctors meet, nearly the first words out of the earlier one’s mouth are a complaint about how he doesn’t like what the newer one has done with the body. So of course she’s going to approve of the new look and be eager to get on with it–even if she doesn’t know what “it” is yet. Because that’s what The Doctor does.
  • Finally, remember what I said last week about the Last Jedi haters? Same thing applies here. The people who create the show are the only ones who get to decide where the story goes. If you don’t want to go there, you have the option of staying home. If enough people stay home, the show will be canceled (or, in the case of a cash cow like Doctor Who, more likely the creators will be replaced). Okay, end of rant.

And here we are with a new Doctor, an exploding TARDIS, and a fall from high altitude without a parachute. Brilliant!

Last Jedi

As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, two years ago, I don’t see much point in doing a formal review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not to put too fine a point on it, if you’re planning to see it, you probably already have, and if you’re not planning on going, nothing I could say is likely to convince you.

Even so, I’ve got some thoughts. I’ll try to avoid significant spoilers, but no promises.

First up, Porgs. There weren’t nearly as many of them as I expected, and that’s a good thing. I, like many others, assumed they were strictly an opportunity to sell plush figures, but now we’re hearing that there was a practical reason to include them: apparently it was easier to digitally superimpose a cute, cuddly alien bird over the local puffins than it would have been to digitally erase the real birds.

Fair enough. But if there were puffins invading the Millennium Falcon set, that doesn’t speak well for the production staff’s attention to security and animal welfare. (In other words, adding Porgs to the later on-ship sequences was strictly a marketing decision. In a movie that was already more than two and a half hours long, did we really need Porg reaction shots during a space battle? From a storytelling perspective, I’d argue not.)

We finally saw ships’ shields doing some good. Not in the X-Wing fighters, of course. I’ve already made my feelings known about that. But if they work so well on the good guys’ larger ships, why don’t the bad guys invest in a few shields? Well, it would have made the early “bombing run” scenes rather different. (And, by the way, bombs? In space? Where there’s no gravity to drop them? They were clearly falling, not traveling under some kind of on-board engine.)

I could ramble for a while about light speed engines and regular engines apparently using different fuel–which seems possible, but kind of unlikely–but I’ll spare you.

“Hey, there’s a planet right over there where we can hide out.” (Not only do we see it on screen, but it’s apparently close enough that they don’t need to use the light speed engines to get there.) “They’ll never think to look for us there.” Okay…why not? Like I said, it’s right over there.

Final thoughts. There’s a movement afoot to petition Disney to declare Last Jedi non-canon.

No. That’s not how it works.

“Hey, The Two Towers sucks. It’s slow, nothing really happens. I’m going to petition the Tolkien estate to have it removed from the Lord of the Rings canon.

Everyone’s free to dislike a work of art, but the only ones who get to decide whether it’s canon are the creators.

Don’t like Last Jedi because it “destroys your childhood”? Fine. Don’t see it again. Don’t go see the next movie either, because you probably won’t like it either.

Don’t like it because of the way it treats characters from the original trilogy? Tough noogies. Time moves on, people change. And creatively-speaking, you can’t keep telling the same story over and over.

Again, vote with your dollars. If you don’t like what Disney is doing with Star Wars, don’t buy the merchandise, don’t see the movies.

But forget about trying to turn Last Jedi into expensive fan fiction, because that’s not your decision.

And, bottom line, the movie works on its own merits. Despite the nits I’ve picked (and the ones I could have but didn’t), it still holds together as a story. Yes, it left a lot of questions unanswered, but that’s what happens when you create a series: you have to leave something for the sequels.

I’ll let you all in on a writers’ secret: There are no beginnings and ends. Every book, every movie, and every other narrative is the middle of something. As a writer, you get to decide where to start telling the story, but it’s not really the beginning. You also get to decide where to stop, but it’s not really the end.

As middles go, Last Jedi is a pretty decent one.

