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?

Oversight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problem solved, right? Well…

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

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

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

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

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

All the News

Kind of a strange news day yesterday.

It started with the Amtrak train derailment in the Seattle area. Nothing inherently weird about the story itself–sad, depressing, and dispiriting, yes, but not weird. What was odd was that the first mention of it I saw was a tweet linking to a news report on an Irish newspaper’s website.

I have mixed feelings about what Robert Heinlein described as “the unhealthy habit of wallowing in the troubles of five billion strangers.” “Think globally, act locally” is appropriate in many cases–climate change springs immediately to mind–but are we really better off as a species when we can find out about every disaster, no matter how small, anywhere in the world? Maybe if the small triumphs were as widely reported as the failures.

But I digress. My original point was that I find it fascinating that not only does news travel so quickly, but so does news about the news. Taken by itself, I find that cause for a certain amount of optimism: it shows that transparency has never been a more attainable goal.

A couple of thoughts about the accident, as long as we’re on the subject. It’s laudable that Amtrak took steps to move their passenger service onto tracks not used by freight service. In theory, sharing tracks shouldn’t be a problem. In practice, the revenue generated by hauling freight has resulted in those trains being given absolute priority. The result has been ever-increasing unreliability in the passenger service, which results in lower ridership, which widens the income gap, and around we go in a spiral that makes it harder and harder to sustain the passenger side of the business.

So there’s that. But the fact that the accident occurred on the very first run over those new tracks suggests strongly that driver training was inadequate. Combine that with American railroads’ persistent unwillingness or inability to adopt train control safety technology that’s been in use everywhere else in the world for decades, and an accident of this severity seems inevitable.

It’s almost enough to make one start thinking in terms of conspiracy theories. Emphasis on “almost”.

Anyway, back to the news.

We also had an unusual example of synchronicity here in the Bay Area. Sunday night, a Richmond police officer began walking around a San Francisco hotel. He was allegedly talking about spirits for some time before he fired half a dozen shots, apparently into the walls. Eventually, he surrendered to the San Francisco police.

Then, apparently to balance the scales in some kind of karmic sense, on Monday a San Francisco police officer pulled into a parking lot in Richmond and shot himself. According to the Chron, he was under investigation, and he was being pursued by a Richmond police officer.

The timing of the two incidents is, of course, coincidental, but they did add a bit of surreality to the day.

It’s the End of the World…

It’s been a while since I devoted a rant to the impending Demise of Civilization.


Today’s Sign of the Apocalypse:

I still read the newspaper–yes, the actual paper one–every day. Since I’ve said that, you’re no doubt expecting me to bemoan the decline in newspaper readership as a sign of Impending Doom. Nope. I mean, yes, it is, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Today, a friend of mine appeared in the paper. With a picture. Identified by name. And I realized that if I said that to anyone, their first reaction would be closer to “I’m sorry to hear it. What did he do?” (or maybe “Is he OK?”) than to “Hey, cool! What did he do?”*

When the heck did that happen? It’s definitely a “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!” moment to realize that I can remember when the default assumption was that newsworthy events were good news. Wait, let me qualify that statement because I’m not old enough to have a memorythat rosy. My memories include a time when a non-celebrity making the paper was more likely to be good news than bad. Celebrity news has, so far as I can remember, always been bad.

I’m willing to admit to the possibility that I’m a victim of selective memory, and that one would never have wanted to appear in the newspaper except in a “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” sense. But I know my perception of appearing in the newspaper has changed, and the memory I’ve got is the one I have to work with. So if 100% of the available data indicates things have changed, it must be correct, right?

No wonder I’m the only person reading the printed paper these days.

Moving on.

I was going to highlight the news that Nick Markakis is leaving Baltimore for Atlanta and Michael Saunders has been traded from Seattle to Toronto as a further sign of the impending collapse of civilization, but the more I think about it, the less I’m sure about that.

Both players had been with the same team for their entire professional life. I had written a rant about how players never stay with their original teams for their entire career any more. “Where are the Edgar Martinezes and Cal Ripkins?” I asked. But you know, Edgar and Cal were exceptions. Players staying with a single team has always been unusual. It became less common after the introduction of free agency, sure, but even before then, team owners swapped players like kids swapped baseball cards.

So, not a sign of the Decline of Civilization. And, as Jackie pointed out in her farewell blog post to Nick, baseball players may actually move around less than the typical American, who changes jobs every four and a half years.

Maybe that’s the real sign of the impending collapse. I need to think about that one for a bit.

But if that’s not a sign that Civilization is lurching towards its inevitable end, what is?

Non-ironic citation of R.E.M. as the greatest band ever? I’m very tempted to say yes on that–we all know it’s Brave Combo–but I’ll give Jackie a pass on that, seeing as how she’s currently bereaved.

Mayonnaise on hamburgers? Probably. We’ve established that mayo is the devil’s condiment. Putting it on a burger does nothing to redeem the condiment and much to corrupt the meat.

There is, however, a single fact that proves civilization is not on the decline, but has actually collapsed completely. That fact? People think peopleofwalmart.com is funny. (I’m deliberately not making that a link. If you want to take a look, put in the minimal effort of copy/pasting the URL.)

Enough said. See you in the survival bunker.

* For the record, it was good news. Part of the centennial celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.