Pretty Good Week

It’s been an interesting week so far–and in a good way.

Roy Moore lost his Senate race in Alabama. Granted, it was much closer than I’d have preferred, but as our illustrious president said, “A win is a win.”

Of course, that’s something Mr. Moore apparently doesn’t understand. He’s convinced that God will make sure the absentee ballots still being counted will give him the victory. Does anyone think he’ll reconsider his belief that God is on his side if he doesn’t win?

For that matter, does anyone think his refusal to concede and the likely forthcoming demand for a recount is anything other than a cynical ploy to keep the election results from being certified until after Congress passes the tax ripoff? Keep in mind that yesterday he identified “an enormous national debt” as one of the greatest problems facing America today–right up there with stopping prayer in school, abortion, and transgender rights. And we all know that going deeper into debt is the only way to get out of debt, right?

Ahem. We’ll see how it all plays out, but right now everyone except Mr. Moore thinks the citizens of Alabama have given America exactly the Christmas present they need.

Moving on.

Patreon has canceled the launch of their new fee structure. The announcement and apology is an interesting read. On one hand, it’s rare to see a company say bluntly, “We messed up.” In an era of weasel-worded apologies*, it’s nice to see one that doesn’t mince words.

* Or, worse yet, monetized apologies such as Equifax’s.

On the other hand, it also notes that “We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed.” (As a reminder, that’s primarily the problem of handling partial-month pledges when a patron first backs a creator.) So the door remains open for a substantially similar approach. ACA repeal, anyone?

I don’t think Patreon could survive another bungled rollout in the near future, and I’m quite sure they think the same. My gut says that if they move quickly, they’ll come up with a different approach; the longer the re-evaluation lasts, the more the final product will look like the one that just fell flat.

To be fair, they’ve been tracking canceled pledges and have built a simple “restore my pledges” tool and are notifying patrons by email. That’s a smart move, in that it immediately helps creators who were harmed by the departures, and it also brings back some of the cash flow Patreon needs to stay in business.

Moving on again.

We saw Coco Tuesday night. I’m not going to do a full review here, mostly because I’m having trouble being sufficiently objective. The big themes–memory, family, and death–have a lot of resonance for me these days, and I suspect that’s tipping my reaction to be somewhat more positive than it would have been.

But that said, I still think it’s an excellent film. Not flawless, no. It drags a bit in the middle with too much running in circles and too many false leads. There are a couple of overly-convenient plot devices (why is there a camera backstage, for example?). But the opening monologue is beautifully done, the first half of the film does a splendid job of establishing the world and the ground rules without bogging down in explanations, and the ending is spot on.

Bonus points, by the way, for not including a lengthy made-for-the-amusement-park-ride chase scene.

One interesting point: the Spanish version of the film includes its own versions of the songs. Judging by the samples on Amazon, they’re not just redubbed versions of the English songs, but separate performances. I’m tempted to go see the movie in Spanish, just to see how it works for a non-Spanish speaker.

Moving on one more time.

So, all in all, a good week so far. But.

As I was writing the above, the FCC just voted on the repeal of their net neutrality rules. And, as everyone expected, the vote was 3-2 for repeal.

We now turn to the courts and to Congress. I don’t expect the Republicans in Congress to be any more enthusiastic about rejecting Ajit Pai than they were about rejecting Roy Moore. After all, the evidence shows that obstructing a criminal investigation is now standard Republican practice.

But with polls showing that less than 20% of Republicans approve of the repeal–and even fewer Democrats and Independents–voting against whatever legislation comes to the floor in the next few weeks may be a tough nut to swallow.

Especially in light of the events in Alabama Tuesday night.

Offseason Sports

Sports anime are extremely popular. It’s a rare season that doesn’t include at least one–though it’s true that the definition of a “sport” can be a slippery thing in the world of anime: consider Saki, for example, which is centered around the “sport” of mahjong.

Conventional sports get their share of the shows. Soccer is a perennial favorite. Basketball, tennis, judo, and American football have shown up in popular shows. And, naturally, baseball is common. Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve seen very few of the baseball shows, even among the classics.

But it’s in the lesser-known and imaginary sports that anime can really shine. Take, for example, two recent entries, that showcase the two major types of sport show.

Keijo (it’s actually Keijo!!!!!!!!, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to type eight exclamation points every time) is a twelve episode show based on an eighteen volume manga. The titular sport combines all of the most attractive elements of women’s beach volleyball and steel-cage martial arts and serves primarily as a vehicle to put the young women who compete into a variety of bathing suits.

I said that there are two major types of sports shows. The first is the one in which the protagonist is familiar with the sport, often having played it for years. Such shows generally focus on the character’s efforts to level up, improving his or her skills. Despite its unashamed roots in mindless fan-service, Keijo succeeds on its own merits as a sports show. The heroine, Nozomi, is an Olympic-calibre gymnast, who brings her skills to the sport of keijo in pursuit of riches. She learns all the expected lessons about becoming a team player and skill not being sufficient to become the best.

But what distinguishes Keijo from just another “boobs and butts” show is the sense of humor. The creators–both the original manga author and the anime staff–know how ridiculous the premise is, and they refuse to take anything about it seriously. In a training sequence, Nozomi is required to harvest turnips by pulling them out of the ground using a rope tied around her hips. Fighters use outrageously named attacks (“Full-Auto Cerberus!”) which often invoke psychic effects to confuse or distract their opponents.

The show is a classic piece of mindless entertainment; US residents can stream it through Crunchroll.

The second type of sports show features a protagonist who initially knows nothing about the sport. The audience expects to learn about the sport by watching the main character go from rank beginner to champion-quality. Welcome to the Ballroom is a current example of this variety.

As the title implies, the sport is competitive ballroom dancing, and our hero, Tatara, literally falls into a dance studio one day and discovers a purpose for his previously-motiveless existence.

In typical sports-show fashion, he quickly masters the basic techniques–that’s quickly in terms of screen time; from his perspective, it’s a long slog of late- and all-night practice sessions–but the mental disciplines and understanding of his dance partners and opponents come more slowly.

Actual devotees of dance will no doubt find Welcome to the Ballroom‘s portrayal of both dancers and dances laughable, but that’s par for the course for a genre that gives us pitchers who can throw a ball too fast for the eye to see or mahjong players who violate the laws of chance through sheer willpower.

Look past that, however, and you get a sports show that rather atypically brings in secondary characters with more than a single dimension. Rivalries go beyond a simplistic “you go to a different school, so you must be the Enemy”. Antagonists have reasons for their behavior and can become neutral (turning enemies into friends is typical; what Welcome to the Ballroom does that’s unusual is to suggest some of them might stop actively impeding Tatara without swinging all the way over to helping him.

Welcome to the Ballroom is running now–US viewers can stream it through Amazon. As of this writing, fifteen of the planned twenty-four episodes have aired.

Good Job

Bad commercials take a lot of flack here–all, IMNSHO, completely justified. But let me take a step to the other side for a change and direct your attention to a commercial that actually works.

You’ve probably seen it–if you’ve been watching the MLB playoffs, I know you’ve seen it.

It’s the Amazon Prime commercial with the dog and the lion costume. If you’ve managed to miss it for the last year, you can see it here:

Actually, that’s the Japanese version, but don’t sweat it; the US version is the same except for the language of the Amazon App seen briefly.

Whoever came up with the concept for this absolutely nailed it. It’s got a cute dog, a cute baby, and a sappy song. How could it miss?

Actually, it could easily have missed. But the ad doesn’t insult any of the actors–nobody’s egregiously stupid–or the audience. And it doesn’t try to do too much. If it had tried to push both the main point (same day delivery) and stress the incredible variety of things Amazon sells, it would have turned into a hyperjettic, crowded mess. Instead, it makes the point almost casually: “A lion costume for a dog? If they’ve got that, they must have the weird thing I want, right?”

The contrast is all the greater when you see the ad on TV, surrounded by ads for the Amazon Echo. Including the man who’s too stupid to put the lid on the blender and the woman who interrupts her busy day to gaze longingly at her motorcycle. Even the ad with the cat misfires: if your cat was staring into your fish tank, would your first reaction be to buy cat food? Well, maybe it would, but mine would be to put the cat on the floor, probably in a different room, before it tried to climb into the tank.

Interestingly, the ad started as a long-form piece, one minute and fifteen seconds, which you can see here. And the extra forty-five seconds absolutely ruin it. It loses focus and buries the message under a pair of not-at-all funny jokes. Cutting down to a thirty second spot saved it. More proof, as if we need it, that writing good fiction often requires you to cut the bits you love–William Faulkner called it killing your darlings.

Kudos to the Amazon Prime ad writer for that one perfect moment buried in all the dreck.

Beeting the Heat

Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area, where the temperature is no longer into three digits.

Yeah, we had the hottest Labor Day weekend on record this year–several cities around the Bay had all-time highs, more had high-for-the-date days. The gods were punishing the Bay Area for something I did.

Well, maybe I’m overly self-centered. It might have been something Maggie did. “But how,” I hear you ask, “do you know it was your fault?”

Simple: Our air conditioner broke. We’re not sure exactly when, but it was either Friday evening or Saturday, when the heat was at its worst. Big thanks to our HVAC company for having somebody working Monday and for keeping their holiday service surcharge to a reasonable level. Of course, by Monday, temperatures were back down to normal levels–but we still had to run the AC for a couple of ours to get the temperature indoors down to normal.

Of course, the problem with this sort of punishment–smiting everyone in the area over the sin of one person–is that the gods never drop you an email to tell you what it was you did wrong. Which means you’re doomed to make the same mistake over and over again. So if you hear that the state of California has finally fallen into the Pacific Ocean, you’ll know whose fault it is.

So it wasn’t quite a restful a holiday as we might have hoped, but it wasn’t an entirely unmixed curse. Rufus, no fool he, spent most of the weekend in the master bathroom, one of the few rooms in the house with an uncarpeted floor. Not only is that new territory for him, it meant he had to interact with the other cats more than usual. As a result, this morning has been unusually free of feline drama.

Meanwhile, the Oakland As were so happy to not be playing in the heat here, that they kindly lost all three of their games in Seattle. Of course, once they left Seattle, Houston moved in. And it seems that floods don’t induce the same sort of friendly attitude. Can’t have it all, I guess.

And, on a more personal note, I discovered a new taste treat.

Yeah, I know. About four-fifths of you are making gagging noises. I’m well aware that beets aren’t a popular food item. I’m fairly sure they remain in salad bars almost entirely through inertia–and vendors not wanting to spend the money to retool their production lines.

But for those of us who appreciate a good beet, Trader Joe’s offering is rather compelling.

The beet flavor is present, but not so strong as to be overwhelming. The texture is similar to a thick-cut potato chip, crunchy on the outside and a little chewy in the center.

And check that ingredient list! How can I resist a single-ingredient food? No salt, no preservatives, just pure beety goodness. Yeah, there’s some natural sodium, and a lot of potassium–though that may be a good thing for some–but they’re low fat and cholesterol-free. Even better, unlike most prepared foods, the stated portion size is generous. Trader Joe considers these to be single-serving containers, but I got two quite adequate snacks out of the package. And they’re clearly somewhat dubious about their own recommendation, as they included a zipper seal on the package.

Two tasty snacks for three bucks? That’s a darn sight cheaper and healthier than the vending machine. Even if you’re not normally a beet fancier, you ought to give these a try. You might just be converted.